Archive for the ‘Marine Biology’ Category

I filmed a video for my YouTube channel a couple of days ago on Peregrine Falcons (the link to my channel is below), how they are thriving and nesting on tall buildings, and how various people/groups have set up live-streaming cameras so that all of us can check in on the nests and see what is going on.

One of the major events that have allowed Peregrine Falcons to thrive was the banning of insecticides in the 1970s, and one big one was the banning of DDT in 1972. Once the chemical was banned in the USA, several groups of dedicated people including scientists and falconers worked incredibly hard to help bring the Peregrine Falcon population back up to a healthy level.

Well, the DDT story is not over. While active use of DDT no longer occurs in the USA, there is still DDT in this country. DDT can persist in the environment for a very long time, and so it can still be found in water and soil. Some of this contamination is from runoff from when DDT was used to control insects. But some of this contamination is coming from sites where chemicals such as DDT were intentionally dumped.

A discarded, leaking barrel sits 3,000 feet underwater near Catalina.
A partly corroded barrel sitting approximately 3,000 feet below the surface of the Pacific Ocean near Santa Catalina Island (Photo Credit: The LA Times).

One such dump site may have been found off the coast of southern California. As reported in the LA Times, researchers have found more than 25,000 barrels of chemicals sitting about 3,000 feet below the surface of the Pacific Ocean near Santa Catalina Island! This likely represents a dumpsite that was used for years to dispose of unwanted chemicals, and the full extent of site was not determined because the barrels extended beyond the edges of the survey area! These barrels are suspected of holding DDT and other chemicals. DDT has been detected in the waters around southern California, it has been found to accumulate in the tissues of dolphins, and has been linked to aggressive forms of cancer in California Sea Lions.

Cleaning these barrels up is going to be a major undertaking. Leaving them in place is not an option because of the lasting health impacts of that much DDT poses a serious threat to a wide range of species (including humans) over a wide geographic area. The barrels themselves are corroded and breaking them apart as they are lifted will be a real danger.

Dealing with sites like this are a stark reminder that we humans have made tremendous mistakes. Many of these mistakes have been in how we have dealt with the natural environment. These mistakes, like dumping barrels of chemicals in the ocean, have left a legacy that we are dealing with today. We must be ready to admit the mistakes of the past. We must be ready to take actions to fix those mistakes. We must be ready to commit the needed money to make these actions a reality. If we are able to do these things, we can experience more recoveries like that of the Peregrine Falcon where it went from almost extinct to almost common, and we will better preserve the vital biodiversity of this planet.

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A news report from The Tribune caught my eye a couple of days ago. It is a piece, which you can read here, on king tides. The gravitational pull from the moon causes the water on the oceans of the earth to bulge out towards and away from the moon, and to pull in at right angles to the moon. This is what causes tides on earth. The gravitational pull from the sun does the same thing.

King tides occur when the pull of the sun and the pull of the moon line up, aided by other weather factors, and result in the highest tides of the year. And that is going to happen fairly soon. The maximum high and low tides for California will occur on December 4th causing the tides along the California coast to change by as much as 8 feet! This is going to mean some impressive high tides with possible flooding and increased wave action, and also some amazing low tides that will offer up some terrific tide pooling opportunities!

So, go out to the rocky coast at low tide as see what you can find!

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Information is important. With information each of us as individuals, and our society as a whole, can learn about the world. With information, we can all make decisions that make sense. With information, we can all discuss ideas.

Without information none of that is possible. Without information, we are, at best, at the mercy of our current, limited knowledge, and our base instincts. Without information we are, at worst, at the mercy of the limited knowledge and instincts of someone else.

This is why the gag order, and insistence that all reports and data be pre-screened before release to the public, issued by the President to the EPA are so concerning to me, and I think should be so concerning everyone else. This is exactly the kind of action that limits access to, and spread of, information. It will only hamper all of our abilities to operate as rational, critically thinking individuals. It is the kind of action that is put in place to control what we, as citizens, know and when we know it. This is censorship and it has no place in science or a free society.



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mjs plastic

Tiny plastic microbeads in personal care products are washing into public waterways. — credit: Alliance for the Great Lakes

In March of 2014, I wrote a post about microbeads. Microbeads, for those who might be wondering, are tinny spheres of plastic that are added to a variety of personal care products such as toothpaste, body wash, and soap to increase the abrasiveness of the product. The problem is that these pieces of plastic are so small that they pass right through filters and water treatment plants and then flow out into the environment where they can have serious consequences. The polystyrene that microbeads are commonly made of attract a range of chemicals that bind to their surface. When a fish mistakes a microbead for a fish or insect egg, it not only gets a piece of plastic in its stomach, but also a concentrated does of the chemicals that piece of plastic is carrying.

And some of the numbers around microbeads are staggering! Researchers at State University of New York found that an average one square kilometer of Lake Ontario contained approximately 1.1 million microbeads! All these particles move through our streams, lakes, and rivers and eventually find their way to the oceans where they contribute to the massive amount of plastics floating on the earth’s oceans. These plastics continue to have environmental health effects as they move through food webs. A recent study out of Oregon State University found that approximately 90% of the seabirds in the world had plastic in their guts.

So, what to do? Well, in March of this year, Representative Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) introduced H.R. 1321 to the U.S. House of Representatives which would amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to prohibit microbeads from being added to products. It calls for the phasing out of microbeads beginning on the 1st of July, 2017. And on the 7th of Dec. the House voted on, and passed, H.R. 1321! This legislation will now go to the US Senate for a vote, and then on to the President to be signed into law.

So, the U.S. Senate is the next hurdle. To help this bill over that hurdle, write to your senators and tell them that you want a vote on this issue, and that you want them to vote with the environment and ban microbeads from our waterways and the waters of the planet!


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Check out my post on the Ethogram about these really cool, really rare, plankton eating shark!


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Check out my post on The Ethogram (which is the Animal Behavior blog of U.C. Davis) on Hagfish at: http://theethogram.com/2015/01/26/creature-feature-hagfish/

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A change is coming to a grocery store near you! Soon you will not have the option of paper or plastic at the checkout counter. This is because, last September, Governor Brown signed a state-wide ban on single-use plastic bags. This is the first state-wide ban in the country.

The ban will come into effect in two major stages. The first will only effect large stores and will begin 1-July-2015. The second stage will apply to all stores of any kind or size and will take effect 1-July-2016.

At present, it is estimated that something like 13 million plastic bags are handed out each year. All that plastic is then thrown away, if we are lucky. If we are lucky a plastic bag is thrown into the trash and ends up in a landfill. It will not brake down there for decades, at least, but it will stay put. If we are unlucky, the bag will miss the trash can and end up floating on the wind or water and end up in our streams, rivers, and eventually, our oceans. There it will again not break down for decades and instead spend its time floating around collecting toxins, many of which bind to the surface of plastics. They are then often eaten by marine animals, and so deliver that toxic payload to that animal or the animal that eats it. In this way, the toxins that the plastic carries, and the plastic itself, is accumulated up the food chain and eventually may be eaten by you or me. So, this ban is not just about saving the oceans, though it would be a great law even if that were the case, but it is about protecting our health as well.

I, for one, am happy to see California leading the way on this issue. Of course, the plastic bag industry is pretty unhappy about this ban, but if you are contributing to the decline in health of the environment then you are going to be held to account in one way or another. This way we all get to be healthier during the process.

So, don’t forget your reusable bags next time you head out shopping! Come July, you are really going to need them.

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Here is a link my first post on The Ethogram, our new animal behavior blog! It is an introduction to an amazing and beautiful group of organisms called Sea Butterflies, which are actually tiny planktonic snails!

Butterflies of the Sea


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