13 News for the 31st
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
By Daniel de la Calle

Three years ago you really needed to scrape at the bottom of the barrel to come up with news on the web about Ocean Acidification.  Today I am "only" posting 13 items and have to leave at least 10 more out:
≈≈≈≈64% of the waters existing outside national jurisdiction, the "high seas", are yours.  And mine. As John Platt rightly writes in a recent Mother Nature Network article, "according to the United National Law of the Sea Convention, these unregulated bodies of water — and the fish and minerals they contain — belong to all of mankind and should be used to serve the common good."
The new TerraMar Project wants to protect those high seas.  If you visit their site you can claim a parcel of the ocean, take a virtual dive with Google, friend a marine species or find interesting educational projects. Although the main purpose of the website is to celebrate the oceans, the website does address the various threats to life inside those waters, from plastic pollution to illegal dumping, from overfishing and whaling to Ocean Acidification.
VISIT THEIR WEBSITE and BECOME A CITIZEN
SOURCE

≈≈≈≈Sweden wants trash and wants it badly.  The Scandinavian nation is facing an unusual problem since their waste-to-energy program began running out of source material.  20% of Sweden's district heating comes from garbage incinerators, but they are not producing enough waste to feed it on their own, so 800,000 tons of trash are being imported every year from neighboring European countries (mainly for those new rich, the Norwegians) to power plants.  That is how Norway has ended paying Sweden to take their trash and then receives the residue polluted ashes, filled with heavy metals, back to bury in home soil.
You can read or listen to the original PRI information HERE.

≈≈≈≈A CBS news piece about Ocean Acidification and oyster farming in Washington State.


≈≈≈≈The Smithsonian announced this week the launching of a $10 million project to study coastal marine biodiversity and ecosystems around the world over a long period of time.
"The Tennenbaum Marine Observatories will be the first worldwide network of coastal ecological field sites, standardizing measurements of biological change. By studying sites with Smithsonian experts in biology, ecology and anthropology, and using technologies like DNA sequencing, the project will provide an unprecedented understanding of how marine biodiversity is affected by local human activities and global change, such as ocean warming, acidification and rising sea levels."
"The project will have five field sites: the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Md., on the Chesapeake Bay, the Institution’s marine station at Fort Pierce, Fla., Carrie Bow Cay in Belize and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute’s two locations in Panama—Bocas Del Toro on the Caribbean and Naos station on the Pacific. As the project grows, the Smithsonian will establish additional research sites with collaborators around the globe to monitor coastal ocean health, with the goal of at least 10 new sites within the next decade."

SOURCE at ARTDAILY.ORG

≈≈≈≈Mussels could lose their anchor with Ocean Acidification: FHL's Emily Carrington's lab presented a study at the Third International Symposium on the Ocean in a High CO2 World last month that showed how the silky threats (byssus fibers) glueing mussels to one another and to rocks become significantly weaker in water with a pH lower than 7.6.  Water temperature seems to also be a major factor, "with threads about 60 percent weaker in 77 degree Fahrenheit water than in cooler 65 degree water. READ MORE about mussels’ sticky substance and why researchers think it can offer important insights for developing new adhesives."
Nice NPR audio piece on byssal threats HERE.

PHOTO CREDIT: EMILY CARRINGTON FOR INSIDESCIENCE.ORG
SOURCE

≈≈≈≈Interdisciplinary symposium on Ocean Acidification in Hong Kong from 11-14th of December, 2012.
SYMPOSIUM SCHEDULE
Tuesday (Dec. 11th 2012)
 Opening ceremony and mixing party (starts at 4.30 pm)
Wednesday (Dec. 12th 2012) 
Climate change: coastal warming, acidification and hypoxia
Coastal aquaculture and fisheries in a changing climate
Coastal climate change: a physiological perspective
Larval life in the changing coastal oceans
Thursday (Dec. 13th 2012) 
Biomineralization: a materials engineering perspective
“OMICS”: a powerful tool in modern ecology research
The forum for collaborative coastal acidification research
Symposium Banquet
Friday (Dec. 14th 2012) 
Graduate students perspectives on multidisciplinary OA research
How to write and publish brilliant research papers—tips from experts
More information and registration HERE

≈≈≈≈Interesting Op-Ed piece on the NY Times a couple weeks ago about "How to Catch Fish and Save Fisheries".  Environmental ministers from numerous countries met last week to, for a second time, try to reach an agreement that protects 10% of the world's oceans.  As Carl Safina and Brett Jenks point out, the situation around the world is dire, but there is still hope because we have not reached a point of no return yet. The biggest challenge, but also a big portion of the solution is in the hands of small-scale fisheries and the expansion of TURF (Territorial User Rights Fisheries) reserves.
THE PIECE

PHOTO: STATE LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES OF FLORIDA

≈≈≈≈To study and be able to predict the effects of Ocean Acidification on commercial fisheries NOAA announced last September grants for a total $1.6 million over the next three years for Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, The State University of New York at Stony Brook and the University of Washington.
Read more details on the NOAA site

≈≈≈≈The University of Southern Mississippi and Liquid Robotics are carrying out an Ocean Acidification study in the Gulf of Mexico.  Physical oceanographer Dr. Stephan Howden, of the University of Southern Mississippi is using the Liquid Robotics Wave Glider to measure CO2 and dissolved oxygen levels, pH, water temperature, conductivity, air temperature, barometric pressure and wind speed and direction on a route around the Mississippi River Delta.  Data is being reported in near-real time and is available on the GCOOS Data Portal so you, from your home, can follow its course and see the results right now. Just a click away.

≈≈≈≈In early October "National Science Foundation’s research team successfully retrieved data from a sensor (SeaFET) they had deployed in Antarctic waters at the end of previous research season. It will provide critical baseline data on the changes in chemistry or acidification in those remote seas and will also be first of its kind about the relative acidity–expressed as pH–of the waters in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica."
"Deployed by divers under the sea ice and left in place at the end of the 2011-2012 Antarctic research season, the sensor gathered data through the month of June, which is the height of winter in the Southern Hemisphere. Data gathering ended when the instrument’s battery failed in the frigid waters. Having a pH baseline will provide an important benchmark for scientists to begin to test whether certain species have the physiological and genetic characteristics to adapt to projected change."

SOURCE at BEFOREITSNEWS.COM

PHOTO CREDIT: NSF/UCSD

≈≈≈≈Two scientists at Western Washington University's Shannon Point Marine Center in Anacortes have received a $543,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study the impacts of Ocean Acidification on organisms that form the base of the oceanic food web. The "new project will examine how the production and storage of fats in phytoplankton exposed to acidic conditions affect the reproduction of one of its principal predators, the copepod. Copepods are an important component in the oceanic food web, since they are fed upon by finfish, shellfish larvae and other marine animals such as herring, Dungeoness crab, and filter feeders such as baleen whales and whale sharks. Copepods are prevalent both locally in the Salish Sea and in global oceans."
SOURCE

≈≈≈≈It's not for everyone, that's true, but if you wished to listen to a part or the whole five and a half hour "webinar of the seventh and final meeting of the Washington State Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification" you will be overjoyed to find it HERE.

≈≈≈≈"A postdoctoral position is available in the Geology and Geophysics Department at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution starting in February 2013. The position is part of an NSF-funded project to determine the compounded impacts of ocean acidification, warming, and oxygen depletion on the health, survival and growth of benthic foraminifera. The successful candidate will work with the PI to set up the experimental system, conduct a long-term experiment, process samples, analyze data, and write a manuscript(s). The material to be studied will be bathyal foraminifera to be collected on a research cruise in May or June 2013; the successful applicant will join this approximately one-week cruise."
APPLY (Postdoctoral Investigator Ocean Acidification, job 12-10-04
SOURCE
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Protection
Monday, March 19, 2012
By Daniel de la Calle

»Could the protection of marine areas be counterproductive? That is what Professor Ray Hilborn, from the University of Washington's School of Aquatic and Fisheries Sciences, believes. Professor Hilborn stated in late February during an interview for an Australian radio station.  You can read the transcript HERE and listen to the interview HERE.
While some of his arguments are somewhat interesting I could not agree less with them.  Protecting land, lakes, rivers and seas is always a good idea and has proven to be visibly effective: beneficial. To claim that this will increase fish and seafood demand from parts of the world (China, Thailand or Brazil) where fishing and farming is not properly done just means some measures need to be taken about food imports.  The rest is demagogic.  The US, Australia or the EU could easily ban such imports, take measures, work with producing countries on production and quality control, impose sanctions.  To affirm that marine reserves do nothing other than appease people's consciences and deviate us from global problems like Ocean Acidification is first of all not true.  Since when is a good policy the one responsible for bad practices in other areas?  We could perfectly well be protecting marine areas while we finally began taking worldwide factual measures.  I simply cannot see how setting up good examples and leaving some parts of the world in peace from the stress we cause upon them is in any way detrimental.  Let's move the discussion to terra firma: would Professor Hilborn suggest to act in the same fashion in his country's National Parks? Should hunting and controlled farming be allowed in Yosemite and Yellowstone?  I think the problem for the nth time is that we persist in looking at the seas of the world with different eyes from the way we see land, that is why we continue using them as "magical" dumps and we are depleting them in the style hungry teenagers go through their parent's fridges some Saturday nights.

»The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal notice of intent to sue the National Marine Fisheries Service this week "for failing to develop a recovery plan for two species of coral, elkhorn and staghorn, that live off the coast of Florida and the Caribbean.  Although these corals have been protected under the Endangered Species Act since 2006, the Fisheries Service still has not yet developed a crucial, and legally required, recovery plan to avoid extinction and secure their future survival."
Both elkhorn and staghorn corals were in fact the first species to be protected under the Endangered Species Act back in 2006 due to the threat of global warming and Ocean Acidification.  In a few decades they have declined by more than 95%. Photo: Elkhorn and Staghorn corals
SOURCE

»Mobile marine reserves as means for protection in the future.  This is the proposal conservationists brought forth at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver, Canada.  How would this work out?  The mobile marine reserves would use GPS tracking devices to follow endangered marine animals such as sharks, leatherback turtles or albatross and the areas with the highest populations would be temporarily closed down to trawlers and industrial fishermen.  As Professor Larry Crowder of Stanford University expressed at that meeting, "Less than 1% of the ocean is protected at this point, and these marine parks tend to be built around things that sit still like coral reefs and seamounts. But tracking studies show that many, many organisms - fish, marine mammals, sea turtles, seabirds and sharks - respond to oceanographic features that don't have a fixed point. These features are fronts and eddies that may move seasonally, from summer to winter, and from year to year based on oceanographic climate changes like El Nino or the Pacific Decadal Oscillation."
The idea is no doubt interesting; whether it is realistic or not depends more on national and international regulation, since the technology is already available.
SOURCE

»The Atlantic Ocean Alliance has launched a campaign to protect Antarctica's ocean through the world's largest network of marine reserves.  The Antarctic Ocean contains waters from the Indian, Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and for this reason some scientists do not consider it a separate ocean.  Although this part of the world is largely untouched and unexplored it faces several environmental problems derived from climate change, overfishing, ultraviolet radiation and Ocean Acidification.  The area the Atlantic Ocean Alliance wants to conserve is the Ross Sea.  The protection network would cover roughly 3.6 million square kilometers between Antarctica and New Zealand.  It is seen "as a first step towards establishing a comprehensive network of marine reserves and MPAs around Antarctica.” The proposal was presented to the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), a body made up of representatives from 24 nations and the European Union that is precisely focusing on protecting marine areas in the Antarctic this year.
To read more you can download their PROPOSAL HERE and sign their PETITION HERE
This is their video:
SOURCE

»PROTECTION: Massive Attack/Everything But The Girl

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In South America This Fall: In April!
Thursday, February 02, 2012

By Daniel de la Calle

 

Today we want to briefly share with you our plans for A Sea Change during the upcoming months.  During the last few months last year, we had been discussing our possible presence during the RIO+20 summit this coming June.  We kept receiving mixed signals: encouraging, hopeful news together with worried comments about the role given to the oceans at the summit, the sudden change of schedule (it was initially going to coincide with Britain's Queen Elizabeth's crowning anniversary…), about the official agenda and the way things were being organized.  In the end both Barbara and Sven thought it might be important for Niijii Films to travel back to Brazil with the hope of creating more focused buzz around ocean acidification.  It was their view that with credentials, we could enter the conference itself and share an ocean acidification media package that would contribute information to ongoing discussion about ocean health in  Rio de Janeiro.  We are still working on the specific plan for the days of Rio+20, so your suggestions and ideas are more than welcome.  Should we organize our own event during the summit? Of what type? Would it make an impact to distribute copies of the documentary amongst the delegations? Do we need to be present at all the major meetings? Which are a most critical? Should I pack my own lunch or buy it there? Please email me at aseachangedocumentary@gmail.com if you plan to attend the conference and would like to meet, or if you have some words of advice or experience for me, I will be delighted and grateful.

We have also begun to schedule some work both in Peru and Chile for late April and early May.  We are aiming for a couple of screenings in Peru followed by three in Chile and hope to do as many interviews as possible, get the media interested and willing to inform Chileans and Peruvians; the same type of effort we displayed in Brazil and Colombia during 2010 and 2011.  Again, if you have any recommendations of universities or institutions we should contact for the screenings, or know which are the most crucial newspapers and television channels to deliver our message about Ocean Acidification through, please write us at aseachangedocumentary@gmail.com.

It has been over three years since the film premiered in the States, five since we began filming, but the story continues to resonate with force.  Maybe because A Sea Change came out before most people had heard about Ocean Acidification, because the scientific community keeps revealing the detrimental consequences of higher acidity in the ocean or because of the film's deeper message about our legacy for future generations, the truth is that A Sea Change will be very much alive in 2012.


An already nostalgic look at our shooting in Alaska in 2007. The baby tooth test scene


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A List of Lists
Tuesday, January 24, 2012

By Daniel de la Calle

 

We are still in January, the month of lists and resolutions for the remaining 11 months or the rest of our lives.  Here I list of some of those lists:
The Center for Biological Diversity announced their Top Ten priorities for 2012. Here is the list:
1    Save the Endangered Species Act.
2    Protect more species.
3    Save wolves.
4    Stop Arctic drilling.
5    Expand awareness of overpopulation.
6    Defend polar bears.
7    Fight Climate Change.
8    Stem the tide of Ocean Acidification.
Quoting what they write about Ocean Acidification:
"As oceans absorb carbon dioxide, or CO2, seawater chemistry changes and the water becomes more acidic. According to scientists, the oceans have become about 30 percent more acidic due to human CO2 emissions — and this spells trouble for ocean life. First of all, ocean acidification depletes seawater of the compounds that organisms need to build shells and skeletons, impairing the ability of corals, crabs, seastars, sea urchins, plankton and other marine creatures to build the protective armor they need to survive. To make matters worse, fish and other ocean organisms may be adversely affected from the rise in acidity in their ocean habitat. Fish are common ocean prey, and plankton are at the base of the ocean food chain, so when these animals suffer, so do the countless animals that eat them. Ocean acidification could disrupt the entire marine ecosystem.
Since ocean acidification is one of the gravest threats to marine biodiversity, the Center is tackling it head on, and has launched an initiative to protect our oceans from CO2 pollution. The Clean Water Act is the nation’s strongest law protecting water quality, and we’re using the tools provided by this law to stop pollution causing ocean acidification as well as to improve water-quality standards and monitoring for pH. In 2007, we petitioned eight coastal states to declare ocean waters impaired under the Clean Water Act due to ocean acidification, which would require those states to limit CO2 pollution entering waters under their jurisdiction, helping to reduce the devastating effects of ocean acidification. The same year, we also petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to impose stricter pH standards for ocean water quality and publish guidance to help states protect U.S. waters from acidification. Finally, in spring 2009, the agency for the first time invoked the Clean Water Act to address the acidification crisis, calling for data to use for evaluating water-quality criteria under the Act. But when it failed to take action against ocean acidification in Washington state waters — which are in violation of the state’s already lax water-quality standard for pH — we were forced to sue the agency in spring 2009. Thanks to our landmark lawsuit, the next year the EPA recommended that coastal states begin addressing ocean acidification under the Clean Water Act.
We also advocate for the protection of species affected by ocean acidification, most notably elkhorn coral and staghorn coral, which comprise much of the rapidly declining coral reefs of Florida and the Caribbean. These corals were listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 2006 as a result of a Center petition, and in September 2007, we sued the National Marine Fisheries Service to speed designation of critical habitat. While elkhorn and staghorn corals are the first species to be listed because of vulnerability to global warming, they unfortunately won’t be the last. The Center will continue to defend our ocean’s life and oppose the pollution that threatens it."

9    Safeguard wildlife and people from pesticides.
10   Protect public lands from dirty energy projects.
Plus a link to their page on the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Treehugger's David DeFranza made a list of "Ten marine species on the brink of mass extinction due to Ocean Acidification". We had to have it here:
1    Blue Sea Slugs
2    Pteropods


3    Brittle stars
4    Squids
5    Shirmp
6    Oysters
7    Sea Urchins
8    Abalones
9    Corals
10   Clown Fish

Greepeace's blacklist of irresponsible fishing operators and the companies behind them.
 They say: "This database is a convenient tool for national fisheries administrators, and anyone interested to quickly check on the compliance status of a foreign vessel trying to unload its catch in port, seeking services in port, seeking a fishing license or to register or flag in a country. Greenpeace also encourages retailers and suppliers to use the database to ensure the fish they source do not come from pirate fishing vessels or from companies involved in such activities."

Vermont Law Top Ten environmental watch list 2012.
Vermont Law School, which has one of the top-ranked environmental law programs in the USA, just released its second annual Top 10 Environmental Watch List of issues and developments that should be closely followed in 2012.
1    With Republicans Attacking the EPA, 2012 Could Be a Turning Point for Environmental Regulation
   EPA and White House Clash Over Ozone Standards
3    Powder River Basin’s Abundance of Coal at the Epicenter of Energy Development
4    Activists Claim Victory, Temporarily, on Disputed Keystone XL Pipeline
5    EPA, Transportation Department Step Up Sector-by-Sector Regulation of Greenhouse Gas Emissions
6    Federal Appeals Court Settles Roadless Rule…for Now
7    Fukushima Fallout Affects Global Energy Security, Cost, Safety, Grid Reliability
8    U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Bid to Regulate Greenhouse Gases Under Federal Common Law
9    Landmark Settlement Under the Endangered Species Act
10   Combating Climate Change Through Enforcement: EPA v. TVA

The US Government list of popular New Year's resolutions with some resources and personal encouragement to achieve your goals:
1    Drink Less Alcohol
2    Eat Healthy Food
3    Get a Better Education
4    Get a Better Job
5    Get Fit
6    Lose Weight
7    Manage Debt
8    Manage Stress
9    Quit Smoking
10    Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle
11   Save Money
12   Take a Trip
13   Volunteer to Help Others

NOAA's list of coastal counties in the USA (PDF).

If you read this far you deserve to know that a couple of the links are arbitrary when not preposterous.


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Autumn News
Thursday, November 17, 2011

By Daniel de la Calle

 

    Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute scientists have launched a sophisticated, unique tool to study the effects of Ocean Acidification on deep-sea animals in their native habitat, using free-flowing water.  The idea behind Free-Ocean Carbon Enrichment (FOCE) is to create a test area on the seafloor where seawater pH can be controlled.  Small animals can be placed in the test chamber and their behavior and physiological responses monitored.


Photo by MBARI
Read more about the fascinating experiment HERE.

    Two papers recently published in Global Change Biology by scientists from Australia, the US and France provide an interesting look at how the threat of Ocean Acidification to reefs vary from one to another.
"Overall, CO2 enrichment and ocean acidification is bad news for coral reefs", says Dr. Ken Anthony, Research Team Leader for the Climate Change and Ocean Acidification team at the Australian Institute of Marine Science.  "But some reef areas take up more CO2 than they produce (through photosynthesis), which can lower the vulnerability of neighboring reef areas to ocean acidification.  On the other hand, reef areas with greater coral cover produce more CO2 than they consume (through calcification and respiration) and that adds locally to the ocean acidification threat".  Dr Joanie Kleypas of the National Center for Atmospheric Research believes that "If we can start to understand which areas of large reef systems such as the Great Barrier Reef can counteract pH changes locally and which areas cannot, then we are better able to assess the relative risks of ocean acidification".
"Reef managers have been faced with the problem of ocean acidification as a uniform threat affecting all reef areas equally.  These new studies are a first step to help reef managers understand how some areas might in fact lower the impact of ocean acidification in neighboring areas, whereas others will further acidify themselves.  Seagrass beds, for example, can significantly reduce CO2 levels in the water, providing more favorable chemical conditions for neighboring reefs", says Dr Anthony.  Continue reading HERE.

    I recently saw an advertising piece about the use of biodegradable bags and plastic wrappings on sailing boats.  Sailors around the world should embrace the idea and commit to only using compostable and biodegradable bags, leading an example and modestly fighting the alarming presence of plastics in the oceans.  The particular brand is called BioBag, and HERE is the page where you can read more about the benefits of using such products.

    Ken Caldeira continues his series of videos about Ocean Acidification and coral reefs for the Carnegie Institution for Science on Youtube.  This one is with Julia Pongratz:

    
    David Shiffman, a PhD Student and research assistant at the RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program asked for our vote in the 2011 Blogging Scholarship (which provides $10,000 towards education and research expenses) finals.  I already voted for him and his shark conservation blog HERE.  If you want to vote too just remember that it is the bubble next to "David Shiffman: Southern Fried Science".

    Two or three blog posts ago I wrote about insular dwarfism and this week I have some news about animals diminishing in size: recent studies indicate that climate change might be shrinking numerous plant and animal species.   David Bickford, from the National University of Singapore believes ectotherms (cold-blooded animals like toads, turtles and snakes that rely on environmental heat sources) are changing a lot.  The study draws information from fossil records as well as "comparative studies and research implicating anthropogenic climate change over the last hundred years".  For example, fossils from a warming phase during the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum indicate that burrowing invertebrates like beetles, bees and ants shrank in size by up to 75%.  In the seas, each degree of warming has been shown to decrease the size of fish by up to 22%, but the biggest threat to marine life could be the reduced growth rates of phytoplankton in response to acidification, which "could negatively affect all ocean life because it forms the basis of the marine food web", says Bickford.
You can read more in THIS CNN piece.
    Researchers in Spain are using posidonia oceanica seagrass meadows to track the evolution of heavy metal pollution in Mediterranean waters all the way back to 4,500 years ago.

Photo by Alberto Romero
The first heavy metal residue is found in the strata going 2,800 years back, coinciding with the first mining and metal work by Romans and Greeks.  During the last 1,200 years the presence of metals has increased gradually, but it was within the last 350, since the beginning of the industrial revolution, that the levels began to skyrocket, with a significant increase in the presence of lead, zinc and arsenic.  These threatened seagrass beds can be invaluable to research, but they more importantly serve as a great filter and storer of heavy metals along the Mediterranean shoreline.
As a footnote, the posidonia meadows around the coast of the island of Ibiza are over 5 miles long and are believed by some to be the biggest and eldest living organism, continually growing for over 100,000 years.
 Read about it (in Spanish) HERE.

    A new study by a group of European scientists led by Michael T. Burrows, from the Scottish Marine Institute, reveals that, although ocean temperatures are increasing at a slower rate than in the atmosphere, its progress and effects on sea life is quite similar.  Spring keeps coming two days earlier every year and regional temperatures are traveling North and South from the equator at an average speed of 27 kilometers per decade.  Also, the rate of warming seen by the scientists was greatest in equatorial oceans, which is also where biodiversity is currently highest, the analysis shows.
Species are having to either migrate to keep living within the same temperatures or, in some cases, modify their reproductive times.  But these options are not available for all animals.  Arctic species cannot migrate to colder regions and in places like the Mediterranean, where the sea is enclosed between Europe and Africa, a migration North is not possible.  Carlos Duarte, research scientist for the Consejo Superior de Investivaciones Científicas in Spain concludes: "when the speed of climate change is faster than the speed organisms can disperse or when there are physical barriers that make dispersion impossible species can only adapt or become extinct." The ARTICLE in the online edition of El País.  The information published in the journal SCIENCE IS HERE.


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Ocean Acidification News, Again
Tuesday, November 01, 2011

By Daniel de la Calle

 

I know it has been a while since we last posted news about Ocean Acidification and other related environmental problems on the blog.  In an effort to catch up with the latest information out there, here we offer a first list:

    Scientists launched the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Study in the hope of answering all skeptics' doubts and suspicions about global temperature rise.  It is highly unlikely any amount of information or further work will convince those who base their lives on not believing that they were wrong, but the numbers are pretty unanswerable and the results are basically the same as we knew (by the way, this time after comparing 1.6 billion temperature reports).  We recommend THIS article by Kelly Levin or to THIS NY Times piece to get more details.

    The Carnegie Institution Department of Global Ecology has set up an expedition to One Tree Island with the purpose of improving our understanding of the effects of Ocean Acidification on coral reefs. There will be a video research diary of those 25 days in Australia with Ken Caldeira and Jack Silverman. Here is the first:

And HERE another.

    Washington Sea Grant has organized a symposium on Ocean Acidification on November 9th at the University of Washington Center for Urban Horticulture.  The scientific panel will be moderated  by Richard Feely and a policy/public perception panel by former US Congressman Brian Baird, author of the 2009 Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act.  More info on the previous link and HERE.

    Another Symposium, in the more distant future: The Third International Symposium on the Ocean in a High CO2 World. From September 24th to 27th in Monterey, California. More details HERE.

    This is a cool video that shows about how to make your own soda pop or carbonated milk at home.  It can also serve to demonstrate the effects of Ocean Acidification with a little imagination:

    The Institute of Marine Research has an open position as postdoctoral researcher on the effects of Ocean Acidification on marine zooplankton.  More information on the EPOCA website link HERE.  It is your chance, postdoctoral scientist reading our blog, to live in beautiful Bergen, Norway.  We were there for the filming of A Sea Change and liked it very much.

    350.ORG is promoting a symbolic encircling of the "White House to ask President Obama to reject Keystone XL and to live up to his promise to free us from the tyranny of oil." They will start at 2PM, carrying signs with Obama's own words to serve as reminders of his promises.  More info HERE.

    And finally, one more video from NOAA on how carbon emissions influence Ocean Acidification:


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To Save Corals
Friday, October 28, 2011

By Daniel de la Calle

 

Right where you read these words now many others have stood, layer upon layer, in a frustrated attempt to write about corals and my dives at the Tayrona National Park back in June.  They were not the problem, the source of trouble was the confusing mixture of sensations and thoughts I had while being underwater in that awe inspiring underworld of the Northern Colombian Coast.  Remembering this morning the time I last visited my grandmother in Germany, soon before she died, I came to understand:  I was very happy to get one more chance to see her again, to introduce her to my little daughter, but felt profoundly sad as well, overwhelmed with that "last time" feeling, with the apparent absurdity and purposelessness of a whole lifetime of acquired knowledge and experiences disappearing forever.

When I went down the wild cliffs and coves in Tayrona, while diving inside a giant cave or during the night immersions that revealed the true magic of polyp colonies, I went through the exact same emotions: immense gratitude to be there, to get to witness such an explosion of life, that display of shapes, of colors, such frenzy of activity, invisible and impossible to guess from the surface, but also abysmal sadness at the thought that the days of this whole ecosystem as it once was, even as it is now, are numbered; all this evolved primeval wisdom, this giant bank of results from trial and error over millions of years, this sophisticated network of lifeforms that carries on, unaware of their doomed future.  I felt mostly guilty, but also greedy and dirty, knowing nothing other than the apparent needs of our generation is condemning our grandchildren to a world where tropical reefs will be talked about in the style of fairy tales, as a dream or a possible past. Swimming in Tayrona I was both the witness and perpetrator, the murderer staring amongst the crowd at the fallen body, hidden behind the safety and innocence of the masses.  The thought of this disaster in slow motion tainted what would have otherwise been a marvelous diving experience; it was all too tragic, too surreal and beautiful to be enjoyed.
The group I dove with does very innovative work "farming" corals in a nursery.  It is just the second or third location worldwide where such techniques are tried.  They initially break off little pieces with polyps and glue them to small submerged farms that consist of buoys, ropes and plastic tubes. 

A reduced group of specialists and scientists survey and clean on a weekly basis as they grow, hoping that after a year they will be ready to be implanted with epoxy glue back on the reef rocks.  I was offered to trade a regular dive for a cleaning day at the farm and took the opportunity to appease the guilt and feel useful.  It is always better to visit a place in the disguise of a worker rather than a plain tourist, to lend a hand in a project.  The platform is in the middle of a small bay, levitating some 30 feet above the sand bottom and another 30 from the surface. 

The only extra gear we wore were gloves, spatulas and some brushes to swipe the tubes clean from all the algae and barnacles that relentlessly menace with taking over.  Barnacles are sharp as micro scalpels: you end up with dozens of invisible stinging cuts in fingers and palms no matter how careful you are.  The whole place is in fact a testament to how fierce competition is underwater.  To make things worse our poor corals are not exactly set with the best weapons and defense equipment.  Algae, barnacles, muscles and other small crustaceans have the winning hand, and as temperatures go up and pH goes down corals become more and more brittle and defenseless.  We, the untrained volunteers, focused exclusively on the cleaning of the tubes that conform the skeleton of the structure, while the scientists and initiated divers carefully brushed the fragile baby corals themselves. 

Word that we were at work spread quickly throughout the bay; in a matter of minutes all kinds of fish swam around us to snack on the algae and barnacle dinner.  Those fish became the only company as visibility progressively worsened.  It is a strange sensation to focus on a task underwater, floating like an astronaut outside the space station; at a certain point you become totally disoriented, cannot quite discern what is up or down and begin to work as blind painter, reading the braille of detritus with the tips of your fingers, scrubbing away inside a dark green cloud.  My mind spun around Cousteau, sushi, Gagarin, extraterrestrial life and also Penelope and Sisyphus, pondering on the futility of life, of repeated ant labor and the inventions of mankind.  But it was knowing that these efforts take place while a bigger problem is bound to swallow all well meant smaller attempts that really sucked all the air from my soul.  This was indeed a beautiful try, the portions of coral surprisingly looked like true baby life, very cute, the size of my daughter's Calico Critters. I never thought something so small and rock-like looking could be so endearing.

The times I have delivered speeches, given interviews on behalf of Niijii Films or shown the film to groups a question tends to come out: "What have you accomplished so far? Has the film had any results in terms of policy changes, on people's awareness and commitment?" Every single time I pause for a second in the hope of getting a lightning of inspiration that will put a better answer in my mouth, a more optimistic take on the whole matter.  I begin to tell them about those few steps forward there have been so far, mention the Clean Water Act, all the research scientists are doing, the numerous screenings and festivals everywhere, the press, radio and tv, a meeting with the Minister for the Environment in some country, the handing of copies to decision makers worldwide, the increase of internet hits…  Then I pause again and say: "Are you asking me if I believe there is hope?  It depends on what you see as hope; not very much.  But I do know that this that I am doing here is exactly what I should be doing."
I am just scrubbing those tubes too.

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A LINK about redemption.


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On Drowning
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
By Daniel de la Calle

I was 9 years old in 1981 when a local diver submerged a marble image of the Virgin of Carmen on the beach in front of my house as a sign of gratitude for a personal favor or miracle granted.  At the time the event barely made the news, but there it has stayed, on that spot for the past 30 years, many feet underwater, slowly gaining notoriety.  It comes up on the first Sunday after each July 16th for devotees, fishermen and scuba divers to worship and then goes back to the sea. I have swam and rowed above the location on several occasions; anyone with the proper equipment or set of lungs can visit it, see her head slightly turned up to the surface, in eerie and perpetual calmness.  If I was a religious person I would be overcome with devotion upon this contemplation, for finding traces of people, of human earthly life in that liquid world that is so not our own is always an intense and somehow mystical experience that briefly stops your heart.  Whether it is a shipwreck, some archeological remains, a broken fishing net or a simple car tire, it is evident those objects do not belong there, that they represent tragedies, mishaps in various degrees.
My second haunting memory of bodies in the water comes from my early college years; I must have been 19 or 20.  On one of those lead-tainted fall days in which water and sky seem one I decided to skip lectures and go to read by the shore.  I was aimlessly jumping from rock to rock at the end of a cove when I came upon the drowned body of a young woman, floating very still, head down, as if she was staring at something down, but fully dressed.  The water seemed solid, only her loose red hair waved a few millimeters from side to side.  It was a horrible mute sight that shaped the way I have felt death ever since, as the representation of an absence. Some time later I learned the tragic story of that poor woman and how currents had dragged her corpse for days from a town west to that lonely spot.
Last Friday I was looking for news about Ocean Acidification to include on this blog when I stumbled upon Jason de Caires Taylor's  work at the National Marine Park in Cancún. A British artist and diver, Jason de Caires Taylor has placed 400 life sized cement "people" off the western coast of Isla Mujeres to serve as an artificial reef for young coral to grow.  Hopefully, it will also take part of the stress from the 750,000 annual visitors off the park and into the newly created attraction.  The photographs you can see on his website, some of which are displayed below, and the posted videos transmit something hard to put into words.  Those hyper-realistic cement women, men and children, have they learned to calmly live underwater, to carry out their daily routines, read, type, stare at each other and hold hands? Are they the ghosts of people on the shore? Fish swim around them, nibble from their cheeks and shoulders, chase each other between the legs.  I do not know if they have become accustomed and see those bodies as home, shelter, as a spot in which to find food, or if they feel they have somehow been given the opportunity to go visit us the way divers have been examining them over the past 60 years.  The slow, almost invisible transformation of those cement skins into new corals, algae and crustaceans is both disconcerting and quieting; it is like a poetic, metaphorical assurance that, in case we fail as a species, life will eventually take our places, move on.  I once read that if we do vanish from Earth and one of those so sought after alien civilizations came to the planet, a few hundred thousand years from now, the only trace they would find of us in geological strata would be a very very thin layer of plastic.

Jason de Caires Taylor also plans to create a series of soluble sculptures to illustrate Ocean Acidification.










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Heinz Awards 2010
Friday, September 24, 2010
By Daniel de la Calle

In a case of unprecedented coincidence, two of this year's Heinz Awards winners are very closely related to A Sea Change and Ocean Acidification. Richard Feely,  one of our favorite NOAA scientists, and Elizabeth Kolbert, the New Yorker journalist that wrote the article "The Darkening Sea" that inspired the film are each going to receive the Heinz Award Medallion and an unrestricted cash prize of $100,000.

The Heinz Awards website writes about Richard Feely:

Logging more than 1,000 days at sea on over 50 scientific expeditions, Dr. Richard Feely of Seattle, a senior research scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Pacific Marine Laboratory, has played a leading role in examining the acidification of oceans and shifting public policy to address this growing issue. 
In fact, ocean acidity is now considered global warming’s “evil twin,” thanks in large measure to Dr. Feely’s seminal research on the changing ocean chemistry and its impact on marine ecosystems. He argues that with the continuation of uncontrolled “greenhouse” gas emissions, the acidity of the world’s oceans will double by the end of the century. 
Dr. Feely is sounding the alarm that our oceans are becoming more acidic earlier than expected, which has enormous impact on the environment. His groundbreaking research includes leading NOAA expeditions, such as one off North America’s Pacific coast, that discovered the startling fact that corrosive waters were at acidic levels not predicted by climate change models to occur for decades.
Richard Feely has spent his federal government career researching and understanding ocean chemistry and the effects of human-induced changes, particularly excess carbon dioxide, on the world’s seas. Early on, his findings were largely ignored. However, recognizing ocean acidity as an environmental problem with potentially catastrophic economic consequences, Dr. Feely persistently and methodically applied the highest levels of scientific inquiry as the problem grew in scope and intensity. He has also leveraged media platforms to explain the problem of ocean acidification and to increase its visibility more publicly. Dr. Feely maintains “The decisions we make now, over the next 50 years, will be felt over hundreds of thousands of years.”

And this is what it says about Elizabeth Kolbert:

A groundbreaking environmental journalist, Elizabeth Kolbert is devoted to educating the public about environmental issues and has gone far beyond traditional reporting – even raising a hive of bees in her backyard to better understand their habits and explain them to her readers for a story about their mysterious disappearance. 
When Ms. Kolbert joined The New Yorker as a staff writer in 1999, she began to fully explore the field of environmentalism in general and the topic of global change in particular. Her fascination with the climate began in early 2000, when she felt the topic, which was mostly the province of scientists and environmentalists, was not getting enough clear coverage in the mass media. 
Ms. Kolbert’s unique ability to communicate complex information generates intense public interest and grabs national attention. Her passion and creativity shine through her writing. Ms. Kolbert has an ability to describe complicated scientific processes in entertaining and educating ways as she spreads the critical story of our changing planet.
In a style that is both instructional and chatty, Ms. Kolbert walks readers who are largely not scientists or climate experts, through the multiple disciplines studying this issue. She is an award-winning journalist who brings her natural curiosity and intelligence to bear on the growing concerns raised by our warming planet. By dissecting and disseminating the vast and highly technical scientific information available on global climate change, she brings these crucial issues to a wider audience. 
She has become a trusted resource to a growing network of concerned citizens who crave informed expertise on the topic but who lack the access she has acquired to the many disciplines researching the topic.

We are so happy for them both, it is well deserved recognition for a life guided by talent and hard work. And they are probably very happy as well that they do not live in Spain, because back in my country this sort of news spreads like wildfire and they would now be forced to invite to drinks and tapas anyone they ever met.


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Back to Brazil, back to FICA
Friday, July 09, 2010
By Daniel de la Calle

I really wanted to visit some of the cerrado National Parks during the screening tour in Brazil in March and April, but it was not possible.  The dates did not leave a window of time big enough to "escape" to the countryside between each city.   I thought it would be a long time before I had another chance to fly to South America and fulfill this desire, but I was so wrong.  Not even a week after my return to the US the production company received an invitation to take part in FICA again, the film festival that A Sea Change won last year, this time as part of a series of films to be screened for school children from the State of Goias.  I wrote to the organizers and suggested we did a little more than just show the film; I wanted to go down there and meet them, talk to them about ocean acidification and do a simple chemistry experiment to exemplify what an acidic ocean does to shell forming organisms.  They liked the idea and so it was that, barely a month after leaving Río, that I was heading South again on an early June night.

My expectations were very high, but even so the cerrado did not disappoint me at all. It is wild, it is pure, it is extremely beautiful, bizarre and surprising. Animals, birds and plants seem to have come out of a Dr. Seuss book.  The giant anteater with its long hairs, nose and tongue, the toucans and parrots, the palms, sticky plants, fragrant leaves, thorny bushes. Everything was new and unique to me.  And for good reason, forty some percent of all I saw was endemic;  this ecosystem is so important that, in a country like Brazil that holds the Amazon jungle, the cerrado still counts for over thirty percent of all the biodiversity in the nation.  The big threat to these gorgeous savannas and bushy areas are the dry season fires and the clearings done for soy and cattle farming.  Fires are strictly forbidden, but one would think that they are actually encouraged. Everywhere I went people were burning grass and low bush by the side of the road, in farms, in the forests.  This practice could not be more dangerous.  The dry season lasts half of the year and usually, once a fire gets out of control during these months there is absolutely no way people will manage to stop it. Some plants have adapted to fires and have the most ingenious ways of "escaping" or surviving fires, but many others and all animals caught in it perish and take an awful long time to repopulate the area because conditions in the cerrado are extreme and hard (six months of rain, six months of "seca", the dry season).  I came to realize that legislation is not going to do much to discourage "winter" burnings, that the only way to dissuade Brazilians from eradicating the mato is to educate them, to teach them to love this magnificent environment that they take for granted and to teach them about the consequences of fires. The cerrado, as I have already mentioned on previous posts in this blog, is the most threatened environment in all Brazil, way above the Amazonia.

Education has always looked to me like the only true key to hope and change in all matters, including the way we treat the planet, so I was elated to have the opportunity to show the film to 500 kids and talk to them for a couple minutes. There were children and teenagers of all ages, from 5 to 17. They were loud, they were having fun, they were nervous. The room was huge, it is the same one used for the Festival's closing ceremony, but in less than five minutes it filled up. They were making so much noise during the opening scene that you could not hear a thing. How loud were they? About this LOUD

Unfortunately, some of them had to leave before it was over because they had come by bus from distant towns and villages and had to begin their way back, but a good number of them stayed until the end.  I had promised to ask a few simple questions about the film and reward those that knew the answers with some of our merchandise, so the kids (and quite many adults) were pretty excited.  I also asked the younger children to please make a drawing with whatever part of the documentary or animal shown in it that they liked and we quickly assembled an informal jury to reward the best five or six with a Niijii Films baseball cap as well.  I wished I had brought 100 and not just a handful, it was heartbreaking to see some of those disappointed eyes. The most difficult question I asked seemed to be to name in an understandable way the little shell with wings that appears several times throughout the film.  The word "pteropod" is not the easiest one to pronounce for a 12 year old Brazilian kid; some pretty comical and unintelligible replies, formed mostly by the urge to own a baseball cap, came out of those mouths.  Finally, I told them all to come close to the stage and hold two cups in their hands, one filled with water and one filled with vinegar. Then we gave each one of them several pieces of chalk while I explained that they should imagine the acidic ocean being the cup of vinegar and the shell forming organism being the pieces of chalk. There was some initial confusion because the chalk was bubbling in the water as well as in the vinegar, but once the air inside it had come out they could see the vinegar getting all murky and the chalk stick slowly dissolving. I knew all this was quite a stretch for a little girl that has never seen the ocean or eaten shellfish and is at the beginning of her school years, but I think they got the essence of the message and both students and teachers were absolutely fascinated by the chemistry behind the terrible problem of ocean acidification. I believe and hope the experiment is going to be replicated in classrooms during the next few months.

Here are a few of the drawings I took with me, all of them winners of the Niijii Films cap that is now often seen around the State of Goias:





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