Thursday, January 29, 2009

Study: Climate change largely irreversible

From an article from NOAA:

A new scientific study led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)reaches a powerful conclusion about the climate change caused by future increases of carbon dioxide: to a large extent, there’s no going back.

The pioneering study, led by NOAA senior scientist Susan Solomon, shows how changes in surface temperature, rainfall, and sea level are largely irreversible for more than 1,000 years after carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are completely stopped. The findings appear during the week of January 26 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Our study convinced us that current choices regarding carbon dioxide emissions will have legacies that will irreversibly change the planet,” said Solomon, who is based at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo.

“It has long been known that some of the carbon dioxide emitted by human activities stays in the atmosphere for thousands of years,” Solomon said. “But the new study advances the understanding of how this affects the climate system.”

The study examines the consequences of allowing CO2 to build up to several different peak levels beyond present-day concentrations of 385 parts per million and then completely halting the emissions after the peak. The authors found that the scientific evidence is strong enough to quantify some irreversible climate impacts, including rainfall changes in certain key regions, and global sea level rise.


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Key committee votes to protect sea turtles in Gulf of Mexico

From a news release issued by Oceana:

Bay St. Louis, Miss. -- A key committee of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council voted today to protect sea turtles from the bottom longline sector of the Gulf of Mexico reef fish fishery. Specifically, the Reef Fish Management Committee requested that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) issue an emergency rule prohibiting longline gear in waters shallower than 50 fathoms for a five month period, effective as soon as possible. The five month emergency closure would protect sea turtles while NMFS develops a long-term solution.

Most of the sea turtles caught by the bottom longline sector of this fishery are loggerheads, a species listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA). "Under the ESA, immediate changes in this fishery must be taken to protect loggerhead sea turtles," said Elizabeth Griffin, marine wildlife scientist at Oceana.

According to recent Government data, nearly 1,000 sea turtles were caught by bottom longlines in this fishery in just 18 months. This is approximately eight times the federally authorized capture level for the entire fishery.

"If fishing was allowed to continue while a long-term solution is developed, hundreds more of this threatened species could be killed," said Dave Allison, senior campaign director at Oceana. "Today's decision is an enormous step in the right direction and now it's up to the full council."


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Saving leatherbacks in South America's smallest country, Suriname

From an article by Jeremy Hance posted on

After a year studying marine biology at Moss Landing Marine Labs, Liz McHuron headed off to the little-known nation of Suriname to monitor leatherback sea turtles. Her responsibilities included implementing a conservation strategy for a particular beach, moving leatherback nests in danger of flooding, and educating volunteer workers on the biology, behavior, and conservation efforts of the world's largest, and most unique, marine turtle.

I visited McHuron during her time at the beach of Galibi in Suriname; she proved to be the sort of scientist who refused to be deterred: breathtaking humidity or downpours, fer-de-lances on the beach or jaguars, Liz was always on the move, always working to aid the critically-endangered leatherbacks while studying them with the thoroughness inherit in a born scientist.

McHuron grew up in the Midwestern state of Minnesota, as she says "probably about as far as you can in US" from the ocean, she spent in Florida coasts, which began her journey to marine biology. While her career path is "competitive" and "requires a lot of work and determination" McHuron wouldn't have it any other way. Despite the large numbers of people drawn to marine biology, McHuron advises that if it's what you want to do than you should do it.

In her interview, McHuron emphasizes the unique qualities of leatherbacks, by pointing out that not only are they the largest marine turtle species in the world, they also travel the furthest: “they migrate thousands of kilometers from foraging grounds to nesting sites”. For example one individual has been clocked traveling from Indonesia to Oregon in a single year.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Wildlife Trust studies manatees in Belize

From the Edge of the Sea Aquatic Conservation Program of the Wildlife Trust:

The jewel of Central America, Belize boasts aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems that have captured the world’s attention. Belize is located southeast of Mexico on the Caribbean Sea, encompassing an area of about 9000 square miles. The largest barrier coral reef in the Western Hemisphere, measuring 185 miles in length, is found off the coast of Belize. Moving inland, the land rises to 3000 feet above sea level, and biologically diverse tropical forests cover large areas of the country.

Belize is one of the most important manatee sites in the world. The manatee population is estimated at about 1000 individuals. West Indian manatees (Trichechus manatus) inhabit rivers, lagoons, estuaries and coastal areas of tropical and subtropical regions of the northwest Atlantic Ocean from the southeastern coasts of the U.S. to Brazil. Belize is also home to the largest world population of two subspecies, the Florida manatee (T. manatus latirostris) and the Antillean manatee (T. manatus manatus). These large, plant-eating marine mammals are listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and as vulnerable to extinction by the World Conservation Union. To help ensure manatee survival, scientific studies aimed at understanding their biology are needed.

The aim of this study is to provide information to the relevant government and non-government organizations in Belize that will assist with the development of manatee conservation and management actions. Our research is also being used to develop practices that will ensure that ecotourism based on manatee viewing does not negatively impact this species in places such as Southern Lagoon. Our work is endorsed by the Belize Ministry of Natural Resources, Local Government and Environment.


Friday, January 23, 2009

Bahamas reserve protects marine life from resort developers

From an article by Juliet Eilperin in the Washington Post:

The Bahamas government has created a marine reserve off the island of North Bimini, preserving critical mangrove habitat and a shark nursery that had come under threat from a resort there.

The reserve, which will be protected from most fishing and other "extractive activities," is home to endangered species such as the Nassau grouper and the Bimini boa, as well as a vibrant nursery for lemon sharks.

The decision -- approved by the Bahamas cabinet Dec. 29 but announced last week -- is a setback for the Bimini Bay Resort and Marina, which has been clearing some of the island's mangroves to build a hotel, a golf course, a casino and two marinas, some of which have already been constructed.

Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham had initially considered establishing the reserve in the late 1990s, but his party lost power in 2002, and the development proceeded. Ingraham's party won back control in 2007.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

From the Pacific side of Costa Rica -- Fishermen save 4 leatherbacks

From a media release issued by PRETOMA:

(January 14, 2009 San José, Costa Rica) – Captian Rafael Fallas and his crew aboard the fishing vessel “Don Christopher”, based out of Playas del Coco, Costa Rica, have freed three female leatherback sea turtles and one male leatherback this season, all of which were snagged on fishing hooks. The selfless act of marine conservation has cost the captain and crew hours of their own time and money as they wrestled the massive reptiles onboard and untangle their shells and flippers from the fishing lines. Female leatherbacks can grow up to two meters in length and nest four to five times a season from October to March on the Pacific coast. They lay an average of 80-90 eggs per nest, meaning the time Captain Fallas and his crew took to release the snagged turtles will potentially yield over a thousand hatchlings this nesting season alone.

“Four leatherback turtles hooked in a single year, this is something I haven’t seen in a long time”, said a surprised Fallas, a veteran fisherman of more than 20 years. “Leatherbacks are only rarely caught nowadays, they are almost extinct, which is why we do everything we can to save these endangered animals and release them unharmed”, informed Fallas.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Rising seas a serious threat to N.C. coast, feds say

From an article by Wade Rawlins in the The News Observer (North Carolina):

With its long, low coastline and large land area less than 2 feet above sea level, North Carolina is among the states most vulnerable to sea-level rise, a new federal report warns.

The report, "Coastal Sensitivity to Sea Level Rise: A Focus on the Mid-Atlantic Region," focuses on the coastal states from North Carolina to New York where the rates of sea-level rise are moderately high. The region has extensive coastal development, a high population and is likely to be at increased risk.

After Florida and Louisiana, North Carolina and Texas have the largest land areas threatened by sea-level rise.

"You're vulnerable," said Jim Titus, project manager for sea-level rise for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and a lead author of the report. "The people whose land could be permanently submerged aren't even flooded today."

A rise in sea level increases the vulnerability of development in coastal floodplains and diminishes the rate at which low-lying areas drain. It will result in a loss of wetlands in the mid-Atlantic.

Rising temperatures cause ocean waters to warm and expand, like water heated in a tea kettle. In addition, rising temperatures near the poles cause massive ice sheets to melt, adding to the volume of water.

The report predicts that coastal erosion will occur at higher rates as sea level rises. Particularly in the sandy shore of the mid-Atlantic coast, the report says, it is nearly certain that barrier islands, spits and coastal headlands will erode faster because of sea-level rise. The Outer Banks area is particularly vulnerable.
A bit far the the Caribbean, granted, but predictions of coastal erosion will occurring "at higher rates as sea level rises" may have serious consequences for much of the greater Caribbean.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Algal bloom off Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

From a post on Earth Snapshot, hosted by Chelys:

Clearly visible from their bright green color, phytoplankton flourish in the Gulf of Mexico off the coasts of the states of Campeche (top) and Yucatan (bottom), in Mexico.

The bloom extends particularly far out into the gulf between the city of Campeche (the light brown spot along the shoreline, near the center) and Ciudad del Carmen near the Términos Lagoon (lower left).

Upon closer observation of the lagoon, a more intense, circular green algal bloom becomes evident on the northern end, as well as some brown sediments flowing out into the gulf on the southwestern end.
Algal blooms are not healthy for aquatic systems, as explained in a Wikipedia entry:
Algal blooms are the result of an excess of nutrients, particularly phosphorus. Excess carbon and nitrogen have also been suspected as causes, but research has shown that this is not the case. When phosphates are introduced into water systems, higher concentrations cause increased growth of algae and plants. Algae tend to out-compete plants under these conditions, and many plant species may begin to die. This dead organic matter becomes food for bacteria that decomposes it. With more food available, the bacteria increase in number and use up the dissolved oxygen in the water. When the dissolved oxygen content decreases, many fish and aquatic insects cannot survive. This results in a dead area.
Going to the original post and clicking to enlarge the photo makes the post's comments clearer.


Monday, January 19, 2009

Cargo ship plows into Belizian reef

From an article by Aaron Humes in Amandala (Belize):

A Netherlands-registered cargo ship and her crew are not going anywhere, at least not today, after running aground on a section of the Belize Barrier Reef, reportedly causing about $40 million dollars worth of damage to the reef. . . .

The point of grounding is 32 miles southeast of Belize City, 15 miles south of English Caye and just east of the southern end of Southern Long Caye, just inside the reef.

Early estimates are that the Westerhaven, which had stopped off in Belize to deliver general merchandise for Sea Borne Marine of Houston, Texas, U.S.A., and was headed for Santo Tomas, Guatemala, leveled a section of “healthy” coral reef some 100 meters long by 100 meters wide (119.6 square yards long by 119.6 square yards wide), destroying a total estimated area of over 10,000 square meters (approximately 11,959.9 square yards). Full measurements will come tomorrow. . . .

According to Chief Environmental Officer Martin Alegria, there has been a recent increase in the number of ships running aground on the reef, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the largest reef of its kind in the Western Hemisphere (second largest in the world behind Australia’s Great Barrier Reef), over the last three years.

In fact, Alegria told us, a ship ran aground on the reef elsewhere in Belize just two months ago. That case is scheduled to go to court.

Alegria told us that the Environmental Protection Act, Cap. 328 of the Laws of Belize, makes provision for criminal charges against those who destroy Belize’s environmental treasures such as the Barrier Reef, which protects Belize’s coastline from the more damaging effects of hurricanes, offers a sanctuary for marine life and contributes heavily to Belize’s tourism product.


Friday, January 16, 2009

REEF gears up for Nassau Grouper aggregation research

From the newsletter of REEF:

REEF scientists, volunteers and collaborators will be in the Cayman Islands next month for the 8th year of the Grouper Moon Project. Thanks to a three-year grant awarded last year by the Lenfest Ocean Program of the Pew Charitable Trusts, REEF has greatly expanded the critical conservation research conducted as part of this study of Nassau grouper spawning aggregations.

We will have teams on all three of the Cayman Islands conducting field research as part of the project, “The reproductive biology of remnant Nassau grouper stocks: implications for Cayman Islands Marine Protected Area (MPA) management”. The Little Cayman team will continue the long-term visual monitoring of the large aggregation located there. Work on Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac will focus on studying the remnant aggregations that remain on these islands after years of fishing. There is currently a harvest ban in effect for all aggregations in the islands. This ban is set to be lifted in 2011 unless the extension of the protections are warranted.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Groups demand protection from longlines for sea turtles off Florida's west coast

A bridge made from illegal derelict longline gear collected inside "protected no fishing" marine waters of Cocos Island National Park, Costa Rica, demonstrates the strength of the lines and the amount in the sea.

From a media release posted on the Web site of the Caribbean Conservation Corporation:

SAN FRANCISCO — A coalition of conservation groups notified the federal government's National Marine Fisheries Service today of their intent to sue if the agency does not act immediately to protect imperiled sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico. The groups' action comes after fisheries observer data revealed that the Gulf of Mexico bottom longline fishery, which targets reef fish like grouper and tilefish, resulted in the capture of nearly 1,000 threatened and endangered sea turtles between July 2006 and the end of 2007. The coalition asks that the commercial bottom longline fishery be suspended until the National Marine Fisheries Service meets its legal obligations under the Endangered Species Act to ensure that the fishery does not imperil sea turtles and other threatened species in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Allowing this fishery to continue to kill threatened and endangered turtles while the government studies the problem is irresponsible and illegal. It's like refusing to turn off a leaking gas valve when you're trying to put out a house fire. The law and the science are clear: These animals have to be protected right now,” said Andrea Treece, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.

Of particular concern for the groups are loggerhead sea turtles, which accounted for 799 of the 974 captured turtles in the government analysis. This is more than three times the number of loggerheads the Service authorized the fishery to take in 2005 and may well jeopardize the species. Loggerhead nesting populations in Florida have dropped by over 40 percent over the past 10 years. The large number of juvenile and reproductive adult turtles injured or killed by the bottom longline fishery is likely contributing to this steep decline.

“It's devastating to think about all the hard work and progress we've made safeguarding Florida's loggerheads and their nesting beaches being destroyed by this rampant level of take,” said David Godfrey, executive director of the Florida-based Caribbean Conservation Corporation. “We must stop and reassess the impacts of this fishery before it's too late.”

The Gulf of Mexico bottom longline fishery operates primarily off the west coast of Florida, an area that also provides key habitat for several sea turtle species, including loggerhead, Kemp's ridley, and green turtles. Bottom longline gear generally consists of a four- to 10-mile-long mainline made of steel cable or monofilament with up to 2,100 hooks. Sea turtles are caught on the lines when they attempt to eat the bait from hooks or become entangled when swimming near a line. Unable to surface for breath, they suffer injury or death.

Contacts for more information:
David Godfrey, Caribbean Conservation Corporation, (352) 373-6441
Andrea Treece, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 436-9682 x 306
Sierra Weaver, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 772-3274
Steve Roady, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500
Cynthia Sarthou, Gulf Restoration Network, (504) 525-1528 x 202
Carole Allen, Turtle Island Restoration Network, (281) 444-6204

Photo credit: (c) Todd Steiner, Sea Turtle Restoration Project/Marine Photobank


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Blue Vision Summit set for March in Washington, D.C.

From a blog entry by MarineBio's Vice president and Editor, Joni Lawrence:

The Blue Vision Summit will be held on March 7-10, 2009 in Washington D.C. This Summit will bring a range of people engaged in ocean conservation and its sustainable use together around three themes:

+ To influence President Obama and Congress to take leadership actions on the ocean;
+ To Address Climate Change impacts on the Ocean; and
+ To highlight Solutions to marine threats that are working from the local to the global level.

The Summit will include a night with top ocean explorers, two days of meetings and discussions, two evening celebrations and a Capitol Hill day that will provide an opportunity for people to meet with their elected representatives.

Join up to 500 ocean leaders including new NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco (invited, waiting Senate confirmation), White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley (invited, waiting Confirmation), Representative Sam Farr and other members of the House Ocean Caucus, Sylvia Earle, Philippe Cousteau, Leon Panetta, Ralph Nader, Actor Ted Danson (invited), Author Bill Mckibben, California Secretary of Resources Mike Chrisman, Senators Barbara Boxer and Sheldon Whitehouse (invited), Sherman’s Lagoon Cartoonist Jim Toomey, “Arctic Tale,” Director Adam Ravetch, Terry Tamminen, Ocean Rower Roz Savage and many other dedicated ocean defenders from sea to shining sea.


Monday, January 12, 2009

Everyone can submit reports on coral health of Mesoamerican Barrier Reef

From a post on NOAA's coral listserve by George Stoyle (MSc), Head of Coral Research & BleachWatch Regional Coordinator, Utila Centre for Marine Ecology, Bay Islands, Honduras:

A new Website has been launched to encourage individuals, tourism operators, organisations and fishermen to submit regular reports of coral reef health throughout the Mesoamerican region. The primary aim of the site is to provide information and education regarding bleaching events, detect early stages of coral bleaching events over a wide geographic range, and to use coral bleaching as a means to communicate the broader impacts of climate change on the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef.

As well as providing general information regarding coral reef ecology the website also allows simple data entry via an online reporting system. This will form the basis for an early warning system to allow researchers to locate areas where reefs are experiencing changes, make in-depth analyses, locate resistant areas, and document recovery or mortality.

Reef users throughout Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras are strongly encouraged to submit regular reports, even if they do not see bleaching, so we can begin to build up an overview of bleaching events throughout the region.

The website address is


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Akumal's 50th Anniversary Celebration



We want this event to draw visitors from all over the Riviera Maya and Cancun that are staying at other destinations , as well as to draw visitors to Akumal to stay at all of the various rental properties in all the bays. The focus will be on anyone that enjoys a Festival, loves Akumal, or wants to get to know Akumal. It is for new visitors, repeat visitors, friends and family.

It is also for the Pueblo of Akumal to be able to enjoy the various festivities and activities, as well as to have added exposure for the businesses of the Pueblo that are geared towards tourism.

The Festival will commemorate the history of Akumal starting in 1959 when Pablo Bush Romero headed the first CEDAM expedition to the Matanceros Shipwreck.

Guest will arrive on May 29th so nothing is scheduled that day or night.

Tentative schedule of events goes as follows:

May 30th 6:30pm- 10pm
Opening Ceremony – Keynote speaker ( to be selected)
A Latin Dance Exposition by the Local Schoolchildren
Theme: A Taste of Akumal
All restaurants and businesses from both the Pueblo and Akumal beach side that want to participate will set up their booths while Latin music is played with a DJ, and people can buy services, products , food, and drinks from the various vendors. This is an opportunity for all non-profit associations to set up a booth also.

Each table will have a cost and the proceeds split between CEA and the Akumal United Fund of the Akumal Development Council.

SPORTS - Tennis Tournament, Fishing tournament, Triathlon, Diving Event ( dates to be decided) Part of the proceeds to be donated to CEA and THE AKUMAL UNITED FUND equally.

PABLO BUSH ROMERO MUSEUM – Location: The Lolha Game Room. We will house part of the artifacts from the Museum in Puerto Aventuras.(No entrance fee)

The book “Under the Waters of Mexico” by Pablo Bush Romero will be for sale here. (All week) Part of the proceeds will be donated to CEA and the PABLO BUSH ROMERO SCHOLARSHIP FUND.

PHOTOGRAPHIC DISPLAYS - Location: CEA INFO CENTER will house AKUMAL IN PICTURES. Anyone wanting to display their pictures of Akumal will be able to do so. Ask your repeat guests to participate! (All week) No entrance fee.

I would like to also have someone interview some of the long time residents of Akumal Pueblo and Akumal Beach side so guests can hear their stories along with some pictures. This could be in the form of a video presentation.

SPEAKER SERIES – Talks will be no more than 25 minutes with audio visuals. Any subject pertaining to exploration or ecology of the area. Speakers need to be invited. Example: caving, archaeology, CEA programs, anthropology. (I will have an audio visual presentation on some movies and pictures that my father left pertaining to The early days of Akumal and the Matanceros Wreck.) Donation box will be put out for CEA and Akumal United Fund.
Time: Late afternoon before dinner, dates to be decided

Each restaurant will be able to slot in a time and date for any special event they wish to promote during this week. Live Music, Special dinner menus, etc, so as not to conflict with each other. In this way, our guests can go from event to event and not miss out on anything. Each business can decide if they would like to donate any of the proceeds to the two causes designated as benefactors of the Festival. It is not mandatory.

June 6th – If we can get a sponsor for this event, the idea is to hire a top latin band to play at the Cancha area. An MC will give a message to bring the week’s festivities to a close. The idea is not to charge if we can get funding for this.

Logistics and Notes
Anyone can sell commemorative items with their own logo. No specific logo has been developed for the event. If we can get someone to design a logo at no charge, we can have everyone add it to the items they sell, e.g., T shirts, bags, caps, etc.

A special limited edition replica of a Matanceros Cross is being designed by Richard Mazzola and we will be selling them with part of the proceeds going to CEA.

Now comes the good part!

I need to hear back from everyone right away. The success of this Festival is dependent on how much interest and volunteers I get to chair each event. This is a community based festival, everyone will benefit from the exposure that Akumal will get in the press . The Riviera Maya Association is very interested in helping us with the marketing efforts.

Please take the time to fill out the Questionnaire I will send separately. I would like to have them all back in a few days if possible!


Laura Bush Wolfe


Friday, January 9, 2009

Puerto Rico expands coastal reserve

Beach at San Miguel Natural Reserve. Photo credit NOAA.

From an article by María Miranda Sierra posted on Caribbean Net News:

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico: On the 15th anniversary of a million-gallon oil spill that damaged the coastline of Puerto Rico, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and various other organizations are celebrating the purchase of 152 acres to expand a coastal reserve near one of the areas hardest areas hit by the spill on the north eastern part of the island.

NOAA, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and the Trust for Public Land announced Wednesday that 152 acres east of San Juan have been added to the San Miguel Natural Reserve to help compensate the public for lost recreational beach use and injured natural resources for an extended period after the Berman Oil Spill on Jan. 7, 1994.

The purchase of this land expands the San Miguel Natural Reserve to 422 acres, an area the size of 317 football fields, and contributes to a multi-year effort to create the Northeast Ecological Corridor, one of the Caribbean’s last great unprotected areas.


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Loggerhead nesting in Florida down by nearly half in 10 years

From a story on Central Florida News 13:

BREVARD COUNTY -- Loggerhead sea turtle nesting in Florida has dropped 41 percent the last 10 years, according to new numbers from Florida Fish and Wildlife.

The largest concentration of loggerheads in the U.S. is in Brevard County, at the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, south of Melbourne Beach.

Since 1998, the loggerhead population has dropped from near 60,000 to less than 30,000 in 2008.

Though there was a spike in the population last year, Florida Fish and Wildlife said not to be fooled by those numbers, as the trend was that the numbers were dropping.

Researchers said they were not sure what was causing the population drop, saying that it could be anything from lights on the beach to beach erosion projects, or even something far out to the sea over which the state has no control.
From an account by Kirsten Dahlen, who took the photo, says that the nesting loggerhead was disoriented by street lights:

I received a call . . . about an adult sea turtle trying to cross the road on Pensacola Beach. As a sea turtle expert responsible for much of the sea turtle nesting and stranding on Santa Rosa Island, I had to respond. A beach resident helped me drag this 300 pound animal (on a tarp) off the street, over the dunes and back to the Gulf beach. She was lucky to be discovered before morning rush hour!
Photo credit: Kirsten Dahlen 2008/Marine Photobank.


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

How big is your plastic footprint?

Froman article by Wallace "J." Nichols in the Oregon Statesman Journal:

. . . what's your plastic footprint?

You know what I mean — the amount of disposable plastic stuff your lifestyle generates over the course of a day, a week, a year.

Plastic stuff that you may use for a few seconds or minutes then discard into the bin, sending it off into the world where it lasts essentially forever.

A small fraction gets recycled into low grade plastic things, but then lasts forever in that form.

Full disclosure: my plastic footprint is adult-sized. I bring my own bag, avoid drinks in plastic bottles, shun Styrofoam and generally work hard to shrink my plastic consumption.

But what goes into the recycling bin still amazes me. And the unrecyclable stuff bugs me even more.

Food containers, wrappers, tabs from glass bottles. And all that stuff that still slips into the house or was sent to us by others — kindly gifted by the uninitiated.

I guard the perimeter of our household against attacks by random plastic toys, styrofoam packaging and bubble wrap. But it still gets in. Then there are the pen caps, doll shoes and unidentified parts and pieces to previously fun playthings. We have a useless stockpile of them in our house, just like yours.

The thing is, these same items show up on remote El Salvadorian sea turtle beaches, in the stomachs of dead albatrosses on Midway Island and on river banks around the world.

It's the flotsam and jetsam of our modern lives. And there are literally millions of tons of it swirling around out there being eaten by wildlife, breaking into ever smaller pieces and just sinking to the bottom of the ocean.

So, here's what we need to do. Consider your plastic footprint every time you touch anything plastic.

This isn't about getting completely bummed out or laying a major guilt trip on yourself (maybe just a little one) as the holiday plastic consumption frenzy consumes the world. It's about thinking this problem through and making smart changes to how we live.

Living like we love the ocean, because we do.

Ocean protection groups like Save Our Shores and Surfrider are hard at work removing plastic from our beaches and riverbanks, limiting the new stuff by championing polystyrene bans and taxes and launching clever "bring your own bag" awareness campaigns. But we all have to help too.

Here's how:

1. Alternatives to plastics are on the way and many biodegradable and reusable items that work as well or better than their plastic counterparts are on the shelves now. When you see them, choose them over plastic. When you don't see them, ask for them.

2. Use non-disposable items when possible and reuse plastic items when there is no alternative: buying used toys, baby gear and sports stuff will save you money and put what you do spend in your neighbor's pocket.

3. Talk about it with your kids, friends and strangers. Friends don't let friends use disposable plastic — it's so 2008.
Nichols is a research associate with California Academy of Sciences and founder/co-director of


Friday, January 2, 2009

Population explosion of sharpnose puffers

Photo credit: Paola van der Bent, posted on the Web site of the Coral Reef Alliance (

Several people on the coral list serve of NOAA asked about an explosion of the population of sharpnose puffers in the Caribbean.

The discussion started with this post:

I was wanting to post about the huge population increase I have noted in the waters of Roatan Honduras. As a full time dive instructor here for the last five years the last six months I have observed an increase of 300-400% in
the abundance of this fish.

Anyone know why or what it may indicate?

Will Welbourn, Course Director and Director of Roatan Marine Park
Others added their observations:
I add to Will's report. Snorkel sites around Turneffe Atoll, Belize are filled with sharpnose puffers which have increased in the past 4 months approximately. They can be found dead at many sites, are easy to catch and have even become annoying, intruding in transect tapes and rebars.

Just two days ago on a trip to Lighthouse Reef I observed the same thing, so recruitment must have been widespread. Any other possibilities? Does anyone know it's main predators? Cheers, Katherine
And another report came from Akumal:
Hello all,
We (at UNAM and CEA Akumal) also observed an increase on shaprnose puffer some weeks ago but it was followed by a massive mortality from Akumal to Puerto Morelos, Quintana Roo, México. We documented the fact by counting death or dying fishes on the beach. Has anyone else seen this sort of mortality?
Biol. Erika Díaz-Almeyda
Unidad Académica Puerto Morelos
Instituto de Ciencias del Mar y Limnología, UNAM
The post below by Dr. John Ogden seems to offer a satisfactory explanation of the population boom:

My guess is that sharpnose puffers have the same type of recruitment as Bill Gladfelter and I observed for balloonfish (Diodon holocanthus) many years ago in St. Croix. The larvae are pelagic for a long larval life, up to a year. During this interval; they slowly gather into huge schools of many thousands of individuals (about 3cm long) which then recruit en mass to whatever coastal region is favorable within the time frame of development. The area then becomes completely flooded with recruits which gradually disperse and are preyed upon. You could call this a sort of 17-year locust type of recruitment.

It would be interesting to see if others have observed this type of recruitment which may be more common than we know.

Want to post?
Ed Blume, a volunteer for Centro Ecológico Akumal (CEA), moderates the blog. Anyone wishing to post can contact Ed at

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