Breaking Waves: Ocean News

04/23/2014 - 00:00
Power from at Hafod y Llan in Snowdonia will be sold via the grid to a green energy firm and the money invested in conservation Continue reading...
04/22/2014 - 22:31
Environmental Protection Authority will evaluate the WA governments plan to resume the cull on 15 November Continue reading...
04/22/2014 - 20:32
Ads claim there is no scientific evidence linking degradation of the reef to development for coal and gas exports Continue reading...
04/22/2014 - 16:08
(Click to enlarge) U.S. Department of State – Great Seal The U.S. Department of State will host the “Our Ocean” Conference – focused on sustainable fisheries, marine pollution, and ocean acidification – on June 16-17, 2014, in Washington, D.C. (From the U.S. Department of State) – Conference participants will include experts from around the world who will explain the state of the science on each issue, explore the challenges facing the oceans, and share the solutions that are being applied successfully. Secretary of State John Kerry has made ocean issues a top priority for the Department. Invitees to the conference include government ministers, scientists, advocates, people whose livelihoods and well-being depend upon the oceans, and members of the international oceans community. The conference program will feature interactive elements to ensure participation by communities around the world. Spanning three-quarters of the planet, the ocean is the most important shared resource. It connects people – physically, culturally, and spiritually. It is a driving force in the global economy, pivotal to food security, human health and scientific advancement, and home to a vast ecosystem that regulates climate and weather. Protecting the ocean requires broad engagement from the global community to help ensure the long-term sustainability of the marine environment. It is imperative for the United States and countries around the world to work together to protect and sustain it, as no one person or one country can use it or protect it alone. The conference goal will be to promote a healthier planet by creating a healthier ocean. See Secretary Kerry’s announcement of the conference at www.state.gov/ourocean, and join the conversation on Twitter both before and during the conference by using the hashtag #OurOcean2014.
04/22/2014 - 15:49
(Click to enlarge) Ocean waves lap the sand on the beach. (Credit: Galyna Andrushko | Shutterstock) While the nation looks for solutions to the problem of rising sea levels, some coastal communities in Florida are taking action to save themselves from sinking into the ocean. (From The Sun Sentinel / by William E. Gibson) – Hallandale Beach is preparing to pump excess groundwater into an aquifer. Fort Lauderdale has raised a coastal roadbed and is installing one-way “tidal valves” that flush water down storm drains but block seawater from rising back up. And coastal communities farther north, from Palm Beach County to the Space Coast, are developing plans that would concentrate housing, businesses, water plants and wells on higher ground, less vulnerable to the rising sea. “Florida is ground zero for sea-level rise,” U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson told the Senate while announcing a field hearing in Miami Beach on Tuesday, which is Earth Day. “We’ve got quite a story to tell.” Nelson plans to highlight Florida’s adaptations to its changing coastline when the Senate Subcommittee on Science and Space meets at 10 a.m. at Miami Beach City Hall. Low-lying Florida, much of it barely above sea level, is among the first victims of global warming, which scientists say leads to rising seas. Nelson and experts on climate change see the state emerging as a model for how to deal with the inevitable consequences. The seas already have risen 8 to 10 inches over the past hundred years, creeping closer to structures built near the ocean, said Nancy Gassman, acting assistant director of public works in Fort Lauderdale. “It makes a difference about how we look to the future and build new infrastructure, recognizing that sea-level rise needs to be considered,” she said. The response dovetails with measures designed to deal with extreme high tides each fall and occasional storms, such as Hurricane Sandy. That storm severely eroded South Florida beaches in November 2012, crumbling 2,000 feet of one lane of State Road A1A along the beachfront. With future storms and rising seas in mind, engineers propped up the restored roadway with sheets of metal that were driven into the ground until they hit bedrock. They raised the roadbed while sloping it to drain water. “We’re putting it back not just the way it was but in a way that enhances its resilience to future events,” Gassman said. A pilot project to install one-way tidal valves — which send groundwater down storm drains but won’t let water rise back up — has proven successful, she said. The city also is considering stormwater parks — open spaces lined with plants, about the size of a few housing lots — where groundwater can be pooled to prevent flooding on surrounding property. And it is considering “bio-swales,” narrow strips along roadways that are lined with vegetation and porous material to suck water more quickly below the surface. Flat, low-lying Hallandale Beach already faces the threat of salty seawater flowing into its freshwater supply, a problem aggravated by sea-level rise. The city once planned to spend $10 million to move its water system away from the sea, but leaders instead decided last year to pump surface water into an underground aquifer no longer used for drinking water. “What we realized is that this is a good strategy not only for our drainage but in light of sea-level rise,” said Earl King, assistant utilities director in Hallandale Beach. Some communities farther north are beginning to assess the impact of rising seas while considering ways to protect existing buildings and shift new development to higher ground. “As we build for the future, we have to take sea-level rise into account and fortify existing infrastructure, such as wells and water facilities,” said Palm Beach County Commissioner Steven Abrams. “And we might need more frequent beach re-nourishment.” Satellite Beach, sitting on a barrier island along the Space Coast, cannot protect itself behind dikes or sea walls because water would seep through the porous limestone beneath it. The city eventually may have to abandon some homes along the oceanfront and move toward multi-family housing complexes on higher ground, said John Fergus, a member of the city’s planning advisory board. “People would still buy homes, but do it with the understanding that this place won’t be here 300 or 400 years from now,” he said. Planners in Volusia and Brevard counties are considering zoning changes that would increase density in less vulnerable places, turn low-lying areas into wetlands and locate police stations and power plants on higher ground. “We may have to harden areas around them or potentially find higher areas to move them to,” said Tara McCue of the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council. Sea walls may protect some communities, she said. Some residents along the most vulnerable parts of Florida’s coastline may have little choice but to move. “A lot of people might not want to leave a place where they have a long history,” McCue said. “Some areas may be so low that they have no other options.”
04/22/2014 - 15:36
(Click to enlarge) Marine reserves bring back large predators like this Mediterranean dusky grouper at Cabrera National Park, Spain. (Credit: Enric Sala / National Geographic) Overfishing is still the most important threat to Mediterranean underwater ecosystems, “more than pollution, invasive species, or climate change”, says Enric Sala, one of the authors of the most comprehensive study made of the sea, published this week in the science journal PLoS ONE. (From National Geographic / by David Braun) – The assessment, presented in a paper entitled Large-Scale Assessment of Mediterranean Marine Protected Areas Effects on Fish Assemblages, drew on the work of a dozen researchers. A marine ecologist and a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, Sala is actively engaged in exploration, research and communications to advance ocean policy and conservation. “Without these radical changes, we’re just going to reduce the Mediterranean Sea to a soup of microbes and jellyfish.” In an interview for Ocean Views, Sala said the new study confirms the prognosis that the Mediterranean is on a trajectory to become a sea dominated by small tropical species that no one likes to eat. “Fishes will not be abundant, and the native species that the Greeks and Romans started to fish commercially will be rare — and most fisheries and the jobs they support will collapse,” he predicted. But this could change “if we stop all the irrational overfishing, including both legal and illegal fishing, and protect a large chunk of the Mediterranean,” Sala added. “Without these radical changes, we’re just going to reduce the Mediterranean Sea to a soup of microbes and jellyfish.” The solution is to create more marine sanctuaries that successfully prevent fishing, Sala said. “Paper Parks”, or sanctuaries that exist in name only, are a futile effort, he added. This newest research reinforces a study published in PLoS ONE in February, 2012, in which Sala and others reported that the healthiest places in the Mediterranean were in well-enforced marine reserves. “Fish biomass there had recovered from overfishing to levels five to 10 times greater than that of fished areas. However, marine ‘protected’ areas where some types of fishing are allowed did not do better than sites that were completely unprotected. This suggests that full recovery of Mediterranean marine life requires fully protected reserves,” said a National Geographic news release about that study. (Overfishing Leaves Much of Mediterranean a Dead Sea, Study Finds) Enric Sala discusses in the interview below what the 2014 research paper says about the state of the Mediterranean Sea and the scenarios for its future: What are the most important findings of this latest research? The bottom line here is that the only protected areas that universally and successfully restore marine life are no-take reserves where fishing is prohibited. “Protected” areas that allow some types of fishing, evidently, are not very effective at saving marine life. How does this inform future ocean policy with regard to protected areas as well as fishing? Our results clearly indicate that dedicating public resources to “paper parks,” or areas that are protected only in the imagination of some, is a waste. If we want the fish back, and if we want a future for coastal fisheries, we need to create more no-take marine reserves. They are investment accounts. What does the research tell us about non-indigenous species? The Mediterranean is a sea with hundreds of alien species, most of which have come through the Suez Canal. We thought that native predators would keep the invaders in check, but that’s not what we have found. Current reserves in the Mediterranean have not been able to stop species invasions. There are factors other than fishing that make this a complex story. Or maybe it is that most reserves are too small and have not yet developed the large biomass of predators needed to control the populations of the alien species. Does the study tell us anything about the changing marine environment with regard to climate change? Does it set a new baseline to monitor the impact of warming seas? Climate change is warming Mediterranean waters, and thus facilitating the spread of tropical species that use the Suez Canal to migrate from the Red Sea. In other words, climate change is “tropicalizing” the Mediterranean, and displacing native species that prefer colder waters. Our study provides the first quantitative baseline across the Mediterranean to track how alien species increase in abundance over time. What have you learned about the assemblage of species in different parts of the Mediterranean Sea, specifically in the context of the impact of fishing, protected areas, and climate change? Our major finding was that overfishing is the most important factor affecting Mediterranean underwater ecosystems, more than pollution, invasive species, or climate change. Taking fish out of the sea in massive quantities is what changes the underwater landscape the most. More than anything else. Period. Can this research give you a glimpse into what the future of the Mediterranean might look like, such as the species that might decline or become extinct and those species that might have an opportunity to survive and flourish? What is your prognosis for the future of fisheries in the Mediterranean if nothing is done? What might the future be if we opt for remedies available to us? If we project from our current baseline, the Mediterranean of the future will be a poor sea, dominated by small tropical species that no one likes to eat. Fishes will not be abundant, and the native species that the Greeks and Romans started to fish commercially will be rare — and most fisheries and the jobs they support will collapse. But this could change if we stop all the irrational overfishing, including both legal and illegal fishing, and protect a large chunk of the Mediterranean. Without these radical changes, we’re just going to reduce the Mediterranean Sea to soup of microbes and jellyfish.    This study is part of your ongoing global research. What investigations do you have in the pipeline? I continue research in two main areas: 1) the most pristine marine habitats, to understand what the ocean was like before humans (pristineseas.org), and 2) the benefits of marine reserves, in terms of both restoration of marine life and economic benefits. Large-Scale Assessment of Mediterranean Marine Protected Areas Effects on Fish Assemblages was co-authored by Enric Sala and Paolo Guidetti, Pasquale Baiata, Enric Ballesteros, Antonio Di Franco, Bernat Hereu, Enrique Macpherson, Fiorenza Micheli, Antonio Pais, Pieraugusto Panzalis, Andrew A. Rosenberg, and Mikel Zabala. Abstract: Marine protected areas (MPAs) were acknowledged globally as effective tools to mitigate the threats to oceans caused by fishing. Several studies assessed the effectiveness of individual MPAs in protecting fish assemblages, but regional assessments of multiple MPAs are scarce. Moreover, empirical evidence on the role of MPAs in contrasting the propagation of non-indigenous-species (NIS) and thermophilic species (ThS) is missing. We simultaneously investigated here the role of MPAs in reversing the effects of overfishing and in limiting the spread of NIS and ThS. The Mediterranean Sea was selected as study area as it is a region where 1) MPAs are numerous, 2) fishing has affected species and ecosystems, and 3) the arrival of NIS and the northward expansion of ThS took place. Fish surveys were done in well-enforced no-take MPAs (HP), partially-protected MPAs (IP) and fished areas (F) at 30 locations across the Mediterranean. Significantly higher fish biomass was found in HP compared to IP MPAs and F. Along a recovery trajectory from F to HP MPAs, IP were similar to F, showing that just well enforced MPAs triggers an effective recovery. Within HP MPAs, trophic structure of fish assemblages resembled a top-heavy biomass pyramid. Although the functional structure of fish assemblages was consistent among HP MPAs, species driving the recovery in HP MPAs differed among locations: this suggests that the recovery trajectories in HP MPAs are likely to be functionally similar (i.e., represented by predictable changes in trophic groups, especially fish predators), but the specific composition of the resulting assemblages may depend on local conditions. Our study did not show any effect of MPAs on NIS and ThS. These results may help provide more robust expectations, at proper regional scale, about the effects of new MPAs that may be established in the Mediterranean Sea and other ecoregions worldwide. The paper was published on April 16, 2014. Access the full paper on the PLoS ONE website.
04/22/2014 - 15:00
Port Isaac, North Cornwall: Children play and skim stones, oblivious to the jingling bells, music and raucous dancing Continue reading...
04/22/2014 - 14:47
(Click to enlarge) A black plastic container sits amidst the bones of black mangroves on what was once a thriving bird nesting area on Cat Island on Thursday, April 10, 2014. “It looks like there was fire here, but there wasn’t a fire, ” said Doug Meffert, Vice President of the of the National Audubon Society. Cat Island along with many degrading islands in Barataria Bay have long struggled with coastal erosion and subsidence, but the oil spilled from BP Deepwater Horizon is accelerating their demise. Footage of oiled brown pelicans and the thousands of shorebirds nesting here were seen around the world in the aftermath of the 200 million gallons of thick crude that spilled into the Gulf of Mexico. Four years later, there are no pelicans, no mangroves, and worse, much of Cat island itself is washing away. (Credit: Julia Kumari Drapkin, Nola.com | The Times-Picayune) Four years after the Deepwater Horizon blowout and the uncontrolled release of as much as 200 million gallons of crude oil, scientists are still struggling to understand how the oil and the dispersant chemicals used to break it down into tiny droplets have affected the environment of the deepwater Gulf of Mexico and the Louisiana shoreline and wetlands where a large amount of oil was deposited. (From NOLA.com / by Mark Schleifstein) – “In many regards, we were fortunate,” said Oregon State University marine biologist Jane Lubchenco, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at the time of the spill. “Much of the oil disappeared relatively quickly, thanks to the existence of bacteria (in the Gulf of Mexico), many of which we didn’t know about, the warm water of the Gulf, and the bathtub sloshing circulation of the Gulf, all of which contributed to its quick consumption by those bacteria. “But there were likely acute impacts (to organisms) before the oil disappeared, and, in fact, some of the oil did indeed come ashore, and continues to be suspended in the environment,” she said. “So, it could have been much worse, but the caution is that we still don’t fully know the true nature, the true extent of the damage, which is why it’s so important that the ongoing damage assessment efforts continue.” Under the federal Oil Pollution Act, several federal agencies, the Gulf Coast states and BP are required to complete a “Natural Resource Damage Assessment” that determines the environmental damage caused by the spill and the effects of that damage on the community’s economy. Once the damage review is completed, the team is supposed to come up with ways to restore the damage or compensate for the lost environmental resources, a process that public officials say is likely to cost billions of dollars. Some scientists still have doubts that all of the oil released in the Gulf has been accounted for. “We still don’t have a perfect handle on where all that oil went, particularly in the deep ocean,” said David Valentine, professor of microbial and earth science at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “We know basically what happened to the stuff that dissolved in the ocean, maybe a third of the total,” he said. “We have a reasonable handle on the stuff that made it to the surface, about a third. “But it’s the other third, the tiny droplets that got suspended in the deepwater that we still don’t know much about,” he said. “We don’t know if it went up, down or stayed there, or got eaten by organisms. My money is on most of it settling to the sea floor.” Atlantis in the Gulf of Mexico this week, near the end of a month-long scientific cruise investigating both the long-term effects of BP oil on the mile-deep ocean floor near the BP Macondo wellhead, and similar effects of natural oil seeps nearby. Joye and other scientists took samples from the sea floor about two miles from the capped well on April 1 while aboard the Alvin research submarine. They’re searching for evidence of the oil that Valentine believes settled onto the Gulf floor. “Visually, the wellhead area looks a lot different” from immediately after the spill, Joye said in an email exchange while aboard the ship. “A lot more animals than in 2010. But we won’t have the petroleum or other chemical data until we get back home. I felt a lot better leaving the bottom a couple of weeks ago than I did in 2010.” But Joye also said the verdict on recovery is still out. “My standard statement is that many of the long term ecosystem impacts from the DWH disaster are only now beginning to be realized,” she said. “Some areas have recovered well, others are still recovering, while others remain significantly impacted. “The problem with a discharge like this is that the impacts are so heterogeneously distributed that long-term, system-scale monitoring is required to truly quantify the impacts,” Joye said. “We have along way to go to get to that point.” Both Joye and Lubchenco pointed to recent peer-reviewed studies linking exposure to oil to heart deformations in larvae of bluefin and yellowfin tuna. BP, in an April 14 news release, points to a different research paper published in the North American Journal of Fisheries Management by fisheries researchers at Auburn University that concludes there’s no evidence the spill impacted young red snapper populations on reefs off the Alabama coast, based on surveys of newborn and one-year snapper in the fall of 2010 and 2011 that found similar densities as in previous years. That study was sponsored in part by a direct grant from BP. BP points out that much of the other research, including papers indicating problems with fisheries or wildlife, also has been financed at least in part by the company. In some cases, the research would have been funded through a $500 million grant from the company soon after the spill that is administered by an independent board with no input from the company. In other cases, the studies were conducted under the Natural Resource Damage Assessment process required under the Oil Pollution Act, and BP is required to pay its costs. Along Louisiana’s coastline, the focus of cleanup and research has been on a few remaining heavily-oiled locations in northernmost Barataria Bay, in addition to repeated surfacing of weathered asphalt-like oil on beaches on Grand Isle, Elmer’s Island and the Caminada Headland below Port Fourchon. Ed Overton, an emeritus professor specializing in environmental chemistry at Louisiana State University, said it’s clear that in many other Louisiana locations where oil came onshore, “the environment is bouncing back remarkably well.” But he said that’s in comparison to the “utter carnage, oil everywhere, horrible mess” that faced researchers who began studying the environmental effects immediately after the spill. “A year later, things looked remarkable,” he said. Pass A Loutre, at the mouth of the Mississippi River, was heavily oiled when the oil first came ashore in April and May 2010, but seemed to be recovering rapidly by 2011. “Oil was still in the marsh, but the fish, shrimp, birds had returned to the area a year later,” he said. “But the bad news is that the oil is still in the marsh and it stays buried there, and every time there’s a storm event, tropical storms, it’s going to move some of that oil that’s still in the offshore environment around, and it will resurface,” he said. “The good news is those areas are presumably fairly small,” Overton said. “Presumably, because we’ve only looked at certain areas.” While the Coast Guard and BP contractors contend they had monitored more than 4,000 miles of the Gulf Coast for oil until the Coast Guard cut back that effort this week, even Coast Guard officials admit that the monitoring was less effective in the extensive wetland areas along Louisiana’s coast than on open beach areas, and that in those areas, they depended on public reports of oiling. In several locations in northern Barataria Bay where oil is known to remain buried in marsh soils, including Bay Baptiste and Bay Jimmy, the oil’s effects are still being seen by scientists: marsh grasses that were killed by initial oiling along the wetland edges have decomposed and the unprotected soil has washed away in many locations, rapidly increasing erosion rates. And a variety of scientists are finding disturbing effects to insects, fish, marine mammals and sea turtles – and even the marsh grasses – that they have preliminarily linked to oil exposure. “Here’s the deal,” Overton explained. “For harm to occur, you need two things: toxicity and a route of exposure. That makes understanding the oil’s effects more complicated to understand.” He said that lighter toxic constituents of the BP Macondo crude oil disappeared fairly quickly as the oil weathered in the time from its release a mile below the ocean’s surface and the time it reached shore. Lighter polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, methylenes and some other compounds volatilized and disappeared. “But there were other PAHs that are still in the oils that are buried, and they don’t go away until they get back up in an aerobic environment where natural bacteria can degrade them,” he said. One concern is the effect the remaining oil is having in that area on smooth cordgrass, also known as Spartina alterniflora, which is a key marsh grass that holds the Barataria wetlands together, said Michael Blum, director of the Tulane-Xavier Center for Bioenvironmental Research. Blum said his research indicates that something involving exposure to the remaining weathered oil in the Bay Jimmy area is creating what he calls an “empty nest syndrome,” killing endophytes, fungus and bacteria that live on the cordgrass in a symbiotic relation that provides the plant with the ability to capture nutrients and carbon necessary to grow. “They have been heavily reduced in the areas that have been oiled,” Blum said. “You might go to a Spartina meadow and it looks beautiful, lush and green, but when you look at the ecosystem integrity, it hasn’t really gotten back to normal conditions.” Also missing from the Spartina environment are many living things, including vertebrate and invertebrate organisms such as fiddler crabs and snails that form the base of the marsh food chain, he said. That mirrors the findings of LSU entomologist Linda Hooper-Bui, who in March said a variety of insects and spiders that live in and around marsh grasses in the same area were dying when high winds and low tides, combined with temperatures over 85 degrees, exposed sediment where weathered oil has formed an asphalt-like crust. Hooper-Bui said that Hurricane Isaac in 2012 remobilized liquid oil in some locations. “During the spill, we were asking how long will it take to recover, and the prevailing notion was that we were looking at fairly short recovery times when focusing on coastal marsh and coastal ecosystems,” Blum said. “It would rebound in one to three years and in five years there’d be no indications of the spill. “But four years on, there’s still a pretty distinct signature of a response to the oil,” he said. Lubchenco said it also may be years before the oil’s effects on long-lived species are known. For instance, she said, the United States and Mexico had made major investments in protecting the quality of nesting sites for Kemp’s ridley turtles, an endangered species, that had paid off in significant increases in successful nests in the years before the spill. But the spill came as juvenile Kemp’s ridley turtles were moving through the northern Gulf of Mexico, and they made up a majority of the 1,066 turtle strandings – dead or injured – reported in 2010 after the spill. There were 525 strandings reported in 2011, 466 in 2012 and 545 in 2013. “And then there are some unknown number of individuals that were likely affected but sank, and were never seen,” Lubchenco said. “We don’t know what impact that’s had on the Kemp’s ridley population, and we won’t know that for decades because they’re such a long lived species. These juveniles won’t come to nesting beaches for many years.” Scientists are equally concerned with the possibility that an unusually high number of bottlenose dolphins that have died during the past four years also may be linked to exposure to oil from the spill, she said. There were 122 cetaceans – marine mammals that include the dolphins – that were stranded or reported dead offshore during the initial response phase of the spill, and another 936 reported from November 3, 2010, through April 13 of this year, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service. In December, a study released by a team of government and academic and non-governmental researchers concluded that nearly half the bottlenose dolphins tested in mid-2011 as part of a NRDA study were in “guarded or worse” condition, including 17 percent that were not expected to survive. The peer-reviewed study linked their ill health to lung damage and adrenal problems that had not been seen in other dolphins populations in the past, and the symptoms were not seen in a control group of dolphins tested in Sarasota Bay, which had no oil contamination. BP officials have pointed out that there could be other causes for the dolphins’ illnesses, and that the “unusual mortality event” actually began in February 2010, two months before the spill. There were 114 cetaceans stranded between Feb. 1 and April 29, 2010, when the response phase of the spill began near shore. And BP points to other federal data to buttress its case that fisheries overall in the Gulf are recovering. “According to preliminary data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), recreational fishing landings in the Gulf in the first 10 months of 2013 were 31percent higher than the average over the same period in 2007-2009,” said BP America Inc. President and Chief Executive John Mingé in a fourth anniversary statement. “NOAA data also show commercial seafood landings in the Gulf in 2011 reached their highest levels since 2002.” Louisiana is not alone in concerns over remaining oil from the spill. At the four-year mark, several scientists are also considering how to respond to the next disastrous oil spill. Blum said one of the lessons to be learned from the BP spill may be a need to begin restoration efforts immediately, rather than the present practice of waiting until the years-long Natural Resource Damage Assessment process required under the Oil Pollution Act is completed. “There was an argument made during the period of really intense shoreline remediation that crews should have been going out doing restoration then, planting Spartina to anchor the disturbed soil,” Blum said. “But that never happened and the shorelines were laid bare for four years.” Lubchenco, meanwhile, remains concerned that recommendations made by the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling have not been adopted, even as the nation moves towards drilling in the even more dangerous Arctic Ocean and at locations off the East Coast. “I personally feel there are places we should not be drilling, and the Arctic is one of those,” she said. “It would be nigh near impossible to deal with a major spill in Arctic water, especially with ice present.” According to Oil Spill Commission Action, set up by the commission members after the commission itself expired, Congress still has failed to codify many of of its safety improvement recommendations, or raising the financial limit on the liability a company faces when it causes a spill, or increasing the money available to the government to respond to a spill. Lubchenco said there were things that the combination of federal and state governments and the oil industry did well in responding to the BP spill, and other things that were not done so well. “One thing we did well was to marshal good scientists, not only within agencies, but within the academic community and industry to help solve problems in real time,” she said. Among the things that need to be improved is communication between the federal and responsible party command structure and the academic community about exactly what was happening during the spill fight. While quite a few independent scientists were tapped by federal officials to join “swat” teams set up to deal with key issues during the spill, “there was a broader, hungry scientific community” that wasn’t being kept informed. “We didn’t have daily calls with the scientists like we did with the governors, parish presidents, journalists or members of Congress,” Lubchenco said. “We need to be creative about how to share more of what’s known at a level of granularity that is relevant to scientific interests.” Several scientists also remain concerned about the scientific resources that will be available in the event of another spill in the Gulf or elsewhere. “There’s a silver lining in this that four years on, we have a much more robust structure for scientific inquiry,” Blum said. “But there’s still politics at play and there are questions: Is the best science going to be done? Who’s doing the science?” Part of the concern is how a variety of new scientific organizations created with money resulting from BP fines will coordinate their research efforts, he said. For instance, 2.5 percent of the Clean Water Act fine money from the spill that is to be directed to the RESTORE Act task force will be used to establish centers of excellence. In Louisiana, the Water Institute of the Gulf, a science think tank set up largely to address scientific issues raised during the state’s implementation of its coastal restoration program, has been chosen as one of those centers. “But the question comes up of how these different centers are going to coordinate their research,” Blum said. “The concern is either there won’t be enough oversight over the individual centers, or there won’t be enough cross talk among the centers to prevent redundant research.” And there are other science programs that also could be in danger of sponsoring redundant research, he said, including the National Academy of Sciences, which is receiving about $500 million from criminal fines from BP and Transocean to pay for a 30-year science program; the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, which also expects to aim some of the criminal fine money it has received to research; and the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, which was created soon after the spill with a $500 million donation from BP to conduct an independent research program aimed at issues involving both the spill and the offshore oil industry.
04/22/2014 - 13:38
(Click to enlarge) Joplin, Mo., hit by a tornado in 2011, would be among the areas eligible for the national competition. (Credit: Getty) Federal officials are considering spending more than $1 billion of the remaining $3.6 billion of rebuilding aid on disasters other than superstorm Sandy, money that New York and New Jersey are banking on to finish repairs to thousands of homes and complete major infrastructure projects. (From The Wall Street Journal / by Laura Kusisto and Josh Dawsey) – The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which is in charge of distributing the aid, believes that spreading the funds around to disasters other than Sandy is required by federal law, according to people familiar with the matter. New York officials dispute that interpretation. HUD officials recently briefed members of Congress on a proposal that would create a national resiliency competition to more widely distribute about $1 billion to $2 billion of the remaining Sandy aid to areas that have recently suffered disasters. It would be the first time HUD held a national competition for federal disaster money. The contest would reward projects that make communities more resilient against future disasters, according to people familiar with the plans. Federal officials said they hope to have a decision by early May. “Our number one priority is to continue working with state and local officials to address the remaining unmet needs of those affected by natural disasters. In regards to any disaster funding, no determination has been made on programming or allocations of remaining funds,” a HUD spokeswoman said. The idea sets up the possibility that New York City, New York and New Jersey would have to compete with other states for the money. Other states are scrambling to make a case that they should receive a large share, said Staten Island Rep. Michael Grimm, a Republican whose district was hit hard by Sandy. “I’m competing against other members who are aggressively advocating for their state,” he said. Congress set aside about $60 billion in 2013 for Sandy aid after a contentious debate. The largest portion—more than $15 billion—went to HUD for distribution to the local level. HUD has dished out about $10.5 billion so far, primarily to New York City, New York state and New Jersey, officials said. The legislation specified that the HUD money be distributed to disasters other than Sandy that happened in 2011, 2012 or 2013. To HUD officials in Washington, that is a requirement of the law, but New York area officials disagree. They said the bill allows for other regions to receive aid if a major disaster occurs, but the bill didn’t require it, unless New York and New Jersey had received the recovery aid that they needed. “When Congress passed the Sandy relief bill, that was the number one priority, and it remains so. Once those priorities are met, we will look at other proposals,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D, N.Y.) The competition proposal emerges as the New York City region’s post-Sandy needs are coming into sharp focus. In the city, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has set an ambitious goal of getting 500 Sandy-damaged homes rebuilt by the end of the summer; currently only nine homes have started construction. City officials have said they need $1 billion in additional federal money for the Sandy recovery, and even more to complete a city resiliency plan. “We’re working closely with HUD and our federal partners to ensure that we have the resources to fully recover and rebuild. It’s vital that funds get to the NYC homeowners and public housing residents who need them,” a city spokeswoman said in an email. New Jersey and New York state have also requested billions more dollars for rebuilding efforts. New Jersey has estimated that Sandy did $37 billion worth of damage, but Gov. Chris Christie has taken to saying recently that his state would receive up to $15 billion in assistance. “You don’t need to be a math major to figure out the delta there,” Mr. Christie said in March. “Did they send us as much money as I wanted or that they should have? No.” Federal officials said the city and states have overestimated their remaining needs. They said local representatives shouldn’t have expected the third round of funding to provide a significant infusion of new funds based on how the $60 billion Hurricane Sandy Relief Bill passed in 2013 was written. In the three years covered by the Sandy aid bill, 208 major disasters have been declared by the federal government. A person familiar with the proposal said 48 states would be eligible for the national competition, along with Puerto Rico, District of Columbia and 18 other areas including New York City and Joplin, Mo., which was hit by a tornado in May 2011. A portion of the third round of funding would also likely go to Rebuild by Design, a regional resiliency competition that HUD launched with much fanfare. Secretary Shaun Donovan, a former New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development commissioner, is said to have been inspired by his work under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had a propensity for holding competitions to generate excitement around government work. Community advocates said the city can’t afford to lose money, given the already hobbled state of the recovery. Thousands of Sandy victims are currently in limbo because the city doesn’t know if it has enough money to help them repair or elevate their homes. “We have an opportunity here to get it right,” said Susannah Dyen, coordinator for the Alliance for a Just Rebuilding. “We can’t lose some of the money that could help us do that.”
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(Click to enlarge) Tom Frazer, a professor of aquatic ecology and director of the School of Natural Resources and Environment at UF/IFAS, looks for seagrass in Florida’s Gulf Coast. A new study Frazer helped supervise shows how much light seagrass need to survive.(Credit: Image courtesy of University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences) Seagrass beds represent critical and threatened coastal habitats around the world, and a new University of Florida study shows how much sunlight seagrass needs to stay healthy. (From ScienceDaily) – Loss of seagrass means fish, crabs and other animals lose their homes and manatees and sea turtles lose a source of food. Nutrients, such as phosphorous, may prevent seagrass from getting the sunlight it needs to thrive. Nutrients may come from many sources, among them fertilizers used in agriculture, golf courses and suburban lawns, pet waste and septic tank waste. Scientists often use seagrass to judge coastal ecosystems’ vitality, said Chuck Jacoby, a courtesy associate professor in the Department of Soil and Water Science and co-author of a new UF study that examines light and seagrass health. “By protecting seagrass, we protect organisms that use seagrass and other photosynthetic organisms that need less light,” said Jacoby, a faculty member in UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. When nutrient levels are too high, microorganisms in the water, called phytoplankton, use these nutrients and light to grow and reproduce until they become so abundant that they block sunlight seagrass needs to survive, said Zanethia Choice, a former UF graduate student who led the investigation. “Seagrass can cope with short-term light reductions, but if those conditions last too long or occur too frequently, seagrass will deteriorate and ultimately die,” Choice said. “Good water clarity is vital for healthy coastal systems.” Choice studied seagrass beds in a 700,000-acre swath off the coast of Florida’s Big Bend. Choice, now a natural resource specialist with the U.S. Forest Service in Mississippi, conducted the study as part of her master’s thesis, under the supervision of Jacoby and Tom Frazer, a professor of aquatic ecology and director of the UF School of Natural Resources and Environment. Choice combined 13 years of light and water quality data and two years of seagrass samples from habitats near the mouths of eight rivers that empty into the Gulf of Mexico. Seagrass off the Steinhatchee, Suwannee, Waccasassa, Withlacoochee, Crystal, Homosassa, Chassahowitzka and Weeki Wachee rivers constitutes part of the second largest seagrass bed in Florida. The largest bed is in Florida Bay, between the Everglades and the Florida Keys, Jacoby said. Choice wanted to see how much light was needed to keep the seagrass in this region healthy. She found different seagrass species needed varying amounts of light, ranging from 8 to 27 percent of the sunlight at the water’s surface. The UF/IFAS study will give water resource managers, such as the state Department of Environmental Protection, water-clarity targets they can use to set proper nutrient levels for water bodies, Jacoby said. Reducing nutrient levels can promote the health of seagrass and coastal waters. For example, concerted efforts to reduce nutrients flowing into Tampa Bay over the past 20-plus years resulted in a 50 percent reduction in nitrogen, a 50 percent increase in water clarity and a return of lost seagrass, according to a study conducted by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program. Unlike Tampa Bay, there is no evidence that elevated nutrient levels in Choice’s study area have led to loss of seagrass. UF researchers are trying to make sure nutrients do not pollute the seagrass beds off the coast of the Big Bend, and they hope their results will guide managers as they strive to prevent any damage. The study of seagrass light requirements is published in this month’s issue of the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin.