Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Carbon Dating of Deep-Sea Corals

New research from Lawrence Livermore, Stanford University, and the University of California at Santa Cruz has determined that deep-sea corals off the coast of Hawaii are much older than previously assumed. In fact, this new research shows that deep-sea corals might be the oldest living marine organism in the world.
Gerardia (gold) coral (Photo: NOAA Hawaiian Undersea Research Lab)

Most significantly, the researchers found samples of Leiopathes sp., or deep-water black coral, that dated as old as 4,265 years. They also found samples of Gerardia sp., or gold coral, that were dated at up to 2,742 years old. This research was published in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA.

We have many deep-sea corals and sponges here on the Pacific North Coast, but like in Hawaii, our corals are threatened by harmful fishing practices, such as bottom trawling, that destroy the ocean floor. Deep-sea corals are also threatened by natural and man made changes in surface ocean conditions - such as ocean acidification and changing ocean temperatures.

Reference: E. Brendan Roark, Thomas P. Guilderson, Robert B. Dunbar, Stewart J. Fallon, and David A. Mucciarone. Extreme longevity in proteinaceous deep-sea corals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2009; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0810875106

Monday, March 30, 2009

PNCIMA - One step closer to integrated management?

Last Thursday and Friday, individuals representing many communities along the British Columbia coast came together in Richmond for the first-ever Pacific North Coast Integrated Management Area or PNCIMA forum. At this forum were representatives from Federal, Provincial, Municipal, and First Nations government. Also present were representatives from many other interests: including commercial and recreational fisheries, academia, renewable and nonrenewable energy, environmental organizations, transportation, and aquaculture.

Over the two days, we heard informative presentations and had many discussions about what integrated marine planning on our coast should entail. While there were limited opportunities for the public to be heard during the plenary sessions, I hope that the two small group break-out sessions allowed everyone the ability to ask questions, give comments, and provide feedback about the future direction of PNCIMA. There certainly was not consensus about the best way to move forward with PNCIMA, but no one in attendance seemed to debate the fact that integrated planning on our coast is necessary and overdue.
This first PNCIMA forum has certainly sparked a dialogue about marine planning on our coast; and I hope that planning for PNCIMA continues to gain momentum as time goes on. Personally, I would like to see the PNCIMA steering committee out in the communities in the upcoming weeks and months, disseminating the knowledge gained at the Forum and collaboratively charting the way forward with concrete action items and deliverables.

Did you participate in the PNCIMA Forum last week (either in person or via webcast)? What were your overall impressions? How do plan to be engaged in the management of our coast in the future?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Exxon Valdez - 20 Years Later

The Exxon Valdez, 3 days after running aground (Photo: NOAA)
It was 20 years ago today that the oil tanker, the Exxon Valdez, ran aground in the waters of Prince William Sound, Alaska in one of the most devastating (if not THE MOST devastating) oil spill of our time. Even now, the effects of this spill are still felt in the surrounding coastal communities, through the loss of livelihoods and irreversible environmental damage. It is heartbreaking to read some of the testimonials from community members who, 20 years later, are still feeling the economic and environmental effects today.

Could this sort of tragedy occur on our own coast? With industry advocating for the 37-year moratorium on oil tankers to be lifted, this type of disaster might be a lot more imminent than we realize. For more information about what the lifting of the moratorium could mean for B.C.'s coastal communities, click here. Also, check out this Oil Spill Model that graphically illustrates how oil spills from shipping accidents would affect ecosystems and communities on the North Coast of B.C.

Underwater Volcano Erupts in South Pacific

Check out this video:

Last week, an underwater volcano erupted close to the Tonga coast, in the South Pacific ocean. This is just another one of Mother Nature's wonders that I thought I would share!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

What's in a name?

A recent article in the Seattle Times tells of a retired Western Washington University marine biologist who is lobbying officials to adopt the name Salish Sea for an area of Washington and British Columbia's shared coastal waters.

Bert Webber, a Canadian-born longtime resident of the USA, is the driving force behind this proposal, and he "hopes a common name will help energize efforts to restore the damaged waters, by raising awareness that this is one shared ecosystem spanning the border between Canada and the United States." If adopted by Washington's Geographic Names board, the Salish Sea would be the official name for the grouping of Puget Sound, the Strait of Georgia, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

What's in a name? It seems like every day someone else is coming up with different names for various areas of our coast. What do you think we should call our coast? Who do you think should be responsible for assigning names to our waters: government, academics, or coastal community members themselves?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

New Wave Energy Project

The Canadian government recently gave $2.7 million to SyncWave Systems to fund the demonstration of an ocean wave converter on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

"The SyncWave Power Resonator is a next-generation frequency-based wave energy converter that tunes itself to maximize energy capture from the everchanging ocean swell" says Nigel Protter, President & CEO of SyncWave Systems Inc. "Additionally, our device was designed from the start to be simpler to mass produce and support, imperative to the goal of obtaining low cost bulk renewable energy from the sea. We’ve also spent a lot of time establishing viable markets for this technology and feel the time is now to seize a significant position in this rapidly emerging, potentially enormous, global environmental technology opportunity". 1
What do you think about this? Was this money well spent? Is this technology that could be brought to the North Island?

Oil Spill Blackens One of Australia's Pristine Island Beaches

As many seafarers know, when things go wrong at sea, it doesn't take too many contributing factors to create a marine disaster.

This is what happened a week ago near Brisbane, Australia when the 185 meter container ship, Pacific Adventurer, enroute from Newcastle to Indonesia via Brisbane ran into heavy seas whipped up by the tail end of Cyclone Hamish, a category 5 storm. The Brisbane Tropical Cyclone Warning Centre defines a Category 5 Cyclone such as Hamish as extremely dangerous with widespread destruction . Heavy seas can be encountered even after the cyclone has diminished in intensity.

The government of Queensland has declared Moreton Island and the southern area of the Sunshine Coast a disaster area. These are beautiful, pristine islands considered as sacred places by the local Aborigine people and the miles of sandy beaches are highly valued by tourists only a short ferry ride away from the greater Brisbane area.

Oil has washed up along a 20 kilometer stretch of Moreton Island's coastline. (Photo courtesy Government of Queensland)
The ship was seven nautical miles east of Cape Moreton when it reported losing 31 of a total 50 shipping containers of ammonium nitrate being carried on its deck. Several of the fallen containers pierced the ship's hull, resulting in an oil spill originally estimated at 30 tonnes.

"This is a very serious situation," said Queensland Premier Anna Bligh today, after a meeting of the emergency response group - members of key government agencies.

"I'm advised that it appears the volume of oil involved is much greater than originally reported by the Pacific Adventurer," she said. "And the effect of the oil spill is more widespread."

The Pacific Adventurer before the oil spill incident.
Photo by Peter Karberg MarineTraffic.com

So far more than 50 per cent of the 74 kilometres of coast polluted by the oil spill had been cleaned up. But fears remain over 31 missing containers of fertilizer. (ammonium nitrate)

The Federal Government yesterday called in navy minehunter HMAS Yarra to find the containers of ammonium nitrate, which could cause algal bloom in high concentrations.

Maritime Safety Queensland believes the containers have sunk 150 metres to the ocean floor. Three separate investigations are being conducted by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, Maritime Safety Queensland and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. They will look at the ship's seaworthiness, how the containers were stowed and circumstances surrounding the accident.

The captain has surrendered his passport and the ship will remain in port in Brisbane for at least two weeks as the investigations are carried out.

This marine disaster, while not huge, will still have long term environmental consequences for the region. You can check out a short news video on this oil spill here: http://media.theage.com.au/?rid=47024

Stories like this serve to illustrate what can happen with dramatic increases in large tanker traffic on the B.C. coast. http://www.marinergroup.com/oil-spill-history.htm

Almost every maritime nation has had numerous marine disasters like these, some more destructive than others. The link above lists many of them. Most are caused by ships collisions or groundings. Even with the most sophisticated marine traffic management schemes governing the most modern vessels, spills happen.

It is interesting to note that on March 26 and 27, in Richmond, B.C., the Pacific North Coast Integrated Management (PNCIMA) Forum, a two-day event that will engage people and organizations in the development of an integrated approach to oceans management for the Pacific North Coast Integrated Management Area (PNCIMA) will have as it's first focus the establishment of a stakeholders working group on shipping and marine transportation in the PNCIMA region.

For more information on oil spill concerns and the potential impact of an oil spill on B.C.'s coast, check out Living Oceans Society's oil spill model here:http://www.livingoceans.org/programs/energy/model/

As the Local Ecological Knowledge Coordinator for Living Oceans Society I would be interested to know what your thoughts might be on the subject of increased tanker traffic on our coast, especially if all or some of the proposed pipeline mega projects slated for the ports of Kitimat and Prince Rupert come to fruition. You can post a comment to this blog article.

Coastal Voices from Alert Bay

Last week, the CBC aired a four-part series about Alert Bay on Outfront. In each episode, local youth take us with them as they walk through Alert Bay; talk to friends, family and neighbours; and reflect on their experiences growing up in the community. I found this series very informative and powerful, and if you haven't tuned in already, I would highly suggest that you do!

To listen to all four episodes, click here.

To join the facebook group, click here.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The North Island: An Underwater Perspective

*Coastal Voices Note: All of the pictures included in this posting, courtesy of Glen Miller

The North Island: An Underwater Perspective
I'm reminded every day as the sun rises, of how fortunate I am (we are) to live in a place bursting with natural beauty. Because of the wildly fluctuating climate, the North Island is not the place for everyone and that fact alone is one of the most endearing traits of our area. Taking a trip south is proof enough why we should not, for a second, take this place for granted. Spending a whole day exploring a beach; seeing its character change with the tide; coming to realize that during this wonderful day you've not seen another person - is what makes the North Island such a special place.

From the forest to the waterline, there is enough stuff for a lifetime of discovery. That I am fortunate enough to be able to take my curiosity and adventurous spirit under the water, is an honor that humbles me every time I peer into the depths. Looking at the surface of our ocean as its icy chill pours over the tops of your boots, you can be forgiven for thinking there is nothing of interest down there for you. Not everyone is able to cope with the demands of our frigid waters, paying the price Mother Ocean demands of us to view her splendor.

Being one of a small percentage of the world's divers who explores cold water is a unique position to be in . Call it what you like, crazy, nuts, insane - but being under the waters of our North Island is an experience that is always cherished for what it is, special. It makes where we live so good. Casually drifting along a wall that is so covered with life, if you put your finger on it you would harm something; or being on a seemingly barren, muddy bottom but having 1000 kg Steller sea lions displaying their awesome agility - these are situations that are impossible to describe without being repetitive. The same words keep popping up: awesome, incredible, fantastic, beautiful, lucky, fortunate.
I don't think i've ever dived and not marveled at some form of life or some aspect of being under water, even after 20 plus years of avidly scuba diving. I guess all I can hope for is that nothing happens to these places we call special and my health and the oceans health stays strong.

About the Author: when long-time Port McNeill resident Glen Miller is not under water taking pictures, he can be found cruising around in his sailboat (weather-permitting!). Bird watching, puttering around the yard, and "serious kicking back" also consume Glen's time. In order to finance these pursuits, this North Islander also works as a hydraulic grapple operator.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

My first foray into the guest blogosphere

What implications does keeping an aquarium have on the overall health of the oceans?

Check out my guest blog posting at The Reef Tank Blog, a blog for tank hobbyists, where I begin to think about the practice of keeping aquariums as it relates to our work at Living Oceans.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Coastal Fling

Check out this new game about Pncma: http://www.coastalfling.com/
See how many people you can get back to their homes in Pncima and then register your score. The top score at the end of March will win a collector Pncima - Floats my Boat ball cap.

This game is fun (and addicting), but I'm rubbish at this sort of thing so sadly, I will be no competition for the ball cap! After you play, have a look at this new website - http://www.pncimamatters.ca/

And if you haven't been following my past postings, the first Pncima Forum is March 26 and 27th of this year. You have to register at pncima.org. There is no registration fee to attend the Forum. However, you must pre-register by March 15, 2009.

Have fun!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Millions of Pounds of Trash!

The Ocean Conservancy has just released the results of its 2008 International Coastal Cleanup - and it's pretty gross. On a single day last September, nearly 400,000 volunteers at 6,485 sites in 104 countries and locations picked up trash along the world's ocean and waterways.

The yuckiest statistic for me: Volunteers picked up more than 1.3 million cigarette butts in the USA alone.

Cigarette butts were closely followed by plastic bags and food wrappers / containers as the most prevalent types of trash documented.

Not only does trash render our beautiful coastline esthetically unappealing, but marine debris also sickens, injures, or kills large amounts of marine animals. The Ocean Conservancy states that marine debris "degrades ocean health and compromises the ocean's ability to adapt to climate change."

There are many beach clean-ups that take place on the North Island throughout the year, but I would love to see clean-ups become a thing of the past. If we want to make a commitment to healthy oceans and healthy communities, we need to reduce, reuse, and recycle. If we can't avoid making trash - we need to make sure that we dispose of it in an appropriate manner so that it doesn't end up in the oceans in the first place.

Until ocean clean-up events are rendered a thing of the past, make sure you stay tuned to this blog for announcements of upcoming clean up events planned for the North Island. Check out the Ocean Conservancy for the full report of the 2008 clean-up and to find out how you can take part in 2009.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Thursday, March 5, 2009

February Survey Results

The results from our February survey are in!
When shown the statement "given the current world economic situation, I would now be more likely to support government policies that boost our economy at the expense of the environment",

0% of our readers strongly agreed
7% (2) of our readers agreed
18% (5) of our readers disagreed, and
74% (20) of our readers strongly disagreed with this statement

While most of us do not believe that the economy must come at the expense of the environment, not enough of us are taking action to make sure that our country's policies reflect our values. Under the guise of quick economic stimulus, the current federal government is dismantling measures that have been put in place to protect the environment. (For example, John Baird recently announced that Ottawa will be getting rid of 90% of the federal environmental assessments in order to facilitate a billion dollars worth of new infrastructure projects.) We need to let the federal government know that we value BOTH the economy AND the environment, and we expect them to make choices that reflect these values.

Thank you to everyone who participated in February's survey, and don't forget to respond to this month's survey question about the PNCIMA forum!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


Do you have a favorite local beach or coastline? Leave your comments below!

Justice for BC's Orca Population

Photo: NOAA Public Archives
Last week, the federal government issued an Order that will provide legal protection for endangered killer whales' habitat. This is an exciting victory for Ecojustice and all of the environmental groups that filed the lawsuit that precipitated this Order.

Here is the full press release:

Stunning policy reversal could mark turning point for 85 remaining whales
Ecojustice lawsuit forces government to legally protect BC killer whale habitat

Vancouver, BC Feb 25, 2009

After British Columbians celebrated the unexpected arrival of two newborn killer whales last week, there is another new cause for hope for BC's imperilled killer whale populations. This week, the federal government issued an Order that will provide legal protection for the endangered species' habitat - a stunning policy reversal after a lawsuit was launched by environmentalists last year.

The lawsuit was filed by Ecojustice, formerly Sierra Legal Defence Fund, on behalf of nine of Canada and BC’s leading environmental organizations. It alleged that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans had failed to require much-needed legal protection for the killer whales’ critical habitat. DFO had claimed instead that existing laws and unenforceable guidelines were sufficient to protect the orcas’ habitat from serious threats like toxic contamination, acoustic degradation and declining salmon stocks.

“To recover, killer whales need more than the status quo from the federal government and so we’re thrilled our lawsuit forced it to issue this habitat protection Order,” said Ecojustice lawyer Lara Tessaro. “Now we’ll be pushing to ensure this Order leads to action.”

The federal government’s complete turnaround marks a victory for BC’s most iconic species and for the environmental groups behind the lawsuit: Dogwood Initiative, Environmental Defence, David Suzuki Foundation, Raincoast Conservation Society, Sierra Club of BC, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Greenpeace, Georgia Strait Alliance and Wilderness Committee. It also marks the first time that Canada has ever issued an Order under its Species at Risk Act to protect critical habitat. However, the Order does not reference threats to critical habitat documented by scientists in the government’s Resident Killer Whale Recovery Strategy.

“We know we need to change the way we care for our marine environment to protect killer whales and their habitat,” said Kathy Heise, Marine Scientist with Raincoast Conservation. “We hope to work with DFO to incorporate the needs of killer whales’ into the management of our salmon fisheries.”

“To give this Order teeth, DFO must keep killer whales’ critical habitat free of tanker traffic and the risk of catastrophic oil spills,” said Will Horter of Dogwood Initiative.

Killer whales face many serious threats throughout their habitat on the west coast such as declining salmon stocks, increased boat traffic, toxic contamination, and acoustic impacts from dredging, seismic testing and military sonar. DFO is scheduled to release an action plan within the next four years, but still has not created an action planning team with independent killer whale scientists.

“Each time we think the government has finally given these ailing populations greater legal protection, they find a way to avoid meaningful change. Is this another hollow promise or will the federal government do the right thing and prohibit harmful activities in the orcas’ critical habitat?” asked Sarah King of Greenpeace.

Kim Elmslie of the International Fund for Animal Welfare stated, “We will continue to monitor DFO to ensure that every effort is made to protect this critically endangered species for future generations.”

“This is one landmark victory on the long road to killer whale recovery. We’re relieved to see the government using the Species At Risk Act and we look forward to seeing similar habitat protection Orders for other endangered species,” said Aaron Freeman of Environmental Defence.

For more information, please visit http://www.ecojustice.ca/ or contact:
Lara Tessaro, Staff Lawyer, Ecojustice Canada, cell (604) 313-3132
Aaron Freeman, Policy Director, Environmental Defence, (613) 564-0007, cell (613) 697-7281
Chris Genovali, Executive Director, Raincoast Conservation Society, (250) 655-1229, cell (250) 888-3579
Christianne Wilhelmson, Georgia Strait Alliance, (250) 539-2424
Colin R. Campbell, Sierra Club BC, cell (250) 361-6476, office 250 386-5255 ext. 236
Gwen Barlee, Policy Director, Wilderness Committee, (604)683-8220, cell (604) 202-0322
Matt Takuch, Dogwood Initiative, (250) 370 9930 ext. 21
Rob Rosenfeld, Communications Manager, IFAW Canada, (613) 241-3982 ext. 221
Sarah King, Oceans Campaigner, Greenpeace Canada, (778) 227-6458
Sutton Eaves, Marine Communications Specialist, David Suzuki Foundation, (416) 854-3265
For further scientific information about Resident Killer Whales, please contact:
Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard, Co-Chair of the Killer Whale Recovery Team, Vancouver Aquarium at (604) 659-3752
To obtain video footage or audio of the BC’s killer whales, please contact Laura Hendrick, Ecojustice Communications Coordinator at (604) 685-5618 ext. 242.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Once in a Lifetime!

It was just passed 7am this morning when I started to hear calls from pacific white-sided dolphins on our hydrophone right here in Taylor Bight. It sounded like a lot of dolphins and they seemed to be getting closer and closer. The sun was not about to rise for another hour but because of the clear sky there was already enough daylight to perhaps see them.

It is rather unusual for the dolphins to come close into our bay especially in large numbers, so I was pretty excited to go and see them. Just as I was about to open the door to go outside I heard what I thought were faint transient Orca calls among the now close dolphin chatter. Intuitive I grabbed the video camera instead of binoculars not knowing that I was about to witness something extremely extraordinary.

As I walked towards our viewing platform I saw a group of dolphins deep in the east corner of Taylor Bight. They were swimming very fast either hunting fish or running away from potential danger. A few moments later I reached the platform and immediately heard an Orca blow to the west. There were the transients, four of them, two females and two juveniles traveling very slowly and staying close to shore. They were not following the big group of dolphins instead they stayed in the same area going in big circles remaining so very close to the rocky shoreline. It took me a few minutes to understand what was going on as the whales disappeared behind exposed rocks due to the low tide. They were pacing, waiting. But what was it that they were waiting for?

In order to find out I had to go back towards the house as the whales were right close to the beach on the west side. Of course Neekas, our dog, was with me, and in anticipation on what I was to see I locked her in the house. Then I slowly walked to the beach on the west side. The four transients were swimming right close to edge of the rocky beach in only about 10feet of water and just a few meters away from them barely above the tideline on the rocks was the reason why they were there. A young juvenile dolphin. The poor thing most likely beached itself while it was chased by the whales. It was still alive, its tail still touching the waters edge. I did not go close instead I stayed in the forest and filmed the event from a distance. The last thing I wanted to do is interfere.

My emotions were divided, on the one hand there were these beautiful transient Orcas close to my house and on the hand there was this small dolphin scared to the bone and facing death. The tide was still ebbing so it would be at least another two hours before the water would be high enough for the whales to perhaps grab the dolphin. They continued to stay close to the beach, taking turns on who would patrol close by the dolphin. They were clearly excited, especially the juveniles as they spy-hopped and rolled over each other numerous times. I did not get the feeling that my presence disturbed them, after all they continued to patrol the beach for another hour. At least one of the whales was always in eye contact with the beached dolphin and sometimes they would create waves with their tail flukes hoping the waves would pull the dolphin off the beach. To witness their strategic patrol was just amazing! But then, just after the tide turned towards a flood the whales suddenly disappeared. I thought they just a took long dive and would continue their patrol but minutes later I saw the whole group heading out of Taylor Bight. To be sure I waited another 10minutes but they never came back. I saw them one more time as they surfaced close to the east end of Taylor Bight, following the big group of dolphins perhaps.

Now I was left with a young dolphin on the beach that so urgently needed to be back in its element in order to have a second chance. I put on my drysuit and slowly approached the dolphin. I could see a few deep scratches it was bleeding from, most likely from barnacles on the rocks. The water was rising fast now, the rear end of the dolphin already submerged. So I gently lifted its body to get it back in the water. I turned its head towards the open water and held it. I waited for the dolphin to start swimming out of my hands and after a its breathing calmed down from the stress it did just that. A few shallow dives and then a long one and off it went. I heard myself screaming “You go girl!” I saw it a few more times surfacing before it was out of my sight. Of course it is hard to say what its survival chances are, the sooner it finds its pod again the higher the chances will be... This was truly an experience of a lifetime and one that I (Hermann) will never forget in my life! I later figured out that the transients where the T59s.

About the Author: Hermann Meuter is one of the founders of the North Coast Cetacean Society, a charitable organization dedicated to the research and protection of whales in BC coastal waters. Click to visit the Cetacealab and Hermann's blog.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Psychedelic Frogfish

Psychedelic Frogfish jetting Copyright:David Hall/seaphotos.com

When I read about this new species over the weekend, it's name caught my eye and as an old fishin' hippie I knew I had to blog on this one!

University of Washington fish biologist Ted Pietsch knew he was looking at something distinct when a photo of this pink coloured specimen showed up in his email box last year. The strange fish was first spotted by divers with Mukulu Divers in Ambon Harbor near Bali, Indonesia in January 2008. More than a dozen fish have since been spotted in 5 to 8 metres of water near a commercial jetty in the busy harbour. After a year of DNA analysis Ted's team was able to determine that they had identified a new species; Histiophryne psychedelica. Their work will be published in next month's issue of Copeia. You can find lots of information and more great photos there.
The 10 cm fish has a flat head and eyes facing forward meaning that it could have stereoscopic visionand able to see in three dimensions - something that fish with eyes on either sides of their heads are not able to attain. It uses it's fins almost like hands to grasp coral and clambers across reefs in a bumbling fashion. It can also propel itself by gulping water then spitting it out through it's gills. Check out this video link for a look at this amazing creature;