Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Plastics, Toxicity, and Our Ocean

This weekend, the Living Oceans Society will be a part of the Living Green initiative at the Vancouver Island MusicFest in Courtenay. A large part of this years' Living Green efforts have been centered around the issue of plastic and waste reduction.

Along with many other green initiatives, this year's festival offers: comprehensive sorting, composting and recycling of all site waste; a “Vancouver Island Tap Water” initiative to dramatically reduce plastic water bottle use; new plastics-free policies for food vendors (phase 1); introduction of ‘litterless lunches’ for the volunteer kitchen; and replacement of all kitchen plastics with paper and bio-degradable alternatives.

Plastics don't just end up in our landfills. They also end up in our animals, our bodies, and, yes, our oceans. Watch the video below to see Captain Charles Moore give a TED talk about plastic and its impact on the ecosystem.

Captain Moore doesn't offer any solutions for the damage that has already been done. Now, according to Moore, we can only adjust our current practices before things get any worse. One of the most common suggestions that I have heard from many people advocating environmental protection or healthy living is for us to make more thoughtful everyday choices.

Sometimes, this seemingly simple suggestion is easier said than done. I'll admit that in a few weak or lazy moments, I have chosen the easiest or cheapest option, instead of the most environmentally sustainable. It is certainly not something that I am proud of; and unfortunately I am not the only person on earth who is guilty of poor choices. So where does this leave us?

Maybe, as a society we need a bit of a push to make us change our ways. What if the path toward positive change were to shift and become less towards individual choice and more towards encouraging community leaders, businesses, and governments to make healthy choices the only option?

Want to read more about plastics and toxicity? Check out today's Globe and Mail article, or last week's op-ed in the New York Times.

Happy Canada Day!

I know, I'm a day early. But that's only because I'll be helping to (wo)man the Living Oceans table at the Canada Day celebration in Campbell River tomorrow. In between barbecues, flags, face painting, beer and fireworks, please stop by our LOS table at Ostler Park tomorrow to learn more about the sea that surrounds our great country on 3 sides.

In the meantime, some fun facts about Canada:

Canada has the world's longest coastline (202,080 km)1

The highest tides on Earth are found in the Bay of Fundy, east of New Brunswick. The channeling effect of the bay is responsible for the amazing difference between high tide and low tide, which, during spring tides, can reach 53.5 feet.
(That's almost as tall as a four-story building!)

Every Canadian province and territory has its own commercial fishing industry
. (Yes, even Alberta!)

Got something to add? Comment with your interesting Canada/Ocean facts below!

1. CIA World FactBook, Canada, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/CA.html, accessed on 29 June 2009
2. http://www.bayoffundy.com/highesttides.aspx

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Realistic Habitats?

This past weekend, I took the long trip to Vancouver to visit with an old friend that I know from my Congo days. [Sadly, many people who aren't familiar with the North Island or British Columbia, don't really understand that 'visiting' for a weekend in Vancouver isn't really 'visiting' at all: it's more like 'rendez-vous-ing'... but that is a North-Islander rant that I'll save for another time!]

As part of our tourist tour of Vancouver, I took my friend to Stanley Park, and of course, to the Vancouver Aquarium. We spent hours marveling at the diverse and beautiful creatures that are usually hidden beneath the sea and we both left the Aquarium bubbling with excitement about the ocean. Our excitement carried over into dinner, with a long conversation about ocean conservation-related issues.

At the Vancouver Aquarium - I don't know why I look so melancholy here
Many aquaria in North America do a fantastic job of showcasing the beauty of our seas and sparking a passion, in both the young and the old, to preserve this beauty for generations to come. They help to inspire promising young scientists, marine biologists, and conservationists; and for those who already love the ocean, aquaria can serve to reinforce their passion or provide an outlet to share this passion with others. There is no better time to give a message of conservation to the general public than right after you have shown them firsthand the fish, sea turtles, whales, and other marine life that we stand to lose through thoughtless practices.

But how realistic are the pristine ocean-replica habitats that house marine life in a modern-day aquarium? Not very, I'm sure a German duo would argue. They have created an art exhibit at the Schonbrunn Zoo in Vienna to challenge all of our typical expectations of natural habitat depictions.

According to the artists, "the viewer is forced to reconsider traditional modes of animal presentation and simultaneously to question the authenticity of concepts which are restaging 'natural' environments while they are increasingly endangered."

To quote the artists further: "Present-day conceptions of zoological gardens aim at the presentation of animals in an idyllic and apparently natural environment, untouched by civilization. But this is a contemporary conception, since courtly menageries and kennels were adapted to the exposure of animals as decorative objects. Until the early years of the 20th century, animals were part of a preferably spectacular and exotic staging, to the entertainment and amazement of the public. The artificial and the sensational were foregrounded, without creating a realistic setting of the natural environment of the animals."

So what do you think? What is a better way to get a conservation message across: using exhibits like the ones at the Vancouver Aquarium that show marine life at it's best and demonstrate what we stand to lose; or using exhibits such as the one at the Vienna Zoo that show natural life at its worst and demonstrate the harsh reality of an undesired future?

All photos in this post (except for the first): © Steinbrener/Dempf

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Finding Coral Expedition Wraps Up

The Finding Coral Expedition has now concluded. So, after all the effort and excitement, at the end of it all, did the members of the FCE team really "find coral" as they had intended?

Did they ever. The Finding Coral Expedition documented over 14 species of coral, ranging from small orange cup corals to metre-high red tree corals.

And while the Finding Coral Expedition has officially come to an end, the work has really only just begun. Over the next few months, the expedition scientists will be examining the samples, studying the underwater video footage, and documenting their findings. The Living Oceans Society's conservation strategy and community education efforts will then be based upon the scientists' research and conclusions.

Here is the last video from the ship. Mark and Tavi, your work speaks for itself: amazing. Thank you for the incredible videos that allowed me to live vicariously through my colleagues over the past couple of weeks.

Also, a special thanks to my fellow bloggers for posting about our expedition along the way: Ava at the Reef Tank, the folks at Oceana, Greg Laden, Jeff at Frag'd it, Mark Powell at Blogfish, the Deep-Sea News team, MCBI, and Rick at Malaria, Bedbugs, Sea Lice, and Sunsets. I'm sorry if I've left anyone off this list that has written about the FCE as well.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Bottom Trawling

Dr. Lance Morgan talks about bottom trawling:

Monday, June 22, 2009

Great Whites "Plan" Seal Attacks

I'm not sure how those who think that sharks are unfairly demonized in today's popular culture are going to feel about sharks being compared to serial killers, but Matt Walker at BBC Earth News just published a very interesting story about the hunting style of great white sharks. I'll post the full text below.

Great white sharks do not aimlessly wander the ocean waiting to stumble upon their next meal.

Instead, the biggest sharks identify a location from which to strike, and then search the surrounding killing zone for their next victim.

That suggests that the sharks use a premeditated hunting strategy akin to that used by some human serial killers.

Scientists made the discovery while observing hundreds of great white attacks on fur seals off South Africa.

Despite the reputation of many large sharks as effective hunters, few studies have examined whether they follow any pattern in their foraging behaviour.

So shark experts Neil Hammerschlag of the University of Miami in Florida, US, and Aiden Martin of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, decided to study the predatory habits of great white sharks hunting off Seal Island, in False Bay, South Africa.

The island is home to some 64,000 Cape fur seals, which must swim across water that reaches depths of 20m just 50m from the shore.

During the winter of 2004, the researchers observed 340 attacks by great whites on fur seals within 2km of the island.

After each attack, the scientists recorded the precise geographical location and the depth of the water, as well as whether the attack was successful or not.

Anchor point

To help analyse the attack pattern of the sharks, Hammerschlag and Martin then teamed up with Kim Rossmo, a criminal justice expert based at Texas State University's Center for Geospatial Intelligence and Investigation in San Marcos, US.

Rossmo specialises in the geographical profiling of criminal acts, including those by terrorists and serial killers. For example, by using the locations of a series of linked crimes, such as murder or arson, it is possible to predict the location of a criminal's anchor point, usually a home or place of work.

By applying these analytical techniques, the researchers established that great white sharks also follow a similar hunting strategy.The largest most dominant sharks would regularly pick a particular anchor point, and search for their next victim close to this location.

Most large sharks regularly returned to a spot some 100m due south of the main place where seals came ashore on to the island.

The anchor point did not itself provide the shark with the best chance of intercepting a seal. But the location did provide an optimal balance between detecting prey and capturing it.

Smaller sharks seem to avoid competition with larger ones by widening their search strategy. But they also tend to be less successful, suggesting that great white sharks learn through experience which are the best hunting sites.

"White sharks, like other predators, may refine their search patterns with experience," the researchers write in the Journal of Zoology, published by the Zoological Society of London.

- Matt Walker, BBC Earth News

Day 10 - Deep Sea Coral

The Finding Coral Expedition is coming to a close early this week. Thankfully the expedition did indeed "find coral" as we can see in the most recent video clip:

Day 9 - The Search

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Otesha Sunshine Coast Bike Tour 2009

The Otesha Project Sunshine Coast Bike Tour stopped in Sointula once again this year, as a part of the North Island leg of a 2,000+ kilometer tour that stops in towns and educates youth through theatre about the impacts that our choices have on the world around us.

The group performed at AJ Elliot Elementary School on Friday, June 12 and came back over to Malcolm Island to perform at the community hall on Sunday, June 14. I was thoroughly entertained by the performance, and was very impressed by the group's incredible energy. Otesha's goal of empowering youth to make their own positive life choices is very commendable.

The Otesha team was a joy to host in Sointula. I have had numerous community members remark about how nice it was to see all these smiling cyclists on the island over the weekend! Thanks for stopping by, Otesha, and please make sure to swing by Sointula again next year!

Day 6 - The Vision

These videos just get better and better. In this video, Jennifer talks a little bit about PNCIMA and the vision of Integrated Management for BC's coast.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Humpback Freed... Again.

Humpback Whale Jumping (NOAA)
This morning on the ferry on my way to work, I heard talk that the same humpback that became entangled in prawn gear last month, had gotten tangled in almost the same spot again.

I decided to investigate the rumors, and sure enough, the folks at Stubbs Island Whale Watching confirm that on Wednesday, June 10, 'Twister' was entangled in a whole line of 42 prawn traps. Apparently this time, the whale was pretty much anchored in place and couldn't move until (once again) DFO, Straitwatch, and others came to the rescue.

Congratulations to all those involved in the rescues, and hopefully, 'Twister' will steer clear of those traps from now on.

Day 4 - Fathoms Below

We found coral! Check out this video from Day 4 of the Finding Coral Expedition. I love seeing the videos from the deep worker, and I can't wait to see the next video from the FCE team.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Ocean Creatures!

This World Oceans Day while Dorie and I were running around, our summer student, Kirie, really kicked it up a notch with the video capture and editing of this month's video blog. Thanks Kirie! Enjoy everyone!

What ocean creature would you be? Leave your comments below!

Day Three - Into the Deep

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Day 2 - Testing the Subs

I'm a little behind with posting the Finding Coral Videos, so here is the footage from Day 2. This is the day that the LOS Sointula staff was able to come aboard the Cape Flattery while the FCE dive team stopped in Mitchell Bay to do some test dives.

As I watched Jennifer get lowered into the water, I was amazed by the amount of manpower it takes to launch one of these subs. From the crane operator to the men on the main deck giving the submersibles a final once-over and lowering them to the ocean floor: the Cape Flattery was a flurry of activity, with everyone in charge of a specific task. In spite of the minor annoyance my presence (as an untrained observer, just gawking and getting in the way) likely created, everyone on the ship was very welcoming and gracious as they bustled around my colleagues and me, trying to get the test dives underway.

While watching the first test dives, it became very clear that in addition to the LOS FCE staff, the science team, and the Cape Flattery crew, the behind-the-scenes Nuytco crew is so integral to the successful operation of this expedition.

Finding Coral - Getting Started

Here is a video from Day 1 of the Finding Coral Expedition. The Cape Flattery launched in West Vancouver on June 8. Hours away on Malcolm Island, our office buzzed with the excitement of the launch of this important expedition. Good luck everyone, and keep the great footage coming!
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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Finding Coral Expedition does a test dive in Mitchell Bay!

The Cape Flattery pulling in to Mitchell Bay

Jennifer going for a practice dive

LOS Sointula staff getting a tour

All attempts at aloofness were spoiled the second I got near the subs.

Will and Jennifer

The Cape Flattery

All photos credit: Lori Anderson

Monday, June 8, 2009

Happy World Oceans Day!

A happy World Oceans Day to everyone! Living Oceans celebrated World Oceans Day a little early in Sointula. On Saturday we had an Oceans Festival with a free seafood chowder lunch, games, ocean crafts, prizes, and some interesting displays from Straitwatch and DFO.

Our new summer student, Sointula's own Kirie McMurchy, roamed the event with the video camera, so you can look forward to a new video blog this week as well.

Today, the Living Oceans Society launches the Finding Coral Expedition in Vancouver. Bon Voyage!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

CNN Report: coral almost as genetically complex as humans

Bubblegum Coral: NOAA
Over the past few weeks our office has been abuzz with talk of corals, as our very own Jennifer, Dorthea, and John team up with world-renowned scientists to embark on the Finding Coral Expedition on the Pacific North Coast. I came across an interesting article published by CNN last week about the genetic complexity of corals. Corals have been in existence for so long, and yet we still know relatively little about them. The research that Dr. Weis and her colleagues are doing is useful in helping us understand the importance of these interesting creatures and why they must be protected.1

May 29, 2009 (CNN) -- Advances in the study of coral in the last few years has led a group of scientists to conclude that corals almost rival humans in their genetic complexity and their relationship to algae is key to their survival.

"We've known for some time the general functioning of corals and the problems they are facing from climate change," said Virginia Weis, a professor of zoology at Oregon State University and an author of a report published in the journal Science.

"But until just recently, much less has been known about their fundamental biology, genome structure and internal communication. Only when we really understand how their physiology works will we know if they can adapt to climate changes, or ways that we might help."

The study found that corals have sophisticated systems of biological communication that are being stressed by global change. Disruptions to these communication systems, particularly between coral and the algae that live within their bodies are the underlying cause of the coral bleaching and collapse of coral reef ecosystems around the world, say the report's authors.

Corals have been a highly successful life form for 250 million years. They are tiny animals and polyps that exist as genetically identical individuals, and can eat, defend themselves and kill plankton for food. In the process they also secrete calcium carbonate that becomes the basis for an external skeleton on which they sit.

These calcified deposits can grow to enormous sizes over long periods of time and form coral reefs -- one of the world's most productive ecosystems, which can harbor more than 4,000 species of fish and many other marine life forms.

But corals are not self-sufficient, say the authors of the report.

Within their bodies they harbor highly productive algae -- a form of marine plant life -- that can "fix" carbon, use the energy of the sun to conduct photosynthesis and produce sugars.

What scientists are learning, however, is that this relationship between corals and algae is also based on a delicate communication process from the algae to the coral, telling it that the algae belong there, and that everything is fine. Otherwise the corals would treat the algae as a parasite or invader and attempt to kill it.

"Even though the coral depends on the algae for much of its food, it may be largely unaware of its presence," said Weis. "We now believe that this is what's happening when the water warms or something else stresses the coral -- the communication from the algae to the coral breaks down, the all-is-well message doesn't get through, the algae essentially comes out of hiding and faces an immune response from the coral."

The predicted acidification of the oceans in the next century is expected to decrease coral calcification rates by 50 percent and promote the dissolving of coral skeletons, the researchers noted in their report.

Some estimates have suggested 20 percent of the world's coral reefs are already dead and an additional 24 percent are gravely threatened.

1. Heather's note - It is important to note the distinction between the corals that we are studying and the corals that Weis studied in this article, as deep sea corals are not dependent on algae like shallow water corals are. The direct citation of Weis' article in science is as follows:
What Determines Coral Health?
Weis and Allemand
Science 29 May 2009: 1153-1155
DOI: 10.1126/science.1172540

Monday, June 1, 2009

Name a New Jellyfish Species

Image Credit: Marijke Wilhelmus
I don't want to fill this blog solely with stories of jellyfish, but I couldn't resist telling all you scientists and scientist-wannabes about this great opportunity. You could have the chance to create a new species name for the bonaire banded box jellyfish pictured above.

Visit the Year of Science site to learn about the jellyfish and to read the specific naming guidelines. Then, be inventive and submit your suggestion for a name by June 14. Once the species name is selected, it will be used in data banks, encyclopedias, and scholarly articles. Just think: you could ingrain your brainchild into academic thought forevermore. And you didn't even have to get a PhD to do it!

Good luck!