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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. 

August 18, 2011

Another Dirty Secret

Starkist, Bumble Bee, and Chicken of the Sea don't want you to see this:

Take Action Now

Each year the canned tuna industry kills thousands of sharks, rays, turtles and seabirds.  Now that's a dirty little secret.  Learn more by clicking here.

Greenpeace is launching a new campaign to get the canned tuna industry to clean up its act and end its destructive ways.  To kick things off they've teamed up with Pulitzer Prize winning catroonist Mark Fiore on this video.  Help expose the tuna industry's dirty little secret by sharing it with everyone you know.  

August 17, 2011

A Dirty Secret

"In the evening, someone will go from house to house and tell the neighborhood that tomorrow will be a windy day and perhaps, a bad air day.  The next afternoon - if the conditions are just wrong - a toxic dust called coal ash picks up from the landfills and slag ponds at the nearby power plant and heads towards the reservation like a sandstorm."

Watch this video, and share it with everyone you know.

This isn't just here.  It's everywhere. 

In 1996 I moved to an area that was 20 miles from a coal plant.  In 1997, at the age of 25, I was diagnosed with asthma.  I'd never had a breathing problem before.  I was always doing activities outdoors.  But that's what did it... being outdoors.  The coal ash I was breathing had buried itself into my lungs.  I was afraid of going outside!

But in 2001 I moved again to a cleaner place far from any coal plants, and I never had an asthma attack again.  That was the thing that helped - moving far enough away to let my lungs clear up.  Not everyone can do that.

What needs to be the solution is switching over to cleaner, greener, renewable energy.  Look into solar panels for your home, or research the different energy providers in your area.  Find the one that is committed to using the highest percentage of renewable energy.

It's possible to reverse the damage done to our health and the environment. 

(I support Earth Justice.
Because the Earth needs a good lawyer.)

August 4, 2011

"What Are You Doing? Go Outside and Play!"

Those were the words I heard my mom say daily while growing up.  Even when I was very small - and after she helped me wash my hair - she would send me outside saying, "now go and let the sun dry your hair." 

We all have memories like that of our childhood as well as: jumping into a cool lake on a hot summer day, intently watching ants on the march, or spending hours just laying back and looking at clouds.  And whether we realized it or not, those moments in the outdoors helped shape our views on the world around us. 

But those kinds of memories are fading fast for many young people today.  The statistics are alarming: in a typical week, only 6% of children ages 9-13 play outside on their own, and kids 8-18 spend an overwhelming 53 hours a week using entertainment media. 

Even my daughter, an active skateboarder, has been tempted to stay indoors to master all Tony Hawk games on her Wii.  It was short-lived because she knows there's no substitute for the great outdoors.  But most kids don't know that.  They're outside only long enough to get from point A to point B - which is usually the front door (A) to car door (B) and vice versa.

Getting kids back outside is more important than ever - for the sake of the kids and the future of our planet.  Spending time outdoors at a young age is critical to fostering a healthy conservation ethic.  And an increasing number of studies illustrate that kids who spend time outdoors are happier, healthier, and smarter.  That alone is worth it isn't it?

Nature Rocks!

Developed by the nation's leaders in bringing families and nature together, Nature Rocks is a national program to inspire and empower families to play and explore in nature. 

This initiative gives busy parents and caregivers the tools, instructions and tips for quick, easy, inexpensive (or free) activities, so they can enjoy quality family time in nature. 

Find, Connect, Explore!

At Nature Rocks, parents will find more than 100 fun, easy-to-implement, and interesting activities based on their specific needs (time available, ages of children, location) - inspiring and empowering families to enjoy bonding experiences in nature:
  • The parent-friendly Web site offers a Find Nature tool for parents to input their zip code and quickly locate a list of nearby parks, forests, Conservancy preserves, and more, including places that offer nature tours, classes, and even gear.
  • Have fun in Flocks!  Now there is a way to take your family's social life into nature.  Start a Nature Rocks Flock, and get outside with friends, neighbors, family, school groups and others. 
  • Parents can also take advantage of additional tools to invite family and friends to join in Nature Rocks activities - spreading the fun and turning nature adventures into adventure parties. 
The Nature Conservancy, ecoAmerica, the Children and Nature Network, REI, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, American Heart Association, and the American Camp Association have joined to make nature rock for your family.

Now you have no excuse.  What are you doing?  Go outside and play!

August 2, 2011

How to Get Off the Path to Destruction.

The science is in, and the basic facts are no longer disputable: global warming is happening, and it's happening because of us.  Human activities are transforming the Earth's atmosphere, and the result is a dangerous imbalance.  In the course of the coming century, global warming threatens to drive so many species extinct that we will no longer recognize the world we remember from our childhoods. 

The good news?  If we act fast, we still have a chance.  If we act fast, the polar bears - whose sea ice is melting beneath them - still have a chance; the great whales - who depend on a complex and delicately balanced food chain - still have a chance.  Our coastal cities still have a chance, too. 

More than any other single issue, the fight to stop global warming depends on swift and sure action: to avoid the worst effects of climate change, we need to get greenhouse gas emissions down by more than 80% by 2050.  We need to be leading the charge to save species like polar bears and penguins that are already severely threatened by the effects of climate change.  We need to call for drastic changes in our nation's energy policies that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. 

But what will help us win the fight, ultimately, is the conviction and political will of Americans from all walks of life to make changes at home and to demand them from our nation's leaders. 


How you can do it:

Increasing our awareness of the greenhouse gas consequences of our energy use, travel, and food and other choices is the first step towards reducing our own emissions.  Use this simple tool to calculate your own emissions.

The average American generates approximately 24 tons of CO2 annually, but this number can be drastically reduced with simple changes, many of which will also save you money. 


Whether your particular Congressional representatives have expressed support for actions to combat global warming, or they've decided to ignore the problem or even to oppose solutions, it is critical they hear constantly from their constituents on this issue. 

Find your elected official here.

Personal letters sent by mail receive the most attention at Congressional offices.  You can select from the points below, but it is best to use your own words whenever possible. 

Suggested talking points:
  • Climate change is one of the most serious threats to society, the environment, and biodiversity. 
  • Serious government action is required to combat global climate change.
  • Because of our past actions, we have committed to continued warming over the next several decades, but we need you to pursue every option to reduce climate change.
  • I realize that the policies necessary to fight climate change will affect our daily lives and entire country, and I support those solutions. 
  • I am making changes in my daily life to take action to reduce global warning, but government action is necessary as well.
  • I urge you to pursue and support every opportunity to reduce global warming.
  • I support efforts to protect wildlife and biodiversity from the increasing threats of climate change.
The climate crisis threatens to devastate the diversity of life on Earth.  Scientist's warn that in just ten more years of continued greenhouse gas pollution trajectories may commit the planet to devastating warming, sea-level rise, and species extinction.  Greenhouse gas pollution reductions must begin immediately, and all sources must be addressed.


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