Oceans

Earth Month, Day 8: Fish Genes and Seawalls

Aquatic news from both sides of the country for today's installment of Earth Month: Matt FrankFirst, Matt Frank has a guest post on National Geographic's News Watch about the value of new species:

Fishing in the Gene Pool for New Species

One day last summer, Michael LeMoine, a Ph.D. candidate in fisheries biology at the University of Montana, carried a nondescript cardboard box into the Missoula FedEx office. Inside it was a jar of ethanol containing a single specimen of a new species of a type of fish called a sculpin.

The woman at the counter asked LeMoine for the value of the contents. He hesitated, considering. “My trouble, ma’am,” he remembers answering, “is that you don’t know this, but this is a new species in this box, and I really have no idea what the value of it is.”

So LeMoine hazarded $10,000, an amount that didn’t include the value of the months of field and lab work it took to identify the fish. Nor could he begin to answer the unspoken philosophical question: What is the value of a species?... Read more.

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Sammy fretwellAnd, from Sammy Fretwell with The State, a story about seawalls, legislation, and shifting tides:

Senators Side with Gated Debordieu Community in Debate Over Public Beach

 — The S.C. Senate, in a departure from 26 years of coastal law, sided Tuesday with a handful of oceanfront landowners who want to protect resort homes from rising seas by rebuilding a seawall in their gated community north of Georgetown.

But a new seawall could encroach as much as two feet farther onto the shore than an existing structure at Debordieu Beach — and the Senate’s vote to allow the seawall drew sharp criticism.

Under pressure to let Debordieu residents rebuild the aging seawall, the Senate agreed on a bill that gives property owners three years to fix the 4000-foot bulkhead. Engineers say the wall might need to be built farther out on the beach to make construction possible... Read more.

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Earth Month, Day 7: The City and The Sea

meera subToday we bring you one story, but it's wide-ranging: Tree-planting, superstorms, the Pleistocene, landscape design, Mayor Bloomberg, and oysters. Intrigued? Then you won't want to miss this great piece by Meera Subramanian in Orion magazine: Debris from Superstorm Sandy is seen on a beach November 8, 2012 in Long Branch, New Jersey. (Photo by ALlison Joyce/Getty Images)

The City and The Sea

TWENTY YEARS BEFORE Hurricane Sandy slammed into the slim spit of land that is New York City’s Rockaways, local artist Richard George was out planting trees. He was in his forties then, and had shifted his home a few years earlier from Corona, Queens, to a 1920s bungalow colony in the Far Rockaways, abutting the Atlantic Ocean. He didn’t know anything about trees, had never given a thought to dune ecology or sea surges, but he’d joined the board of the local Beachside Bungalow Preservation Association, and a friend gave them fifteen thousand dollars. The directive was to plant trees, so that’s what he did.

“He planted the money in my hand,” George recalls when I meet him at his cottage, a bright white bungalow with turquoise trim that matches his t-shirt. “I said, ‘Where am I gonna plant trees?’” Then the artist saw the wide expanse of beach down the street, like a blank canvas in waiting... Read more. 

 

Earth Month, Day 4: Birds, Wolverines, and Genetic Mutation

The Earth Month Bonanza continues! For your Friday reading pleasure, we have avian gourmands, mutating critters, and wolverines in limbo. lauren sommerFrom Lauren Sommer, at KQED Radio:

Amid California Drought, Migrating Birds Enjoy Pop-Up Cuisine

Millions of birds migrate through California this time of year, but the waterways and wetlands they rely on for food and rest are largely dry due to the ongoing drought. So farmers are keeping their fields flooded to make temporary wetlands, providing a place for migrating birds to rest and eat.

Rice farmer Douglas Thomas is one of these farmers. On a recent morning some 3,000 snow geese float in his rice fields in California's Central Valley. He's watching a young bald eagle awkwardly dive at the flock.

"As soon as they start getting here, this is what I sit and do," he says. "I keep my binoculars in my truck."... Read more.

Rice farmer Douglas Thomas watches snow geese take flight over his rice fields in California's Central Valley. (Photo by Lauren Sommer/KQED)

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sharon oosthoekFrom Sharon Oosthoek, writing for CBC News:

Cities Causing Genetic Changes in Plants, Animals

A researcher holds an adult female tomcod taken from New York's Hudson River. Most of the river's tomcod now carry a genetic variant that makes them resistant to the ill effects of PCBs humans have dumped into the river. (Photo by Christopher Chambers, Northeast Fisheries Science Center, NOAA)

Plants and animals have a long history of acclimatizing to city living - think of raccoons and their expert pillaging of compost bins. But now biologists are beginning to see signs that something more fundamental is happening. They say wild things may be changing at a genetic level to survive cities and their polluting, habitat-fragmenting ways.

 Fish in New York's chemically-laden Hudson River have evolved a genetic variation that gives them resistance to PCBs, for example. Birds nesting under highway overpasses in Nebraska have developed shorter, more agile wings, allowing them to quickly swerve from oncoming traffic... Read more.

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Sarah KellerAnd, from Sarah Keller with High Country News:

Climate-Based Wolverine Listing Delayed by Scientific Disputes

With thick fur and snowshoe-like feet, wolverines are well-adapted to live in snow caves and run straight up mountains. Their high elevation lifestyles have helped them stay out of harm’s way in recent decades, and stage a slow comeback from the rampant carnivore persecution of the early 1900s. Though elusive and tenacious, they won’t be insulated from human impacts forever. They face a precarious future as climate change eats away at the snowpack they need.

 

Wolverines are already one of the rarest carnivores in North America. With their fates tied to snow they may become rarer still. Photo by Steve Kroschel. Courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

That’s why the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to add them to the endangered species list, even as a handful of wide-ranging wolverines are venturing into states where they haven’t been seen for generations. The agency was slated to make a listing decision earlier this month as part of a legal settlement with environmental groups. But reputable wolverine biologists have criticized the scientific underpinnings of the agency’s proposed listing decision, especially the parts related to snowpack. Now, the FWS is delaying the decision for another six months so they can reconvene with scientists about wolverine habitat and climate impacts to it... Read more

 

Earth Month, Day 2: Tumbleweeds and Steelhead

Earth Month continues! sarah gilmanFirst, from Sarah Gilman with High Country News, an investigation of some pesky plants:

Troubleweeds: Russian thistle buries roads and homes in southeastern Colorado

J.D. Wright pauses to check in with his wife of 51 years. “Do you remember, Mama, when that wind was?” After a few minutes perusing her cellphone photos, she reports back: Tumbleweeds first buried the house on November 17. The gusts screamed up and there they were, piled so deep over the doors and windows that Wright, who has a ranch on the Crowley-Pueblo County line in southeastern Colorado, had to call his grandson to come dig the couple out with a front end loader and pitchfork... Read more.

For more on this story - including hilarious, reader-inspired suggestions about how to eliminate tumbleweeds - see here.

Gilman_tumbleweeds

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Ashley AhearnAshley Ahearn with EarthFix Radio learns how science can help save salmon:

Stalking Puget Sound steelhead with science

TACOMA, Wash. — You might call Barry Berejikian a steelhead stalker.

Ahearn_steelhead

The government scientist’s pursuit of these anadromous trout has brought him to the deck of the Chasina, a research vessel that’s motoring through choppy gray waters of southern Puget Sound near the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

He’s here to lay the groundwork for an experiment that could explain why so few steelhead are completing their journey through Puget Sound and on to the Pacific Ocean.

Since 2007, Puget Sound steelhead have been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Millions of dollars have been spent improving their habitat but the fish are not recovering.

And scientists can’t pinpoint why... Read more.

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Dispatches from the Road: North Carolina!

Well, the weather has thrown some curveballs at our intrepid North Carolina crew, but they have soldiered on despite gale warnings, ice storms, and the threat of the Outer Banks washing away completely while they watch. (Ok, maybe not completely, but they are seeing some serious wave action!) Because of this - and because they've needed to make some last-minute adjustments to the itinerary - they haven't been able to send any formal dispatches from the road.  But they are doing an awesome job of keeping us in-the-know via Facebook and Twitter, at the hashtag #ijnr_carolina.

And, some of the journalists have even been writing breaking-news stories based on what they're learning during the trip!

North Carolina fishermen used their meeting with IJNR journalists to break the news that they're seeking to end endangered-species protection for sea turtles. Sammy Fretwell with The State in South Carolina filed the story from the road:

Sea turtles should no longer be protected, fishing groups argue

HARKERS ISLAND, N.C. — Two North Carolina commercial fishing groups are seeking to end endangered-species protections for sea turtles, a move that could loosen regulations that the groups say are unnecessary.

In a notice this week to federal agencies, the N.C. Fisheries Association and a local group said sea turtles “are at or near recovery and strict regulation is unwarranted.’’ The notice gives the federal government 60 days to conduct an assessment of how many turtles inhabit the ocean – or the groups will take further legal action.

An attorney for the groups said the action applies to a variety of sea turtles that now enjoy federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, including the loggerhead sea turtle that can be found off the South and North Carolina coasts... Read more.

Meanwhile, in lieu of a formal from-the-road dispatch, here are some photos to give you a sense of what this crew has been up to!

Fretwell_OBX

Espinoza_Rodanthe

Mennel_Mirlo Beach

 

Bakken Boom, Trout Fiasco, NSA Climate Edge, and Pete Seeger

New reporting from IJNR alums for your Thursday reading! kirk sieglerFirst, check out this great multi-medi package from NPR's Kirk Siegler and his colleagues about the Bakken oil boom in North Dakota:

The Great Plains Oil Rush

A remarkable transformation is underway in western North Dakota, where an oil boom is changing the state's fortunes and leaving once-sleepy towns bursting at the seams. In a series of stories, NPR is exploring the economic, social and environmental demands of this modern-day gold rush.

On a Sunday at dusk, Amtrak's eastbound Empire Builder train is jampacked, filled with people heading to their jobs in North Dakota towns like Minot, Williston and Watford City.

Jennifer Brown is watching the snowy plains of northern Montana pass by outside the train's frosty windows. She's moving to North Dakota from Idaho to join her husband, who's been working in the oil fields since last summer.

"I haven't seen him in two months," she says. "It's been really hard."

The Browns ran a logging truck business in northern Idaho, but work was hard to come by. Out in North Dakota, though, a person can make $100,000 or more starting out in the oil fields... Read, hear, and see more.

The "horsehead" pump of an oil rig has become a common feature along the rural North Dakota skyline. (Annie Flanagan for NPR)

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eric wagnerFrom Eric Wagner writing for High Country News, a look at invasive trout in Flathead Lake - a story based on our 2013 Crown of the Continent Institute in Montana.

The great Flathead fish fiasco

The ding! is soft, but Capt. Rod's response is Pavlovian, and he skips over to the charter boat's console with a nimbleness remarkable for a man his size. "Fish on 2!" he calls. He hurries back to the stern and pulls the appropriate rod from its sleeve, then hands it to me. "OK, reel her in."

I steel myself for battle, but this particular fish, a lake trout, is blasé in the face of death. I reel. It resists a little. I reel again. It tugs, kind of. After a minute or so, Rod scoops the trout out of Flathead Lake and hands it to me. Jim Vashro, an avuncular biologist with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, appraises it with a practiced eye. "If you want to be respectable, say 'Less than 10,' " he advises... Read more.

Fishing for trout on Flathead Lake. (IJNR photo)

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Peter ThomsonOn PRI's The World, Peter Thomson investigates the idea that NSA spying gave the U.S. a leg up in the climate-change debate:

Did NSA spying give U.S. an edge at the Copenhagen climate conference?

The latest NSA targets to be revealed by Edward Snowden’s purloined document archive might surprise you: participants in the high-stakes UN climate change conference in Copenhagen in 2009.

The latest revelation comes from a joint reporting project between the Huffington Post and the Danish newspaper Information, which says it got a top secret NSA briefing paper on the negotiations from Snowden.

The document, which the news outlets have published online, is barely more than a page, and is dated December 7, 2009, the opening day of the Copenhagen conference.

Most of it reads like an article a news summary of the basic issues and conflicts heading into the summit, but it’s distinguished by two short paragraphs at the end of the document marked “TS”—for Top Secret—and “SI”—for Signal Intelligence, or electronic monitoring...Read more.

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michelle nijhuisAnd, from Michelle Nijhuis writing on The Last Word on Nothing, a tribute to Pete Seeger and his environmental legacy

 

Photo of the Clearwater sloop on the Hudson courtesy of Flickr user Sea of Legs. Creative Commons.

My Dirty Stream

You’ve probably heard a lot of Pete Seeger songs in the last couple of days. And no wonder: When Seeger died on Monday, he left behind a very long lifetime’s worth of beautiful, cheeky, unforgettable songs. But what he left me — and the millions of other kids who grew up along the Hudson River during his tenure there — is not a song but a story. And the story is as good a cure for cynicism as any I know.

It goes like this.... Read more.

 

 

Now accepting applications for our 2014 North Carolina Institute!

Highway 12 on North Carolina's Outer Banks, washed out following Hurricane Irene in 2011. Photo by Tom Mackenzie, USFWS IJNR invites applications for its North Carolina Institute, an expenses-paid learning expedition that will cover natural resource, economic and human health issues from the research triangle of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill to North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Content of the fellowship program will not only be relevant to journalists along the Eastern seaboard but also throughout North America. Radio, television, print and online journalists of all ages and experience levels are eligible to apply.

On the North Carolina Institute, journalists will:

  • Observe the EPA’s ongoing clean up efforts at the Ward Transformer Superfund site, considered one of the first cases in the U.S. environmental justice movement.
  • Visit the lab of world-renowned toxicologists working to understand how industrial chemicals affect human health and the environment and how early life exposures may lead to later life consequences.
  • Tour large and small-scale farm operations to talk about the trade-offs involved in producing food and protecting freshwater resources.
  • Slog through the muck of a saltwater marsh at low-tide to observe cutting edge experiments in oyster reef conservation.
  • Stand where the eastern U.S. meets the Atlantic Ocean to discuss controversial infrastructure projects, including a billion-dollar bridge along NC Highway 12, as communities struggle to plan for rising seas in a state that prohibits them from using the latest climatological projection

These are just some of the stops planned on an Institute that will travel from the Raleigh/Durham area to the Outer Banks and back. The trip will also include programming on wetland restoration efforts, North Carolina’s struggling commercial fisheries and using digital media to tell environment stories better.

Curious to find out more? Click on this great interactive map to find out where we're headed and what we'll be doing! Be sure to check out the info and photos at all the different stops:

NCI map workaround

Sound good? Apply now!

The Best of 2013, Day 8: Ocean Acidification from Craig Welch

Happy Holidays from IJNR! During the month of December, we'll be bringing you a sampler from the "Best of 2013" - a recap of some of the best stories and series of the year from our alumni. Some of them have already been featured here on the Nooze, but many of them haven't! We hope you enjoy reading, hearing and exploring these top-notch stories as much as we have.


Craig WelchWe featured this series on The Nooze back in September, but we think it's so fantastic, we just can't help highlighting it again. Craig Welch, an environment reporter with The Seattle Times, and photographer Steve Ringman traveled the world to produce this remarkable series on ocean acidification, the "lesser-known twin of climate change" that "threatens to scramble marine life on a scale almost too big to fathom."

This series is not to be missed. Fabulous photographs, top-notch reporting, all wrapped up in a really sharp multi-media digital package. Here is a true example of the future of environment reporting.

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Sea Change: The Pacific's Perilous Turn

NORMANBY ISLAND, Papua New Guinea — Katharina Fabricius plunged from a dive boat into the Pacific Ocean of tomorrow.

She kicked through blue water until she spotted a ceramic tile attached to the bottom of a reef.

A year earlier, the ecologist from the Australian Institute of Marine Science had placed this small square near a fissure in the sea floor where gas bubbles up from the earth. She hoped the next generation of baby corals would settle on it and take root.

Fabricius yanked a knife from her ankle holster, unscrewed the plate and pulled it close. Even underwater the problem was clear. Tiles from healthy reefs nearby were covered with budding coral colonies in starbursts of red, yellow, pink and blue. This plate was coated with a filthy film of algae and fringed with hairy sprigs of seaweed.

Instead of a brilliant new coral reef, what sprouted here resembled a slimy lake bottom.

Isolating the cause was easy. Only one thing separated this spot from the lush tropical reefs a few hundred yards away.

Carbon dioxide... Read, see and hear more.

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Like what you see from Craig? Find more stories from him, and other IJNR alumni, here on The Nooze, simply by typing their name into the search bar. You never know what kind of treasures you'll find on The Nooze!

The Best of 2013, Day 7: Fellow Spotlight on Robert McClure

Happy Holidays from IJNR! During the month of December, we'll be bringing you a sampler from the "Best of 2013" - a recap of some of the best stories and series of the year from our alumni. Some of them have already been featured here on the Nooze, but many of them haven't! We hope you enjoy reading, hearing and exploring these top-notch stories as much as we have.


Robert McClureToday we highlight alumnus Robert McClure.  Co-founder and executive director of the journalism nonprofit InvestigateWest, he was recently voted one of Seattle's "Most Influential People of 2013." (He's listed right there alongside rap artist Macklemore and Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, which we think is pretty darn impressive!) Under his direction, InvestigateWest won 10 reporting awards in 2013 for investigative and enterprise reporting. McClure is a Pulitzer Prize finalists, and a winner of the John B. Oakes Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism.

Here are a few of his 2013 stories:

The current estimate of how much fish people eat in Washington State, a key criteria for setting water quality standards, is less than one-tenth the figure used by Oregon. Credit: Jason Alcorn

Business Issues Trump Health Concerns in Fish Consumption Fight

The Washington State Department of Ecology has known since the 1990s that its water-pollution limits have meant some Washingtonians regularly consume dangerous amounts of toxic chemicals in fish from local waterways.

At least twice, Ecology has been told by its overseers at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to fix the problem and better protect people’s health. Ecology was close to finally doing that last year — until Boeing and other business interests launched an intense lobbying campaign aimed not just at Ecology but also at the Washington Legislature and then-Gov. Christine Gregoire. That is the picture that emerges from recent interviews as well as government documents obtained by InvestigateWest under the Washington Public Records Law.

The problem lies in Ecology’s estimate of how much fish people eat. The lower the amount, the more water pollution Ecology can legally allow. So by assuming that people eat the equivalent of just one fish meal per month, Ecology is able to set less stringent pollution limits... Read more.

For more on this fish-consumption story, see the version that Robert did for KQED's QUEST-Northwest:

Scientists Want to Know How Much Fish You Ate Last Night

How Boeing, Allies Torpedoed State Rules on Toxic Fish

Duwamish Valley Residents Face Health Threats, Study Shows as EPA Chooses Superfund Cleanup Plan

 

The Best of 2013, Days 5 & 6: Fellows Becky Kessler and Sammy Fretwell

Dearest Nooze followers! You may have noticed a lapse in our "Best of 2013" series during the first half of this week. We hadn't forgotten about you out there in the blogosphere; our break was due to the fact that we were all tied up with a very successful trustee, staff, and advisory board meeting in Chicago. We accomplished a lot, planned out our upcoming programming, and brainstormed fundraising ideas. The relevant news of the weekend? Keep an eye on our website in the coming days to see our line-up of 2014 Institutes!

Without further ado, two day's-worth of Nooze for you:

rebecca kesslerFellow spotlight: Becky Kessler is a freelance science and environmental journalist based in Providence, Rhode Island. A former senior editor at Natural History, her work has been published by ClimateCentral.org,Conservation, Discover, Natural History, ScienceNOW, ScienceInsider, and Environmental Health Perspectives.

Check out some of Becky's fantastic recent stories in Yale E360 and Environmental Health Perspectives on whales, urban gardening, paint, and more!

Photo courtesy New England Aquarium

A North Atlantic Mystery: Case of the Missing Whales

Every summer and fall, endangered North Atlantic right whales congregate in the Bay of Fundy between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to gorge on zooplankton. Researchers have documented the annual feast since 1980, and well over 100 whales typically attend, a significant portion of the entire species. Only this year, they didn't. Just a dozen right whales trickled in — a record low in the New England Aquarium's 34-year-old monitoring program. And that comes on the heels of two other low-turnout years, 2010 and 2012. 

Numbers of the critically endangered marine mammal have been ticking up in recent years just past 500 individuals, so no one thinks the low turnout in the Bay of Fundy augurs a decline in the species as a whole. The right whales must have gone elsewhere. But where? And more importantly, why?... Read more.

Urban Gardening: Managing the Risks of Contaminated Soils

How Fishing Gear is Killing Whales in the North Atlantic

In Midwest, Bringing Back Native Prairies Yard by Yard

Mercury's Silent Toll on the World's Wildlife

Long Outlawed in the West, Lead Paint Sold in Poor Nations

New Initiatives to Clean Up the Global Aquarium Trade

 


Sammy fretwellFellow Spotlight: Sammy Fretwell Sammy is a staff writer covering environmental issues (among other things) at The State in Columbia, South Carolina. He's been covering plenty of contentious issues there in 2013, including a great series on solar power and a "secret" climate report that was hidden from the public!

Secret Climate Report Calls for Action in S.C.

A team of state scientists has outlined serious concerns about the damage South Carolina will suffer from climate change – threats that include invading eels, dying salt marshes, flooded homes and increased diseases in the state’s wildlife.

But few people have seen the team’s study. The findings are outlined in a report on global warming that has been kept secret by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources for more than a year because agency officials say their “priorities have changed.”

DNR board members never put the study out for public review as planned. The State newspaper recently obtained a copy.... Read more. 

Read the follow up to this story here.

Wildlife Could be Biggest Losers as SC Islands Wash Away

Endangered fish a Weapon Against Port Dredging

And some of his solar series:

Buzz Williams and his wife, Nicole Hayler have lived off the grid in their solar powered home in Oconee county for five years. The home has a solar water heating system, large windows for more light, a flushless composting system, several dc powered appliances, and a cupola with windows to help air flow to cool the interior. The couple grows a large variety of vegetables, fruits and herbs in their garden. (Photo by Tim Dominick)

Why Solar Power Rarely Shines in SC

Understanding Solar Power: The Basics

SC Has Plenty of Sun, Solar Advocates Say

Scuttled Solar Deal Leaves Churches, Charities in the Lurch

Retired Columbia Minister Crusades for Solar Power

SC Power Companies Defend Solar Practices

Solar Frees Upstate Family from Power Grid