Fifth straight year of bird die-off in Alaska waters linked to starvation

Fifth straight year of bird die-off in Alaska waters linked to starvation

SOURCE: Anchorage Daily News

DATE: September 9, 2019

SNIP: Federal wildlife officials said Monday that the deaths of thousands of seabirds in Western Alaska this summer was because of starvation, as they investigate a fifth straight year of unusually high numbers of seabird fatalities amid warm sea surface temperatures.

Thousands of short-tailed shearwaters were reported dead and washing onto beaches in the Bristol Bay region starting in late June, the National Park Service said in a statement on Monday.

As the summer continued, the deaths of the dark-colored birds extended to the Chukchi Sea off Northwest Alaska.

“Initial results indicate starvation as the cause of death for most locations,” said the agency, which is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to track the deaths.

“Puffins, murres, and auklets are also being reported, but at much lower numbers than shearwaters,” it said.

Seabird die-offs have been known to occur in Alaska, but large numbers of different varieties of seabirds have been found every year since 2015, with starvation blamed. The die-offs have come as Alaska waters continue to be warmer than normal, the NPS says, potentially impacting sea life the birds eat.

‘Like nothing we’ve seen’: Queensland bushfires tear through rainforest

‘Like nothing we’ve seen’: Queensland bushfires tear through rainforest

SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: September 9, 2019

SNIP: Queensland’s former fire commissioner says an erratic bushfire front that climbed into the state’s subtropical rainforest and razed the 86-year-old Binna Burra Lodge is “like nothing we’ve ever seen before”.

“What we’re seeing, it’s just not within people’s imagination,” said Lee Johnson, who spent 12 years in charge of Queensland’s fire service.

“They just didn’t believe it could ever get so bad.”

Queensland remains in the grip of one of the worst bushfire threats in its history, fuelled by prolonged dry conditions and fierce gusting winds; an “omen” of a potentially devastating fire season ahead. There are still 52 fires burning across the state. Schools are closed and about 20 structures have been destroyed.

Early on Sunday morning, a fire front climbed into the Lamington national park and razed Binna Burra, a historic eco-tourism lodge built in the 1930s and surrounded by subtropical Gondwana rainforest.

The heritage-listed main lodge was built in 1933. It has never before been seriously threatened by bushfire, protected in part by lush and damp surroundings that typically suppress the progress of dangerous fires.

Last year, Queensland experienced “unprecedented” fire conditions in November – a combination of hot, dry and windy days in tropical and subtropical parts of the state.

A year later, and again conditions are being described in similar terms, the sort that can fuel catastrophic wildfires.

Australia launches emergency relocation of fish as largest river system faces collapse

Australia launches emergency relocation of fish as largest river system faces collapse

SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: September 9, 2019

SNIP: Faced with a looming ferocious summer with little rain forecast, the New South Wales government has embarked on a Noah’s Ark type operation to move native fish from the Lower Darling – part of Australia’s most significant river system – to safe havens before high temperatures return to the already stressed river basin.

Researchers have warned of other alarming ecological signs that the Lower Darling River – part of the giant Murray-Darling Basin – is in a dire state, following last summer’s mass fish kills.

Professor Fran Sheldon, from Griffith University’s Australian Rivers Institute, said only one surviving colony of river mussels had been found along the river and there were signs that river red gums were under severe stress.

“If the river red gums die, and some are hundreds of years old, there will be a domino effect. Banks will collapse, there will be massive erosion and it will send sediments down the river.”

The NSW agriculture minister, Adam Marshall, said the unprecedented action would provide “a lifeline for key native species ahead of an expected summer of horror fish kills”.

We’re staring down the barrel of a potential fish Armageddon, which is why we’re wasting little time rolling out this unprecedented action,” Marshall said.

Last December and January fish began dying in their hundreds of thousands in the far west of the state at Menindee, leaving weirs and waterholes carpeted with dead fish. While fish deaths have occurred in the past, the scale was unprecedented and stunned Australians.

[T]here are already doubts about how effective the $10m program will be.

The unprecedented operation aims to move as many fish as possible from 15 to 20 priority waterholes in a two-week period, including Murray cod, some of which are at least 25 years old, golden perch and other rare species.

Boats with electrostatic fishing equipment will be used to stun the fish in weir pools and waterholes along the Darling at Menindee, where they will scooped up and loaded into special climate-controlled transport to a section of the Darling further south, near Wentworth, where the river joins the Murray, which is still flowing.

US set to open nearly 200 power plants

US set to open nearly 200 power plants

SOURCE: USA Today [I don’t like to link to USA Today but it’s an exclusive report from them. Tread carefully; they are an extremely biased source.]

DATE: September 9, 2019

SNIP: Utilities and energy companies are continuing to invest heavily in carbon-polluting natural gas. An exclusive analysis by USA TODAY finds that across the United States there are as many as 177 natural gas power plants currently planned, under construction or announced. There are close to 2,000 now in service.

All that natural gas is “a ticking time bomb for our planet,” says Michael Brune, president of the Sierra Club. “If we are to prevent runaway climate change, these new plants can’t be built.”

An analysis by the Rocky Mountain Institute published Monday [also take this with a huge grain of salt: there is no such thing as “clean” energy] looked at 88 gas-fired power plants scheduled to begin operation by 2025. They would emit 100 million tons of carbon dioxide a year – equivalent to 5% of current annual emissions from the U.S. power sector.

USA TODAY compiled its own list of 177 planned and proposed natural gas plants through August, using data from S&P Global Market Intelligence, which tracks power plants that have been officially announced, and the Sierra Club, which tracks proposed plants.

Of those, 152 have a scheduled opening date of between 2019 and 2033, though only 130 have specific locations chosen. An additional 25 are part of companies’ long-term planning processes and don’t have estimated opening dates yet.

The plants are a mix of large-scale installations meant to provide lots of electricity much of the day and smaller plants used for short periods when demand for energy is particularly high.

Texas has the most proposed plants, with 26. Next is Pennsylvania with 24, North Carolina with 12, Florida with 10, California with nine and Montana with eight.

As many as 130 natural gas plants have been proposed to begin operation by 2025 in the U.S.

Oil Seen Leaking From Hurricane-Hit Facility On Grand Bahama Island

Oil Seen Leaking From Hurricane-Hit Facility On Grand Bahama Island

SOURCE: NPR

DATE: September 6, 2019

SNIP: A major oil storage terminal on Grand Bahama Island was damaged by Hurricane Dorian and has leaked oil into the surrounding environment, raising concern that the oil could damage local reefs and wildlife.

The South Riding Point facility sits on the shore of the island’s eastern side and is home to 10 giant storage tanks capable of holding up to 6.75 million barrels of crude, according to Equinor, the company that runs the facility.

When Dorian struck Grand Bahama late Sunday, the terminal had 1.8 million barrels on site, according to Erik Haaland, a spokesperson for Equinor.

It’s not clear how much oil has leaked.

New marine heat wave resembles killer ‘Blob’ that devastated sea life on West Coast, NOAA says

New marine heat wave resembles killer ‘Blob’ that devastated sea life on West Coast, NOAA says

SOURCE: Seattle Times

DATE: September 5, 2019

SNIP: A new marine heat wave has formed off the West Coast that is similar to “The Blob” that devastated sea life and ravaged runs of Pacific salmon.

Although the similarities are striking, whether the new system will cause the same havoc is yet to be seen.

Like The Blob, which formed in 2014 and peaked in 2015, the new mass of warm water emerged over the course of a few months. A persistent weather pattern has becalmed winds that typically stir up the ocean’s surface to keep it cool. The heat wave is relatively new and right now mostly has affected the upper layers of the ocean. If weather patterns shift, it could break up rapidly, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

“It looks bad, but it could also go away pretty quickly,” said Nate Mantua, a research scientist at NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, California, in a news release Thursday.

The Blob upended the West Coast marine ecosystem, resulting in the deaths of millions of animals, from seabirds to sea lions. Salmon runs cratered, adding to the stress on animals that eat them, including endangered southern resident killer whales.

The new expanse of unusually warm water is eerily similar: It has quickly grown in much the same way, in the same area, to almost the same size, stretching from roughly Alaska to California. It is the second-largest marine heat wave in terms of area in the northern Pacific Ocean in the last 40 years, after the earlier Blob.

About five years ago, sea temperatures peaked at close to 7 degrees Fahrenheit above average. This year’s heat wave already is almost as large and almost as warm, with temperatures as much as 6 degrees Fahrenheit above normal over a very large area. The size and intensity of the heat wave are ominous signs of its potential danger to marine life.

The bloom is quite large and poisonous, stretching from the outer coast to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the San Juan Islands and into Puget Sound.

The last disturbance spewed heat to a depth of 5o0 meters in the sea and that heat still has not entirely dissipated, said Toby Garfield, director of the Environmental Research Division of the Southern Fisheries Science Center. So far, the heat from this event is only in about the top 50 meters of the ocean.

Some animals never have experienced a normal ocean in their lives: Salmon coming back in such poor numbers now went to sea during the last heat wave, and are coming back as this one started setting up.

Sage-Grouse Experts Sound the Alarm Over Plunging Population

Sage-Grouse Experts Sound the Alarm Over Plunging Population

SOURCE: Audubon

DATE: September 5, 2019

SNIP: Across the West, Greater Sage-Grouse numbers are plummeting.

So says an August 19 court filing that describes three consecutive years of sharp declines in five states that hold more than 80 percent of the population. Sage-grouse numbers are known to swing widely, but the losses are too big to be explained by those roughly decade-long boom-and-bust cycles, according to the sworn statement by Clait Braun, a retired biologist who studied the birds for the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

Braun’s testimony is part of an ongoing lawsuit by four conservation groups that aims to block sweeping changes announced earlier this year to sage-grouse conservation plans on millions of acres overseen by the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The population figures arrived on the heels of a U.S. Forest Service overhaul of its own sage-grouse plans that conservation groups see as similarly worrisome, and just days after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced rule changes that could make it harder to protect the imperiled birds under the Endangered Species Act.

Combined with new data showing that the Trump administration is ramping up oil and gas leasing in core sage-grouse habitat, the population loss and recent policy changes deepen worries over the future of the bird and the 350 other plant and animal species that share its sagebrush-steppe habitat.

The new figures, based on spring counts at the Greater Sage-Grouse mating areas known as leks, are “very worrisome,” Braun tells Audubon magazine. “There’s no way to sugarcoat it.” The Idaho population, for example, has plunged by 52 percent since 2016, with a 25 percent loss this year alone. Oregon likewise lost a quarter of its sage-grouse in the past year, following two years of more modest declines. In Nevada, the population has shrunk by one-third over the past three years, while Wyoming—which has more of the birds than any other state—lost 28 percent of them since last year.

Most renewable energy companies linked with claims of abuses in mines

Most renewable energy companies linked with claims of abuses in mines

SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: September 5, 2019

SNIP: Most of the world’s top companies extracting key minerals for electric vehicles, solar panels and wind turbines have been linked with human rights abuses in their mines, research has found.

Analysis published by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC), an international corporate watchdog, revealed that 87% of the 23 largest companies mining cobalt, copper, lithium, manganese, nickel and zinc – the six minerals essential to the renewable energy industry – have faced allegations of abuse including land rights infringements, corruption, violence or death over the past 10 years.

As the global economy switches to low-carbon technologies to combat global heating, demand for minerals could rise by as much as 900% by 2050, according to World Bank estimates. In order to prevent further human rights abuses, renewable energy companies urgently need to clean up their supply chains.

The watchdog found no correlation between the existence of a company’s human rights policy and whether such a policy prevented it from receiving allegations of abuses, indicating that the current company policies were either insufficient or not adequately enforced in their supply chains. For example, the top five lithium companies have all had human rights abuse allegations made against them, yet only one company had a publicly available policy on human rights.

The BHRRC has launched a tracker tool to allow investors, businesses and civil society groups to trace the allegations made against companies mining the six key minerals for the electric car, solar and wind sectors.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative Could Drive Warming to 2.7 Degrees

China’s Belt and Road Initiative Could Drive Warming to 2.7 Degrees

SOURCE: Yale e360

DATE: September 4, 2019

SNIP: China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a multi-trillion-dollar investment strategy aimed at boosting infrastructure development around the globe, will significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions and drive global warming past 2 degrees Celsius unless efforts are made to decarbonize the projects being funded, according to a new report by researchers in China, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

The 126 countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative, excluding China, currently account for 28 percent of global emissions. But if development continues as planned, their contributions could jump to 66 percent of global emissions by 2050, the report concluded. This would result in global carbon levels nearly twice what is needed to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius, the upper limit of the Paris Agreement target.

New viruses discovered in endangered wild Pacific salmon populations

New viruses discovered in endangered wild Pacific salmon populations

SOURCE: Science

DATE: September 4, 2019

SNIP: Three new viruses—including one from a group of viruses never before shown to infect fish—have been discovered in endangered Chinook and sockeye salmon populations.

While the impact of the viruses on salmon health isn’t yet known, all three are related to viruses that cause serious disease in other species.

“We were surprised to find viruses which had never before been shown to infect fish,” said Gideon Mordecai, researcher at UBC’s department of earth, ocean and atmospheric sciences. “Although there’s no risk to humans, one of the viruses is evolutionarily related to respiratory coronaviruses, and is localized to the gills. That suggests it has a similar infection strategy to its distant relatives that infect mammals.”

UBC and Fisheries and Oceans Canada researchers used DNA sequencing followed by tests specific to each virus to screen more than 6,000 salmon from along the B.C. coast, including wild, hatchery and aquaculture fish.

We found the new viruses widely distributed in dead and dying farmed salmon and in wild salmon,” said UBC virologist Curtis Suttle. “It emphasizes the potential role that viral disease may play in the population dynamics of wild fish stocks, and the threat that these viruses may pose to aquaculture.”

One new virus, detected more commonly in salmon hatcheries, infected more than 15 per cent of all hatchery Chinook tested.

Another new virus was detected in 20 per cent of Chinook from fish farms—but was only found in adult or sub-adult salmon. In general, the new viruses were more commonly found in cultured fish populations than in wild.