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November 10, 2011

Dirty Oil Pipeline Delayed!

In an enormous victory for the endangered whopping crane and other cherished wildlife, today the Obama administration announced that it will explore alternative routes for the Keystone XL pipeline!

This decision will require additional much-needed environmental review and will likely delay a decision on the pipeline for at least another year.  The exciting announcement follows unprecedented opposition from tens of thousands of wildlife advocates over the past year.  Advocates who have spoken out against the unacceptable risks the pipeline would pose on its route through crucial wildlife habitat.

Thousands of us concerned citizens kept up the pressure on President Obama at a rally on Sunday in Washington DC.  Watch the video:

Larry Schweiger, National Wildlife Federation President and CEO said:

“This do-over is likely a lethal blow.  The project won’t be able to stand the scrutiny because Americans now understand that it will increase our addiction to dirty, expensive tar sands oil for decades.

"The Keystone XL pipeline was the wrong project in the wrong place.  You can change the route, but it is still the wrong project at a time when we need investments in clean energy alternatives that don’t spill, don’t pollute, and don’t run out.

“Over the last several months, a groundswell of opposition sunk this project.  Not since the first Earth Day have I seen so much energy directed toward conserving the environment for our children.  This is a great moment for the thousands of Americans who have stood up to this project, from town halls to the White House.”

While the fight against dirty oil is not over, today’s announcement was a critical step in protecting whooping cranes and other cherished wildlife from the next oil disaster.

October 30, 2011

Snow in October! Extreme Weather and Climate Change

Snowfall on Autumn Street.

My big red oak in my backyard isn't finished turning colors, yet we had big wet snow flakes falling.  The entire northeast U.S. yesterday was hit by a freak fall snowstorm.  My area, at least, normally isn't due to see our first snowfall for another 4-6 weeks.  The forecasters said it was going to happen, but I didn't believe them (after all they have been wrong before).  Then the snow came. 

The whole world lately has been seeing extreme weather more and more often.  No matter where you live you can't deny it.  Climate change is real.  Scientists have long predicted that climate change would bring about more violent weather, from droughts to ferocious storms.  Now we are learning precisely what that violent weather feels like. 

I was sent these comical (and very real) postcards of cities all over the U.S. representing the effects of climate change.  Check them out and use one - or all - to send to someone who needs more convincing:

Hurricanes and global warming:  Higher sea surface temperatures fuel storms.  Scientists warn that climate change will increase the frequency of the most intense hurricanes.

Blizzards and global warming:  Warmer air holds more water vapor, setting the stage for monster snowstorms when the warm, moist air meets a cold front.

Flooding and global warming:  Warmer air holds more moisture - and then releases more precipitation.  Intense rainfalls swell rivers dangerously.

Drought and global warming:  Scientists warn that our warming climate will leave the American southwest locked in permanent drought within 40 years.

Wildfires and global warming:  In drier regions, extended periods of hotter temperatures and lower rainfall are key to factors causing wildfires.

Send one of these postcards to your friends, and help break through the denial.

Tell them that they can help by standing with us as we work to cut pollution, and show why it's so important to fight climate change.

"Postcards from the Edge" courtesy of Environmental Defense Fund.

October 26, 2011

Annual List of Candidates for Endangered Species Act

The wekiu bug was recently removed from the candidate list.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced yesterday its Candidate Notice of Review, a yearly appraisal of the current status of plants and animals considered candidates for protection under the Endangered Species Act.  "The candidate list offers the Service and our partners a unique opportunity to address the threats to these species through voluntary conservation efforts on public and private lands," said Service Director Dan Ashe.  "We will continue developing conservation strategies and programs that guide these conservation efforts and provide predictability to landowners undertaking actions to conserve non-listed species."

Read the news release.

See the full list of Candidate Species.

Learn about the wekiu bug and the conservation efforts that led to it being removed from the candidate list.

October 25, 2011

Dunes Sagebrush Lizard causing Controversy

Widespread destruction of the lizard’s New Mexico and Texas dune-oak habitat has prompted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to propose protecting the lizard under the Endangered Species Act.

The oil and gas industry is trying to block the creature’s protections with misinformation and scare tactics so it can drill and pollute the lizard’s last pockets of habitat.

Appearances can be deceiving.  At first glance, you’d never think the rolling white sand dunes of southeastern New Mexico and west Texas held the largest stand of oak in the country.  The region’s shinnery oaks are only four or five feet high, but they provide food, shade and a breeding ground for the small, brown dunes sagebrush lizard – otherwise known as the sand dune lizard.  Under the shade of these oak trees, the dunes sagebrush lizard buries itself in the cool, white sand, avoiding predators and regulating its body temperature.  However, when it comes to oil and gas development and livestock grazing, there’s nowhere for the lizard to hide. 

Controlled studies have found that relatively small numbers of oil and gas wells have dramatically lowered dunes sagebrush lizard populations.  Under former President Bush’s energy policy, oil and gas development rapidly increased on federal lands, resulting in dramatic losses of dunes sagebrush lizard habitat.  This habitat loss is compounded by efforts of ranchers to remove shinnery oak – which is toxic to cattle – by using an herbicide spray. 
Refusing to let the dunes sagebrush lizard be another casualty of cattle grazing and Bush’s energy policy, the Center for BiologicalDiversity petitioned for the animal to be listed under the Endangered Species Act in 2002.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made the dunes sagebrush lizard a candidate for listing, thereby avoiding a grant of full protection.  Finally, at the end of 2010, the Service proposed to list the dunes sagebrush lizard as endangered.  However, so far this year, Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM) began to spread baseless claims that protecting the lizard would have a detrimental effect on Mew Mexico’s oil and gas jobs.  That information has been debunked in a full report.

You can help save the lizard by signing this petition to White House policymakers.  It asks the administration to put in place the protections federal biologists have already proposed.

We need 25,000 signatures by November 19 for policymakers to review this petition.

October 6, 2011

Green Your Halloween

Halloween is the perfect holiday for a greenie.  It's an opportunity to reduce, reuse and recycle.  So go for it.  Impress the neighborhood with your ghastly green ways.  Check out these tips below and get started.

Make your own costume.

Is your alter-ego a warrior princess, a giant vegetable, or a scandalized politician?  Whatever your cover, Halloween is the time to get creative.  Browse thrift stores and yard sales for funky hats or cool fabrics that can be cut and re-crafted.  Dust off that old sewing machine, or just grab a needle and thread.  You don't have to be a master-crafter to put together something funny, bizarre, scary or sweet.

And adults, don't think that homemade costumes are just for kids... this is your opportunityto be a role model for the younger generation of greenies.  Need some ideas?  The Daily Green has 25 homemade costumes that are fun and do-it-yourself from recycled materials - like a bat made from old black umbrellas and a samurai made from cardboard boxes.

The bottom line is, don't buy pre-made plastic or vinyl costumes, which are likely to contain toxic chemicals that can harm you and nature.  Instead, go the DIY route and make use of materials found at home, at yard sales or thrift stores.

Homemade costume and decorating ideas

Grow your pumpkin, and eat it, too.

Find local sources at localharvest.org.  Or better yet - grow your own.  Organic is still important even if you don't plan to eat your pumpkin (though you should) because pesticides from conventional farming are huge polluters of streams, rivers and lakes, causing all kinds of nasty side-effects like dead zones and deformities in wildlife.

When Halloweeen is over, use your organic pumpkin in delicious dishes.  Scoop out the seeds and roast them, and cut up the pumpkin and bake it, then use the flesh for pumpkin muffins, breads and stews.  At the very least, add your pumpkin to your garden compost bin instead of just trashing it (if you don't already compost, here are some easy tips for getting started).

Yummy recipes
Collect your loot in reusable bags.

Don't buy plastic pumpkins - just use old pillowcases or reusable cloth shopping bags.  To make them festive, decorate them to match your costume.

Be picky about the candy you give out.

This is a tough one.  It's pretty difficult to reduce the waste involved with individually-wrapped candies.

So let's work with what we can control.  There are more organic candy choices out there than ever before, which again helps reduce pesticide run-off.

Also, keep an eye out for brands that use fair-trade ingredients or donate some of their profits to conservation, wild animal research and other eco-charities, such as Endangered Species Chocolate.

Check out this list of organic and Earth-friendlier candy options.

64-count Endangered Species "bug bites"
Decorate with homemade crafts.

Whether your tastes lean toward Martha Stewart or the Addams Family, there are lots of ways to make your own Halloween decorations.  Here are just a few ideas.
  • Grab some tin cans from the recycling bin and paint them with pumpkins, skulls or bats.
  • Use grandma's old dress mannequin as a dead body.
  • Or, kill two birds with one stone by raking the leaves in your yard and stuffing them inside old clothing to make a dead body.
  • Cut creepy silhouettes out of paper shopping bags or newspapers and hang them in your window.
  • Recycle the decorations you bought last year - or ten years ago.  Halloween decorations are even scarier the older and more worn they are.
For more ideas of decorations you can make out of materials found at home, check out this DIY crafting site.

Light up the night.

Take this opportunity to save electricity and turn off all the lights in your house - except the front porch light to let trick-or-treaters know you're home.

If you want to light up with some candles, use petroleum-free ones made from soy or beeswax, which produce less soot than traditional paraffin lights.  And light your walkway with solar-powered lanterns.  Finally, when it comes to torches for the monster parade, stick to flashlights with reusable batteries or LED glow sticks.

LED glow sticks

And have a safe, spooky, and green Halloween!

October 5, 2011

Awesome Scientific Calendar

The Union of Concerned Scientists held a cartoon contest for their annual calendar.  Here's the winner (I love it) and my other 4 favorites that will be featured in the 2012 calendar.  For all 12, order yours today!

October 4, 2011

Red Tide = Glow-in-the-Dark Blue Waves on San Diego Beaches

Who knew red tide caused blue waves?

San Diego's beaches are captivating many with an eerie nighttime phenomenon.  It seems that "red tide" is causing bioluminescent glow-in-the-dark waves in the area, a sight that's almost too eerie to believe.

But you can see it for yourself in the videos below.

According to the Los Angeles Times, an unusual algae bloom has turned the surf red by day, and provided this effect at night. 

"The electric blue glow is caused by an algae bloom commonly referred to as a "red tide."  the organism, a phytoplankton claled Lingulodinium polydrum, has bloomed since late August, turning the water a brownish-red color in the daytime, according to UC San Diego scientists."

More specifically, the color is caused by a chemical reaction that results from the movement of the algae.  Move a whole lot of algae at once (in say, the crash of a wave) and a brilliant flash of light becomes visible.

The event is mildly toxic, GrindTV reported, but isn't really harmful to humans beyond making a swim a bit uncomfortable.  However the phenomenon has brought out sll sorts of adventurous types, especially surfers who can't wait to say they rode glow-in-the-dark waves. 

How much longer the blue surf will last is unknown.  According to the LA Times, while some spots have cleared up, others remain colored.

Watch (A quick clip of glow-in-the-dark waves) :

Watch (A more theatrical compilation of the waves):

What causes red tide?

The occurance of red tides in some locations appear to be entirely natural (algal blooms are a seasonal occurance resulting from upwelling, a natural result of the movement of certain ocean currents), while in others they appear to be a result of increased nutrient loading from human activities. 

The growth of marine phytoplankton is generally limited by the availability of nitrates and phosphates, which can be abundant in agricultural run-off as well as coastal upwelling zones. 

Coastal water pollution produced by humans, and systematic increase in sea water temperature, have also been implicated as contributing factors in red tides. 

Some red tides are associated with wildlife mortalities of marine and coastal species of fish, birds, marine mammals, and other organisms. 

Though red tides are a natural occurance, they are consistently monitored due to the increased frequency of the past several years caused by human impact, therefore impacting ocean ecology.  In some instances in the Gulf of Mexico (where there are more unnatural occurances than natural),  a red tide produces dead fish and wildlife along the beaches.

October 2, 2011

Join me at the White House on November 6.

The groundswell of opposition to the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is something I hope you’ve been following closely since last month’s sit-in at the White House, which saw the arrests of 1,252 brave people in protest.
But the work is not over.

You are invited to stand with fellow supporters in Washington, DC on November 6.  Exactly one year before the election, you are being asked to join us to encircle the whole White House in an act of solemn protest.  We need to remind President Obama of the power of the movement that he rode to the White House in 2008. 
We’ve already shown we have the courage and the fortitude for civil disobedience.  Now we need to mix it up and show a different side of the campaign.  Many of us were sincerely moved by Barak Obama’s campaign for president.  We’re not yet ready to concede that his promises were simply the talk of politicians.  We’re not going to be cynics until we absolutely have no choice. 

It will be a beautiful and brave sight, the White House enclosed by the kind of people that put President Obama there.  Since he’s said he’ll make up his mind by the end of the year, now’s the time.  I know it may be hard to get to Washington, but if you can – this is the moment.
No arrests are expected at this action, but with your involvement we can send an unmistakable, unavoidable message.

It’s clear that it’s now or never for President Obama to make good on his promises to end “the tyranny of oil.”  He can start by saying “no” to the Keystone XL pipeline, a 1,700-mile fuse to a carbon bomb that is slated to run through America’s heartland.
Join me at the White House on November 6.

October 1, 2011

Commit to Real Food by October 24

Food Day is October 24, 2011.
Food Day seeks to bring together Americans from all walks of life – parents, teachers, and students; health professionals, community organizers, and local officials; chefs, school lunch providers, and eaters of all stripes – to push for a healthy, affordable food produced in a sustainable, humane way.

The goal is to transform the American diet.  It's about time that we all started eating real.  Right now there are far too many people eating diets composed of salty, overly processed packaged foods clad in cardboard and plastic; high-calorie sugary drinks that pack on pounds and rot teeth, but have no nutritional benefit; and fast-food meals made of white bread, fatty grain-fed factory-farmed meat and French fries. 
Americans need to start cooking real food for their families again.  There should be fewer people at drive-thrus and bigger crowds at farmers’ markets.  We need to celebrate fresh fruits, vegetables, and healthy whole grains – and to support the local farms and farmers that produce them.  Food produced in a sustainable manner helps to keep pesticides and other toxics out of our water and ecosystems.  When you buy food locally you also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation of non-local food sources. 

Food Day is a commitment to:
·         Reduce diet-related disease by promoting safe, healthy foods
·         Support sustainable farms & limit subsidies to big agribusiness
·         Expand access to food and alleviate hunger
·         Protect the environment & animals by reforming factory farms
·         Promote health by curbing junk-food marketing to kids
·         Support fair conditions for food and farm workers

Transforming our diet is a big step in transforming the way we live so that we may be better stewards of the earth. 
Start now and be committed to these principles by October 24th.  Don’t wait till Food Day to begin.

September 30, 2011

Are Your Kids Eating BPA for Dinner?

The Breast Cancer Fund has uncovered the presence of BPA in canned foods marketed directly to young kids.  They tested 12 canned foods – two cans each of six canned meal products – marketed to, and largely consumed by, children, including:

·         Annie’s Homegrown Cheesy Ravioli
·         Campbell’s Disney Princess Cool Shapes, Shaped Pasta with Chicken in Chicken Broth
·         Campbell’s Spaghettios with Meatballs
·         Campbell’s Toy Story Fun Shapes, Shaped Pasta  with Chicken in chicken Broth
·         Chef Boyardee Whole Grain Pasta, Mini ABC’s & 123’s with Meatballs
·         Earth’s Best Organic Elmo Noodlemania Soup

Every food sample tested positive for BPA, with Campbell’s Disney Princess and Toy Story soups testing the highest. 
Now it’s canned foods that are exposing small kids to BPA at similar levels as the baby bottles that have been banned in numerous states and largely driven off of store shelves.  The Breast Cancer Fund also put out a report addressing the concern that children may be particularly vulnerable to the effects of hormone-disrupting chemicals like BPA.

There should be no place for toxic chemicals in our children’s food.  I hope you’ll join me by askingCampbell Soup Company, Con Agra (maker of Chef Boyardee), Annie’s Homegrown,and Hain Celestial (maker of Earth’s Best) to stop marketing BPA to kids intheir canned foods.

The Breast Cancer Fund has launched the Cans Not Cancer campaign, creating a national voice to urge food manufacturers to replace BPA with a safer alternative.
It’s time for moms across the country to unite, just like we have for BPA-free baby bottles and phthalate-free toys, and demand that canned food companies stop marketing this toxic chemical to kids.

Act now:
·         Sign the petition telling Campbell’s that BPA is not “M’m mm good!”
·         Follow these tips to avoid the sneakiest sourcesof BPA.

September 25, 2011

Loggerhead Sea Turtle gets Protection

The northern loggerhead sea turtle is finally getting full protection under the Endangered Species Act.  In response to two legal petitions last week, the National Marine Fisheries Service designated the North Pacific loggerhead sea turtle "endangered" under the Act -- upgrading its status from the less-protective classification of "threatened."  The rare and ancient marine reptile, which spends much of its time off the coasts of Mexico and California, has declined by at least 80 percent over the past decade due to fisheries by-catch, climate change, oil spills and other threats.

Although loggerheads in the Northwest Atlantic are also seriously at risk and have seen a 40 percent decline in nesting on Florida beaches since 1998, the agency did not list them as it did their North Pacific cousins.  Instead, it split loggerheads into nine populations worldwide and protected only five of these.  But North Pacific turtles now have a much better shot at recovery: Threats like deadly long-line and gillnet fisheries will be under increased scrutiny, and the Fisheries Service will now have to identify areas to set aside as federally protected "critical habitat" for the turtles.

September 24, 2011

Europe's Vibrant New Low Car(bon) Communities

Stockholm, Sweden

Eight new developments across Europe have employed successful design and policy measures to limit car use.  These developments have lower rates of car ownership and car mode share, and higher rates of bicycling, walking and transit use than comparable areas or their surrounding cities.  This also means these developments have lower carbon footprints from transportation.

Greenwich Millennium Village in London has a car mode share of 18%, less than half of that in the surrounding district, which has a car mode share of 44%.
Vauban, in Freiburg, Germany has a car mode share of 16% compared with the citywide average of 30%.

Car ownership rates in Houten are only 80% of that of the surrounding city of Zeist in The Netherlands.

Also in The Netherlands, bicycling mode share in GWL Terrein in Amsterdam is 50% compared with the rest of Amsterdam West, which has a cycling mode share of 32%.
These developments have employed a combination of carrot and stick measures that promote walking, cycling and transit use, while regulating road use and parking to make car use less convenient.

It is also worth noting that nearly all of these developments were created in close proximity to existing urban centers and near good transit connections.  This combined with strong design measures to make cycling and walking safe and pleasant take away a lot of the "need" for car ownership, and make commuting by car even less essential.
Download the report from the Institute for Transportation& Development Policy for more information about all eight European developments.

September 13, 2011

Nickelodeon's "Victorious" for our Planet

I don't prefer to watch TV, but I do like to spend quality time with my daughter.  Over the weekend my daughter and I had the house to ourselves (we love it when the boys take their golf trips).  And, since I didn't get home from work until after dark on Saturday, our quality time consisted of whatever my daughter wanted to watch on TV. 

Being the average kid, she had us flipping the channels between Disney and Nickelodeon.

One of the more popular shows on Nick right now is Victorious.  All ages love this show.  I've seen it with my daughter a few times, but this time I noticed something I hadn't before.

Everywhere these kids went they would be carrying their purse or backpack or books or something, but they would also be carrying their stainless steel water bottle.

No one ever talked about it.  It was never focused on in any way; just like they wouldn't focus on what puse they were carrying or outfit they were wearing.  It was a regular part of what they did, day in and day out.  No one had plastic! 

The subliminal message this sends out to kids is fantastic!  I can see it now:  Young girls telling their moms that it's not cool to carry an ugly plastice water bottle, and that they want a metallic pink one instead because it's what Tori carries on Victorious. 

Kudos goes out to Nickelodeon's Victorious.  As one of the most popular shows out there right now for kids, they know they have a tremendous power of persuasion.  And they're using it to benefit the planet!  How cool is that? 

Imagine what more can be done using this medium.  What if we saw recycling bins in the backgrounds of these shows instead of trash cans?  What else can we think of? 

Kids these days can grow up with conservation as the norm, and not something that takes a conscious effort.  Nickelodeon has it right.  Kids are our future, and the of the planet depends solely on how they will live as adults.  Keep up the good work Nick. 

September 10, 2011

Environmental Summer Program for Teens

For the past 17 summers the Nature Conservancy has hosted a program called "Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future" (aka LEAF).  The program appeals to urban teens with little or no experience in nature, with one-third of its alums going on to pursue environmental careers. 

My daughter participated in this program and it's amazing!  Check it out and, if you haven't had your teen participate already, look into it for next year.  You'll be glad you did. 

Judge Approves 757 Species Settlement

Here's great news to start the weekend:  A federal judge has just approved the Center for Biological Diversity's landmark agreement to move 757 of the country's most imperiled, least protected species toward protection.

The judge's signature today makes the historic agreement the Center reached with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official and legally binding.

And it's the latest step in a decade-long effort at the Center to get vital federal protection for hundreds of America's most vulnerable plants and animals.  All of them now have a fresh shot of survival.  Celebrate this important moment.
Even before the judge today made the agreement legally binding, significant progress toward protecting species included in the Center's settlement.  Over the past two months, dozens of species listed in the agreement have been proposed for listing.  That includes one of the rarest butterflies in the United States, the Miami blue, which has been proposed for emergency protections.

There's never been an agreement like this one: Between now and 2018, the Fish and Wildlife Service will decide on Endangered Species Act protection for hundreds of species, including the American wolverine, the Pacific fisher, Mexican gray wolf, sage grouse and the Pacific walrus.

The deal includes species in all 50 states, including 26 birds, 31 mammals, 67 fish, 22 reptiles, 33 amphibians, 197 plants and 381 invertebrates.

With the judge's approval today, important decisions will be made about the fate of these species to be in the coming months and years.  And because of the ongoing hard work by scientists, lawyers and advocates in reaching this agreement and continuing to fight for protections for other imperiled plants and animals, you can celebrate knowing that many of these species will finally get the help they so desperately need.

Reflect on this historic victory for America's plants and wildlife. There is always more work to be done, but pause and celebrate the big victories when they are earned. 

September 7, 2011

A Wake-Up Story

Children need bedtime stories.  Parents need...
A Wake-Up Story.


August 26, 2011

International Coastal Cleanup

You name it, and I bet we've found it on the beach and in the water.

We've collected cigarette butts, plastic bags, toilet seats, washing machines, abandoned fishing gear - even the proverbial kitchen sink.  In fact, over the past 25years of Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup, more than 8.5 million volunteers have removed 145 million pounds of trash, including 53 million cigarette butts, 14 million food wrappers and containers, 13 million caps and lids... the list goes on and on.

It's the largest volunteer effort of its kind, and I hope you'll join us for our 26th annual International Coastal Cleanup by signing up for a cleanup near you or organizing your own.

Trash on our beaches and in our waterways isn't just an eyesore - it's harmful to humans, wildlife and entire ecosystems.  This serious pollution problem limits access to beaches and impacts recreation, tourism and coastal economies.  Toxic compounds from trash in the water can enter the food chain, and potentially end up on our dinner plates.  And trash harms wildlife, too.  Countless birds, dolphins, seals, turtles and fish become sick or die each year form eating things they shouldn't or getting trapped in a tangle of trash or lost fishing nets.

Add all of that to the pre-existing problems of pollution, overfishing and climate change, and you've got a beleaguered, stressed-out ocean.  But the good news is that ocean trash is entirely preventable.  By recycling, repurposing and reusing, each of us can reduce the amount of trash we generate.  And we can also come together to cure the problem that's already been created, by heading to a beach or waterway to pick up trash during the 26th annual International Coastal Cleanup.

Ocean trash affects everyone, everywhere, and we all have a shared responsibility to keep the ocean clean and healthy.  When we protect our ocean, we are protecting the life-support system for our planet.  Can you think of a better way to spend a morning?

Algal Bloom

A huge algal bloom, indicated by the green color in the ocean water, was observed on August 17, 2011.  The bloom covered much of the New York Bight area which extends from Montauk, NY (the tip of Long Island) to Cape May, NJ.  This spells potential harm to marine life, especially bottom living animals such as lobsters, clams, crabs, and some fish.  As the algae dies and decomposes it will decrease the amount of oxygen in the water on which marine life depend.

More science is needed to monitor the impacts of the bloom.

Divers and fisherman that know these waters should look for tell-tale signs of low dissolved oxygen (DO).  Fishermen should be looking for fish floating on the surface or in the open and lethargic.  Also look for fish that are located higher on the wrecks and/or breathing with difficulty.  If divers know how to use dissolved oxygen kits, they should take samples. 

So, what is this?

Very small, usually microscopic, types of floating algae are known as "plankton algae."  When present in large numbers, plankton algae give the water a brown, yellow, red, or green color.  Although they are not flowering plants, when enough algae are present to color the water, it is called and "algal bloom."  When there is an algal bloom, each milliliter of water contains thousands, or perhaps millions of alga cells. 

Most organisms, including algae, use oxygen for respiration.  When there are too many algae competing for a place in the sunlight, many of the algae die and decay.  This creates a demand for oxygen.  When the weather brings a series of warm, calm and cloudy days, the algae cannot produce enough oxygen to meet the needs of all the aquatic organisms. 

Some fish require high levels of (DO).  When the amount of DO in the water is not sufficient to meet their needs, the fish die.  Too many algae may cause a "fish kill" (the death of many fish at one time). 

What causes an algal bloom?

Most fertilizers, used by farmers and homeowners, contain nitrates (NO3).  All nitrates are soluble in water.  When it rains, the nitrates from fields and lawns are carried into nearby streams and lakes.  Another major source of nitrates is sewage produced by humans and other animals.  One cow produces waste equal to the sewage produced by 4.5 humans.  Nitrogen is also released by the decomposition of organic matter.

The nitrates in a body of water are nutrients for algae and aquatic plants.  This increased growth of algae and build-up of dead plant material causes an increase in the biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) and lowers the DO level of the water.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified nitrogen as the main factor causing low oxygen levels in the western part of Long Island Sound.

Unpolluted waters generally have a very low nitrate-nitrogen level (below 1ppm).  Fast-flowing water will prevent the growth of floating aquatic plants and plankton algae even when nitrate levels are high.  In the lower reaches where the water is warmer and slower moving, the nitrate causes abundant growth of algae, an "algal bloom."  The algae die and settle to the bottom and their decay causes the DO level to fall.

Additionally, secondary treatment at some sewage treatment plants does not produce effluent that meets the EPA standard for nitrates and phosphates.  Without further treatment, the effluent will pollute streams and cause algal blooms. 

I will continue to keep you updated as I learn more about the current algal bloom off the coast of New Jersey and Long Island. 

August 24, 2011

Dragonflies - A Species Spotlight (or "My Fun With Dragonflies")

Green Darner Dragonfly (anax junius)

I love sitting in the open sun.  I have never been much bothered by our mosquitoes.  Arctic ones are a different matter altogether, as for some reason mosquitoes get fiercer and more numerous the farther north you go.  Caribou, for example, may become so depleted of blood by millions of teeming mosquitoes that they lose weight even while grazing full-time. 

The only animals that consistently prey on mosquitoes are dragonflies.  They have probably been doing so for at least 100 million years.  Mosquitoes seem to have habits that are designed to avoid overlapping with these predators.  They avoid the sunshine, where dragonflies are most active.  But hordes of mosquitoes appear as soon as I step into dense shady woods where there are no dragonflies.  That is, wherever and whenever dragonflies are scarce, mosquitoes are abundant. 

Dragonflies that fly at dusk can cash in on mosquitoes.  I suspect that the dragonflies' extraordinary eyes developed to keep up with prey trying to escape into the dark.  Behavioral adaptations have the same effect:

While walking in the grass recently during the heat of the day, I saw mosquitoes spring up.  I was then followed by several dragonflies that were hawking them.  The dragonflies seemed to have been following me directly, because when I shifted to a slow jog they continued to follow me.  They were acting like some species of birds - cowbirds in North America and cattle egrets in Africa - which also follow large animals because of the prey these animals flush. 

They were so intent on where I was that when I stopped in my tracks they didn't go any further either.  They just flew all around me.  One landed on my arm.  And, as I stood stock still so as not to scare it away, I noticed how beautifully green it was.  This was the Common Green Darner.  We have so many Common Whitetails that I was surprised to see this one. 

It put me in mind of the endangered Hine's emerald dragonfly. 

Hine's Emerald Dragonfly (somatochlora hineana)

As its name implies, this dragonfly has distinctive emerald eyes and a metallic green body with yellow stripes along the sides.  Relatively large, its wings span about 3.3 inches.  The story of the Hine's emerald dragonfly is much like that of the proverbial ugly duckling, except that it dies shortly after its transformation. 

The dragonfly spends the majority of its life in the larval stage.  Nymphs hatch and live in marshes high in calcium carbonate or sedge meadows over dolomite bedrock, where they prey mostly on other aquatic insects.  Molting many times, it eventually crawls onto land after 2-4 years, sheds its skin a final time, and emerges a glorious, beautifully colored, flying adult. 

Adults live only 2-6 weeks, feeding mostly on insects they catch in the air.  Within 7-10 days of emergence, adult males establish and begin patrolling territories, defending them against other males and mating with females who enter.  Females lay over 500 eggs by dipping the tip of their body into shallow water as many as 200 times. 

Both the United States and the IUCN list the species as Endangered.  Its main treat is habitat loss and destruction.  Many of the wetlands vital to its survival are drained for urban and industrial uses.  Contamination of habitat by pesticides and other pollutants and changes in ground water also negatively impact the species. 

Now believed to be extirpated in Alabama, Indiana, and Ohio, Hine's emerald dragonfly is now found only in Illinois, Michigan, Missouri and Wisconsin.  The largest population is in Door County, Wisconsin. 

A healthy dragonfly population is essential to a balanced ecosystem.  Imagine a world where mosquitoes have no natural predators left.

August 23, 2011

How a Palm Oil Company Makes Its Profit

Cargill Inc., the world’s largest agricultural trader – and the largest importer of rainforest-destroying palm oil in to the US – just reported a record net profit of $4.2 billion. That’s a 63% increase over the same period last year.

From Girl Scout cookies to laundry detergents to lipstick, Cargill’s palm oil finds its way into almost every American home and many more around the world. Chances are, there’s some of that palm oil in your cabinet or laundry room right now.

Tell Cargill’s CEO that record profits are nothing to celebrate when they come at the expense of record deforestation.

So what does Cargill’s palm oil really cost?

The sad truth is that Cargill’s palm oil operation has been run with the ruthless mentality of a cut-throat trader: buy low, sell high and to hell with the inconvenience of considering the impact on people and planet. This has meant turning a blind eye to slave labor, the eviction of Indigenous peoples from their ancestral land, and the destruction of rainforest habitat for endangered orangutans.

Rainforest Action Network, however, has Cargill’s attention. They have been putting so much pressure on Cargill by exposing their methods to the general public. Cargill, therefore, has begun taking steps to clean up its tainted supply chain. It still has quite a long way to go. Cargill needs to be pushed all the way.

Ask Cargill’s CEO Greg Page to go the distance to protect Indonesia’s rainforests, human rights and critical habitat for endangered orangutans.

You will be helping to move the largest privately held company in the world to include human rights and the environment in its bottom line. It is no small task.

August 22, 2011

Camera Trap

Conservation International recently put hidden cameras in seven countries - on three continents - as part of the world’s first global camera-trap study of mammals. What they got was amazing: not just 52,000 images of animals, but also critical scientific information that will help them do a better job of protecting them.

Here are the facts of the camera-trap study:

• Three continents: South America, Africa, and Asia

• Seven sites: Bwindi Impenetrable Forest (Uganda), Udzungwa Mountains National Park (Tanzania), Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park (Indonesia), Nam Kading National Protected Area (Lao PDR), Central Suriname Nature Reserve (Suriname), Manaus (Brazil), Volcan Barva Transect (Costa Rica)

• 420 cameras used

• 60 cameras in each site

• 1 camera every 2 square kilometers

• Cameras were set up for a month in each place

• Time frame of data analyzed in the paper: 2008-2010

• Number of sites being monitored today: 17

You can learn more – see some of these amazing mammal photos – and check out a blog post by the study’s leader, CI’s own Dr. Jorge Ahumada.

You’ll also learn about the role that mammals play in maintaining the kind of healthy ecosystems that we all count on.

August 20, 2011

Our schools are getting it right

Simple yellow post-it notes with the message "When not in use, turn off the juice," pointedly left on calssroom computers, printers and air conditioners, have helped the Mount Sinai School District on Long Island save $350,000 annually on utility bills.

According to the New York Times, energy consumption in New York City's 1,245 school buildings is down roughly 11% since 2008, as motion detectors have been installed on classroom lights and unused refrigerators and freezers have been unplugged for the summer. 

In Yonkers, energy savings have financed $18 million in new boilers, windows and other capital improvements that the Westchester County district could not otherwise afford.

Schools, once known as energy wasters, are embracing conservation in increasing numbers all over the country.  A desire to practice the environmentally friendly principles discussed in classrooms has been heightened by soaring energy costs and tighter budgets.  With the help of a growing industry of energy consultants, school officials are evaluating every detail of their daily operations, like the temperature of the swimming pool and the amount of electricity the cafeteria ovens use, and are replacing energy-guzzling equipment with more efficient models. 

"Nationally, more than two dozen states, including California, Idaho, Kentucky, Montana, New Hampshire and Virginia, have used millions in federal stimulus money since 2009 to pay for energy programs and upgrades in school buildings," said Judy Marks, director of the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities in Washington.  "These efforts include replacing light fixtures, adding solar panels and building geothermal heating and cooling systems."

In some instances, school districts have appointed an official energy manager to police hallways and classrooms to root out energy waste.  Armed with yellow notes, they inspect up to 100 classrooms a day and "ticket" violators.  Teachers have been known to run back to their classrooms when they see one coming. 

Many districts across the country have financed conservation efforts through so-called energy performance contracts with companies that advise them on how to be more energy-efficient and guarantee them specific savings, either in dollars or kilowatts.  If the district's actual savings fall short, the company writes a check to make up the difference.

Three consultants - Johnson Controls, Trane, and Energy Education - have reported that their school business has grown by at least a third since 2006.  The companies send in engineers and specialists to conduct extensive audits of each district and then custom-design conservation programs.  "Anything that consumes energy, natural gas or water is going to get evaluated," said Larry Wash, Trane's president of global services.

Looks like we're heading in the right direction.  Now if we could only get every school, home and business to do the same - imagine how much money we would be saving and how much CO2 we would be reducing. 

August 19, 2011

Another Spill - Take Action Now

By now you’ve probably heard the news that our ocean has suffered yet another oil spill – this time in the North Sea off the coast of Scotland.  The undersea pipeline began leaking last Wednesday; by Monday, an estimated 1,300 barrels of oil had been released into surrounding waters.

This just confirms what the world has known all along: oil spills will happen, and companies must be prepared to respond effectively when they do.
Next year, Shell wants to drill for oil in the Arctic off the coast of Alaska.  But Shell’s oil spill response plan is woefully inadequate.  Urge Secretary Salazar to REJECT Shell’s oil response plan for the Arctic.

This latest spill shows us yet again that it’s not a matter of “if” an oil spill will happen – it’s a matter of “when.”  And an oil spill in the Arctic could be devastating.  Here’s why:

·         The Arctic is a unique – and fragile – environment, and our understanding of Arctic marine ecosystems is not well-developed.

·         The harsh conditions and remoteness of the Arctic frontier present new challenges that typical spill-response methods don’t address.

·         Oil and gas operators have not yet demonstrated that they can effectively clean up spilled oil in real-world Arctic conditions.

For all these reasons, it’s crucial that Secretary Salazar REJECT Shell’s oil spill response plan for the Arctic.  Until companies like Shell demonstrate that they can effectively clean up a worst-case oil spill in real-world Arctic conditions, the Secretary should not approve its spill response plans, and should not allow drilling in Arctic waters.

There's still a chance to get it right when it comes to drilling in the ocean.  Speak out to restore and protect our ocean. 


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