Monday, February 28, 2011

Sea lions feast on sturgeon at Bonneville Dam

Sea lions feast on sturgeon at Bonneville Dam
Lenza Paul and Michael Farber stand at the lip of Bonneville Dam, layered against the winter cold, binoculars and clipboard in hand, and count.

On 29 weekdays from Jan. 7 through Feb. 17, Steller sea lions killed 1,400 sturgeon, already surpassing last year's total.

For 10 years the highly publicized fight on the Columbia River and in the courts has been over California sea lions that show up below Bonneville Dam in March to eat endangered, migrating spring chinook salmon. A few years ago, the Stellers came to the feast. Some are staying year-round, having discovered the thousands of slow-moving, white sturgeon clustered below the dam to grow and breed.

The Stellers have come to the table just as sturgeon numbers are crashing.

A sharp decline in the last four years in juvenile sturgeon as well as older breeding fish in the Columbia has biologists both puzzled and looking for solutions.

Oregon and Washington fishery agencies petitioned to remove Steller sea lions from federal protection - it is listed as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act. Key to that is to count how many salmon, steelhead and sturgeon the Stellers take.

The decline led Oregon and Washington this month to put the tightest limits ever on sport and commercial sturgeon fishing, the fourth straight year of cuts. While the states are about to adopt a conservation plan, most biologists and fishermen fear a continued decline of sturgeon, and an eventual halt to all sport and commercial fishing.

"Stellers are larger, they're adaptive, they're predators, they're smart," says Robert Stansell, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers fish biologist who has run the Bonneville Dam sea lion predation counts since they started in 2002. "They know how to prey on fish and they've learned there's a huge sturgeon population here."

The corps estimates that California and the threatened Steller sea lions took 4,000 to 6,000 migrating spring chinook each of the past three springs as they cluster below Bonneville Dam to enter the fish ladders.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act restricts what humans can do to California sea lions, even though they aren't listed as threatened or endangered. In 2006 Oregon and Washington got federal permission to haze them and a year later permission to remove or kill up to 85 a year. Over the next three years agencies captured and moved 10 California sea lions to aquariums, and euthanized 30 others. The most California sea lions spotted at Bonneville was 104 in 2003; 89 were observed last year.

The first California sea lions of 2011 were observed Monday at Bonneville - the latest appearance in five years. California sea lions mainly feed on salmon and leave in June when the spring run ends.

Stellers, on the other hand, stay below the dam all year now, Stansell says, and clearly have developed a taste for sturgeon. Already this year, 32 different Steller sea lions have been counted below the dam. Larger - they weigh 2,000 pounds - and more aggressive than California sea lions, the Stellers are pushing their way in. Only a handful were observed each year from 2002 through 2007; the number jumped to 39 in 2008, then to 75 last year, according to the corps' counts.

Stellers eat sturgeon until salmon runs begin in March then return to sturgeon once the salmon move upriver. And the fish are easy pickings: While spring chinook travel fast to reach the upper Columbia, sturgeon are the opposite - they can't climb the fish ladders and the larger breeding fish prefer the turbulent water below the dam to spawn.

Oregon, Washington and Alaska last year petitioned to take Stellers from Alaska to California off the federal threatened list, arguing that overall increases met 3 percent growth for 30 years. The National Marine Fisheries Service has said delisting "may be warranted" and a decision is due in August. Even then, though, state fishery managers could get permission to remove or kill Stellers only if they are hurting an endangered species - and sturgeon are not.

Guy Norman, a Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife regional director, says it may come down to asking Congress to change the Marine Mammal Protection Act to include sturgeon.

That would not guarantee anything. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals late last year halted removing or killing California sea lions below Bonneville. The Humane Society of the United States argued that the government had not made a good enough case as to why sea lions killing endangered salmon was worse than sport and commercial fishing killing many, many more. NMFS says it will not appeal, but will ask for authorization to allow California sea lion removal this spring.

"We're taking about every step available to us," says Steve Williams, of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, "but the reality is that the federal law does not give the states the ability to do some things at these pinch points like Bonneville Dam."

The Humane Society is opposing delisting the Steller. It asked that the Stellers be broken into three segments - Alaska; British Columbia; and Washington-Oregon-California - and treated differently. It points to studies indicating Stellers in Canada and Alaska are robust but are declining elsewhere, especially California.

Sharon Young of the Humane Society understands her opponents' concerns about sturgeon. But she says commercial and sport catch - 17,000 this year - is much greater than what Stellers take.

"There are a lot of things that could make a huge difference for those fish that are unpopular or inconvenient or awkward," Young says. "Killing sea lions is a distraction to addressing those other issues."

Scientists investigate after deepwater sunfish wash up on Ponte Vedra, St. Augustine and Vilano beaches Scientists investigate after deepwater sunfish wash up on Ponte Vedra, St. Augustine and Vilano beaches

Florida fish and wildlife officials are investigating the recent deaths of three massive ocean sunfish found less than a week apart on three St. Johns County beaches, including Ponte Vedra Beach.

On Feb. 16, a 9-foot, nearly 500-pound sharp-tailed mola was found washed up on St. Augustine Beach near A Street around 8 a.m.

Three days later, on Feb. 19, another one washed up on Ponte Vedra Beach, near 159 Sea Hammock Way, behind the Old Ponte Vedra condominiums. Officials had little information Wednesday about the creature's size.

Then a deputy found the carcass of a 7-foot, 300-pound sunfish about a quarter-mile north of the Surfside ramp on Vilano Beach around 2 a.m. Monday.

Five other sunfish have been found along East Coast beaches since Jan. 11, said Carli Segelson, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Research Institute spokeswoman.

"These species are not frequently seen because they are deepwater fish," she said.

Last year, seven washed up about the same time of year. Scientists still haven't determined their cause of death and they don't anticipate determining the causes for the most recent ones for months, said Micah Bakenhaster, FWC research division biologist.

"It could be something wrong when they are close to shore, but it's hard to say," he said. "Most of the ones we've seen have not shown any obvious signs of disease."

Biologists plan to collect the species' tissues, organs, gills, hearts and brains to look for parasites and test for toxins. They will also consider the creatures' histology, which tells if something is happening in the ocean, or if they have diseases or something wrong internally.

The fish could also be dying of natural causes, researchers said.

Little is known about the ocean sunfish, also known as the mola mola, or common mola, which is the heaviest known bony fish in the world. With average adults weighing about 2,200 pounds, the flat body fish resembles a fish head with a tail.

They are brown to silvery gray or white, with a variety of mottled skin patterns. Sunfish can be as wide as they are long when their dorsal and ventral fins are extended.

"They are hard to study," said Bakenhaster. "Most of the information that we have about them come from specimens that wash ashore."

The number of ocean sunfish in the world is also unknown. Adult sunfish are vulnerable to few natural predators, but sea lions, orca whales and sharks will consume them.

To report fish kills, call the fish kill hotline at (800) 636-0511.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Terminology - the As pt 1

Abyss - a synonym for the deep sea. (The deeper parts of the ocean, all of which lie in darkness or where sunlight penetrates too weekly to support photosynthesis. Often thought as as the depths beyond the continental shelves, the deep is usually estimated as covering about 65 percent of the Earth's surface, or nearly two-thirds of its exterior.)

Abyssal plain - the floor of the deep sea extending outward from a continental rise or an oceanic trench.

acorn worm - a type of marine invertebrate whose head resembles an acorn, found down to depths exceeding three kilometers (two miles). Not a true worm but a member of the phylum Hemichordata, these animals burrow in the sand and mud. Lengths range from inches to over six feet. Some acorn worms are brilliant in oranges, reds and yellows.

Acoustic Thermometry of Ocean Climate - a project begun by Scripps in the 1900s to measure the overall temperature of the Pacific and any changes therein by broadcasting sound waves across its breadth and measuring subtle changes in their trail time over years and decades.

Advanced tethered vehicle - a 20-foot Navy robot that can dive to depths of 6 kilometers, or 3.7 miles. It has three arms and many still and video cameras, which send images up fiber-optic cables to shipboard operators at the service.

The Universe Below: Discovering the Secrets of the Deep Sea, William J. Broad. Simon & Schuster, 1997

Friday, February 25, 2011

$10,00 Tickets Still Available For Voyage To Pacific Garbage Gyre; 'You'll Earn Your Sea Legs'

Underwater Times: $10,00 Tickets Still Available For Voyage To Pacific Garbage Gyre; 'You'll Earn Your Sea Legs' LONG BEACH, California -- Environmentalists, researchers and adventure-seekers are being offered the rare opportunity to join one of the world's leading marine research organizations on its next high-seas expedition in search of plastic marine pollution, July 7 through 27, 2011.

Algalita Marine Research Foundation has partnered with Pangaea Explorations for a 21 day scientific voyage through the North pacific Gyre. Pangaea's 72-foot racing sloop, Sea Dragon, accommodates 14 people, including 4 professional crew members. Net proceeds of the $10,000 fare will help support Algalita's scientific research and educational outreach. The gyre, or vortex of ocean currents, gorges itself on marine debris, primarily plastic. This material can kill seabirds who die from starvation having mistaken plastics for food. Smaller plastic fragments, which can act as magnets for toxic pollutants, have been found in the bellies of fish. Are these toxins winding up on our dinner plates? This is part of Algalita's research quest.

"We'll be looking for changes in the accumulation of plastic in the North Pacific Gyre," says Marcus Eriksen, who will lead the expedition's research as Algalita's Director of Project Development. "We suspect there's greater accumulation, which means more harm to sea life and potentially to humans."

"On this voyage, you'll earn your sea legs and rough hands hauling in lines and hoisting sails, but you'll also be "doing the science" side-by-side with researchers," says Eriksen. "You'll need to be fit as you prepare to trawl the sea, sort plastic, preserve samples and catalog it all."

To add to this unique experience, factor in helping to sail and maintain the vessel; standing watches during the night; and even taking a turn as ship's cook. All of the foregoing requiring the spirit of teamwork. Mary Maxwell, 33, gives a testimonial of her experience through the South Atlantic aboard the Sea Dragon in late 2010. To help pay for the trip, she raised $5,000 on, an online pledge system for funding creative projects.

"Spending thirty-one days at sea on a 72-foot sailboat with a dozen other passionate individuals was an amazing experience," says the Oakland, CA resident. "It was empowering, thrilling and changed my life forever. I now see the world from a different perspective and every day brings opportunities to spread awareness about these important issues."

An early-bird discount of $1,000 for the voyage is available through February 28. For participation requirements and to register, visit

Oldest Fossils Of Large Seaweeds, Worm-Like Animals Tell Story Of Ancient Oxygen; 'Preserved In Pristine Condition'

Underwater Times: Oldest Fossils Of Large Seaweeds, Worm-Like Animals Tell Story Of Ancient Oxygen; 'Preserved In Pristine Condition'
ARLINGTON, Virginia -- Almost 600 million years ago, before the rapid evolution of life forms known as the Cambrian explosion, a community of seaweeds and worm-like animals lived in a quiet deep-water niche near what is now Lantian, a small village in south China.

Then they simply died, leaving some 3,000 nearly pristine fossils preserved between beds of black shale deposited in oxygen-free and unbreathable waters.

Scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Virginia Tech in the United States and Northwest University in Xi'an, China report the discovery of the fossils in the Feb. 17 issue of the journal Nature.

In addition to ancient versions of algae and worms, the Lantian biota--named for its location--included macrofossils with complex and puzzling structures.

In all, scientists have identified some 15 species at the site.

The fossils suggest that structural diversification of macroscopic eukaryotes--the earliest versions of organisms with complex cell structures--may have occurred only tens of millions of years after the Snowball Earth event that ended 635 million years ago.

Snowball Earth proposes that the Earth's surface became almost, or completely, frozen at least once during the planet's history.

The presence of macroscopic eukaryotes in the highly organic-rich black shale suggests that, despite the overall oxygen-free conditions, brief oxygenation of the oceans did come and go, according to H. Richard Lane, program director in the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Division of Earth Sciences, which funded the research.

"So there are two questions," says Shuhai Xiao, a geobiologist at Virginia Tech. "Why did this community evolve when, and where, it did?

"It is clearly different in terms of the number of species compared to biota preserved in older rocks. There are more species here, and they are more complex and larger than what evolved before."

The rocks were formed shortly after the largest ice age ever, says Xiao, when much of the global ocean was frozen.

By 635 million years ago, the snowball Earth event ended and the oceans were clear of ice. Perhaps, Xiao says, "that prepared the ground for the evolution of complex eukaryotes."

The team examined the black shale rocks because, although they were laid down in less than optimal waters for oxygen-dependent organisms, "they are known to be able to preserve fossils very well," says Shuhai.

"In most cases, dead organisms were washed in and preserved in black shales. In this case, we discovered fossils that were preserved in pristine condition--some seaweeds still rooted--where they had lived."

The conclusion that the environment would have been poisonous is derived from geochemical data, "but the bedding surfaces where these fossils were found represent moments of geologic time during which oxygen was available and conditions were favorable," says Xiao.

"They are very brief moments to a geologist, but long enough for the oxygen-demanding organisms to colonize the Lantian basin and capture the rare opportunities."

The research team suggests that the Lantian basin was largely without oxygen, but was punctuated by brief oxic episodes that were populated by complex new life forms.

Those life forms were subsequently killed and preserved when the oxygen disappeared.

"Such brief intervals need high-resolution sampling for geochemical analysis to capture the dynamic and complex nature of oxygen history in the Ediacaran Period," says lead paper author Xunlai Yuan. The Ediacaran Period is the last geological period immediately preceding the Cambrian Period.

Proving that hypothesis awaits further study.

The rocks in the study region are deposited in layered beds. The nature of the rock changes subtly, and there are finer and finer layers that can be recognized within each bed.

"We will need to sample each layer to see whether there is any difference in oxygen contents between layers with fossils and those without," says co-author Chuanming Zhou.

Semporna May Have Richest Marine Biodiversity In The World; Fish Species Counts Rival The Philippines, Greater Than Indonesia

Underwater Times: Semporna May Have Richest Marine Biodiversity In The World; Fish Species Counts Rival The Philippines, Greater Than Indonesia

AMSTERDAM, The Netherlands -- The preliminary results of the Semporna Marine Ecological Expedition (December 2010) indicate that Semporna may have the world's highest marine biodiversity. The expedition yielded a record number of 43 species of mushroom corals. Furthermore, some new species were discovered, among which at least two shrimps and possibly a number of gall crabs. The health of the reefs was judged to be relatively poor: 36% of the transects had fair, another 36% had poor live coral cover. Eighteen scientists from Malaysia, the Netherlands and the USA spent three weeks examining the reefs of Semporna, Sabah, Malaysia, situated at the apex of the Coral Triangle. A biodiversity team documented the species richness for mushroom corals, reef fish, shrimps, gall crabs, ovulid snails, and algae. A reef status team documented the health of the coral reefs.

Mushroom corals are a family of corals of which most species live freely on the sea bed, from the shallow reef flat down to the sandy reef base. The expedition documented a record number of 43 species of mushroom corals in Semporna. The previous highest recorded richness of this family was 40 species at several sites in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. "Mushroom corals can be used as a proxy for other coral richness. Where we find high richness of mushroom corals, we usually find extremely high richness of other corals," says Dr Bert Hoeksema, Head of Department of Marine Zoology, NCB Naturalis. Hoeksema was leader of the biodiversity team. Team member Dr Charles Fransen discovered two new shrimp species and PhD student Sancia van der Meij found at least one gall crab species new to science.

The count of fish species clearly demonstrates that Semporna is one of the richest areas within the Coral Triangle. Dr Kent Carpenter, Professor at Department of Biological Sciences, Old Dominion University states, "At some of the more diverse reefs, fish species counts rivaled the highest counts that the fish team found in the Philippines and were greater than what they have encountered in Indonesia." The fish team encountered 844 species of fish in Semporna.

The coral reef status team used a modified ReefCheck methodology to assess the health of the reefs. 12 kilometres of transects were laid in the course of 60 dives. The preliminary results show that the reef status ranged from poor to excellent condition. 5% of the transects had "excellent" live coral cover, 23% had "good", 36% had "fair", and another 36% had "poor" live coral cover. Signs of coral bleaching and suspected coral disease were observed at various sites. While Semporna has several sites with good coral cover, nearly all sites showed significant human impacts including fish bombs, discarded fishing gear, and solid waste.

With the expedition's conclusions that the coral reef diversity is extremely high, while the health of the reefs is relatively poor, a good basis can be provided for sustainable management of the reefs of Semporna. Not only is Semporna a world class diving destination, it may well be one of the Coral Triangle's top hotspots for marine biodiversity, and hence, the world's. Many thousands of local people also rely on these rich reefs for their livelihoods and income.

Analysis: 75% Of World's Coral Reefs Currently Under Threat From Local, Global Pressures; 'A Wake-Up Call'

Underwater Times: Analysis: 75% Of World's Coral Reefs Currently Under Threat From Local, Global Pressures; 'A Wake-Up Call'
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A new comprehensive analysis finds that 75 percent of the world's coral reefs are currently threatened by local and global pressures. For the first time, the analysis includes threats from climate change, including warming seas and rising ocean acidification. The report shows that local pressures — such as overfishing, coastal development and pollution — pose the most immediate and direct risks, threatening more than 60 percent of coral reefs today.

"Reefs at Risk Revisited," the most detailed assessment of threats to coral reefs ever undertaken, is being released by the World Resources Institute, along with the Nature Conservancy, the WorldFish Center, the International Coral Reef Action Network, Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, and the UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring Center, and a network of more than 25 organizations. Launch activities are taking place in Washington, D.C., London, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Caribbean, Australia, and other locations around the world.

"This report serves as a wake-up call for policy-makers, business leaders, ocean managers, and others about the urgent need for greater protection for coral reefs," said Dr. Jane Lubchenco, under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. "As the report makes clear, local and global threats, including climate change, are already having significant impacts on coral reefs, putting the future of these beautiful and valuable ecosystems at risk."

Local pressures — especially overfishing and destructive fishing — are already causing many reefs to be degraded. Global pressures are leading to coral bleaching from rising sea temperatures and increasing ocean acidification from carbon dioxide pollution. According to the new analysis, if left unchecked, more than 90 percent of reefs will be threatened by 2030 and nearly all reefs will be at risk by 2050.

"Coral reefs are valuable resources for millions of people worldwide. Despite the dire situation for many reefs, there is reason for hope," said Lauretta Burke, senior associate at WRI and a lead author of the report. "Reefs are resilient, and by reducing the local pressures we can buy time as we find global solutions that will preserve reefs for future generations."

The report includes multiple recommendations to better protect and manage reefs, including through marine protected areas. The analysis shows that more than one-quarter of reefs are already encompassed in a range of parks and reserves, more than any other marine habitat. However, only six percent of reefs are in protected areas that are effectively managed.

"Well managed marine protected areas are one of the best tools to safeguard reefs," said Mark Spalding, senior marine scientist at the Nature Conservancy and a lead author of the report. "At their core, reefs are about people as well as nature: ensuring stable food supplies, promoting recovery from coral bleaching, and acting as a magnet for tourist dollars. We need apply the knowledge we have to shore up existing protected areas, as well as to designate new sites where threats are highest, such as the populous hearts of the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, East Africa and the Middle East."

Reefs offer multiple benefits to people and the economy — providing food, sustaining livelihoods, supporting tourism, protecting coasts, and even helping to prevent disease. According the report, more than 275 million people live in the direct vicinity (30km/18 miles) of coral reefs. In more than 100 countries and territories, coral reefs protect 150,000 km (over 93,000 miles) of shorelines, helping defend coastal people and infrastructure against storms and erosion.

For the first time, the report identifies the 27 nations most socially and economically vulnerable to coral reef degradation and loss. Among these, the nine most vulnerable countries are: Haiti, Grenada, Philippines, Comoros, Vanuatu, Tanzania, Kiribati, Fiji, and Indonesia.

"The people most at risk are those who depend heavily on threatened reefs, and who have limited capacity to adapt to the loss of the valuable resources and services reefs provide," said Allison Perry, project scientist at the WorldFish Center and a lead author. "For highly vulnerable nations — including many island nations — there is a pressing need for development efforts to reduce dependence on reefs and build adaptive capacity, in addition to protecting reefs from threats."

The report is an update of "Reefs at Risk," released by WRI in 1998, which served as an important resource for policymakers to understand and address the threats of reefs. The new report uses the latest data and satellite information to map coral reefs — including a reef map with a resolution 64 times higher than the original report.

"Through new technology and improved data, this study provides valuable tools and information for decision makers from national leaders to local marine managers," said Katie Reytar, research associate at WRI and a lead author. "In order to maximize the benefits of these tools, we need policymakers to commit to greater action to address the growing threats to coral reefs."

Elizabeth Selig, Conservation Scientist at Conservation International, who co-authored "Reefs at Risk Southeast Asia (2002)" and contributed to "Reefs at Risk Revisited" (2011), said: "It is troubling to me to see how drastically impacts on these extremely valuable resources have increased in the last 10 years. This latest report is an urgent warning that we can lose many of the world's coral reefs within our lifetimes, and highlights the critical linkage between healthy ecosystems and human well-being. We strongly encourage local and global policy makers to take these factors into consideration and take action now to preserve coral reefs."

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Fishing for answers with science

The Vancouver Sun: Fishing for answers with science

Bob Devlin, a leading world authority on GE fish, has been involved with project for two decades
By Sarah Schmidt, Postmedia News February 24, 2011 Bob Devlin has been working toward this moment for more than two decades.

The world-renowned scientist at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans started his research on genetically engineered coho salmon back in 1989 at a government laboratory in West Vancouver. That's when the pioneering researcher set out to generate strains of GE fish to help government regulators handle what is now before them: the first application to commercialize GE fish to be mass produced at a fish farm destined for the dinner plate.

AquaBounty Technologies is already close to getting a decision from the Food and Drug Administration in the United States about its GE salmon, grown at the company's research facility in Prince Edward Island using technology developed at Memorial University. The company cleared an important hurdle in the U.S. last August, when the FDA's preliminary analysis concluded that the salmon -engineered to grow twice as fast as regular salmon -are safe to eat and not expected to have a significant impact on the environment.

The company is now consulting with Canadian regulators in preparation for a formal application to seek Canada's approval to transform the company's hatchery in P.E.I. into a commercial operation. The eggs would then be shipped to an inland fish farm in Panama to raise GE salmon for American consumers.

But Devlin's environmental risk assessment is front and centre of a raging international debate about the merits of AquaBounty's quest.

With the decline in wild salmon stocks, the company says its AquAdvantage salmon is an economically viable and environmentally sustainable alternative for the farmed Atlantic salmon industry. The fish contains a growth hormone gene from the Chinook salmon that is kept active all year round by a genetic on-switch from an eel-like fish called the ocean pout, so it reaches market size twice as fast.

"It's kind of embarrassing to admit you're on a 20-year project," but progress is slow "when you're dealing with long-cycle organisms," Devlin told Postmedia News in a rare interview.

Until now, Devlin, considered one of the world's leading authorities on risk assessment of GE fish, has been elusive during this very public debate.

The fisheries minister's office has usually turned down requests for interviews with him, internal DFO records released under access to information indicate. Political sensitivity over the work of Devlin and his team is hardly surprising, given he has published or co-written dozens of academic journal articles focusing on scientific uncertainty regarding the environmental risks of GE salmon.

Devlin's work has found, among other things, that his growth-enhanced GE coho salmon had ravenous appetites that out-competed and even ate native salmon in a laboratory environment. The genetic engineering process also alters their behaviour, so they are likely to explore novel prey and new areas. This may expose them to predators.

But their lower fitness when they escape does not necessarily translate into permanently lower environmental risk, the research shows. And despite efforts to achieve 100-per-cent sterility of all-female populations to prevent them from passing on their genes, Devlin's team has never achieved it, with sterility between 97 to 99.8 per cent effective.

This "is really high, but if there are large numbers of escapes, then that's not quite high enough for biological containment yet, so we're still working on trying to improve methods," Devlin said in an interview.

Devlin's work is so highly regarded that when two other leading scholars in the field spoke during special FDA hearings last September about AquaBounty's application, Anne Kapuscinski of Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and Fredrik Sundstrom of Uppsala University in Sweden relied heavily on Devlin's published work to flag "major concerns" with the FDA's preliminary analysis and to ask the FDA to conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement that assesses the potential genetic and ecological impacts that AquAdvantage salmon could have on wild fish and other aspects of the environment.

Internal DFO records released to Postmedia News under access to information also show Kapuscinski asked Devlin to sign on to the presentation, but he declined. "I think I should not participate in this statement as it could be interpreted to be a policy statement from Canada," Devlin wrote colleagues at the Department of Fisheries.

In an interview, Devlin says he leaves the regulatory work to regulators, and continues to focus on generating scientific data unencumbered by any political constraints or commercial interests.

Devlin spent the 1990s generating strains of GE coho salmon, also called transgenic salmon, so his team could conduct risk assessment research. Devlin's lab then developed semi-natural environments over the next decade to test possible environmental risks.

This shift to semi-natural environments dramatically slowed down growth rate of his GE salmon compared to wild fish -raising a new set of questions to be answered.

"Under simple laboratory environments, those fish have a huge advantage and will out-compete wild type fish. . . . But nature isn't so simple. And so when we set up these naturalized environments where there are predators in the environment and there is limited food supply, what we find is the transgenic fish are out hustling for food more. And in nature, you have to trade off whether you're going to go get food but you're taking a risk that you're going to be food, too," said Devlin.

The dilemma for scientists is to make sense of "a plus and a minus from very simple experiments, and try and combine those in a meaningful way to what the net effect as would occur in the full complexity of nature. It's extremely difficult. Well, I can't do that yet. I do not have enough data," said Devlin.

The other glitch is laboratory rearing conditions themselves change how wild-type fish grow, so Devlin's team is trying to chalk up differences in his GE salmon to the transgene or the lab environment. He's edging closer to an answer, thanks to more recent experiments conducted in "mesocosms" -large circular containers that hold one million litres of salt water to mimic nature.

"Wild type fish that are being grown in the mesocosms are starting to look like wild type fish from nature, so now we can start to believe, hopefully, the data for transgenic fish that are being raised in the same environment. So the key is to be able to know that your controls in the laboratory equate to wild type fish in nature. If you can make that relationship, then you can start to believe the transgenic fish data," said Devlin.

"My role is to keep focusing on the science and provide advice, and you know they can choose to take some of that advice or not. But if I can't provide objective scientific information, I'm not a happy person."

Oceans: Coral Reefs Facing a Triple Threat

TimeCNN: Oceans: Coral Reefs Facing a Triple Threat
by Brian Walsh

I was traveling yesterday, speaking on a panel about electric cars at Harvard University's Belfer Center, so I didn't get a chance to cover yesterday's news closely. But I wanted to note an alarming report published by the World Resources Institute (WRI) on the risks facing coral reefs.

The short version: coral reefs are in big trouble. That's not exactly surprising—coral reefs around the planet have already been badly damaged by bleaching events and destructive fishing practices. But the WRI report shows that reefs face an existential threat from climate change, pollution and overfishing over the next several decades—and there's a significant chance that we could see massive extinctions. 75% of coral reefs are already threatened, but if we continue down business as usual, 75% nearly all of the world's coral reefs will be at risk by mid-century.

In a speech given at the launching of the WRI report, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) head Jane Lubchenco laid out just how important reefs are for ocean ecosystems:
Preserving coral reefs is about protecting coastal communities:

Coastlines protected by reefs are more stable, more resistant to erosion, than those without. Up to 90 percent of the energy from wind-generated waves is absorbed by reef ecosystems. In Belize alone, coastal protection afforded by reefs and mangroves provides an estimated $231 to $347 million dollars in avoided damages per year.
Preserving coral reefs is about preserving cultures:

As an example, the most linguistically diverse place on earth, Papua New Guinea, is home to approximately 820 different languages and to many people who are dependent on coral reefs. If we lose these reefs, we risk losing the communities and cultures that gave rise to such diversity.
Preserving coral reefs is about food security:

We need to expand the way we think about food security far beyond just grains and livestock on land to include fisheries, given that vast numbers of people in developing countries rely on their coastal waters for essential protein.
500 million people worldwide depend daily upon coral reefs for their food and livelihoods. That's 200 million more people than live in the U.S. alone.
Preserving coral reefs is about ensuring thriving economies:

It is difficult to put a precise dollar value on many of the benefits provided by coral reef ecosystems, but by any estimate they are globally and locally valuable. Tourism, reef fisheries and shoreline protection are particularly noteworthy.
But most of all, preserving coral reefs is about our collective commitment to one another, to the rest of life on the planet and to our future.

Right now the most threatened reefs are found in heavily populated and poorly protected areas of southeast Asia, where once pristine reefs like Raja Ampat off eastern Indonesia have been badly used. The coral reefs of the Caribbean—once the blue jewels—have been heavily stressed by tourism, waste and overfishing. And even areas like Australia—where coral reefs receive some of the best protection on the planet—or the still-untouched coral reefs of the remote south Pacific could still be damaged by climate change, as carbon levels build up in the ocean, turning the waters more acidic and making it impossible for corals to create calcereous skeletons. "Make no mistake," said Lubchenco. "This is a critical time for ocean ecosystems in general, but especially for coral reefs."

The good news is that coral reefs are surprisingly resilient, and given enough protection, they can bounce back from most threats. But marine protection—as I wrote in a story for TIME last year—is a joke in most parts of the world, even around the U.S. There's some hope that could change—visionary conservationists like Sylvia Earle are having some success in encouraging governments to ban together to beef up marine protection, especially in the open seas, which are a virtual free for all. If we keep adding carbon dioxide into the atmosphere—which eventually finds its way into the ocean—even the best legal protection might not be enough to save a changing ocean, and the coral reefs that depend on it.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

International Consortium Formed To Study Fertilizing Oceans With Iron; 'An Important First Step'

Underwater Times: International Consortium Formed To Study Fertilizing Oceans With Iron; 'An Important First Step'
NARRAGANSETT, Rhode Island -- The University of Rhode Island is helping to create an international oceanographic consortium to study the potential affects of fertilizing the oceans with iron in an effort to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and mitigate the effects of global warming.

Lewis Rothstein, URI professor of oceanography, said, "A great deal remains to be learned about ocean iron fertilization and how effective it could be in storing carbon dioxide in the oceans, and the formation of this consortium is an important first step."

Twelve member institutions of the In Situ Iron Studies (ISIS) consortium have signed a memorandum of understanding agreeing to support iron fertilization experiments in the open ocean in order to answer the many unknowns about the role of iron in regulating the ocean's capacity to remove atmospheric carbon dioxide. Members will follow internationally agreed practices regulating ocean iron fertilization research being developed under the London Convention/London Protocol.

Through the process of photosynthesis, tiny marine plants called phytoplankton use the energy of sunlight to convert carbon dioxide drawn down from the atmosphere into organic compounds they need to grow. When they die, a small fraction of the organic carbon sinks to the seafloor where it can remain locked away for decades or centuries.

According to Rothstein, phytoplankton need iron to grow, but large tracts of the sunlit surface ocean are iron deficient, which limits phytoplankton growth. Previous studies have demonstrated that iron fertilization can stimulate phytoplankton growth, but these studies have been limited in scope and in measuring sequestered carbon dioxide, so additional studies are needed.

Iron fertilization of the ocean involves the intentional addition of iron – usually chemical-grade iron sulfate – to an area of the sea to promote the growth of plankton.

The ISIS consortium is calling for additional research to be conducted into geo-engineering techniques such as iron fertilization to reduce the threats from climate change, but it also believes that these techniques should not be implemented before their efficacy and potential impacts are better understood. And if ever deployed, consortium members agree that they must be part of a comprehensive and aggressive global effort to limit and eventually eliminate carbon emissions.

"This is not a call for climate engineering; on the contrary this is a research consortium. It is premature to advocate for large-scale ocean iron fertilization, but it is time to conduct a focused research experiment that will examine the concept as comprehensively as we can," said Rothstein. "We want to make sure that it doesn't generate harmful side effects that might negatively affect the marine ecosystem."

The idea of ocean fertilization is a controversial one. Some detractors cite the risk of unintended environmental impacts, and the objective of the ISIS consortium is to provide insight into these concerns. Other opponents say ocean fertilization could distract from efforts to reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

In addition to URI, the ISIS consortium members are the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre, Australia; the National Oceanography Centre, United Kingdom; Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, California; Netherlands Institute for Sea Research; University of Hawaii; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; University of Maine; University of Massachusetts Boston; University of Plymouth, United Kingdom; Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; and Xiamen University, China.

NOAA Begins National Survey Of The Economic Contributions Of Saltwater Angling

Underwater Times: NOAA Begins National Survey Of The Economic Contributions Of Saltwater Angling
SILVER SPRING, Maryland -- NOAA is again surveying saltwater anglers across the nation to update and improve estimates of the overall economic contributions of saltwater recreational fishing to the U.S. economy.

"The money that millions of recreational anglers spend on fishing trips each year produces tens of thousands of jobs and billions in sales revenue," said Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D, under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. "This year's survey is a chance for saltwater anglers to help NOAA get an updated, accurate picture of how recreational fishing translates into economic vitality and jobs for Americans."

NOAA and the saltwater angling community need timely economic data to help evaluate the economic importance of recreational fishing activities. The data give a more accurate look at the economic effects of fishing regulations and changes in the ecosystem caused by natural or manmade events. The information gathered in the survey will contribute to more informed decisions on a variety of recreational fishing issues.

"By surveying the recreational fishing community, we are following through on one of the recreational fishing community's top priorities identified at the 2010 sportfishing summit," said Eric Schwaab, assistant NOAA administrator for NOAA's Fisheries Service. "The survey will ensure that NOAA and the fishery management councils have the best data when considering management actions that affect anglers."

Throughout 2011, NOAA will survey a random sampling of the more than 15 million saltwater anglers in each of the 23 coastal states and Puerto Rico for the 2011 National Marine Recreational Fishing Expenditure Survey. The survey will include a random sampling of people who fish from shore, from docks, from party or charter boats and from privately owned boats. Field interviews have begun and will continue throughout the year. Surveying began in January in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, North Carolina, California, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. It will begin in the remaining Atlantic states and Texas in March and April, and in Alaska, Oregon and Washington in May. This is NOAA's second national survey focusing on how much saltwater anglers spend on their sport.

NOAA and its state partners will ask anglers how long their fishing trips last and how much they spend on bait, boat fuel, ice, charter fees and other expenses. Anglers will also be asked to participate in a follow-up survey that will ask them to estimate what they spend on durable goods such as boats and fishing tackle used for saltwater angling for the previous 12 months. Those who participate in both parts of the survey will help NOAA produce accurate economic information.

Economists from NOAA's Fisheries Service throughout the country as well as regional and state partners are assisting with the 2011 survey. Once the economic data are collected, they will be analyzed and released as a NOAA report. The most recent economic study in 2009 showed that anglers' expenditures generated $59 billion in sales and supported more than 385,000 jobs.

Capping system ready for gulf oil spills Capping system ready for gulf oil spills
HOUSTON, Feb. 18 (UPI) -- A rapid containment response system is ready to respond to future underwater incidents in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, a company announced.

The Marine Well Containment Co. said it developed an interim system that can operate in 8,000 feet of water and process up to 60,000 barrels of liquid per day.

"This milestone fulfills a commitment set forth by the four sponsor companies to deliver a rapid containment response capability within the first six months of launching the marine well containment project," said Marty Massey, chief executive officer at the company.

The company was set up in the wake of the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in April to respond to any future accident. A failure at BP's Macondo oil well off the coast of Louisiana was spewing at least 50,000 barrels of oil per day into the Gulf of Mexico before it was capped in July.

The announcement comes as a presidential oil spill commission released a report on the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. The report found BP didn't keep close tabs on cementing procedures, which the commission said was the root cause of the deadly April accident.

Commission Chief Counsel Fred Barlit, in a statement, said "the sad fact" of the matter was that the oil spill was "entirely preventable."

The 357-page report echoes findings in January that highlighted a series of technical failures that led to the blowout that eventually sunk the oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico.

Shredding report shows NOAA chief as obstructionist

Glouceseter Times - an opinion piece - Shredding report shows NOAA chief as obstructionist

If anyone still clings to the notion that National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Jane Lubchenco has any interest in cleaning up the sludge and the scum that have overrun her agency — or still thinks she's qualified to head a federal agency that must be accountable to Congress and America's taxpayers — the last shreds of those hopes have finally been dashed.

The remnants of Lubchenco's credibility went down the drain last week with confirmation that Inspector General Todd Zinser — in documents obtained by the Times — notified Lubchenco that the shredding operation carried out by former NOAA enforcement police chief Dale Jones and his henchmen was hardly the routine house-cleaning purge NOAA had claimed, but rather an effort that "implicates that it was done to conceal information from the (inspector general)," Zinser wrote,

"Such office-wide shredding was not a routine function for the Office of Law Enforcement," he found, noting that it destroyed 75 percent to 80 percent of the files in Jones' office. "Rather," the inspector general added, "the director and deputy director (Mark Spurrier) told us this was the first such exercise in their 10-plus years with (NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement)."

When did Lubchenco know this, and how did she respond?

On April 2, 2010, according to Zinser's correspondence. And that was six months before Lubchenco assigned Jones — by then, out of his police post — to a new position as a "fisheries program specialist," where he's "specializing" on work in the Gulf of Mexico, at an annual salary of $152,000.

That's not quite the $155,000 he was earning in the heydays of 2009 and earlier, when he and his rogue agents were handing out obscene and excessive fines to fishermen and using an after-hours break-in and other such tactics in their wrongful bid to shut down the Gloucester Seafood Display Auction.

But it's not bad money, considering any legitimate government agency and department head would have sent Jones packing, considering he should be facing obstruction of justice charges, not trying to justify Lubchenco's and NOAA's failed actions in the Gulf as well.

It's been more than a year now since Lubchenco vowed to "fix" the problems within NOAA law enforcement. More than a year since she and her administrative sidekick, former Maryland freshwater fish warden Eric Schwaab, said they were indeed tackling NOAA enforcement's lack of financial oversight and free-wheeling spending that sent Jones, and many others on junkets to far-off parts of the world — all funded, of course, by fines paid by harassed fishermen.

Now, we know that Lubchenco, Schwaab and their allies have no intention of tackling any of these issues. Nothing cries "corruption" like a good old-fashioned, Watergate-style shredding party. Yet Lubchenco's handling of Jones' case shows she not only sees nothing wrong with his actions, but believes his expertise should be rewarded with a $152,000-a-year job on the dime of America's taxpayers.

Perhaps there is a context to her assignment. Perhaps she views Jones as the best candidate to shred any signs of her missteps in the Gulf as well — like the oil spill cleanup study she initially claimed was peer-reviewed, yet turned out to be otherwise, or her classic statement that Gulf fishermen, not the oil from last year's BP Horizon gusher, are the greatest hazards to sea turtles.

But there can no longer be any context to letting Lubchenco lead a federal agency that shows no accountability to congressional lawmakers or taxpayers and has a penchant for ignoring the findings of potential criminal actions on the part of her former police chief and his shredding buddies.

Lubchenco is not "fixing" anything within NOAA enforcement, or within any other parts of her hopelessly polluted oceans agency. And the fact she named Jones to his Gulf post after being told of his obstructive shredding scheme shows that she endorses it, facilitating the chances for it happening again.

Last year, Congressmen John Tierney, Barney Frank, both Massachusetts Democrats, and Walter Jones of North Carolina, all called for Lubchenco's ouster.

It's time that movement was once again brought to the front burner — along with the appointment of the independent prosecutor this entire affair so desperately needs.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Scientist concerned by high number of baby dolphin deaths

Sun Scientist concerned by high number of baby dolphin deaths

GULFPORT -- The industry’s leading scientist on marine mammal strandings is concerned about the deaths of baby dolphins.

Blair Mase, NOAA’s marine mammal stranding coordinator for the Southeast region, confirmed that the number of baby dolphin deaths is high.

She said the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies reports all its findings to her.

So far this calving season, 17 infant dolphins have either been stillborn or died shortly after birth.

“We’re definitely keeping a close eye on this situation,” Mase said. “We’re comparing this to previous years, trying to find out what’s going on here.”

She said this is the time of the year that she sees death in young dolphins, because it is the beginning of the birthing season. But really, the normal birthing season is a little later in the year, she said.

“We’re trying to determine if we do in fact have still births,” she said. There are more in Mississippi than in Alabama and Louisiana.

“With the oil spill, it is difficult,” she said. “We’re trying to determine what’s causing this. It could be infectious related. Or it could be non-infection.

“We run the gamut of causes,” she said, including human impact, which would include the oil spill; infectious disease and bio-toxins,

IMMS has been conducting necropsies on the baby dolphins and sharing the findings with Mase.

Monday, February 21, 2011

BP Says Spill Settlement Terms Are Too Generous

New York Times: BP Says Spill Settlement Terms Are Too Generous

In the eight months since Kenneth R. Feinberg took over the $20 billion fund to compensate victims of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, he has been attacked by many of those filing claims and by coastal state politicians who argue that the process is opaque, arbitrary and slow. Many of them have also argued that Mr. Feinberg’s recently published estimates of future damage to those in the gulf are too optimistic, and thus his offer of compensation in a final settlement is too low.

Enlarge This Image

Patrick Semansky/Associated Press
Kenneth R. Feinberg, the administrator of the BP oil spill fund, in January at a meeting in Grand Isle, La. He has been criticized by residents, and now by BP, for his handling of the fund.

Judge Tells Government to Resume Permits for Drilling (February 18, 2011) Now he is getting complaints from another quarter: BP.

The oil giant is arguing that if anything, Mr. Feinberg’s proposed settlements are too generous. The planned payments far exceed the extent of likely future damages because they overstate the potential for future losses, the company insists in a strongly worded 24-page document that was posted on the fund’s Web site Thursday morning.

Basing its estimates on much of the same data Mr. Feinberg used, the company concluded that there was “no credible support for adopting an artificially high future loss factor based purely on the inherent degree of uncertainty in predicting the future and on the mere possibility that future harm might occur.”

Mr. Feinberg released the rules that will govern final settlements this month. In general, the program announced, settlements paid out by the fund would be double the 2010 losses for most of those filing claims, less any money previously paid by the fund.

That payout plan is based on estimates of environmental and economic recovery for the region commissioned by Mr. Feinberg that were published with the new rules: while the fund stated “prediction is not an exact science,” it suggested a gulf recovery by the end of 2012.

BP argues in its filing that the Feinberg estimate vastly overstates the likely damage, which it places in the range of just 25 percent to 50 percent of a claimants’ 2010 losses. The company noted that almost all of the closed fishing grounds had reopened, and economic recovery in tourism was well under way, with hotel and sales tax revenues in the fall of 2010 similar to those from the same period in the year before.

Mr. Feinberg, appointed last June by BP and approved by the Obama administration, has given out more than $3.5 billion so far in emergency money. So far, some 100,000 people have filed for a final settlement. An additional 90,000 have opted to take a quick-pay process that settles all claims with a payment of $5,000 to individuals and $25,000 to businesses. Final payments will begin after the two-week public comment period, which ended Wednesday.

The comments can be read at, the fund’s Web site. Many are detailed critiques of the fund methodology, while others are raw cries for aid, like the one filed on Feb. 16 that reads, in its entirety: “We need help now! We have not been paid in 8 months. I have a mortgage, car payment, utilities, and a child. I’m close to losing my home and I pray that you figure out everything before I lose everything. We are people with real lives! This has been a horror for my family.”

The BP filing says that uncertainty about the persistence of damage to the gulf could be handled through mechanisms already in place. Those who believe that Mr. Feinberg’s methodology underestimates future losses can wait and see how well or poorly the gulf recovers over time, and can continue to file for quarterly reimbursement for documented losses. BP noted that Mr. Feinberg pledged to review the likelihood of future losses on a regular basis and the ability of those filing claims to receive interim payments that “amply protect claimants against any risk that the future losses factor may ultimately turn out to have underestimated the time to full recovery.”

This very public disagreement between BP and the administrator of its fund would seem to undercut the other major attack on Mr. Feinberg. Lawyers for those suing BP have alleged that Mr. Feinberg, while claiming to be independent of BP, is actually working in the oil company’s interests.

In a response this month to a complaint filed by those lawyers, Judge Carl J. Barbier of Federal District Court in New Orleans, who is overseeing the federal suits, wrote that Mr. Feinberg should not refer to himself as fully independent of BP, that he must make clear to potential litigants that he is “acting for and on behalf of BP in fulfilling its legal obligations.” Judge Barbier called the relationship between Mr. Feinberg and the company a kind of hybrid, with Mr. Feinberg neither an employee nor fully neutral. The company, he noted, does not control evaluation of individual claims, but appointed Mr. Feinberg and pays him a flat fee. The judge did not order any substantive change in the way Mr. Feinberg conducts the fund.

And neither, in its filing, does BP. The statement gives no indication that BP plans to intercede in the process it handed off to Mr. Feinberg, and BP is expected to abide by his decision, albeit grudgingly. The company wrote that it “respectfully requests” that Mr. Feinberg revise the rules “consistent with the comments set forth above.”

A leading critic of BP in Congress reacted angrily to the news of BP’s complaint. Representative Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, issued a statement on Thursday that “BP made errors in judgment that led to this oil spill, and now they’ve made another error in judgment by going after the very people their spill harmed,” he said. James P. Roy, liaison counsel to the lawyers suing BP, said, “For all its bloviating, BP has clearly learned nothing from this disaster, shamelessly trying to avoid accountability at all costs.”

When asked about BP’s statement, Mr. Feinberg said, “We read every submission and take them all under advisement.”

Surfriders team up with researchers as DEP resumes testing for oil, dispersants

The Walton Sun: Surfriders team up with researchers as DEP resumes testing for oil, dispersants

Emerald Coast Surfrider Foundation has joined with University of South Florida researcher Rip Kirby in its quest for answers on the conditions of area beaches.

“Surfrider will be joining his team and assisting with his sampling effort,” chairman Michael Sturdivant said at the organization’s February chapter meeting, where he introduced the coastal geologist.

The Surfrider Foundation is a non-profit environmental organization dedicated to the protection and enhancement of the world's waves and beaches.

Following an announcement from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in regards to its stepping up its water testing, the foundation plans to switch much of its testing energies to soil sampling.

“Hopefully we will show the beaches are clean,” Sturdivant said.

The testing is important for the protection of community health and trust, Sturdivant said.

At the meeting, Kirby brought in the “latest and greatest” in fluorescent light technology to show how crude oil that has come into contact with dispersants will glow bright orange when illuminated.

“If the isotopic signature fluoresces in orange and gold, it has Corexit,” Kirby said.

Kirby predicts oil will be impacting the beaches in some form for the next three to five years.

“With our warmer temperatures, we are hoping the bugs will break it down faster,” Kirby said. But his fear is “oil coming onto our beaches by an offshore wave event.”

Many months later Gulf of Mexico bottom shows little sign of recovery, but many dead creatures

CB Online: Many months later Gulf of Mexico bottom shows little sign of recovery, but many dead creatures
WASHINGTON (AP) - Oil from the BP spill remains stuck on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, according to a scientist's video and slides that demonstrate the oil isn't degrading as hoped and has decimated life on parts of the sea floor.

At a science conference in Washington, marine scientist Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia aired early results of her December submarine dives around the BP spill site. She went to places she had visited in the summer and expected the oil and residue from oil-munching microbes would be gone by then. It wasn't.

"There's some sort of a bottleneck we have yet to identify for why this stuff doesn't seem to be degrading," Joye told the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual conference in Washington. Her research and those of her colleagues contrasts with other studies that show a more optimistic outlook about the health of the gulf, saying microbes did great work munching the oil.

"Magic microbes consumed maybe 10 percent of the total discharge, the rest of it we don't know," Joye said, later adding: "there's a lot of it out there."

The head of the agency in charge of the health of the Gulf said Saturday that she thought that "most of the oil is gone." And a Department of Energy scientist, doing research with a grant from BP from before the spill, said his examination of oil plumes in the water column show that microbes have done a "fairly fast" job of eating the oil. Lawrence Berkeley National Lab scientist Terry Hazen said his research differs from Joye's because they looked at different places at different times.

Joye's research was more widespread, but has been slower in being published in scientific literature.

In five different expeditions, the last one in December, Joye and colleagues took 250 cores of the sea floor and travelled across 2,600 square miles. Some of the locations she had been studying before the oil spill on April 20 and said there was a noticeable change. Much of the oil she found on the sea floor — and in the water column — was chemically fingerprinted, proving it comes from the BP spill. Joye is still waiting for results to show other oil samples she tested are from BP's Macondo well.

She also showed pictures of oil-choked bottom-dwelling creatures. They included dead crabs and brittle stars — starfish like critters that are normally bright orange and tightly wrapped around coral. These brittle stars were pale, loose and dead. She also saw tube worms so full of oil they suffocated.

"This is Macondo oil on the bottom," Joye said as she showed slides. "This is dead organisms because of oil being deposited on their heads."

Joye said her research shows that the burning of oil left soot on the sea floor, which still had petroleum products. And even more troublesome was the tremendous amount of methane from the BP well that mixed into the Gulf and was mostly ignored by other researchers.

Joye and three colleagues last week published a study in Nature Geoscience that said the amount of gas injected into the Gulf was the equivalent of between 1.5 and 3 million barrels of oil.

"The gas is an important part of understanding what happened," said Ian MacDonald of Florida State University.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Scientist finds Gulf bottom still oily, dead

Yahoo News: Scientist finds Gulf bottom still oily, dead
WASHINGTON – Oil from the BP spill remains stuck on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, according to a top scientist's video and slides that she says demonstrate the oil isn't degrading as hoped and has decimated life on parts of the sea floor.

That report is at odds with a recent report by the BP spill compensation czar that said nearly all will be well by 2012.

At a science conference in Washington Saturday, marine scientist Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia aired early results of her December submarine dives around the BP spill site. She went to places she had visited in the summer and expected the oil and residue from oil-munching microbes would be gone by then. It wasn't.

"There's some sort of a bottleneck we have yet to identify for why this stuff doesn't seem to be degrading," Joye told the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual conference in Washington. Her research and those of her colleagues contrasts with other studies that show a more optimistic outlook about the health of the gulf, saying microbes did great work munching the oil.

"Magic microbes consumed maybe 10 percent of the total discharge, the rest of it we don't know," Joye said, later adding: "there's a lot of it out there."

The head of the agency in charge of the health of the Gulf said Saturday that she thought that "most of the oil is gone." And a Department of Energy scientist, doing research with a grant from BP from before the spill, said his examination of oil plumes in the water column show that microbes have done a "fairly fast" job of eating the oil. Lawrence Berkeley National Lab scientist Terry Hazen said his research differs from Joye's because they looked at different places at different times.

Joye's research was more widespread, but has been slower in being published in scientific literature.

In five different expeditions, the last one in December, Joye and colleagues took 250 cores of the sea floor and travelled across 2,600 square miles. Some of the locations she had been studying before the oil spill on April 20 and said there was a noticeable change. Much of the oil she found on the sea floor — and in the water column — was chemically fingerprinted, proving it comes from the BP spill. Joye is still waiting for results to show other oil samples she tested are from BP's Macondo well.

She also showed pictures of oil-choked bottom-dwelling creatures. They included dead crabs and brittle stars — starfish like critters that are normally bright orange and tightly wrapped around coral. These brittle stars were pale, loose and dead. She also saw tube worms so full of oil they suffocated.

"This is Macondo oil on the bottom," Joye said as she showed slides. "This is dead organisms because of oil being deposited on their heads."

Joye said her research shows that the burning of oil left soot on the sea floor, which still had petroleum products. And even more troublesome was the tremendous amount of methane from the BP well that mixed into the Gulf and was mostly ignored by other researchers.

Joye and three colleagues last week published a study in Nature Geoscience that said the amount of gas injected into the Gulf was the equivalent of between 1.5 and 3 million barrels of oil.

"The gas is an important part of understanding what happened," said Ian MacDonald of Florida State University.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Jane Lubchenco told reporters Saturday that "it's not a contradiction to say that although most of the oil is gone, there still remains oil out there."

Earlier this month, Kenneth Feinberg, the government's oil compensation fund czar, said based on research he commissioned he figured the Gulf of Mexico would almost fully recover by 2012 — something Joye and Lubchenco said isn't right.

"I've been to the bottom. I've seen what it looks like with my own eyes. It's not going to be fine by 2012," Joye told The Associated Press. "You see what the bottom looks like, you have a different opinion."

NOAA chief Lubchenco said "even though the oil degraded relatively rapidly and is now mostly but not all gone, damage done to a variety of species may not become obvious for years to come."

Lubchenco Saturday also announced the start of a Gulf restoration planning process to get the Gulf back to the condition it was on Apr. 19, the day before the spill. That program would eventually be paid for BP and other parties deemed responsible for the spill. This would be separate from an already begun restoration program that would improve all aspects of the Gulf, not just the oil spill, but has not been funded by the government yet, she said.

The new program, which is part of the Natural Resources Damage Assessment program, is part of the oil spill litigation — or out-of-court settlement — in which the polluters pay for overall damage to the ecosystem and efforts to return it to normal. This is different than paying compensation to people and businesses directly damaged by the spill.

The process will begin with public meetings all over the region.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Is this Bownessie? Four-humped beastie spotted in Lake Windermere

Daily Mail: Is this Bownessie? Four-humped beastie spotted in Lake Windermere

The mist was swirling eerily over the lake. In the half light of morning the visibility was patchy, and the air had an unusual chill. Nothing stirred. All around was silence.
Oh, what a perfect day for the Bowness Monster to go for a swim!
From deep beneath the surface of Windermere, he must have seen Tom Pickles and his companion Sarah Harrington kayaking across the water. Why, they even had a camera-phone on board.

So of all the spots Bownessie might have picked to break cover on 11 sparsely populated miles of the lake, he chose to pop up right beside them.
Three or four humps appeared, Loch Ness-like, near an islet. A wake like a motor boat’s spread out in a V-shape behind it. At one stage, the terrified pair calculated, it was scything through the water at something approaching 10mph.
Click went the camera-phone; splash went the monster and disappeared; up went the excitement level at the prospect of the best alleged sighting of the elusive Bownessie in more than half a century.
Discovery: Tom Pickles and Sarah Harrington spotted the beast during a team building exercise organised by their company
Of course, it could all be a monster deception – but let’s not spoil it just yet. For if this is truly a photograph of a legendary creature that inhabits the waters around Bowness, then it’s the most convincing proof yet that something rather scary is lurking in the deep. Or – depending on your point of view – not.
The unidentified swimming object (USO) was spotted at 10.35am on the last day of a residential ‘team-building’ course organised by the IT company that employs Tom, 24, and Sarah, 23.

They had kayaked about 300 yards from the shore near Belle Isle when ‘something the size of three cars’ sped past.

‘I thought it was a dog,’ said Tom. ‘Then I realised it was much bigger and moving really quickly. Each hump was moving in a rippling motion and it was swimming fast. I could tell it was much bigger underneath from the huge shadow around it.
It looks calm now: a steam launch on Windermere where 'Bownessie' was allegedly spotted by a kayaker

‘Its skin was like a seal’s but its shape was abnormal – it’s not like any animal I’ve ever seen before. We saw it for about 20 seconds. It was petrifying. We paddled back to the shore straight away.’

Clearly, then, the USO was not a dog or a seal. Biologists also dismissed the notion of it being a giant catfish. A humungous snake, perhaps? Yes, said Sarah: ‘It was like an enormous snake. It freaked us all out.’ This is reckoned to be the eighth time something resembling Bownessie has been sighted on Windermere since the 1950s. But no incident has produced a photo and testimony as intriguing as this one. Pity Tom and Sarah couldn’t find the video button though.

Experts say the photo looks genuine but the file size is too small to verify if it has been altered. Not that anyone is suggesting some computer specialists on the last day of a works outing would be scurrilous enough to mock up a classic Nessie photo on a digital camera.

The possibility they could have been hoaxed cannot be ruled out. But why would anyone want to perpetrate such a cruel deception? Well, hotel owners won’t be turning away curious visitors or spot-the-monster tours this season. Surely it couldn’t all be a gimmick though?

‘Windermere and Bowness are incredibly popular destinations and don’t need gimmicks,’ said Cumbria Tourism spokesman Ellis Butcher. ‘Nonetheless, at the start of the tourism year, it doesn’t do the industry

New species of seahorse found... after sitting in a museum for more than a decade

Daily Mail Online: New species of seahorse found... after sitting in a museum for more than a decade

A new species of seahorse has been discovered - more than ten years after the tiny specimen was put on display in a museum.

The creature was caught in 1995 in waters off south-western Australia and taken to a local museum.

But it went unnoticed until 2006 when a staff member realised it was unusual.

Ralph Foster examined it closely and after performing a CT scan concluded it was a type of seahorse previously unknown to science.

The creature, which is just a few millimetres long, is unlike any other variety because it doesn't have a dorsal fin.

It has been named Hippocampus paradoxus. The name paradoxus was chosen because of its meaning - strange and contrary to all expectation.
Now the hunt is on to find other examples.

Mr Foster, the collections manager at the South Australian Museum in Adelaide, said: 'We know very little about this weird little beast

'The species is known from just one specimen that had been in the museum since 1995.
'I found it on the shelves in 2006 and realised then that it was very unusual and started research that included CT scanning the specimen in order to get 3D images of its skeleton.
'This method hadn't previously been used by seahorse researchers who traditionally rely upon standard X-rays to reveal the taxonomically important features of the skeleton and it proved to be very versatile.
'The research clearly differentiated the specimen from all known species of seahorse and it was formally described and named as a new species in a recent scientific paper I co-authored.
'It seems that this one has never previously - or subsequently - been found.
'There is no certainty as to why, but the region is remote and little surveyed so this may be the main reason.

'Also, the depth it was found at - the so called "mesophotic zone" - puts it out of reach of scuba divers who, these days, are frequently the ones alerting scientists to new species.

'My guess is that it is probably common in its preferred habitat but that it has very specific requirements that make it patchily distributed - unless you look in exactly the right habitat you are unlikely to find it.'

There are currently about 230,000 known species of sea creature, but scientists estimate that is less than 30 per cent of the number that actually exist.
Seahorse expert Chris Brown, of the Weymouth Sea Life Park, said: 'Unfortunately, because the seas are so susceptible to the impact of we humans many species will probably go extinct even before they are discovered.

'Seahorses are particularly sensitive to pollution and habitat loss, and maybe the new one identified has already disappeared from the wild.'

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Scientists Trial Ocean Temperature Forecasts For Aussie Fish Farms

Underwater Times: Scientists Trial Ocean Temperature Forecasts For Aussie Fish Farms
CANBERRA, Australia -- While land farmers have used seasonal forecasting for nearly a decade, marine farmers in south-east Australia have sought the technology for a region identified as a climate change hotspot, with rates of ocean warming up to four times the global average.

CSIRO Climate Adaptation Flagship scientist, Dr Alistair Hobday, said the project, funded through the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, is a response to requests by Tasmania's four major salmon companies for short-term ocean forecasts for their farm sites.

"Marine farms in this region, particularly south-east Tasmania, want to use all available resources to ensure proper planning and response measures are in place to combat against the warmer summer months which can have adverse effects on fish performance," Dr Hobday said.

CSIRO's Dr Alistair Hobday said."While adaptation to long-term change is seen as important by the sector, dealing with climate variability exacerbated by ongoing climate change is a more immediate need."

"Our objective is to provide marine farmers with forecasts at their salmon farming sites up to four months ahead. This will enable management to consider a number of responses that will help maintain industry profitability in an uncertain environment. It should also help this valuable industry to come to terms with long-term climate change and begin formulating adaptation strategies."

Valued at $380 million annually, salmon production is Australia's major seafood industry.

The work will be detailed in Melbourne today during the CCRSPI (National Climate Change Research Strategy for Primary Industries) Conference 2011.

The trials began in September last year, with forecasts provided to Tasmania's four major salmon farmers each month. Historical data back to 1990 and a seasonal ocean-atmosphere model developed by the Bureau of Meteorology are being used in the predictions.

An associated cost-benefit analysis of the predictions applied to each site also will be generated. The project involves trialling advanced statistical techniques to determine how well scientists can resolve the variations at the different time scales.

Dr Hobday said warm summers can significantly impact farm production through an increase in operational expenses and direct impacts on salmon, while cool winters slow growth in salmon.

He said validation of the forecasts using historical data is improving their accuracy and illustrating the likely benefits to the industry.

Daily Mail Online: They've really clicked! Dolphins and scientists talk to each other using shared primitive language

They've really clicked! Dolphins and scientists talk to each other using shared primitive language
Dolphins are the world's second brightest creatures after humans and have many brain features associated with high intelligence.

So clever are the aquatic mammals that scientists have frequently communicated with those in captivity by rewarding their responses with fish.

But behavioural biologists have now carried out two-way communication with dolphins in the wild in the first study of its kind.

large underwater keyboard formed the focus of the study; each key was painted with a different symbol and emitted a precisely pitched whistle.

When a dolphin pressed a certain key with her nose, researchers would throw the corresponding prop into the water. Should the dolphin instead decide to whistle the pitch that a certain key would emit, then that prop would be thrown in.

Over the course of three years, the scientists played with the dolphins for 40 half-hour sessions.

They found that while young males were less interested in interacting with humans, young females enjoyed the game.

Dr Herzing said: 'This is when the females have a lot of play time, before they are busy being mothers.'

The sessions were at the most successful when the biologists had swum slowly with the dolphins beforehand, particularly if they had made eye contact and mimicked each other's movements.

Highlighting their social tendencies, the spotted dolphins Dr Herzing's team was playing with even recruited another species, bottlenose dolphins, to play the game.

The study was published in the Acta Astronautica journal.

Whaling suspension a bluff - Sea Shepherd Whaling suspension a bluff - Sea Shepherd
Activists who have led the fight against Japan's whaling operations in the Southern Ocean say reports of the annual whale hunt being suspended are a bluff.

Regular attempts by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to interrupt hunts have caused irritation in Japan.

"Putting safety as a priority, the fleet has halted scientific whaling for now," said Tatsuya Nakaoku, an official at the Fisheries Agency.

"We find Sea Shepherd's harassment extremely regrettable."

But Sea Shepherd captain Paul Watson said he was suspicious about the true movements of the Japanese.

Whaling boat the Nishin Maru was in the Drake Passage between South America and Antarctica and could be returning to the Southern Ocean via the Indian Ocean, he told Radio New Zealand.

"I believe that they might be trying to head across the South Atlantic and into the Indian Ocean to come on the other side of their whaling grounds to start again and then they'll send their harpoon vessels west."

If that was the case the society would have the protest ships Bob Barker and Steve Irwin box them in at their arrival.

He said if it was necessary, the protest vessels would follow the whalers right around the world.

Meanwhile the Government reacted cautiously last night to the reports of the whaling suspension .

"The Government has had no official confirmation of these reports but will be seeking clarification from the Japanese government," a spokeswoman for Foreign Minister Murray McCully told NZPA.

Green Party MP Gareth Hughes said Japan's whaling season seemed to have ended.

"There is a chance this could be the last whaling season in the Southern Ocean and New Zealand needs to keep up the pressure," Mr Hughes said.

"This has been a terrible season for the Japanese whalers, who have had to cut it short and who have only caught between 30 to 100 minkes, far short of their quota of up to 935 minkes and 50 fin whales."

Japan's Jiji Press Agency reported the Government was considering calling the fleet home earlier than the usual end of the hunt, which would be in mid-March.

American Fishermen Caught in Net of Regulations

CBS Evening News: American Fishermen Caught in Net of Regulations

(CBSNews) For 37 years the waters off the coast of Mass. were a way of life for fishermen Bill Lee. Then, without warning - it all changed.

"NOAA took a career that I enjoyed and put me out of business," Lee said. "And laughed all the way to the bank."

NOAA is short for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - the federal agency that oversees the $3.9 billion dollar fishing industry.

CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian reports in 2009 NOAA fined Lee $19,000 for catching about 20 extra codfish - nearly three years after he caught them. A fine, he says, that destroyed his one-man operation.

"They just took it away," Lee said.

Now dozens of New England fishermen charge their livelihood is at risk. Sinking under the weight of 700 pages of confusing federal regulations.

"You almost have to have a college degree to understand what's really going on in this industry," said fisherman Richard Burgess.

Burgess said NOAA told him he had to pay $27,000 because of a problem with his paperwork.

"They just said if I tried to fight it and it goes in front of one of their judges - that I most likely - the fine will be between $120,000-$140,000," Burgess said.

An investigation by the Commerce Department's Inspector General found the regulations were "unduly complicated." Federal agents "overzealous" and "abusive." Excessive fines including one for $270,000 for "administrative errors."

"We're honest hard-working people," Burgess said. "And we have been treated as common criminals."

The inspector general found the $30 million the fishermen paid in fines went to a NOAA fund with no oversight. The fund was used by regulators to buy more cars (202) than agents (172,) and for trips to fishing conferences in exotic locales such as Australia, Malaysia and Norway. It was also used to purchase a $300,000 "luxury vessel" used by government employees for "fishing trips."

And according to this memo obtained by CBS News while under investigation NOAA officials in Washington had a "shredding party" destroying garbage bags full of documents.

The shredding truck pulled up right outside NOAA's enforcement headquarters, where the agency's top cop later admitted he destroyed 75 percent to 80 percent of his total files.

An investigation found the shredding violated five federal regulations but found no evidence of obstructing justice. The man was later removed from his job but remains at NOAA as an analyst, still making a six figure salary.

Eric Schwaab is the new head of Fisheries at NOAA. He came to the agency last February from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources armed with a mandate for change.

"We have worked hard over the last year to identify those problems and address those problems and to rebuild that trusting and productive relationship that we need with fishermen," Schwaab said.

For some, like Sen. Charles Grassley, change can't come soon enough.

"I want to make sure that heads roll," Sen. Grassley said. "Because you know in a bureaucracy, if heads don't roll, you don't change behavior.

Now a judge is reviewing at least 31 cases of fishermen caught up in the government's net to see if some of the fines should be returned.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Scientists: Rising Seas Will Affect Major Us Coastal Cities By 2100; 'Like A Block Of Ice On The Sidewalk In The Summertime'

Underwater Times: Scientists: Rising Seas Will Affect Major Us Coastal Cities By 2100; 'Like A Block Of Ice On The Sidewalk In The Summertime'
TUCSON, Arizona -- Rising sea levels could threaten an average of 9 percent of the land within 180 U.S. coastal cities by 2100, according to new research led by University of Arizona scientists.

The Gulf and southern Atlantic coasts will be particularly hard hit. Miami, New Orleans, Tampa, Fla., and Virginia Beach, Va. could lose more than 10 percent of their land area by 2100.

The research is the first analysis of vulnerability to sea-level rise that includes every U.S. coastal city in the lower 48 with a population of 50,000 or more.

The latest scientific projections indicate that by 2100, the sea level will rise about 1 meter -- or even more. One meter is about 3 feet.

At the current rate of global warming, sea level is projected to continue rising after 2100 by as much as 1 meter per century.

"According to the most recent sea-level-rise science, that's where we're heading," said lead researcher Jeremy L. Weiss, a senior research specialist in the UA's department of geosciences. "Impacts from sea-level rise could be erosion, temporary flooding and permanent inundation."

The coastal municipalities the team identified had 40.5 million people living in them, according to the 2000 U.S. Census. Twenty of those cities have more than 300,000 inhabitants.

Weiss and his colleagues examined how much land area from the 180 municipalities could be affected by 1 to 6 meters of sea-level rise.

"With the current rate of greenhouse gas emissions, the projections are that the global average temperature will be 8 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than present by 2100," said Weiss, who is also a UA doctoral candidate in geosciences.

"That amount of warming will likely lock us into at least 4 to 6 meters of sea-level rise in subsequent centuries, because parts of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets will slowly melt away like a block of ice on the sidewalk in the summertime."

At 3 meters (almost 10 feet), on average more than 20 percent of land in those cities could be affected. Nine large cities, including Boston and New York, would have more than 10 percent of their current land area threatened. By 6 meters (about 20 feet), about one-third of the land area in U.S. coastal cities could be affected.

"Our work should help people plan with more certainty and to make decisions about what level of sea-level rise, and by implication, what level of global warming, is acceptable to their communities and neighbors," said co-author Jonathan T. Overpeck, a UA professor of geosciences and of atmospheric sciences and co-director of UA's Institute of the Environment.

Weiss, Overpeck and Ben Strauss of Climate Central in Princeton, N.J., will publish their paper, "Implications of Recent Sea Level Rise Science for Low-Elevation Areas in Coastal Cities of the Conterminous U.S.A.," in Climatic Change Letters. The paper is scheduled to go online this week.

Weiss and Overpeck had previously developed maps of how increases in sea level could affect the U.S. coastline. Strauss suggested adding the boundaries of municipalities to focus on how rising seas would affect coastal towns and cities.

For the detailed maps needed for the new project, the researchers turned to the National Elevation Dataset produced by the U.S. Geological Survey. The NED provides a high-resolution digital database of elevations for the entire U.S.

The high resolution let Weiss and his colleagues identify the elevation of a piece of land as small as 30 meters (about 100 feet) on a side – about the size of an average house lot.

The researchers used the USGS database to create detailed digital maps of the U.S. coast that delineate what areas could be affected by 1 meter to 6 meters of sea-level rise. The researchers also added the boundaries for all municipalities with more than 50,000 people according to the 2000 U.S. Census.

To increase the accuracy of their maps, the team included all pieces of land that had a connection to the sea and excluded low-elevation areas that had no such connection. Rising seas do not just affect oceanfront property -- water moves inland along channels, creeks, inlets and adjacent low-lying areas.

"Ours is the first national-scale data set that delineates these low-lying coastal areas for the entire lower 48 at this degree of spatial resolution," Weiss said.

The NED data set has some uncertainty, particularly for estimating elevation changes of 1 meter or less. That means the researchers' ability to identify the threat to any particular small piece of land is better for larger amounts of sea-level rise than for smaller amounts of sea-level rise, Weiss said.

"As better digital elevation models become available, we'll be using those," Weiss said. "The USGS is always improving the digital elevation models for the U.S."

Overpeck said, "The main point of our work is to give people in our coastal towns and cities more information to work with as they decide how to deal with the growing problem of sea-level rise."

Could underwater nuclear stations be headed for the English channel?

Guardian Environmental Network: Could underwater nuclear stations be headed for the English channel?
Ecologist: Plans for undersea nuclear reactors around the coast of France could see a boom in uptake of the technology – but serious questions about costs and waste remain unanswered

Since the oil shocks of the 1970's the French government has invested heavily in nuclear power. At that time, most of the electricity in France came from oil fired power stations, and the oil was imported mostly from the Middle East. With no oil or gas fields of its own and coal fields almost exhausted, it began a large-scale nuclear energy programme.

There are now 58 nuclear reactors in France, which provide nearly 80 per cent of the country's electricity supply. Now, in a bid to bring dependable energy to remote coastal communities, the French government has decided to give the green light to a different kind of nuclear power programme - smaller nuclear reactors to be based on the ocean floor.

In January, France's naval construction firm DCNS agreed on a joint two-year study of a concept for submerged nuclear power plants together with French company Areva, Electricité de France and the French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA). Promoters say these could provide energy for millions of people in coastal locations worldwide.

The concept for the nuclear submarine, known as FlexBlue, involves a cylindrical vessel about 100 meters long and 15 meters in diameter that would encase a complete nuclear power plant with an electrical capacity of between 50 MW and 250 MW. By comparison Sizewell B power station in Suffolk has an output of almost 1200MW.

Flexblue would comprise a small nuclear reactor, a steam turbine-alternator set, an electrical plant and associated electrical equipment. Submarine power cables would carry electricity from the Flexblue plant to the coast.

With costs significantly cheaper than traditional onshore reactors - estimated at several hundred million Euros compared to about 5 billion Euros for a full-sized reactor - French engineers believe it could lead to a boom in the uptake of nuclear power.

The French are not the only ones interested in offshore nuclear power. The Russians have already developed the design for a floating nuclear power plant which uses two 70-MW reactors derived from those used in Russian submarines and icebreakers and launched a prototype last year.

The French's flexblue plants would be designed to be moored on a stable seafloor at a depth of 60 to 100 metres a few kilometres off shore. A system of ballast tanks would be used to raise or lower the plant during installation and for major maintenance, refuelling or dismantling.

The reactors would be adapted for continuous power generation. Flexblue would use power plants of a standard design requiring very limited site-specific tailoring. This makes these plants fundamentally different from land-based nuclear power plants, which must be tailored in terms of civil engineering to accommodate local site constraints.

Flexblue nuclear plants would be stationary subsea installations with no independent means of propulsion. They would be transported by purpose-built vessels similar to those currently used to install offshore platforms. These same vessels would carry Flexblue plants to approved shipyards for refuelling, major maintenance and eventual dismantling.

DCNS aims to design Flexblue plants so that they can be remotely controlled from a shore-based facility. Each plant would, however, include an onboard control room giving operators local control over critical operations, including startup and some maintenance phases. The plant would also be directly accessible at all times by mini-submersibles. Maintenance would be based on proven procedures similar to those used by DCNS for many years to maintain, update and extend the life of naval vessels.

The cost of the reactors is estimated to be in the region of several hundred million Euros, compared to about 5 billion Euros for a full-sized reactor. DCNS Chairman and CEO Patrick Boissier said, 'preliminary studies show that we should be compatible with the cost of renewable energies, and better than solar power.'

Long-term storage plans for highly radioactive waste are still to be decided but DCNS confirmed all dismantling and decommissioning would be done onshore.The company claims that Flexblue plants would be designed from the outset to prevent any contact between nuclear materials and the marine environment. Underwater submersion would also provide a natural means of cooling the reactor, they say, as well as enhancing security, and the only substance released into the environment would be the seawater used for cooling.

Cores would be protected by three barriers: fuel cladding, reactor vessel and hull. The designers argue that immersion in sea water would ensure an infinite natural means of passive cooling and permit inherent safety and security. In addition, each plant would also be protected against potential intruders. The French argue that a submerged power plant would be less vulnerable to earthquakes, tsunamis, or floods, and would be far less vulnerable to terrorist attack.

Sceptics are concerned that warmer water released from the reactors could be dangerous for local ecosystem. And, should there be a nuclear accident 'the sea will be destroyed,' according to the President of Anti-nuclear organisation Crilan, based in Cherbourg. 'The fierce warming-up of the water will cause a massive thermal shock that will destroy sea life.'

However, supporters of Flexblue have attempted to downplay concerns suggesting the undersea reactors would be based entirely on proven technologies, simply combined in a new way. They say with two-thirds of the world's population currently living within 80 kilometres of the sea the new technology could make nuclear power more attractive to countries. For more remote locations, the nuclear reactors could allow for a fast and efficient way to add electrical supply to the region without needing any surface-based infrastructure, including the kind of supply systems needed for coal or oil-powered stations.