Thursday, April 29, 2010

Researchers: Asteroid Ice May Be 'Living Fossil' With Clues To Oceans' Origins

Researchers: Asteroid Ice May Be 'Living Fossil' With Clues To Oceans' Origins
From the Underwater Times

ORLANDO, Florida -- The first-ever discovery of ice and organic molecules on an asteroid may hold clues to the origins of Earth's oceans and life 4 billion years ago.

University of Central Florida researchers detected a thin layer of water ice and organic molecules on the surface of 24 Themis, the largest in a family of asteroids orbiting between Mars and Jupiter.

Their unexpected findings will be published Thursday, April 29 in Nature, which will featuretwo complementary articles by the UCF-led team and by another team of planetary scientists.

"What we've found suggests that an asteroid like this one may have hit Earth and brought our planet its water," said UCF Physics Professor HumbertoCampins, the study's lead author.

Some theories suggest asteroids brought water to Earth after the planet formed dry. Scientists say the salts and water that have been found in some meteorites support this view.

Using NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility in Hawaii, Campins and his team of researchers measured the intensity of the reflected sunlight as 24 Themis rotated. Differences in intensity at different wavelengths helped researchers determine the makeup of the asteroid's surface.

Researchers were surprised to find ice and carbon-based compounds evenly distributed on 24 Themis. More specifically, the discovery of ice is unexpected because surface ice should be short lived on asteroids, which are expected to be too warm for ice to survive for long.

The distance between this asteroid and the sun is about three times greater than between Earth and the sun.

Researchers will continue testing various hypotheses to explain the presence of ice. Perhaps most promising is the possibility that 24 Themis might have preserved the ice in its subsoil, just below the surface, as a kind of "living fossil" or remnant of an early solar system that was generally considered to have disappeared long ago.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

US oil spill 'may be one of the worst in history'

From the Sydney Herald

US oil spill 'may be one of the worst in history'

The Gulf of Mexico oil rig disaster will develop into one of the worst spills in US history if the well is not sealed, the coast guard officer leading the response has warned.

BP, which leases the Deepwater Horizon platform, has been operating four robotic submarines some 1500 metres down on the seabed to try to cap two leaks in the riser pipe that connected the rig to the wellhead.

But the best efforts of the British energy giant have yielded no progress so far, and engineers are frantically constructing a giant dome that could be placed over the leaks as a back-up plan to try and stop the oil spreading.

Time is running out as a huge slick with a 965km circumference, seen in satellite images released by NASA, has moved within 34km of the ecologically fragile Louisiana coast despite favourable winds.

The US authorities said they were considering a controlled burn of oil captured in inflatable containment booms floating in the gulf to protect the shorelines of Louisiana and other southern states.

''I am going to say right up front: the BP efforts to secure the blowout preventer have not yet been successful,'' Rear Admiral Mary Landry told a press conference on Tuesday, referring to a 450-tonne machine that could seal the well.

Asked to compare the accident to the notorious 1989 Exxon Valdez oil tanker disaster, Landry declined but said: ''If we don't secure the well, yes, this will be one of the most significant oil spills in US history.''

The US government promised a ''comprehensive and through investigation'' into the deadly explosion that sank the platform and pledged ''every resource'' to help stave off an environmental disaster.

The rig, which BP leases from Houston-based contractor Transocean, went down last Thursday 209km southeast of New Orleans, still burning off crude two days after a blast that killed 11 workers.

The widow of one of the dead crew members has filed a lawsuit accusing the companies that operated the rig - BP, Transocean and US oil services behemoth Halliburton - of negligence.

The blast created a slick that could reach Louisiana's wetlands - which are a paradise for rare waterfowl and other wildlife - within days if the winds change.

BP has sent a flotilla of 49 skimmers, tugs, barges, and recovery boats to mop up the spill, but their efforts were hampered at the weekend by strong winds and high seas.

A rig is on stand-by to start drilling two relief wells that could diverting the oil flow to new pipes and storage vessels.

But BP officials say the relief wells will take up to three months to drill, and with oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico at the rate of 160,000 litres a day the dome is seen as a better interim bet.

''They started working on the fabrication of this dome structure fairly recently and it's estimated it will take two to four weeks to build,'' US coast guard spokesman Prentice Danner said.

''This is the first time this has ever been done. This idea didn't exist until now. It has never been fabricated before.''

The exact dimensions and design of the dome were still being worked out, but officials said it would be similar to welded steel containment structures called cofferdams that are already used in oil rig construction.

''If you could picture a half dome on top of the leak and the oil collects inside of this dome and is pumped out from there, that is the idea behind it,'' explained Danner.

BP chief executive Tony Hayward expressed confidence an environmental disaster would be averted as he acknowledged that strong first-quarter results on Tuesday had been overshadowed by the ''tragic accident''.

Improved weather conditions, ''combined with the light, thin oil we are dealing with, has further increased our confidence that we can tackle this spill offshore''.

According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration experts participating in the spill response, the slick is ''very thin'' and consists of ''97 per cent sheen''.

Northwest winds blowing the oil away from Louisiana were predicted to keep the slick from reaching shore through Thursday at least.

Communities in southern US states along the Gulf of Mexico were nonetheless bracing for the possibility of polluted beaches and fisheries that are crucial to the region's economy.

Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, meanwhile, ordered all flags over state buildings to fly at half-staff through sunset May 3 as a token of respect for the 11 crew members who remain missing and are presumed dead.

Eyeing Iceland: Scientists To Measure Impact Of Volcanic Ash On Ocean Biology

From Underwater Times
Eyeing Iceland: Scientists To Measure Impact Of Volcanic Ash On Ocean Biology

SOUTHAMPTON, U.K. -- A team led by scientists from the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, have today set sail from Govan in Scotland towards the region of the North Atlantic Ocean affected by ash from the Icelandic volcano eruption to investigate potential impacts on ocean biology.

In many regions of the ocean the productivity of microscopic plants, called phytoplankton, that form the base of the marine food web and sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, is limited by the availability of the 'micronutrient' iron, which is essential for their growth. On a previous cruise, a group of scientists from the National Oceanography Centre demonstrated that the high-latitude North Atlantic Ocean might be one such region. Consequently biological productivity and ultimately the carbon cycle might be sensitive to any changes in iron inputs in the region.

The study region typically receives very low atmospheric dust inputs. However, the recent eruption of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull is potentially supplying large amounts of ash particles to the surface ocean near Iceland. Volcanic ash is thought to be capable of providing a significant source of iron for phytoplankton. Consequently, the eruption of the volcano has provided an unexpected opportunity to study a 'natural experiment' where the system has potentially been shifted from the normal iron limited condition. The team will thus have a once in a life time opportunity to establish whether volcanic ash levels in the marine atmosphere can influence the chemistry and biology of seawater in the North Atlantic.

The international team, which includes scientists from the University of Portsmouth, the University of Cape Town and the Natural History Museum, were already planning on visiting the region this spring on a cruise aboard the RRS Discovery. The research vessel is equipped with instrumentation to sample for atmospheric dust, and nutrients (including iron) in the seawater, alongside measuring the activity of the phytoplankton community.

Whilst the additional iron inputs by the volcanic ash may serve to stimulate the biological productivity, it is also conceivable that other elements supplied by the ash may be detrimental to parts of the phytoplankton or bacterial community. The team will investigate this by monitoring the biological response when collected volcanic ash particles are added to seawaters in experiments performed on the ship.

The team is scheduled for a stop-over in Reykjavik on May 10 and then to return to the UK on May 28.

A second planned cruise to further establish how iron availability influences upper ocean biology in the region in the summer (July-August 2010), will provide an additional opportunity to investigate the effects of the Eyjafjallajökull ash inputs on the chemistry and biology of the high-latitude North Atlantic Ocean.

Suspicion grows Asian clam was deliberately introduced

From the Irish Times:

Suspicion grows Asian clam was deliberately introduced

THE POSSIBILITY that the latest invasive species discovered in Irish waters, the Asian clam, may have been deliberately introduced to be harvested at a later date is being investigated.

The finding of “a well-established, high-density colony” of the freshwater Asian clam in the river Barrow at St Mullins, south Co Carlow, has alarmed fisheries officials and wildlife experts.

Dr Joe Caffrey of the Central Fisheries Board said it posed a threat to salmon, trout and other native species such as the freshwater pearl mussel. The “invader” could damage the food chain in Irish rivers and fatally harm the gravel beds which are used by fish as spawning grounds.

Last week, divers from the Central Fisheries Board entered the river and recovered “400 live beasts” which caused Dr Caffrey to “despair”.

He said “we don’t know how long it has been here or how far it has spread” but fears “the clam may already have spread to other rivers including the Nore and the Suir”. Further diving trips are planned next week.

It is not known how the species arrived in Ireland and, although the Barrow is tidal at St Mullins, it is not believed to have arrived by boat because the creature lacks the ability to cling to a hull.

Dr Caffrey said the Asian clam is used in aquaria and ponds and, initially, he thought it “might have been released by someone dumping the contents of an aquarium into the river”.

But now he is “suspicious” that it may have been “purposely introduced” to create a food source. “Asian clams do make a nice meal,” he observed.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Protected Reef Offers Model for Conservation

GLOVER’S REEF, Belize — As Alex Tilley powers his 15-foot skiff over the turquoise surface, a dark form slips across the white sand floor below. “Sting ray,” Mr. Tilley says.
A blog about energy, the environment and the bottom line.

Erik Olsen/The New York Times
Gilbert Martinez, right, a reef ranger, confronted a local fisherman found with 24 illegal undersized conch.
For the next half mile, en route to the Wildlife Conservation Society research station here at Glover’s Reef in Belize, at least half a dozen rays are spotted moving beneath the surface. To Mr. Tilley, the presence of so many rays says a lot about the state of the reef here.

“The fish populations at Glover’s are still very robust,” he said. “This is definitely one of the healthiest reefs in the region.”

Mr. Tilley is the station manager and resident scientist here on Middle Caye, one of six small islands within the Glover’s Reef atoll. A Ph.D. candidate in marine biology from Bangor University in North Wales, Mr. Tilley leads a reef monitoring program sponsored by the Wildlife Conservation Society, a Bronx-based organization that helped establish the reserve here in 1993.

While his British accent betrays his national origins, Mr. Tilley now lives here year-round managing the research station and conducting studies on the local sharks and rays. With its lush tropical setting and thriving reef, the caye is a kind of tropical paradise. “It beats working in a lab,” he said.

Glover’s Reef, about 28 miles from the coast of Belize, is one of the only true atolls in the Atlantic Ocean. It is also the site of Belize’s largest “no-take” marine reserve, a 17,500-acre zone where all types of fishing are prohibited. The no-take zone makes up about 20 percent of the wider 87,000-acre Marine Protected Area here. Within 75 percent of the reserve, some types of fishing are allowed, although there are restrictions on the type of gear that can be used.

According to scientists here, the marine reserve at Glover’s Reef offers a test case for the viability of similar reserves around the world. They are now hoping to apply some of the conservation strategies here to make other places succeed.

“I think Glover’s Reef is a model of hope,” says Ellen K. Pikitch, a marine biologist at the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. Dr. Pikitch runs the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science, an organization seeking wider protection for sharks worldwide. She said that the effort at Glover’s “shows that marine reserves, even small marine reserves, can work. I think it’s very transportable this concept.”

Dr. Pikitch, a self-professed “shark fanatic,” has other reasons to be hopeful. She leads the largest shark population study in the Caribbean here at Glover’s Reef, now in its 10th year. Shark populations here have remained stable, while others around the world are in severe decline.

The sharks are an integral part of a healthy reef. Along with other top predators they help keep barracuda populations in check, which is important because barracuda consume algae grazers like Parrotfish that prevent runaway algae growth from choking the corals. Other research has shown that over the long term, protected areas can even have a restorative effect on coral populations.

John Bruno, a marine ecologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Elizabeth Selig, a marine scientist with Conservation International, analyzed a global database of 8,534 live coral cover surveys conducted from 1969 to 2006. They reported their findings in February in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“We found that marine protected areas have an indirect effect that seems to benefit corals,” Dr. Bruno said. But, he said, it takes time for these effects to be realized. “People put these parks out there and then run out to see them in five years, but the benefits show up later, sometimes it takes decades,” he said.

Dr. Pikitch credits the success of Glover’s Reef to the design of the protected area. The no-take zone helps fish stocks recover, and those fish then repopulate the nearby fisheries outside the zone. She calls this doing “double duty” and says that these strategies are of particular importance in places like Belize where fishing has been a key means of subsistence since Mayan times.

There are still significant challenges. Enforcement remains a problem. The Wildlife Conservation Society shares its home on Middle Caye with an outpost of the Belize Fisheries Department. The department employs four rangers here whose job is to patrol the reef and catch fishermen who violate the fishing ban or who poach undersized conch and spiny lobster outside the no-take zone.

Recent improvements have made enforcement somewhat easier. Last July, a 40-foot high observation tower was built at the station allowing for a 360-degree panoramic view of the atoll.

Further, the wider Belize reef system is considered one of the most endangered in the world. The effects of pollution, overfishing and global warming, which can lead to coral bleaching, have all conspired to reduce coral cover here. One analysis rated 63 percent of Belize’s reefs as being threatened by human activities. Natural disasters have had a major impact as well. Still, because of what they see at places like Glover’s Reef, scientists like Dr. Pikitch have been pushing the government to expand the protected areas.

Dr. Pikitch acknowledges that the problems facing reefs here are significant, but she remains optimistic that new information, including data from her shark study, will increase awareness and prompt action to protect reefs. “We are losing coral reefs at an astounding rate,” she said. “It’s like death by a thousand cuts. So when you have a success like this in a coral ecosystem you say, ‘Wow this is great.’

Fish Ladders to Nowhere?

Calif.'s costly trout recovery effort criticized
In hopes of luring the endangered steelhead trout into the Santa Monica Mountains, California's transportation agency is planning to spend $935,000 to pave over part of a popular beach with cement and boulders to build a freeway of sorts for fish.


Associated Press Writer

MALIBU, Calif. —
In hopes of luring the endangered steelhead trout into the Santa Monica Mountains, California's transportation agency is planning to spend $935,000 to pave over part of a popular beach with cement and boulders to build a freeway of sorts for fish.

The project is the latest, yet far from the most unusual, steelhead recovery attempt by government agencies that have spent millions of dollars on concrete fish ladders, cameras, fishways and other contraptions to allow seagoing trout to spawn in Southern California streams.

The problem, even some conservationists say, is that there is little evidence construction efforts since the 1980s have done anything except absorb taxpayer dollars. The work to save the species has led to about a dozen concrete fishways at a cost of more than $16.7 million.

A $1 million fish ladder - a structure designed to allow fish to migrate upstream around a barrier - may cost $7.5 million in stimulus funds to rebuild. Another fish ladder would require fish to leap 8 feet to reach it. Studies alone for replacing a third ladder have cost an estimated $3 million.

"If we do a series of crappy projects like fish ladders to nowhere ... then the public trust for giving money for these types of projects is going to go away," said conservationist Mark Abramson of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Foundation.

Now the California Department of Transportation wants to build a passage for steelhead here across Dan Blocker State Beach, named for the actor who played Hoss on TV's Bonanaza. The artificial streambed, up to 60 feet wide and extending 102 feet onto the beach, would create pools allowing the fish to swim under the Pacific Coast Highway, then upstream.

The plan makes no sense to restaurant owner Daniel Forge, who decided to sell a patch of property to CalTrans after the agency threatened to use eminent domain.

"They decided we were going to bring back steelhead to the stream but I don't think there were ever any steelhead along there," Forge said.

Steelhead were once teeming in Southern California waters. Over the years, however, development encroached and waterways were channelized, cutting off their pathways to spawning grounds.

When the fish were listed as endangered in 1997, only an estimated 500 adults were left from Santa Barbara to Mexico. Many believe southern steelhead are worth saving because they are more adaptable than steelhead elsewhere and could be key to the survival of the species.

While there are no hard numbers to show steelhead are rebounding from these construction efforts, wildlife officials say anecdotal evidence suggests more adult fish are spawning.

Unconventional methods are necessary sometimes, they say, because ripping out dams and other obstructions to spawning is not realistic.

"Nobody really wants (construction) as a solution," said Mary Larson, who oversees steelhead recovery for Fish and Game in Southern California. But she believes the CalTrans proposal to build a fishway in Malibu could work. "Frogs just need good, quiet waters, birds need good tall trees to nest but my fish need to travel."

Conservationists believe that federal and state agencies should push more for restoring the species' natural environment, such as projects that have successfully cleared waterways of debris and crossings from miles of waterways.

National Marine Fisheries Service has created a recovery plan for the species that is expected to be finalized later this year. That plan would coordinate recovery efforts and would emphasize restoration of historic habitat.

Exasperation over getting the fish where they need to go has led to some imaginative proposals over the years, such as trucking the fish to spawning grounds or building fish elevators to get them over dams.

But government agencies have footed the bill for many projects including the concrete fish ladders and fishways to help the steelhead get around dams and other structures. The ladders are expensive, short-lived, require maintenance and have even been known to harm fish.

"Fish ladders don't work like the engineers have them work on paper," said Matt Stoecker, a biological consultant who has spent years working on steelhead recovery.

Even when ladders are successful, recovery is a slow process and sometimes upgrades are necessary.

For example, the United Conservation District in Ventura needs to replace a 20-year-old $1.5 million ladder at a cost of up to $25 million, according to general manager Michael Solomon.

The agency has already installed lights, sonar equipment, special trash grates and video equipment. The district is looking at hiring a third full-time staffer to do nothing but deal with the fish.

"We're a public agency and we need to keep reminding folks people are not going to spend endless money," said Solomon, adding the district rejected one suggestion to build a rock ramp across a dam for the fish at an estimated cost of $60 million.

Elsewhere in Ventura County, an $8.5 million fish ladder installed at the Robles Diversion Dam in 2006 has since been used by about a dozen adult steelhead.

Mark Capelli, the steelhead recovery coordinator with the fisheries service, called the recovery one of the more ambitious in the agency's history.

"We have a complicated situation we're dealing with and I don't think we've ever taken a position that there's only one way," he said. "There may be circumstances where artificial methods are appropriate and necessary."

Oil slick headed for Florida shores

From My Fox Tampa Bay
Updated: Monday, 26 Apr 2010, 6:47 PM EDT
Published : Monday, 26 Apr 2010, 6:47 PM EDT

Chris Chmura
FOX 13 News reporter
TAMPA - This week, offshore oil drilling opponents might gain some sticky black evidence to make their case that additional drilling is too risky for Florida.

Oil spewing from a sunken rig off Louisiana could reach the Gulf coast within three days, federal officials said Monday.

The sunken rig is south of Mobile, which neighbors Pensacola.

A severed well about a mile deep is belching 42,000 gallons of oil into the Gulf each day, creating an thin but wide slick that now covers 600 square miles.

"We're on water responding to the oil spill, we're attempting to secure the source," said Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry, who is coordinating the response.

Florida is not officially part of the response, but communication links have been established.

"We are in constant contact," said Dr. David Palandro, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Research Scientists who serves on the state's oil spill response team.

Palandro said predicting the path of the oil is difficult, since factors such as wind, waves, currents, and temperature are all factors in driving the slick.

"A spill where you have significant oil leakage over some period of time is very tricky to work with," he said. "Because you're not sure exactly what you're dealing with. Nor do you know how long you're going to be dealing with that problem."

Drilling opponents have been quick to seize on the spill as evidence that expanded drilling is too risky for Florida's pristine, tourist-rich coastline.

"We don't need it off of our coast," said U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, an ardent opponent of drilling expansion. "If that kind of oil rig was close to our shores, you can imagine what it would do to our tourism economy... what it would do to the beaches."

A recent Quinnipiac University poll, conducted prior to the spill, found 64 percent of Floridians supported expanded drilling off Florida's coasts.

Governor Charlie Crist's office said on Monday that he is monitoring the spill, but it had not changed his mind about exploring additional drilling.

"The Governor is certainly concerned about the impact of the recent oil spill and the potential impact it could have on discussions to drill off Florida's coast," said spokesman Sterling Ivey. "He continues to be open to the idea as long as precautions are taken to protect Florida."

Monday, April 26, 2010

How we killed paradise with plastic: Grotesque consequences of our casual throwaway culture

How we killed paradise with plastic: Grotesque consequences of our casual throwaway culture

The sea surrounding the remote Pacific atoll of Midway is vivid turquoise, the sky a deep blue. At first sight it is a paradise, a nature reserve for two million laysan albatrosses. But then you look again. Where there ought to be pristine beach, there is rubbish. Tons of it. Rope, shampoo bottles, computer casings, plastic sheeting, fragments of artificial white and blue.

Most numerous are disposable cigarette lighters. One bears the name Happy Garden, a motel in Taiwan. But there is nothing happy about this scene. Our casual, throwaway culture is killing the albatrosses and building up a toxic cocktail that could eventually infect everything living in the oceans.

I became the BBC's environment and science correspondent in 2003. After 15 years as a foreign reporter, part of me worried that the environment brief would feel tame, even dull.

Most significantly, if I thought about it all, I'd have described myself as cynical about green causes and distrustful of the sincerity of some environmentalists. If pressed, I'd have declared myself sympathetic to the view that economic development in a capitalist system is broadly a good thing, that industry, cars and jets have improved our lives.

Then came a line from my editor so persuasive that I'd have been a fool to even hesitate: the job would be global. I was to cover anything I might see featured on the front of National Geographic magazine. Polar bears, rainforests, pollution, that kind of thing. Or as a prominent radio presenter later told me: 'You go to these amazing places and tell us they're b******d.'

There are certainly times when it is difficult to restrain one's emotions. Times, when even I, committed to balanced, dispassionate reporting, am struck by the enormity of a story.

That is what happened when cameraman Rob Magee and I visited Midway, a speck of coral 2,000 miles from the nearest continent, a dot beside the International Date Line.

The scene of a famous naval battle during the Second World War, Midway is now run by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, but during the Cold War the US Navy operated here. It is still possible to imagine thousands of servicemen lined up in the vast hangar of the dimly lit airport. Birds, war, darkness. Alfred Hitchcock would have loved it.

Of the three, it is the birds that dominate. We see adolescent albatrosses - splendidly white - engaged in elaborate and noisy flirting.
On the rubbish-strewn beach, I start to collect plastic lighters. After a short stretch, I stop to count: I've gathered 62. If I had brought a sack, I could have filled it in under an hour. There must be thousands. I turn to Matt Brown, a genial figure from the Fish and Wildlife Service, who simply shrugs. And at the top of the beach, he shows me something more shocking.

An albatross is lying on its back, dead, its wings splayed. With a white belly, it's one of the adolescents. Fully grown, its wingspan would have reached a magnificent 6ft, and it would have been one of the greatest spectacles soaring above the ocean. But this one never made it.
Matt explains that the parents, constantly trying to feed their young, often mistake rubbish for food. To their eyes, the lighters look very similar to the albatrosses' staple food - squid.

Matt uses his penknife to prise open its belly. Inside the cavity there's a yellow lighter, an orange toothbrush and a fragment of red plastic. A snapshot of everyday modern life turned deadly.

Matt says the chick was fed the plastic objects because the parents assumed they were food. The plastic took up space in its stomach, leaving less room for real food just when it most needed to grow. Gradually the bird became malnourished. Eventually, a failure to thrive became an inability to survive. How many albatrosses, I ask Matt, will have eaten plastic?

'Oh, every one of them,' he says. 'The ones that make it are the ones that don't eat too much.'

How many die of it? 'Maybe hundreds every year,' he says.

Midway, seemingly isolated, in fact is in the path of a great oceanic flow of rubbish. The island lies in one of the world's largest currents known as the North Pacific Gyre.

Acting like a whirlpool, it sweeps down from Alaska, past the urban sprawl of California, right across towards the cities of Japan, up past the industries of coastal China and round to Alaska again. Rubbish dumped in rivers or drains, caught in floods and winds or thrown from cars and ships finds its way into the ocean and what's now known as the Great Garbage Patch. Some estimates say the patch covers an area the size of Texas.

As an experiment, we ask a dozen volunteers to collect as much rubbish as they can from the beach in 30 minutes. When the time is up, there's a heap the size of a car. Down at the bottom is a toy robot, about 2in tall, wearing futuristic armour and a Roman helmet. As I write my blog that evening, I ask producer Mark Georgiou to post a picture of the toy and ask readers if they recognise it.

Within hours, the story of Midway and its plastic bombardment catches the public's imagination. Many readers are moved to volunteer to help clean the island. Others suggest schemes for using trawlers to 'fish' the rubbish from the ocean. And the toy? It's Gigantor, says one contributor, a robot from a cartoon popular in the Sixties. No, says another, it's the Iron Giant.

What no one can explain is its journey. Did a child let it slip from a cruise ship? Was it a free gift with a fast-food meal taken on a boat before being tossed overboard? Or, more likely, did it end up in some city's waste being shipped out to sea and dumped? How long was it afloat? Given its size, it was most likely plucked from the waves by an albatross, swallowed, and carried back to Midway where it was regurgitated into the beak of a hungry chick.

Later someone has spotted an albatross chick in trouble: there's a bright green plastic hook jutting from the side of its beak and the bird apparently can't get it out.

Wildlife specialist John Klavitter asks me to hold the bird still. With one hand he steadies its head and with the other he gently grips the hook and pulls. Eventually the hook is out and with it, dangling from its end, is a small piece of plastic netting - the kind of thing used in supermarkets to hold a few tangerines. I ask John what difference the net and its hook made to the chick. 'They weren't killing it quickly,' he says. 'But they were probably getting in the way of proper feeding.'
What does that mean? 'That the chick was starving slowly to death.'

A flimsy piece of net attached to a plastic hook, designed to be used just once, serves its purpose and is then thrown away. But surely something is going badly wrong if that perfectly ordinary sequence of events nearly kills a rare bird?
It dawns on me that it's the language that's misleading, the phrase 'throwing away' doesn't convey what's involved. The word 'away' implies that where the rubbish is going is some abstract space of no consequence when in fact it has to end up somewhere. Like Midway.

I'm struck by how short-sighted we're being. Not through maliciousness, but through ignorance of the consequences: that the casual act of dropping something into a bin can lead to a needless death on a remote shore and spoil an entire ocean.
I've always worked hard to remain detached from stories. I have been shocked before, but usually by some traumatic event or senseless cruelty. But here I am moved for the first time by a process, the needless destruction of the environment.
The thought of the lighters circulating in their millions around the Pacific leaves me stunned at the stupidity of a society in which so much is used so briefly and then junked so harmfully. Matt says this problem will last centuries, if not millennia. And we keep adding to it every day.

Richard Thompson, a researcher at the University of Plymouth, has collected sand samples at several British beaches. They contain fragments of seaweed, leaves and wood, but about a quarter of each sample is made up of tiny particles of plastic. Without anyone realising, beaches have become partly artificial.
The largest of the particles are known as 'mermaid's tears', pieces of plastic the size of a grain of rice. The grains are shipped around the world and occasionally spill out at ports or during the journey.

Particles of this kind have been found on the shores of every continent including Antarctica. Like the toy robot and the lighters on Midway, material gets caught in the currents and can travel globally.

But the mermaid's tears are still large enough to be visible to the naked eye. What concerns scientists like Thompson is the plastic that's even smaller - the result of bags, bottles and nets gradually breaking down into tinier fragments.
His studies have shown how the ocean's smallest creatures also mistake plastic for food. Sandhoppers - crustaceans the size of fleas - have been dissected and found to have it in their bellies. This way, plastic is entering the lowest elements of the food chain.

That would be bad enough but each particle of plastic may be toxic too. Because plastic is produced from oil, it will bond with other products derived from oil - including any contaminants, such as the insecticide DDT - adrift in the ocean.
The effect is that any piece of plastic, particularly the billions of microscopic fragments, will attract toxins - like magnets luring iron filings. If they are swallowed, the chances are that once in the guts of marine organisms the toxins will be released. And if those creatures are eaten by something bigger, the toxins will be passed on. Scientists call this 'bioaccumulation', contaminants becoming more concentrated as they pass up the food chain.

What's conjured up is a nightmare image of an infinite number of plastic fragments drifting beyond our control, gathering the worst poisons, and gradually infecting everything that lives in the ocean.

On a dune busy with albatrosses, we set up for a series of live broadcasts. The response to my report is enormous. The birds, the plastic, the poisons, the helpless island all combine to trigger reactions at once fascinated and appalled.
Our journey home takes us through Honolulu, where we spend the night in a hotel. At the breakfast buffet table are bowls, plates, cups and cutlery made from plastic. So too are the little containers of food.

I eat and tidy up. Near the door, are some huge bins. I slide in the items that I used for a few brief minutes: the cup, bowl, plate, knife, fork, spoon, milk container, jam pot and butter packet, plus a mass of wrapping. I take my time over the process, checking exactly what I'm getting rid of, but I sense a restlessness behind me - people impatiently waiting with even bigger loads.
I wonder how we've got into a state where it's acceptable to use so many things just once and then 'throw them away'.

After the shock of Midway's plastic invasion and the drama of broadcasting live from somewhere so remote, I've woken this morning feeling stale, even a bit low. I watch a waiter manhandling the rubbish sack through the dining hall, past the line of people waiting to load up at the all-plastic buffet. I realise I'm experiencing a novel emotion in my career as a journalist, a feeling that catches me by surprise - anger.

Most of the garbage in the States ends up in landfall. Where does all the garbage in the oceans come from? Probably from third world countries that don't want to afford to package up their garbage properly, so just dump it in the ocean, and tourists on cruise ships.

Well beneath sunken U.S. rig has serious oil leak

Well beneath sunken U.S. rig has serious oil leak

HOUSTON, April 24 (Reuters) - An oil well on the ocean floor beneath a drilling rig that exploded and sank into the Gulf of Mexico began spewing oil on Saturday, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

The well, 5,000 feet (1,525 metres) beneath the ocean surface, was leaking about 1,000 barrels per day of oil, a Coast Guard spokeswoman said, in what the agency called a "very serious spill." Remote underwater vehicles detected oil leaking from the riser and drill pipe, the spokeswoman said.

"We are classifying this as a very serious spill and we are using all our resources to help contain it," Coast Guard Petty Officer Connie Terrell said.

Transocean Ltd’s Deepwater Horizon sank on Thursday after burning since Tuesday following an explosion while finishing a well for BP Plc 42 miles (68 km) off the Louisiana coast. The Coast Guard on Friday suspended a search for 11 missing workers from the rig, who are presumed dead.

BP has deployed an armada of ships and aircraft to contain the oil slick, which could threaten Louisiana’s fragile coastline if it is not contained. Cleanup operations are currently on hold due to stormy seas, Terrell said.

So far, the spill is not comparable with the Exxon Valdez disaster, which spilled about 11 million gallons (50 million litres) of oil into the Prince William Sound in Alaska when it ran aground in 1989. The Transocean well is spewing about 42,000 gallons (190,900 litres) of oil a day into the ocean, the Coast Guard estimates.

The explosion came almost three weeks after President Barack Obama unveiled plans for a limited expansion of U.S. offshore oil and gas drilling. The explosion did not affect U.S. oil markets.

The blast occurred about 10 p.m. CDT on Tuesday (0300 GMT Wednesday) as the rig was capping a discovery well pending production, company officials said. Some 115 of the 126 workers on board at the time of the explosion were rescued.

It was the worst oil rig disaster since 2001, when a rig operated by Petrobras off the Brazilian coast exploded and killed 11 workers. The Piper Alpha rig in the North Sea off Scotland exploded in 1988, killing 167.

(Reporting by Chris Baltimore; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

B.C.'s largest fish-farming company facing charges

B.C.'s largest fish-farming company facing charges

Justice Department takes over private prosecution launched by biologist
VICTORIA — Charges of unlawful possession of wild salmon and herring have been laid against Marine Harvest Canada, the largest fish-farming company in British Columbia.

What began as a private prosecution — initiated by biologist and activist Alexandra Morton — was taken over by the federal Justice Department on Tuesday, said federal prosecutor Todd Gerhart.

"New information charges Marine Harvest with four counts and deals with two incidents," he said.

The first incident involves juvenile wild pink salmon. It's alleged the wild fish were mixed in with farmed Atlantic salmon as they were taken off a Marine Harvest vessel in June.

The second incident involves herring, which, it's alleged, were discarded from pens in October.

The charges allege the company failed to report incidental catches of wild fish and, having caught live fish, that the company failed to return them to the ocean in a manner that would have caused the least harm.

Marine Harvest will next appear in court June 22.

Clare Backman, the company's director of environmental compliance and community relations, said no decision has yet been made on a plea.

"We will have to wait until we see the information," Gerhart said.

Morton, a campaigner against open-net fish farms, is jubilant the Justice Department has taken over the prosecutions.

"For decades we have heard reports of wild fish trapped in fish farms, eaten by the farm fish and destroyed during harvest," she said.

Information about specific incidents was passed to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, but it refused to act, Morton said.

"Now, government is finally doing its job. This is enormous."

Fish-farming would seem to be a good idea, except the amount of coastal water needed for these farms are tremendous. So the coast is destroyed, the near-coast is destroyed, and if the fish get out into the wild...

It's always something.

Brazil seizes one ton of shark fins headed for Japan

Brazil seizes one ton of shark fins headed for Japan


RIO DE JANEIRO: Brazilian prosecutors on Tuesday seized a ton of shark fins destined for the Japanese market, the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) said.

The shipment of frozen shark fins, uncovered by prosecutors from IBAMA’s Fish and Wildlife Division in a container ready for shipment to Japan, has an estimated value of 17,000 dollars.

“All the illegal cargo will be destroyed,” the state body said.

The owner of the export company was fined 52,000 reales (29,700 US dollars) and the boats responsible for catching the sharks were also expected to receive penalties, prosecutors said.

Rita Barreto, an environmental analyst at the IBAMA office in Para state where the shipment was uncovered, said “careful monitoring” was needed to
“ensure that commercial fishing is not threatening shark species off the Brazilian coast, some of which are endangered.” -- AFP

A "ton" of shark fins is a lot of shark fins, considering how little space they take up. No wonder some of Brazil's sharks are endangered, and of course they aren't the only ones.

I wouldn't be so annoyed with "shark fin soup" if the rest of the shark was also used as food, but it isn't. These "fishermen" catch a shark, cut off its fins, and then throw it back into the ocean to die, because of course a shark can't swim without its fins and if it can't swim, it will die. So there must be millions and millions of shark corpses littering the ocean bottom. Of course they are eaten by things like lobsters and crabs that live on the ocean floor...which perhaps would be proliferating except they too are being hunted to extinction.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Scientists Expect to Find Different Species of Orca

Scientists Report Several Different Species Of Killer Whales Likely: Mammal-Eating Vs. Fish And Seal-Eating

RESTON, Virginia -- In a report published today in the journal Genome Research, scientists report finding strong genetic evidence supporting the theory there are several species of killer whales (Orcinus orca, also known as orcas) throughout the world's oceans.

Scientists have suspected for some time that there was more than one species of killer whales because of differences in behavior, feeding preferences and subtle physical features. But until now DNA analysis has been inconclusive because of the inability to map the entire genetic picture, or genome, of the whales' mitochondria, an organelle within the cell inherited from the mother.

"The genetic makeup of mitochondria in killer whales, like other cetaceans, changes very little over time, which makes it difficult to detect any differentiation in recently evolved species without looking at the entire genome," said Phillip Morin, lead author and geneticist at NOAA's Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, Calif. "But by using a relatively new method called, 'highly parallel sequencing' to map the entire genome of the cell's mitochondria from a worldwide sample of killer whales, we were able to see clear differences among the species."

In all, tissue samples from 139 killer whales were analyzed. Samples came from killer whales found in the North Pacific, the North Atlantic and oceans surrounding Antarctica. As a result of the study, two types of killer whales in the Antarctic that eat fish and seals, respectively, are suggested as separate species, along with mammal-eating "transient" killer whales in the North Pacific. Several other types of killer whales may also be separate species or subspecies, but additional analysis is required.

Highly parallel sequencing of DNA is far faster and less costly than historical methods of analysis. For instance, the examination of mitochondrial DNA genome in one sample could have taken as long as several months. But with the use of high throughput sequencing, researchers can complete the same analysis for 50 or more samples in just a few weeks, and technology to sequence larger parts of the genome and more individuals continues to improve rapidly.

Determining how many species of killer whales there are is critically important for resource managers to establish conservation priorities and to better understand the ecological role of this large and widespread predator in the world's oceans.

Ocean Acidification Hits Northwest Oyster Farms

From Good Morning America:
Ocean Acidification Hits Northwest Oyster Farms
Mark Wiegardt and Sue Cudd have each dedicated about 30 years of their lives to bringing oysters to our tables. Now the two have found themselves in the forefront of one of the newest, most pressing environmental issues of our time: ocean acidification.

Ocean acidification is destroying oysters and other shellfish.

It all began with the oyster larvae at their Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery in Tilamook, Ore.

"It first started in 2007. We had a situation here when all of a sudden, our larvae started dying," said Wiegardt.

"At first we started wondering, what is wrong? Bacterial problems? What are we doing wrong?" Cudd said.

Desperate, Wiegardt and Cudd turned to expert oceanographer Burke Hales and his team from Oregon State University to study the new and alarming enigma. They learned that the Pacific waters piped into their hatchery from nearby Netarts Bay were the cause of the dying larvae.

Whiskey Creek's 8,000 gallon water tanks take in water from the Pacific Ocean and Netarts Bay. The water used in the hatchery is rough-filtered and heated, and pumped into the tanks that house roughly 48 million swimming larvae. If the larvae stop swimming, that's a problem.

The scientists went to work and learned that something was making the oceans too acidic and preventing the oyster larvae from growing shells. No shells means certain death.

When winds blew the ocean's deep carbon-rich waters onto the surface, hatcheries up and down the Northwest Pacific Coast began to suffer the same fate as Whiskey Creek.

"The chemistry is very simple. It is 101. Carbon dioxide makes the water more acidic, that is irrefutable," said Burke Hales, Oregon State University professor of oceanography.

Oceans act as sponges. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the oceans soak up one-quarter to one-third of all CO2 from fossil fuels. About 500 billion tons have been absorbed by the seas. Close to 22 million tons of C02 a day mix with the natural carbon of the ocean. But too much carbon and water makes the ocean too acidic.

Plants need carbon to grow, and animals exhale it with every breath. But too much carbon creates a problem. Where will it be stored, and how will it affect the chemistry of the planet?

Carbon Dioxide -- CO2 -- a Mixed Blessing
"At first, scientists thought, Oh, isn't this great, the ocean's taking up carbon dioxide that's resulting in less greenhouse warming. And it's only later that scientists realize this carbon dioxide in the oceans forms carbonic acid, and that attacks the shells of marine organisms," said Ken Caldeira, a climate scientist at the Carnegie Institute at Stanford University.

According to the NRDC, ocean acidity has increased by 30 percent since the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries. Scientists have used mathematical models to demonstrate that if we continue to pollute, ocean acidity will double by the end of the century, compared with what it was in preindustrial times.

"While the effects are just beginning to be seen in our hatcheries, the oceans are now changing faster than they have ever changed over the last 200 million years," said Richard Freely of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who has been studying ocean acidification for 20 years.

"The effects can be seen in the weaker shells of oysters, clams, mussels, lobsters and shrimp. Smaller-shelled creatures, such as those at the bottom of the food chain, which most fish eat, are also dwindling away," said Freely. "Corals have a hard time forming too." Ocean acidity, said Freely, threatens the entire $2 billion U.S. shellfish industry.

According to the United Nations Environmental Program, if carbon emissions continue on a path of business as usual, scientists predict vast areas of the Pacific, Arctic and Antarctic Oceans will become so corrosive that shellfish will dissolve, causing ripple effects throughout the food web.

"We're risking something that will really change the way the oceans are for the rest of human civilization," said Standord's Caldeira.

Scientists: Whale Feces Is Vital To Ocean's Carbon Cycle; 'Huge Amounts Of Iron'

Scientists: Whale Poop Is Vital To Ocean'S Carbon Cycle; 'Huge Amounts Of Iron'

Australian Antarctic Division -- The important role whale fecesplays in the productivity of the Southern Ocean has been revealed in a new study.

Scientists from the Australian Antarctic Division and the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre (ACE CRC) are looking at how krill and whales contribute to the recycling of iron in the Southern Ocean.

Iron is a critical element in the ocean that enables the production of aquatic plants, known as algae, which absorb carbon dioxide (CO2).

When algae die they sink and strip iron from the surface of the ocean, but much of the algae is eaten by krill, which in turn become prey for larger animals such as seals, penguins and whales.

Australian Antarctic Division scientist, Dr Steve Nicol, said the study looked at fecal and tissue samples from four species of baleen whales and tissue samples from seven species of krill.

"We found that krill concentrated the iron they consumed in their bodies and because they swim near the surface, they keep the iron in the top layer of the ocean," Dr Nicol said. "There's huge amounts of iron in whale poo."

"Approximately 24% of the total iron in the Southern Ocean surface water is currently stored within krill body tissue."

The most recent estimates of krill biomass in the Southern Ocean is 379 million tonnes, storing about 15,000 tonnes of iron.

"When whales consume the iron-rich krill, they excrete most of the iron back into the water, therefore fertilizing the ocean and starting the whole food cycle again," Dr Nicol said.

"The baleen whales' fecal iron concentration is calculated to be about 10 million times that of Antarctic seawater," he said.

Before commercial whaling began early last century whales used to consume about 190 million tonnes of krill, converting this into about 7,600 tonnes of iron-rich feces.

"This monumental fertilizing effort means the whales may have been responsible for recycling about 12% of the current iron content in the surface layer of the Southern Ocean," Dr Nicol said.

The recycling role of krill and whales in the ocean helps to explain how the ecosystem was able to support far larger populations of both predator and prey.

The research suggests that, in future, increasing populations of baleen whales and krill would have a positive effect on the productivity of the entire Southern Ocean ecosystem and could improve the ocean's ability to absorb CO2.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Recreating Capt Bligh's famous Bounty mutiny sea voyage

BBC News reports

Four men have set sail in the South Pacific in their bid to recreate the epic 7,000 km (4,350 mile) voyage of Captain William Bligh.

Four men have set sail in the South Pacific in their bid to recreate the epic 7,000 km (4,350 mile) voyage of Captain William Bligh.

Captain Bligh was cast adrift after the famous mutiny on the Bounty in 1789.

The crew is sailing in a 25ft (7.6m) open-deck boat with two small sails. They are hoping to sail from Tonga to West Timor in seven weeks.

The expedition has tried hard to recreate the conditions which confronted the Royal Navy captain.

Memorialised in two Hollywood films as well as novels and poems, the mutiny on the Bounty unfolded in 1789 when William Bligh was cast adrift in the South Pacific by his rebellious crew.

Accompanied by 18 men, Bligh managed to sail from near Tonga to West Timor in a voyage that lasted almost 50 days.

He survived by catching fish and drinking rain water.

Capsize fears

Australians Don McIntyre and David Bryce, Hong Kong businessman David Wilkinson and 18-year-old British gap year student Christopher Wilde are trying to recreate the epic voyage in their own open-top sailing boat.

From Tonga they will head west to Fiji, Vanuatu and Restoration Island before sailing north to Australia's Great Barrier Reef, then through the Torres Strait to West Timor.

To add to the authenticity of the voyage the adventurers are trying to get close to the provisions which Captain Bligh had on board - ship biscuits, pork, over 100 litres of water and six bottles of wine.

Like Bligh, they will not be using any modern-day navigational systems such as charts, compass or lights.

The main difference is that their boat is only about half the size of Bligh's vessel and their biggest fear is the danger of capsizing.

Tuna sushi in US busts recommended levels for mercury: study

Tuna sushi in US busts recommended levels for mercury: study

AsiaOne News reports the following article:
Wed, Apr 21, 2010

PARIS, FRANCE - Tuna sushi bought at a range of US restaurants and supermarkets had mercury that breached levels set by health watchdogs, a study published on Wednesday said.

The offending samples included bluefin tuna, the hugely-prized species that has been plunged into a fierce conservation battle, the researchers reported in the British journal Biology Letters.

One hundred sushi samples were collected from 54 restaurants and 15 supermarkets in New York, New Jersey and Colorado, comprising "akami" (lean red tuna) as well as "toro" (fatty tuna).

The species were identified using a DNA fingerprint test and the samples were then tested for mercury levels.

A leading benchmark for safety is a maximum daily consumption of 0.1 microgrammes of mercury per kilo of human bodyweight per day, set by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Calculated on the basis of a 60-kilo (132-pound) adult woman consuming a single order, samples of Bigeye tuna toro were found to have average mercury levels of 0.351 microgrammes per kilo, while Bigeye tuna akami had 0.344 microgrammes.

Bluefin toro samples had the equivalent of 0.123 microgrammes per kilo of bodyweight per day, and bluefin akami 0.180.

Yellowfin tuna, found in the samples only as akami, had 0.164 microgrammes of mercury per kilo of bodyweight.

"The mean mercury concentrations of all samples exceed the concentration permitted by Japan and the maximum daily consumption considered safe by the US Environmental Protection Agency," said the paper.

"Mean mercury levels for bluefin akami exceed those permitted by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Health Canada and the European Commission.

"On average, one order of Bigeye tuna sushi, the species used most often for sushi, exceeds the safe maximum daily dose recommended by Health Canada and the safe limit established by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and FAO [Food and Agricultural Organisation] for women of childbearing age."

The study noted that mercury levels were higher in tuna sushi sold in restaurants rather than in supermarkets.

This was because supermarket samples were far likelier to be yellowfin tuna, the species with the lowest mercury contamination.

The study, led by Jacob Lowenstein at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, breaks new ground.

DNA fingerprinting - identifying genetic tags that are exclusive to a given species - has been used until now to help trafficking in endangered wildlife.

It is the first time that the technique has also been used in health research.

The authors say the findings are useful for people worried about ingestion of mercury, a toxic chemical that is passed up the food chain, progressively accumulating in larger carnivores.

Excessive mercury is linked especially to neurodevelopmental defects, including mental retardation, cerebral palsy, deafness and blindness.

Many countries have issued advisories notifying consumers about fish that are high in mercury, yet at the same time allow poor labelling of fish species, the paper says.

Bluefin tuna is considered a delicacy in Japan, where a single 220-kilo (485-pound) fish can fetch 160,000 US dollars (120,000 euros) at auction.

Japan fought fiercely at a conference in Qatar last month of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to thwart proposed international trade in bluefin caught in the Mediterranean and the eastern Atlantic. --AFP

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Dangers of the Lionfish

Researchers: Lionfish Invasion Continuing To Expand; 'Native Fish Literally Don't Know What Hit Them'

EXUMA, The Bahamas -- Their numbers continue to expand. They are spreading throughout the Caribbean Sea. Eradication appears almost impossible. Even limited amounts of control will be extremely difficult, and right now the best available plan is to capture and eat them.

Such is the desperate status of the lionfish wars, an invasion of this predatory fish from the Pacific Ocean into the Bahamas and Caribbean region that threatens everything from coral reef ecosystems to the local economies, which are based on fishing and tourism.

With a new three-year, $700,000 grant from the National Science Foundation – under the American Recovery and Investment Act – scientists from Oregon State University are urgently trying to address a looming crisis.

"This is a new and voracious predator on these coral reefs and it's undergoing a population explosion," said Mark Hixon, an OSU professor of zoology, expert on coral reef ecology and leader of the research effort. "The threats to coral reefs all over the world were already extreme, and they now have to deal with this alien predator in the Atlantic. Lionfish eat many other species and they seem to eat constantly."

"Native fish literally don't know what hit them."

OSU research has already determined that within a short period after the entry of lionfish into an area, the survival of small reef fishes is slashed by about 80 percent.

Aside from the rapid and immediate mortality of marine life, the loss of herbivorous fish will also set the stage for seaweed to potentially overwhelm the coral reefs and disrupt the delicate ecological balance in which they exist.

This newest threat follows on the heels of overfishing, sediment deposition, nitrate pollution in some areas, coral bleaching caused by global warming, and increasing ocean acidity caused by carbon emissions. Lionfish may be the final straw that breaks the back of Western Atlantic and Caribbean coral reefs.

Contrary to their status in native Pacific Ocean waters, lionfish have virtually no natural enemies in the tropical Atlantic Ocean. Whatever is keeping them in check in the Pacific – and scientists are trying to find out what that is – is missing here. In the Caribbean, they are found at different depths, in various terrains, are largely ignored by local predators and parasites, and are rapidly eating their way through entire ecosystems.

A primary concern, according to local experts, is the degradation of coral reefs and loss of food fish and colorful tropical species. Tourism, fishing and diving will suffer in some economies that are largely based on these fishes. One group has called lionfish a plague of Biblical proportions stalking the Bahamian economy.

"Until we can develop a better understanding of this invasion, one of the few control mechanisms may be to develop a market for them as a food fish," Hixon said. "Lionfish are pretty easy to catch, taste good and could be advertised as a conservation dish."

Efforts by OSU researchers to feed lionfish to large groupers and sharks have so far been unsuccessful – they don't look like conventional prey, and venomous spines that leave a painful wound are a strong deterrent.

Lionfish, native to the tropical Pacific and Indian Oceans, have dramatic coloring and large, spiny fins. It's believed they were first introduced into marine waters off Florida in the early 1990s from local aquariums or fish hobbyists. They have since spread across much of the Caribbean Sea and north along the U.S. coast as far as Rhode Island.

In studies on small coral reefs in the Bahamas, Hixon and his graduate student Mark Albins determined that a single lionfish per reef reduced young juvenile fish populations by 79 percent in only a five-week period. Many species were affected, including cardinalfish, parrotfish, damselfish and others. One large lionfish was observed consuming 20 small fish in a 30-minute period. Lionfish are carnivores that can eat other fish up to two-thirds their own length.

When attacking another fish, Hixon said, a lionfish uses its large, fan-like fins to herd smaller fish into a corner and then swallow them in a rapid strike. Because of their natural defense mechanisms they are afraid of almost no other marine life. And the venom released by their sharp spines can cause extremely painful stings to humans, or even fatalities for some people with heart problems or allergic reactions.

"We have to figure out something to do about this invasion before it causes a major crisis," Hixon said. "We basically had to abandon some studies we had under way in the Atlantic on population dynamics of coral reef fish, because the lionfish had moved in and started to eat everything."

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Washington Bans Copper From Brake Pads to Save Fish

While I am all for saving the whales, and the fish... environmentalism is getting totally out of control.

Washington Bans Copper From Brake Pads to Save Fish

SEATTLE - When a driver hits the brakes, friction releases copper shavings that fall onto the road and are eventually washed into rivers, where environmentalists say the metal could pose a hazard to marine life — especially salmon, one of the Pacific Northwest's most prized products.

Washington state responded to the problem last month by becoming the first in the nation to pass a law to phase out the use of copper in brake pads. The move could eventually make copper-free pads the industry standard in the U.S.

"You think about all of this traffic, every day on the road, braking and going," said Curt Hart, spokesman for Washington Department of Ecology. "All of it in total starts to really make a difference."

The new law bans brake pads containing more than 5 percent copper starting in 2021. The allowable amount could drop almost to zero in 2023 if manufacturers show it is possible.

California lawmakers have considered similar legislation, and industry officials expect other states to follow Washington's lead.

The auto industry did not oppose the legislation.

"It was a balanced approach, balancing the needs of our consumers and environmental concerns," said Curt Augustine, policy director for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group of 11 manufacturers, including Ford, Chrysler and Toyota.

Many brake pads are made of steel, brass and copper fibers — materials designed to create friction and draw off heat. Some contain ceramics, Kevlar and other nonmetallic compounds.

The irony is that copper replaced asbestos as a key ingredient in brake pads in the early 1990s after asbestos was banned as a health danger. Though a federal appeals court overturned part of that ban in 1991, manufacturers continued to use copper.

Copper is a major source of water pollution because it is present in so many products, including plumbing, paint and building materials.

A study by the nonprofit Sustainable Conservation found that one-third of 530,000 pounds of copper released from human activity in the San Francisco Bay watershed in 2003 came from automobile brake pads.

Similarly, state ecology officials in Washington estimate 70,000 to 318,000 pounds of copper are released into Puget Sound each year, with about one-third coming from vehicles.

Researchers have yet to document any instances in nature of copper from urban runoff causing widespread problems for aquatic life. But laboratory studies by government scientists have shown that copper at the low levels that have been found in waterways harms young coho salmon's sense of smell, reducing their ability to escape from predators.

"It doesn't take a lot of copper to interfere with the salmon's sense of smell," said Nat Scholz, a research zoologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who has contributed to studies on the subject.

Copper is also toxic to plankton, which form the base of the aquatic food chain.

Brake pads contain as much as 25 percent copper, a metal used because it is good at dissipating heat, Augustine said. Heavier and high-performance vehicles tend to have more copper, but many cars already contain less than 5 percent, he said.

The industry believes it can produce a safe and reasonably priced brake pad without copper, said Terry Heffelfinger, director of product engineering for Affinia Global Brake & Chassis, a major brake maker. One alternative may be ceramic brake pads, which have grown in popularity in recent years.

"I think this does go a long way toward eliminating a very toxic item in our marine environment," said state Sen. Kevin Ranker, who sponsored the bill.

On the other hand, copper is a waning resource, so maybe this is a good thing. But I'm worried about how much power environmentalists have. And yet they can do nothing to stop the soaring birthrate of people throughout the world - people who cause the pollution that ruins the environment. Unlike the US which has strict regulations, "developing" countries dont', and those are the ones that do the most polluting!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Ban on commercial whaling to be overturned

Ban on commercial whaling to be overturned

COMMERCIAL whaling is set to return after almost 25 years as Japan moves to overturn a worldwide ban.

Conservationists say that lifting the current moratorium will threaten the long-term survival of whale populations and would be a highly symbolic defeat for preservation.

They warn it could “open the floodgates” to far bigger slaughter in the future.

At present whaling is carried out mainly by Japan, Iceland and Norway.

Related Links
Japan’s relentless urge to kill whales
Save the whale – let some hunting resume
The three nations have killed 35,000 whales since the ban was introduced in 1986. In Japan’s case, the killings have been justified as being for “scientific research.”

Under the deal being considered by the International Whaling Commission (IWC), hunting would be legally recognised and there are fears that other countries could take part.

Britain’s opposition to whaling may count for nothing because Denmark is likely to back the change. This failure to reach a European Union consensus will rule out any veto by the remaining 24 member states.

Proposals will be published this week and a deal will be struck at an IWC meeting in Morocco in June. They are expected to be backed by America and Denmark. The US is worried that if it blocks the plan, Japan will veto any renewal of permission for small-scale whale catching by indigenous peoples in Alaska. Denmark is expected to back it to ensure a quota for its dependent territories of Greenland and the Faroes.

Britain is a strong supporter of the existing ban, but may now be unable to stop the new deal being ratified because it votes in a block with the EU.

“The UK’s view, which is anti-whaling, will ultimately not be taken into account,” said Sue Fisher, a policy director at the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.

The deal would suspend the moratorium on commercial whaling for 10 years and allow Japan, Norway and Iceland to continue whaling within new quotas. Hunters will be permitted to kill whale species that are considered plentiful, including the sperm, sei, fin, Bryde’s and minke — described by a senior Japanese whaling official in 2001 as the “cockroach of the ocean”.

Members of the IWC believe that allowing commercial whaling in a controlled manner will lead to fewer whales being killed.

Japan has been accused of using its foreign aid budget to co-opt 24 small or landlocked nations on the IWC including Mongolia, Nauru, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada and St Lucia to bolster its pro-whaling vote.

The Japanese embassy yesterday dismissed such claims as “unsubstantiated propaganda”.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sealpups dying off the coast of Germany

Experts Baffled by Mass Seal Pup Deaths

A rash of deaths among young seals along the North Sea coast has puzzled German marine biologists, who wonder whether the deaths represent a worrying trend for the local ecosystem. In Schleswig-Holstein, most of the seal pups born in 2009 have perished.

German marine biologists have been left scratching their heads by a disturbing trend in the North Sea. Within the past year, more than 900 dead seals have washed up along the North Sea coast in the state of Schleswig-Holstein, according to a report released this week by the state. Researchers fear extreme winter conditions may have weakened the animals and put them at greater risk for illness and parasites.

"A certain number of dead seals are normal, but three times as many seals as usual died in the past fall and winter," Kai Abt, a biologist at Wildlife Consulting in Kiel, who carried out the report for the state told the German news agency DDP. Abt believes that the lion's share of seals born in the area in 2009 have perished.

Researchers are now seeking to determine the exact causes of death. In many cases, researchers believe, the seal pups may have fallen victim to parasites. In post-mortem examinations of seals, researchers in the state said that the pestilent lungworm parasite had been found often in the more than 200 bodies they inspected. Lungworm is common in mammals including rats, cattle and cats. The parasites usually live in the respiratory and vascular systems of animals and in many cases lead to pneumonia and bacterial infections. Hungry seal pups are more vulnerable to lungworm, which can often lead to death.

Researchers have ruled out the possibility that the deaths were caused by phocine distemper virus, which caused a mass die-out of seals along the North Sea coast between 1988 and 2002.

A Global Warming Connection?

For his part, Abt suspects there may be a link between climate change, the corresponding influx of nutrients from the Atlantic Ocean into the North Sea and the rising number of dead seal pups. Abt believes the phenomenon may be influencing local fish stocks and causing a food shortage -- one that can be fatal to young pups that are still learning how to hunt and survive and cannot dive as deep for food as mature seals. The young seals typically feed on flounder, crab, and other small fish.

But other scientists dispute his thesis, arguing there is no proof that food stocks for young seals have been reduced.

Just last summer the state's seal population reached 8,415, its highest total since records started being kept in 1975. And in the nearby state of Lower-Saxony, the seal population is nearly as bountiful, with the state recording its second-highest seal population in 2009. The state also reported deaths of approximately 100 seal pups last year, but officials said that figure was not significantly greater than in other years and was likely attributable to the extreme winter. In recent years, the total population of seals off of Germany's North Sea coast has risen by between 10 and 20 percent.

Whether a bewildering trend or a seasonal exception, all researchers involved agree that the North Sea ecosystem needs further study in order to explain the causes of why so many seal pups are dying.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

From Virgin Galactic to Virgin Oceanic

Welcome to my world! Richard Branson shows off his new 'underwater plane' as he gives a guided tour of Necker Island paradise

Sir Richard Branson showed off his tropical lifestyle and new 'underwater plane' as he welcomed cameras to his finished private island home for the first time. The billionaire entrepreneur, recently ranked the world's 212th richest man, gave the Oprah Winfrey Show unprecedented access to Necker, his 74-acre Caribbean island.

He gave presenter Nate Berkus a tour of his home, which he has recently finished building, his cliff top guest house and his extravagant toys.

Asked about the purchase of the British Virgin Islands property, for a mere $200,000 in the late 1970s, he referred to his pursuit of wife Joan.

He said: 'I was about 26-years-old, I was chasing this beautiful lady, trying to persuade her to come live with me and we discovered this beautiful islands.

'I somehow managed to get the island, get the lady and get the mother of my children.' He added: 'I appreciate every moment of my life. I was born under a lucky star.'

Branson started off the tour with the main home, boasting a stunning moon-shaped infinity pool next to a luxurious bar, a master bedroom with virtually no walls, an open kitchen and an outdoor bathroom - all with amazing views of the turquoise waters of the Caribbean. Asked if the design reflects his personality, he replied: 'I hope so. I would like to think I'm quite an open person and this is open.'

The 59-year-old ended the home tour with his office - where he does business from his white hammock.

Welcome to my humble abode: The Virgin boss took presenter Nate Berkus on a tour of his Necker Island property

Then it was time for the jewel in his crown - the Necker Nymph, an aero submarine with an open cockpit owned by nobody else in the world.

Branson announced the purchase earlier this year and the toy will be lent out to guests of his island, which is available for rent as part of his Virgin Limited Edition luxury line.

The submarine uses its wings to create downward lift underwater and is fitted with scuba gear for its pilot and two passengers.

'It's like an airplane that flies underwater, a little fighter plane,' Branson said.
And he allowed cameras to shoot as he went for his first ride on the Nymph, describing the experience as 'brilliant' through microphones fitted on his scuba gear.

Sam said the best advice he ever gave him was 'probably to be yourself... he never put pressure to conform in any sort of form.'

At the end of the show, Branson signed up to Oprah's No Phone Zone drive to outlaw talking on mobiles and texting while driving in the US.

Is it my imagination or is the tone of this article, from the British Daily Mail, rather smarmy. The underwater submersible is a "toy", "welcome to my humble abode," and so on.

Richard Branson may be extremely wealthy, but he runs several companies that gives jobs - and salaries - to millions of people. If he likes to spend his money on himself, big deal.

Indeed, the goal of Volcano Seven is to have such an island, and such a submarine, ourselves. And we won't demand that Branson give up his luxuries so we can have them... no, we'll buckle down and get the wherewithal to acquire something similar ourselves. (Or at least dream about it.)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Who knew Australians ate shark?

I'd always assumed that shark meat did not taste good, because when the Japanese "fin" a shark, they take its fins and then toss the rest of its body - still alive - back into the ocean, where it sinks to the bottom and drowns, because a shark can't swim without its fins.

But in Australia, they do apparently consume something called "school shark."

There is now a ban in place, to "restore the population."

Fishermen apparently don't understand what the term "restore the population" means. They are upset because they will be losing money and will be driven out of business...butif the school shark disappear because of overfishing, they will never return, and the fishermen will be permanently out of business.

Fishing industry battered by shark quota cut
Australian fishermen expect to lose up to a million dollars, because their school shark quota has been reduced.

Fishing Authority AFMA says the national quota of 240 tonnes needs to be cut by 30 per cent to restore stocks.

Victorian fisherman Russell Frost says that less than 30 years ago, just five boats could account for that much school shark, but now it's shared across four states.

"By the time you take that out of the fish and chip business, that will push the price of flake up to the general public," he says.

"All our fisheries are just getting tighter and tighter and tighter and tighter, and in the end, they're going to push us out the back door, I think."

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Both Atlantic and Pacific Oceans Discovered To Have Garbage Patches

A 2nd garbage patch: Plastic soup seen in Atlantic

By MIKE MELIA, Associated Press Writer Mike Melia, Associated Press Writer – Thu Apr 15, 5:30 am ET
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Researchers are warning of a new blight on the ocean: a swirl of confetti-like plastic debris stretching over thousands of square miles (kilometers) in a remote expanse of the Atlantic Ocean.

The floating garbage — hard to spot from the surface and spun together by a vortex of currents — was documented by two groups of scientists who trawled the sea between scenic Bermuda and Portugal's mid-Atlantic Azores islands.

The studies describe a soup of micro-particles similar to the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a phenomenon discovered a decade ago between Hawaii and California that researchers say is likely to exist in other places around the globe.

"We found the great Atlantic garbage patch," said Anna Cummins, who collected plastic samples on a sailing voyage in February.

The debris is harmful for fish, sea mammals — and at the top of the food chain, potentially humans — even though much of the plastic has broken into such tiny pieces they are nearly invisible.

Since there is no realistic way of cleaning the oceans, advocates say the key is to keep more plastic out by raising awareness and, wherever possible, challenging a throwaway culture that uses non-biodegradable materials for disposable products.

"Our job now is to let people know that plastic ocean pollution is a global problem — it unfortunately is not confined to a single patch," Cummins said.

The research teams presented their findings in February at the 2010 Oceans Sciences Meeting in Portland, Oregon. While scientists have reported finding plastic in parts of the Atlantic since the 1970s, the researchers say they have taken important steps toward mapping the extent of the pollution.

Cummins and her husband, Marcus Eriksen, of Santa Monica, California, sailed across the Atlantic for their research project. They plan similar studies in the South Atlantic in November and the South Pacific next spring.

On the voyage from Bermuda to the Azores, they crossed the Sargasso Sea, an area bounded by ocean currents including the Gulf Stream. They took samples every 100 miles (160 kilometers) with one interruption caused by a major storm. Each time they pulled up the trawl, it was full of plastic.

A separate study by undergraduates with the Woods Hole, Massachusetts-based Sea Education Association collected more than 6,000 samples on trips between Canada and the Caribbean over two decades. The lead investigator, Kara Lavendar Law, said they found the highest concentrations of plastics between 22 and 38 degrees north latitude, an offshore patch equivalent to the area between roughly Cuba and Washington, D.C.

Long trails of seaweed, mixed with bottles, crates and other flotsam, drift in the still waters of the area, known as the North Atlantic Subtropical Convergence Zone. Cummins' team even netted a Trigger fish trapped alive inside a plastic bucket.

But the most nettlesome trash is nearly invisible: countless specks of plastic, often smaller than pencil erasers, suspended near the surface of the deep blue Atlantic.

"It's shocking to see it firsthand," Cummins said. "Nothing compares to being out there. We've managed to leave our footprint really everywhere."

Still more data are needed to assess the dimensions of the North Atlantic patch.

Charles Moore, an ocean researcher credited with discovering the Pacific garbage patch in 1997, said the Atlantic undoubtedly has comparable amounts of plastic. The east coast of the United States has more people and more rivers to funnel garbage into the sea. But since the Atlantic is stormier, debris there likely is more diffuse, he said.

Whatever the difference between the two regions, plastics are devastating the environment across the world, said Moore, whose Algalita Marine Research Foundation based in Long Beach, California, was among the sponsors for Cummins and Eriksen.

"Humanity's plastic footprint is probably more dangerous than its carbon footprint," he said.

Plastics have entangled birds and turned up in the bellies of fish: A paper cited by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says as many as 100,000 marine mammals could die trash-related deaths each year.

The plastic bits, which can be impossible for fish to distinguish from plankton, are dangerous in part because they sponge up potentially harmful chemicals that are also circulating in the ocean, said Jacqueline Savitz, a marine scientist at Oceana, an ocean conservation group based in Washington.

As much as 80 percent of marine debris comes from land, according to the United Nations Environmental Program.

The U.S. government is concerned the pollution could hurt its vital interests.

"That plastic has the potential to impact our resources and impact our economy," said Lisa DiPinto, acting director of NOAA's marine debris program. "It's great to raise awareness so the public can see the plastics we use can eventually land in the ocean."

DiPinto said the federal agency is co-sponsoring a new voyage this summer by the Sea Education Association to measure plastic pollution southeast of Bermuda. NOAA is also involved in research on the Pacific patch.

"Unfortunately, the kinds of things we use plastic for are the kinds of things we don't dispose of carefully," Savitz said. "We've got to use less of it, and if we're going to use it, we have to make sure we dispose of it well."

The Mystery of the Missing Ships

The Arctic Sea Mystery: more unexplained missing ships and crew.

Way back in August, 2009, a ship called the Arctic Sea disappeared, only to reappear some days later.

An article was produced talking about other missing ships...or ships who survived but whose crews disappeared:

Mary Celeste: A brigantine merchant ship discovered in early December 1872 in the Atlantic Ocean unmanned and apparently abandoned, in spite of the good weather. The ship had only been at sea a month and had six months of food and water on board. Cargo was virtually untouched and personal belongings were still in place. It is often described as the archetypal ghost ship. Made famous by Arthur Conan Doyle's short story "The Marie Celeste"

HMS Sappho: A royal Navy brig that went missing off the Australian coast in 1857-8. It was part of a British squadron patrolling the coast of West Africa to suppress the slave trade. Following a diplomatic incident with an American ship, it was sent to Australia. It sailed under Commander Moresby, but failed to arrive. Late in 1858 rumours began spreading in England it had been wrecked on an island off the coast of Australia, that some had been rescued and Captain Moresby had gone insane. Naval authorities believe it most likely hit the rocks and islets in Bass Strait or she capsized during severe gales.

USS Cyclops: The loss of the Proteus-class US Navy ship and 306 crew and passengers without a trace sometime after March 4 1918 remains the single largest loss of life in US Naval history not directly involving combat. The ship's fate still remains a mystery, with no wreckage ever found.

After making an unscheduled stop in Barbados for supplies, Cyclops set out for Baltimore, and was sighted on March 9 but was then never seen or heard from again. Its disappearance is often credited to the Bermuda Triangle.

MV Joyita: A merchant vessel that mysteriously disappeared in South Pacific in 1955. The vessel used to patrol Hawaii's Big Island until the end of WWII. On Oct 3 1955, it left Samoa's Apia harbour bound for the Tokelau Islands, about 270 miles away. Her departure was delayed because her port engine clutch failed. The ship eventually left on one engine, with 16 crew and 9 passengers. Five weeks later, it was sighted partially submerged with no trace of any passengers or crew, with four tons of cargo also missing.

The Flying Dutchman: The most famous of ghost vessels, apparently seen off the Cape of Good Hope. According to folklore, it is a ghost ship that can never go home, doomed to sail the oceans forever. According to folklore, the captain, facing down a mutiny, killed the leader and threw him overboard. Stormy clouds parted and a shadowy figure appeared condemning the ship to an eternity on the seas. It is usually spotted from afar, sometimes with a ghostly light. The story of the Flying Dutchman was turned into an opera, while more recently, the ship was used in The Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, where it was captained by Davy Jones, played by Bill Nighy.

Lady Lovibond: Said to have been wrecked on February 13, 1748, and reappear off the Kent coast every 50 years. The ship was at sea because her captain, Simon Peel had just been married and was celebrating. According to legend, one of the crew, some say the helmsman, became smitten with the captain's new bride, Annetta, and flew into a jealous rage. He murdered the captain and steer the ship onto the treacherous Goodwin Sands, killing everyone aboard. It is said the ship is seen on the anniversary of the disaster.

The Jenny: A British schooner that became frozen in an ice-barrier of the Drake Passage in 1823, only to be rediscovered years later by a whaling ship, the crew onboard preserved by the Antarctic cold. The crew of the whaler discovered the last entry in the captain's log, reading: May 4, 1823. No food for 71 days. I am the only one left alive.

Octavius: A ghost ship, probably legendary and not actual. Found west of Greenland by the a whaler in 1775, the boarding party found the entire crew below deck, dead, frozen and almost perfectly preserved, much like The Jenny. The captain's body was supposedly still at the table in his cabin, pen in hand. Supposedly the vessel had left England for the Orient in 1761, and successfully arrived at its destination the following year. The captain then gambled on a return, with the unfortunate result of being trapped in sea ice north of Alaska. The ship was never seen again after its encounter with the whaler.

Carroll A. Deering: A five-masted commercial schooner found off North Carolina in 1921, with its crew missing. The Deering may have been a victim of mutiny or piracy. On January 31, 1921, it was sighted run aground on Diamond Shoals, an area off the coast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Rescue ships found that the vessel had been completely abandoned. The ship's log, navigation equipment and the crew's personal effects were gone. The US Government launched an extensive investigation into the disappearance of the Deering. A number of theories surrounded the disappearance of the crew, including piracy, Russian communists and paranormal activity. The investigation wound up in 1922 with no answer.

Baychimo: The Baychimo, a steel 1,322 ton cargo steamer that was built in 19914 in Sweden, used to trade with Inuit settelements in Canada.

On October 1 1931, the vessel became trapped in pack ice. The crew briefly abandoned ship, returning two days later when it broke free of ice. It became mired again on October 8 and the Hudson's Bay Company sent aircraft to retrieve the crew. However 15 of the 22 crew remained behind, intending to wait out the winter. In November a blizzard struck, after which there was no sign of the ship. The skipper assumed it had sunk. Over the following months however, there were various sightings by Inuit hunters. While the crew managed to retrieve the most valuable furs on the vessel before abandoning it, it did not sink. Over the next several decades there were numerous sightings. The last recorded sighting was by a group of Inuit in 1969, 38 years after she was abandoned. Her fate is unknown.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Short-cut Chinese ship left two mile-long scar on Great Barrier Reef

Short-cut Chinese ship left two mile-long scar on Great Barrier Reef is the headline at on Wednesday, April 14, regarding the Chinese oil tanker that grounded itself on the Great Barrier Reef.

The Chinese coal ship that ran aground over a section of Australia's Great Barrier Reef inflicted a gash two miles long into a shoal that will take two decades to heal.

(Note that this "two decades to heal" statement is just an approximation. Who knows how long it will really take, particularly if more coal ships decide to take "short cuts" through the reef.

A leading marine scientist called it the worst damage he's ever seen to the world's largest coral reef.

The Shen Neng 1 veered into protected waters and ran aground on Douglas Shoal on April 3, immediately leaking 2-3 tons of fuel when coral shredded its hull.

The 755-foot ship was successfully lifted off the reef Monday after crews spent three days pumping fuel to lighten it. Salvage crews later towed it to an anchorage area near Great Keppel Island, 45 miles away.

Its refloating left a scar 1.9 miles long and up to 820 feet wide.

"There is more damage to this reef than I have ever seen in any previous Great Barrier Reef groundings," scientist David Wachenfeld said.

The oil that first leaked from the hull was quickly dispersed by chemical sprays and is believed to have caused little or no damage. Small amounts of oil, however, have begun washing up on beaches near where the ship ran aground, according to Maritime Safety Queensland.

The Great Barrier Reef is a World Heritage site because of its gleaming waters and environmental value as home to thousands of marine species. The accident occurred in the southern tip of the reef, which is not the main tourism hub.

The reef was hit particularly badly because the vessel did not stay in one place once it grounded, Wachenfeld said. Instead, tides and currents pushed it along the reef, crushing and smearing potentially toxic paint onto coral and plants, he said.

In some areas, "all marine life has been completely flattened and the structure of the shoal has been pulverized by the weight of the vessel," he said, speaking of the fragile coral and the plants and fish that may have inhabited the area.

Even if severe toxic contamination is not found at the site, initial assessments by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority indicate it could take 20 years for the coral reef to recover, he added.