‘Decades of denial’: major report finds New Zealand’s environment is in serious trouble

‘Decades of denial’: major report finds New Zealand’s environment is in serious trouble

SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: April 18, 2019

SNIP: A report on the state of New Zealand’s environment has painted a bleak picture of catastrophic biodiversity loss, polluted waterways and the destructive rise of the dairy industry and urban sprawl.

Environment Aotearoa is the first major environmental report in four years, and was compiled using data from Statistics New Zealand and the environment ministry.

It presents a sobering summary of a country that is starkly different from the pristine landscape promoted in the “Pure New Zealand” marketing campaign that lures millions of tourists every year.

It found New Zealand is now considered one of the most invaded countries in the world, with 75 animal and plant species having gone extinct since human settlement. The once-vibrant bird life has fared particularly badly, with 90% of seabirds and 80% of shorebirds threatened with or at risk of extinction.

Almost two-thirds of New Zealand’s rare ecosystems are under threat of collapse, and over the last 15 years the extinction risk worsened for 86 species, compared with the conservation status of just 26 species improving in the past 10 years.

The scale of what is being lost is impossible to accurately gauge, as only about 20% of New Zealand’s species have been identified and recorded.

[G]roundwater failed standards at 59% of wells owing to the presence of E coli, and at 13% of the wells owing to nitrates. Some 57% of monitored lakes registered poor water quality, and 76% of native freshwater fish are at risk of or threatened with extinction. A third of freshwater insects are also in danger of extinction.

Forest and Bird said the main culprits for worsening freshwater quality were the intensive use of fertilisers, irrigation and cows.

‘When the Glaciers Disappear, Those Species Will Go Extinct’

‘When the Glaciers Disappear, Those Species Will Go Extinct’

SOURCE: New York Times

DATE: April 17, 2019

SNIP: When it was built in the early 1900s, the road into Mount Rainier National Park from the west passed near the foot of the Nisqually Glacier, one of the mountain’s longest. Visitors could stop for ice cream at a stand built among the glacial boulders and gaze in awe at the ice.

The ice cream stand is long gone. The glacier now ends more than a mile farther up the mountain.

As surely as they are melting elsewhere around the world, glaciers are disappearing in North America, too.

This great melting will affect ecosystems and the creatures within them, like the salmon that spawn in meltwater streams. This is on top of the effects on the water that billions of people drink, the crops they grow and the energy they need.

Glacier-fed ecosystems are delicately balanced, populated by species that have adapted to the unique conditions of the streams. As glaciers shrink and meltwater eventually declines, changes in water temperature, nutrient content and other characteristics will disrupt those natural communities.

“Lots of these ecosystems have evolved with the glaciers for thousands of years or maybe longer,” said Jon Riedel, a geologist with the National Park Service who has established glacier monitoring programs at Rainier and other parks.

Streams that are mostly fed by glacial meltwater often have unique species that have adapted to the cold conditions. Reducing or eventually eliminating the contribution of this meltwater will raise stream temperatures. Even a small temperature increase can have potentially negative effects.

“Certain species like cold water,” said Alexander M. Milner, a professor of river ecosystems at the University of Birmingham, in England, who has studied the changes wrought by shrinking glaciers for years.

“When the glaciers disappear, those species will go extinct,” he said.

Marin supervisors receive harrowing report on climate change, sea-level rise

Marin supervisors receive harrowing report on climate change, sea-level rise

SOURCE: Marin Independent Journal

DATE: April 17, 2019

SNIP: Climate change is already negatively affecting the health of Marin residents and within 15 years attendant sea-level rise could threaten the county’s shoreline buildings, roads and original utility systems.

This was the sobering message Marin supervisors received after Supervisor Kate Sears requested an update on the local health impacts of climate change and efforts to prepare for sea- level rise.

“The important question to ask right now is when will climate change begin to affect the health of our community,” Kathy Koblick, a director in Marin County’s division of public health, told supervisors. “The answer is: it is now.”

In her report Tuesday, she noted that over the last five years the county health department has issued at least seven health advisories due to conditions aggravated by climate change. The advisories ranged from alerts about air polluted by smoke to the presence of infectious diseases such as West Nile and Zika virus.

Koblick said many of the health impacts are the consequences of the extreme weather – floods, drought, and extreme heat – caused by climate change. The fallout can result in increased displacement from homes, injury, indoor mold, vector-borne and infectious disease, food insecurity due to lower crop yields and disruptions in food supplies, water contamination, and mental health impacts.

A vulnerability assessment released by the county in June 2017 showed that in just 15 years flooding due to sea-level rise could inundate some 700 buildings across 5,000 acres in Marin, affecting the lives of tens of thousands of residents.

Seals, caviar and oil: Caspian Sea faces pollution threat

Seals, caviar and oil: Caspian Sea faces pollution threat

SOURCE: France24

DATE: April 16, 2019

SNIP: Seals waddling along the waterfront were once a common sight in Baku Bay, the Caspian Sea home of Azerbaijan’s capital.

Not anymore. Of the more than one million seals which inhabited the shores and islands of the Caspian a century ago fewer than 10 percent remain, and the species has been declared endangered.

Azer Garayev, the head of the Azerbaijan Society for the Protection of Animals, says the seals have for decades been suffering from over-hunting and the effects of industrial pollution.

In 2003, his group found 750 seal carcasses in just one month.

“It was not normal,” but no one looked into the issue, the 57-year-old activist said. “The seal is a sign of all the major environmental problems (in the Caspian).”

Bordered by Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan, the Caspian is the world’s largest inland body of water, about the size of Japan.

As well as the seals and other endemic species including Caspian turtles and the famed beluga sturgeon, the sea boasts vast energy reserves, estimated at 50 billion barrels of oil and 300,000 billion cubic metres of natural gas.

Pollution from the extraction of that oil and gas, along with declining water levels due to climate change, pose a threat to many species and put the future of the sea itself at risk.

[For more on the devastating pollution in the Caspian Sea, see Caspian Sea Pollution.]

Winds carry microplastics ‘everywhere’ – even on to remote mountaintops

Winds carry microplastics ‘everywhere’ – even on to remote mountaintops

SOURCE: The Guardian and Nature

DATE: April 15, 2019

SNIP: Microplastic is raining down on even remote mountaintops, a new study has revealed, with winds having the capacity to carry the pollution “anywhere and everywhere”.

The scientists were astounded by the quantities of microplastic falling from the sky in a supposedly pristine place such as the French stretch of the Pyrenees mountains. Researchers are now finding microplastics everywhere they look; in rivers, the deepest oceans and soils around the world.

About 335m tonnes of plastic is produced each year – while it degrades extremely slowly, it can be broken into smaller and smaller pieces. Microplastic pollution in rivers and oceans is now well known but just two previous studies have looked at its presence in the air, one in Paris, France, and another in Dongguan, China. Both found a steady fall of particles.

The new study, published in Nature Communications, is the first to show microplastic is raining down just as hard in remote environments and that it can travel across significant distances through wind. The team collected samples from high altitudes in the Pyrenees that were far from sources of plastic waste – the nearest village was 6km away, the nearest town 25km, and the nearest city 120km.

They found an average of 365 plastic particles, fibres and films were deposited per square metre every day. “It’s astounding and worrying that so many particles were found,” said Allen.

“It is comparable to what was found in the centre of Paris and Dongguan, and those are megacities where a lot of pollution is expected,” said Deonie Allen, also at EcoLab and part of the team. “Because we were on the top of a remote mountain, and there is no close source, there is the potential for microplastic to be anywhere and everywhere.

The most common microplastics found were polystyrene and polyethylene, both widely used in single-use packaging and plastic bags.

Many scientists are concerned about the potential health impacts of microplastics, which easily absorb toxic chemicals and can host harmful bacteria, with some even suggesting people are breathing the particles. The new research shows microplastics can remain airborne.

Plastic fibres have been found in human lung tissue, with those researchers suggesting they are “candidate agents contributing to the risk of lung cancer”.

Record-early Alaska river thaw follows high winter temperatures

Record-early Alaska river thaw follows high winter temperatures

SOURCE: Reuters

DATE: April 15, 2019

SNIP: Key Alaska rivers that are usually frozen at this time of year are now free-flowing, with record-early thaws following record-high winter and spring temperatures.

In the interior Alaska city of Nenana, ice on the Tanana River gave way just after midnight on Sunday. It was by far the earliest breakup in the 102-year history of the Nenana Ice Classic, an iconic Alaska betting pool in which participants predict when thaw will sink a wooden tripod placed on the ice.

The previous earliest breakup of the Tanana, a tributary of the Yukon River, was April 20, a mark reached in 1998 and 1940.

Another record-early thaw happened on Friday on the Kuskokwim River at the southwestern city of Bethel. The previous earliest ice-breakup date for the Kuskokwim Ice Classic was also April 20, in 2016. The Friday ice breakup was the earliest for that part of the Kuskokwim in 92 years of records kept by the National Weather Service.

At both rivers, records show that breakup has been happening, on average, about a week earlier since the 1960s, not counting this year’s record thaws.

This year’s breakups followed an extraordinarily warm Alaska winter with near-record-low ice in the Bering Sea and a record-hot March statewide.

Sharks more vulnerable than originally thought

Sharks more vulnerable than originally thought

SOURCE: Phys.org

DATE: April 15, 2019

SNIP: A study of small-scale fisheries operating from Kenya, Zanzibar and Madagascar, has revealed the massive underreporting of sharks and rays caught annually in the region.

Led by experts at Newcastle University, UK, and published in the academic journal Biological Conservation, the team say the study highlights the substantial underreporting of catches by small scale fisheries and the urgent need to expand efforts globally to assess their impact on vulnerable species.

Thousands of miles of nets and lines are set in the world’s oceans each day and the unintentional capture of non-target species – often termed as bycatch – is unavoidable.

It is estimated about 40 percent of the catch worldwide is unintentionally caught, and includes vulnerable species such as dolphins, marine turtles, sharks and seabirds.

In large-scale commercial fishing the bycatch is wasted, thrown back into the sea dead or dying, but in small scale fisheries, such as those studied by the Newcastle team, the non-target species are generally retained and sold, in some cases illegally.

Senior author Dr. Per Berggren, Head of the Marine Megafauna Lab at Newcastle University said: “We looked at just one region of the world but it’s likely that similar underreporting is happening in small scale fisheries globally – which means our 2,500,000 unreported sharks and rays only represent a small portion of the total global catch.

Melting Permafrost Releasing High Levels of Nitrous Oxide, A Potent Greenhouse Gas

Melting Permafrost Releasing High Levels of Nitrous Oxide, A Potent Greenhouse Gas

SOURCE: Yale e360 and Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics

DATE: April 15, 2019

SNIP: Thawing permafrost in the Arctic may be releasing 12 times as much nitrous oxide as previously thought, according to a new study published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. Nitrous oxide, a powerful greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide, can remain in the atmosphere for up to 114 years, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The research, led by scientists at Harvard University, involved measuring greenhouse gas levels over 120 square miles of melting permafrost in the North Slope of Alaska. The data, collected using a small plane, showed that the nitrous oxide emitted over the course of just one month of sampling in 2013 was equal to what was thought to be the region’s yearly emissions. The findings back up similar results from other recent studies that used core samples from Arctic peat to measure rising nitrous oxide emissions.

Nitrous oxide emissions have been rising globally in recent decades thanks to the expansion of industry and intense fertilizer use. But scientists had long thought that emissions of the gas from melting permafrost were “negligible,” as the EPA described it in a 2010 report.

Turtles’ absence from Nicaraguan stronghold raises alarm for future

Turtles’ absence from Nicaraguan stronghold raises alarm for future

SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: April 15, 2019

SNIP: Every year, from November through March, leatherback sea turtles arrive to the secluded shores of the Río Escalante Chacocente wildlife reserve on Nicaragua’s Pacific coast to lay their eggs.

Though leatherback nesting habits vary, Chacocente has been a reliable egg-laying site for as long as conservationists have collected nesting data.

But this year, not a single leatherback came to Chacocente, and conservation groups in Costa Rica and Mexico, have recorded declines in sightings of the huge turtles.

Leatherback populations face threats from human activity, and the eastern Pacific population of leatherbacks is classified as critically endangered.

Both legal and illegal fishing have helped drive the decline, as well as egg poaching. In Central America sea turtle eggs are considered a delicacy and in some communities are held to be an aphrodisiac.

While conservation efforts have focused on countering human harvesting of turtles, there is also growing evidence that warming temperatures could play a role in the population decline.

In leatherbacks and other species of sea turtles, the sex of a turtle hatchling is determined by the temperature of the sand where the egg incubated. Higher temperatures produce female eggs, and scientists suspect that a large portion of sea turtle hatchlings are now female.

Siren sounds on nuclear fallout embedded in melting glaciers

Siren sounds on nuclear fallout embedded in melting glaciers

SOURCE: Phys.org

DATE: April 10, 2019

SNIP: Radioactive fallout from nuclear meltdowns and weapons testing is nestled in glaciers across the world, scientists said Wednesday, warning of a potentially hazardous time bomb as rising temperatures melt the icy residue.

For the first time, an international team of scientists has studied the presence of nuclear fallout in ice surface sediments on glaciers across the Arctic, Iceland the Alps, Caucasus mountains, British Columbia and Antarctica.

It found manmade radioactive material at all 17 survey sites, often at concentrations at least 10 times higher than levels elsewhere.

When radioactive material is released into the atmosphere, it falls to earth as acid rain, some of which is absorbed by plants and soil.

But when it falls as snow and settles in the ice, it forms heavier sediment which collects in glaciers, concentrating the levels of nuclear residue.

As well as disasters, radioactive material produced from weapons testing was also detected at several research sites.

One of the most potentially hazardous residues of human nuclear activity is Americium, which is produced when Plutonium decays.

Whereas Plutonium has a half-life of 14 years, Americium lasts 400.

“Americium is more soluble in the environment and it is a stronger alpha (radiation) emitter. Both of those things are bad in terms of uptake into the food chain,” said Clason.