3/14/08

Banish the bags: The amazing picture of 2lb of plastic poison found in whale's stomach

It looks like the kind of rubbish that piles up on waste ground or adorns hedgerows. But this collection of plastic bags was found in a far more disturbing place - the stomach of a minke whale washed up from the English Channel. The young female suffered an appalling death, starved, exhausted and in agonising pain. The discovery in 2002 was a wake-up call for marine scientists, who realised that plastic bags and other waste were one of the biggest threats to the whales, dolphins and turtles swimming around our shores. The minke was found on the Normandy coast. At first, it was assumed she had died of natural causes. When her stomach was cut open, scientists were amazed to find nearly two pounds of plastic bags, eaten by mistake as she searched for food. The 2lb haul included two plastic bags from English supermarkets, seven transparent plastic bags, and fragments from seven dustbin bags. In an ironic twist, one of the bags found in the gut of the dead whale appears to read: "We support good farm animal welfare." Most worrying of all, there was no proper food in her stomach. Minkes are among the smallest of the whales and the fastest moving. They can be seen swimming off the coasts of Scotland, Ireland and the South West. The females are around 24ft long and weigh between five and ten tons. They can live for up to 60 years. Although minkes are not threatened with immediate extinction, whale campaigners are concerned about their numbers. There are thought to be fewer than 184,000 left in the Atlantic. Until the 1980s their biggest danger was hunters from Japan, Norway and Iceland. But another major threat has emerged in the plastic debris and rubbish in the seas. Minkes feed by sieving huge amounts of water through plates in their mouths. The technique is supposed to catch small fish. But as the seas get more polluted, the whales are also swallowing more rubbish. The plastic can block their digestive tracts, causing serious internal damage. If the creatures consume enough bags, their stomachs become full, they stop eating and they starve. A spokesman for the Marine Conservation Society said the Normandy minke had shocked the scientific world. "It is an appalling amount of plastic to find in one female whale," he said. "It brings home what happens if we allow plastics into the marine environment."

In New Effort, U.S. Army Divers Help NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries Remove Marine Debris and Support Fish Research

March 6, 2008 NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and the U.S. Army Dive Company are joining forces this month to repair buoy moorings, remove trash from dive sites, and install listening devices to track fish in national marine sanctuaries off Florida and Georgia. Supported by 130 Army divers, the three week pilot project is currently underway in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, and will begin in mid-March in Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary off the Georgia coast. “This pilot program will be extremely helpful by applying military capabilities to support ongoing civilian efforts in preserving and protecting valuable marine resources found in the sanctuaries,” said Daniel J. Basta, director of NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. "We hope that this is the beginning of a long-standing relationship with NOAA. We can provide NOAA with needed engineer diving support and they provide us with real world missions to keep the U.S. Army Dive Company trained and ready for deployment around the world in support of the Global War on Terror,” said Capt. Charles Denike, commander, U.S. Army Dive Company. In the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, NOAA and Army divers will assist the Sanctuary Mooring Buoy Program, which is responsible for managing a system of more than 700 buoys throughout the Florida Keys Sanctuary. Tasks for this dive team will include inspecting, maintaining, repairing, and installing mooring buoys located around the area of Key West. In addition, the dive team will conduct several dives to remove marine debris from two popular Florida Keys shipwreck dive sites, the Adolphus Busch and the Cayman Salvager, off Key West. In the Gray's Reef Sanctuary, divers will focus on four projects installing acoustic receivers and field testing acoustic transmitters that will support sanctuary fish behavior research and monitoring. They will also install permanent marine debris monitoring transects and conduct surveys along them. The acoustic receivers will enable Gray’s Reef scientists to track the movements of specially tagged fish, such as grouper and snapper, among the diverse habitats within the sanctuary. During this effort the U.S. Army Dive Company, based in Ft. Eustis, Va., will apply their dive time towards annual training and proficiency dive requirements. If the Army’s work in the sanctuaries proves successful this year, plans may expand to assist other sanctuaries in the future. Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary protects 2,896 square nautical miles of critical marine habitat, including coral reef, hard bottom, sea grass meadows, mangrove communities and sand flats. NOAA and the state of Florida manage the sanctuary. Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary is one of the largest near-shore live-bottom reefs off the southeastern United States, encompassing approximately 17 square miles off the Georgia coast. The sanctuary consists of a series of sandstone outcroppings and ledges up to eight feet in height, in a predominantly sandy, flat-bottomed sea floor. The live bottom and ledge habitat supports an abundant reef fish and invertebrate community. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of our nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than 70 countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.

3/9/08

Primera parada del maratón ambiental de Vida Marina (First stop of the environmental marathon of Vida Marina)

La primera parada de lo que llamaremos el Maratón Ambiental de Vida Marina y Vida Silvestre se llevó a cabo en la UPR en Utuado. Un total de 96 estudiantes del municipio de Lares se dieron cita en este centro docente para participar de un taller educativo y motivador sobre el problema de la basura acuática. El nuevo Centro Caribeño de Reducción de Desperdicios Acuáticos de la Universidad de Puerto Rico en Aguadilla ahora también cuenta con un programa llamado Vida Silvestre el cual estará intentando reducir la cantidad de hilo de pesca en los principales embalses de la isla. Este nuevo programa complementará al programa Vida Marina que se enfoca en la reducción de este material en el ambiente costero marino. Los estudiantes voluntarios que llevan a cabo las presentaciones y talleres también se encargan de motivar a los estudiantes que asisten a las mismas a seguir estudios universitarios conducentes a carreras en la conservación marina y terrestre. (These are pictures of the first stop of the environmental marathon sponsored by the newly created Caribbean Center for the Reduction of Aquatic Debris at the UPR at Aguadilla. This marathon consists of a series of talks on the problems, sources and solutions to the problems caused by marine debris. Undergraduate volunteers also talk to school students on the importance of pursuing careers in marine and terrestrial conservation).

Vida Marina le da la bienvenida al Dr. Carlos Hernández a nuestro equipo (Vida Marina welcomes Dr. Carlos Hernández to our team)

El Dr. Carlos Hernández es miembro de la facultad de la Universidad de Puerto Rico y estará estudiando varios aspectos antropológicos del problema de la basura marina y como esta afecta la industria de la pesca en Puerto Rico. (Dr. Carlos Hernández is a faculty member at the University of Puerto Rico at Aguadilla who will be looking at the anthropological aspect of the problem of marine debris and its effects on commercial fisheries in Puerto Rico).