Friday, July 30, 2010

The BP Spill: Has the Damage Been Exaggerated?

Time: The BP Spill: Has the Damage Been Exaggerated?

President Obama has called the BP oil spill "the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced," and so has just about everyone else. Green groups are sounding alarms about the "catastrophe along the Gulf Coast," while CBS, Fox and MSNBC are all slapping "Disaster in the Gulf" chyrons on their spill-related news. Even BP fall guy Tony Hayward, after some early happy talk, admitted that the spill was an "environmental catastrophe." The obnoxious anti-environmentalist Rush Limbaugh has been a rare voice arguing that the spill — he calls it "the leak" — is anything less than an ecological calamity, scoffing at the avalanche of end-is-nigh eco-hype.

Well, Limbaugh has a point. The Deepwater Horizon explosion was an awful tragedy for the 11 workers who died on the rig, and it's no leak; it's the biggest oil spill in U.S. history. It's also inflicting serious economic and psychological damage on coastal communities that depend on tourism, fishing and drilling. But so far — while it's important to acknowledge that the long-term potential danger is simply unknowable for an underwater event that took place just three months ago — it does not seem to be inflicting severe environmental damage. "The impacts have been much, much less than everyone feared," says geochemist Jacqueline Michel, a federal contractor who is coordinating shoreline assessments in Louisiana.
(See pictures of the Gulf oil spill.)

Yes, the spill killed birds — but so far, less than 1% of the number killed by the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska 21 years ago. Yes, we've heard horror stories about oiled dolphins — but so far, wildlife-response teams have collected only three visibly oiled carcasses of mammals. Yes, the spill prompted harsh restrictions on fishing and shrimping, but so far, the region's fish and shrimp have tested clean, and the restrictions are gradually being lifted. And yes, scientists have warned that the oil could accelerate the destruction of Louisiana's disintegrating coastal marshes — a real slow-motion ecological calamity — but so far, assessment teams have found only about 350 acres of oiled marshes, when Louisiana was already losing about 15,000 acres of wetlands every year.

The disappearance of more than 2,000 sq. mi. of coastal Louisiana over the past century has been a true national tragedy, ravaging a unique wilderness, threatening the bayou way of life and leaving communities like New Orleans extremely vulnerable to hurricanes from the Gulf. And while much of the erosion has been caused by the re-engineering of the Mississippi River — which no longer deposits much sediment at the bottom of its Delta — quite a bit has been caused by the oil and gas industry, which gouged 8,000 miles of canals and pipelines through coastal wetlands. But the spill isn't making that problem much worse. Coastal scientist Paul Kemp, a former Louisiana State University professor who is now a National Audubon Society vice president, compares the impact of the spill on the vanishing marshes to "a sunburn on a cancer patient."

Marine scientist Ivor van Heerden, another former LSU prof, who's working for a spill-response contractor, says, "There's just no data to suggest this is an environmental disaster. I have no interest in making BP look good — I think they lied about the size of the spill — but we're not seeing catastrophic impacts." Van Heerden, like just about everyone else working in the Gulf these days, is being paid from BP's spill-response funds. "There's a lot of hype, but no evidence to justify it."

The scientists I spoke with cite four basic reasons the initial eco-fears seem overblown. First, the Deepwater oil, unlike the black glop from the Valdez, is unusually light and degradable, which is why the slick in the Gulf is dissolving surprisingly rapidly now that the gusher has been capped. Second, the Gulf of Mexico, unlike Alaska's Prince William Sound, is very warm, which has helped bacteria break down the oil. Third, heavy flows of Mississippi River water have helped keep the oil away from the coast, where it can do much more damage. And finally, Mother Nature can be incredibly resilient. Van Heerden's assessment team showed me around Casse-tete Island in Timbalier Bay, where new shoots of Spartina grasses were sprouting in oiled marshes and new leaves were growing on the first black mangroves I've ever seen that were actually black. "It comes back fast, doesn't it?" van Heerden said.

Van Heerden is controversial in Louisiana, so I should mention that this isn't the first time he and Kemp have helped convince me that the conventional wisdom about a big story was wrong. Shortly after Hurricane Katrina, when the Army Corps of Engineers was still insisting that a gigantic surge had overwhelmed its levees, they gave me a tour that debunked the prevailing narrative, demonstrating that most of the breached flood walls in New Orleans showed no signs of overtopping.

Eventually, the Corps admitted that van Heerden and Kemp were right, that the surge in New Orleans was not so gigantic and that engineering failures had indeed drowned the city. But there was still a lot of resentment down here of van Heerden and his big mouth, especially after he wrote an I-told-you-so book about Katrina. He made powerful enemies at LSU, lost his faculty job, and is now suing the university. Meanwhile, he's been trashed locally as a BP shill ever since he downplayed the spill in a video on BP's website.

But van Heerden and Kemp were right about Katrina, and when it comes to BP, they're sticking to the evidence gathered by the spill-response teams — which all include a state and federal representative as well as a BP contractor. So far, the teams have collected nearly 3,000 dead birds, but fewer than half of them were visibly oiled; some may have died from eating oil-contaminated food, but others may have simply died naturally at a time when the Gulf happened to be crawling with carcass seekers. In any case, the Valdez may have killed as many as 435,000 birds. The teams have found 492 dead sea turtles, which is unfortunate, but only 17 were visibly oiled; otherwise, they have found only one other dead reptile in the entire Gulf. "We can't speak to the long-term impacts, but Ivor is just saying what all of us are seeing," says Amy Holman, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) director for Alaska who is working on van Heerden's assessment team in the Gulf.

The shoreline teams have documented more than 600 miles of oiled beaches and marshes, but the beaches are fairly easy to clean, and the beleaguered marshes don't seem to be suffering much additional damage. Oil has blackened the fringes of the marshes, but most of it stayed within a few feet of the edge; waves from a recent tropical storm did carry more oil a few meters inland, but very little of it infiltrated the wetland soils that determine the health of the marsh.

LSU coastal scientist Eugene Turner has dedicated much of his career to documenting how the oil industry has ravaged Louisiana's coast with canals and pipelines, but he says the BP spill will be a comparative blip and predicts that the oil will destroy fewer marshes than the airboats deployed to clean up the oil. "We don't want to deny that there's some damage, but nothing like the damage we've seen for years," he says.

It's true that oil spills can create long-term problems; in Alaska, for example, shorebirds that ate Exxon-tainted mussels have had diminished reproductive success, and herring fisheries have yet to fully recover. The potential long-term damage that underwater oil plumes and an unprecedented amount of chemical dispersants that BP has spread in the area could have on the region's deep-water ecosystems and food chains might not be known for years. Some scientists worry that the swarms of oil-eating bacteria will lower dissolved oxygen levels; there has been early evidence of modest reductions, though nothing approaching the dead zone that was already proliferating in the Gulf because of agricultural runoff in the Mississippi River basin. "People always fear the worst in a spill, and this one was especially scary because we didn't know when it would stop," says Michel, an environmental consultant who has worked spills for NOAA for more than 30 years. "But the public always overestimates the danger — and this time, those of us in the spill business did too."

It's easy to overstate the policy implications of this optimistic news. BP still needs to clean up its mess; federal regulation of deep-water drilling still needs to be strengthened; we still need to use fewer fossil fuels that warm the planet; we still don't need to use more corn ethanol (which is actually dirtier than gasoline). The push to exploit the spill to gain a comprehensive energy and climate bill in Congress has already stalled anyway — even though the planet still needs one.

The good news does suggest the folly of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's $350 million plan to build sand berms and rock jetties to protect marshes and barrier islands from oil. Some of the berms are already washing into the Gulf, and scientists agree that oil is the least of the problems facing Louisiana's coast, which had already lost more than 2,000 sq. mi. of wetlands before the spill. "Imagine how much real restoration we could do with all that money," van Heerden says.

Anti-oil politicians, anti-Obama politicians and underfunded green groups all have obvious incentives to accentuate the negative in the Gulf. So do the media, because disasters drive ratings and sell magazines; those oil-soaked pelicans you saw on TV (and the cover of TIME) were a lot more compelling than the healthy ones I saw roosting on a protective boom in Bay Jimmy. Even Limbaugh, when he wasn't downplaying the spill, outrageously hyped it as "Obama's Katrina." But honest scientists don't do that, even when they work for Audubon.

"There are a lot of alarmists in the bird world," Kemp says. "People see oiled pelicans and they go crazy. But this has been a disaster for people, not biota."

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Warming of Oceans Will Reduce and Rearrange Marine Life

Warming of Oceans Will Reduce and Rearrange Marine Life

The warmth of the ocean is the critical factor that determines how much productivity and biodiversity there is in the ocean, and where.

In two separate studies, researchers found that warming oceans have led to a massive decline in the amount of plant life in the sea over the last century, and that temperature is tightly linked to global patterns of marine biodiversity.

“We are just now understanding how deeply temperature affects ocean life,” said biologist Boris Worm of Dalhousie University, a co-author on both papers appearing July 28 in Nature. “It is not necessarily that increased temperature is destroying biodiversity, but we do know that a warmer ocean will look very different.”

In one study that looks at historical records of algae abundance over the last hundred years, Worm and his co-authors found that warming ocean temperatures are correlated to a massive decline in the amount of marine algae, or phytoplankton. Marine algae are the base of the entire ocean food chain, and were also responsible for originally creating oxygen on the planet.

The study estimates the decline in marine algae has been approximately 40 percent since 1950.

“I think that if this study holds up, it will be one of the biggest biological changes in recent times simply because of its scale,” said Worm. “The ocean is two-thirds of the earth’s surface area, and because of the depth dimension it is probably 80 to 90 percent of the biosphere. Even the deep sea depends on phytoplankton production that rains down. On land, by contrast, there is only a very thin layer of production.”

The study on marine phytoplankton is the first to look at changes over the last century at a global scale with data from as far back as 1899. Similar models have been made using satellite data, but that data only extends back to 1979.

“One of the most important aspects of the new paper is that they’ve come up with the same answer but from a different approach than we saw from space,” said marine botanist Michael Behrenfeld of Oregon State University. “I think that we should be concerned that this convergence of multiple approaches sees a reduction in the phytoplankton pigments as the ocean warms. If we continue to warm the climate we will probably see further reductions.”

In a study of general marine biodiversity, scientists have made the first global map of the biodiversity of the oceans for more than 11,000 marine species, from tiny shrimp-like creatures to whales, building on 6.5 million records from the Census for Marine Life and other databases. Of all the factors they looked at to explain why some regions had more or fewer types of creatures, the only factor that consistently explained the patterns for the 13 groups of marine life they studied was temperature.

“It was surprising that we found such a strong correlation to marine biodiversity and temperature,” said biologist Derek Tittensor of the University of Dalhousie, lead author of the marine biodiversity map study. “You might expect a different response to temperature from cold and warm-blooded animals, for example.”

Ocean temperature had different effects on the number of different creatures in coastal habitats versus open-ocean habitats. The biodiversity hotspots for coastal marine ecosystems were mostly near the equator where ocean temperatures are warmest, much like on land.

But for open ocean ecosystems, which included many deep-sea creatures, whales and big fish like tuna, the hotspots for diversity were at the mid-latitudes, where temperatures were slightly cooler.

“What we can draw from this study is that it is very likely that we will see a reorganization of biodiversity in the ocean from a warming ocean, but right now it’s very hard to predict exactly what that reorganization will be,” said Tittensor.

The hotspots in biodiversity are also the areas that have attracted the most human impacts, such as fishing and habitat destruction, meaning that we are harming the areas that we should be trying to conserve.

By mapping where the biodiversity of marine life is today, scientists now have a baseline for comparing species distributions in the future. Understanding these changes will help them understand how marine biodiversity is being affected by changes in the amount of marine algae, for example.

“In order to understand life in the ocean, we need to understand where it is,” said Worm. “It’s a basis for understanding and also managing ocean life.”

“The ocean is something that we’re not very good at thinking about,” Worm added. “It is one of those things that is so big to see that it has been hard to see it until now.”

Sunday, July 25, 2010

First marine ‘red list’ published in Japan

The Independent (UK Newspaper) First marine ‘red list’ published in Japan

Greenpeace Japan published its ‘red list' on July 21: the booklet contains information about endangered or under-threat species being stocked in supermarkets or served at restaurants.

Greenpeace Japan launched its first seafood ranking guide ‘red listing' in a bid to force Japanese supermarkets to remove stocks of endangered fish species from their shelves.

The Japanese version of the ‘red listing' names 15 different species of fish, including five different types of tuna, which Greenpeace believes should not be sold or consumed. On average the Japanese consume around 25 percent of the world's tuna and 45 percent of the endangered Blue Fin Tuna. Greenpeace hopes that the publication of the ‘red list' will encourage consumers and retailers to remove stocks of these fish from their plates and shelves.

The fish included on the list are those that Greenpeace believes are vulnerable to overfishing, sourced from depleted stocks or caught using methods which are damaging to ocean habitats or other species. The list includes Atlantic salmon, Bluefin tuna, Greenland halibut, monkfish, red snapper and shark amongst others. Country specific lists can be found on regional Greenpeace websites.

Red lists have previously been launched in 13 countries, the UK, USA, Austria, Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Canada, Spain, Portugal, New Zealand and Poland. Four other countries - the UK, Italy, Australia and New Zealand - also do additional specific work with tuna varieties.

In an attempt to encourage consumers to boycott certain stores, annual rankings of retailers in several countries including the USA, Canada and Spain are published. Each supermarket is scored on its commitment to selling sustainable fish products; according to the latest results, supermarket chain LIDL scored the highest in Spain, in Canada Loblaws came first and in the USA Target and Wegmans came out tops jointly.

Other campaigns to promote the use of sustainable seafood such as ‘Seafood See Life' have gathered momentum in the UK and are supported by celebrity chefs such as Raymond Blanc and Tom Aikens.

The Japanese argue that Bluefin Tuna, one of the most endangered marine species, is an integral part of sushi, the fish is highly prized and a single adult fish can sell for upwards of $160,000,(€124,902), and several restaurants, including celebrity sushi restaurant Nobu, continue to serve the fish.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Over 30 turtles found dead in Guatemala

The Times of India: Over 30 turtles found dead in Guatemala

GUATEMALA CITY: Over 30 dead sea turtles have been found mutilated and with signs of suffocation on Guatemala's southern coast, authorities said.

The turtles were found on the beaches of Monterrico and Sipacate, the National Council of Protected Areas said.

The animals died of suffocation after being trapped in fishing nets, the organisation said, adding that fishermen were allegedly using fish hooks in prohibited areas.

According to the country's laws, fishing nets must be equipped with turtle excluder devices (TED), which allow trapped turtles to escape easily.

The appearance of dead turtles was worrying because the nesting season has just begun and efforts to protect sea turtles are already under threat, said Jose Martinez, head of the organisation's hydro-biological resources department.

Six sea turtle species nest in Guatemala and all are in danger of extinction due to poaching, over-harvesting of their eggs and pollution.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Experts back law banning shark fishing

Bermuda Sun: Experts back law banning shark fishing

Researchers and conservationists hit out after 11ft fish was killed in BDA waters this week

Wanted — dead or alive: The capture of an 11ft tiger shark on Challenger Banks this weekend attracted attention but researchers who have been tagging live tigers say the fish are more valuable alive. *Photo supplied

Catch of the day: Raymond Raynor poses with the 11ft tiger shark he reeled in on Sunday. *Photo by Henry Thomas

James Whittaker
Senior Reporter

A dangerous man-eater, a great source of shark hash or a symbol of human cruelty and the exploitation of the ocean?

The sight of an 11ft tiger shark being chopped up on a Somerset dock this week evoked powerful emotions.

While neighbourhood children jostled to have their pictures taken with the shark, others voiced concerns that an endangered animal had apparently been slaughtered for sport.

Michael Burke, who runs SCUBA firm Blue Water Diving, believes Bermuda should follow in the footsteps of Palau and the Maldives and protect sharks through legislation.


He said: “I really don’t see the need to catch a tiger shark. There’s very little use for them. It is not a good eating fish.

“We don’t need to do that anymore. It is a different world we live in.

“Those images of hunters standing with their feet on a lion’s head as some sort of trophy, it is an anachronism.

“Palau has banned shark fishing, we could do the same. We did it for turtles in the 1800s, why not sharks?”

The only current restriction on shark fishing in Bermuda is a ban on removing the fins from live sharks at sea.

The Marine Resources Board has discussed the possibility of a more extensive ban but is awaiting the results of research before making a recommendation to Government.

The shark was caught on Challenger Banks, roughly 14 miles offshore on Sunday.

It was reeled in as part of the Robinson’s Marina Fishing tournament. Raymond Raynor, whose crew landed the 550lb fish, said he planned to use it for lobster bait and did not understand the fuss about his catch.

He added: “I don’t see a problem with it, the good Lord put them there for us to catch. I’m not worried about what people say.

“I would understand it if we were going out hunting for sharks every day.

“We weren’t doing it for glory. It just happened to take our line.

“People like to make a big deal over nothing sometimes.

“If a shark was to turn around and eat you, what would you say then?”

Mr. Raynor said most people on the dock were thrilled to see the shark.

He added: “People don’t see it every day. They might see it on television but not up close like that.”

Scores of pictures were posted on Facebook and a video of the shark being chopped up on the dock was published on website BerNews.

Mr. Burke, who is also a member of the Marine Resources Board, believes a “first step” for Bermuda could be to discourage such public displays on marinas.


The Shark-Free Marina Initiative, an international pressure group, aims to reduce shark mortality worldwide by asking marinas to stop allowing the display and butchering of sharks on-site.

Choy Aming, a researcher and filmmaker with the Bermuda Shark Project, said sharks are more valuable alive than dead.

He added: “We don’t have a lot of them left. They are an apex predator and are integral to the ecosystem.

“We should have more sharks here than we do.

“I spend 60 hours each week out on the water and the only time I have ever seen a shark is when we have been chumming for them out on Challenger Banks.”

Mr. Aming believes killing sharks for “glory shots” is pointless. He said: “It is one thing if you are depending on it for a living but it is not really a commercially viable fish.

“I’m not against fishing — tuna and wahoo are marketable fish.

“Even marlin fishing has some value because of the tourism it attracts.

“Tiger sharks are fairly easy to catch but there is not much you can use them for except lobster bait.”

Mr. Aming said fishermen often catch tigers by accident but most put them back.

He and the Bermuda Shark Project team have caught and tagged 10 tiger sharks in the last 12 months.

The researchers have uncovered new data about the migratory patterns of Bermuda’s sharks.

They hope their findings will fuel future marine conservation policy.

The U.S.-based Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation is backing the research.

Mr. Harvey, a renowned angler and artist, will be on the island next week to see the Shark Project’s work first-hand.

In the U.S., Mr. Harvey has found a unique way of bringing conservationists and fishermen together.

His Ultimate Shark Challenge in Florida is a fishing competition with a twist.

The tournament, profiled in the Washington Post earlier this year, challenges anglers to catch, measure, tag and release sharks.

The tournament’s organizer, Shaun Paxton, said they had taken the “spectacle of dead sharks” out of the sport and replaced it with live video.

The competition allows anglers the thrill of fishing for sharks without killing them and has the added advantage that scientists can track the movements of the fish afterwards.

Local project tracks the migration of tigers to and from the island

The size of the tiger shark pulled out of Bermuda’s waters this week came as no surprise to a team of island researchers who have been tracking them for years.

The 11ft fish, caught as part of the Robinson’s Marina Fishing tournament on Sunday, caused onlookers to stop and stare.

But sharks in Bermuda, though increasingly rare, are not uncommon.

Tiger sharks are seasonal visitors to the island, with the largest numbers found on Challenger and Argus Banks between July and October.

They rarely come inshore and you are unlikely to encounter one unless you are out on the banks deep-sea fishing.

Their habits, migratory patterns and even their numbers remain something of a mystery.

But scientists say they are crucial to marine ecosystems.

The Bermuda Shark Project has been tagging and tracking sharks in the island’s waters in a bid to answer key questions about the fish, which has existed since the days of the dinosaurs.

Ten sharks were tagged last year.

With funding from the Guy Harvey Research Institute and the support of Rhode Island University, 10 more will be tagged this year. Filmmaker Choy Aming made a movie about the project, A Tiger’s Tale, that premiered at the Bermuda Film Festival.

He said the latest tracking data showed the sharks are heading back in the general direction of Bermuda, having spent the winter in the Caribbean.

He added: “It looks like we may have stumbled across the first evidence of a tiger shark migration in the Atlantic.”

Mr. Aming said it is not a “Bermuda migration” as many of the sharks, tagged here last year, are still hundreds of miles away from the island.

But while some travelled as far afield as Puerto Rico, all are now heading north. The Bermuda Shark Project monitors their progress with satellite tags that send an electronic signal every time the shark breaks the surface.

The team, which includes vet and fisherman Neil Burnie, has secured funding to tag 10 more sharks this summer.

The aim of the project is to “de-monster” sharks and foster knowledge and understanding. The team hopes their research will get support for protecting tiger sharks and sharks in general.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Hundreds of dead penguins dot Brazil's beaches

Hundreds of dead penguins dot Brazil's beaches

Hundreds of penguins that apparently starved to death are washing up on the beaches of Brazil, worrying scientists who are still investigating what's causing them to die.

About 500 of the black-and-white birds have been found just in the last 10 days on Peruibe, Praia Grande and Itanhaem beaches in Sao Paulo state, said Thiago do Nascimento, a biologist at the Peruibe Aquarium.

Most were Magellan penguins migrating north from Argentina, Chile and the Falkland Islands in search of food in warmer waters.

Many are not finding it: Autopsies done on several birds revealed their stomachs were entirely empty _ indicating they likely starved to death, Nascimento said.

Scientists are investigating whether strong currents and colder-than-normal waters have hurt populations of the species that make up the penguins' diet, or whether human activity may be playing a role.

"Overfishing may have made the fish and squid scarcer," Nascimento said.

Nascimento said it's common for penguins to swim north this time of year. Inevitably, some get lost along the way or die from hunger or exhaustion, and end up on the Brazilian coast far from home.

But not in such numbers _ Nascimento said about 100 to 150 live penguins show up on the beach in an average year, and only 10 or so are dead.

"What worries us this year," he said, "is the absurdly high number of penguins that have appeared dead in a short period of time."

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

470-year-old oyster ceremony is scuppered by health and safety... and a seasick mayor

England, a "nanny-state" has a Health and Safety department, that passes regulations telling people what they can and can't do. For example, there's been 470 years of the mayor of Colchester transferring from one boat to another. Last year the mayor almost fell into the water. So of course, that means that 469 years of no accidents count for nothing. What will the new rules be if the tradition goes back to the sea next year? WHy he, or she, will probably have to be surrounded by six or seven boats manned with scuba divers, he'll probably have a scuba tank on his back to breathe from in case he falls in, and he'll have bungy cords wrapped around him to make sure he can't fall in as he makes the transfer.

470-year-old oyster ceremony is scuppered by health and safety... and a seasick mayor
By Andrew Levy

Since Tudor times, the opening of Colchester's oyster season has been marked with a solemn ceremony headed by the mayor.

After helping to dredge up the first catch of the year, the Essex town's first citizen toasts the monarch with gin and gingerbread before sampling the sea's bounty.

But now, after 470 years, the event is set to be held on land for the first time because the current mayor gets seasick.
Colchester mayor Cllr Sonia Lewis for the first time in 470 years the town's oyster ceremony will be held on land as the mayor suffers from seasickness
In a further snub to tradition, Sonia Lewis will not even eat any oysters because she can't stand them - proclaiming herself 'a fish and chips girl'.

And in a final blow, the ceremony seems unlikely to take place on the ocean wave ever again because of health and safety concerns after the last mayor nearly fell in to the water.

The sudden downgrading of one of the town's oldest ceremonies has horrified locals who say it is good for publicity.

But Mrs Lewis was unrepentant, suggesting the decision meant disabled people would be able to attend - even though landlubbers, whether able-bodied or not, have rarely witnessed it in the past and never complained.
Back in the day: A former mayor inspects the catch at a previous oyster ceremoney. It seems unlikely it will take place at sea again because of health and safety concerns after the last mayor nearly fell in to the water
'I have never been able to go to the opening of the fisheries because of my inability to tolerate tidal waters - and other councillors have been in the same boat,' she said.

'This year those who also suffer sea sickness, such as [Cllr] Jackie Maclean, will also be able to attend.

'Having the ceremony on land also means it will be accessible to the disabled. We hope it will be an inclusive and happy occasion. I am looking forward to it enormously.'

She added it remained uncertain whether next year's season would be opened at sea after her predecessor, Henry Spyvee, nearly ended up in the drink while transferring between boats in choppy waters.

'The jury is still out on that one. If the next mayor wants to go back on the water there are a couple of health and safety issues that need to be addressed,' Mrs Lewis said. 'The mayor nearly fell overboard last year, so we had to look at the risk anyway.'

Colchester was sold a charter giving it control of local fishing in 1189 when King Richard I needed to raise money for a crusade.

In 1540, the town began formally celebrating its autonomy and the event continues to be held on the first Friday of September in Pyefleet Creek.

The occasion begins with the Proclamation, an ancient text that is read out by the chief executive to declare the fishery open for the season.

The mayor, who is dressed in full ceremonial regalia, then proposes a toast to the monarch of the day, which is accompanied by eating gingerbread and drinking gin, before the first dredge for oysters is made over the side of the boat.

The catch is then used to provide lunch for around 40 dignitaries on a sailing barge.

But Mrs Lewis announced: 'I am not keen on fish generally - I am more of a fish and chips girl.'

Finally, a message is sent to the monarch, stating the mayor and councillors have opened 'Colne Oyster Fishery for the coming season' and 'will drink to your Majesty's long life and health and request respectfully to offer your Majesty their expressions of dutiful loyalty and devotion'.

The monarch then returns their thanks for the good wishes.

This year, the event will be held at landlocked Cudmore Grove Country Park in East Mersea, Essex, where the mayor will be handed a plate of oysters by West Mersea mayor John May.

Graham Larkin, operations manager at Colchester Oyster Fisheries, which supplies shelfish around the world including to restaurants such as the Ritz in London, said: 'We got a letter last week telling us and it is a bit disappointing. It did not mention the mayor being seasick.

'It is a sea-based industry and sea-based ceremony and the barge is usually floating above where the oysters are. It is always goood for publicity.'

Richard Haward, 64, a seventh generation oyster dredger, said: 'It's a 500-year-old tradition and the charter dates back to the 12th century - that is why they have the ceremony.

'It usually happens where the oysters are, not in the park. It takes away from the point of it.'

The decision is the second blow in as many years to Colchester's world-famous oyster industry.

Last year it hit the headlines when its produce was blamed for an outbreak of food poisoning at Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck restaurant.

Obama's National Ocean Policy

From the AAAS News Science Mag

Obama's National Ocean Policy

It wouldn't have prevented the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but a new national ocean policy, announced today by the White House, was welcomed by environmentalists. The policy is intended to promote oceans and great lakes that are "healthy and resilient, safe and productive."

The policy reflects a "modern outlook that doesn't mistake the oceans for wilderness, but a work zone where we need zoning," comments Chris Mann of the Pew Environment Group, who hopes the policy will increase the focus on environmental stewardship.

Former President George W. Bush created a national Committee on Ocean Policy in 2004 to improve federal coordination on the seas, but this effort largely fizzled. Mann hopes that Obama's effort will encourage agencies to take the mission more seriously.

The order creates a National Ocean Commission—co-chaired by the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the Office of Science and Technology Policy—that would try to improve coordination and planning among federal agencies and state and local governments for the many uses of the coastal zone.

"It would be naive to think a policy like this could stop oil spills," Mann says, but perhaps the better coordination and sharing of information will help make drilling safer.

Based on two earlier reports from an ocean policy task force, the policy calls for marine spatial planning to reduce conflicts between users of the oceans and to better preserve ecosystems. The new commission won't create new regulations or do any zoning, however.

Under the policy, new regional organizations would create plans for various parts of the U.S. coastline within 6 to 12 months. The commission would provide guidance for these plans and ultimately help resolve the thorniest conflicts.

The final report from the task force is quite close to the previous drafts, but it elevates the role of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration by giving the administrator a seat at the National Ocean Commission because of the agency's scientific resources. The council will start meeting later this summer.

The final recommendations (pdf) of the task force, created by President Barack Obama last June, were issued today. Nancy Sutley of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, who chaired the task force, said in a press conference that she expects an Executive Order to be released today.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Coral reefs suffer mass bleaching

London Telegraph: Coral reefs suffer mass bleaching

Coral reefs are suffering widespread damage in what is set to be one of the worst years ever for the delicate and beautiful habitats.

The phenomenon, known as coral bleaching because the reefs turn bone white when the colourful algae that give the coral its colour and food is lost, has been reported throughout south east Asia, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific.

Divers and scientists have described huge areas of previously pristine reef being turned into barren white undersea landscapes off the coast of Thailand and Indonesia.

Coral reef loss at unprecedented levels
The popular island tourist destination the Maldives have also suffered severe bleaching. Reefs in the Caribbean could also be under threat.

High ocean temperatures this year are being blamed for the bleaching, which experts fear could be worse than a similar event in 1998 which saw an estimated 16 per cent of the world's reefs being destroyed.

Dr Mark Eakin, coordinator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coral Reef Watch, said: "The bleaching is very strong throughout south east Asia and the central Indian Ocean.

"The reports are that it is the worst since 1997/1998. This is a really huge event and we are going to see a lot of corals dying."

Coral reefs provide refuge and food to nearly a quarter of all marine species, making them among the most biologically diverse habitats on the planet. Bleaching can also rob fish and other species of important shelter and food sources.

Although reefs can often recover from bleaching, it leaves the coral vulnerable to damage from storms, infections and other environmental stress, increasing the risk of deaths.

Coral reef monitoring teams have reported mass bleaching of coral reefs off the coast of Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia while the Maldives, Sri Lanka and reefs off the coast of east Africa have also been hit.

With ocean temperatures reaching record levels and combined with the end of an El Nino episode, scientists fear there could be even more damage to corals as the year continues.

Scientists in Thailand have reported reefs suffering 90% of their corals being bleached and up to 20% of the corals dead.

Olivia Durkin, who is leading the bleaching monitoring at the Centre for Biodiversity in Peninsular Thailand, said: "This year's severe coral bleaching has the potential to be the worst on record.

"Extensive bleaching, death and disease are reported not only in corals, but giant clams, sea anemones and soft corals are also losing their symbiotic algae."

Corals are a delicate combination of animal, algae and rock that form intricate undersea structures, providing shelter for thousands of brightly coloured fish and also acting as nurseries for the young of many larger open sea fish.

Coral colonies are made up of polyps, which secrete a stony skeleton that forms the intricate and delicate looking structures. A microscopic algae known as zooxanthellae live within the coral where they convert energy from the sun into food for the coral animals.

Bleaching usually occurs when ocean temperatures exceed a threshold that is around one degree higher than the average seen during the warmest summer months.

Although scientists do not fully understand why it happens, bleaching is thought to occur when these prolonged periods of these high temperatures combine with excessive sunlight levels.

This causes the symbiotic algae in the coral to become over active, causing it to poison the coral host and leading to the coral expelling the algae into the surrounding water to defend itself.

Without the algae to provide food and nutrition, the corals grow weak and leaves them vulnerable to disease and damage from storms.

In many cases the coral dies, leaving an undersea wasteland that quickly becomes infested with weedlike algae which covers every surface.

It can take corals between 10 and 70 years to recover from such bleaching events. Climate scientists have also warned that bleaching will become more common as global temperatures continue to rise.

Research published on Friday in the journal Science showed that coral growth in the Red Sea has declined by a third over the past 12 years due to rising temperatures and warned that coral there would cease growing entirely by 2070 if warming continues.

Volunteers in Cambodia say this year they have seen bleaching of 90% to 100% of the shallow water reefs around the country's coast Koh Rong and Koh rong Semleon Islands after water temperatures rose by 3 degrees.

Half of the reefs off Weh, in Indonesia have seen 80% of their corals bleached.

Stuart Campbell, director of marines programs at the Wildlife Conservation Society in Indonesia, said: "This is an unfortunate situation, as coral reefs of northern Aceh have shown remarkable resilience in the aftermath of the tsunami which hit the area in December 2004.

"In May 4% of colonies were recorded dead. The level of coral mortality that will occur in all is still unknown."

Many of the reefs in the Pacific that have been hit had survived previous bleaching events with little impact.

The reefs at Lord Howe Island about 370 miles off the east coast of Australia. which are a World Heritage Site for their unique beauty and biodiversity, have also been hit by its largest ever recorded bleaching event.

Reefs in the Maldives have been slowly recovering since high ocean temperatures in 1998 caused widespread bleaching of corals around the world. Biologists fear this new bleaching will damage the already vulnerable reef further.

Mayotte, which is off the coast of northern Madagascar, has suffered high levels of mortality in the wake of the bleaching.

There are also concerns that the bleaching could spread to popular tourist reefs in the Caribbean after temperatures there have been high since the start of the year.

Dr Eakin added: "This year may be a tough year in the Caribbean. It all depends on what the tropical storms do.

"When I visited Thailand a couple of weeks ago, it was an eerie experience to look around to see white in places that should have been full of bright colours and life. It was almost worse than looking at a dead reef, because what we were looking at was a reef that was right on the verge of dying."

"It doesn't just effect the corals themselves but the fish that live there. There were anemone fish sitting in the middle of bleached anemone behaving strangely and not defending their territory. It was like they were a little stunned.

"For species that feed on coral, this is even worse for them."

There are also concerns for the health of native UK corals growing off the coast after species such as the pink sea fan have been devastated by disease.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Treasure hunters will skirt new law in Canada

CDC News: Treasure hunters will skirt new law

The Nova Scotia government's crackdown on treasure hunters won't do anything to protect the province's cultural artifacts, a salvage diver said Wednesday.

Duane Dauphinee, who has worked all over the world both as an underwater archaeologist and treasure salvager, said that when the government claims everything found, it encourages cheating.

"You're not going to stop inquisitive sport divers," he said. "And if they find things, now that they know that the government will take it if they mention it, nothing will be mentioned — it'll go underground. "

The Treasure Trove Act will be radically changed by the end of the year, making all historic artifacts government property.

The current law divides the spoils 90 per cent to the treasure hunter, and 10 per cent to the province. That means only some of the treasure recovered from Nova Scotia ship wrecks wind up on display in local museums.

But Dauphinee said that putting an end to treasure hunting will result in a greater cultural loss in the long-term because the province can't afford the multi-million dollar cost of under-sea recovery work.

Without the marriage between archaeology and treasure hunting, Dauphinee said that treasure and history alike will stay forgotten on the ocean floor.

Jeff MacKinnon said the decision could spell the end of his treasure salvage company — Sovereign Marine Explorations Associates International.

"I think it was careless on the part of the minister of natural resources," he said. "I don't think he looked at the economic impact. I don't think that he took the time to sit down and discuss it with us."

But, the province believes it's important to keep all historic items, including treasure, inside Nova Scotia.

"People can still do underwater heritage research," Mike MacDonald, executive director of the mineral resources branch of the Natural Resources Department, said.

"But any of the material that's found would be considered to be artifacts, and would be the property of the Crown."

Michael Noonan, with the provincial Department of Tourism, Cultural and Heritage Department, said it's important to protect the province's marine heritage.

"Marine heritage resources that exist in Nova Scotia will stay in Nova Scotia for the benefits of heritage research and for interpreting our heritage as a sea coastal province," he said.

Darryl Kelman, president of the Nova Scotia Archaeology Society, welcomes the ban because historical ship wrecks are sometimes damaged in in the hunt for treasure.

"A lot of these treasure hunters, as they're sometimes called, are these large salvage firms that go out and excavate one of these wrecks," he said.

"They're doing it for profit so they can't always take the time and the care that's required to do a proper archaeological excavation."

Shrimping and Sea Turtles: Is It Either/Or?

July 15, 2010
New York Times: Shrimping and Sea Turtles: Is It Either/Or?

Because of an unusually high number of turtle strandings since the gulf oil spill – about six times the usual number – environmentalists are asking the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to take extra steps to protect sea turtles from shrimpers.

As I write in my examination of animal deaths in the gulf in The New York Times, more than 450 dead turtles, most of them endangered Kemp’s ridleys, have been found since the spill. Oil might be the most obvious culprit, but much of the evidence points to shrimp boats, whose nets can drown turtles.

One major problem with that theory is that there have been far fewer shrimpers in the gulf than in previous seasons. But there have also been reports that more turtles have been hanging around near the coast, raising questions about whether the oil has driven them there or there is some other explanation – for example, a rebounding population – for the increase. More turtles in heavily trafficked areas means more accidents.

Regardless of the cause, the Turtle Island Restoration Network and the Center for Biological Diversity are arguing that turtles, which are vulnerable to oil fumes and oiled food and which don’t instinctively avoid oil, can’t take the stress of more shrimping right now.

The Texas shrimping season opens Thursday night after its annual two-month shutdown, and boats from as far as the Eastern seaboard will be sailing there to shrimp. This year, with shrimp prices high, a high number of shrimpers are expected. Environmental groups are asking that the closing be extended and have notified NOAA that they intend to file a lawsuit charging that the oil spill requires a re-evaluation of commercial fishing policies under the Endangered Species Act.

“Right now, we need to be protecting the remaining fish and wildlife in the gulf, so it can provide a genetic pool for wildlife to recolonize once this mess is cleaned up,” said Todd Steiner, a biologist and the executive director of the Turtle Island Restoration Network. “This is not the time to be short-sighted and selfish to both future generations of fishers and the American public by vacuuming up all the life that has survived the oil disaster.”

Saturday, July 17, 2010

BP says oil has stopped leaking from Gulf well

Politics rearing its inevitable head...

July 16, BBC News: BP says oil has stopped leaking from Gulf well

BP says it has temporarily stopped oil flowing into the Gulf of Mexico from its leaking well.

It is the first time the flow has stopped since an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig on 20 April.

US President Barack Obama said the development was a "positive sign" but noted that BP was still in the testing phase.

BP executive Kent Wells said the oil had been stopped at 1425 local time (1925 GMT) and he was "excited" by the progress.

"It is very good to see no oil go into the Gulf of Mexico," said Mr Wells.

BP shares rose in New York trading on Thursday after the flow was stopped, having already performed well over the day.

But BP is stressing that even if no oil escapes for 48 hours, that will not mean the flow of oil and gas has been stopped permanently.

BP chief operating officer Doug Suttles emphasised that there was no reason for "celebration" yet, particularly for those in areas already damaged by oil.

"The job is not finished," he said.

The pressure testing is necessary to check the strength of the well. If the pressure within the cap on top is low, that could indicate oil is leaking out further down the well.

If the pressure remains high, BP and the government will have to decide whether to try to keep the well shut or to leave it open and pipe oil to four vessels on the surface.

The US government's incident commander, Adm Thad Allen, said even if it was successful, the well would be reopened and oil capture by ships on the surface would restart while a seismic test was done.

"We can go back then and put the system under pressure again. Once we are convinced we can certainly consider shutting in the well, that is always possible and we would certainly look to do that."

But he emphasised that the option of shutting in the well - closing all the valves and stopping the flow - was a "side benefit" of the new capping stack.

After three months of this - and so many failed attempts - people are sceptical.

But at the same time the mood has brightened considerably, because this oil spill has had a deadening psychological effect on the Gulf Coast.

The long-term plan is still to dig a relief well which will intercept the leaking one.

People have just left this coastline, tourists in particular, because they don't want to run the risk of having a vacation ruined by oil

This could all go wrong. We're only a few hours into the tests.
The priority had always been to increase the amount of oil being captured and piped to the surface, he said.

Whatever happens will be a temporary solution, ahead of a relief well being used permanently to kill the original well with mud and cement. The pressure test will provide useful information for that operation.

Work on both of the relief wells is currently suspended because of the integrity test. One of the relief wells is within 4-5ft horizontally and 100ft vertically of intersecting.

The pressure test was twice delayed before starting on Thursday, once while additional checks were put in place to allay fears it could make the leak worse, and on Wednesday by a leaking piece of equipment.

Meanwhile, BP continues to face political pressure in the US.

A congressional committee has agreed measures that would ban the firm from new offshore drilling for seven years.

Lockerbie allegations
And in a separate move, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said she will look into a request by four senators to investigate allegations that BP lobbied for the release of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi while attempting to finalise an oil deal with Libya.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee announced on Thursday it would hold a hearing on 29 July into the circumstances of Megrahi's release.

The 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 killed 270 people - most of them were American.

Megrahi, who has terminal prostate cancer, was freed by Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill on compassionate grounds in August 2009 after serving eight years.

In a statement on Thursday, BP admitted it had expressed concern to the UK government about the slow progress of a prisoner transfer agreement between the two countries.

But the firm said it had taken no part in discussions on the decision to free Megrahi.

And the UK ambassador to Washington, Sir Nigel Sheinwald, said: "Claims in the press that Megrahi was released because of an oil deal involving BP, and that the medical evidence used by the Scottish Executive supporting his release was paid for by the Libyan government, are not true."

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Scientist Says Oxygen-Depletion Problem in Gulf Is Real

Wall Street Journal: Scientist Says Oxygen-Depletion Problem in Gulf Is Real

A university researcher questioned the significance of government data that suggest oxygen levels in the Gulf of Mexico haven't dropped enough to be of serious concern.

Samantha Joye, an oceanographer at the University of Georgia who is studying the oil spill's potential effects on Gulf marine life, said water samples that she and colleagues have taken show a more worrisome drop in oxygen levels than was reported recently by a separate group of federal researchers aboard a different ship.

The federal scientists were testing an area closer to the leaking wellhead, where the oil was fresher, Ms. Joye said. Oil farther away, which had been in the water longer, was more likely to have attracted oil-eating bacteria that reduce oxygen levels, she said.

"It certainly isn't safe to conclude there is no oxygen problem, based on oxygen measurements that are made close to the spill site," Ms. Joye said in a call Tuesday with reporters. Referring to the federal tests, she said: "I don't think that's a wise way to make conclusions about oxygen."

The federal government plans to release additional data about oxygen levels Thursday, based on testing of a broader area of the Gulf, said Steve Murawski, chief science adviser for the fisheries unit of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"We've done a lot more work," he said. He declined to discuss what the additional data showed, saying the government was awaiting completion of peer review.

Ms. Joye and her colleagues found that underwater oxygen levels in certain areas they tested had dropped several times as much as the federal researchers found in their samples, she said in an interview Tuesday. The declines were most pronounced near where the researchers detected a plume of oil and methane, she said.

Both groups of researchers say more testing is needed to determine how much oil and methane from the well are underwater and how severely they are affecting oxygen levels.

More on the Spill
See graphics covering how the spill happened, what's being done to stop it, and the impact on the region.

View Interactive

More photos and interactive graphics The tests are complicated by the fact that, for years, a swath of the Gulf coast has experienced a summertime plunge in oxygen levels, becoming what some researchers call a seasonal "dead zone." Scientists attribute that to nutrients from the Mississippi River entering the Gulf. Organisms in the warm summer water consume the nutrients, using oxygen in the process, scientists say.

The university and federal researchers "both could be right," said Robert Gagosian, president of Ocean Leadership, a Washington-based nonprofit consortium of oceanographic research institutions. "The only way you're going to find out is to have long-term studies and sample in a lot of different locations."

On June 8, Ms. Joye reported that, during a two-week Gulf research voyage, she and colleagues had found a large submerged plume of oil and methane. The oxygen levels dropped most significantly about nine miles from the wellhead, she said. Oil spills can reduce underwater oxygen levels in large part because natural bacteria in the water begin digesting the oil, and the bacteria consume oxygen in the process.

On June 23, federal officials reported that a separate research trip by a government ship in May had found that levels of dissolved oxygen in the Gulf "remained above immediate levels of concern, although there is a need to monitor dissolved oxygen levels over time." That conclusion was based on tests largely taken within a couple of miles of the wellhead.

The federal report found "no evidence of large-scale changes" in underwater levels of dissolved oxygen. But it noted its conclusion was based on a research trip that ended May 25—and that large amounts of oil continuing to pour into the Gulf since then might have depleted oxygen levels further.

The data to be released by the government in coming days cover research conducted through the third week of June, NOAA's Mr. Murawski said

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Doom Feared as Asian Carp Advances

(an inland waterway story, but important nevertheless)

Doom Feared as Asian Carp Advances

With the country’s attention riveted on the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the news in late June that a live Asian carp had been caught in the Chicago Area Waterway System, just six miles from Lake Michigan, registered only a small blip on the radar of the national media.

But for state and local officials in the Great Lakes region, the arrival of the carp on the doorstep of Lake Michigan is an environmental crisis of the first order.

“The Great Lakes are on the brink of a great ecological and economic disaster that states in the region may never overcome,” Gov. Ted Strickland of Ohio wrote in a letter to President Obama on Thursday. “We need immediate, decisive action.”

In his letter, Governor Strickland called for the immediate construction of a permanent physical barrier on the Calumet River, where the live carp specimen was found, and Lake Michigan. “We must create an alternate mode (or modes) of moving people, cargo and stormwater without allowing any aquatic species to move between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River basins – an approach technically referred to as ‘permanent ecological separation,’ ” he wrote.

“”The Great Lakes are on the brink of a great ecological and economic disaster that states in the region may never overcome.”

— Gov. Ted Strickland

Federal officials had already committed $80 million to control the spread of the carp – a voracious eater which biologists fear will outmaneuver native fish and cause a collapse in the lakes’ multibillion-dollar commercial and recreational fishing industries. But the control effort, which included the construction of an underwater electric fence, has apparently failed, and politicians in the region are pressing for further action.

The impact of an invasion of Asian carp could be overwhelming. The fish are prolific breeders and can grow to over four feet and weigh up to 100 pounds. The climate of the Great Lakes region is also a close match to their native Asian habitats, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Mr. Strickland, along with Richard Cordray, Ohio’s attorney general, also called for a “Asian Carp Emergency Summit” to be held by July 19 with representatives from the White House, the E.P.A., the Army Corps of Engineers, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Coast Guard in attendance. He said he hoped that construction of the physical barrier would get underway by mid-August at the latest.

“The situation facing the Great Lakes region is dire,” he wrote. “If we fail to act now, we risk surrendering these lakes to an invasive species that could leave the Great Lakes an ecological wasteland.”

Monday, July 12, 2010

Jupiter researcher works to decode dolphin communications and culture

Palm Beach Post News: Jupiter researcher works to decode dolphin communications and culture

A young bottlenose dolphin named Nightmare has become a major player in a dolphin community 40 miles off the Bahamas, challenging dominant male spotted dolphins and "being his little bottlenose, male self," said Denise Herzing, founder and director of the Jupiter-based Wild Dolphin Project.

He is named for his mother, not for his adolescent ways, Herzing said. "When his mother, Natasha, was pregnant with him, she was so big, so huge in the water, we thought she was going to give birth in front of us," Herzing said. "And she was really pissy, like, 'Get this thing out of me, I really want to give birth.' She was a nightmare."

Herzing's education brought her through the Pacific northwest to the Midwest, where in 1993 she received a Ph.D. in behavioral biology and environmental studies from Union Graduate School in Cincinnati. Every summer since 1985, Herzing has cruised to the Bahamas to observe Atlantic spotted dolphins and bottlenose dolphins in their natural habitat, making the Wild Dolphin Project the longest running underwater dolphin research project in the world.

The project is funded by donations and ship passengers, who pay to swim with the dolphins and help with data collection. Most researchers are limited to observing dolphins from the surface or in captivity, but the government of the Bahamas permits the Wild Dolphin Project to work underwater with the dolphins, to film their behaviors and record their sounds.

"Dolphins, as far as we know, are probably even more intelligent than great apes," Herzing said. "I'm really interested in finding out what they do with all that brain power out there in the wild."

She expects that dolphins and whales have their own cultures and pass down information that's unique to a particular group. Her 20-year library of dolphin communications, once decoded, may tell if she is right.

The long-term study also led Herzing's team to discover that hurricanes in 2004 and 2005 caused the loss of 30 percent of the dolphins they had identified.

"The first hurricane in '04 really hovered for quite an extended period of time, so it's very likely they drowned from exhaustion," Herzing said. "This year and maybe a bit of last year were the first years we saw them actually restabilizing their social groups and reproducing again."

Human disasters also threaten dolphin populations. Since oil began surging into the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 58 dolphins have washed ashore. Fifty-three of them were found dead, three died later and two survived.

"When I see some of the pictures of those animals, one of the species looks like a spinner dolphin," Herzing said. "Spinner dolphins are offshore animals, and for a spinner dolphin to strand is huge, because it means that probably everybody else died in his group. Anybody that washes up on shore is only the tip of the iceberg."

Whale meat restaurants top 100 in Ulsan, South Korea

Ulsan is the place to be if you are craving a plate of whale meat. The number of restaurants offering the dish in the southeastern metropolitan city has increased sharply over the past year, exceeding 100, the city government said Sunday.

The figure is up nearly four times from a year earlier and the highest since the International Whaling Commission adopted a worldwide moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986.

City officials say minke whale is the main item on the market. Catching whales for commercial purposes is banned around the world unless they are caught accidentally in fishing nets.

Korea is one of the countries strictly prohibiting the catching of the endangered species for profit.

However, whale meat is a traditional local delicacy for people living in the city. A 6-meter-long whale usually sells for 25 million won ($21,000) when demand is high and supply is short. An illegally caught one sells for about 16 million won on the black market.

Illegal trading of the endangered species is the reason behind the mushrooming restaurants selling whale meat. As a result, environmental groups are calling for the government to monitor illegal hunting and trading more tightly.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Crack down on activists, Japan envoy tells Australia

From Australia Network News: Crack down on activists, Japan envoy tells Australia

Australia has been urged to take a stronger line against anti-whaling campaigners in the Southern Ocean.

The outgoing Japanese ambassador to Australia, Takaaki Kojima, says Australia should look to punishing and deterring what he has described as violent activities by protesters.

Mr Kojima says his country remains disappointed Australia has taken Japan to the International Court of Justice over whaling.

But he says as a signatory to international agreements about safe passage on the high seas, Australia has a responsibility to fulfil.

'With regard to Sea Shepherd, I reiterate that the Australian govenrment should show a more robust attitude towards their violent activities," the envoy said.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Sea turtle eggs, imperiled by oil spill, begin journey to Kennedy Space Center

Sea turtle eggs, imperiled by oil spill, begin journey to Kennedy Space Center

NASA will host the launch of thousands of baby sea turtles doomed by the BP blowout, in a mission being kept hush, hush -- for the reptile's sake.

"This is such an extremely delicate operation they're trying to pull off," NASA spokesman Allard Beutel said. "They want to give these turtles a shot."

Only one in 1,000 hatchling sea turtles makes it to adulthood, experts estimate. But with oil right offshore of the Gulf Coast, biologists put those odds at zero.

So they hope thousands of baby sea turtles soon will hatch at Kennedy Space Center, from an undisclosed climate-controlled facility. Once they break from their shells, the turtles quickly will be taken to nearby beaches at night to make their mad dash to the Gulf Stream.

The hatchlings only feed along the Sargassum seaweed line at the edge of current.

Federal biologists won't disclose the location of where the turtles are being kept to prevent anyone -- including NASA staff and contractors -- from inadvertently disturbing the turtles.

"We have some (eggs) already onsite," Beutel said.

Biologists plan to dig up about 700 turtle nests thought doomed by the ongoing oil spewing from the Deepwater Horizon blowout. Nests have 100 to 120 eggs.

Most of the nests are laid by threatened loggerhead sea turtles, the most common nesters in Florida and along Brevard County beaches. A few are also possible from three endangered species: Kemp's ridley, leatherback and green sea turtles.

They'll dig up some more nests Monday from Panama City to Apalachicola for transport to KSC.

The Space Coast was chosen because NASA offered to take them and has climate-controlled facilities, said Patricia Behnke, a spokeswoman with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in Tallahassee.

"It was a situation where they had to do something about it," Behnke said. "It's not so much that beaches are covered with oil. It's what will happen to the hatchlings once they get out into the water."

Last resort

Biologists said the relocation was a "last resort" and that the turtles surely would surelydie if they hatched and swam into the oil in the Gulf.

Sea turtle eggs can be moved as they near their hatching date, but some eggs may die because of the movement, FWC officials said. Biologists monitor nests to see when eggs likely will hatch.

The eggs will be buried in dampened sand inside Styrofoam coolers, then brought to the Space Coast by a temperature-controlled and air-cushioned truck provided by Federal Express, Behnke said.

They will be held under carefully monitored conditions at KSC until the hatchlings begin emerging from the eggs.

The plan was developed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Costs were not provided.

"We won't attempt to move the eggs until they have incubated at least 49 days," Robbin Trindell, the FWC's sea turtle management coordinator, said in a press release.

Safest place

Biologists relocated endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtles in 1979, after a Mexican rig named Ixtoc-1 blew out while drilling an exploratory well near Carmen in the Gulf of Mexico. It flowed free for about 10 months and releasing more than 130 million gallons.

The BP blowout in April has released an estimated tens of millions of gallons, up to 128 million.

Biologists don't know if their relocation plan will succeed, but said all of this year's Northern Gulf of Mexico hatchlings will be lost if they do nothing.

So the Space Coast may be the turtle babies' best bet.

"It seems like one of the safer places to go at this point," Behnke said

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Whale shark chopped; meat carted away, sold for a song

Whale shark chopped; meat carted away, sold for a song

KARACHI: The whale shark that had died after becoming entangled in a net cast off the Hawkesbay beach was chopped on Tuesday morning and taken away for use in poultry feed as Sindh Wildlife Department staff failed to move decisively to take its possession.

The rare fish whose skeleton could have been preserved for research was sold for Rs500 as SWD officials say the department has no funds to pay in such a situation. The liver fetched Rs800.

The 300-kilo whale shark had died after it was caught in a net and was dragged onto the shore on Monday by fishermen living in Abdur Rehman goth. The 20-foot-long fish was a young male of the species.

Whale shark (Rhincodon typus) is the largest living fish species. It is listed ‘vulnerable’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and is included in the appendix 2 of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).

Dr Fehmida Firdous of the Sindh Wildlife Department told Dawn that the fishing community “made an issue of the fish carcass and were not willing to hand it over to us (without payment)”.

“We tried to make them understand the significance of the marine species protected under the law as well as the consequences they might face for rejecting our request, but they didn’t listen. They persistently made a claim to the fish and said it was their source of income,” said the SWD official.

“In fact, the whole community was up against us. I left the place on Monday after deputing two personnel at the spot to take care of the carcass. But it didn’t help either. The carcass was cut up into pieces in the presence of our men in the morning,” she said.

The SWD wanted to preserve the fish skeleton, as it had done about five to six years ago when a 36-foot-long whale washed ashore on the Clifton beach, she added.

Giving their version of the story, fishermen claimed that the SWD officials did not turn up on Tuesday morning in violation of their promise, and they had to sell the fish to a private party. When Dawn’s team visited the site on Tuesday morning, six men were busy chopping the fish.

“I have paid Rs500 to the villagers and in the end each of us working on the carcass would earn almost the same amount. The meat will be sold to a poultry feed factory in Korangi for further processing,” said Khamesa alias Dodi, who had bought the fish.

The fishermen had already sold its liver for Rs800 to a party that might extract oil from it. The meat of whale shark is not eaten as fishermen consider its consumption ‘religiously distasteful’.

However, locals have no qualms about eating small sharks. According to them, a shark caught last year fetched them Rs50,000.

Qadir Bakhsh, whose relative Imam Bakhsh had caught the fish locally called ‘bahran’, recalled that a fish of the same species was caught about 20 years back off the Hawkesbay beach in a similar way, though that was much bigger in size.

Regarding the type of the net in which the whale shark got entangled, he said it was specially made of silky thread to catch soya fish. A 40kg net may sell for around Rs20,000.

According to Dr Babar Hussain of the WWF-Pakistan, a few samples of the liver and skin of the fish had been secured which would be handed over to Dr Mauvis Gore, a UK-based scientist, for DNA profiling. The doctor would arrive here at the end of this year.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Marine Scientists Return With Rare Creatures From The Deep; May Revolutionize Thinking About Atlantic Ocean Deep-Sea Life

From Undrwater Times: Marine Scientists Return With Rare Creatures From The Deep; May Revolutionize Thinking About Atlantic Ocean Deep-Sea Life

ABERDEEN, Scotland -- Scientists have just returned from a voyage with samples of rare animals and more than 10 possible new species in a trip which they say has revolutionized their thinking about deep-sea life in the Atlantic Ocean.

One group of creatures they observed - and captured - during their six weeks in the Atlantic aboard the RRS James Cook is believed to be close to the missing evolutionary link between backboned and invertebrate animals.

Using the latest technology they also saw species in abundance that until now had been considered rare.

Researchers were also surprised to discover such diversity in habitat and marine life in locations just a few miles apart.

Scientists were completing the last leg of MAR-ECO - an international research program, part of the Census of Marine Life, which is enhancing our understanding of the occurrence, distribution and ecology of animals along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge between Iceland and the Azores.

The University of Aberdeen is leading the UK contribution to the project which involves scientists from 16 nations. Key collaborators in the UK include Newcastle University and the National Oceanography Centre.

During more than 300 hours of diving - using Isis the UK's deepest diving remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to depths of between 700m right down to 3,600m - researchers surveyed flat plains, cliff faces and slopes of the giant mountain range that divides the Atlantic Ocean into two halves, east and west.

The research was focused in two areas - beneath the cold waters north of the Gulf Stream and the warmer waters to the south.

Professor Monty Priede, Director of the University of Aberdeen's Oceanlab, said: "We were surprised at how different the animals were on either side of the ridge which is just tens of miles apart.

"In the west the cliffs faced east and in the east the cliffs faced west. The terrain looked the same, mirror images of each other, but that is where the similarity ended. It seemed like we were in a scene from Alice Through the Looking Glass.

"In the north-east, sea urchins were dominant on the flat plains and the cliffs were colorful and rich with sponges, corals and other life.

"In the north-west, the cliffs were dull gray bare rock with much less life. The north-west plains were the home of deep-sea enteropneust acorn worms. Only a few specimens, from the Pacific Ocean, were previously known to science.

"These worms are members of a little-known group of animals close to the missing link in evolution between backboned and invertebrate animals.

"The creatures were observed feeding and leaving characteristic spiral traces on the sea floor.

"They have no eyes, no obvious sense organs or brain but there is a head end, tail end and the primitive body plan of back-boned animals is established. One was observed showing rudimentary swimming behavior.

"By the end of the expedition three different species were discovered each with a different color, pink, purple and white with distinctly different shapes."

Using the remotely operated vehicle, high quality complete specimens of all three different-colored species were captured and will be sent to specialists for further investigations.

Sea cucumbers, or holothurians, normally seen crawling incredibly slowly over the flat abyssal plains of the ocean floor, were found on steep slopes, small ledges and rock faces of the underwater mountain range.

Researchers were also surprised to see that they were very able and fast moving swimmers and unique video sequences were recorded of swimming holothurians.

Professor Priede said: "This expedition has revolutionized our thinking about deep-sea life in the Atlantic Ocean. It shows that we cannot just study what lives around the edges of the ocean and ignore the vast array of animals living on the slopes and valleys in the middle of the Ocean.

"Using new technology and precise navigation we can access these regions and discover things we never suspected existed."

Dr Andrey Gebruk, Shirshov Institute, Moscow, said: "We were surprised how species, elsewhere considered rare, were found in abundance on the Mid Atlantic Ridge and we were finding new species up to the last minute of the last dive in the voyage."

Dr Dan Jones, National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, surveyed over 50,000 square metres of sea floor in high definition detail and said: "We successfully completed one of the most detailed video surveys of the deep sea ever attempted. The Isis ROV with its cutting-edge technology gives us the potential to understand more and more of the mysterious deep sea environment."

Newcastle University's Dr Ben Wigham has been working on the project for the past four years studying the biology of animals living on the ridge. "We are interested in how these animals are feeding in areas of the deep-sea where food is often scarce" he said. "The differences we see in the diversity of species and numbers of individuals may well be related to how they are able to process and share out a rather common but meager food supply, we certainly see indications that there are differences between the north and south regions of the ridge."

Environmentalists to set up trust fund to save dolphins

From the China Post: Environmentalists to set up trust fund to save dolphins

Eight wildlife conservation and environmental protection organizations from central Changhua County announced yesterday the establishment of an environmental trust fund to purchase a vast wetland to save the Taiwan Sousa, also known as the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin (Sousa chinesis), living along Taiwan's west coast. They presented a petition to the Ministry of the Interior with signatures from more than 30,000 people supporting the cause.

This is the first ever campaign in Taiwan launched by environmentalists to purchase state land to be reserved for the endangered animals in the form of an environmental trust.

The organizers also held a rally in front of the Presidential Office in Taipei to urge the government to respect the people's wish to safeguard the rare dolphins, commonly known as “white dolphins” for local people.

Under the plan, they will raise about NT$160 million to purchase a tract of 200 hectares of wetland near the estuarine waters of the Choshui River in adjacent Yunlin County.

They offer a price of NT$119 per share, which is higher than the market value of NT$100 per square meters for the land appraised by the government.

After the government consents to sell the land, supporters will start remitting the funds into a designated bank account as payment, they said.

The size of the purchased land can be expanded later on if necessary, they said.

People from fishing villages have named the animal as the “Mother Sea-Goddess (Matsu) Fish” — after Matsu, the Sea Goddess — perhaps as result of seeing the dolphins most often around Matsu's birthday in March/April when the seas return to a calmer state.

The environmentalists are concerned that the government's possible approval for constructing a giant petrochemical complex to be invested by Kuokuang Petrochemical Technology Co. (KPTC) in southwestern Taiwan will cause extensive pollution to farmland and agricultural crops while hampering animal conservation in the area.

Officials at the Environmental Protection Administration said there is no need to purchase the wetland since a panel conducting the environmental impact evaluation over the KPTC project has included a proposal to leave a safe swimming corridor with a width of 800 meters for the dolphins.

The committee, comprised of environmentalists, technologists and representatives of communities, is set to hold a second meeting on the proposal next week, they said.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Pentagon plans 'flying submarine'

Shades of Voyage To the Bottom of the Sea!

Pentagon plans 'flying submarine'

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the US military science and technology department, has set about creating an aircraft that can fly low over the water until near its target before disappearing under the sea to avoid detection.

It would then creep closer in submarine form before attacking its target, probably a ship or coastal installation, and fly home.

New Scientist reports that the project, which has been in development since 2008, has reached design proposal stage, and several outside developers have submitted designs. DARPA could start allocating funding to developers in as little as a year.

While the principles of hydrodynamic and aerodynamic flight are similar, the technological challenges are profound. Aircraft need to be as light as possible, so that they can use a minimum of power to get airborne, while submarines need to be dense and strong to withstand water pressure. Heavier-than-air aircraft get their lift from airflow over their wings - submarines simply pump water in and out to change their buoyancy.

One method of getting around the latter problem is to design a submarine that is lighter than water, but - like an upside-down aeroplane - uses lift generated by its wings to force it away from the surface. Then, after surfacing, the wings' "angle of attack" would be changed to generate upwards lift instead, allowing it to fly.

Graham Hawkes, a submarine designer, believes that modern lightweight carbon fibre composites could be used to build a craft that is both strong enough and light enough to fly above and below the water. He has already designed and built a submersible craft called the "Super Falcon" which uses stubby wings to "fly" down to 300 metres. He says that if it were given jet engines and larger wings, it could fly at up to 900kph (560mph) in the air, while still being capable of underwater travel at around 18kph (11mph). At these speeds, the behaviour of water and air over the control surfaces is similar. "Think about it as flying under water," says Mr Hawkes. "It can be done. It just needs a lot of work."

One problem could be overcome in a dramatic fashion - in order to get the wings to start generating downward lift, the craft would have to get underwater; but a lighter-than-water vessel would struggle to do so. Mr Hawkes suggests copying birds: "You might have to put the nose down and literally dive, smack, into the water. It would certainly be spectacular."

There are a variety of other design problems to overcome. Ordinary batteries capable of giving the craft a 44km (28 mile) range - as specified by DARPA - would weigh more than the rest of the vessel, but running it on ordinary fuel would require a supply of air, meaning a snorkel and a maximum depth of just a few meters.

Also, jet engines - which run at several hundred degrees celsius - would most likely explode from the sudden change in temperature if they were rapidly submerged after airborne use, but piston engines would not survive being immersed in water. Jim McKenna, an engineer at the UK Civil Aviation Authority, says: "You can't let cold seawater get at a hot engine because the thermal shock will blow it apart." The Pentagon's dream of a flying submarine is still some way away yet.

Monday, July 5, 2010

1979's Ixtoc oil well blowout in Gulf of Mexico has startling parallels to current disaster

1979's Ixtoc oil well blowout in Gulf of Mexico has startling parallels to current disaster

CIUDAD DEL CARMEN, Mexico -- With each failed attempt to cap the oil spill in the Gulf, the nightmare intensified.

Chris Granger, The Times-PicayuneFisherman repair their nets in the Mexican coastal town of Ciudad del Carmen. Thirty-one years after the Ixtoc oil rig explosion and spill, there's not much fishing work.
Some days, the oil sent a pungent odor over city streets, causing people headaches. Always, there was fear. Residents worried the crude would forever foul the sandy beaches dotting their shores and wipe out habitat for shrimp and fish in a place where thousands of people made their living from the sea.

The 1979 Ixtoc I exploratory oil well blowout in the Bay of Campeche caused what was then history's largest accidental marine oil spill, spewing at least 3 million barrels of crude into the Gulf of Mexico -- an amount that may have already been surpassed by the Macondo well blowout on April 20. As the BP disaster will doubtlessly change New Orleans and coastal Louisiana, Ixtoc profoundly remade Mexico's Ciudad del Carmen, the nearest community.

But the changes were surprising in ways. Though it took 10 months for the oil company to finally plug the leak, the threat of environmental catastrophe never fully materialized. Ciudad del Carmen managed to evolve and even prosper -- in the process growing into a much larger city than it had ever been.



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The Ixtoc disaster and recovery offer some hope for southeastern Louisiana that the fallout from the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon will not be as grim as some prognosticators have suggested. Certainly, the Ixtoc saga is a far more optimistic one than that of Alaska's Prince William Sound, which still suffers from the Exxon Valdez spill of 1989.

"There was recovery within a couple of years over several different habitats for several different organisms," said Wes Tunnell, a marine biologist at Texas A & M University-Corpus Christi. Ixtoc "is not having a wide effect today."

Oil and gas gushing, an explosion, then fire

The disaster started early on the morning of June 3, 1979, when oil and gas gushed to 100 feet above the platform of the rig drilling the Ixtoc well. That set off an explosion, and the platform caught fire.

File photoThe Ixtoc 1 oil spill in the Bay of Campache near the Mexican coastal town of Ciudad del Carmen took 10 months to clean up.
Jose del Carmen Hernandez Priego, today the president of a shrimpers' cooperative, still remembers how the plume burned brightly enough for him to see it at night from the docks in Ciudad del Carmen.

"It was like the whole area was cast in an orange glow," he said.

All 71 workers aboard evacuated safely, but the rig sank to the ocean floor.

About 30,000 barrels of crude began spewing from Ixtoc into the Bay of Campeche each day. In scenes that would seem familiar to New Orleanians, officials from Pemex, the state-owned oil company, fought back with boom and dispersants sprayed from airplanes. They had American contractors try to plug the spill by shooting dense mud and balls of rubber, lead and steel into the pipe -- an early "top kill." The "top hat" made an appearance, too: A Houston company built a 365-ton steel cone dubbed "the sombrero" and tried to place it over the well.

High seas badly damaged the 39-foot-wide, 20-foot-tall sombrero when officials first tried to position it over the wellhead. On the second try, they succeeded, but it didn't work as well as hoped.

The various efforts succeeded in reducing Ixtoc's flow by about 20,000 barrels a day. But it would not be until March 1980 that Pemex finally plugged the out-of-control well for good with relief wells.

Chris Granger, The Times-PicayuneThe Gulf waters around Ciudad del Carmen eventually rebounded, resulting in these fresh shrimp on sale at a local market recently. But residents' livelihoods were never the same.
The victory was hard-won. For nearly a year, the 30,000 people then living in Carmen, many of them shrimpers and fishers, had their hopes dashed anew with every report of another failed capping attempt.

Retired shrimp boat captain Manuel Toh Alvarado, 74, recalled how his colleagues would greet each other after the morning news: "Oh no. Their plan didn't work out again."

"We all followed it very closely," said Toh, who now owns a convenience store. "It was a drag."

Tar balls, oil lapping at beaches

Scary and depressing as the crisis was, Carmen was mostly spared. The currents carried slicks up to nine miles long and one mile wide away from the tense city, toward the shores of the southeastern Mexican states of Tamaulipas and Veracruz, and then to Texas.

Residents of Carmen "weren't happy that the oil was heading away from us, since it was going to damage other areas," city historian Daniel Cantarell said. "But there definitely was a sense of relief" that the slicks drifted away from places such as the Laguna de Terminos, a key breeding ground for shrimp and fish crucial to Ciudad del Carmen's seafood-based economy.

Thick oil blanketed beaches in Texas by August. Tar balls washed up on sands not far from hotel lobbies.

When oil reached the Texas beaches, Tunnell, the biologist, thought: "Oh no. This is going to be horrible."

And, at first, he was right.

Some researchers reported acute effects early on. Crabs suffered severe losses in Mexico. More than 1,400 birds -- herons, egrets, terns -- were oiled. Pemex's use of chemical dispersants were believed by some to have put other sea creatures at risk.

Luis Soto, a deep-sea marine biologist from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, found that some of the shrimp he monitored near the Mexican coast grew tumors. Tunnell's studies, meanwhile, revealed that seashore organism populations initially fell by 80 percent. Populations of subtidal organisms, such as marine segmented worms and sea hoppers, dipped 50 percent. He imagined life around the 160 miles or so of affected beaches in Texas would vanish.

But a slew of favorable conditions saved those creatures and their habitats.

According to a 1981 report by the Coordinated Program of Ecological Studies in the Bay of Campeche, nature played the biggest role in attacking the slicks as they floated across the Gulf. Ultraviolet light broke down the oil as it crept toward land. So did oil-eating microorganisms. Hot temperatures spurred evaporation.

The slicks also had a long way to travel before making their way onshore, giving Mexican and American officials time to erect barriers in front of vulnerable ecological areas. On the Mexican beach of Rancho Nuevo, national fisheries agents, with the help of Pemex employees, airlifted thousands of endangered Kemp's Ridley sea turtle hatchlings out of the path of oncoming tar balls.

In the United States, officials boomed off estuaries and positioned stand-by skimming boats. Cleanup crews scraped off about 10,000 cubic yards of "oiled material" from the beaches, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.

Hurricane Frederic then completed their efforts, the Minerals Management Service reported. Though the powerful Category 4 storm caused up to $9 billion in damage in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, its wave action also flushed out 95 percent of Ixtoc oil from Texas beaches back into the Gulf, where nature again attacked it.

Chris Granger, The Times-PicayuneManuel Toh Alvarado, 71, who was a shrimp boat captain for 45 years, got out of the business soon after the 1979 oil spill. He and his wife, Maria del Carmen Toh, reinvented themselves by opening a small convenience store, selling everything from candy to school supplies.
The spill certainly caused economic hardship. South Padre Island's tourism industry, for example, suffered up to $4.4 million in losses before Pemex stifled the blowout. News reports of oily beaches likely turned off visitors, according to the MMS.

Fishers and shrimpers from Ciudad del Carmen had to pour extra money into fuel and vessel maintenance while traveling to work in areas where the viscous crude would not damage their equipment.

"The oil was so thick that if it got on your nets, you couldn't get it off with anything," said Vicente Casanova Gomez, now 69, a veteran shrimper.

Gulf waters acted as natural cleanser

Even with those obstacles, fishers still managed to amass an impressive catch in 1979 -- when oil was gushing into the Gulf.

Researchers in Campeche found shrimping that year enjoyed a high. The total tonnage of seafood caught in the Gulf of Mexico grew by 5.9 percent compared with the previous 12 months, and octopus capture in the Bay of Campeche beat the previous record by 50 percent.

Tunnell's follow-up research into life near Texas beaches showed that organisms whose populations were apparently reduced by the massive spill replenished themselves within a few years.

View full sizeSoto, for his part, discovered that the shrimp catch two years after Ixtoc was the same as it was the year before, indicating recovery.

Scientists suggested that with the Gulf's natural processes fighting the slicks, waters never saw poisonous or even unusually high concentrations of oil in 1979.

Before June 3 that year, the open Gulf commonly saw concentrations of oil of up to 42 parts per billion. In waters near busy ports, the concentrations were sometimes as high as 200 parts per billion, according to Campeche researchers.

After the Ixtoc disaster, the researchers concluded that the samples they monitored in the Campeche area never surpassed 60 parts per billion.

Soto said, "The lesson to the world was ... that the Gulf's tropical conditions accelerated the decomposition of the petroleum's toxic properties."

There were no reports of large fish kills, in part because many fish have the ability to "swim away from bad water," Tunnell said.

Francisco Arreguin Sanchez, director of a marine sciences center in Mexico, said, "There was less of some species while the spill was going on, but they came back soon after it was capped."

From sleepy fishing village to booming oil town

Ciudad del Carmen, whose roads were once made of sand, never had to contend with any invading oil. But Ixtoc I without a doubt remade the town.

Chris Granger, The Times-PicayuneA giant stone monument of a shrimp is dedicated to what was once the biggest industry in Ciudad del Carmen..
The change was set in motion three years before the catastrophe, when a Carmen fisherman named Rudesindo Cantarell reported to government officials that he repeatedly sailed through strange, fuel-like patches while navigating the Bay of Campeche.

Pemex eventually investigated. In waters about 50 miles from Ciudad del Carmen, company executives confirmed the discovery of a massive oil field -- which they named after the fisherman -- and began drilling it in earnest.

After the Ixtoc spill erupted near the Cantarell Field, Pemex's drilling ambitions only increased. The sheer size of the gusher encouraged the company to capitalize on the rest of the massive crude supply, said Daniel Cantarell, Rudesindo's great-nephew.

Chris Granger, The Times-PicayuneSurrounded by fishermen, Pemex public relations employee Carlos Fuentes checks his messages as he gets ready to meet in private with residents to discuss compensation issues still related to the Ixtoc 1 oil spill in 1979.
Pemex soon erected drilling platforms all across the waters once menaced by the giant spill. It restricted shrimpers and fishers from accessing the Gulf's replenishing stocks to keep them from interfering with drilling work.

Experts in Ciudad del Carmen say the development of the oil fields -- and the fishing restrictions that the drilling brought -- helped hasten the decline of local shrimping. According to shrimpers' cooperative president Jose Del Carmen Hernandez Priego, everyone competed for catches in an area of water that had been reduced by about 21,000 square miles, roughly the size of West Virginia.

But as the industry disappeared, Ciudad del Carmen's population boomed to more than five times its size at the time of Ixtoc -- officials peg the city's population today at 150,000. Many of those residents moved to town from other countries and other parts of Mexico to work for Pemex or its contractors. Locals hired by those companies were often the sons and daughters of shrimpers, said Vicente Casanova, whose children work in oil.

Many locals count their blessings that the Ixtoc spill did not wipe Ciudad del Carmen out. But they realize that it ultimately forced the town to change.

"The calm fishing village that existed no longer did," said Cantarell, the son and grandson of shrimpers. "When there ceased to be shrimp, God gave us oil."