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pollution

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What Does the US Election Mean for Our Oceans?

The oceans are subject to the whims of national policy, and yet they know no borders. Being poor ocean stewards here in the US could cause serious problems all over the world, as well as affecting the smidgeon of blue we can see from our shores. In this post, I outline a few ideas about how America’s new political landscape might affect ocean science and the future health of our global oceans .

Deep Water Horizon (Source: www.slate.com)

Microbes: The original organic cleaning agents

Natural and human caused leakage of oil into the environment is commonplace throughout the world. Scientists are learning how microbes (microscopic organisms) can break down this oil and use it for energy. By understanding these processes, we will be able to determine the short and long-term environmental impacts, as well as use these organisms to help us clean up after a major spill.

Fig. 3. Entangled Sea Turtle. Source: NOAA.

Let’s Ghost Fishing for Halloween!

Ghost fishing is ghastly because it creates underwater graveyards for wildlife. The authors covered here wrote a new review of gear entanglement among mammals, reptiles, and sharks. Find out what they discovered by reading today’s post!

Caption: The graph above shows signals (peaks) produced when PAHs are related compounds are detected using a gas-chromatograph/mass spectrometer (GC/MS). The red line shows the peaks found when researchers only looked for 64 known PAHs, and the blue line also includes all of the related compounds in the sample that the researchers didn’t specifically target. Source: Gonzalez-Gaya et al., Nature Geoscience 2016.

Beyond CO2: Chemical Consequences of Our Love Affair with Fossil Fuels

Our world relies heavily on the burning of biological materials such as wood or fossil fuels to harness energy. While we all know that carbon dioxide (CO2) is a harmful byproduct of burning fuel, it’s not the only chemical formed during this process. These chemical byproducts may play a bigger and more complex role in the chemistry of our world than we had previously thought. In this study, researchers traveled the world collecting air and water samples from three different ocean basins to learn more about the unknown chemical consequences of burning fossil fuels on a massive scale.

Figure 1. Healthy coral reef (Source: Zak Kerrigan)

Coral Microbiome Health: There’s no probiotic yogurt for that

Coral reefs are essential to the overall health of the planet. Comprised of tiny, individual animals, these massive ecosystems contain as much biological activity as that of human crop production. By studying the microscopic organisms living within these corals, scientists can predict when a reef may be under threat from serious diseases before it is too late, preventing loss of vast stretches of this incredibly important ecosystem.

Fig 1: Marine debris on the beach at Green Island in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Author: Keeley Belva, NOAA. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kure_debris_440.jpg

To I.D. Debris: LIDAR as a tool to identify trash on the beach

Scientists may have a new option for figuring out how much debris litters our beaches and what it all is! Find out more in today’s World Oceans Day post on marine debris!

Svalbard Archipelago, Norway --- Polar Bear Mother and Cubs on Sea Ice --- Image by © Jenny E. Ross/Corbis

What’s in the Hair of a Polar Bear?

The accumulation of toxic methylmercury is a serious threat to wildlife all over the world – especially top predators in polar regions, like polar bears. Young polar bears are often the most vulnerable to detrimental effects of pollutants. To learn more about levels of mercury in polar bear cubs and their mothers, scientists measured total mercury content in samples of hair from bears in Western Hudson Bay.

Pretty, isn't it? "The Blue Marble" photograph of Earth, taken when the Apollo 17 mission travelled to the moon in 1972. This picture is featured on the official Earth Day Flag. [Wikimedia]

Go Green for Earth Day!

Do Mother Nature a solid with these helpful tips & tricks to go green today!

Image 5: A wide array of plastic fragments found in a freshwater river.

A Million Little Pieces….of plastic

Trillions of tiny plastic fragments are floating in the Earth’s ocean. These microplastics can attract organic pollutants, be ingested by marine organisms, and even end up in table salt. This Earth Week post gives a broad introduction to microplastics and examples of how we can all help to reduce this problem!

Seafood

Blue New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions are a great way to work towards being the person you want to be. This year, why not be a little bluer? Along with the rest of the Oceanbites writing crew, I’ve put together a list of suggested New Year’s resolutions that positively impact our troubled oceans, along with links to posts we’ve published this year that address the marine issues you’d be helping to solve!

Microplastics for Dinner

Please Pass the Plastic

Tiny shards and fibers of plastic termed “microplastics” accumulate in seafood with unknown consequences for human health. Now, they’re turning up in a product even more difficult to avoid: Researchers in Shanghai recently found microplastics in table salts bought from supermarkets across China.

zooplankton

Plankton are eating plastic!

Zooplankton, the tiny animals that make up the base of marine food webs, are ingesting microplastics. Given the widespread abundance of microplastics in the ocean, this finding could have serious ramifications for zooplankton and their predators.

Earth

Wake-up Call: Global Oceans in Big Trouble!

Our global oceans are in a state of crisis. A new report from the WWF paints a bleak picture: human interference has pushed the oceans to the brink of collapse. The health of marine organisms and the habitats they live in have become severely threatened by compounding factors such as pollution, overfishing and increased CO2 input. This situation is urgent and requires global awareness and swift action. The ocean is changing at a rapid pace before our eyes and we can no longer waste time.

Figure 2: Concentrations of toxic pollutants per gram of dried phytoplankton at each sampling location. Higher bars indicate greater total concentrations of POPs in plankton.

Tiny ocean creatures play a big role in the global fate of toxic pollutants

Scientists on the “biggest ever expedition on global change” studied the tiniest creatures in the ocean to learn about their role in accumulating and distributing toxic pollutants in the world’s oceans.

The slimy hagfish: not your typical fish. (Source: phys.org/news/)

The Secret’s in the Slime

Scientists have recently discovered that the hagfish’s notorious slime has uses beyond defense: it also mediates uptake of toxins through the hagfish’s skin.

Image: © EPFL Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

Out of sight, out of mind: The effect of gas & oil spills on deep-sea communities

When undersea wells blowout, toxic concentrations of hydrocarbons can be rapidly released into the environment. The media presents these blowouts with dramatic images of flora and fauna covered in black tar along coastlines and on the sea surface. What are rarely shown in glossy photographs, however, are the consequences to the unseen deep-sea.

Fig. 1. Microplastics. The penny can provide a sense of scale for how small these are! These are from the Great Lakes “Garbage Patch” but similar types and sizes are in the oceans. Both freshwater and marine ecosystems are at risk. Photo credit: 5gyres. Photo source: http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/2013/04/12/new-concerns-about-plastic-pollution-in-great-lakes-garbage-patch/

Corals consume microplastics! Talk about an unhealthy diet!

The dangerous diet fad among marine organisms is spreading! New study shows corals consume microplastics.

We Don’t Know the Half of It: Hundreds of Contaminants in Dolphin Blubber from Southern California

Dolphins and humans are continuously exposed to low levels of various halogenated, persistent manmade pollutants through their diets. In this study, blubber samples from 8 dolphins were analyzed by cutting-edge techniques to find out what’s accumulating in these marine predators. Findings suggest many routine monitoring programs underestimate the exposure of marine mammals to toxins.

"Roundup Ready technology" is a form of herbicide-resistant crop developed by Monsanto (MonsantoBlog.com)

Measuring “Roundup” in the Great Barrier Reef

Scientists estimated the degradation time for glyphosate, an herbicide in “Roundup”, in the Great Barrrier Reef. This is the first study of the persistence of glyphosate in seawater.

Smooth dogfish (Mustelus canis) is a common shark species along the US eastern seaboard, long considered a “trash fish” because of its high abundance and low commercial value (Source: Wikipedia.org)

Cartilaginous Conundrum: Are Sharks and Skates Safe to Eat?

While smooth dogfish may not be on your list of favorite seafood, cartilaginous fish (mainly sharks and skates) may increasingly find their way onto your dinner plate due to the decline of more traditional fisheries. While increased demand for these species as a food item could help struggling seafood industries, recent proposals to use dogfish in federal food programs beg the question: Is it safe to eat shark?

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