Environment & Weather
The World's Waters Are Becoming Corrosive to Critical Marine Life. Is Time Running Out to Save our Oceans? PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Environment & Weather
Written by E - The Environmental Magazine   
Wednesday, 23 May 2012 12:36

The oceans do a lot of the Earth's dirty work. On a given day, they will absorb 22 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), a third of the global output. In doing so they help to keep climate change in check, but they also pay a heavy toll as a result.

Increasing levels of carbon in the ocean are making the water more acidic, and that's beginning to have an impact on shellfish, corals and some of the tiniest shell-making marine organisms that are essential to the ocean food web. The June 2012 issue of E - The Environmental Magazine (now posted at www.emagazine.com) takes a closer look at the phenomenon of "ocean acidification," the process by which levels of CO2 are rising, changing the chemistry of the ocean, and the ways this is impacting sea creatures on which mankind depends.

Shellfish farmers in Washington and Oregon were some of the first to sound the alarm about ocean acidification. In 2006, hatchery-produced oyster larvae began to die off, despite their controlled and monitored environments. The two largest oyster hatcheries -- which supply seedling to the majority of West Coast oyster farmers -- lost between 60% and 80% of their larvae. Through ocean monitoring, the farmers discovered that the pH had fallen enough to make the water too corrosive for the oysters to form shells.

Once the problem was identified, shellfish farmers were able to take precautions -- such as waiting to fill tanks following a north wind when upwelling causes corrosive water to rise to the surface. But in the open ocean, there are no quick fixes for ocean acidification.

"A lot of things we like to eat have these calcium carbonate shells and they're very sensitive to acidification," says Richard Feely, Ph.D., a senior scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and its Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL). "Just a small drop in pH can cause the shells to begin to dissolve. It turns out that for many of these species, the larval and juvenile stages are much more sensitive than the adults. And we're finding that they can die off quite rapidly even with the kinds of changes that we're seeing right now."

One of the most serious threats posed by ocean acidification is to corals -- marine animals that need carbonate ions to form their skeletons. During ocean acidification, CO2 sinks into the water and releases hydrogen ions which combine with carbonate ions, making them unavailable to the shell- and exoskeleton-making creatures that need them.

"There have been a lot of studies showing that under ocean acidification scenarios corals and other organisms on the reef calcify at a slower rate," says Davey Kline, Ph.D., a coral reef ecology expert at the University of Queensland in Australia. "Even with just a little less growth, the corals can be tipped into these situations where they're getting eroded faster than they can grow and the reefs start to dissolve."

Coral reefs are already at risk from pollution, development, overfishing and warming waters as a result of global warming. Ocean acidification may be the final stressor that pushes them into extinction. The most recent report on reef health -- Status of Coral Reefs of the World: 2008 -- found that 19% of coral reefs were already lost, 15% were in a critical state with loss possible within a decade or two, and 20% could be lost in 20 to 40 years. "If we continue on the trajectory that we're currently at," says Kline, referring to unchecked global emissions, "we will lose reefs as we know them."

The impacts of a world without reefs would be profound. The estimated net global value of reefs is $29.8 billion per year, and reefs provide essential work in protecting shorelines from storm damage, providing a home to one million species and offering new sources of medicine to treat everything from cancer to arthritis.

There are certainly local solutions, including designating marine protected areas to at least minimize the stresses on coral reefs in light of global warming and ocean acidification. But any major solution to keeping ocean acidification from further threatening our oceans and its inhabitants needs to involve a global agreement for keeping emissions in check -- something that, despite the warning signs, seems oceans away.


E - The Environmental Magazine distributes 50,000 copies six times per year to subscribers and bookstores. Its website, www.emagazine.com, enjoys 150,000 monthly visitors. E also publishes EarthTalk, a nationally syndicated environmental Q&A column distributed free to 1,850 newspapers, magazines and websites throughout the U.S. and Canada (www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/thisweek). Single copies of E's May/June 2012 issue are available for $5 postpaid from: E Magazine, P.O. Box 469111, Escondido, CA 92046. Subscriptions are $19.95 per year, available at the same address.

Secretary Vilsack to Hold Media Conference Call on Mississippi River Basin Water Quality and Wetlands Projects PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Environment & Weather
Written by USDA Communications   
Wednesday, 23 May 2012 07:54

WASHINGTON, May 21, 2012—TOMORROW, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will host a media conference call to announce investments this year in financial and technical assistance for five water quality and wetlands improvement projects in seven Mississippi River Basin states. When fully implemented, the projects will prevent sediment and nutrients from entering waterways, decrease flooding and improve bird and fish habitat. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service estimates that this investment will restore 11,400 acres to wetland habitat.


USDA works with state, local, and Tribal governments and private landowners to conserve and protect our nation’s natural resources – helping preserve our land, and clean our air and water.  President Obama launched the America’s Great Outdoors initiative in 2010 to foster a 21st century approach to conservation that is designed by and accomplished in partnership with the American people.  We are working to better target conservation investments: embracing locally driven conservation and entering partnerships that focus on large, landscape-scale conservation.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

1:45 p.m. EDT


WHO: Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture

WHAT: Media conference call on Lower Mississippi River Basin Water Quality and Wetlands Projects.

EPA Launches Competition for College Students to Develop Innovative Approaches to Stormwater Management PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Environment & Weather
Written by Ernesta Jones   
Friday, 18 May 2012 14:04

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is launching a new design competition called the Campus RainWorks Challenge to encourage student teams on college and university campuses across the country to develop innovative approaches to stormwater management. Stormwater is a major cause of water pollution in urban areas in the U.S., impacting the health of people across the country as well as tens of thousands of miles of rivers, streams, and coastal shorelines, and hundreds of thousands of acres of lakes, reservoirs, and ponds. The competition will help raise awareness of green design and planning approaches at colleges and universities, and train the next generation of landscape architects, planners, and engineers in green infrastructure principles and design.


Student teams, working with a faculty advisor, will submit design plans for a proposed green infrastructure project for their campus. Registration for the Campus RainWorks Challenge opens September 4, and entries must be submitted by December 14, 2012 for consideration. Winning entries will be selected by EPA and announced in April 2013. Winning teams will earn a cash prize of $1,500 - $2,500, as well as $8,000 - $11,000 in funds for their faculty advisor to conduct research on green infrastructure. In 2013, EPA plans to expand Campus RainWorks by inviting students to design and complete a demonstration project assessing innovative green infrastructure approaches on their campus.


“Reducing stormwater pollution requires innovative approaches and America’s college students are incredibly creative and talented,” said Nancy Stoner, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Water. “The Campus RainWorks Challenge will engage students across the country in tackling one of the toughest challenges to clean water and show them the opportunities in environmental careers.”


EPA is encouraging the use of green infrastructure as a solution to help manage stormwater runoff. Green Infrastructure uses vegetation, soils, and natural processes to manage stormwater runoff at its source and provide other community benefits, including economic development.. Green infrastructure is increasingly being used to supplement or substitute for single-purpose “gray” infrastructure investments such as pipes, and ponds. The Campus RainWorks Challenge will help encourage the use of green infrastructure projects on college and university campuses to manage stormwater discharges.


More information on the Campus RainWorks Challenge:


Dancing Polar Bear World Record PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Environment & Weather
Written by Sierra Club   
Wednesday, 16 May 2012 09:02

One Million for the Arctic

One Million Voices for the Arctic

Right now, Shell Oil drillships are on their way to the Polar Bear Seas in America's Arctic. These seas are home to polar bears, walruses, whales, and seals, and a spill there would be disastrous.

We have one last chance to stop this dangerous drilling. More than a million people have expressed their opposition to Shell's drilling plans, and today we're delivering their messages to President Obama -- and flooding the White House with calls.

Add your voice by calling the White House now.

Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Receives High Marks from Visitors PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Environment & Weather
Written by Claire Cassel   
Wednesday, 16 May 2012 08:56

Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin ─ An overwhelming percentage of visitors to Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge  2010 and 2011 were favorably impressed with its recreational opportunities, education and services, according to a peer-reviewed government survey released today. Some 90 percent of respondents gave consistent high marks to all facets of their refuge experience.

The survey, commissioned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and designed, conducted, and analyzed by researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey, evaluated responses from more than 200 adult visitors surveyed at the refuge between July 2010 and November 2011. Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge was one of 53 national wildlife refuges surveyed.

The National Wildlife Refuge System, managed by the Service, is the nation's premier system of public lands and waters set aside to conserve wildlife and wildlife habitat. Refuges protect thousands of species; more than 400 also are open to the public and popular recreation sites, noted for their hunting and fishing, paddling and hiking, environmental education programs and wildlife observation. More than 45 million people visited national wildlife refuges in 2011.

Some surveyed visitors (14%) reported they had only been to the McGregor District stretch of the refuge once in a 12 month period while most (86%) reported they were repeat visitors with multiple visits.  These repeat visitors reported they had visited the refuge an average of 23 times during that same 12-month period.

Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge was established in 1924 as a breeding place for migratory birds, game animals, fur-bearing animals, fish and other aquatic mammals. The 261 miles of marshes, wooded islands and floodplain forest provides homes and resting spots for countless numbers of fish and wildlife

"One of our respondents said that [visiting the refuge] "is a once in a lifetime experience that words cannot do justice." For those of us living along this river refuge we realize what a treasure we have right here in the heartland of America.  A place where conservation efforts allow wildlife to thrive and visitors can appreciate their wildlife heritage, “said Refuge Manager Kevin Foerster.

Of survey participants,

•           92 percent reported satisfaction with recreational activities and opportunities;
•           79 percent reported satisfaction with information and education about the refuge;
•           72 percent reported satisfaction with services provided by refuge employees or volunteers; and
•           84 percent reported satisfaction with the refuge’s job of conserving fish, wildlife and their habitats.

Some survey participants also volunteered enthusiastic comments, such as this one: “Refuges make me aware that I am a part of the American experience and not just an observer. Nowhere else do I feel such a deep sense of connection with the land, the plants, and the wildlife. Visiting a refuge is truly a spiritual experience.”

Among the most popular refuge activities visitors engaged in were wildlife observations, bird watching, photography, hiking and auto-tour-routes.  Most visitors also reported viewing refuge exhibits, asking information of staff or volunteers and visiting a refuge gift shop or bookstore.

USGS social scientist Natalie Sexton was the lead researcher on the report. The survey is available at http://pubs.usgs.gov/ds/643/


The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.


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