Microplastics worse for crabs and other marine life than previously thought


Microplastics worse for crabs and other marine life than previously thought
by Staff Writers
Exeter, UK (SPX) Jul 21, 2014

This image depicts polystyrene microspheres inside the gills of a shore crab. Image courtesy Andrew Watts.

The tiny plastic particles polluting our seas are not only orally ingested by marine creatures, but also enter their systems through their gills, according to a new study led by the University of Exeter.

Scientists also discovered that when microplastics are drawn in through this method they take over six times longer to leave the body compared with standard digestion.

Lead author Dr Andrew Watts of the University of Exeter said: “Many studies on microplastics only consider ingestion as a route of uptake into animals. The results we have just published stress other routes such as ventilation. We have shown this for crabs, but the same could apply for other crustaceans, molluscs and fish – simply any animal which draws water into a gill-like structure to carry out gas exchange.

“This is highly important from an ecological point of view, as if these plastics are retained longer within the animal there is more chance of them being passed up the food chain.”

The researchers used fluorescently labelled polystyrene microspheres to show how ingested microplastics were retained within the body tissues of the common shore crab, Carcinus maenas. Multiphoton imaging suggested that most microspheres were retained in the foregut after sticking to hair-like ‘setae’ structures within the crabs.

Plastic is part of our everyday lives and has grown in use substantially over the past seven decades – from 1.7 million tonnes in 1950 to an estimated 288 million tonnes in 2013. Around 40 per cent of this is believed to come from packaging material, most of which is single use and therefore disposed of.

It has been suggested that 10 per cent of plastic which is thrown away ends up in the marine environment. At 2013 production levels this equates to 11 million tonnes of packaging ending up in the marine environment every year. This plastic is then degraded by wave action, heat or UV damage and is created into microplastic (particles smaller than 5mm).

Dr Watts added: “This is a human issue. We have put this plastic there, mostly accidently, but it is our problem to solve. The best way to do this is to reduce our dependency on plastic. It comes back to the old phrase: reduce, reuse and recycle.”

The study, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, was funded by CleanSeas, a multidisciplinary and collaborative research project addressing marine litter from different perspectives.

It aims at providing Member States and other stakeholders with improved knowledge, methods and tools to be able to better define, monitor and achieve a marine environment free of harmful litter levels by 2020 (Good Environmental Status -GES- as required by the Marine Strategy Framework Directive -MSFD).

In doing so, it will deliver a set of integrated results that will provide transparent and useful guidance to policy makers and stakeholders dealing with marine litter mitigation

The company is exporting a seriously limited resource with no oversight

The company is exporting a seriously limited resource with no oversight


As residents of California are urged to conserve water and the state considers placing a mandatory restriction on outdoor water usage, Nestlé is trucking away undisclosed amounts of the precious resource in the form of bottled water.

The Desert Sun has an in-depth report of controversy brewing around the company’s bottling plant, which draws water from a drought-stricken area for its Arrowhead and Pure Life brand water. Because the plant is located on the Morongo Band of Mission Indians’ reservation, it’s exempt from oversight by local water agencies and is able to keep confidential information — such as the amount of groundwater it’s pumping and water levels in its wells — that other plants would be required to disclose. As a result, critics contend, it’s impossible to know just how much of the limited resource the plant is extracting to send elsewhere.

Here’s more from the Desert Sun:

“They’re entitled to use the groundwater basin, too. Everyone is. But it’s just a shame that this water is not being used locally. It’s being exported,” said David Luker, general manager of the Desert Water Agency. He said DWA’s position has been that the Morongo tribe should have to report its water use just like other entities.

“I don’t believe there’s any way to force them to fork over groundwater pumping information unless there’s discovery in a lawsuit,” Luker said. But he said the level of concern about the bottling plant in the area doesn’t seem to have grown to a degree that leads to such action.

Other concerns are raised by people who live in a neighborhood of mobile homes near the bottling factory. Some say they wish the plant would provide more jobs because many are unemployed. Others say despite living next to the Arrowhead plant, their local water service is poor, with sputtering faucets and frequent breaks in water lines.

“The reason this particular plant is of special concern is precisely because water is so scarce in the basin,” Peter Gleick, who wrote the book on bottled water, told the Desert Sun. “If you had the same bottling plant in a water-rich area, then the amount of water bottled and diverted would be a small fraction of the total water available. But this is a desert ecosystem. Surface water in the desert is exceedingly rare and has a much higher environmental value than the same amount of water somewhere else.”

Nestlé refused to let the Desert Sun tour the Morongo facilities or release any data about water levels in its wells, but in an emailed statement stood by its operations. “We proudly conduct our business in an environmentally responsible manner that focuses on water and energy conservation,” the company said. “Our sustainable operations are specifically designed and managed to prevent adverse impacts to local area groundwater resources, particularly in light of California’s drought conditions over the past three years.” What that ignores, however, is the basic fact that bottled water is anathema to the concept of environmental responsibility: we’re talking about a process that uses multiple times the amount of water bottled just to produce its packaging. Drought aside, the controversy highlights some of the basic contradictions of the $12.2 billion industry — and if there’s anything that’s going to open our eyes to its wastefulness, this should be it.


Lindsay Abrams Lindsay Abrams is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email labrams@salon.com.

English Channel Fishermen scraping the Bottom of the Barrel



English Channel fisherman scraping the bottom of the barrel
by Staff Writers
Plymouth, UK (SPX) Jul 11, 2014

The discards from a prawn trawl in the Irish Sea are shown. Image courtesy Johnny Woodlock, Sea Fishery adisory Group, Irish Seal Sanctuary.

Decades of overfishing in the English Channel has resulted in the removal of many top predators from the sea and left fishermen ‘scraping the barrel’ for increasing amounts of shellfish to make up their catch. Sharks, rays, cod, haddock and many other species at the head of the food chain are at historic lows with many removed from the area completely.

These are some of the findings of a study led by marine biologists at Plymouth University, in association with international non-profit research organization WorldFish. They analysed catches over the past 90 years and found significant evidence of the practice of ‘fishing down the food web’.

The report, published in the PLOS ONE journal, used catch statistics from the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas to establish a ‘mean trophic level’ for catches – an average for how far up the food chain the fish are located.

Professor Jason Hall Spencer, of the School of Marine Science and Engineering, and the Marine Institute, said: “It is clear from our analyses that fishing pressure has caused significant changes to food webs of the English Channel over the past 90 years.

The mean Trophic Level of English Channel landings has fallen by 0.1 unit per decade, one of the fastest rates reported among other heavily fished regions of the world, providing yet more evidence that ‘fishing down food webs’ is a worldwide phenomenon.”

Today, the UK and France land around 150,000 tonnes of seabed fish and shellfish per year from the 75,000 km2 Channel – a huge increase from the 9,000 tonnes recorded in 1920 and the 51,000t in 1950. During that time, the composition of landings has altered dramatically, with sharks and rays declining from 34% of catch in 1920 to 6% in 2010. The contribution of ‘cods, haddocks and hakes’ similarly fell from 48% to just 4% over the same timeframe.

Spurdogs, tope sharks, thornback rays, Atlantic cod, ling and European hake show the most remarkable decline, while flounders, halibut and soles have changed relatively little during the time-series.

The falling levels of finfish has been counterbalanced by increased landings of shellfish such as scallops, and of squid, octopus and cuttlefish. This has in turn raised concerns over long-term sustainability, and the potential damage done to the marine environment as a result of dredging and trawling for these invertebrates.

Plymouth researcher Carlotta Molfese said: “Fisheries typically remove top predators first and as a result their direct competitors and prey are able to prosper, affecting the overall productivity and ecological stability of the ecosystem. Severe declines in the populations of major predator species have now been reported around the world.”

“WorldFish research has shown that a decline of finfish species has been followed by an increase in their invertebrate prey, and although new and economically viable fisheries have developed for these new target species, concerns have been raised about their long-term sustainability,” added Doug Beare of WorldFish.

“We promote a sustainable approach to fisheries that will help to protect our natural resources and ensure that fish stocks are available for future generations. Solid global and regional governance of these vital resources will ensure that we can produce enough fish for everyone.”

The researchers say that far from being a modern phenomenon, overfishing can be traced as far back as the 19th century, with declining stocks reported in 1863. But geographic expansion into new fishing grounds and improved technology combined to maintain increased landings.

Professor Hall-Spencer added: “All around the UK we are scraping the barrel, destructively dredging the seabed for scallops and prawns as fish have disappeared. When destructive fishing practices are banned, marine life soon recovers. So we urgently need a network of recovery zones in the English Channel to allow marine life to bounce back.”

Postcards from the Photosynthetic Edge: Water Molecule

Postcards from the Photosynthetic Edge
by Lynn Yarris for LBNL
Berkeley CA (SPX) Jul 11, 2014

Photosytem II utilizes a water-splitting manganese-calcium enzyme that when energized by sunlight catalyzes a four photon-step cycle of oxidation states (S0-to-S3). When S3 absorbs a photon, molecular oxygen (O2) is released and S0 is generated. S4 is a transient state on the way to S0. Image courtesy of SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. For a larger version of this image please go here.

A crucial piece of the puzzle behind nature’s ability to split the water molecule during photosynthesis that could help advance the development of artificial photosynthesis for clean, green and renewable energy has been provided by an international collaboration of scientists led by researchers with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

Working at SLAC’s Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS), the world’s most powerful x-ray laser, the researchers were able to take detailed “snapshots” of the four photon-step cycle for water oxidation in photosystem II, a large protein complex in green plants. Photosystem II is the only known biological system able to harness sunlight for the oxidation of water into molecular oxygen.

“An effective method of solar-based water-splitting is essential for artificial photosynthesis to succeed but developing such a method has proven elusive,” says Vittal Yachandra, a chemist with Berkeley Lab’s Physical Biosciences Division and one of the leaders of this study.

“Using femtosecond x-ray pulses for the simultaneous collection of both x-ray diffraction (XRD) and x-ray emission spectroscopy (XES) data at room temperature, we have gone around the four-step catalytic cycle of photosynthetic water oxidation in photosystem II.

“This represents a major advance towards the real time characterization of the formation of the oxygen molecule in photosystem II, and has yielded information that should prove useful for designing artificial solar-energy based devices to split water.”

Photo-oxidation of water by photosystem II is responsible for most of the oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere. At the core of photosystem II is a manganese-calcium (Mn4Ca) metalloenzyme complex that when energized by solar photons catalyzes a four photon-step cycle of oxidation states (S0-to-S3) that ultimately yields molecular oxygen. Scientists need to observe intact x-ray crystallography of the Mn4Ca ion in action but the molecule is highly sensitive to radiation.

The LCLS is the world’s only source of x-rays capable of providing femtosecond pulses at the high intensities that allow intact photosystem II crystals to be imaged before they are destroyed by exposure to the x-ray beams.

“In an earlier study at the LCLS, we reported combined XRD and XES data from photosystem II samples in the dark S1 state and the one visible-flash illuminated S2 (1-flash) state,” says Junko Yano, a chemist also with Berkeley Lab’s Physical Biosciences Division and also a leader of this research.

“In this new study we report data from the S3 (2-flash) and S0 (3-flash) states, which are the intermediate states directly before and after the evolution of the oxygen molecule. In addition, we report data for the first time from a light-induced transient state between the S3 and S0 states, which opens the window for elucidating the mechanism of oxygen-oxygen bond formation that occurs between these two states.”

XRD data of all the flash states studied revealed an anomalous diffraction signal from Mn that is not complicated by signals from the overall protein matrix of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and other metals, or even by the Ca atom, which is a part of the five atom Mn4Ca metalloenzyme complex.

“The detection of this anomalous Mn scattering signal not only validates the quality of our data, but also the procedures used for analyzing the data,” says computational scientist Nicholas Sauter. Sauter and Paul Adams, both with Berkeley Lab’s Physical Biosciences Division and both contributors to this study, are leading an effort to develop new and better methods for analyzing data from the LCLS.

Yachandra and Yano believe that the detection of an anomalous Mn scattering signal opens up the possibility for detecting changes pertaining only to the Mn cluster as it advances through the S-state cycles and the oxygen-oxygen bond formation, which is where the catalytic action is taking place.

“Knowing how this happens is important for understanding the design principles used in natural photosynthesis,” Yachandra says.

Results of this study have been published in Nature Communications. The paper is titled “Taking snapshots of photosynthetic water oxidation using femtosecond X-ray diffraction and spectroscopy.” Yachandra, Yano and Uwe Bergmann, a physicist with SLAC, are the corresponding authors.

The lead author is Jan Kern, a chemist with joint appointments at Berkeley Lab and SLAC. In addition to Berkeley Lab and SLAC, the international collaboration also included scientists from Umea University in Sweden, Humboldt University in Germany, and the ESRF in France. (See additional information for a link to the paper, and a full list of co-authors and

Canadian Tar Sands Pipeline Threatens Endangered Whales

Canadian Tar Sands Pipeline Threatens Endangered Whales

Environmentalists are fighting plans to send an armada of oil tankers through whale feeding grounds.

(Photo: Giles Martin/Getty Images)


July 09, 2014


Canadian tar sands oil are bad for whales too.

That’s what environmentalists are arguing as they fight energy giant Kinder Morgan’s proposed expansion of a $5.4 billon pipeline that would carry tar sands oil to a coastal terminal in Vancouver to be shipped overseas. The number of oil tankers traversing the feeding grounds of endangered whales—such as the blue whale, the North Pacific right whale, and the Southern resident whale—would jump 600 percent, according to estimates by environmental groups.

The fear: As more huge tankers ply the marine mammals’ habitat, the risk of oil spills and whale deaths from ship collisions will rise.

Last Friday, Living Oceans and EcoJustice, First Nation tribes, and Canadian municipalities filed motions with Canada’s National Energy Board seeking a temporary halt to the 18-month review process for the pipeline expansion.

The groups say the environmental review of the proposed pipeline has not adequately considered the impact of the project on half a dozen whale species.

If approved, the new pipeline would nearly triple the amount of oil exported from Canada, from 300,000 barrels a day to about 890,000, according to Mint Press News.

But the real impact on marine life would come from tanker traffic. Not only would the pipeline result in larger tankers that are potentially more lethal to whales, it would increase shipping in the region from five or six tankers a month to between 30 and 34.

Karen Wristen, executive director of Living Oceans, said that the additional ships would harm whale populations along the coast of British Columbia and Washington state and would pass through parts of the ocean designated as critical habitat for the endangered Southern resident whale.

Once an area has been designated a critical habitat, Canadian law is supposed to protect whales from threats such as shipping and oil spills, Wristen said.

Spills from tankers, while rare, can have effects that last decades, Wristen said. More worrisome is that most of the tar sands to be shipped through the new pipeline would be diluted with chemicals to make a highly toxic liquid known as bitumen. “It sinks to the bottom instead of floating to the surface,” Wristen said, making cleanup after a spill all the more difficult.

Other concerns are ship noise, which can stress and disorient whales, and the potential for ship strikes, which are estimated to kill 80 percent to 90 percent of all whales hit.

Officials at Kinder Morgan in Canada did not return emails seeking comment.

Last January, environmentalists filed suit in Canadian court to block the Kinder Morgan expansion as well as another pipeline project proposed by Enbridge Inc. that would be located farther north.

Wristen said now is the time for concerned citizens on both sides of the border to intervene. “They should ask the government how it can defend the viability of sending oil across the fourth-most-dangerous waters in the world,” she said, adding that spills in northern British Columbia could easily reach Alaska, and spills in the south could affect Washington.

“There is not enough room on the Canadian side for all those tankers to pass in and out of the strait,” Wristen noted. The ships will need permission from the U.S. government to traverse the American portion of the waterway.

“A few years ago, an American oil company was looking for permission to run liquefied natural gas tankers through Canadian waters, and the Canadians denied it because it was too dangerous,” Wristen said. “America could respond the same way in this case. …


Injured Dolphin asks Diver Help



As if there isn’t already enough proof that dolphins are remarkably intelligent, Keller Laros was doing a night dive in Hawaii when he was approached by a bottlenose dolphin. As it turned out, a hooked fishing line had entangled one of the dolphin’s pectoral fins. Fortunately, Laros had a pair of shears to help free the mammal and Martina Wing was present with a camera to capture the epic rescue. We salute you, Keller Laros!

Read more at http://www.metaspoon.com/injured-dolphin-asks-diver-help/#8z24RduKk3Amv7vs.99





An urgent threat to the Great Barrier Reef

An urgent threat to the Great Barrier Reef

sign the petition

To Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Environment Minister Greg Hunt and potential investors in Abbot Point:

As concerned citizens around the world, we urge you to protect the Great Barrier Reef by saying no to hugely damaging dredging and dumping. The Abbot Point port extension and other similar projects would endanger this World Heritage Site and its magnificent marine life and we call on you to oppose such projects.


1,220,932 have signed. Let’s get to 1,500,000

Update: 31 January 2014
The Australian government is turning its back on the Reef, and decided to open the door to dredging and dumping in the Marine Protected area. But right now the main investor can’t finance for these projects — let’s keep upping the pressure on them to make sure they never do and keep the reef safe despite the terrible government decision!
Update: 15 August  2013
Round one to the people! After over a million Avaaz members joined the campaign, the Australia government has delayed its decision and announced a public consultation. Let’s use this momentum to ramp up the pressure, beat the industry lobbyists, and kill the project for good  – sign and share this with everyone now! 

Posted: 26 July 2013
It would be hard to make this stuff up. Australia’s legendarily irresponsible mining industry has a new plan: while the planet faces catastrophic climate change, build the world’s largest coal mining complex, and then build a shipping lane to that port straight through the greatest ecological treasure we have – the Great Barrier Reef!

This is a terrible idea with devastating consequences, and the investor group Aurizon that’s backing it know it. They’re getting cold feet, and we might be able to push them over the edge, and kill the project. One of the main potential funders has even donated to climate activism!

If one million of us express our head-shaking disbelief at this crazy project in the next few days, we can help get Aurizon to pull funding and maybe even persuade the Australian PM to step in. This is what Avaaz is for, let’s raise a voice for common sense!

World’s Oceans Face “Irreparable Damage” Rashid Sumaila: Global Ocean Commission gives world leaders a five-year window for intervention before overfishing and climate change negatively impact the world’s food supply, clean air, and climate

World’s Oceans Face “Irreparable Damage”
Rashid Sumaila: Global Ocean Commission gives world leaders a five-year window for intervention before overfishing and climate change negatively impact the world’s food supply, clean air, and climate stability –   July 6, 14



Dr. Rashid Sumaila is professor and director of the Fisheries Economics Research Unit in theFisheries Centre at the University of British Columbia. Sumaila has authored over 150 journal articles; including in Science and Nature and won awards including the 2013 American Fisheries Society Excellence in Public Outreach, the Stanford Leopold Leadership Fellowship and the Pew Marine Fellowship; and has given talks at the UN Rio+20, the WTO, the White House, the Canadian Parliament and the British House of Lords. He is the lead author on the ‘High Seas and Us’ report, commissioned by the Global Ocean Commission.

This Gorgeous Fish Just Might Save the Caribbean’s Dying Coral Reefs

This Gorgeous Fish Just Might Save the Caribbean’s Dying Coral Reefs

Parrotfish keep coral healthy by keeping them free of algae. If we want to restore reefs, we need to bring back the fish.

(Photo: Wild Horizon/Getty)



July 04, 2014

Richard Conniff is the author of The Species Seekers: Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth and other books.

When people talk about “keystone” species, they’re generally thinking about predators that shape the behavior of every other creature in their habitat, or about prey that serve as dinner for the entire neighborhood. But a new report on the collapse of coral reefs across the Caribbean is a reminder that entire ecosystems can depend on species that do little more than graze.

The report, Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs: 1970-2012, published by a consortium of global conservation groups, focuses on the 50 percent decline in Caribbean coral reefs over the past four decades. It concludes that protecting and restoring populations of two competing grazers—parrotfish and sea urchins—could be the key to saving what’s left of one of the most beloved and economically important seascapes on the planet.

Other studies have generally assumed that climate change and coral bleaching were the major causes of coral reef decline—and they are clearly a part of the problem. But “this study brings some very encouraging news,” says Carl Gustaf Lundin of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. “The fate of Caribbean corals is not beyond our control, and there are some very concrete steps that we can take to help them recover.”

Why on earth would a couple of humble grazers make such a big difference? In the past, relentless feeding by parrotfish and sea urchins on any form of plant life kept habitat open for corals and prevented algae from smothering them. “Perhaps the most striking aspect of plant life on a coral reef is the general lack of it,” marine biologist Sylvia Earle declared in a 1972 article about the Caribbean.

But Earle was describing what has become a “forgotten world,” according to the new report. That’s because a two-stage attack has dramatically altered the coral reef ecosystem. First, the uncontrolled human harvesting of parrotfish has driven this major coral reef grazer to the brink of extinction in many areas. Nobody recognized the devastating effect of this loss at first. Then, in 1983, the second stage of the attack hit: An unidentified disease killed off 97 percent of the remaining major grazer, the sea urchins. (They have begun to recover, but a 2011 study in Puerto Rico found that sea urchin densities were still substantially below what they had been before 1983.) Without these two main grazers, algae and large seaweeds proliferated—call it “the sliming of the Caribbean”—and corals declined.

The new report is the work of 90 experts who spent three years analyzing more than 35,000 surveys—including studies of corals, seaweeds, grazing sea urchins, and fish—conducted since 1970 at 90 locations around the Caribbean. Past studies of coral reef decline have generally looked only at the corals themselves. They also tended to lump together data from shallow lagoons and deep-sea reefs. The new report aimed instead to parse out the effects in distinct reef locations and consider the effects of multiple species.

To the surprise of the researchers, the healthiest remaining coral reefs turned up where there were still vigorous populations of grazing parrotfish. Those are mainly areas—like Bermuda, Bonaire, and the U.S. Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary—where governments have banned or restricted fishing practices that harm parrotfish, including spearfishing and the use of traps. Areas that failed to protect parrotfish—including Jamaica, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the entire Florida Reef Tract from Miami to Key West—suffered severe coral reef losses.

The report proposes a series of actions to slow or stop coral reef decline. They come down to a single basic idea: Bring back the grazers. But the Caribbean coral reefs span 38 separate and more or less quarrelsome countries, and getting them to act in unison will require a major effort. To encourage action, the report points out that coral reefs generate more than $3 billion a year for local economies from tourism and fisheries, and more than a hundred times that amount in other goods and services.

Maybe, though, acting in unison isn’t what it will take to deslime the Caribbean. The forward-thinking countries may just recognize that the coral reefs—and their grazers—are key to their economies and take action on their own. Barbuda, for instance, is now considering a ban on all harvesting of parrotfish and sea urchins, with one-third of its waters to be set aside as marine reserves.

Countries that act to restore their grazers are likelier to end up with the coral reefs, the tourists, and the money. But what about the other countries?

They’ll have the slime.