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May 22, 2013

New research: Trash and Nesting Sea Turtles

Every spring, mother sea turtles come ashore under the cloak of darkness to lay their eggs on the sandy beaches of North Carolina. And every morning, volunteers look for signs of these nesting sites so they can help monitor and protect them.

Yet on most of these sunrise beach walks, volunteers find more trash on the beach than sea turtle tracks.

It’s alarming, but not surprising, considering that more than 10 million pounds of trash were removed from our ocean and waterways during the 2012 International Coastal Cleanup.

While many man-made obstacles – from coastal development and artificial lighting to fishing and hunting – threaten sea turtles, trash is one threat that travels great distances and is present both on land and in the ocean. It is also entirely preventable.


By studying dead and stranded sea turtles, we’ve learned that they sometimes eat trash in the water – especially items like plastic grocery bags, which can resemble their favorite food: jellyfish. But we don’t know much about how sea turtles interact with trash while coming ashore to nest.

The Ocean Conservancy and the Wrightsville Beach Sea TurtleProject is piloting a new initiative that will put a cleanup data form in the hand of every volunteer monitoring the beach for sea turtle nests. The data they collect will tell about the kinds of items they picked up and, eventually, which stretches of beach are most likely to have trash items that could affect the health of the sea turtles that nest there.

While I’m excited about this project, I also know that simply cleaning up trash isn’t enough. In addition to endangering baby sea turtles on their way back to sea, ocean trash is a threat to our economy and our health. And unless we change our habits, it’s here to stay.

Ocean Conservancy

May 21, 2013

Koch Brothers to Attack Democracy

After spending millions distorting the truth about climate change, buying elections and using the tea party as a political tool, the Koch Brothers are preparing for their next big move: Purchasing the Tribune Company, which runs newspapers across the country.

Over the past decade, the Koch Brothers have funded an army of shadowy organizations and pseudoscientists to drag climate science though the mud. While 97% of scientists agree climate change is real and we are causing it, the Koch brothers have used their billions to fund scientists from the other 3%.

Imagine the havoc they could wreak on public opinion regarding environmental, labor and social issues if they controlled the papers they are after.

This fight against the Koch brothers goes beyond the Tribune Company’s newspapers. To end Arctic drilling, coal mining, overfishing and deforestation, we need journalism that isn’t distorted by corporate power.

And it’s not just about public opinion. It’s about democracy. When people are purposefully misled it undermines the conditions necessary for a healthy democracy to exist.

May 20, 2013

Keystone XL Cover Up

In March, the State Department issued its environmental review of the dirty, dangerous Keystone XL pipeline. Ignoring the many studies which show that building the pipeline will accelerate climate change and endanger communities along its route, the State Department came to the outrageous conclusion that the pipeline will have minimal environmental impacts.

But it has now been revealed that the firm hired by the State Department to write this flawed review is a dues-paying member of Big Oil’s mouthpiece in Washington, the American Petroleum Institute. And, many of the sub-contractors hired by the firm to do the Keystone review have deep ties to the oil industry.

No wonder that the administration’s own Environmental Protection Agency has criticized the State Department’s report.

The fact that the State Department ignored its own guidance and allowed a dues-paying member of the American Petroleum Institute to write the environmental review of the Keystone is scandalous enough. But making matters worse, State Department employees were actively involved in an attempt to cover up this firm’s ties to Big Oil.

Thanks to some intrepid reporting from Mother Jones, we know that someone in the State Department redacted the official disclosure forms that would have revealed these ties.

The stakes in this fight couldn’t be higher. We simply cannot allow the administration to decide whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline based on a flawed environmental report written by Big Oil.

Friends of the Earth

May 18, 2013

Ways You Help Wetlands

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Nearly 75% of all wetlands are privately owned, making it imperative that the public participate in wetland management and protection. Here are some things you can do:
  • Conserve and restore wetlands on your property.
  • Support local wetlands and watershed protection initiatives by donating materials, time, or money.
  • Work with your local municipalities and state to develop laws and ordinances that protect and restore wetlands.
  • Purchase federal duck stamps from your local post office to support wetland acquisition.
  • Participate in the Clean Water Act Section 404 program and state regulatory programs by reviewing public notices and commenting on applications.
  • Encourage neighbors and developers to protect the function and value of wetlands in your watershed.
  • Avoid wetland alteration or degradation during project construction.
  • Maintain wetlands and adjacent buffer strips as open space.
  • Reduce the amount of fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides applied to lawns and gardens.
"He who knows what sweets and virtues are in the ground, the waters, the plants, the heavens, and how to come at these enchantments, is the rich and royal man."

May 17, 2013

What is Destroying Our Wetlands?

Atchafalaya Basin
Human activities cause wetland degradation and loss by changing water quality, quantity, and flow rates; increasing pollutant inputs; and changing species composition as a result of disturbance and the introduction of nonnative species. Common human activities that cause degradation include the following:
Hydrological Alterations.
A wetland's characteristics evolve when hydrological conditions cause the water table to saturate or inundate the soil for a certain amount of time each year. Any change in hydrology can significantly alter the soil chemistry and plant and animal communities. Common hydrological alterations in wetland areas include:
  • Deposition of fill material for development.
  • Drainage for development, farming, and mosquito control.
  • Dredging and stream channelization for navigation, development, and flood control.
  • Diking and damming to form ponds and lakes.
  • Diversion of flow to or from wetlands.
  • Addition of impervious surfaces in the watershed, thereby increasing water and pollutant runoff into wetlands.
Pollution Inputs.
Although wetlands are capable of absorbing pollutants from the surface water, there is limit to their capacity to do so. The primary pollutants causing wetland degradation are sediment, fertilizer, human sewage, animal waste, road salts, pesticides, heavy metals, and selenium. Pollutants can originate from many sources, including:
  • Runoff from urban, agricultural, silvicultural, and mining areas.
  • Air pollution from cars, factories, and power plants.
  • Old landfills and dumps that leak toxic substances.
  • Marinas, where boats increase turbidity and release pollutants.
Vegetation Damage.
Wetland plants are susceptible to degradation if subjected to hydrological changes and pollution inputs. Other activities that can impair wetland vegetation include:
  • Grazing by domestic animals.
  • Introduction of nonnative plants that compete with natives.
  • Removal of vegetation for peat mining.
"It is a curious situation that the sea, from which life first arose should now be threatened by the activities of one form of that life. But the sea, though changed in a sinister way, will continue to exist; the threat is rather to life itself."

May 16, 2013

The Status of Our Wetlands

Axe Lake Swamp State Nature Preserve
The National Audubon Society notes that bird populations continue to decrease as wetlands are destroyed. In the past 15 years alone, the continental duck breeding population fell from 45 million to 31 million birds, a decline of 31%. The number of birds migrating over the Gulf of Mexico, which rely on coastal wetlands as staging areas (especially in Louisiana and Mississippi), has decreased by one-half since the mid 1960s. Approximately 100 million wetland acres remain in the 48 contiguous states, but they continue to be lost at a rate of about 60,000 acres annually. Draining wetlands for agricultural purposes is significant, but declining, while development pressure is emerging as the largest cause of wetland loss. Unfortunately, many remaining wetlands are in poor condition and many created wetlands fail to replace the diverse plant and animal communities of those destroyed.
When a wetland functions properly, it provides water quality protection, fish and wildlife habitat, natural floodwater storage, and reduction in the erosive potential of surface water. A degraded wetland is less able to effectively perform these functions. For this reason, wetland degradation is as big a problem as outright wetland loss, though often more difficult to identify and quantify.
"We have forgotten how to be good guests, how to walk lightly on the earth as its other creatures do."

May 13, 2013

Commercial Benefits of Wetlands

Cheyenne Bottoms
Many industries, including the fishing industry, derive benefits or produce products dependent on wetlands. Part of this economic value lies in the variety of commercial products they provide, such as food and energy sources. Rice can be grown in a wetland during part of the year, and the same area can serve as a wildlife habitat for the rest of the year. Some wetland plant species, such as wild rice and various reeds, can be harvested for - or used to - produce specialty foods, medicines, cosmetics and decorative items. In many coastal and river delta wetlands, haying of wetland vegetation is important to livestock producers. In Europe, reed-growing for building materials is undergoing a revival in some countries as people realize the full potential of reeds as a roofing material. Aesthetically pleasing, thatched roofs are superior insulators to conventional tile roofs, and they have a life span of 25-40 years.
Wetlands also provide employment opportunities, including such positions as surveyor or park ranger. The production of raw materials from wetlands provides jobs to those employed in the commercial fishing, specialty food and cosmetic industries. These are billion dollar industries that depend on our wetlands to flourish.
In addition to the many ways wetlands provide economic benefits, they offer numerous less tangible benefits as well. These include providing aesthetic value to residential communities, reducing stream-bank erosion and providing educational opportunities as an ideal "outdoor classroom." By nearly any measure used, it pays to save wetlands.
"There must be a reason why some people can afford to live well. They must have worked for it. I only feel angry when I see waste. When I see people throwing away things we could use."

Wildlife Habitat in a Wetland

Long Lake
Diverse species of mammals, plants, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds and fish rely on wetlands for food, habitat or shelter. Wetlands are some of the most biologically productive natural ecosystems in the world, comparable to tropical rain forests or coral reefs in the number and variety of species they support. Although wetlands make up only about 5% of the land area of the lower 48 states, more than one-third of threatened and endangered species live only in wetlands. An additional 20% of the country's threatened and endangered species use or inhabit wetlands at some time in their life. Some species must have a wetland in order to reproduce. Migrating waterfowl rely on wetlands for resting, eating and breeding areas, leading to increased populations.
"Away, away, from men and towns,
To the wild wood and the downs,
To the silent wilderness,
Where the soul need not repress
It's music."

May 12, 2013

Reconstructing a Wetland

Cache River
Because natural wetlands are so effective at removing pollutants from water that flows through them, engineers and scientists construct systems that replicate some of the functions of natural wetlands. These constructed treatment wetlands use natural processes involving wetland vegetation, soils and their associated microbial life to improve water quality. They are often less expensive to build than traditional waste-water and storm-water treatment options, have low operating and maintenance expenses and can handle fluctuating water levels. For example, in 1990 city managers in Phoenix, Arizona, needed to improve the performance of a waste-water treatment plant to meet new state water quality standards. After learning that upgrading the plant might cost as much as $635 million, the managers started to look for a more cost-effective way to provide final treatment to the plant's waste-water discharge into the Salt River. A preliminary study suggested that a constructed wetland system would sufficiently clean the discharged water while supporting high-quality wetland habitat for birds, including endangered species, and protecting downstream residents from flooding. All these benefits would be achieved at a lower cost than retrofitting the existing treatment plant. As a result, the 12-acre Tres Rios Demonstration Project began in 1993 with assistance from the Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation and EPA's Environmental Technology Initiative and now receives about two million gallons of waste-water per day. This project is still flourishing, serving as a home for thousands of birds and other wildlife. There are hundreds of waste-water treatment wetlands operating in United States today.
"To halt the decline of an ecosystem, it is necessary to think like an ecosystem."

May 11, 2013

Wetlands and Flood Control

Grays Lake
Flood damages in the U.S. average $2 billion each year, causing significant loss of life and property. Wetlands can play a role in reducing the frequency and intensity of floods by acting as natural buffers, soaking up and storing a significant amount of floodwater A wetland can typically store about three acre-feet of water, or one million gallons. An acre-foot is one acre of land, about three-quarters the size of a football field, covered one foot deep in water. Three acre-feet describes the same area of land covered by three feet of water. Coastal wetlands serve as storm surge protectors when hurricanes or tropical storms come ashore. In the Gulf coast area, barrier islands, shoals, marshes, forested wetlands and other features of the coastal landscape can provide a significant and potentially sustainable buffer from wind wave action and storm surge generated by tropical storms and hurricanes. After peak flood flows have passed, wetlands slowly release the stored waters reducing property damage downstream or inland. One reason floods have become more costly is that over half of the wetlands in the United States have been drained or filled. The loss of more than 64 million acres of wetlands in the Upper Mississippi Basin since the 1780s contributed to high flood waters during the great floods of 1927, 1993 and 2011 that caused billions of dollars in damages and the loss of hundreds of lives. Additionally, the damage sustained by the Gulf Coast during Hurricane Katrina could have been less severe if more wetlands along the coast and Mississippi delta had been in place.
"If  there is magic on the planet, it is contained in water."

Wetlands and the Quality of Drinking Water

Alakai Wilderness Preserve
 Wetlands improve water quality in nearby rivers and streams, and thus have considerable value as filters for future drinking water. When water enters a wetland, it slows down and moves around wetland plants. Much of the suspended sediment drops out and settles to the wetland floor. Plant roots and microorganisms on plant stems and in the soil absorb excess nutrients in the water from fertilizers, manure, leaking septic tanks and municipal sewage. While a certain level of nutrients is necessary in water ecosystems, excess nutrients can cause algae growth that's harmful to fish and other aquatic life. A wetland's natural filtration process can remove excess nutrients before water leaves a wetland, making it healthier for drinking, swimming and supporting plants and animals. For example, a single swamp removes a quantity of pollutants from the watershed equivalent to that which would be removed by a $5 million treatment plant.
"When the well's dry, we know the worth of water."

May 8, 2013

Wetland Facts

Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge
Did you know?
In 1991 wetland-related ecotourism activities such as hunting, fishing, bird-watching, and photography added approximately $59 billion to the national economy.
According to the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman's Associations, almost $79 billion per year is generated from wetland-dependent species, or about 71% of the nation's entire $111 billion commercial and recreational fishing industry in 1997.
An acre of wetland can store 1-1.5 million gallons of floodwater.
Up to one-half of North American bird species nest or feed in wetlands.
Although wetlands keep only about 5% of the land surface in the conterminous United States, they are home to 31% of our plant species.
"A healthy ecology is the basis for a healthy economy."

May 7, 2013

Biological Productivity of Wetlands

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge
Wetlands are some of the most biological productive natural ecosystems in the world, comparable to tropical rain forests and coral reefs in their productivity and the diversity of species they support. Abundant vegetation and shallow water provide diverse habitats for fish and wildlife. Aquatic plant life flourishes in the nutrient-rich environment, and energy converted by the plants is passed up the food chain to fish, waterfowl, and other wildlife and to us as well. This function supports valuable commercial fish and shellfish industries.
"In nature we never see anything isolated, but everything in connection with something else which is before it, beside it and over it."

Wetlands and Water Filtration

Bayou Bartholomew
After being slowed by a wetland, water moves around plants, allowing the suspended sediment to drop out and settle to the wetland floor. Nutrients from fertilizer application, manure, leaking septic tanks, and municipal sewage that are dissolved in the water are often absorbed by plant roots and microorganisms in the soil. Other pollutants stick to soil particles. In many cases, this filtration process removes much of the water's nutrient and pollutant load by the time it leaves a wetland. Some types of wetlands are so good at this filtration function that environmental managers construct similar artificial wetlands to treat storm water and waste water.
"For many of us, water simply flows from a faucet, and we think little about it beyond this point of contact. We have lost a sense of respect for the wild river, for the complex workings of a wetland, for the intricate web of life that water supports."

May 6, 2013

Wetlands and Water Storage

Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve
Wetlands function like natural tubs or sponges, storing water and slowly releasing it. This process slows the water's momentum and erosive potential, reduces flood heights, and allows for ground water recharge, which contributes to base flow to surface water systems during dry periods. Although a small wetland might not store much water, a network of many small wetlands can store an enormous amount of water. The ability of wetlands to store floodwaters reduces the risk of costly property damage and loss of life - benefits that have economic value to us.
"Allowing the large fraction of wetlands in New Orleans to disappear is an extremely expensive thing."

May 5, 2013

Wetland Functions vs. Wetland Values

Ballona Wetlands
Wetland functions include water quality improvement, floodwater storage, fish and wildlife habitat, aesthetics, and biological productivity. The value of a wetland is an estimate of the importance or worth of one or more of its functions to society. For example, a value can be determined by the revenue generated from the sale of fish that depend on the wetland, by the tourist dollars associated with the wetland, or by public support for protecting fish and wildlife.
Although large-scale benefits of functions can be valued, determining the value of individual wetlands is difficult because they differ widely and do not all perform the same functions or perform functions equally well.
"I want to make sure we do all we can to make sure the wetlands are preserved."

May 4, 2013

Why Celebrate Wetlands?

Koyukuk National Wildlife Refuge
Wetlands are among the most valuable but least understood of all natural resources. They provide rich habitat for wildlife. They are places in which many animals and birds build nests and raise their young. migrating birds stop over in wetlands to rest and to feed. We celebrate wetlands each May when they are teeming with new animal and plant life.

Wetlands benefit our communities as well. They replenish and clean water supplies and reduce flood risks, provide recreational opportunities and aesthetic benefits. They serve as sites for scientific research and education, and benefit commercial fishing.

Unfortunately wetlands have been misunderstood for many years, often viewed as wastelands to be drained and converted to other uses. But if wetlands disappear, water will not be as clean, fish and bird populations will suffer and the frequency and severity of floods will increase. Americans have begun to recognize the value of wetlands, and the rate of loss has declined dramatically over the last 30 years. It is important that we continue to stop the loss of wetlands and begin to achieve a net gain through better management and restoration.

"The natural pattern of flooding supplies nutrients and sediment to wetland areas, keeping them as kind of a buffer and a natural absorber when a really big storm hits."


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