Joel Gallup, an environmental and political reporter for the Newport News-Times, has an interesting column on Tidepool.com about a potentially revolutionary mechanism for managing fish populations in the Northwest Pacific: monitor the gonads of female black rockfish, which increase and decrease in weight with the fluctuations of El Nino.
Blanchard and his friends measured the weight of female reproductive organs -- incongrously, called "gonads" in black rockfish -- the species that prompted Oregon's Labor Day sport closure. They correlated the female gonads' weight to sea surface temperatures. The gonad weights they found in the non-El Nino year of 1996 were the same they found in 1995, when there was a mild El Nino. The mild event had no effect on gonad weight, compared to the normal winds year of 1996.
But in 1997, when a full-fledged El Nino arrived, gonad weights dropped. It was a signal that went unrecognized, but it foretold of fewer groundfish being born that year -- and fewer catch fish in the near future.
The 2004 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan biologist whose Green Belt Movement -- which started as a local tree-planting project -- has grown into an international movement for sustainable development and democracy.
Environmentalists tend to get pigeonholed as spoiled, self-righteous hippies obsessed with a trivial cause; Maathai's work is a good demonstration of how fundamental the protection of natural resources is to sustainable development, democratic governance, and international peace. She explains it best, so go ahead and read her Nobel Lecture.
Here's a start:
I stand before you and the world humbled by this recognition and uplifted by the honour of being the 2004 Nobel Peace Laureate.
As the first African woman to receive this prize, I accept it on behalf of the people of Kenya and Africa, and indeed the world. I am especially mindful of women and the girl child. I hope it will encourage them to raise their voices and take more space for leadership. I know the honour also gives a deep sense of pride to our men, both old and young. As a mother, I appreciate the inspiration this brings to the youth and urge them to use it to pursue their dreams.
Since 1992, marine biologists from Woods Hole have been tracking a lone whale as it roams the Pacific ocean, singing a song unlike that of any known species and following a migratory pattern that has baffled the scientists completely.
The whale's calls identify it as a baleen whale (blue, fin and humpback whales all belong to this category) but the frequency of the calls is far too high for a blue or fin whale and far too low for a humpback. The calls have deepened with the passing years; otherwise the song has not changed. Talk about a unique voice.
Check the New Scientist for the full story.
Today is not a good day for the oceans. First the China spill, now this:
DEADLY SHIPWRECK NOW A MAJOR ALASKA OIL SPILL
Slick measured at 2.5 miles in diameter and expanding
ANCHORAGE, Alaska - As the search for six victims of a rescue helicopter crash was scaled back, officials on Friday turned to a growing problem stemming from the break up of a cargo ship off Alaska: a major oil spill near a sensitive wildlife refuge.
Thousands of gallons of heavy bunker fuel and diesel spilled from a soybean freighter that was ripped clean in half off the shore of Unalaska Island. Near a wildlife refuge 800 miles southwest of Anchorage, the area is home to sea lions, harbor seals, sea otters, tanner crabs, halibut and kelp beds.
Here's the full story from MSNBC Online. It's fairly gruesome; it seems a Coast Guard helicopter rescued some of the ship's crew and then itself crashed. The victims haven't been found but chances of their surviving the frigid waters of the Bering Strait are slim. Meanwhile, the oil slick is growing...
This can't be good:
BEIJING - Two container ships collided and spilled some 450 tonnes of fuel oil off China's southern coast, the country's worst oil spill in five years, a maritime official said on Thursday.
Here's a link to the story from Planet Ark.
I once, as a kid, watched a pod of pilot whales from the deck of a whale-watching boat off the coast of Maine. They are playful, graceful creatures - despite the bulbous protrusion to which they owe the undignified nickname "pothead," as well as their latin title Globicephala maleana (I'm guessing that means something like "globe head," but my Latin is rusty). They travel in groups, or pods, within which they develop smaller family units that are stable over time.
On Tuesday, November 16, the United Nations rejected the call for a moratorium on high seas bottom trawling. Instead, the UN approved new Oceans & Fisheries resolutions that relegate responsibility for high seas fisheries to member nations and regional coalitions.
The high seas: It is one of the last great ecological frontiers on Earth, one of the few we all share; the open ocean; the two-thirds of the planet's salt water outside of any national jurisdiction. You can guess what that means. In classic tragedy-of-the-commons style, the world's fishing nations have been hauling sea life out of these waters while avoiding any responsibility for oversight. In the last few years, we have begun to fish out high seas species and tear up ocean floor habitat faster than we can explore this most remote region of the Earth.
The greatest direct threat to high seas ecosystems is bottom trawling. (Bottom trawling, as marine conservationists and readers of this blog will know, is an incredibly destructive form of fishing. If you need a lesson, see our website.) In the past decade, industrial bottom trawlers have been advancing farther and farther from shore, driven by an insatiable public demand for fish and by the depleted fisheries in their wake. The problem, now, is that trawlers are dragging their nets over areas of the ocean bottom that we have yet to even explore - but which, we are finding out, are home to ecosystems as rich and diverse as any on land. Seamounts are the best example. The floor of the open ocean, far from the flat, barren moonscape we once imagined it to be, is riven with canyons and gorges and crisscrossed with chains of underwater mountains, or seamounts. Along their slopes, where ocean currents move faster and carry higher densities of nutrients, life thrives. And rather unusual life. Some seamount fish, like the orange roughy, live for 150 years. Slow-growing corals and sponges may hold great promise as pharmaceutical agents. Many of the species recently discovered on seamounts are completely new to science.
The trawlers, unfortunately, are beating the researchers to the seamounts, and the world is at risk of losing valuable ecosystems, not to mention commercially valuable fish populations, to their voracious nets. The severity of the threat has inspired a movement to stop it. An umbrella group of environmental organizations, operating as the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, has been pushing for a temporary halt to high-seas trawling. The time-out would give scientists a chance to develop a more comprehensive assessment of the situation, and the world a chance to put some kind of rational governance system in place.
Unfortunately, the coalition is up against formidable opposition. At this meeting of the UN, critics of the moratorium - led by Iceland and the EU (particularly Spain) - won out.
Not to be discouraged, the coalition will be working to raise awareness about high seas trawling over the coming year. If the upwelling of support in the past few months is any indication of the movement's momentum, the UN General Assembly may vote differently in 2005.
Those Europeans always seem to be - environmentally, at least - one step ahead. They have seafood labels, wind farms, viable Green parties...and now a multi-national body acknowledging the danger of navy sonar testing to whales and dolphins. Last week, by a vote of 441 to 15 (with 14 abstentions), the European Parliament adopted a resolution asking its member states to quit sonar testing until scientists have fully assessed its effect on ocean life.
The New York Times had a huge story about mercury yesterday. I can hardly do better than the title -- "E.P.A. Says Mercury Taints Fish Across U.S.":
WASHINGTON, Aug. 24 - The head of the Environmental Protection Agency said on Tuesday that fish in virtually all of the nation's lakes and rivers were contaminated with mercury, a highly toxic metal that poses health risks for pregnant women and young children.
This warning was limited to fish caught recreationally in fresh water, but you can't escape mercury by exchanging fish from your neighborhood lake for fish from your neighborhood grocery store; the highly toxic metal taints fish caught around the globe, not just in the U.S.
In fact, total EPA fish contamination advisories are up 10% from 2002. Nevertheless, the Agency continues to weaken regulations for major mercury sources. This latest warning should motivate the public to demand real reductions in mercury emissions -- now.