The Beacon: Matt Huelsenbeck's blog
For the first time in human history, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels passed 400 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide at the historic Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. This is the same location where Scripps Institution of Oceanography researcher Charles David Keeling first established the “Keeling Curve,” a famous graph showing that atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations are increasing rapidly in the atmosphere. CO2 was around 280 ppm before the Industrial Revolution, when humans first began releasing large amounts of CO2 to the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels. On May 9, the reading was a startling 400.08 ppm for a 24-hour period. But without the help of the oceans, this number would already be much higher.
The oceans are heating up, and marine ecosystems are changing because of it. Long before climate scientists realized the extent of impacts from carbon dioxide emissions, ocean scientists were taking simple temperature readings. Now those readings are off the charts, showing an ocean thrown out of balance from human-caused climate change. Sea surface temperatures hit a 150 year high off the U.S. East Coast from Maine to North Carolina during 2012.
These abnormally high temperatures are fundamentally altering marine ecosystems, from the abundance of plankton to the movement of fish and whales. Many marine species have specific time periods for spawning, migration, and birthing based on temperature signals and availability of prey. Kevin Friedland, a scientist in NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s Ecosystem Assessment Program, said “Changes in ocean temperatures and the timing and strength of spring and fall plankton blooms could affect the biological clocks of many marine species, which spawn at specific times of the year based on environmental cues like water temperature.”
Imagine living next to a construction zone, where every ten seconds, every day, for days to weeks on end, you are subjected to loud, disruptive explosions while you’re trying to eat, sleep and function in your normal routine. If the Department of the Interior approves a proposal to allow seismic airgun testing in the Atlantic, this nightmare could become a reality for the thousands of marine animals that call these waters home. Oceana’s new report “A Deaf Whale is a Dead Whale” illustrates the extremely harmful impacts seismic testing could have on vital animal behaviors, as well as 730,000 jobs along the East Coast that depend on a healthy ocean ecosystem.
Seismic testing occurs when vessels tow airguns that blast compressed air into the ocean floor to search for oil and gas deposits, and these blasts are 100,000 times more intense than the sound of a jet engine. The tests occur continuously every ten seconds, all day, and the government itself estimates it will injure 138,500 whales and dolphins, as well as disrupt and displace thousands of other marine animals like threated loggerhead sea turtles and fish. Due to the loudness of the airgun blasts, whales, dolphins and other animals that depend on their hearing to survive could go temporarily, or even permanently, deaf.
The proposed blasting zone is twice the size of California, spanning from Delaware to Florida. Airguns and future oil spills would put many communities at risk that depend on a healthy ocean, including 200,000 commercial and recreational fishing jobs.
Maryland Governor Martin O’ Malley is standing by his promise to promote offshore wind development by championing the introduction of the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013.
The bill, introduced on January 21st, would be the second law of its kind that promotes offshore wind through the use of offshore wind renewable energy credits (ORECs). The law will require utilities in the state to provide to their ratepayers a certain amount of power generated from offshore wind energy. If passed, this bill will jumpstart a nascent industry and create Maryland-based manufacturing and maritime jobs. It will help spur the development of at least 200 megawatts (MW) of offshore wind off Maryland’s coast, which is enough to power about 200,000 homes with clean energy. And that is just the start.
Yesterday, members of both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate sent letters to President Obama urging him to stop proposed seismic airgun testing in the Atlantic Ocean.
The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) is currently deciding if seismic airgun testing should be allowed to search for oil and gas in the Atlantic Ocean off the coasts of seven states from Delaware to Florida.
This type of seismic testing involves the use of airguns, which are towed behind ships and shoot loud blasts of compressed air at 250 decibels through the water and miles into the seabed to search for deep oil and gas deposits. These airguns make intense pulses of sound, almost as loud as explosives, every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day, for days to weeks on end. The blasts are so loud and constant that they can injure or disturb vital behaviors in fish, dolphins, whales and sea turtles.
Marine life impacts can include temporary and permanent hearing loss, abandonment of habitat, disruption of mating and feeding, and even beach strandings and death. If approved, seismic airguns will threaten endangered species, fisheries and coastal economies throughout the Atlantic.
These disruptive airguns are unnecessary and dangerous and here are the top 10 reasons why:
1. Seismic airgun testing is the first step towards deepwater drilling, the same practice that brought us the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in 2010.
2. Seismic airgun testing will injure about 138,500 whales and dolphins, nine of which are North Atlantic right whales, one of the most endangered species on the planet, based on DOI’s own study, which may underestimate the impacts.
3. In Peru in early 2012, 900 dolphins and porpoises washed up on shore dead with physical signs of damage to their ear bones following seismic airgun testing. In 2008 a similar mass die off occurred for dozens of melon-headed whales in Madagascar after testing.
4. Because it displaces fish and can harm fisheries, seismic airgun testing threatens over 200,000 jobs in commercial and recreational fishing.
5. There are less harmful technologies than airguns on the horizon but they are not being considered by DOI.
6. Seismic testing or drilling in the Atlantic would not reduce U.S. gas prices by even a penny.
7. Oil and gas companies already own oil and gas leases on millions of acres of federal lands and waters, many of them are inactive and have not been developed.
8. The burning of oil and gas contributes to global climate change and ocean acidification, so new drilling in the Atlantic is not the solution to our energy challenges.
9. There is no need to conduct seismic airgun testing now, since the administration does not plan to hold oil and gas lease sales in the area until at least 2017.
10. Atlantic offshore wind could supply more jobs and energy than oil and gas in the region.
Learn more about the harmful impacts of seismic airguns and tell the President to protect whales and dolphins in the Atlantic, not drive them away.
Oceana’s new report, Ocean-Based Food Security Threatened in a High CO2 World ranks nations to show which are most vulnerable to reductions in seafood production as a result of climate change and ocean acidification. While seafood is currently a primary source of protein for more than a billion of the poorest people in the world, carbon dioxide emissions are causing the oceans to warm and become more acidic, threatening fisheries and the people who depend on them.
Rising ocean temperatures are pushing many fish species into deeper and colder waters towards the poles and away from the tropics, while increased acidity is threatening important habitats such as coral reefs and the future of shellfish like oysters, clams and mussels.
Many coastal and island developing nations, such as Togo, the Cook Islands, Kiribati, Madagascar and Thailand depend more heavily on seafood for protein and could suffer the greatest hardships because they have fewer resources to replace what is lost from the sea. For many developing countries, seafood is often the cheapest and most readily available source of protein, losing this resource could have serious impacts on livelihoods and food security.
The only way to address global ocean acidification and the primary path to ending climate change is by dramatically reducing carbon dioxide emissions. One of the first steps in this process should be to phase out all fossil fuel subsidies.
Some local measures may help make marine resources more resilient to the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification such as stopping overfishing, bycatch and destructive fishing practices such as bottom trawling, as well as establishing no take marine protected areas and limiting local pollution. But reducing carbon dioxide emissions is essential to make sure the oceans stay vibrant and productive for future generations.
To find the full ranking of nations’ vulnerability to climate change and ocean acidification check out our report: http://oceana.org/en/HighCO2World
Strange lesions are showing up in coral trout in the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
In a new paper in the journal PloS One researchers found that 15% of reef fish tested showed signs of melanomas. This is a high occurrence, given that many of the fish with this condition may have already been eaten by predators or perished due to the illness.
This is the first time skin cancer has been documented in a wild marine fish species, but in the laboratory another species exposed to high UV radiation showed similar lesions, and they lived greatly reduced life spans.
The authors note that the occurrence of the melanomas was likely due to increased UV radiation and the proximity of the fish to the hole in the ozone layer which occurs over portions of Australia and Antarctica. The people of Australia already suffer huge health risks from skin cancer, topping the world in the occurrence of this illness.
These results are concerning because coral trout are an important commercial fish species, and they may suffer population level impacts if these rates continue. One third of all coral reef fish are already threatened with extinction due to the impacts of climate change on coral reefs, their home. Added stresses such as skin cancer could be the nail in the coffin for some species.
It’s important to figure out if skin cancer is occurring in more fish in a larger area, and what the risks are globally for marine life from UV radiation. We obviously can’t put sun-block on every fish in the ocean, but we can limit emissions of ozone-depleting gases like chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), a refrigerant, as well as greenhouse gases that drive climate change which was also recently shown to threaten the ozone layer.
We are all in this together, so for the sake of fish and people we need to protect our thin layer of atmosphere.
What will happen to marine life if the government allows seismic testing, using loud airgun blasts, to search for oil and gas deep beneath the seabed along the U.S. Atlantic coast in the next few years?
The answer may be foreshadowed by the scene in Peru, where earlier this year, hundreds of dolphin carcasses washed ashore along an 85-mile stretch of beach. While the science is not definitive, one expert, Dr. Yaipan-Llanos who has been investigating the cause of the dead dolphins and has conducted 30 necropsies, claims to have seen physiological impacts that resemble what would be expected from seismic testing for oil and gas.
Dr. Yaipan-Llanos found bubbles in the organs and tissues of the dolphin carcasses. These harmful bubbles may have been caused by the disruptive impacts of an intense sound source dislodging bubbles inside the animals or the rapid ascent of the animals toward the surface after being scared.
Alternatively, some have suggested that they could be caused by the natural breakdown of the animal’s body on the beach after death. However, the freshness of some of the carcasses sampled may rule out that theory. Another alarming finding is that the middle ears of 30 of the dolphins had fractures, an injury which could be caused by airgun blasts.
Peruvian government officials have denied that the deaths are due to seismic testing for oil and gas or any other human-related causes, but their methodologies are being questioned by Peruvian scientists. Only two autopsies were conducted by government officials, and those dolphin carcasses were collected late in the process, making the cause of death difficult to identify.
What we do know is that seismic equipment was tested between 50 and 80 miles offshore of Peru from January 31st through February 7th and seismic surveys were conducted offshore between February 7th and April 8th. Dr. Yaipan-Llanos first noticed the carcasses on February 7th and he collected his first samples on February 12th. Carcasses then continued to appear through mid-April. The Peruvian government report ruled out viruses, bacterial infections, pesticides or heavy metals and says that it did not find signs of trauma that would indicate seismic tests or human-related causes. But the report did not identify any cause or causes of the deaths, which remain a mystery.
This incident in Peru is unresolved, and may remain that way, but this unfortunate turn of events gives us a picture of what a mass mortality event in the U.S. could look like if seismic surveying moves forward on the Atlantic coast. Given the impacts on dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizion oil spill, it would be a shame to further threaten even more dolphins with unnecessary air gun use.
Can you imagine the headline “Hundreds of Dolphin Deaths in Atlantic May be Linked to Airgun Blasts from Seismic Testing for Oil and Gas”?
The U.S. government actually predicts that over the next eight years, 138,000 marine mammal injuries would occur from seismic testing using airguns on the Atlantic coast. Vital activities in marine mammals like feeding, calving, and breeding would be disrupted 13.5 million times. Airguns would also threaten valuable East coast fisheries, marine tourism and endangered species like the North Atlantic right whale and loggerhead sea turtle.
The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is currently looking into the Peruvian mass mortality of dolphins, and at the same time they are also reviewing a decision about whether to allow seismic testing for oil and gas off the Atlantic coast from Florida to Delaware. The comment period for this decision ends soon, but you can still tell BOEM to protect whales and dolphins from destructive airgun blasts: submit your comments before Monday July 2!
The impacts of the Deepwater Horizon are being felt in -- you guessed it -- Minnesota.
White pelicans that winter in the Gulf of Mexico and have lived in an oiled Gulf have migrated to far away places such as Minnesota to lay eggs, and the contaminants inside them have traveled as well.
Preliminary testing by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources shows that petroleum compounds were present in 90 percent of the first batch of eggs tested and nearly 80 percent of the eggs contained the chemical dispersant used during the spill, called COREXIT.
The contamination of white pelican eggs is a bad sign for the developing embryos and potentially their populations. The researchers will be continuing to monitor impacts on the population for years to come, and the true impacts may not be realized for decades.
Mark Clark, a researcher helping with these studies, says, “Any contaminant that makes its way into the bird could be bad, but it could be especially bad if it gets into the egg because that's where the developing embryo and chick starts. And when things go wrong at that stage, there's usually no recovery."
The immediate loss of pelicans and other birds that were covered in oil during the spill was amazingly disheartening and graphic. But these types of sub-lethal impacts show how the next generation may be affected.
While these effects are less noticeable, they are even more concerning for the future of the population. Nearly half of all the bird species that live in the United States spend at least part of the winter in the Gulf of Mexico, and the health of the Gulf is globally significant for birds.
After the Exxon Valdez spill, more than 88% of the birds that were found dead were outside of Prince William Sound, the area immediately affected by the spill, and the number of dead birds found was only a fraction of the total killed by the spill.
The combination of those direct losses, poor reproductive success and changes in the habitat, has prevented some species from recovering, even 20 years later. Although we don’t yet know the long-term impacts of the Deepwater Horizon spill, these contaminants in eggs serve as a warning sign of things to come.
We need to make sure that BP and the other responsible parties are held accountable for the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon spill that have likely impacted hundreds to thousands of species.
Even more importantly we need to recognize that these contaminated eggs, and the ongoing damages to wildlife, are part of the overall problem with offshore drilling and spilling. We have much better options for energy, such as offshore wind, and we should use them.
Even more sad news from the Gulf of Mexico, but this time it runs a mile deep. A new study confirms that the oil that likely caused deepwater coral sickness indeed came from the largest accidental oil spill in history, the Deepwater Horizon.
Back in June 2010, deep-sea coral communities showed signs of severe stress and tissue damage after being covered with heavy mucous and brown flocculent material which was believed to be caused by the spill. This type of ill-health in deep sea corals had never before been documented during deep sea research.
The lead author, Helen White from Haverford College, stated, “We would not expect deep-water corals to be impacted from a typical oil spill, but the sheer magnitude of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and its release at depth makes it very different than a tanker running aground and spilling its contents.”
Deepwater corals can live hundreds of years, and they serve as hot beds for marine biodiversity. The deepwater coral communities are habitat for crabs, shrimp, brittlestars and commercially important fish species like red snapper and grouper. These corals can take a long time to recover from damage and in comparison this would be similar to clear cutting patches of ancient redwood forests in California.
These results are startling in that they show for the first time how harmful deepwater oil drilling is to distant ecosystems even though they are separated from humans by more than 4,000 feet of water. These ancient deepwater corals were likely already living long before the first oil rigs entered the Gulf of Mexico. If we protect them from more drilling and more spilling they could thrive in a world that moves away from oil to smarter and safer sources of energy, like offshore wind.
Oceana is doing its part by filing a legal challenge against new lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico. We do not believe that the government has adequately studied the potential impacts of new drilling or the true extent of the biological impacts from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. These include the deepwater corals and so many other species that live in the Gulf.
It is also clear that safety measures have not improved to an adequate level. We need your support to continue our efforts to stop offshore drilling and protect important deep sea habitats, dolphins and the thousands of species that are still struggling from oil pollution in the Gulf of Mexico. Go to stopthedrill.org to get involved.
- Disabled Killer Whale Survives with Help from Its Pod Posted Tue, May 21, 2013
- Oceana CEO Andy Sharpless Discusses His New Book, The Perfect Protein Posted Wed, May 22, 2013
- Happy World Turtle Day! Posted Thu, May 23, 2013
- Washington Passes Legislation to Fight Seafood Fraud Posted Fri, May 24, 2013