Part 1: Adult Chinook In The Pacific Ocean Prepare For Long Journey Home

 

A salmon jumps in the Pacific Ocean. (Justin Steyer/KPLU)

A salmon jumps in the Pacific Ocean. (Justin Steyer/KPLU)

 

By Bellamy Pailthorp, NorthwestSalmon.org

 

As soon as you arrive in Sekiu, Washington, you get a whiff of salty ocean air laced with the unmistakable smell of fresh fish. The scent fills your nostrils as the gulls mew nearby, fighting for the remains of the day’s catch in the protective cove.

Located 20 miles east of Neah Bay by car, the fishing village has a long reputation for good salmon fishing. It’s also where we pick up the trail of the Lake Washington chinook. The subset of the Puget Sound salmon were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1999 and traced here by scientists who tag them.

The fish spend their adult lives in this open ocean before heading home to spawn in the Cedar River or in Bear Creek, or the state hatchery in Issaquah.

‘A Surprisingly Quiet’ Season

 

(Justin Steyer/KPLU)

(Justin Steyer/KPLU)

 

Pulling into Sekiu, one might expect a bustling fishing village with flotillas of boats hooking plenty of salmon, perhaps because the summer’s headlines have touted a record run of Columbia River chinook.

Towns like Westport have been booming with the projected return of 1.5 million chinook, also known as king salmon. Anglers at Buoy 10 on the river this year reportedly spent more time looking for a place to set up their gear than they did reaching daily limits, thanks to successful management of the dams, hatcheries and habitat down south.

Also often mentioned in the reports are favorable ocean conditions that have allowed more adult fish from the Columbia River system to survive. But those ocean conditions aren’t doing much for the fishing in Sekiu.

“It’s surprisingly quiet. Usually one of the peak times of the year is right now,” says veteran guide, Roy Morris, a life-long salmon fisherman who has kept a charter boat at the docks in Sekiu for 20 years.

Unusually Warm Water 

Morris says there has been a steady decline in fish stocks. And this year, he says everyone there is reporting “one of the lowest year of catches for salmon, particularly Chinook.”

 

Roy Morris examines his line. (Justin Steyer/KPLU)

Roy Morris examines his line. (Justin Steyer/KPLU)

 

One reason, he suspects, is unusually warm water, which he says it’s been about 5 degrees hotter than normal.

“We’ve been seeing it on our instruments on our boat all year long. We couldn’t believe our instruments were correct when we saw 58 degrees, where usually it’s 49, 52,” he says. “And that changes the conditions for feed for the salmon as well as their desire to be in that warmer water.”

The warm water off the Northwest coast, which is linked to one of the hottest summers the region has ever seen, is what’s believed to have caused a record number of sockeye to bypass Sekiu and many other ports in Washington in favor of cooler waters in Canada. Morris says it probably hasn’t helped the chinook here, either.

“It is surprising, because I know there’s many people working together to try to improve conditions and survival for salmon, but it’s up and down from year to year within a decade, [and] this year is some of the lowest catches for Puget Sound chinook that we’ve ever witnessed,” he says.

‘We Have Only One Chinook In The Freezer’

Ocean conditions are a bit of a black box for scientists; they know that huge percentages of the young salmon that leave fresh water never return as adults, but information about why is scarce. The recent launch of an international research effort, the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project, seeks to fill the information gap.

But for Morris, it’s just one of many causes. For another, he cites the influence of hatchery fish that are released in droves and feed on limited food sources “like a herd of sheep” while wild fish trickle out gradually. But he links most of the fish’s decline to urbanization and development that destroys fish habitat.

He remembers the days of his youth in the 1950s and ‘60s when salmon fishing was such a popular family vacation that you could hardly find a place to park your boat in places like Ilwaco.

“Because it came with a bounty of fish that were canned and smoked and frozen, so that after your vacation you ended up with two or three hundred pounds of salmon,” he says. “Now, we have only one chinook in the freezer, where last year, we had 15, so we’ll be fishing hard [for the rest of the season].”

Why The Chinook Is King

Chinook hold a special status in the world of sport fishing.

 

Roy Morris' wife, Nancy Messmer, holds up a chinook salmon she caught off the coast of Sekiu, Washington. (Courtesy of Nancy Messmer)

Roy Morris’ wife, Nancy Messmer, holds up a chinook salmon she caught off the coast of Sekiu, Washington. (Courtesy of Nancy Messmer)

 

“[It’s] called the king because it’s the biggest and the most spectacular,” Morris says, noting that sometime his guests get frightened by how long and hard they’ll pull on a line. Morris calls them “the long distance runners.” He notes that Columbia River chinook traverse nearly the entire state and reach Canada before coming back home. And his favorites, the Puget Sound chinook, even climb mountains.

“They go right to the North Cascades,” he says. And they enjoy iconic status, with tourists coming from all over to seek them out. They’re also some of the tastiest, with firm flesh, he says, “because it chored higher and higher into the watersheds.”

And they get harder to catch at this time of year, when their bodies start changing with physiology that signals it’s time for them to head to home waters and spawn. They lose interest in food, presenting extra challenges for anglers who use special lures and techniques to hook them.

“There’s slang talk like ‘slack jaw’ and more formal talk is ‘waiting fish.’ They’re not so much chowing down to build their body,” he says. “Reproductive capabilities are being developed more than muscle tissue. And as that chemistry changes, their desire to return to the natal stream and spawn overrides their desire to hunt and feed.”

‘I’m Here As A Witness To The Process’

 

Roy Morris, left, and his wife, Nancy Messmer. (Justin Steyer/KPLU)

Roy Morris, left, and his wife, Nancy Messmer. (Justin Steyer/KPLU)

 

Morris is not just a seasoned salmon fisherman; he’s exceptionally passionate about saving the fish. He says he caught his first salmon when he was 5, helped his grandson catch one at age 4 and wants that lineage to continue. But does he ever think it would be better to stop hunting an endangered species?Yes, he says, but as long as the fishing is allowed, he wants to be part of it.

“I’m here as a witness to the process,” he says. “I’m not fishing greedily to catch the last salmon, but I am participating in the seasons and open times that you can enjoy the sport.”

By being out on the water 100 days a year and also volunteering on boards as a representative of sport fishermen, he feels his perspective is an important contribution to augment data sets collected by government agencies. And he sees part of his role as educating the public about endangered fish and the issues they face.

There’s Hope Yet

 

Nancy Messner looks out at her line. (Justin Steyer/KPLU)

Nancy Messner looks out at her line. (Justin Steyer/KPLU)

 

“The chinook is one of the more fragile of the spectrum of salmon in the Northwest,” he says. He remembers when they were first listed 15 years ago and the fishery was closed. He thought it might never reopen, that their declines had gone too far.

“But where barriers are removed, they’re amazing the way that they’ll try to fight for their survival if they’re given half a chance,” he says.

One only needs to look to Issaquah Creek and its Salmon Days festival for evidence, he says.  In places where habitat has been restored and fish protected with policies, the fish do come back.

“At one time, those stocks had dwindled to just such small numbers, people had never even seen them or knew they were in the river. Now they throng and there’s a celebration … with booths and festivals, and people hanging over bridges,” he says. “That just is testimony to that if you give’em a chance, they will survive.”

And he sees another ray of hope in the recent return of chinook to the Elwha River, where the nation’s largest dam removal has just been completed.

“We saw fish in a habitat that there had not been wild salmon in for 100 years,” he says. “It’s just evidence that fish can return if they’re given a chance and proper conditions.”

 

Quinault Tribe explores “moving” town of Taholah

 

by JOHN LANGELER / KING 5 News

 

TAHOLAH — About two months ago, Marco Black heard the Pacific Ocean knocking at his back door.

“I was in the house at the time,” recalled Black, “The whole house shook.”

The Taholah native was experiencing a severe storm at his waterfront home.  One wave broke the seawall separating the town from the ocean, forcing the barrier to collapse and knocking his smokehouse off its foundation.

More urgent than Black’s smokehouse are all the homes within Taholah.  The town sits in a tsunami zone, and parts of the main community flood three-to-four times a year.

Since the storm, the Army Corps of Engineers has repaired the 36-year-old wall, but called it “a band-aid”, and not a permanent solution.

In search of something long-term, the tribe is pushing for a new tactic, one that has been talked about for decades but may finally happen.

Moving the town to higher ground.

“I think it’s a foregone conclusion,” explained tribal secretary Larry Ralston, “Taholah’s moving up the hill.”

Ralston said land has already been chosen for a new town, and a three-year study to find ways to make the move happen is currently underway.

The main issue is tsunami danger, but the rising tide of the Pacific Ocean is also a major concern.

“It’s not going to be easy,” continued Ralston, “There’s going to be some people that will hold out.  They’ll refuse to leave.”

The main part of Taholah includes around 1,700 residents, the school, police and fire departments, the mercantile, the post office and a retirement home.

It’s also the location of many of the most important pieces of the Quinault Tribe’s ancestry.

“All that will go away,” said Ralston, “It’ll be just a memory.”

Black, whose family has lived near the ocean for decades, admits he’ll lose his land to the ocean one day.  It’s a realization made reluctantly, but with the knowledge there are few other choices.

“It’s kind of my home land,” he said, “We’ve lived here all our life.  If we have to do it, I guess we’ll have to do it.”

It is unclear how much it will cost to move Taholah.  Action by the tribe and federal agencies could be years away, Ralston said.

Climate Change is Real, Let’s Fight It Together

fawn-sharp

 

President Fawn Sharp of the Quinault Indian Nation says she is happy to participate on the Carbon Emissions Reduction Task Force Governor Jay Inslee created by executive order yesterday [April 29], but advises that “genuine state-tribal cooperation, communication and government-to-government relations will be essential to the success of any effort to address the many challenges posed by climate change.”

Sharp, who is also President of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, encompassing six Northwest states, and Area Vice President of the National Congress of American Indians, is the only tribal member of the Governor’s task force.

President Sharp said, “Climate Change is the greatest environmental disaster of our generation and its impacts are felt both near and far. The fact is that tribes have preceded other governments in addressing climate change issues, and it is time for our words to be heard, our warnings to be acknowledged and our programs to be recognized.”

She said the reason tribes have moved forward with programs to address the effects of climate change while other governments have been stymied is that it is embedded in the tribal culture to care for the land in a sustainable manner. “Stewardship of our natural resources and environment is something we learn at a young age. We understand the big picture—the economic, policy, environmental and cultural values of sustainability and the responsibility we all have to our children and future generations. Those are the values that must be prioritized if we are to meet the climate change challenge.”

In signing the order, the Governor outlined a series of steps to cut carbon pollution in Washington and advance development and use of clean energy technologies, and said, “This is the right time to act, the right place to act and we are the right people to act. We will engage the right people, consider the right options, ask the right questions and come to the right answers — answers that work for Washington.”

“Whether it’s the warming of the Pacific Ocean, Hurricane Sandy, the tornadoes across the country or the Oso landslide, the melting of our Mt. Anderson Glacier or the breaching of our Taholah seawall, the link to climate change is clear to us. It has been for a long time. And so is the absolute need to take action,” said Sharp.

“It’s a primary reason why I have agreed to work with the Governor on his Carbon Emissions Reduction Task Force. It’s a key reason why we have taken a strong stand against the proposal to build oil terminals in Grays Harbor and substantially increase the number and frequency of oil trains and tankers. It’s why we are reaching out to strengthen alliances with neighboring communities and entities of all kinds and it’s why we have been so heavily engaged in the effort to resolve the climate change challenge for many years — through political, education and habitat-related programs.

“Quinault is a nation of people who, like their ancestors for thousands of years, fish, hunt and gather. The core of our economy is based on health and sustainable natural resources—a clean and vibrant ecosystem. We are also a nation blessed with thousands of acres of forest land. We do not manage our forests to the detriment of our fishing and hunting, but the other way around. Managing holistically, with respect for our descendants, and their needs is the key. These are the lessons of our ancestors, lessons that oil tycoons and timber barons never learned to appreciate.

We are a people who are determined to practice good stewardship. Sometimes that means doing habitat work in the Quinault River, something we have done extensively for many years. Sometimes it means taking part in international climate change summits—providing a leadership role in such efforts as the United Nations’ Conference of Parties (COP 14) in Poznan, Poland in 2009 or the First Stewards Summit in Washington D.C.,” said Sharp.

Quinault Nation established a comprehensive set of climate change policies in 2009, before Congress considered introducing its national policies. We have advocated and advanced our climate change-related interests locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. “We have asked the President and Congress to understand the connection between climate change and such impacts as the decline of our Blueback salmon run and the destruction that is now occurring with shellfish and other species in the ocean due to acidification and hypoxia. Other tribes have worked alongside us, pushing for action by the State of Washington, the United States and the United Nations, for many years. It is our heritage, and right, to do so,” said Sharp.

“We believe it’s time to call to end the nonsensical debate in the Legislature and in Congress about whether it exists. It does, and it is very serious.

“Year in and year out we are all facing the deadly consequences of a century of environmental contempt, and ignoring that fact will not make the challenge go away. It is time for people to treat our natural environment with the respect it deserves,” she said.

 

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/05/01/climate-change-real-lets-fight-it-together-154682?page=0%2C1

Mass scallop die off a ‘red flag’ for the world’s oceans, and climate change is to blame

 

By Jacob Chamberlain. Source: Common Dreams

An increase of acidity in the Pacific Ocean is quickly killing off one of the world’s most beloved shellfish, the scallop, according to a report by the British Columbia Shellfish Grower’s Association.

“By June of 2013, we lost almost 95 per cent of our crops,” Rob Saunders, CEO of Island Scallops in B.C. told Canada’s CTV News.

The cause of this increase in acidity, scientists say, is the exponential burning of fossil fuels for energy and its subsequent pollution. Oceans naturally absorb carbon dioxide, a byproduct of fossil fuel emissions, which causes acidity to rise.

An overdose of carbon in the atmosphere subsequently causes too much acidity in the world’s oceans, Chris Harley, a marine ecologist from the University of British Columbia, told CTV News. Overly acidic water is bad for shellfish, as it impairs them from developing rigid shells. Oyster hatcheries along the West Coast are also experiencing a steep decline,CTV News reports.

“This is a bit of a red flag,” said Harley.

And this red flag has a much bigger impact than one might imagine. “Whenever we see an impact at some level of the food chain, there is a cascading effect at other levels of the food chain,” said Peter Ross, an expert in ocean pollution science.

A recent study warned that ocean acidification is accelerating at a rate unparalleled in the life of the oceans—perhaps the fastest rate in the planet’s existence—which is degrading marine ecosystems on a mass scale.

“The current rate of change is likely to be more than 10 times faster than it has been in any of the evolutionary crises in the earth’s history,” said German marine biologist Hans Poertnerupon the release of a recent study published in the journal Nature.

Ocean acidification has been referred to as the “evil twin” of climate change.

Poertner says that if humanity’s industrial carbon emissions continue with a “business as usual” attitude, levels of acidity in the world’s oceans will be catastrophic.

Navy Looks To Renew Permits For Bombing And Sonar Exercises In The Northwest

The U.S. Navy's aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis transits the Pacific Ocean alongside the oiler USNS Yukon. | credit: Official U.S. Navy Imagery/Specialist 3rd Class Kenneth Abbate


The U.S. Navy’s aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis transits the Pacific Ocean alongside the oiler USNS Yukon. | credit: Official U.S. Navy Imagery/Specialist 3rd Class Kenneth Abbate

By Ashley Ahearn, KUOW

SEATTLE — The Navy is pursuing permits to continue conducting sonar and explosives exercises in a large area of the Pacific Ocean — and that’s putting marine mammal advocates on high alert.

Public hearings kick off next week as the Navy gathers public comments on its draft environmental impact statement for the Northwest training and testing range. The range stretches from northern California to the Canadian border.

Marine mammals, like porpoises, gray and fin whales and endangered orcas, travel through the Navy’s training range. That’s why marine mammal advocates are voicing concerns about the Navy’s activities.

In the draft EIS the Navy outlined plans to conduct up to 100 mid-range active sonar tests each year. That type of sonar has been shown to affect marine mammal behavior.

The Navy also wants to conduct up to 30 bombing exercises per year in the range.

NWTT_Study_Area_sm
The Northwest training and testing range. Credit: Navy

 

John Mosher, Northwest Environmental program manager for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, says the training range is critical to naval preparedness.

“At some point realistic training, whether it’s with explosives or sonar, has to take place and they truly are skills that are perishable, things that have to be routinely conducted to be able to do them in case the real need occurs,” Mosher said.

The Navy gathered more than 300 public comments during an earlier scoping phase of its environmental review. Most of those comments centered around impacts on marine mammals.

The Navy has plans in place to look and listen for marine mammals before and during testing exercises. But environmentalists say the mitigation measures are inadequate.

“They’re dropping bombs and you can’t see orcas from the air,” said Howard Garrett of Orca Network. “There’s every real danger that orcas are going to stray into a live bombing range and we don’t want to see that.”

hansonmug
Brad Hanson

 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has been studying the endangered orca population of Puget Sound by tagging orcas and using underwater acoustic monitoring devices to better understand how the whales move through the region. The population of Southern Resident Orcas is hovering around 80 individuals, and has been decreasing in recent years.

Brad Hanson, an expert on orcas with NOAA, says the area within the naval training and testing range is an important forage area for the whales.

“We want to figure out if there are particular areas that the whales are using so the Navy could avoid using those areas for training exercises that might cause any type of harassment of the animals,” he said.

Hanson’s tagging research has shown orcas moving from Washington to northern California within the span of a week.

orcaL112_cascadiaresearch.smaller
The body of 3-year-old female Orca L112.
Credit: Cascadia Research

 

Last year a 3-year-old female orca washed up dead near the mouth of the Columbia River. Her body showed signs of trauma that could have been the result of an explosion but it had been drifting on the Columbia River’s eddies for days, making the results of the necropsy report inconclusive. The official findings were to be released by NOAA Fisheries on Monday.

“It’s probably the most comprehensive necropsy report I’ve ever seen done on a killer whale,” Hanson said.

The Navy also recently announced plans to build a new $15 million dollar facility near Port Angeles, Wash. on the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

What’s Next

Public meetings will be held from 5-8 p.m. for the following dates and locations:

  • Feb. 26, 5-8 pm: Oak Harbor High School, Oak Harbor, Wash.
  • Feb. 27, Cascade High School, Everett, Wash.
  • Feb. 28, North Kitsap High School, Poulsbo, Wash.
  • March 3, Astoria High School, Astoria, Ore.
  • March 4, Isaac Newton Magnet School, Newport, Ore.

The deadline for written comments on the Northwest Training and Testing range EIS is March 25.

Fukushima crisis new blow to fishermen’s hopes

In this Aug. 26, 2013 photo, fisherman Fumio Suzuki watches the sunrise aboard his boat Ebisu Maru before the star of fishing in the waters off Iwaki, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, Japan. Suzuki's trawler is one of 14 at his port helping to conduct once-a-week fishing expeditions in rotation to measure radiation levels of fish they catch in the waters off Fukushima. Fishermen in the area hope to resume test catches following favorable sampling results more than two years after the disaster, though for now fishing is suspended due to leaks of radiation-contaminated water from storage tanks at the nuclear power plant. Photo: Koji Ueda

In this Aug. 26, 2013 photo, fisherman Fumio Suzuki watches the sunrise aboard his boat Ebisu Maru before the star of fishing in the waters off Iwaki, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, Japan. Suzuki’s trawler is one of 14 at his port helping to conduct once-a-week fishing expeditions in rotation to measure radiation levels of fish they catch in the waters off Fukushima. Fishermen in the area hope to resume test catches following favorable sampling results more than two years after the disaster, though for now fishing is suspended due to leaks of radiation-contaminated water from storage tanks at the nuclear power plant. Photo: Koji Ueda

By MIKI TODA and KOJI UEDA, Associated Press

YOTSUKURA, Japan (AP) — Third-generation fisherman Fumio Suzuki sets out into the Pacific Ocean every seven weeks. Not to catch fish to sell, but to catch fish that can be tested for radiation.

For the last 2 ½ years, fishermen from the port of Yotsukura near the stricken Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant have been mostly stuck on land with little to do. There is no commercial fishing along most of the Fukushima coast. In a nation highly sensitive to food safety, there is no market for the fish caught near the stricken plant because the meltdowns it suffered contaminated the ocean water and marine life with radiation.

A sliver of hope emerged after recent sampling results showed a decline in radioactivity in some fish species. But a new crisis spawned by fresh leaks of radioactive water from the Fukushima plant last week may have dashed those prospects.

Fishermen like 47-year-old Suzuki now wonder whether they ever will be able to resume fishing, a mainstay for many small rural communities like Yotsukura, 45 kilometers (30 miles) south of the Fukushima plant. His son has already moved on, looking for work in construction.

“The operators (of the plant) are reacting too late every time in whatever they do,” said Suzuki, who works with his 79-year-old father Choji after inheriting the family business from him.

“We say, ‘Don’t spill contaminated water,’ and they spilled contaminated water. They are always a step behind so that is why we can’t trust them,” Suzuki said, as his trawler, the Ebisu Maru, traveled before dawn to a point about 45 kilometers (30 miles) offshore from the Fukushima plant to bring back a test catch.

With his father at the wheel, Suzuki dropped the heavy nets out the back of the boat, as the black of night faded to a sapphire sky, tinged orange at the horizon.

As the sun rose over a glassy sea, father and son hauled in the heavily laden nets and then set to the hard work of sorting the fish: sardines, starfish, sole, sea bream, sand sharks, tossing them into yellow and blue plastic baskets as sea gulls screamed and swooped overhead.

Five hours later, the Ebisu Maru docked at Yotsukura where waiting fishermen dumped the samples into coolers and rushed them to a nearby laboratory to be gutted and tested.

Suzuki says his fisheries co-operative will decide sometime soon whether to persist in gathering samples.

For now they will have to survive on compensation from the government and Tokyo Electric Power Co., the plant’s operator.

The cooperative also had plans to start larger-scale test catches next month that would potentially also be for consumption if radiation levels were deemed safe.

But those plans were put on hold after more bad news last week: authorities discovered that a massive amount of partially treated, radioactive water was leaking from tanks at Fukushima, the fifth and so far the worst, breach.

The water, stored in 1,000 tanks, is pumped into three damaged reactors to keep their melted fuel cool. Much of the water leaked into the ground but some may have escaped into the sea through a rain-water gutter.

On Wednesday, the Nuclear Regulation Authority upgraded its rating of the leak to a “serious incident,” or level 3, up from a level 1 on the international scale of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

It remains unclear what the environmental impact from the latest contamination will be on sea life. Scientists have said contamination tends to be carried by a southward current and largely diluted as it spreads.

Nobuyuki Hatta, director of the Fukushima Prefecture Fisheries Research Center, said the trend had been positive before the latest leaks, with fewer fish found exceeding radiation limits.

The government’s safety limit is 100 becquerels per kilogram, but local officials have set a stricter bar of 50 becquerels, said Hatta, who still expects test fishing to resume in September.

It all depends on the type of fish, their habitat and what they eat. Out of 170 types of fish tested, 42 fish species are off limits due to concern they are too radioactive, another 15 species show little or no signs of contamination. Few, if any, show any detectable levels of cesium.

Tests take over a month and are complicated. The time lag makes it difficult to say at any given point if sea life caught off the Fukushima coast is really safe to eat.

Also, local labs lack the ability to test fish for other toxic elements such as strontium and tritium. Scientists say strontium should be particularly watched for, as it accumulates in bones. TEPCO’s monitoring results of sea water show spikes in strontium levels in recent weeks.

Suzuki has little faith in the future of his business.

“People in the fishing business have no choice but to give up,” he said. “Many have mostly given up already.”

___

Associated Press writers Elaine Kurtenbach and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.

Hawaii Ocean Debris Could Fill 18-Wheeler

 

Some of the 4781 bottle caps collected from Midway Atoll shorelines by a 9-member team from the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division during a cleanup mission in April 2013.Credit: NOAA photo by Kristen Kell

Some of the 4781 bottle caps collected from Midway Atoll shorelines by a 9-member team from the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division during a cleanup mission in April 2013.
Credit: NOAA photo by Kristen Kell

Elizabeth Howell, LiveScience Contributor   |   July 30, 2013

In an area of Hawaii, far removed from most human habitation, a recent cleanup effort yielded an 18-wheeler’s worth of human debris during a 19-day anti-pollution campaign this year.

The region, which includes Midway Atoll, some 1,200 miles (1,900 kilometers) from the Hawaiian mainland, acts as a “fine-tooth comb” in picking up debris from elsewhere, officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) told LiveScience. Broken fishing gear, tattered nets and plastic fragments litter the water and land on the beaches.

As challenging as it is to clean up that much debris, it’s even more of an undertaking to remove it. Heavy machinery could damage the environment, so about 90 percent of the underwater cleanup is done by divers, said Kyle Koyanagi, NOAA’s marine debris operations manager.

“They physically go down and remove the net little by little with pocket knives, slowly cutting away at the debris that is entangled,” Koyanagi said. “They remove it from that environment, pull it in with their arms, hands and back, and transport it in small vessels on to larger support vessels.”

NOAA does this campaign every year, but the annual budget is in “soft money,” Koyanagi said, which means it’s vulnerable to budgetary effects such as sequestration.

Cleanup changes every year

The Coral Reef Ecosystem Division Marine Debris Project, run by NOAA’s Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, has collected 848 tons (769 metric tons) of debris —about the weight of 530 sedan-size cars —in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands since the program began in 1996.

Efforts began after pollution was identified as a major threat to monk seals, an endangered species native to Hawaii. Decades of built-up pollution required NOAA to spend anywhere from 60 to 120 days at sea between 2000 and 2005, when intensive anti-pollution measures began in earnest. [Video: Humans Hit the Oceans Hard]

With the buildup now addressed, the agency has now been in “maintenance mode” since 2006, picking up whatever gets washed into the area annually. A typical field season lasts 30 to 60 days.

“We put together an annual effort every year depending on our budget that gets allocated,” said Mark Manuel, NOAA’s marine ecosystems research specialist. “It will be some kind of survey effort, whether a shore-based, three-week mission or an extensive, two-month cleanup [at sea].”

 

James Morioka, Kerrie Krosky, Kristen Kelly, Tomoko Acoba, Kevin O’Brien, Kerry Reardon, Edmund Coccagna, Joao Garriques, and Russell Reardon (clockwise from upper right) pose on April 18 atop the large, 13,795-kilogram (about 30,400 lbs) pile of fishing gear and plastic debris collected during their 2013 cleanup effort around Midway Atoll.Credit: NOAA photo by Edmund Coccagna

James Morioka, Kerrie Krosky, Kristen Kelly, Tomoko Acoba, Kevin O’Brien, Kerry Reardon, Edmund Coccagna, Joao Garriques, and Russell Reardon (clockwise from upper right) pose on April 18 atop the large, 13,795-kilogram (about 30,400 lbs) pile of fishing gear and plastic debris collected during their 2013 cleanup effort around Midway Atoll.
Credit: NOAA photo by Edmund Coccagna

Turning nets to energy

The amount of debris collected varies wildly from year to year. Surveyed areas in Hawaii include the French Frigate Shoals, Kure Atoll, Laysan Island, Lisianski Island, Maro Reef, Midway Atoll and Pearl and Hermes Atoll.

This year’s efforts stayed on the shore due to budgetary concerns, Koyanagi added, which likely reduced the amount of debris collected, even though it could have filled a big rig.

“As you can imagine, the ship time is very expensive,” Koyanagi said. “Because of budget cuts this year, we could not afford to do a full-blown effort and get to the remote atolls.”

Once the debris is picked up, NOAA works to recycle as much of it as possible. Nets, for example, are sent to Schnitzer Steel Hawaii Corp. on the mainland, where they are chopped up for the City and County of Honolulu’s H-Power plant to convert into electricity.

The facility, run by Covanta Energy, burns the nets and generates steam, which is used to drive a turbine and create electricity.

Follow Elizabeth Howell @howellspace. Follow us @livescienceFacebookGoogle+. Original article on LiveScience.com.

Cruise to Set Sail to Investigate Ocean Acidification

NOAA Ship Fairweather in the Gulf of Alaska with namesake Mt. Fairweather.Credit: NOAA

NOAA Ship Fairweather in the Gulf of Alaska with namesake Mt. Fairweather.
Credit: NOAA

By Douglas Main, Staff Writer for LiveScience

July 25, 2013 06:01pm ET

The waters off the Pacific Northwest are becoming more acidic, making life more difficult for the animals that live there, especially oysters and the approximately 3,200 people employed in the shellfish industry.

Researchers from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will set sail Monday (July 29) on a monthlong research cruise off the U.S. and Canadian West Coast to see how ocean acidification is affecting the chemistry of the ocean waters and the area’s sea life.

Ocean acidification occurs when greenhouse-gas emissions cause carbon dioxide to accumulate in the atmosphere and become dissolved in sea water, changing the water’s chemistry and making it more difficult for coral, shellfish and other animals to form hard shells. Carbon dioxide creates carbonic acid when dispersed in water. This can dissolve carbonate, the prime component in corals and oysters’ shells.

The world’s oceans are 30 percent more acidic than they were before the Industrial Revolution, scientists estimate.

This cruise follows up on a similar effort in 2007 that supplied “jaw-dropping” data on how much ocean acidification was hurting oysters, said Brad Warren, director of the Global Ocean Health Partnership, at a news conference today (July 25). (The partnership is an alliance of governments, private groups and international organizations.)

That expedition linked more acidic waters to huge declines in oyster hatcheries, where oysters are bred, Warren said. Oyster farms rely ona fresh stock of oysters each year to remain economically viable.

When the data came in from that cruise, it was “a huge wake-up call,” Warren said. “This was almost a mind-bending realization for people in the shellfish industry,” he said.

The new cruise will also look at how acidification is affecting tiny marine snails called pteropods, a huge source of food for many fish species, including salmon, said Nina Bednarsek, a biological oceanographer with NOAA’s Pacific Environmental Marine Laboratory.

The research will take place aboard the NOAA ship Fairweather, which will depart from Seattle before heading north and then looping back south. It will end up in San Diego on Aug. 29. During this time, scientists will collect samples to analyze water chemistry, calibrate existing buoys that continuously measure the ocean’s acidity and survey populations of animals, scientists said.

The researchers will also examine algae along the way. Ocean acidification is expected to worsen harmful algal blooms (like red tide), explosions of toxin-producing cells that can sicken and even kill people who eat oysters tainted with these chemicals, said Vera Trainer, a researcher at NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center.

Email Douglas Main or follow him on Twitter or Google+. Follow us@livescienceFacebook or Google+. Article originally on LiveScience.com.

 

Radioactive Water Leaking From Fukushima Into Pacific Ocean, TEPCO Says

This aerial photo taken on July 9, 2013 shows reactor buildings Unit 2, left, and Unit 1 at Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Okuama, Fukushima Prefecture, northern Japan. Japan’s nuclear regulator says radioactive water from the crippled Fukushima power plant is probably leaking into the Pacific Ocean, a problem long suspected by experts but denied by the plant’s operator. (AP/Kyodo News)

This aerial photo taken on July 9, 2013 shows reactor buildings Unit 2, left, and Unit 1 at Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Okuama, Fukushima Prefecture, northern Japan. Japan’s nuclear regulator says radioactive water from the crippled Fukushima power plant is probably leaking into the Pacific Ocean, a problem long suspected by experts but denied by the plant’s operator. (AP/Kyodo News)

By Freya Petersen, Source: Mint Press News

The operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), on Monday admitted that radioactive groundwater had leaked out to Pacific Ocean, fueling fears of contamination.

Earlier this month TEPCO said groundwater samples taken at the Fukushima showed levels of possibly cancer-causing caesium-134 had shot up more than 110 times in a few days, Australia’s ABC reported.

In July, Russia Today reported, Japan’s nuclear watchdog — the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) — stated that it ”strongly suspected” contamination of ground waters and possibly the Pacific Ocean.

TEPCO did not know the exact reasons for the increased readings, but initially said the radioactive groundwater was likely contained by concrete foundations and steel sheets.

“But now,” TEPCO spokesman Masayuki Ono told a news conference, ”we believe that contaminated water has flown out to the sea.”

However, Ono insisted that the impact on the ocean would be limited:

“Seawater data have shown no abnormal rise in the levels of radioactivity.”

The March 2011 earthquake and tsunami off Japan’s coast knocked out cooling systems at the Fukushima plant, triggering fuel meltdowns and causing radiation leakage, food contamination and mass evacuations.

Radioactive substances have since made their way into underground water, which usually flows out to sea.

This article originally was published at Global Post.