Best of our wild blogs: 20 Feb 11

Was the tree damage at Mandai Forest really a carnage?
from Otterman speaks

Pulau Semakau (19 Feb 11)
from teamseagrass

Rainbow over Semakau
from wonderful creation

Abandoned driftnet on Pulau Semakau
from wild shores of singapore

Spotted Doves in territorial dispute
from Bird Ecology Study Group and Stork-billed Kingfisher’s fishy antics

Wonderful Company @ Mount Faber Park
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora

110218 Venus Drive
from Singapore Nature and 110219 Bukit Timah Summit Trail

Botanical Gardens: Birds & Critters
from Trek through Paradise

Plenty to see at Chek Jawa
from Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

Green Jobs in Singapore [14 - 20 Feb 2011]
from Green Business Times

Is Climate Change a National Security Issue? Talk on 3 March 2011 (3pm to 4.45pm) by General (Ret.) Paul Kern, Jr from Low Carbon Singapore

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Forest trampling threatening Rafflesia habitat

Antara 19 Feb 11;

Bengkulu, Bengkulu province (ANTARA News) - Trampling activity in Bukit Daun register 5 Protected Forest in Kepahiang and Central Bengkulu district is endangering the habitat of the rare flower species, Rafflesia Arnoldi, an observer said.

"Trampling in the protected forest keeps occurring as there is no supervision by the authorities posing a threat to the existence of the rare flower Rafflesia arnoldi," a spokesman of the Rare Flower Conservation Forum, Tebat Monok Holidin, said here Saturday.

According to Holidin, of the 14,610 hectare area of Bukit Daun Protected Forest, only four hectares of Rafflesia habitat were still in good condition.

In the four-hectare area which is rugged and protected by the the forum, the rare flower can be easily found as it could not be transformed into plantation area, while the other flat lands had been turned into coffee plantations.

Therefore, the rare flower was more often found on a cliff of the forest than on the ground as the host plants, liana sp, were plenty on the cliff, Holidin said.

The rare flower conservation forum which has 7 members has been 5 years protecting the host plants from deforestation, Holidin said.

"The Bukit Daun Protected Forest and Taba Penanjung Conservation Area are actually the habitat of the host plants but deforestation is getting worse and made the hosts hard to find," Holidin said.

Moreover, A blossoming Rafflesia at kilometer 52 of Bengkulu-Kepahiang Distirct was found on a forest cliff with a 60-degree angle, Holidin said, adding that there was another flower bud, at a size of a soccer ball, that was predicted to fully blossom one month from now. (*)

Editor: B Kunto Wibisono

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Malaysia: Damage by floods in last few years runs into billions

Hamdan Raja Abdullah The Star 20 Feb 11;

PAGOH: Floods in the last several years damaged public and private properties worth billions of ringgit, Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said.

He said the cost of repairing and upgrading damaged public infrastructure alone was estimated at nearly RM200mil.

“The Cabinet last week approved an immediate allocation of RM50mil to repair some of the roads damaged by the recent floods.

“At the same time, it has directed the Works Ministry to look into raising the level of stretches of roads which are regularly cut off by floods,” he said after receiving aid from 27 companies for flood victims in Pagoh yesterday.

Muhyiddin said the Cabinet would also look into ways to finance a flood mitigation project along the Muar River to mitigate floods in Muar and Segamat.

He said the Finance Minister would look into the appropriate financing schemes to implement the project which was expected to cost RM1bil.

He said he was informed by Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Douglas Uggah Embas that the plan and design for the project were ready and the first phase could go ahead.

Muhyiddin added that the Drainage and Irrigation Department had drawn a detailed plan to deepen and straighten the river, including along the upper reaches in Segamat.

He said the department also planned to build several small dams to control water flow during flood seasons.

He said although the proposed project would be costly, it was still viable as the damage caused by floods in the long term would be much higher.

Muhyiddin, who is also Pagoh MP, said he was grateful to caring companies, organisations, associations and volunteers for sacrificing money, time and energy to help in the rescue and relief operations in the area.

Malaysian Government To Speed Up Deepening Of Muar River To Check Floods
Bernama 19 Feb 11;

MUAR, Feb 19 (Bernama) -- The government is to expedite a project to deepen and straighten the Muar River to reduce the occurrence of floods in Muar and Pagoh, Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said Saturday.

He said the project, which was expected to cost more than RM1 billion, was awaiting funds from the Finance Ministry.

"The Finance Ministry is looking at the best way to fund the project," he told reporters after receiving contributions from several companies for distribution to flood victims in his parliamentary constituency of Pagoh.

He said he was informed by Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Douglas Uggah Embas that the plan and design for the Muar River flood mitigation project were ready and the first phase could go ahead.

Pagoh is one of the areas in Johor worst affected by floods recently, resulting in 15,036 people evacuated to 43 relief centres.

Muhyiddin said several interested parties had submitted proposals on the funding of the project and the Finance Ministry would study them and make a decision.

He also said he had been informed that the total cost of flood mitigation in Johor would come up to RM4 billion.

Muhyiddin said flood mitigation projects had to be speeded up because the flood-caused damage borne by the government and the people ran into billions of ringgit.

He said the Works Ministry required RM189 million to upgrade roads as well as repair roads damaged and washed away by the recent floods.

The Cabinet had approved a preliminary allocation of RM50 million to the ministry, he added.

Muhyiddin said efforts to enable flood victims return to normal life were also important and asked financial institutions to make it easier for them to repay their loans.

Bank Negara could instruct the financial institutions to restructure the loans, he added.


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Not in Vain: Roadkill Yields Valuable Clues Yahoo News 19 Feb 11;

The smallish, dark-shelled Western pond turtle is California's only freshwater turtle, and its declining numbers have earned it the designation as a species of special concern.

As a biologist, Patricia Bratcher, knew how to recognize one — but it was too late as her car ran over it one day. "It was a baby, about an inch long, and it was travelling across the road, probably from one drainage to another," Bratcher said.

Pond turtles don't produce many young, so under other circumstances, Bratcher would have welcomed a sighting of one. But hitting an animal is heartbreaking, she said. And in a car-dependent nation, it is a common experience.

"For many years, I wondered if someone is studying this. If you drive as much as I do and you use areas where you have a lot of roadkill, it is very disheartening," said Bratcher, a staff environmental scientist at the California Department of Fish and Game. Now — mostly in her spare time — Bratcher is among nearly 600 people who record roadkill and contribute the information to a statewide database, the California Road Kill Observation System.

Valuable data

In August of 2009, Fraser Shilling, co-director of the Road Ecology Center at the University of California, Davis, launched the system on which anyone who hits an animal or encounters it after the fact is able to record its species and location. While a number of the top contributors, like Bratcher, are biologists, a background in science is not a requirement. Maine has a similar system, run by Maine Audubon.

As of Wednesday (Feb. 16) evening, the system contained about 10,700 observations from 572 observers. California is home to an estimated 650 native vertebrate species that spend either all or part of their life cycles in the state. As of the end of January, 266 of these species have shown up in roadkill observations that cover only about 5 percent of the state's public road network, Shilling said.

"What that makes me suspect is if we were to survey all roads and highways, we would find that all or the vast majority of native vertebrates are being killed on our roads and highways," he said.

Shilling sees several purposes for the system. Tracking roadkill can help reveal why it happens in order to prevent the fatalities, and provide a better understanding of the animals and where they live. But as a so-called citizen scientist project that accepts contributions from anyone, regardless of academic credentials, the effort also has a less-quantitative mission.

"It is, strangely enough, a way for people to connect to our environment and especially to what we are doing to our environment," Shilling said.

Human safety is also an issue. Collisions with deer are particularly dangerous. The first year of data from the observation system indicates that collisions with deer peak in fall and late spring.

Eyes on the road

"I have always been interested in roadkill. People think, 'Oh my God, what a freak, some kind of scary bio Goth kid,'" said Douglas Long, a prolific roadkill observer. As a biologist and chief curator of the department of natural sciences at the Oakland Museum of California, Long has credentials backing up his interest. "As somebody that is interested in wildlife, roadkill is one way to be able to see and identify wildlife."

As a child, Long would ask his parents to stop the car, so he could get a better look.

"You could see the intricacies of the fur and the feathers, you could see the features of these animals that you couldn't really understand in a book and couldn't really see in the wild," he told LiveScience. "It isn't a ghastly, ghoulish thing to do. It was part of my learning and my understanding and my appreciation."

Roadkill is frequently a source of specimens for natural history museums, he pointed out.

"There's really nothing that can't be identified, if you get down and look at it," Long said. "It's like somebody who is a forensic detective, there is always going to be something that gives you an answer."

The collision of human development and wildlife factored into a natural resources management plan that Peter Maurer, a planner for El Dorado County, Calif., was working on and he became interested in contributing to the project on his own time, including during 300-mile drives to northern California.

"I am the kind of person who likes to tally things. As a kid I used to mark down how many different license plates and from how many different states," Maurer said. "I do a lot of driving solo, you get sort of bored in the car. I find myself really looking for roadkill."

Four California seagulls lying on the side of the Interstate 5, far from the ocean, were one of the most unexpected sights he's seen. Maurer speculates they were swarming near a rest area when a truck hit them.

What's missing

The 10 species most frequently spotted as roadkill are, in order of frequency: Raccoons, skunks, ground squirrels, deer, opossums, western gray squirrels, barn owls, desert cottontail rabbits, black-tailed jack rabbits and coyotes. All of these animals can live near or in rural landscapes, and some are comfortable near suburbia or agriculture, Shilling said.

But rarer, or less likely, animals show up too. Twice, at the same spot in Redding, Calif., Bratcher has found dead river otters, and Long has seen California sea lions that had been hit by cars. (They observed these roadkills before the observation system was in place.)

The no-shows can also be significant, Shilling said. For instance, the system so far does not include any reports of fishers, a member of the weasel family. If this doesn't change, it could mean these animals are avoiding roads. But in a state crisscrossed by them, avoiding roads could cause the populations to become isolated where interbreeding could make them more vulnerable to other threats.

For practical reasons, observers often identify animals from their car windows, but this raises the possibility that many small things, particularly amphibians and reptiles, go uncounted.

John Cleckler, a contractor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, remembers finding the "crispy" remains of a California tiger salamander. It is classified as vulnerable because of its declining numbers.

"Soft-bodied animals don't last very long," he said.


In California and elsewhere in United States and the world, people are trying to help animals, like the salamanders, get safely to the other side. In Alameda County, Calif., for example, tunnels under construction would create passages for the salamanders beneath traffic. Fencing along the sides of the road would guide the salamanders to the tunnels' openings, Cleckler said.

Like other observers, Cleckler is hopeful that the data collected through the observation system will lead to solutions like this one.

"Everyone has a visceral reaction when they see a splattered carcass," Cleckler said during a telephone interview. "I sort of think if I record this animal's location and death, maybe it wasn't in vain."

Shilling suggests a less expensive, but less likely solution than tunnels or overpasses.

"The main thing that causes it, is vehicles going too fast and not being able to avoid the collision," he said. "I know it's impractical to try to get people to slow down, but the reality is that's the main thing that is wrong."

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Plastic fantastic! Carrier bags 'not eco-villains after all'

Unpublished UK Environment Agency research shows polythene may be less harmful than cotton or paper
Martin Hickman, The Independent 20 Feb 11;

Unpublished government research suggests the plastic carrier bag may not be an eco-villain after all, but – whisper it – an unsung hero. Hated by environmentalists and shunned by shoppers, the disposable plastic bag is piling up in a shame-filled corner of retail history. But a draft report by the Environment Agency, obtained by The Independent on Sunday, has found that ordinary high-density polythene (HDPE) bags are actually greener than supposedly low-impact choices.

HDPE bags are, for each use, almost 200 times less damaging to the climate than cotton hold-alls favoured by environmentalists, and are responsible for less than one-third of the CO2 emissions of paper bags given out by retailers such as Primark.

The findings suggest that, in order to cancel out the tiny impact of each lightweight plastic bag, consumers would have to use the same cotton bag every working day for a year, or use paper bags at least three times rather than sticking them in the bin or recycling. Most paper bags are used only once, and one study assumed cotton bags were used only 51 times before being discarded, making them – according to this new report – worse than single-use plastic bags.

However, despite being commissioned in 2005 and scheduled for publication in 2007, the research has not been released to the public. Officially, the Environment Agency says the report, Life Cycle Assessment of Supermarket Carrier Bags, by Dr Chris Edwards and Jonna Meyhoff Fry, is still being peer-reviewed. However, it was submitted to the peer-review process "more than a year ago". The Environment Agency does not have a date for its publication, except to say that it will be soon.

The report set out to find out which of seven types of bags have the lowest environmental impact by assessing pollution caused by extraction of raw materials, production, transportation and disposal. It found that an HDPE plastic bag would have a baseline global warming potential of 1.57kg CO2 equivalent, falling to 1.4kg if reused once, the same as a paper bag used four times (1.38kg CO2e). A cotton bag would have to be reused 171 times to emit a similar level, 1.57kg CO2e.

The researchers concluded: "The HDPE bag had the lowest environmental impacts of the single-use options in nine of the 10 impact categories. The bag performed well because it was the lightest single-use bag considered."

The 96-page report comes amid an ongoing controversy over plastic bags and plans in Wales to introduce a 5p plastic bag tax in October.

Six billion plastic bags are used in the UK annually, and there is no doubt that they cause environmental problems and that reusing them reduces the harm. However, the new report suggests that if shoppers switch to alternatives, they have to use those time and time again to be greener.

Barry Turner, chief executive of the Packaging and Films Association, which represents plastic bag manufacturers, suggested the report had been "suppressed". "They [the Environment Agency] have kept it fairly quiet and tried to suppress things," he said. "It was a report that could have been done relatively quickly, but it has gone on for years. If these are the conclusions they have arrived at, it wouldn't really surprise me. It was buried because it didn't give the right answers. It doesn't support the political thrust at the moment."

The Environment Agency denied the report had been suppressed. "The initial draft went to the review panel just over a year ago but they have not been constantly engaged in the review," a spokesman said. "Also we amended the report after the comments from the first review and then the revised report was resubmitted to them last summer but, because it was a panel and because of their other commitments, it has taken them some time to complete." Asked whether the draft findings had been seriously challenged, he said the reviewers had "questioned some aspects of the original draft, although much was about emphasis and balance".

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Kew scientists lead fight to save orchids from extinction

Global team to freeze seeds from 2,000 species
Jonathan Owen The Independent 13 Feb 11;

British scientists are leading efforts to set up a network of orchid seed stores around the world in an attempt to conserve thousands of species of some of the world's most beautiful flowering plants.

A research team from London's Kew Gardens is co-ordinating the Orchid Seed Stores for Sustainable Use [Osssu] project, which will see scientists from dozens of countries contribute to a five-year, £2m programme to protect at least 2,000 orchid species by 2015.

Philip Seaton, the Osssu project manager, said the flowers provide an important warning of ecosystems in crisis: "Orchids are indicator species: if forests are in trouble then orchids will be one of the first things to go."

There are more than 20,000 orchid species, one in eight of the world's flowering plant species. About a quarter of these are at risk of extinction, according to Professor Hugh Pritchard, Osssu's project leader based at Kew's Millennium Seed Bank, in Wakehurst Place, Sussex. "This is about helping to establish a network of orchid seed banks around the world in an attempt to save the species," he said.

The project stems from a grant given by the British government in 2007 to develop seed banks in biodiversity hotspots in Latin America and Asia. Countries such as Ecuador, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, China, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines have already agreed plans to conserve seeds. Even so, only around 250 species have been stored so far.

Their seeds are so tiny that a cluster of thousands can resemble a large pinch of dust. To protect them they will be dried and stored at 20C below zero in banks of freezers. These will keep them in suspended animation, allowing scientists to use them decades from now. Some shorter-lived orchid species will require storage in liquid nitrogen, at -196C.

The drive to protect thousands more species is an insurance policy against growing threats of deforestation and climate change, as well as the damage done by collectors digging plants up for profit.

And researchers will track the rates at which species germinate and grow, with seeds monitored for signs of deterioration and samples grown "in vitro" – on a nutrient-rich "goo" called Knudson C. There are also plans to also collect samples of the pollen and fungi that the individual species need to flower in the wild.

The Osssu network aims to grow to 30 countries, with India, the US, Italy, Canada, Kenya and Cameroon among those poised to come on board. The project will be showcased at the fourth annual International Orchid Conservation Congress, being held in the Czech Republic at the end of May.

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Scotland's wild salmon face 'calamity' from trade deal with China

Deadly parasites found in fish farms will pose greater risk to wild fish if production soars because of Chinese deal, conservationists warn
David Sharrock The Observer 20 Feb 11;

China's appetite for Scottish farmed salmon is threatening dwindling stocks of sea trout and wild salmon, according to conservationists.

A new trade agreement was signed last month with the Chinese vice-premier, Li Keqiang, by Scotland's first minister, Alex Salmond, who boasted that "even if 1% of the people of China decide to eat Scottish salmon, then we'll have to double production in Scotland".

But the prospect of a massive increase in farmed fish production has horrified defenders of Scotland's depleted indigenous wild salmon and sea trout runs.

Now Salmond has also been accused of laying the Scottish government open to the charge that it is in effect "supporting repression". China is halting the import of farmed salmon from Norway in retaliation for the Nobel peace prize being awarded to imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. Not that it will make much difference: many of the larger farmed salmon enterprises in Scotland are Norwegian-owned.

The charges against the Scottish first minister have been made by Andrew Flitcroft, editor of Trout and Salmon magazine. "The implications of increasing significantly, let alone doubling, farmed salmon production in Scotland are simply terrifying," Flitcroft writes. "Surely it is recklessly irresponsible to contemplate any increase without first rectifying the dire existing problems."

Those problems are principally caused by sea lice, which are threatening to spiral out of control, destroying not just fish farm stocks but further damaging wild fish and the angling tourism industry of the western Highlands.

The size of the Chinese market for fresh Atlantic salmon is estimated at more than 10,000 tonnes a year, having grown considerably over the past decade. Scotland is the second largest salmon-producing country in the world, after Norway, and exports have grown by 500% in the past 20 years. Salmon now makes up 40% of Scottish food exports.

But can that success be sustained? The answer is no, according to Flitcroft. "Marine cages of hundreds of thousands of farmed salmon are breeding grounds for millions of sea lice; these parasites feed on the mucus, tissue and blood of their farmed salmon hosts. The companies employ a range of measures using highly toxic chemicals to combat the lice, in order to reduce the damage and stress caused to their captive hosts."

The young wild fish, known as smolts, which migrate from the rivers to the sea each spring, cannot cope with more than the odd louse yet now must run the gauntlet past the fish-farm cages on their migration routes. They are "ambushed" by the unnaturally high concentrations of lice. The attachment of more than 10 lice is almost invariably fatal. The fish are literally eaten alive, although death is usually hastened by secondary infections, which gain access through open wounds made by the grazing lice.

"This is the environmental calamity that the salmon farming industry and Scottish government is so determined to deny," says Flitcroft. "And make no mistake, there is no such thing as 'sustainable' farmed salmon, no matter what the evocative packaging on the supermarket shelves tries to convey."

Figures from the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency show that, over the past five years, fish farmers have used an increasing amount of veterinary chemicals – some rising by as much as 163% – designed to kill sea lice living on farmed fish. Over the same period, salmon production has grown by 11%.

Guy Linley-Adams, an environmental lawyer employed by the Salmon and Trout Association, said: "There are examples of farms that were unable to control their lice problem and as a result the fish were culled early."

But the Scottish government denies that there is a problem and said that the increasing use of sea lice medicines was "not in itself necessarily a matter for concern". This has prompted angling interests to make an official complaint to the European commission over what they claim is the Scottish government's failure to protect wild salmon.

The report by Linley-Adams, acting for the owners of the rights to Ullapool river in Wester Ross, details alleged government failures to designate an appropriate number of west coast Scottish rivers as special areas for conservation for the protection of wild Atlantic salmon under the European commission's habitats directive. The complaint also details the threats posed by salmon farming to two existing special areas: Little Gruinard, in north-west Ross-shire, and Loch Langavat on the Isle of Lewis.

Linley-Adams said: "The problems of the salmon farming industry are not new to anyone and have been known about for the best part of 20 years. The failure of the Scottish government to get to grips with the industry and ensure that it does not damage the wild Atlantic salmon and sea trout of the west coast and western isles is nothing short of a disgrace. European law requires member states to protect wild Atlantic salmon."

A Scottish government spokesman said: "These remarks are simply ill-informed, both about the situation in Scotland and about the relationship between Scotland and China.

"We have taken considerable steps to protect our wild salmon, with extensive investment to support conservation. Salmon stocks have stabilised following declines going back 50 years – well before fish farming became established in Scotland. Similar declines have been detected on both sides of the Atlantic.

"Scottish salmon farming is fully regulated and we have a framework in place to address fish health and minimise escapes, while developing better scientific understanding of interactions between farmed and wild fish. Thanks to these measures, escaped fish numbers are at an all-time low."

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Scientist finds Gulf bottom still oily, dead

Seth Borenstein, Associated Press Yahoo News 20 Feb 11;

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, 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.

Gulf spill's effects 'may not be seen for a decade'
Jason Palmer BBC News 21 Feb 11;

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill "devastated" life on and near the seafloor, a marine scientist has said.

Studies using a submersible found a layer, as much as 10cm thick in places, of dead animals and oil, said Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia.

Knocking these animals out of the food chain will, in time, affect species relevant to fisheries.

She disputed an assessment by BP's compensation fund that the Gulf of Mexico will recover by the end of 2012.

Millions of barrels of oil spewed into the sea after a BP deepwater well ruptured in April 2010.

Professor Joye told the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Washington that it may be a decade before the full effects on the Gulf are apparent.

She said they concluded the layers had been deposited between June and September 2010 after it was discovered that no sign of sealife from samples taken in May remained.

Professor Joye and her colleagues used the Alvin submersible to explore the bottom-most layer of the water around the well head, known as the benthos.

"The impact on the benthos was devastating," she told BBC News.

"Filter-feeding organisms, invertebrate worms, corals, sea fans - all of those were substantially impacted - and by impacted, I mean essentially killed.

"Another critical point is that detrital feeders like sea cucumbers, brittle stars that wander around the bottom, I didn't see a living (sea cucumber) around on any of the wellhead dives. They're typically everywhere, and we saw none."

Organisms on the seafloor stimulate the activity of micro-organisms and oxygenate the sediments, two tasks at the bottom of the aquatic food chain that will inevitably have longer-term effects on species nearer the surface - including the ones we eat.

Professor Joye noted that after the Exxon Valdez spill, it took several years before it became clear that the herring industry had been destroyed.

As such, she disagrees with the assessment in February, by the administrator of BP's $20bn (£12bn) compensation fund, that the Gulf of Mexico will have recovered from the spill by the end of 2012.

"The Gulf is resilient," she said.

"I do believe that it will recover from this insult, but I don't think it's going to recover fully by 2012.

"I think it's going to be 2012 before we begin to really see the fisheries implications and repercussions from this."

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Hudson River Fish Evolve Toxic PCB Immunity

Anne Minard National Geographic News 17 Feb 11;

Bottom-feeding fish in the Hudson River have developed a gene that renders them immune to the toxic effects of PCBs, researchers say.

A genetic variant allows the fish to live in waters notoriously polluted by the now-banned industrial chemicals, and distinguishes the fish—Atlantic tomcod (Microgadus tomcod)—as one of the world’s fastest evolving populations.

"This is very, very ra­­­­­­­­­­­­pid evolutionary change," said Isaac Wirgin, an environmental toxicologist at New York University’s School of Medicine, and the study's lead investigator. "Normally you think of evolution occurring in thousands to millions of years. You’re talking about all this occurring in 20 to 50 generations maybe.”

The study appears in the Feb. 18 online issue of Science.

Toxic River, Oblivious Fish

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, were first introduced in 1929 and were used in hundreds of industrial and commercial applications, mostly as electrical insulators. They were banned 50 years later, but they don’t simply degrade. Partly because of PCB contamination, a 200-mile stretch of the Hudson River is the nation’s largest Superfund site.

The 10-inch Atlantic tomcod has thrived despite the exposure to PCBs, and levels of the chemical in the livers of these fish are among the highest reported in nature. But until now, scientists have never understood how they survived PCB exposures that kill most other fish.

“Exposure of fish embryos to PCBs in the lab causes the heart to be smaller, to not beat properly,” Wirgin said. He and his colleagues suspected the fish harbored some sort of protection. They spent four years capturing tomcod from contaminated and relatively clean areas of the Hudson River during the winter spawning season.

Lightning-Fast Evolution

It turns out the fish sport a handy modification to a gene encoding a protein known to regulate the toxic effects of PCBs and related chemicals, called the aryl hydrocarbon receptor2, or AHR2.

The fish are missing six base pairs of DNA of the AHR2 gene, and the two amino acids each triplet would code for. PCBs bind poorly to the mutated receptors, apparently blunting the chemicals' effects.

The adaptation occurs almost universally in Hudson River tomcod, but crops up only infrequently in two other tomcod populations—in Connecticut’s Niantic River and the Shinnecock Bay at Long Island’s south shore. The fact that it exists at all in those nearby populations leads the researchers to believe the Hudson Bay tomcod had the mutation at least to a low degree before the PCB onslaught. In a classic case of natural selection, the fish with the mutated genes survived.

“They were getting blasted with chemicals all of a sudden,” Wirgin said, “and the early life stages are so sensitive. If they didn’t have a mechanism to deal with this, it’s likely the population would have been extirpated.”

Achilles’ Heel?

General Electric released about 1.3 million pounds of PCBs into the Hudson River from 1947 to 1976, and bears most of the responsibility for the cleanup.

Following highly controversial wrangling throughout the past decade, GE conducted a year’s worth of experimental dredging in 2009. The EPA studied the risks from resuspended contaminants and decided cleanup is the best option. Dredging will resume this spring and will last for at least six years.

Cleanup might not be best for tomcod, Wirgin said. That’s because evolutionary theory predicts a genetic mutation like theirs could render them compromised in some other area of their biology, and perhaps not well adapted to life without PCBs.

But it’s likely to be a boon for the Hudson’s predatory fish that are less likely to have an adaptation to PCBs—and are therefore gravely at risk from a diet of tomcod.

This story is part of a special National Geographic News series on global water issues.

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New Idea to Reduce Global Warming: Everyone Eat Insects Yahoo News 19 Feb 11;

There is a rational, even persuasive, argument for voluntarily eating insects: Bugs are high in protein, require less space to grow and offer a more environmentally friendly alternative to the vertebrates we Westerners prefer, advocates of the bug fare say.

However, this topic is not a hotbed of research, so while some data exist — in particular on the protein content of insects — there are some assumptions built into the latter part of this argument.

"The suggestion that insects would be more efficient has been around for quite some time," said Dennis Oonincx, an entomologist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. He and other researchers decided to test it, by comparing the greenhouse gas emissions from five species of insects with those of cattle and pigs.

The results, Oonincx said, "really are quite hopeful."

Untapped potential

For much of the world, eating insects — officially called entomophagy — is neither strange nor disgusting nor exotic. In southern Africa, Mopani worms — the caterpillars of Emperor moths — are popular snacks. The Japanese have enjoyed aquatic insect larvae since ancient times, and chapulines, otherwise known as grasshoppers, are eaten in Mexico. But these traditions are noticeably absent in Europe and European-derived cultures, like the United States.

Insects' nutritional content, small size and fast reproduction rates have also made them appealing solutions to problems traditional agriculture can't solve. For instance, a task force affiliated with the Japanese space agency has looked to insects like silkworms and termites as a self-replenishing supply of fats and amino acids for astronauts on extended missions.

For children from 6 months to 3 years of age, low calories and low protein are the main causes of death, about 5 million a year, according to Frank Franklin, a professor and director of pediatric nutrition at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Protein from insects could offer a less expensive solution if processed into a form similar to Plumpy'Nut, a peanut-based food for those suffering from malnutrition, he said.

Franklin embraced the arguments for entomophagy after learning about it roughly a year ago.

"The more I looked at it, the more it made incredible sense that this would be an important nutritional advance that is only going to bring back what has probably been there since the primitive man," he told LiveScience.

The comparison

A 2006 report by the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization blamed the livestock sector for a sizable portion of humans' greenhouse gas emissions – 9 percent of our carbon dioxide emissions (much of this originates in changes in land use), 37 percent of our methane and 65 percent of our nitrous oxide emissions.

Oonincx and his colleagues used two important livestock animals, pigs and cattle, and compared existing data on their emissions of these greenhouse gases, plus ammonia, with data they collected from five species of insects: mealworms, house crickets, migratory locusts, sun beetles and Argentine cockroaches. The latter two species are not considered edible, at least not directly. Their taste is just not good, Oonincx said, however, protein extracted from them could be added to foods.

To quantify the animals' greenhouse gas footprints, the team measured the five insects' growth rates and their production of the greenhouse gases and ammonia — also a pollutant but not a greenhouse gas. They compared these to data already available on the cattle and pigs' growth rate and the rates at which they emitted the same pollutants.

Cattle produced the least carbon dioxide per unit of body mass. However, the picture changed once growth rate was considered. The data indicated that insects grow more rapidly, and they emit less carbon dioxide per unit of weight gained than do cattle and pigs. The cockroach was the clear winner in this latter category; meanwhile, cattle produced the most carbon dioxide per pound (or kilogram) gained. [The Truth about Cockroaches]

The insects generally produced less methane, nitrous oxide and ammonia both per unit of body mass and per unit of mass gained than pigs or cattle.

"It proves the hypothesis that insects can be a more efficient source [of protein], and I definitely believe there is a future for edible insects," Oonincx said. "It may not be as the animal as such but regarding protein extraction there is a lot to be learned and a lot to be gained."

Solving the livestock problem

There are strategies that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with raising livestock but these improvements can't bring about reductions necessary to meet emissions targets intended to curb global warming, write the authors of a paper published in the medical journal the Lancet in November 2009.

Their solution: a 30 percent reduction in livestock production, and therefore, a drop in meat consumption. This would mean diets with less saturated fat and fewer premature deaths caused by heart disease, they write. (The researchers note that not everyone needs to reduce meat consumption; agriculture produces enough fat, protein and other nutrients to feed all of us, but food isn't distributed equally, resulting in malnutrition and starvation in some places.)

A policy that reduces our hamburgers and barbeque is likely to encounter resistance, one of the authors, Alan Dangour, of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, acknowledged. However, so will a push to switch to insects, he told LiveScience in an e-mail.

"It is clearly worthwhile investigating alternative sources of high-quality protein," Dangourwrote. "However, the practical barriers to eating insects (in Westernized societies) are extremely large and perhaps currently even likely to be insurmountable."

David Gracer, an American advocate for entomophagy who co-organized a conference on the subject in December, welcomed the findings.

"It is wonderful to see science showing the world that what is instinctively apparent is actually factually correct," Gracer said. "The point is that most scientists in Western nations are too busy ignoring this subject to go ahead and take it seriously, and as soon as people do so, the experiments simply reinforce what we already assumed was true."

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Global warming could spur toxic algae, bacteria in seas

Karin Zeitvogel Yahoo News 20 Feb 11;

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Global warming could spur the growth of toxic algae and bacteria in the world's seas and lakes, with an impact that could be felt in 10 years, US scientists said Saturday.

Studies have shown that shifts brought about by climate change make ocean and freshwater environments more susceptible to toxic algae blooms and allow harmful microbes and bacteria to proliferate, according to researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

In one study, NOAA scientists modeled future ocean and weather patterns to predict the effect on blooms of Alexandrium catenella, or the toxic "red tide," which can accumulate in shellfish and cause severe symptoms, including paralysis, in humans who eat the contaminated seafood.

"Our projections indicate that by the end of the 21st century, blooms may begin up to two months earlier in the year and persist for one month later compared to the present-day time period of July to October," said Stephanie Moore, one of the scientists who worked on the study.

But the impact could be felt well before the end of this century -- as early as 2040, she said at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

"Changes in the harmful algal bloom season appear to be imminent. We expect a significant increase in Puget Sound (off the coast of Washington state where the study was conducted) and similar at-risk environments within 30 years, possibly by the next decade," said Moore.

In another study, NOAA scientists found that desert dust, which contains iron, deposited into the ocean from the atmosphere could lead to increases of harmful bacteria in the seawater.

Researchers from the University of Georgia found that adding desert dust to seawater significantly stimulated the growth of Vibrios, a group of ocean bacteria that can cause gastroenteritis and infectious diseases in humans.

"Within 24 hours of mixing weathered desert dust from Morocco with seawater samples, we saw a huge growth in Vibrios, including one strain that could cause eye, ear and open wound infections, and another strain that could cause cholera," said Erin Lipp, who worked on the study.

The amount of iron-containing dust deposited in the sea has increased over the last 30 years and is expected to continue to rise, based on precipitation trends in western Africa that are causing desertification.

Rising precipitation in some parts of the world and lack of rain in other parts has been blamed on climate change by some experts.

Global warming has also been blamed for rising ocean temperatures, and "a warming ocean, which we know is happening, increases the likelihood of disease that affects both wildlife and humans," NOAA administrator Janet Lubchenco told AFP.

Unhealthy oceans impact not only human and animal health but also affect countries' economies, said Lubchenco, noting that US coastal states are home to eight in 10 Americans and generated 83 percent of US GDP in 2007.

Last year, Americans got a stark reminder of the key role played by marine ecosystems in their lives and livelihoods when a BP deepwater well ruptured in the Gulf of Mexico, sending millions of barrels of oil spewing into the sea waters and crippling the region's tourism and seafood industries.

President Barack Obama for a $2.9 million funding increase for NOAA in his 2012 budget to establish an oil spill research and development program to provide "useful information, methods and tools for prevention, response and assessment of oil spill impacts," noted Lubchenco.

NOAA also wants to consolidate its climate change services into a single office, but the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted Saturday to slash funding to the agency, putting many of its programs in jeopardy.

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