28 August 2019
A pair of researchers found evidence that the insect population in a Puerto Rican rain forest was in free fall. But another team wasn’t so sure.
In this deeply worrisome article about the disappearance of insects and insect-eaters from Puerto Rican forests, the reporter writes that the scientists attribute the decline to climate change and not to pesticides.
He quotes one of the scientists, Bradford Lister, as dismissing the potential contribution of pesticides because "pesticide use has fallen more than 80 percent in Puerto Rico" during the period of insect decline.
This is not scientific evidence against the potential role of pesticides.
While the volume of application may have declined by that much over 40 years, the mix of pesticides is quite different now. For example, neonicotinoid insecticides—extremely powerful against insects—didn't become widely used until the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Now they are ubiquitous. The U.S. Geological Survey has detected them in many agricultural streams across the U.S., including in Puerto Rico.
Also, industrial chemicals like phthalates and bisphenol A are found ubiquitously in environmental samples. French researchers have found phthalates in the cuticle of ants in South American jungles at levels high enough to interfere with reproduction and immune system function.
All living things feed, breathe and get around, but the various mechanisms used for them rely on biophysics that works best within certain size domains.
Nothing says Maryland quite like a steamed crab smothered in Old Bay and slapped on a long picnic table.
But sometimes, unsuspecting diners paying close to a day’s pay for the privilege of eating local bounty may actually be enjoying crabs that were trucked up Interstate 95 in a hot bushel basket — fresh from the Carolina coast or Gulf of Mexico.
Lee Carrion is trying to change that. For more than a decade, she has owned Coveside Crabs with her husband, waterman Richard Young, and has railed against businesses that purport to sell local crabs but don’t. She says that the lack of clarity hurts local watermen like her husband, who can’t compete with the larger and less expensive Gulf imports.
Carrion points to a state law, rarely enforced, that requires those who claim to sell local products to disclose the state in which the products originated. She would like the law to go one step further and require all who sell crabs to disclose the crabs’ place of origin on a sign in their establishments.
“People buy crabs in Maryland, and they assume they were caught in Maryland. That is the Catch-22 here,” she said. “Whether you say it or not, there is an implied locality, and the customer is being defrauded.”
Gulf and Southern crabs can be cheaper than Maryland crabs, in part because with a longer season, the crabbers there are able to catch many more — and larger ones as well — than their Chesapeake Bay competitors.
While Gulf crabs are generally cheaper, seafood industry insiders say that unsuspecting customers often shell out two or three times that cost for what they believe are Maryland crabs, never knowing they were caught in Louisiana.
Some seafood businesses, though, say they rely on Gulf crabs, and as long as Maryland diners are enjoying them, they’ll keep providing them. Otherwise, owners say, they’d have to close for the winter.
“If I was a restaurant in Baltimore, you’re doggone right I want to have the Gulf,” said Johnny Graham, owner of Graham & Rollins, a 75-year-old crab processing business in Hampton, VA.
Virginia hasn’t experienced the same degree of pressure for branding local crabs, in part because the state doesn’t share a crab-house and crab-feast culture with its northern neighbor. Most of the crabs caught there, Graham said, end up at a processor.
But Graham said the push for a local product with picked crab meat has been important to his bottom line. A few years ago, he said, imports from Venezuela and Asia were undercutting his prices by close to 40 percent. The restaurants selling the products were claiming the meat was local or domestic when it was not.
Through an education campaign, Graham said, his companies and others in Virginia are now getting higher prices for their product.
A study the nonprofit Oceana conducted in 2015 found that close to half of the meat in crab cakes sold in Baltimore and Annapolis, labeled as local, came from foreign countries.
Twice, the Maryland legislature has tried to pass a “truth in labeling” law that would have required identifying the source of crab products by the state and county where they were harvested. Introduced by Del. Eric G. Luedtke, D-Montgomery County, in 2014 and again in 2015, the bill failed to pass in part because of pushback from restaurants and crab processors.
Maryland officials have long wanted to promote local seafood, but must grapple with the fact that the state’s waters don’t produce enough.
A few restaurateurs, like John Shields of Gertrude’s in Baltimore, are so committed to local, seasonal eating that they won’t put a crab cake on their menu unless they can use local meat. But most can’t afford to risk losing customers, said Steve Vilnit, former seafood marketing manager with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. While with the DNR, he established the Maryland True Blue Program to help promote local products — both the ones residents already love, like crabs and rockfish, and the ones they might know little about, like yellow perch and spiny dogfish.
The program required 75 percent local product. With that allowance, Vilnit said, nearly 150 restaurants qualified to carry the True Blue logo. He randomly checked vending receipts to verify eligibility. While he never had to kick anyone out, he said, a few times restaurants took themselves out because they had to buy foreign crab meat to meet demand or cut costs.
Vilnit focused his efforts on picked crab meat because steamed crabs were a far smaller share of the market. Nevertheless, he said he investigated Carrion’s claims and could not confirm that any restaurants or crab houses claiming to have local product sold Gulf seafood instead. Just because people make assumptions, he said, doesn’t mean the business did something illegal.
But when the Maryland Department of Agriculture regained its oversight of seafood marketing, Carrion saw an opportunity to renew her push for the local labeling law in her role as one of 10 commissioners advising the state.
Carrion envisions a law in Maryland similar to the one governing Vidalia onions, which only allows onions grown in that Georgia town to carry the label. She also points out that farmed oysters are marketed by identifying the rivers in which they were caught, and that crabs also take on the tastes of the rivers where they were harvested.
Ron Buckhalt, who directs the MDA’s seafood marketing program, visited Carrion’s Dundalk operation on a recent morning to talk with her about how the department can address the issue. Buckhalt said in an interview before the visit that he’s listening to his vocal commissioner, but not sure what the department can do.
“How do you police it? That is the question. It rests on the honesty of the merchants,” he said. “If someone does advertise one thing and does another, we can basically say, ‘Don’t do that.’ But that’s about it. And it has to be a gentle reminder, so we don’t sound like the big bad regulators, and then they decide not to serve crabs anymore. We certainly don’t want that.”
Many Maryland crab establishments that supplement their local catch with Gulf-caught crustaceans are honest about it; some employ a don’t-ask-don’t-tell attitude; and some will claim the crabs are local when they are not.
“A lot of places lie about it, that’s for sure,” said John Ecker, manager of Conrad’s Crabs and Seafood Market in Baltimore. Ecker’s boss, Tony Conrad, is a waterman who catches his own crabs; he works with another Baltimore waterman and six or seven others on the Eastern Shore. Between 90 and 95 percent of their crabs in the spring, summer and fall are from Maryland, he said. They sell more Gulf product in the winter, when fresh Maryland crabs are not available, Ecker added. Conrad’s posts a sign — “we catch our own” — but doesn’t generally get more specific on a daily basis.
To meet the demand for Labor Day crab feasts, Ecker said he drove to the Eastern Shore four times over a weekend to purchase local crabs. Could he have supplemented with Gulf crabs from wholesalers? Possibly, he said, but the customers expect local product, and he tries to provide it.
Ecker shares Buckhalt’s view that it is hard to police local branding, and the best policy is to have a good product and be honest about where it comes from.
Joe Jackson of the Blue Point Crab House in Reisterstown agreed.
“A lot of people don’t ask, but most people know that if they buy from us, we also buy from Louisiana,” he said. Labeling where the crabs come from, he said, would be hard to do, because workers have to quickly sort the catch into sizes for sale.
Blue Point’s website says it serves “Maryland’s best crabs.” That may imply the crabs are local, but doesn’t say they all are all the time. It is, Buckhalt said, a gray area. The tagline “Maryland’s Best” is an MDA trademark, he said; an informal description as “Maryland’s best…” may not be.
Carrion, though, is not giving up the cause. “If the waterman is trying to make a living,” she said, “he would get more money if there was demand for true local crabs.”
Big deadly fires are nothing new to California, particularly during fire season when the Santa Ana or Diablo winds blow hot and dry, making tinder out of trees and bushes that have been baking all summer long.
But the firestorm now raging through Northern California isn’t the typical wildfire. For one thing, it’s not just one fire but close to two dozen. For another, these fires are not only threatening hard-to-reach rural or mountains area, but they also have torn through suburban neighborhoods. More than 3,500 homes, commercial buildings and other structures have been reduced to ash. The Tubbs fire jumped across the 101 Freeway in Santa Rosa, for heaven’s sake.
The flames moved so fast that they caught people unaware and unprepared to flee. As of Wednesday, when the wind picked up and shifted the flames toward more populated communities, the death toll stood at 21 people, with more than 500 still missing. By Thursday morning, fire officials believe, some of the individual fires may meet and merge into one mega-fire.
At this point the fires rank collectively as the deadliest blaze in California since the Oakland Hills fire in 1991, which claimed 25 lives. The fires are also unusually destructive; they have burned more structures than the Oakland Hills fire, the Cedar fire that raged through rural communities in San Diego County in 2003, or the Station fire that burned through the Angeles National Forest in 2009. When this is over, it may well be the state’s worst fire catastrophe in recorded history by any measure.
This is not just bad luck. Coming on the heels of other large-scale natural disasters — Houston inundated by a slow-moving tropical storm, swaths of Florida and the Caribbean ripped to shreds by a monster hurricane, much of Puerto Rico leveled by an equally powerful hurricane, a handful of Western states swept by massive fires that burned up millions of acres — one can’t help but see a disturbing pattern emerge. Those superstorms that scientists warned would result from climate change? They are here. The day of reckoning isn’t in the future. It is now.
We don’t yet know what started the fires in Northern California, but we have a good idea of what made them so destructive. Authorities blame a combination of factors: winds so strong they knocked down power lines, extremely dry conditions, and an abundant supply of combustible material from a years-long drought that killed millions of the state’s trees or left them vulnerable to insect infestations. Ironically, this year’s unusually rainy winter probably contributed to the problem by producing burnable new growth.
All of those factors are exacerbated by the warming world. Hotter summers yield more fuel for fires and stronger winds to fan the flames. And this summer was California’s hottest on record, a milestone dramatically illustrated when San Francisco hit 106 degrees on Sept. 1 during a statewide heat wave.
Similarly, scientists say climate change doesn’t cause hurricanes, but it can make them bigger and more destructive. Higher air temperatures mean more evaporation and heavier rains outside of drought zones, and warmer seas intensify the size and fury of the storms themselves. It’s a double whammy that has contributed to an unusually severe hurricane season this year.
Burning fossil fuels is not the only human activity that contributes to the destruction wrought by wildfires and hurricanes. So does the relentless march of humans to develop land in danger spots — a 500-year flood plain, an unstable hillside or a historical fire corridor. And in California, aggressive fire suppression has impeded the natural burn cycle in the state’s wooded areas so that there’s more fuel when the massive fires do take hold.
“These kinds of catastrophes have happened and they’ll continue to happen.” Gov. Jerry Brown observed at a news briefing Wednesday. “That’s the way it is with a warming climate, dry weather and reducing moisture.”
California is fortunate to have a governor who understands the perils of ignoring climate change and is aggressively pushing policies to mitigate its future harm. Unfortunately, that puts him at odds with a head-in-the-sand president who blithely disregards the obvious connection between the warming climate and the multiple federal disaster areas he’s been forced to declare in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and, now, California.
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A country in economic crisis faces a new challenge
The Economist explains
Oct 12th 2017by J.R.A.
MOST Latin American countries have impressive records when it comes to tackling malaria. Cases detected in the region fell by a third between 2010 and 2015, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), thanks in part to increases in spending on health. At the same time, mortality rates for those who have contracted malaria dropped by 37%. Yet there is one obvious outlier: Venezuela. In 2015 the country had 30% of all the cases of malaria reported in the Americas—more than Brazil, which has over six times as many people. According to the Venezuelan government 240,000 cases of the disease were reported in 2016, a rise of 76% on the previous year. José Félix Oletta, a doctor and former health minister, estimates that more than half a million Venezuelans will contract malaria in 2017. What explains the country’s terrible record?
Venezuela has long been plagued by mosquitoes. The country’s savannahs and coastal plains—its malarial zone—provide ideal breeding grounds for the insects, whose name derives from the Spanish word for “little fly”. In the early 20th century the disease was considered endemic to two-thirds of the country. At that time Venezuela had the highest number of malaria cases in Latin America, with 164 of every 100,000 inhabitants dying from the disease each year. But a team of Venezuelan scientists, led by Arnoldo Gabaldón, a malariologist, fought back. In 1945 his team began spraying DDT, then a relatively unknown insecticide, in homes across the country. The sticky substance coated the walls, killing mosquitoes on contact. The programme was a success. By the end of the decade, the mortality rate for malaria had fallen to nine per 100,000. In 1961 the WHO declared that malaria had been eradicated in two-thirds of the malarial zone.
regress owes much to its ailing economy. Import controls and the scarcity of foreign exchange have led to a shortage of the medicines needed to treat the disease. As many as 50,000 Venezuelans have responded to the country’s economic crisis by taking up illegal mining and moving to rural areas where mosquitoes thrive. The holes they dig collect water, providing the insects with an ideal breeding ground. Malaria is rife in these areas—in 2013, 60% of all malaria cases in Venezuela occurred in Sifontes, a mining municipality bordering Guyana. The workers, many of whom travel from across Venezuela, are the perfect incubators for the disease. They move frequently from region to region and are often unable to afford treatment. When they return to cities the virus can spread quickly.
Nicolás Maduro, the country’s bungling president, has exacerbated the crisis. In May he sacked the health minister, Antonieta Caporale, after she published statistics on reported cases of malaria and other illnesses for the first time in two years. None have been published since. Mr Maduro blames medicine shortages on an “economic war” and has called for the UN to provide support. In August UNICEF announced that it was donating 95,000 anti-malarial drugs to the government for the treatment of children. But there is so far little sign that the disease is being contained. Venezuela’s neighbours are growing concerned. Brazil, with whom Venezuela shares a porous frontier, is particularly at risk thanks to illegal mines operating on its side of the border. Mr Maduro’s incompetence is costing lives and undoing decades of hard work.
In the wild, a predator that eats too much of its prey can drive that species toward extinction. But there are other, less understood influences that predators can have on their prey’s survival. Take, for instance, odor: New research shows that the very smell of predators may be enough to increase the chances of a whole population of animals going extinct. Fear alone, it suggests, can shape the fate of a species.
Traditional ecological theory holds that smaller populations of any creature will usually breed more productively than larger, denser populations, since individuals have less competition and more luck in mating, says Ryan Norris, a biologist at the University of Guelph. But when hungry predators hover around, small populations of prey may not be as insulated to stress as larger ones.
To test this, Norris and his colleagues recently conducted an experiment using fruit flies and one of the flies’ natural predators: praying mantises. They put a group of flies into a cage with a mantis underneath, in a separate partition. The fruit flies couldn’t see the mantis and it couldn’t attack them, but they could smell it. Days later, during the following breeding period, female fruit flies that had been in the cage laid fewer eggs than ones that had been placed in a separate cage with no mantis below. Those eggs subsequently hatched into insects that weighed less on average, too.
The researchers speculate that part of the reason females laid fewer eggs and had lighter offspring is because worrying about a lurking mantis takes away from the time fruit flies would normally spend foraging for food and having sex. Less food for fruit mothers could mean smaller eggs, though the study, which was published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, didn’t specifically test to see whether a lack of food caused lighter offspring and less eggs. “I suspect they are eating less because they are being more vigilant of predators,” Norris says.
This only occurred with low-density populations, he notes; at high densities, other factors like competition probably overwhelms the effect of fear. But the researchers then found through modeling that when a mantis was around to strike fear into the hearts of low-density fruit-fly populations for several generations, the risk of extinction increased sevenfold over 10 generations. In the wild, the pressure predators put on a small population of prey could be even stronger, Norris says, since the models they ran didn’t include losses from direct attacks.
Justin Suraci, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, says that Norris’s study is one of the few that approaches the effects of fear on the population level. As he sees it, it provides a break from the traditional view of predator-prey interactions, which only involves direct killing. “There’s some evidence that the fear effects outweigh the effects of actual killing and eating,” he says, adding that killing often only affects a single individual, while the fear of predators can affect entire groups.
These results aren’t limited to fruit flies. While laboratory tests using the insects may be particularly good at honing in on the specific factors that cause population declines, some researchers have identified similar effects on wild birds. A 2011 study exposed song sparrows to the sounds of predators like ravens, hawks, and raccoons, and found that just like the worried fruit flies, the birds laid fewer eggs, and fewer of the eggs produced birds that made it to adulthood.
Suraci, too, conducted a study earlier this year to investigate how fear might affect predators themselves. He and his coauthors tracked pumas in the Santa Cruz Mountains via radio collars and determined when the big cats killed deer. Pumas often return to feed on their kills for several consecutive nights, so the scientists came in during the day and set up video-camera traps with speakers that played the sounds of humans—a large source of mortality for pumas—when triggered by motion around the deer kill. For comparison, other motion-triggered speakers were set up to play more natural sounds, like tree frogs.
The human sounds appeared to make the fierce mountain lions nervous. “They are much more likely to flee immediately and abandon their kill completely,” Suraci says.
The study only tracked the effect on individual pumas, so Suraci isn’t certain what disruptions like this would do at a population level. But the human fear factor clearly seems to drain cats’ energy levels, because they will waste more time on killing more deer and spend less time eating their fill.
Norris says that more research will have to be done to determine the extent of the effect that fear can have on small populations of prey, but it may be an important component in wildlife conservation. Government agencies and conservation groups spend an enormous amount of time and effort on wildlife-management plans, many of which are based on ecosystem models to predict the effect predators will have on a given prey population. If the mere sounds and smells of a predator are enough to offset the success of subsequent generations of animals, models that ignore the power of fear might be more likely to fail.
“[If] you make the wrong decision, you not only waste a lot of money, you risk the species going extinct,” Norris says.
The last taste of honey you enjoyed likely came from bees exposes to neonicotinoids, the world’s most widely used class of insecticides.
That’s the takeaway from a paper, published last week in the journal Science, by a team of Swiss researchers. They found traces of the bug-killing chemicals in 75 percent of honey samples drawn from around the world—and 86 percent of the samples from North America.
For human honey eaters, there’s probably nothing to worry about. The authors report that in all of the tested samples, the levels found were “below the admissible limits for human consumption according to current EU and U.S. regulations.” (They note, however, that while neonics are generally considered relatively benign to humans, there has actually been very little peer-reviewed research on the topic. This recent analysis from George Washington University professors underscores that point.
But for honeybees—which for about a decade have been suffering steep annual winter and (more recently) summer die-offs—the new findings are troubling, full stop. The Swiss team points to a burgeoning body of research showing that even at tiny doses, neonics burden bees with “growth disorders, reduced efficiency of the immune system, neurological and cognitive disorders, [impaired] respiratory and reproductive function, queen survival, foraging efficiency, and homing capacity.”
The Swiss team notes that the chemicals turned up in honey at an average concentration level of 1.8 nanograms per gram; and that ill effects from exposure to them have been documented at levels as low as 0.1 nanograms per gram. Nearly half of all the honey samples they tested carried neonics at that concentration or higher.
Neonics are produced primarily by the Swiss/Chinese agrichemical titan Syngenta and its German rival Bayer, which is currently in the process of merging with Monsanto. The companies vigorously deny that their blockbuster insect-killers do any harm to bees and other pollinators, but research to the contrary is piling up.
In its June 30, 2017, issue, Science published two papers that, it concluded, “confirm that neonicotinoids negatively affect pollinator health under realistic agricultural conditions. In one, a Canadian team found that bee hives near neonic-treated corn fields showed “increased worker mortality and were associated with declines in social immunity and increased queenlessness over time”—and fared even worse when they those corn fields were also sprayed with a commonly used fungicide. In the other, a UK team documented health declines in both honeybees and wild bees near treated fields in three countries.
And in a May 2017 paper published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, a team of researchers led by Purdue University entomologist Christian Krupke found that in the corn-heavy state of Indiana, 94 percent of the state’s honeybees are exposed to neonics during the corn-planting season. They also found that corn treated with neonics did not grow any faster or deliver higher yields than untreated corn—meaning that the damage to honeybees was not offset by any advantage to corn farmers.
That finding echoes a 2014 conclusion by the Environmental Protection Agency about soybeans. The EPA has since removed the paper from its website, but I quoted its conclusion at the time: “There are no clear or consistent economic benefits [to farmers] of neonicotinoid seed treatments in soybeans.”
Yet as the new Science paper on honey shows, neonics are ubiquitous in the environment on a global scale. The authors note that honey bees are “distinctive sentinels of environment quality,” because they gather nectar and pollen from as far away as 12.5 kilometers (7.7 miles) from their hives. What shows up in their honey is a “measure of the contamination in the surrounding landscape”—and this neonic news is anything but sweet, given that the chemical are suspected of harming not just honey bees, but also wild bees, birds, and aquatic insects.
CAGUAS, P.R. — Harry Figueroa, a teacher who went a week without the oxygen that helped him breathe, died here last week at 58. His body went unrefrigerated for so long that the funeral director could not embalm his badly decomposed corpse.
Miguel Bastardo Beroa’s kidneys are failing. His physicians at the intensive care unit at Doctors Hospital in Carolina are treating him for a bacterial disease that he probably caught in floodwaters contaminated with animal urine.
José L. Cruz wakes up in the middle of the night three times a week to secure a spot in line for dialysis. His treatment hours have been cut back to save fuel for the generators that power the center.
“Because of the electricity situation, a lot of people died, and are still dying,” said Mr. Figueroa’s daughter, Lisandra, 30. “You can’t get sick now.”
Nearly three weeks after Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico, many sick people across the island remain in mortal peril. The government’s announcements each morning about the recovery effort are often upbeat, but beyond them are hidden emergencies. Seriously ill dialysis patients across Puerto Rico have seen their treatment hours reduced by 25 percent because the centers still lack a steady supply of diesel to run their generators. Less than half of Puerto Rico’s medical employees have reported to work in the weeks since the storm, federal health officials said.
Hospitals are running low on medicine and high on patients, as they take in the infirm from medical centers where generators failed. A hospital in Humacao had to evacuate 29 patients last Wednesday — including seven in the intensive care unit and a few on the operating table — to an American military medical ship off the coast of Puerto Rico when a generator broke down.
There are urgent attempts to help. The federal government has sent 10 Disaster Medical Assistance Teams of civilian doctors, nurses, paramedics and others to the island. Four mobile hospitals have been set up in hospital parking lots, and the Comfort, a medical treatment ship, is on the scene. A 44-bed hospital will soon open in badly wrecked Humacao, in the southeast.
But even as the Army Corps of Engineers is installing dozens of generators at medical facilities, and utility crews work to restore power to 36 hospitals, medical workers and patients say that an intense medical crisis persists and that communications and electrical difficulties have obscured the true number of fatalities directly related to the hurricane. The official count rose on Tuesday to 43.
Matching resources with needs remains a problem. The Puerto Rico Department of Health has sent just 82 patients to the Comfort over the past six days, even though the ship can serve 250. The Comfort’s 800 medical personnel were treating just seven patients on Monday.
The mayor of Canóvanas, in the northeast part of the island, reported over the weekend that several people in her city had died of leptospirosis, the bacterial disease Mr. Bastardo is believed to have caught from the floodwaters. The Puerto Rico Department of Health said Sunday night that several cases were being evaluated, but that lab tests had not yet come back to confirm the diagnosis. At the same time, the agency urged people to drink only bottled water and to wear protective shoes near bodies of water that could be contaminated with animal urine.
Carmen C. Deseda, the Puerto Rico state epidemiologist, said that six people were being treated for leptospirosis, even though test results to confirm the diagnosis would not be complete for another week or two. Puerto Rico usually sees a few dozen cases a year and perhaps one death, but officials are expecting an increase because of the flooding.
Forty percent of the island still lacks running water because of the blackout, which still affects 85 percent of the island. As a result, many people are bathing in streams and receiving nonpotable water from huge tanks.
Yarelis Rosa, 37, said her husband, Mr. Bastardo, was infected because he had cut his hand a few days before the storm and it had not fully healed when he spent hours in the floodwaters trying to escape his home in Canovanas. A few days later, Mr. Bastardo’s head, feet and knees hurt and his temperature soared to 106 degrees. She took him to the hospital more than a dozen times, she said.
“I.V., injection, go home. I.V., injection, go home. I.V., injection, go home,” Ms. Rosa said, describing the revolving door of medical treatment.
He was intubated on Friday, she said, the same day that the patient next to him died of the same illness.
“Nervous? It looked like a war zone, where you have to evacuate to save your life,” she said, describing the scrambling doctors. “The politicians say that everything is fine, because they have nice places to live. Why didn’t they bring Donald Trump here?”
In Caguas, a city of 142,000 south of San Juan, the municipal 911 manager, José Oramas, said that city ambulances had responded to at least four calls since the storm where a patient who had lost power for oxygen tanks or ventilators had died. At Hima Hospital in Caguas, doctors deployed by the federal government are treating patients under an air-conditioned tent in the parking lot. But a health professional from another team, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said many of the teams were not seeing patients and felt powerless to help with the main need, which is a stable power supply.
“It’s very critical,” said Maria Jacobo, the administrator of Hima Hospital. “The whole island is critical, especially for oxygen.”
At the mobile hospital on Sunday, Luz Alverio was with her 72-year-old sister, Irma, whose legs are swollen and discolored from infected insect bites. “People didn’t die in the winds,” Luz Alverio said. “They are dying now.”
The situation is particularly serious for Puerto Rico’s 6,000 dialysis patients.
On its hurricane update website, the Puerto Rican government says that all 46 dialysis centers on the island have received assistance, and the Department of Defense counts 43 centers as operational. The website does not mention that the diesel fuel shortage is still so severe that many patients whose blood is normally cleaned for 12 hours a week are now being treated for only nine.
“At one point, the government said the dialysis situation was controlled and the facilities were getting diesel,” said Lisandro Montalvo, the medical director of Fresenius Medical Care North America, a chain of dialysis centers here. “But they maybe supplied diesel to three or four facilities, and we have 26 facilities. We talk to FEMA every day. It’s always an emergency. We have to say: ‘These three are low, please.’ Sometimes they fill it, and sometimes they don’t.”
Mr. Cruz receives his dialysis treatment at a different chain of centers. He said that in the days after the storm, all the centers were closed, so patients were swarming to hospitals, where they were getting just half the prescribed treatment. Witnessing a woman’s death during dialysis helped persuade him that he should leave Puerto Rico, rather than keep having to struggle to find a spot in line. He plans to move to Orlando, Fla., on Wednesday.
“They are cutting my life short,” Mr. Cruz said. “The governor can’t be everywhere at once. If his aides tell him everything is great, he thinks everything is great.’’
Ricardo Rosselló, the governor of Puerto Rico, said on Monday that the authorities were doing their best to stave off a public health disaster. About 70 percent of the island’s pharmacies had reopened, he said, and a special hotline had been established for people to receive insulin. He added that dialysis centers were “in the loop” for fuel and generator repairs and maintenance, and several patients had been evacuated to the mainland United States.
Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, who leads the military effort on the island, said that several hospitals had suffered structural damage in the storm, and that even those that are officially listed as open face serious limitations.
“Define ‘open,’” General Buchanan said. “The fact that they are providing treatment is one thing. Are they taking new patients? I won’t feel comfortable until the hospitals are back on the grid and they have sufficient medicines across the board.”
Ricardo Ramos, chief executive of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, the island’s utility, said that restoring power to hospitals was the company’s No. 1 priority. Mr. Ramos said the utility had worked hard to make sure that there was at least one hospital able to treat patients in each region of the country, and that it had restored power to one of the island’s two facilities for producing medical oxygen.
“I would love to have all the hospitals energized, but it’s impossible to do that,” he said. “There are hospitals in the mountainside, there’s hospitals in the southeast, where my infrastructure is completely destroyed.”
Robert P. Kadlec, the assistant secretary of Health and Human Services for preparedness and response, said the Veterans Health Administration had also opened its hospitals to nonveterans to help meet urgent needs.
“The devastation I saw, I thought was equivalent to a nuclear detonation,” Dr. Kadlec said. “Whatever you do, will be almost insufficient to the demand and need that is out there for these 3.5 million Americans in Puerto Rico. We are doing everything we can with what we have, and we have a lot.’’
Correction: October 10, 2017
A picture caption with an earlier version of this article misstated the location of the hospital where Miguel Bastardo Beroa was being treated. It is in Carolina, P.R., not Canovanas.
Waldemar Serrano Burgos contributed reporting from Caguas and Sheri Fink from New York.
By Lynda V. Mapes
Seattle Times environment reporter
Scientists have been hauling survey nets through the ocean off the coasts of Washington and Oregon for 20 years. But this is the first time some have come up empty.
“We were really worrying if there was something wrong with our equipment,” said David Huff, estuarine and ocean ecology program manager in the fish ecology division at NOAA Fisheries. “We have never hauled that net through the water looking for salmon or forage fish and not gotten a single salmon. Three times we pulled that net up, and there was not a thing in it. We looked at each other, like, ‘this is really different than anything we have ever seen.’
“It was alarming.”
Moving from Newport, Oregon, to the northern tip of Washington, anywhere from 25 to 40 nautical miles offshore last spring and summer, the survey team began catching fish — but not the ones usually in those waters. Instead, warm-water fish, such as mackerel — a predator of young salmon — and Pacific pompano and pyrozomes — normally associated with tropical seas — turned up in droves. Both deplete the plankton that salmon need to survive.
In a report on their trawl survey, the scientists logged some of the lowest numbers of yearling Snake River spring chinook recorded since the survey began in 1998. Coho numbers were just as depressed.
“Every year is different. But this year popped out as being really different,” said Brian Burke, a research fisheries biologist based at the NW Fisheries Science Center in Montlake. “Not just a bunch of normal metrics that point to a bad ocean year, but the presence of these things we have never seen before, really big changes in the ecosystem. Something really big has shifted here.”
It’s not a short-term problem.
Low survival of juvenile salmon also portends a paltry return of adult salmon in two years and longer into the future — bad news for animals that depend on salmon for their own sustenance. Especially southern- resident killer whales, already at a 30-year low in their population, following the recent death of an emaciated calf.
While its body was not recovered, so the cause of the calf’s death cannot be certain, starvation makes the orcas’ other challenges, from vessel noise to toxic pollution to disease, harder to fight off.
This year’s bizarre survey results all started with The Blob, as it came to be known: an enormous mass of unusually warm water off most of the West Coast that beginning in 2013 wreaked havoc with species survival and food abundance in the ocean.
Now the blob is gone, but some of the animals that came north with it, vastly expanding their range, are still here.
The survey demonstrates the value of direct sampling, and long-term data sets. Satellite imagery shows a return to normal water temperatures by now along the West Coast. It was only by getting out with their nets and pulling trawl samples — and having a long-term data set against which to compare results — that scientists realized the disruption that is still very much underway.
The interrelated nature of the ecosystem means those disruptions have far-reaching effects.
Pacific pompano and jack mackerel used to be scarce off the Northwest Coast. But their abundant presence now has indirect and direct effects on salmon.
Researchers also found plankton with less of the fatty nutrients that young salmon need, starving the food chain from its first link. Chlorophyll, the indicator of plankton that stoke the higher levels of life in the sea, also is at its lowest levels recorded in 20 years.
Tiny marine crustaceans called copepods that spell fat city for salmon have also been at depressed populations since 2014. The jelly- fish community is upside down, too, with a complete shift underway from predominantly Pacific sea nettle, to the much smaller water jelly.
Critical forage fish that support a wide range of species — including herring, anchovies and smelt — also are scarce.
That could force predators that usually would feed on them to eat salmon instead. Birds that gather just north of the Columbia River mouth, such as common murre and sooty shearwater, may have turned to yearling salmon to fill their bellies, with their usual fare of forage fish so depleted. That, in turn, could have substantially increased mortality for juvenile salmon just as they reached the ocean.
That would explain why researchers sampling salmon populations in the estuary didn’t find the same stark and troubling scarcity the ocean researchers did, Burke noted.
And why what fish the ocean researchers did catch in their trawl nets looked well. “We did not see skinny fish,” Burke said.
While the research is still being finalized, it signals likely lean times ahead for salmon fishers, human and non. That’s bad news for southern-resident killer whales, which just won’t switch to other prey, even when their preferred food — chinook salmon — are scarce. Their diet is culturally embedded in teachings reinforced in intergenerational family clans. The result is that orcas, so far, are starving rather than switching to seals and the other marine mammals that orca whales elsewhere devour.
Huff said the purpose of a memo the research team wrote to managers about their survey results was intended to provide an early warning of how poor and just plain strange conditions in the ocean off Washington and Oregon’s coasts are.
The findings also underscore the powerful role the ocean plays in salmon survival, as well as the importance of creating and maintaining good freshwater habitat, to help salmon deal with the vagaries of the sea.
It’s not clear what will happen next. “It takes some time to find that out,” Huff said. “Sometimes things don’t recover right away. If at all. Only time will tell.”
Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2515 or email@example.com
On Oct. 4, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that 25 animals were not warranted for listing under the Endangered Species Act. Nineteen of those species — ranging from a sooty-colored woodpecker that hunts beetles in burned forests, to tiny snails found only in a few isolated springs in the Great Basin desert — live in the West. In no case did the Service find the species’ numbers to be increasing at this time; still, the Service concluded that none were in danger of disappearing altogether in the future. Here are the Western species that didn’t make the cut:
14 different species of Nevada springsnail
A surprising diversity of these minuscule molluscs lives in freshwater springs scattered across the Great Basin desert of Nevada and Utah. But those tiny aquatic havens are challenged by the region’s growing aridity: As groundwater pumping increases, some springs will run dry, according to the Service’s assessment. For example, one of the three springs where a springsnail called the Corn Creek Pyrg dwells is likely to dry up in the coming years because of groundwater pumping. As the water goes, so will that population. But the species is not a candidate for listing, because two other populations will remain. Thirteen other springsnail species are also not candidates.
These dusky-backed birds blend in against the burned trees where they often forage. Because they have only three toes on each foot, they are not the most agile climbers, but their modified feet — and heads — make them excellent at clinging to burned trees and excavating beetle larvae. Though their range extends across the boreal forests of the northern U.S. and southern Canada, black-backed woodpeckers are rare. While petitioners for listing argued that the woodpeckers in the Pacific Northwest and in the Badlands of South Dakota were unique enough to warrant separate protections — and might even be two new subspecies, based on genetic research — the Service disagreed.
Living in shallow, slow-moving water in high elevation forests and meadows in Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico, boreal toads are dwindling mainly because of chytrid fungus, an infection that's wiped out amphibians across the planet. It’s unknown how many boreal toads are left. Toads with chytridiomycosis stop absorbing electrolytes through their skin; eventually, their hearts stop. The Service believes that the toads will develop adequate resistance to the chytrid fungus over the next 50 years to survive this global epidemic, and that climate change will not further decimate the toads’ remaining populations in the meantime.
Close relatives of otters, minks and weasels, fishers are among the only predators capable of taking down porcupines. These tough little solitary creatures live in complex, mature forests, where they den in naturally occurring cavities in downed timber and old snags. Fur trappers decimated fisher populations in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The northern Rocky Mountain population, ranging from northern Idaho to southwestern Montana, has been found to be genetically distinct from other fisher populations, but it’s unknown how many count among its numbers. The species was rejected for listing because the Service found that trapping — which continues legally in Montana and incidentally in Idaho — does not pose a significant threat to the animals.
Great Sand Dunes Tiger Beetle
This half-inch, brown and white beetle, with an iridescent green and brown head and giant chomping mandibles, is adapted to life on the sand. It’s covered in white hairs that protect it from abrasion, and it burrows into the sand to get out of the heat and cold. It’s unknown how many of these shiny arthropods, which live only in southern Colorado’s Great Sand Dune formation, exist, or how connected to one another their sub-populations are. According to the Service, neither gas and oil leases held by private corporations on tiger beetle habitat, nor future predictions of a hotter and drier climate, nor ongoing trampling by sand dune tourists, elk, or ranched bison pose enough danger to the endemic beetle for its existence to be in jeopardy.
One of the largest fin-footed mammals in the world, the Pacific walrus lives in the shallow continental shelf waters of the Bering and Chukchi seas, where it depends on patches of frozen pack ice to reach offshore breeding and feeding areas. It’s unknown how many Pacific walruses remain. Their migration patterns are intertwined with sea ice patterns: In the winter, they spend time on Bering Sea ice. As that ice melts, females and juveniles migrate north to feeding areas in the Chuchki sea, where sea ice historically has remained year-round. The Service agreed in 2011 that the Pacific walrus was sliding toward extinction and declared its listing under the ESA “warranted but precluded.” Yes, the walrus was going extinct and should be protected by listing, the agency decided, but other listings were more pressing. Now, nearly seven years later, the Service has backtracked. While acknowledging that sea ice loss from climate change is the biggest threat to the pinniped’s survival, the Service concluded that the magnitude of the effects of greenhouse gas emissions on marine ecosystems — including sea ice loss, prey reduction, and walrus responses — can’t accurately be predicted beyond 2060. The Service further found that Pacific walruses will be able to adapt to using terrestrial habitat, rather than ice, for breeding and feeding.
Maya L. Kapoor is an associate editor with High Country News. Follow her at @Kapoor_ML
Following the family tradition, Chris Darwin is leading the fight to protect animals from extinction
Great, great grandson of Charles Darwin says we must change our diet to prevent more wildlife dying off
Jane Dalton @IndyVoices Sunday 8 October 2017 00:00 BST
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“Chip is much more popular than me everywhere we go,” Chris Darwin says, jovially co-operating by posing for photos with the toy bald eagle he carries on his shoulder. “I nicked him from my children’s bedroom and he gets lots of attention.”
To meet Mr Darwin, laidback, cheerful and ultra-friendly, you would never guess he tried to commit suicide 26 years ago. He’s perfectly open about it, as much as he is passionate about his new work that sprang from the famous surname.
Mr Darwin’s great, great grandfather, Charles, may have developed the theory of the origin of species but today his descendant has picked up the evolutionary science baton to defend mass extinctions of species.
“We all have crucibles,” he says of the dark period when, aged 30, he tried to end his life by cycling over a cliff (he was saved by a random tree branch). “Critical moments when something normally bad happens that changes the rest of your life, and mine was this suicide event. Slowly I came to the concept that I needed purpose in life.”
Darwin the younger looked at all the world’s big problems – starvation, polluted water, disease – and settled on the crisis of mass extinctions as one he felt he wanted to help tackle. “So in 1991 I set off down that road.”
Bird man: Chris Darwin is making it his mission to halt wildlife decline (Jane Dalton)
When asked to what extent he was influenced by his legendary ancestor’s work in identifying the origins of man, he bursts into a roar of laughter. “It was entirely independent,” he insists in a voice heavy with irony.
Chris Darwin, 56, had come to London from his home in Australia for a groundbreaking conference attempting to tackle the growing crisis of the world’s rapidly diminishing wildlife, and one of the key causes of that loss – worldwide demand for meat.
Oldest land fossils suggest Darwin was right about origin of life
More than 50 of the best minds in the fields of ecology, agriculture, public health, biology, oceanography, eco-investment and food retailing joined forces over two days to brainstorm ideas on how to stem the rapid shrinkage of the natural world caused by damaging agricultural practices.
The Extinction and Livestock Conference, with at least 500 delegates, was the world’s first ever conference examining how modern meat production affects life on Earth, and, put simply, it was designed to find ways to revolutionise the world’s food and farming systems to prevent mass species extinctions.
“We have to stop this,” says Mr Darwin, and he recalls how his great, great grandfather regretted on his death not having done more for other animals – a sentiment that shaped his decision to turn around his “self-indulgent, selfish” life, which involved working in advertising, and do something for the planet.
Wildlife under attack
The fact that the food on our plates is a major cause of shocking declines in wildlife – ranging from elephants and jaguar to barn owls, water vole and bumble bees – may come as a surprise to many. But for the experts gathered for the conference the link was clear. What was less easy to see was how to force practical global change.
Nobody can be in any doubt about the alarming rate at which animals, reptiles and birds are becoming extinct. The journal Science says we are wiping out species at 1,000 times their natural rate.
In the past 40 years alone half the world’s wildlife species have been lost, with conservation giant the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) predicting Earth is on course to lose two-thirds of its species within the next three years.
Marco Lambertini, director-general of WWF International, could not have put it more starkly: “Lose biodiversity, and the natural world – including the life-support systems as we know them – will collapse.”
Changing our spots: if we don't change our diets then animals, such as jaguar, face extinction (AFP/Getty)
The depth of the crisis was underlined earlier this year when scientists announced we were already living through an era of the world’s sixth mass extinction – caused by human activity. What was happening was so urgent, they warned, it should be termed not “mass extinction” but “biological annihilation”.
The researchers revealed, in the journal Nature, their findings that tens of thousands of species – including a quarter of all mammals and 13 per cent of birds – are now threatened with extinction. The researchers, who studied 27,600 species, said: “Dwindling population sizes and range-shrinkages amount to a massive anthropogenic erosion of biodiversity and of the ecosystem services essential to civilisation.”
And it’s not just land mammals that are disappearing. Last year a study in the journal Science suggested sharks, whales and sea turtles were dying in disproportionately greater numbers than smaller animals – the reverse of earlier extinctions.
The link with food
Climate change and hunting are usually blamed for declines in the natural world but at Extinction Conference 17, WWF revealed fresh research showing 60 per cent of global biodiversity loss is down to meat-based diets.
Its report, Appetite for Destruction, laid bare how the vast scale of cereals and soya grown specifically to feed animals farmed for meat is soaking up great tracts of land, taking huge quantities of fresh water and eliminating wild species.
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What’s more, the study says, the world is consuming more animal protein than it needs: the average UK consumption of protein is between 64g and 88g, compared with guidelines of 45g-55g. Poultry such as chicken and duck are the biggest users of crop feed worldwide, with pigs second.
One study found that 60 per cent of EU cereal production (and 67 per cent in the US) is used as animal feed – yet for every 100 calories fed to animals as crops, we receive on average just 17-30 calories in the form of meat and milk.
It's a jungle out there: deforestation for food production is a massive problem (AFP/Getty)
According to the charity Compassion in World Farming (CiWF), the destructive practices were set in train after the Second World War, when intensive farming techniques spread from the US to Europe. Vast landscapes were replaced by “monoculture” – a single crop – in fields liberally treated with pesticides and fertilisers. They killed the insects, bees and butterflies at the bottom of the food chain and wiped away bird habitats, while active deforestation for food production is leaving ever smaller landscapes for mammals, from jaguar and elephants to polar bears and rhinos.
It’s happening in exotic locations – such as Indonesia, where the palm oil industry wrecks habitats and leads to elephants, porcupine and wild pigs being poisoned – and closer to home, where decades of use of nitrogen and other chemicals on farms has led to dire warnings about Britain’s soil having fewer than 100 harvests left.
But worldwide, the overwhelming problem, experts say, is the highly inefficient use of land to grow soya and cereals that are then fed to chickens, pigs and cattle slaughtered for meat.
According to The Economist, although livestock provides just 17 per cent of global calories consumed, it requires twice that proportion of the Earth’s fresh water, feed and farmland because of the crops required. And this makes it the greatest user of land in the world.
Why we should work four-hour days like Darwin and Dickens
Philip Lymbery, chief executive of CiWF, which organised the conference, set out the causal links between modern intensive farming practices and the destruction of the natural world in his book Dead Zone, which explains how intensive rearing of animals in Britain and abroad to produce meat cheaply involves destroying forests half the size of the UK for farmland each year.
In South America, rainforests have been replaced by swathes of soya crops to feed cattle, pigs and chickens. Some 13 million hectares there – about the size of Greece – are used for soya imported by the EU, nearly all for industrial feed, according to WWF.
The system is so inefficient, says Lymbery, that “worldwide, if grain-fed animals were restored to pasture and the cereals and soya went to people instead, there would be enough for an extra four billion people”. Feeding animals on crops that are fit for humans is “the biggest single area of food waste on the planet”.
Sting in the tail: use of pesticides in fields is one of the factors leading to a decline in bees (CiWF)
“Many people claim factory farming is the answer to feeding a burgeoning population but this couldn’t be further from the truth,” he says.
Intensively grazed landscapes, with fertilisers and pesticides and the demise of stubble, have led to steep declines in barn owls and other farmland birds and small mammals, while chemical run-off from fields is seen as a key cause of bee decline.
CiWF is not the only voice linking extinctions with our diets. The UN has stated that “intensive livestock production is probably the largest sector-specific source of water pollution”. The Soil Association says the UK’s food system accounts for 30 per cent of our greenhouse gas emissions, largely because of industrialised processes.
And WWF has warned: “We could witness a two-thirds decline in the half-century from 1970 to 2020, unless we act now to reform our food and energy systems and meet global commitments on addressing climate change, protecting biodiversity and supporting sustainable development.”
Seven years ago, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity drew up a strategic plan, signed by 196 countries, of detailed targets for 2020 to slow wildlife decline. Since then scientists have repeatedly warned not just that the targets would be missed but also that biodiversity loss was worsening. The lack of action was one factor behind the Extinction Conference.
Lymbery said it should be the start of a “global conversation” on transforming food and farming worldwide, and called for a fresh UN convention. “To safeguard the future, we need some kind of global agreement to replace factory farming with a regenerative food system. But that’s not all. We all have the power, three times a day, to save wildlife and end an awful lot of farm animal cruelty.”
Mucking in: We have it in our power to prevent factory farming – by changing our behaviour (AFP/Getty)
Duncan Williamson, of WWF, proposed feeding farm animals on specially cultivated insects and algae, to dramatically reduce deforestation and water use needed as animal feed.
Food producers, meanwhile, showcased a new vegan burger that “sizzles and bleeds like meat”, endorsed by Joanna Lumley, the star of Absolutely Fabulous.
Time and again, the solutions by conference experts led to a need to end industrial animal farming – which meant animal campaigners were suddenly no longer the only ones urging people to scale back drastically the amount of chicken, pork, beef, salmon, dairy and eggs consumed.
Chris Darwin, who spent six weeks on a container ship travelling to Britain to avoid flying, said: “Verifiable evidence indicates meat consumption globally will double in the next 35 years, and if that occurs so much forest will have to be cut down around the world that we’re going to cause a mass extinction of species within the next hundred years. And we cannot let that happen.”
He explained passionately how a typical diet uses “two-and-a-half planets” in terms of resources but cutting out wasteful animal produce uses “a quarter of the planet”.
Cut it out: Rainforests are being chopped down and replaced by soya crops (AFP/Getty Images)
He is using modern technology that would have astounded his great, great grandfather to fight back against the seemingly relentless decline of the natural world – in the form of an iPhone app helping people to switch to a more plant-based diet.
By tapping in what they eat, people can receive feedback over time on how many animals, carbon emissions and how much land and water they have saved, as well as days of lifespan added, and their placing on a leaderboard.
“What is the single silver bullet to solve this problem?” he says. “We need behavioural change to solve this problem – and that is to eat less meat.”
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A Wayward Weedkiller Divides Farm Communities, Harms Wildlife
By DAN CHARLES • 6 HOURS AGO
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Damage to soybean plants and other crops has led to arguments and strain between neighbors.
DAN CHARLES / NPR
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Richard Coy inspects one of his hives near Burdette, Ark. Honey production at this location fell by almost half this year — which he attributes to the drifting of weedkiller dicamba to nearby flowering plants.
DAN CHARLES / NPR
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Pigweeds, which have become resistant to some well-known herbicides, infest a soybean field in northwestern Arkansas.
DAN CHARLES / NPR
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David Wildy, who farms near Manila, Ark., did not plant the new dicamba-tolerant soybeans. By midsummer, his plants were bent and stopped growing.
DAN CHARLES / NPR
Originally published on October 7, 2017 1:44 pm
There is one small field on Michael Sullivan's farm, near the town of Burdette, Ark., that he wishes he could hide from public view.
The field is a disaster. There are soybeans in there, but you could easily overlook them. The field has been overrun by monsters: ferocious-looking plants called pigweeds, as tall as people and bursting with seeds that will come back to haunt any crops that Sullivan tries to grow here for years to come.
"I'm embarrassed to say that we farm that field," Sullivan says. "We sprayed it numerous times, and it didn't kill it."
These weeds have become resistant to Sullivan's favorite herbicides, including glyphosate, which goes by the trade name Roundup.
Yet the rest of Sullivan's farm is beautiful. As farmers like to say, the fields are "clean." There is not a weed to be seen.
In those fields, he planted soybeans that enjoy a novel superpower. They've been genetically modified by Monsanto, the biotech giant, so that they tolerate a different weed-killing chemical, called dicamba.
As a result, starting this year, Sullivan got to spray dicamba on those soybeans. And he loves the results.
"Now we finally got a chemical [where] we can farm clean and be proud of our crop. And don't have these vicious pigweeds coming up," he says.
But there is a dark side of this weed-killing revolution, and David Wildy is living it.
"It's a real disaster," Wildy says. His voice sounds tired.
Wildy is well-known in Arkansas's farming community. He was named Southeast Farmer of the Year in 2016. This year, he planted the same soybeans that he has in previous years, not the new dicamba-tolerant ones. He didn't think he needed them.
But in midsummer, all across his farm, a strange thing started happening. Soybean leaves bent into cupped shapes. Plants stopped growing.
"My heart just came up in my throat, thinking, 'Oh my gosh, we've got a real problem,' " Wildy says.
He was seeing the telltale symptoms of dicamba damage. Apparently, dicamba fumes had drifted into his farm from fields up to a mile away where neighbors had sprayed the chemical on their new dicamba-tolerant soybeans and cotton.
Herbicide drift is a familiar problem for farmers. What happened this summer, though, was unprecedented in its scale. Dicamba damage was reported all over the Midwest and mid-South, from Mississippi to Minnesota. Farmers filed thousands of complaints. They reported damage to tomato fields, watermelons, fruit trees and many other crops.
Farmers have used dicamba for many years. But this year, they used more of it, and they used it in a new way, spraying it over soybeans and cotton in the heat of summer, which can cause the chemical to vaporize from soil or leaves and drift away to damage other plants nearby.
Soybeans are especially sensitive to dicamba. Wildy says that every single soybean field on his farm — thousands of acres — showed some injury. A third of those acres were hit hard enough to reduce his harvest. He says it probably will cost him several hundred thousand dollars.
Just as upsetting is the loss of trust between neighbors, as farmers argue over who should pay for those damaged crops.
One such argument led to a killing last year, and the horror of it still hangs over conversations about dicamba damage in northeast Arkansas. Mike Wallace, a farmer in Monette, Ark., had complained repeatedly about damage caused by a neighbor's dicamba use. At that time, the chemical was being used illegally. For reasons as yet unknown, Wallace arranged a meeting on an isolated back road with a man named Allan Curtis Jones, who worked on that farm. An argument broke out and Wallace was shot. Jones is awaiting trial for the killing.
"It's something that is so heartbreaking to me. I see farmers taking sides, and enemies being made," Wildy says. "It's a situation that is so catastrophic and appalling, I never would have thought that I would see something like this."
Sometimes, farmers can't tell where the wind-blown dicamba came from. In other cases, the source of the damage is clear, but farmers who sprayed it insist that they sprayed the chemical exactly as directed and refuse to accept responsibility for any damage.
Tom Burnham, a farmer near Blytheville, Ark., whose fields were damaged, says that some of his neighbors were helpful and reported the damage to their insurance companies, just as they would do if they were in a car accident.
"But there's some who were so nonchalant about the situation, so unforthcoming, I don't think those relationships will ever be repaired," he says. "As a human being, I can't trust someone like that."
Farmers also are battling over whether they'll get to use this weedkiller next year. David Wildy has taken a stand against further dicamba use.
"Regardless of how good it is, and how much I need it, if I can't keep it from damaging my neighbor, we can't use it," he says.
Michael Sullivan, meanwhile, the farmer with the pigweed problem, thinks that farmers have no alternative.
"The technology is too good to just trash it," he says. "Pigweeds are literally going to take the country over if we don't control them."
Sullivan thinks the problem of damaged crops can be solved. The benefits of dicamba-tolerant crops will be so obvious, he says, that almost all the farmers in his area will decide to plant them — which means that there won't be any vulnerable crops that dicamba would damage.
That might reduce the damage to crops, but the resulting free-fire zone for dicamba could be bad news for other vegetation, such as wildflowers and trees.
The wider ecological impact of dicamba drift received little attention at first. Richard Coy, whose family-run company manages 13,000 beehives in Arkansas, Mississippi and Missouri, was one of the few people who noticed it.
"If I were not a beekeeper, I would pay no attention to the vegetation in the ditches and the fence rows," he says. But his bees feed on that vegetation.
Coy takes me to a group of hives parked between an overgrown ditch and a soybean field, in an area where farmers sprayed a lot of dicamba this summer.
"Do you see this vine right here?" he asks. "The green one, [that] has little tags? Those tags should have been blooming during the month of July. As of today, they have not bloomed."
No blossoms means less pollen for his bees. Coy thinks that dicamba drift is the most likely explanation. Other plants nearby, such as a cottonwood tree, showed clear symptoms of exposure to dicamba.
Honey production at his site is down by 40 percent to 50 percent, Coy says. Across the region, in areas where farmers sprayed dicamba, honey production dropped by about one-third, on average. If farmers keep spraying dicamba, he says, he'll have to move his hives somewhere else.
But the fate of his business isn't as important as the fate of the environment. Dicamba exposure "affects "things that people are not even aware of," he says. "It affects the butterflies, and all pollinators. But all of these insects are in the environment for a reason, and they all have to be sustained for everything to work as it should."
Along the southern shore of Tennessee's Reelfoot Lake, a well-known state park, bald cypress and oak trees also showed symptoms of dicamba exposure this summer. Nathan Hoover, a forest health specialist with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, called the damage "minor" and says he expects the trees to recover.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and many states are taking a close look at dicamba use. Regulators in Arkansas have voted to ban most spraying of dicamba in the state next summer, but the governor and leaders of the state Legislature still need to sign off on it.
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
This summer in Arkansas, a weed-killing chemical called dicamba drifted across the landscape and damaged millions of acres of crops. And the injury went deeper. It split rural communities. It destroyed friends and took a toll on the natural environment. The extent of that damage remains unclear. NPR's Dan Charles has the story.
DAN CHARLES, HOST:
There is one small field on Mike Sullivan's farm that he wishes people couldn't see. There are soybeans in there. But you might not even see them because this field's been overrun by monsters, ferocious-looking looking plants called pigweeds, as tall as a person and bursting with seeds that will continue the plague.
MIKE SULLIVAN: I'm embarrassed to say that we farm that field. But we sprayed it numerous times, and it didn't kill it.
CHARLES: Pigweeds have become resistant to the herbicide Sullivan's been using. The rest of Sullivan's farm, though, is beautiful, weed-free. Those fields he planted with a new line of soybeans with a special superpower. They've been genetically modified - by the biotech company Monsanto - so they can tolerate a different weed-killing chemical called dicamba. This summer, Sullivan got to spray dicamba on those soybeans for the first time. And he loves it.
SULLIVAN: Now we've finally got a chemical, and we can actually farm clean and be proud of our crop and don't have these vicious pigweeds coming up.
CHARLES: Drive half an hour to the west, though, and you can see a dark side of this weed-killing revolution.
DAVID WILDY: It's a real disaster.
CHARLES: This is David Wildy, Southeastern Farmer Of The Year in 2016. This year, he planted the same soybeans as usual, not the new dicamba-tolerant varieties. And all across his farm, strange things started happening. Soybean leaves distorted into cupped shapes. Plants stopped growing.
WILDY: My heart just came up in my throat thinking - oh, my gosh, you know, we've got a real problem.
CHARLES: That injury was caused by dicamba. And the best explanation seems to be dicamba fumes drifted in from fields up to a mile away, where his neighbors sprayed it on their crops. This happened all over the Midwest this year, from Mississippi to Minnesota. Farmers reported dicamba damage on tomato fields, watermelons, fruit trees. Dicamba has been used for decades actually, but farmers are using more of it now. And it's being sprayed in the heat of summer, when it's more likely to vaporize from the fields where it first landed and drift away.
As Wildy drives past his damaged fields, he says this probably will cost him several hundred thousand dollars. But what upsets him even more is what it's done to the farming community.
WILDY: It's something that is so heartbreaking to me that I see farmers taking sides and enemies being made. It's just a situation that is so catastrophic and appalling that I would've never thought I would have seen something like this.
CHARLES: Farmers are battling over who will pay for damaged crops and also whether they'll get to use this weed-killer next year. David Wildy has taken a stand against it.
WILDY: Regardless of how good it is, how much I need it - if I can't keep from damaging my neighbor, we can't use it.
CHARLES: Mike Sullivan, though, the farmer who's fighting that pigweed problem - he says he has to use it.
SULLIVAN: The technology is too good to just trash it because pigweeds are literally going to take the country over if we don't control them.
CHARLES: Sullivan thinks dicamba-tolerant soybeans are so good almost all the farmers in his area will decide to plant them, which means there won't be any vulnerable crops for dicamba to damage. That could solve the farmers' problem, but it could intensify another problem that's getting more and more attention from non-farmers. Drifting dicamba can also damage wildflowers and trees. This past summer, Richard Coy was one of the few people who noticed...
RICHARD COY: If I weren't a beekeeper, I would not pay attention to the vegetation in the ditches and the fence rows.
CHARLES: ...Because Coy's bees feed on that vegetation. He takes me to a group of hives parked between an overgrown ditch and a soybean field. Lots of farmers sprayed dicamba around here.
COY: Do you see this vine right here?
CHARLES: Yeah, yeah.
COY: It's green, and it has little tags.
CHARLES: Right, right.
COY: Those tags should have been blooming during the month of July. As of today, they have not bloomed.
CHARLES: Other plants also suffered. That meant less pollen for his bees. Coy's company has 13,000 hives across Arkansas, Mississippi and Missouri. In places where there was a lot of dicamba spraying this past summer, his honey production dropped by a third. If farmers keep spraying it, he says he'll have to move his hives somewhere else. And he says that's not even the most important thing.
COY: It affects things that people are not even aware of. It affects the butterflies. But all of these insects are in this environment for a reason, and they all have to be able to be sustained for everything to work as the way it should.
CHARLES: Many states and the Environmental Protection Agency are taking a closer look at dicamba use. Regulators in Arkansas have voted to ban most spraying of the chemical next summer. But the governor and leaders of the state legislature still need to sign off on it.
Dan Charles, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF MAMMAL HANDS' "KANDAIKI") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
Jeremy Grantham is Worried About the World
The veteran investor now runs a $900 million foundation focused on protecting the environment. What he supports, where he invests.
By SARAH MAX
Oct. 6, 2017 11:42 p.m. ET
Tony Luong for Barron's
Investors know Jeremy Grantham as the chief investment strategist of GMO, the $77 billion Boston-based asset management firm he co-founded in 1977. The venerable value investor is praised for his prescient market calls, including predicting the 2000 and 2008 downturns. He also told investors to “reinvest when terrified” in a piece published in 2009 on the very day the market hit its postfinancial crisis low.
In environmental circles, Grantham, who just turned 79, is equally esteemed. In 1997 he and his wife, Hannelore, converted their foundation to focus exclusively on the environment. The $900 million Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment gives money to organizations such as the Environmental Defense Fund and World Wildlife Fund, and supports climate-related research and communication at four academic institutions. It has contributed to the training of more than a hundred Ph.Ds in climate-related work, and funded two Pulitzer-winning projects and one recipient of an Emmy. Last year Grantham, who is British, was named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his philanthropic contributions to the environment.
As an investor, Grantham’s priority is earning the best return. Still, he says, it’s impossible to separate what he knows about the environment and how he thinks about risk and opportunity. “If you believe, as I do, that climate change is so severe that it’s an actual question about survival as a well functioning global society, then you know that I take it extremely seriously,” he says.
If we don’t solve climate change, he warns, “all the other things we are trying to protect and encourage are a waste of money and energy.”
Barron’s: What sparked your interest in climate change?
Grantham: Twenty-eight years ago, I had a series of fairly epic summer vacations with my wife and three kids. The first trip was in the Amazon, the Galapagos, and the Andes, and involved taking dugout canoes up rivers in pouring rain with my four-year-old daughter hiding under my poncho. The next one was in Rwanda, during a pause in the civil war, and on to Tanzania. The final one was to Borneo. We sailed up to the middle of nowhere and stayed in longhouses that had one visitor a year.
This exposed us to the masses of clear-cut forests and the interminable piles of logs lying along the side of the rivers. We all became increasingly obsessed by the significance of climate change and the damage to the environment.
What is one of your biggest concerns?
Acceleration. Carbon dioxide is going up at an increasing rate, with the three biggest increases occurring in the last three years; the climate is warming at an increasing rate; and the water is warming at an increasing rate; and therefore, the level at which oceans are rising is increasing at an accelerating rate. It’s one thing for the world to be deteriorating, but deteriorating at an increasingly fast rate is particularly dangerous and scary.
“It’s one thing for the world to be deteriorating, but deteriorating at an increasingly fast rate is particularly dangerous and scary.“ —Jeremy Grantham Tony Luong for Barron's
Tell us about your foundation.
Total annual giving runs about $25 million to $30 million. About 30% is in the U.K., where, all things being equal, research costs half as much as it does in the U.S.
We fund four climate-change institutes—at Imperial College, the London School of Economics, and Sheffield University, as well as a related investment at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.
We give 20% to about a dozen small organizations engaged in communications. We allocate about 40% of our giving to some of the usual suspects, The Nature Conservancy, Environmental Defense Fund, and the World Wildlife Fund, and a fourth group called RARE, which is U.S.-based but spends everything abroad protecting the environment.
The remaining part is an army of 15 or 20 more specialized enterprises, one of which is based on population. Population is a massive problem, particularly in Africa. All the safety margins, the resilience of these countries, has been chewed up by having so many people. Resources are a threat in the long run. Overpopulation is a threat. Climate change interacts with all of them in a rather pernicious way.
What is the foundation’s approach to grant-making?
We try to look at critical areas for the future. We require that grantees are urgent in their style and have fire in their bellies. We are especially focused on areas that are important but haven’t yet been recognized—and where the need for speed is critical. We also look for important areas that are politically incorrect and have a hard time attracting money because they are so controversial—like population growth.
How does the foundation invest its assets?
We have $900 million spread across a family foundation, a public trust, and, to a substantially lesser degree, my personal assets. The three pieces are run as one with the help of Cambridge Associates [an investment consultant]. We have a stunningly large amount, about 45% of assets, in early-stage venture capital funds chosen by Cambridge.
We’ve got 35% in what I modestly call world-class, very conservative hedge funds, including GMO. The remaining 20% is invested by the foundation’s executive director, Ramsay Ravenel, and myself. About 12% is in emerging markets, 5% in cash, and 3% is in our GMO Resources IV [ticker: GOVIX] in 2013, and GMO Climate Change III [GCCHX].
How has your insight into climate change influenced your investment decisions at GMO?
I’m not doing any direct investing at GMO. For the last 10 years, I have spent my time thinking about the big picture—productivity, economic booms and busts, climate change, and resource limitations. But, as an investor, you can never know too much. I can’t separate how my investing instincts were affected by knowing a lot more about resource limitations and the effects of climate change. It was part of the background music, like everything else I know.
The two funds you mentioned, GMO Resources and GMO Climate Change, are for institutional investors. Tell us about them.
We launched Resources in 2013, and Climate Change this year. Lucas White is the portfolio manager of both funds. One of the advantages for the Resources fund is that, because resource prices are volatile, most investors hate them. Value managers who might normally buy them shy away; they outperform over time because they’re cheap. Meanwhile, these stocks tend to have a low correlation with most other investments.
How do you reconcile your views on climate change with investments in the Resources fund?
It’s complicated because the biggest resources are fossil fuels. New technology is an arrow aimed at the heart of fossil fuels; after a decent one or two years, the slow burn of green energy will substitute them away. They will have to manage a long, slow decline. [About 30% of the portfolio is in oil and gas, versus nearly 70% for most market-cap-weighted resource benchmarks.] We would expect over the next 10 years to be handsomely underweighted. That does not mean that there may not be a time when the fund will choose to invest.
And the Climate Change fund?
The goal is to make money by understanding the bewildering amount of change going on. We’re not pretending that every holding is ESG. Our job is to understand this rapidly changing world and make an attractive fund for clients who would like to be investing on the right side of climate change. For example, copper mining can be a dirty business, but it’s hugely critical for electric cars. [ Freeport-McMoRan (FCX) is one of the fund’s top holdings.]
Where else does it invest?
Clean energy is almost a third of the portfolio, including companies focused on solar and wind power, and storage. [The fund owns Vestas Wind Systems (VWS), First Solar (FSLR), and Sociedad Quimica y Minera de Chile (SQM), which mines lithium used for storage.]
Energy efficiency is 24% of the portfolio. One aspect of this is transportation, which includes companies that are making items to increase the efficiency of motors and cars themselves. It also includes energy efficiency in buildings, as well as diversified efficiency enterprises. [Two holdings, Schneider Electric (SU.France) and Eaton (ETN), have multiple businesses tied to energy efficiency.]
There is also a fair amount in timber, fish farming, and suppliers of farming materials and equipment, such as Deere [DE], right?
We have, by other people’s standards, a stunningly large allocation of more than 17% to agriculture.
Can technology help feed more people?
Technology in agriculture is much harder, because it comes up against the laws of physics. There is just so much energy you can get out of the sun if you are a plant. We have spent a few thousand years boosting that efficiency level. We are approaching a theoretical limit.
On top of that, you have to throw in the increasing effects of storms, droughts, and temperature. Higher temperatures carry more water vapor, 4% to 5% more up in the air than there used to be. You don’t get more storms, but when you get them, they’re heavier. If you chart the incidence of heavy storms, say one inch in an hour, you will find that they are doubly grown over the last 40 years. That is so obviously the case when you read the news.
What about new food sources or agricultural methods?
There is steady progress on agriculture and feeding the public. We may have to change what we eat. To take a very tough example for Westerners, insects are incredibly nutritious and much, much more efficient sources of energy than chicken. They’re eaten a lot in Africa and the East.
Fish are being overfished, but there are great opportunities in seaweed, which is entirely edible. Seaweed can grow 10 to 20 inches a day, four times faster than the fastest-growing land plant. In that context, the sea is amazingly underoptimized. We’ve squeezed the common grains as much as they can be squeezed, but there are plenty of secondary grains important in Africa and Asia that have much more productivity potential.
Humans have all the skills and technology required to have a perfectly recyclable world that doesn’t face imminent danger from climate change, and doesn’t have massive poverty. But we have chosen to go on a rather more chaotic and help-yourself route.
Capitalism does a brilliant job on millions of decisions balancing supply and demand and so on, but on a handful of issues, it seems, it is clearly ill-equipped to deal with the problem. How do you handle global overfishing? How do you handle long-term erosion of soil and the overdevelopment of underground water, each of which is owned by an individual farmer, or an individual? These require more global cooperation and more concrete internal cooperation, and thinking and planning.
Can capitalism help with some of that? Using ESG criteria to choose securities is becoming more common.
Interest in ESG isn’t necessarily because of the rush of blood to being good. It could be just good business. If you’re a producer of consumer goods, and people become worried about the plastics in your product, or botulism in your food, you lose business.
There’s quite a lot of work that suggests that people who are early movers on good behavior are demonstrating that they are simply thinking more about the future, how it will look, how it will play out over 10 or 15 years. A study by Harvard Business School concluded that in the past, the companies that were good on ESG did exactly that, and they were outperformers.
But the heavy lifting [in combating climate change] will still be technological. By the early stage of the next decade, solar and wind will be three cents per kilowatt hour and by the middle of next decade—which is just seven years away—it will be cheaper than the marginal cost of nuclear and coal. The cost of running [a coal plant] and mining will be more than building a solar plant or wind farm from ground zero.
When that point is reached you’re talking economics. People who would have stood their ground until the end of time will be eagerly signing up for solar farms, storage facilities, etc.
Thank you, Jeremy.
By Jenny Woodman
October 3, 2017 — Much of what lay beneath the ship was a mystery. The edge of the continental shelf plummets more than 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) somewhere in the vicinity of oceanographer Robert Ballard’s Exploration Vessel (E/V) Nautilus, which was making its way to Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, about 60 miles (97 kilometers) northwest of San Francisco.
They say there are better maps of the moon and Mars than of Earth — some 70 percent of this planet’s surface is under water, and water disrupts radar signals needed to generate high-resolution maps. Most maps of the ocean floor have a resolution of 5 kilometers (3.1 miles), meaning only objects with about that diameter or larger are discernible.
The 211-foot (64-meter) ship left port at 9 a.m. on August 6 on a nine-day mapping and exploration expedition with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to help resolve some of that mystery by sending remotely operated vehicles, or ROVs, down to identify new habitat areas and ocean floor topography. I joined the team as a science communication fellow funded by Ocean Exploration Trust, which owns and operates the E/V Nautilus.
We lingered on the outer decks, in spite of the strong winds and chilly air, eager to be underway. Within two hours our first wildlife sightings — humpback whales, common murres, black-footed albatross — hinted at the abundance of life unseen below the surface. The sanctuary’s boundary is 6 miles (9.6 kilometers) off the coast, where the presence of shipping lanes through and around the sanctuary and near-constant 15- to 20-foot (5- to 6-meter) waves make it difficult to visit for fishing and wildlife spotting. Those barriers act as a buffer, making the sanctuary favorable for scientific study.
“It’s often really rough waters; that might be one of the built-in protections that makes it such a special place — it’s really limited human activity out there,” says Jennifer Stock, education and outreach coordinator for the sanctuary. Since the sanctuary is entirely offshore it is also protected from some of the impacts seen near shore areas next to densely populated regions, such as agricultural and pollutant run off, according to Danielle Lipski, research coordinator for Cordell Bank and lead scientist for the expedition.
In spite of the sanctuary’s inaccessibility, Stock explains, the public was outspoken in its support for establishing it in 1989, and then expanding it in 2015 from 529 to 1,286 square miles (851 to 2,069 square kilometers), because sanctuary status protects an area from oil and gas extraction.
The U.S. National Marine Sanctuary System was established in 1972 to protect specific areas with “conservation, recreational, ecological, historical, scientific, cultural, archeological, educational or esthetic qualities.” It was three years after a massive oil spill dumped 3 million gallons (1 million liters) of crude oil off the coast of Santa Barbara, kick-starting an environmental movement that helped contribute to the establishment of marine sanctuaries and key pieces of environmental legislation, including the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.
Today the system’s more than 600,000 square miles (1.5 million square kilometers) of marine and Great Lake waters include two marine national monuments, Rose Atoll and Papahānaumokuākea, and 13 national marine sanctuaries.
Executive Order 13795, issued by President Donald Trump in April 2017, opened a review process on newly expanded territories within marine sanctuaries, meaning that areas expanded by previous administrations could be opened up for resource extraction. A period of public comment on this review closed in early August; no decisions have been announced and there is no indication that Cordell Bank has been targeted, but the action serves as a reminder that protected areas could face future threats.
The sanctuaries are valuable in many ways. They are considered sentinel sites for monitoring changing conditions, educating the public and, perhaps, serving as early warning mechanisms for ocean acidification, harmful algal blooms and other impacts human activity has on the ocean — which we are just beginning to understand. And, if the ocean is our planet’s life support system, then national marine sanctuaries are its nurseries — supporting myriad species, some of which we have yet to discover and many of which most humans will never see with their own eyes.
A Different Way to Think
This is in part what this trip is all about: Stock spends much of her time working to help people value a place they can’t see or visit in person. “From invertebrates to blue whales to deep-sea corals and everything in between, to have such an incredible diversity of life in such a small area is really a special treasure. It’s really worth celebrating and protecting,” she says.
Each summer, ocean wind and currents bring nutrient-rich water from the deep ocean to the surface in a process called upwelling. Thanks to this California current ecosystem, leatherback turtles have been lured from Indonesia, an amazing 8,670 miles (13,953 kilometers) to travel for a meal of brown sea nettles. Blue and humpback whales journey from South America and Mexico to gorge on krill. And seabirds, such as pink-footed shearwaters, soar above the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean dining lavishly on fish, crustaceans and squid.
“This whole area is this incredible food web hot spot — extremely abundant with life,” says Stock.
Meanwhile, rocky habitats provide something for marine invertebrates to cling to on the ocean floor. One key feature of the sanctuary is Cordell Bank, a granitic rocky underwater island. It offers rich habitat for corals, sponges and a host of marine organisms.
“This makes it an attractive place for other animals to come to, like rockfish and mobile invertebrates like sea stars and crabs and giant octopus,” explains Stock. “It becomes this little city in the middle of nowhere.”
Armed with ROVs outfitted with high-definition cameras and tools for collecting samples in a deep water environment, the team of scientists and engineers from NOAA and E/V Nautilus set out to discover what else they could find within the sanctuary. They were not disappointed. In cold, dark waters, more than 8,000 feet (2,438 meters) deep, the ocean floors of Bodega Canyon and a neighboring unnamed box canyon were teeming with life. To Lipski, it was incredible to see these hot spots, and particularly some deep sea corals that had never been observed in the sanctuary before.
The team conducted over 92 hours of ROV dives, recorded volumes of video footage and collected hundreds of samples, which were shipped to universities and research partners around the country so they could study the biology, chemistry and geology of the region. Meanwhile, I answered questions from viewers who tuned in from all over the world to see what we were seeing while scientists conferred about what samples to collect and the navigator and ROV pilots moved from spot to spot along a predetermined path. Collective exuberance at catshark, octopus and skate sightings punctuated the quiet moments during our watches.
Until this trip, Lipski and her team’s understanding of what might be on the ocean floor were based on expeditions in similar, shallower locations in the region. Characterizing these deep-water habitats will strengthen their capacity to manage this resource, which is important scientifically as well as economically. According to NOAA, the national sanctuary system contributes about US$8 billion to local economies through tourism, fishing and research — contributions that emphasize the potential impact of our efforts on this voyage.
Lipski says the expedition offered a different way to think about the sanctuary. Now they have sense of what is out there, which will help them to better communicate with constituents and to educate the public about this resource. And they are armed with information to guide future research and exploration.
“It was kind of a blank slate,” she says. “Now we think, wow, we’ve really got to get back out there.”
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