Environmental News Archive

An almost weekly update of environmental news, particularly marine updates, with occasional splatters of transportation, indigenous, ideas of sustainability and sustainable development from around the world.

15.8.05

News Review for Week August 1 - 7, 2005

Alaskan people tell of climate change
August 7, 2005 (BBC Radio - By Kate Bissell)
For the past 20 years climatologists and ice and atmosphere scientists have been working in Alaska studying climate change.
Now they have discovered a rich new source of records extending their knowledge back by decades through the oral history of native Alaskans.
Barrow is the most northerly town in the United States, lying 300 miles inside the Arctic Circle.
And 92-year-old Bertha Leavitt is its oldest inhabitant.
"When I was a child", she says, "it was so much colder and the winds in winter used to be fierce." She remembers her elders telling in their stories that the weather was going to change. And since her childhood she believes this has come true.
In a land where not just the rivers but also the sea freezes over, it is impossible not to be aware of the seasons.
The ice in the arctic is getting much thinner, locals say
Barrow whaling captain Percy Nusunginya has particular reason to be alert to change. Each autumn and spring his crew ventures out on the ice to fish at air holes. He says that working out on the Arctic Sea has become very dangerous.
"Nowadays ice conditions are thinner than in the 1970s and 80s. The ice used to be 20 to 30 feet thick but now it is more like 10 feet thick. But what can we do? Sometimes I feel sad but we just have to go with what we have got.
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How whaling ban made life hard for hungry orcas
August 6, 2005 (New Scientist)
IT SAVED the whales, but the ban on commercial whaling may have inadvertently jeopardised the future of other sea mammals such as otters and seals.
Researchers suggest the ban has forced some killer whales to change their eating habits, with unexpected effects. Orcas feed on a range of sea mammals, but for hundreds of years had easy pickings in the carcasses of harpooned whales tied to the sides of whaling boats. When that went, however, orcas might have shifted their focus to smaller mammals.
Randall Reeves at Okapi Wildlife Associates in Hudson, Canada, and Hal Whitehead at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, searched through historical literature and ship logbooks dating back to the 1700s.
They uncovered ample evidence of killer whales eating caught baleen whales - especially the tongue, a killer whale "delicacy". They also calculated the live whale biomass available for killer whales to eat throughout the 20th century, and the amount of whale carcasses.
Large whale carcasses from hunting fell from more than 60,000 per year to almost none during the 1970s. Since then, stellar sea lion populations in the Aleutian Islands off Alaska crashed and northern sea otter populations declined, suggesting that killer whales had turned to smaller sea mammals (Biology Letters, DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2005.0348).
From issue 2511 of New Scientist magazine, 06 August 2005, page 17
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Ban on long-line commercial fishing may be lifted
Restyled hook won't spare sea turtles, opponents contend
August 5, 2005 (SF Chronicle - Glen Martin)
CALIFORNIA - Marine conservationists say the West Coast's last sea turtles could be wiped out if federal agencies decide to overturn a ban on long-lining, a form of commercial fishing that has killed hundreds of thousands of turtles over the past 20 years.
The National Marine Fisheries Service, a subsidiary agency of the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration, banned long-lining for swordfish off the California coast in 2004 after concluding the practice was destroying sea turtles -- especially leatherbacks, huge marine reptiles sometimes exceeding a ton in weight.
By some estimates, Pacific leatherbacks -- which lay their eggs on beaches in Southeast Asia but frequently migrate through California's offshore waters -- have declined by 95 percent since 1980.
But the Pacific Fishery Management Council, which sets policies on commercial fishing in federal waters, is pondering a proposal by long-line advocates to overturn the ban. Any recommendation the council makes will be referred to the fisheries service, which will make the final decision.
Long-lining involves setting out thousands of baited hooks attached to a single line over miles of ocean. It is a highly effective way to catch large pelagic fish.
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Shuttle Commander Sees Wide Environmental Damage
August 5, 2005 (Reuters — By Jeff Franks)
HOUSTON — Commander Eileen Collins said astronauts on shuttle Discovery had seen widespread environmental destruction on Earth and warned Thursday that greater care was needed to protect natural resources.
Her comments came as NASA pondered whether to send astronauts out on an extra spacewalk to repair additional heat-protection damage on the first shuttle mission since the 200 3 Columbia disaster.
Discovery is linked with the International Space Station and orbiting 220 miles above the Earth.
"Sometimes you can see how there is erosion, and you can see how there is deforestation. It's very widespread in some parts of the world," Collins said in a conversation from space with Japanese officials in Tokyo, including Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
"We would like to see, from the astronauts' point of view, people take good care of the Earth and replace the resources that have been used," said Collins, who was standing with Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi in front of a Japanese flag and holding a colorful fan.
Collins, making her fourth shuttle flight, said the view from space made clear that Earth's atmosphere must be protected, too.
"The atmosphere almost looks like an eggshell on an egg, it's so very thin," she said. "We know that we don't have much air, we need to protect what we have."
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Giant Ocean Waves More Common Than Thought
August 5, 2005 (AP — By Randolph E. Schmid)
WASHINGTON — Last year's Hurricane Ivan generated an ocean wave that towered higher than 90 feet at one point, says a study that also suggests such giants may be more common than once thought.
Research indicates these are not "rogue waves but actually fairly common during hurricanes," said David Wang of the Naval Research Laboratory at Stennis Space Center, Miss.
The giant wave was detected 75 miles south of Gulfport, Miss., by instruments on the ocean floor that measure the pressure of water above them. Using those readings, scientists can calculate the height of waves from trough to crest.
Last Sept. 15, as Hurricane Ivan passed through the area, the instruments measured 146 large waves, including 24 higher than 50 feet and one at 91 feet, Wang and his colleagues report in Friday's issue of the journal Science.
The giant wave did not reach land. Unlike a tsunami, which reaches down to the sea floor, this was a wind wave, generated on the ocean surface by the powerful forces of the storm.
Because shipping tends to try to avoid hurricanes, many large waves are unseen by humans, let alone measured.
Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have a different way of calculating wave heights, using buoys at sea.
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Hybrid Cars Coming Soon to California Car Pool Lanes
August 5, 2005 (AP — By Tim Molloy)
LOS ANGELES — Hybrid car owners are fast approaching the day when they will be allowed to drive solo in California's car pool lanes.
State lawmakers passed a bill last year that gave some types of the high-mileage, low-emission vehicles access to the coveted lanes -- a privilege meant to encourage drivers to buy the environmentally friendly cars.
California's law was supposed to take effect Jan. 1 but first needed approval from the federal government. That permission was tucked into a $286 billion transportation bill Congress passed last week, meaning there is just one last strand of red tape keeping hybrids out of the high-occupancy vehicle lanes: State air regulators need to clarify which vehicles meet the mileage and emissions standards.
The policy's supporters hope hybrids will be allowed in the car pool lanes by year's end.
"Knowing that you're able to drive in that car pool lane would be huge, and I think it would attract others to say, `Hey, I should have a car like this as well,'" said Andrew Werts, a 31-year-old marketing director from Redondo Beach who recently sold his SUV and bought a Toyota Prius.
Only two other models -- Honda's hybrid Civic and Insight -- meet the eligibility standards of at least 45 miles per gallon and almost no smog-causing emissions, according to an aide to the author of California's bill, Assemblywoman Fran Pavley, a Democrat.
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Orca Collision with Whale Watch Boat Hushed Up
August 5, 2005 (ENS)
SEATTLE, Washington - On July 3, 2005 an orca whale was injured in an accident with a whale watching boat in the San Juan Islands of Washington state. Mark Anderson, founder and president of the Orca Relief Citizens' Alliance (ORCA), says the incident has been "kept quiet" by the Whale Watch Operators Association Northwest and the National Marine Fisheries Service.
"No one knows the extent of injury sustained by the orca, no one knows which member of the southern residents it was, or why the orca rammed a whale watching boat," Anderson wrote in Thursday's issue of the "San Juan Islander" newspaper.
"We DO know the whales were feeding at the time, that about 40 boats were surrounding the whales and that the Canadian-based boat that was hit had already been cited once that day by Mark Pakenham of M3, the enforcement division from Fisheries and Oceans Canada," Anderson wrote.
Ander says the accident illustrates the inherent negative consequences of boat/whale interactions and the need for change to protect the Southern Resident orcas of Washington state.
Orca Relief Citizens' Alliance urges that whale watching boats stop "leapfrogging and parking (situating) boats in the whales' path."
Boats should stay a minimum of 400 yards away from the closest whale, says Anderson, and must not position themselves between whales and the shore.
Since 1995, the southern resident population of orcas has declined nearly 20 percent. During that same period, the number of motorized whale-watching boats in the area has soared, reaching up to as many as 140 boats in a single day.
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Grounded Vessel Pulled off Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Reef
August 5, 2005 (ENS)
HONOLULU, Hawaii - The 145 foot motor vessel Casitas, which ran aground at Pearl and Hermes Atoll last month, has been extracted from the reef and "entombed" northwest of the atoll in approximately 7,200 feet of water, the Unified Command announced Thursday. The boat was under contract to remove marine debris from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands when it ran aground at 2 am on July 2.
“On behalf of all the parties involved, we are very pleased to see this operation safely completed,” said U.S. Coast Guard Captain Manson Brown, federal on-scene coordinator for the Unified Command.
Pearl and Hermes Atoll, located 86 miles east southeast of Midway, is part of the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge and is an important seabird and green sea turtle nesting ground, Hawaiian monk seal pupping site, home to endangered Laysan finches, and the site of more than 183,000 acres of coral reefs in Refuge and State of Hawaii waters.
The Unified Command wanted to remove the vessel from the reef as quickly as possible, saying, "Metallic debris promotes the growth of invasive algae species that can have devastating impacts on the coral reef community."
Some 35 team members worked aboard the tugs American Contender, American Quest, and American Emerald; a 240-foot barge; and the motor vessel Condor to deal with the wreck.
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No Trouble Removing Oil From Water
August 5, 2005 (Research Australia)
A simple tank-and-siphon system for removing oil from oily water and protecting the environment is about to be launched internationally by an engineering team from the University of New South Wales.
The Extended Gravity Oil Water Separation (EGOWS) concept is an improvement on the industry-standard American Petroleum Institute (API) gravity separator that has been widely used for the last 60 years.
The API separator, originally designed for oil refineries, is not designed to reduce the oil content of water below about 100 parts per million and is not suitable for releasing water directly to the environment.
Regulatory requirements for the release of oil-contaminated water to the environment are becoming stricter worldwide. It is common for environmental protection authorities to impose a limit of 10 parts of oil per million of effluent water, and increasingly for there to be no visible sheen on the receiving water.
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Turtle found dead in fishing nets
August 5, 2005 (BBC)
A rare leatherback turtle has been found dead off the coast of Cornwall.
It was spotted by a helicopter crew which was carrying out a survey for RNAS Culdrose.
The turtle, which is among the largest reptiles in the world, is thought to have been caught in lobster pot buoy ropes off Botallack, near Lands End.
It was towed to shore at Cape Cornwall by the Sennen Inshore Lifeboat where it took a team of volunteers to lift the 6ft (1.83m) beast.
The leatherback has been taken to Truro to be examined by scientists.
Dave Jarvis, of the British Divers Marine Life Rescue team, was one of the team of volunteers who helped bring the turtle ashore.
He said: "We're not entirely sure it was killed in the fishing gear - it had obviously been dead for some time."
Peter Richardson from the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) said although leatherbacks are rare, July and August are the months they are most likely to be seen in UK waters.
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IFAW Partners with Zodiac Group to Protect Marine Wildlife
August 5, 2005 — By International Fund for Animal Welfare
YARMOUTH PORT, MA — The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW at www.ifaw.org) and the Zodiac Group today announced that Zodiac will donate cash and equipment to help IFAW protect marine wildlife. The announcement was made at the 8th International Effects of Oil on Wildlife Conference in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada.
“The support we have received from Zodiac has been invaluable in our efforts to save hundreds of oiled seabirds throughout the world and to protect endangered whales. We are gratified by Zodiac’s commitment as a pioneering, responsible company dedicated to actively protecting the environment,” said Dr. Ian Robinson, IFAW director of Emergency Relief.
The equipment donated by Zodiac includes six transportable pools used to clean birds at oils spills. Also included is a Zodiac inflatable boat that will be used to study Gray whale populations near Russia’s Sakhalin Islands. Zodiac will also support the creation of a training video for whale watching boats and the work of two interns onboard IFAW’s research vessel, Song of the Whale.
IFAW and Zodiac have worked together in recent years helping to clean, treat and release hundreds of oiled seabirds at incidents in Norway and Germany.
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Official Says Pelican Exodus Not Alarming
August 4, 2005 (AP — By James MacPherson)
CHASE LAKE NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE, N.D. — A top federal wildlife official says the pelican mystery at the Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge may be a natural correction.
William Hartwig, the chief of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Refuge System, got a tour of the refuge near Medina in central North Dakota on Wednesday, with Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.
Nearly 30,000 white pelicans abandoned the refuge last year, leaving eggs and chicks behind. This year, refuge officials estimated about 8,000 young white pelicans died during the spring and early summer nesting period, and more adults left.
"I'm concerned but I'm not alarmed," Hartwig said.
Dorgan and Hartwig peered through spotting scopes at the remaining pelicans and got briefings from Dave Bolin, a manager at the refuge, and Marsha Sovada, a biologist at the U.S. Geological Survey's Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center in Jamestown.
Sovada said Wednesday that about 280 chicks remain at the 4,385-acre refuge, and the adult population has dropped to about 600.
Hartwig said pelicans typically have "more bad years than good years" in their natural reproductive process.
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New York Authorities Battle Intruding Snakehead Fish
August 4, 2005 (Reuters)
NEW YORK — The snakehead fish, a voracious predator from Asia, has taken up residence in a lake in New York, and experts are mulling options, including salt and poison, to evict it.
Snakeheads, which can grow to about three feet long , have the capacity to ravage the local fish population.
This is the first time these fish have surfaced in New York State and environmentalists are racing against the clock to prevent them multiplying in lakes and rivers, as has occurred in some other U.S. states.
Experts are unsure whether the fish are breeding but want to stop them before they do.
The snakehead was found at Meadow Lake in the New York borough of Queens. "We know there are more in there. We have captured five (in July) and we saw another four or five adults," Jim Gilmore, of the Department of Environmental Conservation's New York City office, said Wednesday.
While individual snakeheads can be netted, the most sweeping option to eradicate them is to poison the lake, as was done in Maryland several years ago.
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Endangered Fish Could Repopulate Rio Grande
August 4, 2005 (ENS)
ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico - It has been more than 50 years since the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow inhabited the Rio Grande in the Big Bend region.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with the people of Texas to determine if reintroducing the silvery minnow to this reach of the river holds potential for improving the species' future.
The Endangered Species Act encourages experimental reintroductions as a way to help recover a species while keeping federal regulations to a minimum.
"We believe the long-term survival and recovery of this species can be better secured by establishing experimental populations under section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act within the fish's historical range," said Larry Bell, acting deputy director of the Service's Southwest Region.
"Under this scenario, we have much more flexibility in working with the community to manage experimental populations so that current and future land or water uses and activities should not be restricted while helping to recover the fish," Bell said.
Once one of the most abundant and widespread fishes in the Rio Grande Basin from northern New Mexico to the Gulf of Mexico, in the 1950s, it was the most common fish in the Big Bend stretch of the Rio Grande. Now the silvery minnows are gone from Texas and only occur in central New Mexico.
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Californian beach boasts world’s pickiest females
August 4, 2005 (NewScientist.com – by Gaia Vince)
US scientists believe they may have found the pickiest females in the world. And size does matter – when it comes to the creature’s abode – a new study suggests.
Californian fiddler crab females often check out more than 100 males – even inspecting the hapless side-crawlers’ bachelor pads – before selecting their mate, according to Catherine deRivera, at the University of California in San Diego, US. “Most animals sample just a few mates, presumably because search costs override the benefits of lengthy searches,” she says.
During seduction, the male fiddler crab stands at the entrance of his waterfront burrow and with a “come hither” wave beckons the female over. Interested females eye up the males and if they like what they see, partially or fully enter their potential den of iniquity to size it up.
Once she has picked her male, the female crab enters his home and plugs the hole to his burrow. Once comfy, the crabs will mate and incubate their eggs, which later hatch to be flushed from the estuary by the tides.
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Endangered Turtles May Lose Protections on West Coast; Fisheries Council Sub-Groups to Propose Gutting Rules Limiting Deadly Fishing Technologies
August 2, 2005 (Sea Turtle Restoration Project)
Forest Knolls, CA — On August 3-5, two sub-groups of the Pacific Fisheries Management Council, which is responsible for managing fisheries off the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington, will be considering controversial proposals to gut rules to protect endangered species. Most at risk is the Pacific leatherback sea turtle, the largest turtle in the world. Environmentalists are rallying to the defense of the existing rules which have been seen as an international model for protecting marine ecosystems.
In response to lawsuits by environmentalists, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency Fisheries agency banned longline fishing on the West Coast and restricted gillnets, also known as "curtains of death," to protect endangered sea turtles and other marine species. On August 3-5, the Pacific Fishery Management Council's Highly Migratory Species Management Team and Highly Migratory Species Advisory Subpanel will be considering proposals to reverse or weaken these rules, in turn putting these species - some of which teeter on the brink of extinction - at greater risk of being injured or killed.
Most at risk is the critically endangered leatherback sea turtle. Estimated to be 100 million years old, scientists now warn that it could go extinct in the Pacific in the next 5 to 30 years unless efforts are made to reduce the threat of being injured or killed by longlines and gillnets. The number of female nesting Pacific leatherbacks has declined by 95 percent since 1984. The U.S. Pacific coast is an important migratory route and foraging area for leatherback sea turtles.
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Young Entangled Humpback Whale Cut Free in Alaska
August 3, 2005 (ENS)
KODIAK, Alaska - A team of researchers from University of Alaska-Fairbanks successfully released a young humpback whale that had become entangled in commercial crab fishing lines and buoys in waters near Kodiak last week.
The whale was one or two years old and about 20 feet long, according to Kate Wynne, a marine mammal specialist with the UAF Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program based in Kodiak.
Wynne is among the few individuals in the state authorized by the National Marine Fisheries Service to disentangle marine mammals. Wynne led seven other researchers in the rescue effort.
“The whale was thin and near complete exhaustion when we arrived at the scene,” said Wynne. “The young whale was nearly immobilized by lines, the crab pot, and buoys and it is likely the whale would not have survived through the night without intervention.”
The team used three small boats and specialized disentanglement poles and knives to cut at least four lines that had ensnared the whale’s pectoral fins and flukes.
“It appeared that one line may have gone from his flukes forward along his right side, over his lower lip and back to his left pectoral fin, and then to his fluke, essentially hog-tying him,” said Wynne. “To surface for air, it had to do a sort of stomach-crunch, flexing enough so the buoys attached at his flukes submerged when his head was up. It had to have been quite a work out for the little guy.”
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Survey Finds Gulf 'Dead Zone' Much Larger
August 2, 2005 (AP)
NEW ORLEANS — The dead zone off the coasts of Louisiana and Texas is nearly the size of Connecticut and much larger than federal researchers had predicted earlier this year, according to a new survey.
An annual weeklong cruise led by researchers with the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium found an area of low-oxygen measuring 4,564 square miles and extending from the Mississippi River to the Texas border. On average, the dead zone has measured about 4,800 square miles since 1985.
The dead zone, also known as hypoxia, forms each spring and summer as fresh water enters the Gulf of Mexico and causes large algae blooms. The algae die and sink to the bottom of the Gulf, where they decompose, using up oxygen in the deeper, saltier water. Fish avoid the low-oxygen water, and bottom-living organisms are killed.
The dead zone could in the long-term affect the overall health of the Gulf's marine species, said Nancy Rabalais, a leading hypoxia researcher with the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium. She said researchers are studying how the dead zone affects the growth and reproduction of marine species.
The dead zone could grow much larger this year -- perhaps as large as 6,200 square miles -- if major storms do not stir up the Gulf in the coming months, Rabalais said.
Officials are looking for ways to cut down on the amount of fertilizer and pollution in watersheds that flow into the Mississippi and end up in the Gulf.
[read more]

Scientists are Seeing More Dead Birds, Fewer Fish on the Pacific Coast
August 2, 2005 (AP)
SAN FRANCISCO — Marine biologists are seeing mysterious and disturbing things along the Pacific Coast this year: higher water temperatures, plummeting catches of fish, lots of dead birds on the beaches, and perhaps most worrisome, very little plankton -- the tiny organisms that are a vital link in the ocean food chain.
Is this just one freak year? Or is this global warming?
Few scientists are willing to blame global warming, the theory that carbon dioxide and other manmade emissions are trapping heat in the Earth's atmosphere and causing a worldwide rise in temperatures. Yet few are willing to rule it out.
"There are strange things happening, but we don't really understand how all the pieces fit together," said Jane Lubchenco, a zoologist and climate change expert at Oregon State University. "It's hard to say whether any single event is just an anomaly or a real indication of something serious happening."
Scientists say things could very well swing back to normal next year. But if the phenomenon proves to be long-lasting, the consequences could be serious for birds, fish and other wildlife.
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Researchers Say Arctic Teeming With Life
August 2, 2005 (AP)
VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Beneath its ice, the Arctic Ocean is teeming with life, says a team of international scientists that just completed a 30-day expedition to the northern ocean.
In the months and years ahead, the 45 scientists from the U.S., Canada, China and Russia that took part in the Hidden Ocean expedition will pore over thousands of photographs, ice samples and ocean specimens collected in the Canada Basin.
"We were surprised. There was an awful lot more life up here than what people expected and believe there is," said Russ Hopcroft, a Canadian researcher and assistant professor at the Institute of Marine Science at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.
Hopcroft said most scientists found new species or, at least, species not previously believed to exist in the Arctic.
Despite the region's inhospitable climate for humans, the northern ocean is home to many life forms, including viruses, bacteria, fungi, and unicellular and multicellular plants and animals.
From the shelter of the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Healy, teams of scientists explored the ice surface, beneath it and the ocean floor.
They ventured as far as latitude 76 degrees north in the basin, the deepest part of the Arctic Ocean, located north of Alaska and the Yukon Territory.
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Bum beaches
August 2, 2005 (SF Chronicle EDITORIAL)
DON'T GO near the water. That's the message that windsurfers, swimmers and toe-dipping strollers are spotting more often at San Francisco's most popular beaches.
It's part of a mixed picture on California's coastline. In Los Angeles and here, stay-away advisories increased sharply last year, while in other heavily used areas in Southern California, the numbers are down slightly.
Inadequate sewer systems, storm runoff and construction work contribute to bacteria-causing conditions. San Francisco posted 162 closings and warnings in 2004, a jump of 35 percent from the prior year. On these days, unhealthy levels of bacteria were found at a string of six beaches from Fort Funston on the ocean to Candlestick Point in the bay.
There's good and bad in the findings, compiled by the National Resources Defense Council, an environmental watchdog group. Because counties up and down the coast are testing more, they are documenting more problems. Continued sampling by health officers should isolate the problem spots for better scrutiny.
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Marine Mammal Center Opens New California Coastal Facility
August 1, 2005 (ENS)
SAUSALITO, California - The Marine Mammal Center will hold a ribbon cutting ceremony on Thursday to celebrate the opening of its new field triage office site in Morro Bay.
The site, located on Duke Energy land, includes a new building which will contain offices, a food preparation area, medical room and six fenced pens to temporarily house animal patients.
The much-needed facilities in Morro Bay will help area volunteers quickly treat minor seal and otter injuries and ailments on site and provide temporary recuperation housing for animals.
“The opening of this field office is a dream come true and will allow us to quickly and efficiently rescue and treat even more marine mammals that strand along the central coast,” said B.J. Griffin, executive director of The Marine Mammal Center.
The field office will be located on two acres of land on the southeast corner of the Duke power plant facility in Morro Bay. Duke is leasing the parcel to The Center for $1 for the next 20 years. Duke provides The Center with a similar in-kind donation for a field office at its power plant in Moss Landing.
“We’re extremely happy that we can provide the land that will become the launch pad of operations for The Marine Mammal Center to continue to rescue seals and sea lions here on the central coast,” said Randy Hickok, vice president for Duke Energy. “This is an important initiative and represents a significant opportunity for us to further our eight year relationship with The Center.”
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Did Bottom Trawling Help Cause Collapse of Alaska King Crab? New Paper Says It Did
August, 2005 (SeaWeb)
In the early 1980s, the king crab population in Alaska’s Bristol Bay plummeted precipitously. A prevalent theory—according to environmentalists, one endorsed and promulgated by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)—was that natural factors, such as climatic changes, were responsible. That has now been seriously challenged by a paper in the journal Ecological Applications. The paper, by NMFS scientists Braxton Dew and Robert McConnaughey, argues instead that intensive bottom trawling in a previously protected area, beginning in the mid-to-late 1970s, was significantly responsible.
The largest population of king crab in the world resides off the west coast of Kamchatka in the Sea of Okhotsk. The second largest is in Bristol Bay. Dew and McConnaughey point out that one of the reasons for the success of both populations is the so-called “endless belt” reproductive strategy, which requires a broad coastal shelf and a longshore current; a critical factor in the success of this endless belt strategy is the location, near the upcurrent end of the shelf, of the brood stock of reproductive females, which release their eggs into the current. The location of this reproductive center in Bristol Bay was determined by Japanese researchers in the 1950s, and as a result, the Japanese government in 1959 introduced a ban on its fishermen trawling an area of Bristol Bay known as the Pot Sanctuary. Because Japan was the only nation trawling in the eastern Bering Sea at that time, the ban effectively eliminated trawling from the Pot Sanctuary area. As U.S. trawling fleets began entering the fishery during the 1960s, bilateral agreements were negotiated between the United States and Japan, and separately between the United States and the USSR, with a goal to reinforcing the Japanese ban on trawling in the Pot Sanctuary.
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Pacific Council Adopts Expansive Marine Habitat Protection Measures; Environmentalists Applaud
August, 2005 (SeaWeb)
The Pacific Fishery Management Council adopted expansive closures to commercial bottom trawl fishing at a meeting in June. The decision will protect about 200,000 square nautical miles of marine habitat on the West Coast between the Canadian and Mexican borders, amounting to over 75% of the ocean within United States jurisdiction off the coast of Washington, Oregon, and California.
The Council action, taken to protect the habitat of over 80 species of groundfish, was applauded by both environmental conservation organizations and fishing industry groups. Jim Ayers, Fisheries Conservation Director for Oceana, stated that the action would “not only make things better for those dependent on current fisheries, but also provides security for future generations, as well. We have worked hard on this proposal for over five years, and this decision makes the money and time spent well worth it.” Brad Pettinger, Executive Director of the Oregon Trawl Commission, said that: “The fishing industry and the coastal communities want to do what is necessary to protect the habitat and fish stocks for the long run. We have more at stake in this than anyone.”
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Environmentalists Challenge Proposed Fishery “Rollbacks”
August, 2005 (SeaWeb)
Environmentalists have strongly challenged a series of proposals by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to change elements of the standards laid down for fisheries management under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. The possibility of such changes was first aired by NMFS in 2003, when it proposed alterations to, among other things, “calculation of the maximum permissible rebuilding times for overfished fisheries,” and “the definitions of overfishing as they relate to a fishery as a whole, or a stock within that fishery.” Then in June of this year, NOAA published a formal rulemaking change proposal, which is the subject of public comment until August 22 (with a possible extension until September 22).
Lee Crockett, executive director of the Marine Fish Conservation Network (MFCN), branded the proposals “a giant step backward in our nation’s endeavor to rebuild our struggling marine fish populations and restore the health of our oceans.”
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Scientists Review History, Trends of World Fisheries
August, 2005 (SeaWeb)
“Many lay people believe that widespread ‘pollution’ endangers ocean life, perhaps a lingering impact of books such as ‘The sea around us’, and the pronouncements of Jacques Cousteau. Fisheries, by contrast, have long been seen as benign, and their growth not related to the decline of their target species, which is usually attributed to ‘environmental change’ or some form of ‘pollution’.”
So begins a paper in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, by Daniel Pauly, Reg Watson, and Jackie Alder of the University of British Columbia’s Fisheries Center. The authors ask, “Why is it that commercial fishing, which, after all, is devoted to killing fishes and removing them from their habitat so we can eat them, has so generally been perceived as having little, if any, impact on the populations that were being fished?” They propose that the reason “has to do with notions from another age, when fishing was indeed a matter of wrestling one’s sustenance from a foreign, hostile sea, and from tiny boats, close to one’s village, using equipment barely capable of making a dent in the huge populations of fish known to inhabit the ocean’s unfathomable depths.” That image, they suspect, is still prevalent, even though the commercial fisheries industry is now a giant enterprise which “is having so severe an impact on its own resources base that, if present trends continue, it will collapse in the next decades, and drag down with it, into oblivion, many of the fishes it exploits, together with their supporting ecosystems.”
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Aquarius: An Undersea Laboratory Where Scientist Can Live for Weeks at a Time
July 28, 2005 (VOA News - By Zulima Palacio)
Florida Keys, Florida - It is not a wreck or something from outer space. Its name is Aquarius, and it sits at 20 meters below surface, next to the coral reefs in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. It is the only undersea laboratory in the world where scientists and NASA astronauts can live for up to two weeks at the time.
Otto Rutten, is the Associate Director of the National Undersea Research Center. “Aquarius is designed to facilitate undersea research, coral reef research specifically," said Mr. Rutten, "to allow scientists to greatly extend the amount of bottom time that they have by utilizing a technique called saturation diving, so they can get from eight to nine hours a day at depths up to [36 meters].”
People cannot work for long at great depths underwater if they have to dive and return to the surface in one trip: much of the time has to be spent decompressing while on the way up, to get rid of the nitrogen that builds up in the body while it is subjected to the extra atmospheric pressure of deep water.
Staying in deep water is the solution; Aquarius is the way to do it. The only way to get to it is by diving, and its main "door" is called "the wet porch". Once inside, you can get rid of your diving equipment, take a fresh shower, get dry, and move in. Aquarius is only 13 meters long by 3 meters in diameter, and can accommodate a maximum of six people at the time.
[read more]

7.8.05

Blast fear for whales

6 August 2005, The Australian

FEDERAL Environment Minister Ian Campbell has demanded Geoscience Australia brief him on plans to detonate a tonne of explosives off the West Australian coast.

Senator Campbell yesterday expressed concern at the agency's plans, revealed in The Australian yesterday, to detonate up to 20 underwater bombs west of Exmouth, in the middle of next year.

While the explosions are likely to be detected by nuclear monitoring stations in the Indian Ocean, Senator Campbell said he was concerned whales might also be affected.

"I certainly won't be allowing anything to go ahead that in any way has any impact on migratory whales up and down our coast," Senator Campbell said in Perth.

"But I'm sure Geoscience, because they're a professional organisation, will have thought through all these things.

"I would just like my department to talk to them and look at what they're doing.

"Clearly there are upsides to what they're trying to do.

"As I understand it, there are benefits in terms of preparing a tsunami early warning system, as well as trying to detect nuclear activity in the region."

3.8.05

Organic farms 'best for wildlife'

3 August, 2005. BBC News

Organic farms are better for wildlife than those run conventionally, according to a study covering 180 farms from Cornwall to Cumbria.

The organic farms were found to contain 85% more plant species, 33% more bats, 17% more spiders and 5% more birds.

Scientists - from Oxford University, the British Trust for Ornithology, and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology - spent five years on the research.

Funded by the government, it was the largest ever survey of organic farming.

"The exclusion of synthetic pesticides and fertilisers from organic is a fundamental difference between systems," the study says.

Other key differences found on the organic farms included smaller fields, more grasslands and hedges that are taller, thicker and on average 71% longer.

Dr Lisa Norton, of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, said: "Hedges are full of native, berry-producing shrubs, which are great for insects and the birds and bats that feed on them."

Increased biodiversity was a "happy by-product" of sustainable farming practices and farmers working with "natural processes" to increase productivity, she added.

The fact the organic arable farms were more likely to have livestock on them also made them richer habitats for wildlife.

The study's lead author, British Trust for Ornithology habitat research director Dr Rob Fuller, told BBC News: "There were very large benefits right across the species spectrum."

The study had looked at a "very, very high" proportion of England's organic arable farms, he said.

More organic farming would help "restore biodiversity within agricultural landscapes", Dr Fuller added.

"Less than 3% of English farmland is organic so there is plenty of scope for an increase in area."

Soil Association policy manager Gundula Azeez said: "A greater area of organically-managed land in the UK would help restore the farmland wildlife that has been lost from our countryside in recent decades with intensive farming."

Grizzly Man' explores dark, light sides of nature

[ed: Here's a docudrama that Singapore cinemas are likely to give a miss to... again! Last year they thought "Two Brothers" (a movie about two tiger siblings) wouldn't go well down with local audiences, and I wager they will give March of the Penguins the same cold shoulder, despite this being a sleeper summer hit in the States. Bah!]

Aug 2, 2005 Reuters

By Bob Tourtellotte

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Acclaimed German filmmaker Werner Herzog, known as an iconoclast who shuns special effects for reality, finally found someone who complemented him, he said, but by then, the yin to Herzog's yang was dead.

Timothy Treadwell, an environmentalist who lived among wild grizzly bears in Alaska until he was fatally mauled by one in 2003, is that man, and he is the subject of Herzog's documentary "Grizzly Man" which debuts in U.S. theaters on Friday.

Treadwell went to great lengths in videotapes he recorded to show man and beast living harmoniously in nature. Herzog, by contrast, believes in a violent and chaotic world, he said, despite being labeled as the romanticist of new German cinema.

But in Treadwell's life, Herzog found a tale that embodied both the light and dark sides of human nature. It is the story of a dreamer who was brutally killed because his sense of reality was replaced with a fantasy life that played out annually in Alaska's Katmai National Park and Reserve.

"(The film) has moments of grandiosity, of a man who is in the realm of a rock star, yet one who is also haunted by demons," Herzog told Reuters.

For 13 years, Treadwell fancied himself a naturalist living among wild grizzlies in Alaska filming them, studying them, protecting them from poachers and refusing to listen to those who believed he was misguided.

He founded Grizzly People, a group dedicated to preserving bear habitats. He lectured school kids and earned fans on TV's "The Late Show with David Letterman" by telling of his adventures and showing videotapes featuring him with the animals he befriended.

DARK SIDE OF REALITY

Those videos are the same ones Herzog uses throughout "Grizzly Man" to show Treadwell losing his grip on reality and wanting to become more bear-like. For instance, audiences see Treadwell touching fresh grizzly feces and hear him reveling in the knowledge it was inside the bear only moments before.

Herzog also uses interviews with Treadwell's family, friends and associates to paint a picture of a man who was not exactly the person he portrayed himself to be.

Treadwell told people he hailed from Australia, when in fact he was raised in New York and lived in California.

He claimed to spend his days alone in the wilderness when his girlfriend Amie Huguenard was sometimes with him. Huguenard was mauled to death alongside Treadwell.

As a young man, Treadwell abused drugs and alcohol, but he credited his work with bears for his return to a sobriety.

Treadwell shares many traits with the obsessed characters who populate Herzog films such as 1972's "Aguirre: The Wrath of God," about a conquistador in search of El Dorado, and 1982's "Fitzcarraldo," in which an obsessed opera lover longs to build a theater in the South American jungle.

"These characters fascinate me," Herzog said. "I instantly recognize them, and they recognize me."

Herzog, 62, is a rugged individualist and self-taught filmmaker who tells stories his own way.

In 1974, he walked from Munich to Paris to see German film critic Lotte Eisner and wrote about it his book, "Vom Gehen im Eis" ("Walking on Ice"). For "Fitzcarraldo," his crew dragged a 300-plus ton ship over mountains because Herzog did not want to use special effects or models. Herzog preferred reality.

Treadwell, audiences learn in "Grizzly Man," longed for fantasy.

Watch the trailer for Grizzly Manhere

2.8.05

A New Kind of Birdsong: Music on the Wing in the Forests of Ecuador

August 2, 2005, New York Times

By Carl Zimmer

Richard Prum, a Yale ornithologist, was hiking through an Ecuadorean forest 18 years ago when he had one of the strangest experiences an ornithologist can have. He watched a bird sing with its wings.

Dr. Prum was observing a male club-winged manakin. The tiny red-headed bird was hopping acrobatically from branch to branch in order to attract female manakins. And from time to time, the male would wave its wings over its back. Each time the manakin produced a loud, clear tone that sounded as if it came from a violin.

"I was just utterly stunned," Dr. Prum said. "There's literally no bird in the world that does anything that prepares you for it. It's totally unique."

Ever since, Dr. Prum has wondered how the club-winged manakin managed this feat. Now he and a former student, Kimberly Bostwick of Cornell University, believe they have solved the mystery.

Club-winged manakins rake their feathers back and forth over one another, using an acoustic trick that allows crickets to sing. While the technique is common among insects, it has never been documented before in vertebrates.

The noise-making skill of manakins first came to the attention of naturalists in the 1800's. The club-winged manakin belongs to the manakin family (Pipridae), which includes about 40 species, many of which have peculiarly shaped feathers that allowed them to make sounds.

In many species the males use the noises during their courtship displays. "Some of them pop like a firecracker, and there a couple that make whooshing noises in flight," Dr. Prum said.

Charles Darwin was fascinated by manakins. He believed they were a compelling example of how females could cause evolutionary change simply by the influence of their mating preferences - a process he called sexual selection.

If female birds had a preference for males with large tails, for example, males with larger tails would be more successful at reproducing. Darwin argued that the peacock's tail had evolved this way. On the other hand, if females were attracted to noisy males, the males would evolve adaptations that made them noisier - as in the case of manakins.

Biologists have documented the effect of sexual selection in a wide range of animals. Dr. Prum has dedicated much of his career to studying it in manakins. His research shows that wing sounds evolved independently in many manakin lineages. "Mechanical sounds probably evolved a bunch of times in manakins," Dr. Prum said.

The club-winged manakin, with its unique ability to produce musical sounds, was the most extreme example of sexual selection in manakins.

Dr. Bostwick began to study how manakins make their various noises in 1995, when she joined Dr. Prum's lab as a graduate student. In 1997, she traveled to South America to film the birds. On that trip, she saw her first live club-winged manakin.

"I was just blown away by what an odd, odd thing it was," she said.

When Dr. Bostwick returned home, she played her films in slow motion to analyze the manakin wing movements. But the club-wing manakin moved so quickly that its wings were nothing but a blur. "How that motion created that sound was a black box," Dr. Bostwick said.

Over the next few years, this ornithological black box continued to puzzle Dr. Bostwick and Dr. Prum. Dr. Bostwick found a few clues by poring over the preserved club-winged manakins Dr. Prum had brought back from his 1987 trip. She noticed that one feather on each wing had a peculiar feature: its central vane had a series of ridges - seven on average. The club-winged manakin's wing muscles were also remarkably large. "They were like little Popeyes, with big bulging muscles," Dr. Bostwick said.

The clues began to come together in 2002 when Dr. Bostwick returned to Ecuador with a new digital camera that could record 1,000 frames a second, over 30 times faster than her previous model. She made new films of the club-winged manakin, and when she returned home she found that she could finally see what the bird's wings were doing. It turns out that when the bird raises its wings over its back, it shakes them back and forth over 100 times a second.

This alone would be a remarkable accomplishment for a bird. Hummingbirds typically flap their wings only 50 times a second. But the club-winged manakin's fast shaking alone could not produce the bird's sounds. Its wings produce tones at a frequency of around 1,400 cycles a second - about 14 times faster than it shakes its wings.

"We had to have some kind of frequency multiplier," Dr. Prum said.

Dr. Bostwick traveled to New York to study the manakin collection at the American Museum of Natural History. "I spent a lot of time playing with the feathers," she said. She noticed that next to the strangely ridged feather was another feather with a stiff, curved tip. She realized that each time a manakin shook its wings, its tip rakes across the ridges of the neighboring feather like a spoon moving across a washboard. Each time it hit a ridge, the tip produced a sound. The tip would strike each ridge twice - once as the feathers collided and once as they moved apart again.

Dr. Bostwick realized that this raking movement allowed a wing to produce 14 sounds during each shake. As a result, a bird could shaking its wings 100 times a second could produce a sound with a frequency of 1,400 cycles a second. "All the questions that hadn't made any sense just clicked into place," Dr. Bostwick said.

This sort of spoon-and-washboard anatomy is unknown in any other vertebrate, but it is well known in insects. Crickets, for example, have ridges on their wings that act like a pick and file when the insects rub their wings together.

"The convergence is simply stunning," said Dr. Ronald Hoy, a Cornell expert on insect sounds.

Dr. Bostwick and Dr. Prum reported their findings in the July 29 issue of the journal Science.

The ornithologists plan to test their hypothesis with new experiments. On her next trip to Ecuador, Dr. Bostwick hopes to catch a male club-winged manakin and clip off the raking tip on each wing (a harmless procedure).

"I should be able to completely silence the bird," she predicted.

Dr. Bostwick argues that the new research underscores just how powerful sexual selection can be. The mating preferences of female birds can produce not only the peacock's tail or the rooster's crow, but also feathers with microscopic adaptations that let them sing like crickets. "Darwin would have loved it if he had known," Dr. Bostwick said.

Original article and links to videos here.

Loss of wolves changes Canadian ecosystem - study

Aug 1, 2005, Reuters

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The loss of once-plentiful wolves in a part of Canada's west allowed the elk population to mushroom, pushing out beavers and songbirds and showing the importance of top predators, Canadian researchers said on Monday.

Although scientists have long noted that the loss of even one species can have profound effects, the report is one of the first large-scale studies to show clearly the widespread consequences of losing a predator at the top of the food chain.

Mark Hebblewhite of the University of Alberta, and colleagues studied what happened in "a serendipitous natural experiment" when wolves returned to part of the Bow Valley of Banff National Park in Alberta.

Wolves were driven out in the 1960s "because that's what we did then," Hebblewhite said.

"The first wolf pack recolonized the Bow Valley of Banff National Park in 1986. High human activity partially excluded wolves from one area of the Bow Valley, whereas wolves made full use of an adjacent area," the researchers wrote in their report, published in the journal Ecology.

Willow trees, river-loving birds called willow warblers and American redstarts, and beaver dams once were common in Bow Valley and surrounding areas. But in the areas where wolves remained scarce and elk populations mushroomed, these plants and animals were less common.

The wolves clearly had a major effect on elk. Elk populations were 10 times as high in areas where there were no wolves, Hebblewhite's team found.

This meant that elk could be found in suburban backyards, and sometimes on hiking trails.

"Seven people are sent to hospitals every year on average by getting into a fight with an elk," he said. "They are 250 kg (550 pounds) on average so you don't want to get into a fight with one. But being a park they couldn't just go willy-nilly shooting elk and as a society we have advanced beyond wildlife management by just shooting things."

The elk browsed on tender young willows, leaving little for beavers and willow-dwelling birds. Aspen trees seemed less affected.

"We also found that as elk populations climbed, active beaver lodges declined, probably because beavers could no longer find sufficient trees with which to build their dams," Hebblewhite said in a statement.

But in the parts of the park where wolves returned, the elk populations in affected areas fell and willows were coming back.

While other predators such as grizzlies might have played a role, Hebblewhite's team noted, bears were never completely driven from the park while wolves were.

"Yes, wolves are ecologically important. It (the study) bolsters the importance of conserving species like wolves and other top carnivores," Hebblewhite said.

Ivory bill's doubters convinced by tapes from Arkansas woods

By Kelly P. Kissel, Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK, Ark., Aug. 1 — Researchers who last month questioned the existence of the ivory-billed woodpecker, saying blurry videotape of a bird in flight wasn't enough evidence, have changed their minds after hearing recordings from the wild.

The doubters had prepared an article for a scientific journal questioning whether the bird, once thought extinct, had really been found in an Arkansas swamp. They now plan to withdraw the article.

''We were very skeptical of the first published reports,'' Richard Prum, an ornithologist at Yale University, said in a statement. ''But the thrilling new sound recordings provide clear and convincing evidence that the ivory-billed woodpecker is not extinct.''

The audiotape evidence also seems to indicate more than one ivory-billed woodpecker in the area. ''The bird that we saw had to have a mommy and a daddy,'' said Scott Simon, director of the Nature Conservancy in Arkansas. ''We have solid evidence for one. We believe there are more.''

Ornithologists announced in April that an ivory-billed woodpecker — a bird believed to have been extinct since 1944 — was living in a swamp in the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Arkansas. A kayaker had reported seeing the bird a year earlier.

Bird experts at Yale, Kansas and Florida Gulf Coast universities last month questioned the evidence, saying it was only strong enough only to suggest the presence of an ivory bill, not proof.

Then the recordings were provided to them by the Cornell ornithology lab.

''We sent them some sounds this summer from the Arkansas woods,'' said lab director John W. Fitzpatrick, who initially helped confirm the claim. ''We appreciate their ability to say they are now believers.''

Using audio equipment set out in various places near the Cache and White rivers in Arkansas last winter, the Cornell ornithologists made 17,000 hours of recordings. ''Some sounds were explainable only by being an ivory-billed woodpecker,'' Fitzpatrick said.

One portion of the tape includes the bird's distinctive double raps on a tree — one echoing from the distance, the other very close.

''It's communication typical of the ivory-billed. It's one of the more exciting cuts from the tape,'' and indicates there is likely more than one bird, Fitzpatrick said. He said the audio had only recently been discovered on the tapes, which are being analyzed with computer assistance.

The Cornell researchers plan to release the audio publicly at the American Ornithologists Union meeting in Santa Barbara, Calif., Aug. 23-27.

The ornithologists went to the site where the audio was made but were unable to find the birds. ''We're definitely on the trail,'' Fitzpatrick said.

In the Cache River area, 320,000 acres of public land has been set aside in an effort to protect the rare bird's habitat, and Simon says his group hopes to expand the area to 600,000 acres — a region about half the size of Delaware.

1.8.05

Palms up!

Only one kind is native to the state, but California is defined by these trees
- Judy Richter, Chronicle Staff Writer
Saturday, July 30, 2005

[ed: recently i asked the same question - are there actually any palms that is native to singapore? why does npark keep planting these annoying non shady plants! worse yet if they are not native! grr]

The first time I visited California, I drove west from Indiana on Interstate 80, across the Sierra Nevada and down through the foothills toward the Central Valley.

Somewhere around Auburn in Placer County, I saw a palm tree and knew I was truly in California.

About two years later, having settled in the Bay Area, I drove to the Sierra via I-80 to go skiing. I saw that same palm tree and wondered how it survived there. To my mind, palms evoked images of deserts or jungles, not places where the temperature can fall to freezing or below.

It turns out that several species of palms can tolerate colder climates with short periods of freezing temperatures or snow, said Flora Grubb, co- owner of the Palm Broker nursery in San Francisco's Mission District. Others are heat lovers that have a tough time surviving in the Bay Area. However, there are several that thrive in the Bay Area's Mediterranean climate.

One of them, the Canary Island date palm (Phoenix canariensis), graces the Embarcadero in San Francisco.

"The most regal, large-scale (palm) tree," the Canary Island date palm was brought to California from the Canary Islands by Spanish missionaries in the 18th century, said Damon Hull, sales and operations manager at Jurassic Palms in Albany. Junipero Serra planted them at each of the missions he established.

Some of the oldest Canary Island date palms in the state can be found at the historic Presidio in San Francisco. The Claremont Hotel in Oakland also has numerous Canary Island date palms, along with queen palms (Syagrus romanzoffianum), one of the most popular trees he stocks, Hull said.

Another popular tree is the pygmy date palm (P. roebelinii), which has multiple trunks that give it a pleasing symmetry. "It's people-sized," reaching about 12 feet, he said, so it's good for small gardens, or it can remain in a container.

Others that do well in the Bay Area, according to Grubb, are the windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei), the miniature windmill palm (T. wagnerianus), blue hesper palm (Brahea armata), Chilean wine palm (Jubaea chilensis), Kentia palm (Howea forsteriana) and Senegal date palm (P. reclinata).

One of the most common mistakes that people make when buying a palm tree is to choose one that will outgrow its space. It might be quite attractive in its nursery pot. However, if it's a fast-growing variety, it can get messy, shedding fronds that are so tough, they aren't allowed in curbside compost bins.

The Mexican fan palm (Washingtonia robusta), for example, grows at least a foot a year. Fast-growing palms also tend to be the cheapest, whereas slow- growing trees stay with the growers longer, raising their costs.

One such slow-grower is the Kentia palm, which resembles a coconut palm (Cocos nucifera) and grows about 6 inches a year, Hull said. The true coconut palm prefers a hotter climate than the Bay Area's.

Kentia palms are often used as houseplants because they don't develop a true trunk for about 20 years, Grubb said.

Palms tend to take well to transplanting because they have relatively small root balls, but transplanting a large specimen can become a logistical challenge and thus expensive. Therefore, people who want to get rid of a palm tree find it's not that easy. "There are always more sellers than buyers," Grubb said.

First, there's the issue of access for the crane that lifts the tree into the truck. The crane costs about $100 an hour. Height is another issue. The tree can't be any taller than the length of a flatbed truck because it must be transported on its side. Otherwise, it won't clear power lines.

Moving and transplanting a Canary Island date palm with a 17-foot-tall trunk, or about 25 feet total, (palms are measured by their trunk length from the base to the center spike) within the Bay Area would cost about $3,000, Hull estimated. Delivering and installing such a tree from a nursery would cost $9,000 or more.

In a case of serendipity last year, Millbrae was looking for trees for the Millbrae Avenue median by the new BART station, said John Marshall, superintendent of the Millbrae Parks and Recreation Department. At the same time, the nearby Clarion Hotel was expanding its parking area and needed to get rid of four Mexican fan palms. The city requires the recycling of reusable vegetation if it makes economic sense. In this case, recycling did make sense because of the high dump fees for trees that don't easily break down.

Thanks to private donations, the trees were moved and transplanted at no cost to the city. About 20 or 30 feet tall and 20 years old, they're worth about $3,500 each, Marshall said.

Retail prices at Palm Broker can range from about $24 to $36 for a 5- gallon container to up to $9,000 delivered and installed. Trees in 24-inch boxes are popular choices for home gardens, Grubb said. They cost about $300, but it takes two people to plant them.

The least expensive tree at Jurassic Palms is a 2-year-old Kentia palm in a 1-gallon can for $8. The most expensive also is a Kentia that's 30 years old with multiple trunks in a 40-inch box for $9,500.

Most palms like lots of sun once established, but not all. They also want well-drained soil that's consistently moist. Because many parts of the Bay Area have heavy clay soils, a large planting hole is needed, and drainage may have to be improved with piping or a French drain, Hull said. He recommends feeding with a 13-5-8 fertilizer.

Scale and sometimes mealybugs are the primary pests. They can usually be controlled with a blast of water mixed with some mineral oil. Palms near the ocean may have to be sprayed with water to rid them of any salt accumulation.

The bottom fronds of some palms like Mexican fan palms and the California fan palm (W. filifera, the only palm native to California) turn brown. Some will fall off of their own accord, but others stay put. In that case, the owner may want to trim them off for aesthetic reasons.

However, it's important not to cut into the trunk because the wounds can lead to disease, Hull said.

Both Palm Broker and Jurassic Palms get their trees from wholesale growers. Jurassic Palms is a subsidiary of Imperial Palms, which grows its trees by the Salton Sea in Niland (Imperial County).

Because of the variety of sizes and growth habits, people who want to add palms to their landscaping should do their homework and ask lots of questions before they buy.

Some good places to see palms are the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden, the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers and the San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum.

A new coffee-table book, "Palm Trees: A Story in Photographs" by photographer David Leaser (Westwood Pacific Publishing; 144 pages, $39.95), contains a wealth of color photos of palms around the world, along with some historical photos, including one of the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers in 1878. The text also is informative.

When it comes to designing a garden, "palms add something that few other plants have. Plant one, and it immediately feels exotic and far away," Grubb said -- similar to the impression that palm in the foothills made on someone from northwest Indiana.

E-mail Judy Richter at jrichter@sfchronicle.com.

Campaign in L.A. Tries to Pry Residents from Cars, One Driver at a Time

[ed: about damn time! snowball effect here we go! whee]

July 28, 2005 — By Tim Molloy, Associated Press
LOS ANGELES — Getting drivers to take the train or bus has never been easy in this car-crazed city of endless freeways, where gridlock is so awful that rush-hour speeds average less than 30 mph.

The new mayor wants to change Los Angeles' car culture, though his push for mass transit comes in the same month of the London subway and bus bombings.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is starting small, asking Los Angeles residents to give up driving just one or two days a week. The theory is that getting a few more cars off the road would go a long way toward easing gridlock and air pollution that are the worst in the nation.

"Los Angeles has a history of over-reliance on the single-passenger automobile, and we're going to have to change that history," said Villaraigosa, who went to Washington last week to lobby for more funding for transportation projects.

Since freeways overtook a once-thriving trolley system half a century ago, attitudes toward public transportation in Los Angeles have ranged from blase to hostile.

When a subway line was to expand out of downtown to Hollywood, community groups sued, calling it a source of sinkholes that swallowed up the project's funding. At the low point, construction cracked cement stars on Hollywood's Walk of Fame.

The rail system's four lines extend over 73 miles, but many residents have no idea where their local bus or subway station is, if they even have one. Villaraigosa and others acknowledge some people live too far from mass transit for it to be convenient, but hope those commuters will occasionally walk, bike or car pool.

"We don't have a system that can take you anywhere you want to go," said Villaraigosa. "Until we do, and we make it convenient, safe, affordable, reliable and fast, we're not gonna change those habits."

Tayde Palomares used to ride buses, but now spends about an hour each morning driving 12 miles to her daughter's day care and the downtown law firm where she works. Palomares, 28, said it is worth sitting in traffic to avoid men on the bus who would leer and test pickup lines.

"You know those looks," she said. "That's the main reason why I started driving. I feel much safer."

David Fleming, one of the mayor's appointees to the regional Metropolitan Transportation Authority's board of directors, emphasizes the importance of removing even a small number of cars from the road.

While serving on the California Transportation Commission, he learned that as a rule of thumb, 100 cars can travel together down a stretch of highway at 65 mph with no problem. But add another 20 cars, and traffic reaches a breaking point, with vehicles slowing to 20 mph, he said.

"If you can get 5 percent of the people who would otherwise drive a car and put them in public transit, you've solved a good deal of your public transportation problem," Fleming said.

Since the mayor took office July 1, he has frequently taken bus and train rides, gently suggesting that if the mayor can ride, other commuters can, too.

For commuters who do use mass transit, reasons range from environmentalism to economics.

Amy Wolfberg is among those who has a car but prefers the subway. Staying off the road saves her about 15 minutes each half of her commute, and her company pays for a $52 monthly commuter pass to encourage employees to use public transit.

"I was born here so I've always been concerned about pollution," said Wolfberg, 43, who works at a downtown accounting firm.

Other riders have no choice about their mode of transport. MTA surveys in 2002 found the average household income of bus passengers was $12,000 annually, and $22,000 for train passengers.

So far, the transportation authority hasn't noted any reduction in ridership since the London bombings, and officials have stepped up the number of uniformed and undercover sheriff's deputies and bomb-sniffing dogs. Deputies conduct consensual searches of those they deem to be acting suspiciously, but aren't doing random checks like police on New York subways.

On a typical weekday in June, 1.2 million passengers rode MTA buses. In addition, about 243,000 passengers took MTA trains on a typical June weekday.

If other passengers aren't ready to commit to public transit every day, MTA officials hope they will follow the lead of riders like Anthony Contreras.

The 26-year-old takes an express bus as often as possible from his home in Manhattan Beach to his downtown office, paying $3.50 roundtrip and saving on parking that runs from $10 to $30. He said he would take the bus more often if it ran later at night.

"It's cheaper than parking and it's less stressful," Contreras said.

Source: Associated Press

Growing Call among Californians to Sack Plastic Grocery Bags

July 29, 2005 — By Deb Kollars, The Sacramento Bee
In Los Angeles, in San Francisco and in Sacramento, one of the most commonplace innovations to come along for consumers -- the plastic grocery bag -- is under attack.

What would our world be like without these wisps of handiness? How would we get our groceries home? Or our homegrown tomatoes into the office? Or dog droppings off a stranger's lawn?

Across California, a growing collection of political leaders, environmentalists and trash experts wish they could find out.

Plastic grocery bags are filling landfills, clogging storm drains and waterways, jamming recycling machines, harming marine animals and littering roadsides.

Close to 90 billion are used in the United States (population 300 million) every year, while just 5 percent or so ever get recycled into another useful plastic product.

"They're a big, big problem," said Doug Kobold, a solid waste planner with the county of Sacramento who is among those working to reduce the bags' presence on the planet.

The efforts are heating up like a well-tended compost pile, setting California apart as the nation's hot spot for anti-bag fever.

Within a few weeks, San Francisco is expected to resume discussions -- which began last winter, then were put on hold -- on a proposal to place a 17-cent fee on plastic grocery bags to discourage their use.

Los Angeles, meanwhile, is under orders from the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up its rivers. The city views plastic bags as a key offender and is exploring aggressive steps to encourage recycling and to get manufacturers to put more recycled content into bags.

If those efforts fail, a Los Angeles city councilman leading the push, Ed Reyes, plans to start talking bag fees.

Locally, Sacramento County's Waste Management and Recycling Division is planning a different step.

The county, like the city of Sacramento, sends to the landfill plastic grocery bags, dry cleaning bags and other types of flexible wrap, known as plastic film. Come spring, the county plans to add bundled plastic bags and film to its curbside recycling program, along with shredded paper and plastic toys, Kobold said.

Several California cities, such as San Juan Capistrano and San Jose, are doing the same. Twenty years ago, few could have imagined the need for such crusades.

But once plastic bags were introduced in the early 1980s, the lighter, cheaper alternative to paper caught on fast. Today, the making of plastic bags in the U.S. is a $1-billion-a-year industry, said Larry Johnson, president and managing partner of Vanguard Plastics, a large bag maker based in Dallas.

With the growth, a classic consumer conundrum was born: Paper or plastic?

Plastic bags are hard to beat in price and convenience. They cost about a penny apiece to make, compared with 5 1/2 cents for a paper bag. They take less space at the checkout counter and adapt to odd shapes. Ninety percent of grocers and big discounters use them, Johnson said.

During manufacturing, both types use energy and create pollution, so environmentalists prefer that neither be made and people instead use reusable bags of canvas or other materials.

In general, though, plastic bags are considered more wasteful than paper. They come from petroleum, a nonrenewable natural resource, and are hard to recycle because food and other materials cling so readily to their surfaces. Paper bags are more likely to contain recycled paper and to get recycled themselves.

Plastic bags also are notorious for traveling on the wind, polluting land and water alike. "It's like our graffiti in the river," said Los Angeles Councilman Reyes. Because they do not decompose, the litter can linger for years.

The lack of biodegradability is not, however, an issue when it comes to modern landfills, which are kept "dry" to discourage decomposition and serve largely as giant storage bins.

"The life of a grocery bag is measured in minutes in terms of its useful life," said Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste. "It goes from the store to the car to the house, and then it becomes garbage."

According to the California Integrated Waste Management Board, the amount of film plastic disposed of statewide grew 20 percent in the past five years. Last year, 1.7 million tons of plastic film were disposed of, including 147,038 tons of grocery and merchandise bags (8.1 pounds per person).

The pileup of plastic has become so vast that the Waste Management Board -- whose reason for existence is to reduce the waste stream -- has begun leaning hard on the plastics industry to take more responsibility for recycling and reducing usage.

The board recently agreed to send to the Legislature a plan calling on manufacturers, supermarkets, recyclers and local governments to work voluntarily to reduce plastic film in the waste stream, said Christine Flowers-Ewing, a coordinator with the board's recycling technology branch.

The plan comes with a tough caveat: If the voluntary approach fails, a fee of 0.4 cents to 1 cent per pound at the wholesale level would be considered.

The plastics industry, under siege from so many corners of California, has begun a campaign of its own: to improve the tarnished image of plastic bags, to encourage recycling and to fight any fees or taxes.

In recent months, the industry formed an advocacy group called the Progressive Bag Alliance, raised $700,000 from various companies and hired public relations experts to fight the attacks. They have good reason to be concerned.

The bags have been banned in some countries, while others are imposing fees. Three years ago, after Ireland set a 15-cent-per-bag fee, the use of such bags fell an astounding 90 percent.

"It's a serious threat," said Tim Shestek, public affairs director for the American Chemistry Council, a trade group that includes the American Plastics Council. "The urgency is real."

The industry includes various sectors, not all on the same page.

Shestek represents companies that manufacture plastic resin pellets, which get heated and blown into sheets of plastic film. They are pushing more recycling sites and anti-litter measures, but object to fees or other steps that would reduce the use of bags.

The actual makers of the bags have a slightly softer position.

They also oppose fees. But they recognize the environmental toll of their products and want to reduce wasteful use, even if it means a hit in sales, said Johnson, chair of the Alliance.

In particular, the group sees a problem at the checkout stand and has begun promoting better training of clerks so they stop double-bagging and filling bags only partially.

"We want our product used efficiently and correctly," Johnson said. "It could cost us some sales, probably will. But it won't cost us our business."

For shoppers, the choice between paper and plastic remains highly individual.

Many like the light weight and flexibility of plastic bags, which can be used to line waste baskets or clean litter boxes.

But Kathy Howton, a South Natomas resident who works for the state, finds that loaded plastic bags tend to topple in the car, so she chooses paper bags, then reuses them to hold garbage.

"When I do get plastic bags, I try to find other uses for them," Howton said.

Barbara Bechtold, an urban planner from downtown Sacramento, avoids both, relying instead on reusable canvas bags. It bothers her to see people going home from the store with bags destined for a landfill.

"The effort is so minimal," said Bechtold, who also won't buy bottled water because she finds the packaging wasteful.

Given the way plastic bags have so thoroughly invaded everyday life, the state needs more individuals like Bechtold, said the waste board's Flowers-Ewing. People making choices that benefit not just themselves, but all the rest of us.

PAPER OR PLASTIC

--Best choice: Neither. Use reusable canvas or nylon bags to transport your groceries.

--Next best choice: Paper bags. They have more recycled content and are more recyclable. Be sure to reuse them next time you shop.

--If you use plastic bags, recycle them. Go to www.plasticbagrecycling.org, set up by the American Plastics Council. Click on "General Public," then "Search for a Drop-off Location" and type in your ZIP code to find the stores nearest you that accept plastic bags and film.

--Don't assume your curbside recycling program recycles plastic bags. Local programs vary. Sacramento, for example, accepts the bags in its blue curbside bins, but the bags are sent to the landfill during a later sorting process.

--Keep plastic bags clean and dry for recycling. If they have food or other materials clinging, they are hard if not impossible to recycle.

--Think you can't live without plastic grocery bags? Get creative when emptying the litter box or picking up after your dog: Try using an empty chip bag or cereal box liner or fresh-cut lettuce bag destined for the landfill anyway.

--For more information, visit the Californians Against Waste Web site, www.cawrecycles.org. Or contact your local solid waste collection agency.

To see more of The Sacramento Bee, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.sacbee.com.

Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Hop in to state's anti-toad pool, Canberra told

[ed: wish we had a plan to get rid of red-eyed sliders, flowerhorns, bullfrogs and mynahs]

August 01, 2005, The Australian

By Amanda Banks

THEY can grow to the size of a small dinner plate, will eat anything, dead or alive, they can fit into their mouths and they carry enough poison to kill a crocodile.

But cane toads are facing a stepped-up fight to stop their invasion of Western Australia, with the Gallop Government yesterday announcing an extra $1 million would be spent on the campaign to prevent the pests' westward march.

The grant includes $500,000 for community-based Stop the Toad Foundation to trap the animals as they head through the Victoria River, 200km east of the Western Australian border in the north of the state.

Another $500,000 will be spent on programs to increase community awareness, bringing the state's spending on the anti-cane toad campaign to $2.5million in the past eight months.

Premier Geoff Gallop said fighting the toads was a difficult task, and called on the federal Government to match the state's financial commitment.

"The cane toad's transmission belt through to the Northern Territory has been via the commonwealth-controlled Kakadu National Park," Dr Gallop said. "We have yet to see the colour of their money."

The Premier said cane toads posed a threat to the state's aquatic systems, fauna, indigenous culture and rapidly developing eco-tourism industry.

Stop the Toads Foundation patron and prominent author Tim Winton said the state money was a good start but there needed to be a unified approach across the nation to stop the spread of the pests.

Winton said it was amazing that people appeared to have a defeatist approach to battling the toads. "If we can keep starlings out of the state and they can fly, surely we can keep out an amphibian that hops at a slow rate," he said.

A spokesman for federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell said commonwealth funding to meet a commitment to work with the state Government on the campaign was expected to be announced shortly.

Arctic ocean depths teeming with life -- explorers

Jul 29, 2005, Reuters

By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The remotest depths of the Arctic ocean are surprisingly full of life, including previously unknown species of jellyfish and worms, a scientific team which just finished exploring the area said on Friday.

The scientists, led by the University of Alaska, used robot submarines and sonar to probe an isolated 12,470-foot (3,800-meter) basin off Canada's Arctic coast where they fear species could be at risk from global warming.

"We were surprised by the abundance and the diversity of life in this environment. Even at a depth of 3,000 meters we found animals on the sea floor, we found sea cucumbers ... and all kinds of jellyfish and crustaceans," said Rolf Gradinger of the University of Alaska, the chief scientist on the voyage.

"Some of the species that we saw are completely new to science, they have not been described in any area of the earth so far," he told reporters on a conference call. The species are a jellyfish and three kinds of benthic bristle worms.

The team also found unexpectedly high numbers of cod as well as the first squid, octopus and flea-like crustaceans ever seen in an icy environment.

Scientists from the United States, Canada, Russia and China spent 30 days on the U.S. icebreaker Healy as part of a $1 billion, 10-year global Census of Marine Life funded by governments, companies and private donors.

The Healy returned on Tuesday with thousands of specimens from the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas and the Canada Basin, a vast bowl walled by steep ridges and covered with ice.

The team said the data would help measure the impact of climate change and, should polar caps continue receding, the damage done by increased energy exploitation, fishing and shipping.

"This is a benchmark and we hope that in the next 10, 20 or 30 years these kinds of studies will be repeated to see whether any kinds of changes have occurred in the composition and the abundance of animal life," said Gradinger.

U.N. studies say the Arctic could be largely ice-free in summer by 2100 because of global warming, blamed mostly on gas emissions from cars, power plants and factories.

The scientists say that if the northern polar cap melts, more southerly species could enter Arctic waters and disrupt the ecology. Some of the exotic life forms they found can be seen at http://www.coml.org/medres/iceocean/iceocean.htm.

The team also said explorers would carry out similar studies in the Southern Ocean around the Antarctic, where conditions are much less settled than in the Canada Basin.

"Scientists now theorize the swirling Southern Ocean current is an evolutionary caldron, upwelling Antarctic nutrients and mixing life forms from the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans, returning them in centrifuge-like fashion," the team said in a statement.

The Australian Antarctic Division in Hobart will lead the project from December 2007 to March 2008. It will involve up to 200 scientists from 30 countries and take samples from as deep as 16,500 feet.

"Because the Southern Ocean appears to be so critical to the biology of the global ocean system, scientists are eager to understand how continued climate change, if realized, will affect it and the other oceans in turn," the team said.

Myth' that forests improve water flows - study

[ed: While the study below may be applicable to regions which are naturally arid, I hope it won't be misused by those who regard reforestation as a waste of public funds]

Jul 29, 2005, Reuters

By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent

OSLO (Reuters) - Many countries are wasting millions of dollars planting trees because of myths that forests always help improve water flows and offset erosion, a British-led study said on Friday.

Many trees, especially fast-growing species like pines and eucalyptus favored by the paper industry, suck more water from the ground than other crops, it said. The water transpires from the leaves and so the trees dry out the land.

"Trees on the whole are not a good thing in dry areas if you want to manage water resources," said John Palmer, manager of the tropical Forestry Research Programme run by the British Department for International Development.

"When it comes to wet areas, trees may be beneficial or no worse than pasture and crops," he told Reuters of the study of plantings in India, Costa Rica, South Africa and Tanzania in a four-year project led by British and Dutch researchers.

Forests have many other benefits -- ranging from habitats for birds, insects or animals to human sources of building materials and firewood.

But the report said it was a myth that forests acted as sponges that soak up rain, releasing it throughout the year and ensuring more regular flows in rivers. Instead, trees' deep roots often aggravate water shortages in dry seasons.

It also said it was wrong to believe forests attracted more clouds and rainfall or that tree roots helped slow erosion more those of short plants. It said the myths had been anchored in cultural history since at least the 17th century.

PANAMA CANAL

"We don't want to be seen as against forests or trees," said Ian Calder, a lead researcher who is director of the Center for Land Use and Water Resources Research at England's University of Newcastle.

"But there is a need to be careful when you plant forests in the belief you are promoting water resources," he said. "We need policies based more on scientific evidence. Hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent, if not billions."

The report said Panama was seeking hundreds of millions of dollars from the World Bank to back a project to plant trees on the apparently mistaken belief that it would attract more rainfall to help feed the Panama Canal.

Other countries from China to Mexico also had costly afforestation schemes at least partly based on misconceptions about water.

In the Indian states of Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, the study said conversion of agricultural land to forests had damaged water supplies, cutting flows by 16-26 percent.

Availability of fresh water is a constant problem.

The World Commission on Water has estimated that demand for water will increase by about 50 percent in the next 30 years and that around four billion people, or about half of the world's population in 2025, will have problems with supplies.

The study said trees often showed the "clothes line" effect.

Just as wet clothes dry quicker if hung out rather than left lying on the ground, the enormous combined surface of trees' leaves combined with their deep roots meant they transpired more water into the air than other crops, it said.