How we are all contributing to the destruction of coral reefs: Sunscreen

[Editors Note:  This article originally appeared in the Washington Post on October 20, 2015]

By Darryl Fears

The sunscreen that snorkelers, beachgoers and children romping in the waves lather on for protection is killing coral and reefs around the globe. And a new study finds that a single drop in a small area is all it takes for the chemicals in the lotion to mount an attack.

The study, released Tuesday, was conducted in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Hawaii several years after a chance encounter between a group of researchers on one of the Caribbean beaches, Trunk Bay, and a vendor waiting for the day’s invasion of tourists. Just wait to see what they’d leave behind, he told the scientists – “a long oil slick.” His comment sparked the idea for the research.

Not only did the study determine that a tiny amount of sunscreen is all it takes to begin damaging the delicate corals — the equivalent of a drop of water in a half-dozen Olympic-sized swimming pools — it documented three different ways that the ingredient oxybenzone breaks the coral down, robbing it of life-giving nutrients and turning it ghostly white.

Yet beach crowds aren’t the only people who add to the demise of the coral reefs found just off shore. Athletes who slather sunscreen on before a run, mothers who coat their children before outdoor play and people trying to catch some rays in the park all come home and wash it off.

Cities such as Ocean City, Md., and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., have built sewer outfalls that jettison tainted wastewater away from public beaches, sending personal care products with a cocktail of chemicals into the ocean. On top of that, sewer overflows during heavy rains spew millions of tons of waste mixed with stormwater into rivers and streams. Like sunscreen lotions, products like birth-control pills contain chemicals that are endocrine disruptors and alter the way organisms grow. Those are among the main suspects in an investigation into why male fish such as bass are developing female organs.

Research for the new study was conducted only on the two islands. But across the world each year, up to 14,000 tons of sunscreen lotions are discharged into coral reef, and much of it “contains between 1 and 10 percent oxybenzone,” the authors said. They estimate that places at least 10 percent of reefs at risk of high exposure, judging from how reefs are located in popular tourism areas.

“The most direct evidence we have is from beaches with a large amount of people in the water,” said John Fauth, an associate professor of biology at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. “But another way is through the wastewater streams. People come inside and step into the shower. People forget it goes somewhere.”

The study was published Tuesday in the journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. Fauth co-authored the study with Craig Downs of the nonprofit Haereticus Environmental Laboratory in Clifford, Va., and Esti Kramarsky-Winter, a researcher in the Department of Zoology at Tel Aviv University in Israel.

Their findings follow a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration study two weeks ago that said the world is in the midst of a third global coral bleaching event. It warned that pollution is undermining the health of coral, rendering it unable to resist bleaching or recover from the effects.

“The use of oxybenzone-containing products needs to be seriously deliberated in islands and areas where coral reef conservation is a critical issue,” Downs said. “We have lost at least 80 percent of the coral reefs in the Caribbean. Any small effort to reduce oxybenzone pollution could mean that a coral reef survives a long, hot summer, or that a degraded area recovers.”

Coral reefs are more than just exotic displays of color on the sea bed. The National Marine Fisheries Service, a division of the NOAA, placed their value for U.S. fisheries at $100 million. They spawn the fish humans eat and protect miles of coast from storm surge.

“Local economies also receive billions of dollars from visitors to reefs through diving tours, recreational fishing trips, hotels, restaurants, and other businesses based near reef ecosystems,” NOAA said on its Web site. “Globally, coral reefs provide a net benefit of $9.6 billion each year from tourism and recreation revenues, and $5.7 billion per year from fisheries.”

Oxybenzone is mixed in more than 3,500 sunscreen products worldwide, including popular brands such as Coppertone, Baby Blanket Faces, L’Oreal Paris, Hawaiian Tropic and Banana Boat. Adverse effects on coral started on with concentrations as low as 62 parts per trillion. There are alternative sunscreens with no oxybenzone, including a product called Badger Natural Sunscreen and dozens of others on a list provided by the non-profit Environmental Working Group.

Measurements of oxybenzone in seawater within coral reefs in Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands found concentrations ranging from 800 parts per trillion to 1.4 parts per million,” according to the authors. That’s 12 times the concentrations needed to harm coral.

“This study raises our awareness of a seldom-realized threat to the health of our reef life … chemicals in the sunscreen products visitors and residents wear are toxic to young corals,” said Pat Lindquist, executive director of the Napili Bay and Beach Foundation in Maui. “This knowledge is critical to us as we consider actions to mitigate threats or improve on current practices.”

Hawaii to experience worst-ever coral bleaching due to high ocean temperatures

[Editor’s Note:  Dr. Ruth Gates is involved in a Herbert W. Hoover Foundation funded initiative to use evidence-based research to measure the coastal health of areas around the world.]

HONOLULU (AP) — Warmer-than-normal ocean temperatures around Hawaii this year will likely lead to the worst coral bleaching the islands have ever seen, scientists said Friday.

Many corals are only just recovering from last year’s bleaching, which occurs when warm waters prompt coral to expel the algae they rely on for food, said Ruth Gates, the director of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology. The phenomenon is called bleaching because coral lose their color when they push out algae.

The island chain experienced a mass bleaching event in 1996, and another one last year. This year, ocean temperatures around Hawaii are about 3 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal, said Chris Brenchley, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Honolulu.

Bleaching makes coral more susceptible to disease and increases the risk they will die. This is a troubling for fish and other species that spawn and live in coral reefs. It’s also a concern for Hawaii’s tourism-dependent economy because many travelers come to the islands to enjoy marine life.

Gates compared dead coral reef to a city laid to rubble.

“You go from a vibrant, three-dimensional structure teeming with life, teeming with color, to a flat pavement that’s covered with brown or green algae,” said Gates. “That is a really doom-and-gloom outcome but that is the reality that we face with extremely severe bleaching events.”

Gates said 30 to 40 percent of the world’s reefs have died from bleaching events over the years. Hawaii’s reefs generally have been spared such large scale die-offs until now. Most corals bleached last year bounced back, for example. But Gates said it will be harder for these corals to tolerate the warmer temperatures two years in a row.

“You can’t stress an individual, an organism, once and then hit it again very, very quickly and hope they will recover as quickly,” she said.

Scientists have reports of bleaching in Kaneohe Bay and Waimanalo on Oahu and Olowalu on Maui. For the Big Island, reports of bleaching have come in from Kawaihae to South Kona on the leeward side and Kapoho in the southeast.

Scientists on an expedition to the remote, mostly uninhabited islands in the far northwestern end of the island chain reported some coral died after last year’s bleaching event. Courtney Couch, a researcher at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, said a mile and a half of reef on the eastern side of Lisianski Island was essentially dead. Coral further out from the atoll handled the warm temperatures better, she said.

Brian Neilson, an aquatic biologist with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, said people could help by not adding to the coral’s problems.

That means avoiding fertilizing lawns and washing cars with soap so contaminants don’t flow into the ocean. People should avoid walking on coral and boaters should make sure they don’t drop anchor on coral. Fishermen should fish responsibly, he said.

Scientists have also asked people to help them keep track of bleached coral by reporting sightings to the state’s “Eyes on the Reef” website at

Brenchley, from the National Weather Service, said it’s not known why waters around Hawaii and other parts of the northeast Pacific are warmer than normal this year. This warm water — nicknamed “The Blob” — is coinciding with El Nino, which is a general warming of parts of the Pacific that changes weather worldwide. But Brenchley said it isn’t the result of El Nino.

Hawaii is home to 85 percent of the coral under U.S. jurisdiction, including 69 percent within the mostly uninhabited islands of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. Another 15 percent of U.S. coral lies among the Main Hawaiian Islands — from Niihau in the north to the Big Island in the south — where the state’s 1.4 million people live.

Policing Seafood with DNA

[Editors Note:  This article highlights work that is being funded through the Herbert W. Hoover Foundation]

By Ben Shouse and Scott Baker

“Fishy”—meaning inspiring doubt or suspicion—is a fairly apt description of the way in which much of the world’s fish is bought and sold these days. Peer-reviewed research suggests that as much as a quarter of the seafood on the market is not even labeled as the correct species, making fraud one of the biggest problems in the seafood industry.

A second, related problem is that roughly a quarter of wild-caught seafood is hauled in using questionable or even blatantly illegal practices, including the use of kidnapping and forced labor on fishing vessels. This illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing can deplete marine populations, threatening food security in the developing world and resulting in $10 billion to $23 billion in economic losses globally each year. Here in the U.S., illegal imports represent about 25 percent of all wild-caught imports and are worth $1 billion to $2 billion annually.

In March, an Obama administration task force released an ambitious plan to confront seafood fraud and illegal fishing. The plan calls for large-scale tools, such as satellites to watch suspicious vessels and an international agreement to close the world’s ports to fish caught illegally. But the task force should also look seriously at investing in genomic methods that allow the simultaneous study of multiple genes. Genomics and other molecule-level tools have great potential to improve seafood traceability and to better protect consumers and law-abiding players in the fishing industry.

Species identification is routine and reliable using a few hundred letters of the four-letter DNA code (often a section of mitochondrial DNA known as the “bar code”). U.S. agencies have been using this process to detect seafood fraud for years, but on only a small fraction of the market, and researchers around the world have been documenting IUU fishing and illegal whaling for more than two decades. For example, sequencing of several hundred samples from retail markets in Japan and South Korea has documented illegal hunting of humpback and gray whales. And one sample from a sushi restaurant in Santa Monica, California, was identified as an endangered sei whale. Similar work is underway to document the prevalence of protected shark species in Hong Kong markets.

The crew of the Bangun Perkasa, a stateless fishing vessel suspected of illegal large-scale high-seas drift net fishing, tend their fishing nets prior to a Coast Guard law enforcement boarding conducted by the Kodiak-based Coast Guard Cutter Munro Sept. 7, 2011. The U.S. Coast Guard actively participates in the international cooperative efforts against large-scale high-seas drift net fishing as encouraged by the United Nations moratorium. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Coast Guard Cutter Munro)

While these efforts involved decoding only small segments of DNA, reading longer stretches could offer deeper insight. Until recently, the necessary technology was expensive, slow, and not readily usable in the field, but the cost of sequencing has dropped 10,000-fold in the past eight years, and the speed has more than doubled each year, exceeding Moore’s law. This offers new opportunities to scale up and accelerate the targeted testing the U.S. already does for seafood fraud. Perhaps more importantly, it offers numerous ways to combat IUU fishing by revealing where fish are being caught and potentially enabling investigators to find DNA evidence aboard fishing vessels.

One key step in the expansion of this technology is the rollout of fast, handheld devices for detecting seafood fraud and IUU fishing. The models that are currently available offer only yes-or-no identification of commonly mislabeled fish such as grouper. They use short, custom-synthesized DNA sequences that produce a fluorescent signal when a sample is authentic. Adoption of such tools could allow authorities to detect mislabeled fish on site, confiscate those shipments, and quickly start an investigation. (This would be even easier if seafood labels had to include the scientific name for each species.)

However, to be more useful against IUU fishing, these devices will need to go beyond yes-or-no results and instead read the letters of the DNA code. One promising technology is a “nanopore” sequencer—a handheld device that plugs into a laptop, pulls a DNA strand through a very small hole, and reads it using electronic sensors. Today’s devices have an error rate of up to 30 percent, but improvements are coming.

WESTERN PACIFIC OCEAN (Oct. 29, 2014) A small boat team of Sailors and Coast Guardsmen embarked aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Michael Murphy (DDG 112) prepare to board a fishing vessel to conduct an inspection as part of the Oceania Maritime Security Initiative (OMSI), a bilateral agreement to provide patrols within the Central Pacific for illegal fishing and other transnational crimes. Michael Murphy is on deployment to the 7th Fleet area of responsibility supporting security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy Photo/Released)

Handheld sequencing technology would make it possible to scan several thousand letters of chromosomal DNA to find single-letter variations. This technique can be used to identify species and, in many cases, trace the sample to the population of origin. This information can be enough to show that a fish was caught illegally, or at least that its shipping label is not accurate. A study in Europe used these single-nucleotide polymorphisms to differentiate cod specimens from three populations—the North Sea, Baltic Sea, and Northeast Atlantic Ocean—with 95 percent accuracy. The Marine Stewardship Council, a prominent organization that labels sustainable seafood, is considering using these findings to withhold its seal of approval from cod caught in regions with low abundance.

The tools are available today to do the same thing for Pacific salmon, and the U.S. could fund research to develop the necessary data for other species on which IUU fishing is suspected, such as bluefin tuna or Patagonian toothfish (marketed as Chilean sea bass). Alternatively, the U.S. government could target specific locations where IUU fishing is known to occur and then use DNA to identify shipments from those places.

One final intriguing possibility is identifying traces of DNA from illegally caught fish on the decks and in the nets or freezers of fishing boats, even after the contraband has been offloaded. One simple method would be to run water over the deck or hold of a vessel and test it for environmental DNA (eDNA)—material left behind from the shedding of scales and other tissue. This information could be checked against the ship’s manifest, alerting authorities to IUU fishing—especially on the high seas, where conventional observation and inspection are difficult.

Genomics is not the only tool needed to combat fisheries crime. By itself, it can’t tell you if someone is exceeding a quota or using illegal gear. Further, some genomic technology is not yet practical or reliable. The tools we have now, however, are more than sufficient to greatly improve our confidence in the identity of the fish we eat, to give fishermen fairer markets for their catch, and to make a critical food source more sustainable.

Reposted from

That wild caught shrimp you just ate? It might be from a skanky, destructive farm

(Reprint from

Like lots of people, you probably love shrimp. Love to eat them that is. And hopefully you know, shrimp farming is highly destructive. To make a shrimp farm, you first clear out all the mangroves, destroying a critical coastal ecosystem.  Mangrove loss results in greater storm and tsunami impacts, greatly reduced fisheries production (mangrove roots, below the water, act as fish nurseries), and also reduced carbon sequestration. BIG BUMMER.  So you do the right thing and only buy wild caught shrimp. Moreover, you want to supper local fisherman, like the families that have been shrimping in our vast estuaries here in North Carolina for decades. But how do you know what you buy isn’t actually coming from a polluted, destructive shrimp farm in Thailand? You don’t.

You are at the mercy of the vendor.  Yet many seafood vendors don’t know where their product comes from or they are just dishonest about it. A NC food processor (why do we even have “food processors”?) was just busted for mislabeling shrimp:

Federal prosecutors say a Dunn-based seafood processor and distributor used a bit of bait-and-switch when falsely labeling almost 25,000 pounds of farm-raised imported shrimp headed for Louisiana. source

Beyond this, wild caught shrimp is generally highly environmentally destructive too. Usually, shrimp are caught by dragging huge nets across the bottom. This destroys habitat too (like seagrass beds) and also kills countless other critters that get scooped up and die as bycatch. More on that later…

Tiny Team Uses Satellites to Bust Illegal Fishing Worldwide

(Editors Note: This article originally appeared on the National Geographic website

Working late into the night in land-locked West Virginia, Bjorn Bergman helped authorities stop a fishing boat from illegally harvesting tuna and sharks thousands of miles away, off the Pacific island nation of Palau.

In late January, Bergman analyzed swiggles on his screen that represented the movements of the Taiwan-flagged fishing boat ShinJyi Chyuu 33. A records search told Bergman that the boat did not have a permit to fish in Palau’s waters, but the zig-zag patterns playing across his monitor suggested that’s exactly what the crew was doing.

Thinking he was seeing pirate fishing in action, Bergman notified Palau’s authorities, who intercepted the boat just 10 miles (16 kilometers) from the outer border of the country’s territory. Officials found a hold full of shark fins and tuna, which they suspected had been illegally caught. (Learn about Palau’s other dramatic efforts to fight pirate fishing.)

Bergman is an analyst with SkyTruth, a small nonprofit that is trying to solve some of the ocean’s most pressing problems by crunching big data.

An aha moment came in 2012, says David Manthos, communications director of Shepherdstown-based SkyTruth, when the team used publically available radar and satellite data to track down the ship responsible for a spill that spread oil across 90 miles (145 kilometers) off Angola.

“We found a black slick and a bright white point at the end of it,” says Manthos, indicating the responsible vessel.

Gradually, the team learned to turn mapping technology toward one of the ocean’s biggest problems: illegal or “pirate” fishing, which a recent studyfound is responsible for 20 to 32 percent of wild-caught seafood imported into the U.S. Pirate fishers thwart government quotas, avoid fees, and pillage sanctuaries. (See how the White House plans to fight illegal fishing.)

To detect such rule-breaking, SkyTruth partnered with the Pew Charitable Trusts to conduct systematic monitoring in large swaths of the Pacific. That experience led to a new partnership between SkyTruth, Google, and the nonprofit Oceana to develop a platform to allow fisheries officials, governments, companies, and advocacy groups to better track fishing vessels. The result is a website called Global Fishing Watch, launched last November.

How the Technology Works

Global Fishing Watch tracks about 40,000 fishing vessels, only a small percentage of the estimated four million that ply the seas. But it’s a start, says Manthos. (Learn how drones can also fight illegal fishing.)

At the core of the platform is data from the Automatic Identification System (AIS) network, which broadcasts ships’ GPS locations. AIS was originally developed so ships could better avoid running into each other and more easily locate those who might need help, but SkyTruth and others discovered that the data tell a lot about what a ship is up to. If it rakes back and forth across a stretch of water, for example, there’s a good chance it’s trawling for fish.

In the future anyone will be able to go on the Global Fishing Watch website and track ships, but the data open to the public will probably be a few days old and might not name each ship. Those that pay access fees charged by the satellite providers (such as fisheries enforcement officials) should be able to track individual ships in real time.

Manthos says one goal of the program is to “narrow down the number of vessels in what we call the dark fleet,” or those that opt not to use AIS transmitters.

No Easy Task

The system isn’t foolproof. Some pirate fishers avoid AIS transmitters, says Ami Daniel, co-founder and CEO of the Tel Aviv-based data company Windward. Ships also change their AIS broadcast signals mid-voyage, or secretly transfer illegally caught fish to a second vessel in the middle of the ocean.

Such activities mean tools like Global Fishing Watch are “hopelessly hobbled by inaccurate data,” says Daniel.

Instead, his company is working on an “even bigger” data approach that would combine more types of information into a single “vessel story,” including public and private data from government agencies, intelligence services, and shipping companies. This approach would be harder to cheat.

“Think of it like your own credit card,” says Ami. “If I have your credit card logs, I know where you shop, what you eat, where you go, and so on. Similarly, we are creating the story of a vessel, which provides new visibility.”

To Manthos, the ocean is a resource that belongs to everyone, even though it is often out of sight and out of mind for most people.

“But understanding what fishermen are doing out there, and where our food comes from, is extremely important,” he says.

This story was updated on June 16 at 10 am ET with more information about SkyTruth’s programs and to correct the error that there are four million fishing boats in the world, not 400,000.

Bring Back the Gulf

Bring Back the Gulf is a timely publication that analyzes the scientific, environmental, legal, social and political aspects of the U.S. Interior Department’s Rigs-to-Reefs program and is now available as a PDF file and as an E-book.

Authors DeeVon Quirolo and Richard Charter conclude that the best course is to support compliance and enforcement of the obligation contained in each offshore oil lease with the U.S. Interior Department that requires full decommissioning of spent oil and gas structures to restore the seabed to its previous natural state.

For more information, contact Richard Charter at

The underlying agreement between the oil companies and the public has, from the beginning, been based on clear assurances that spent offshore drilling rigs would be removed and the seafloor restored when oil and gas extraction reached its conclusion. Thousands of such rigs, designed as temporary installations, are coming up for decommissioning in the Gulf of Mexico over the next few years. The Rigs-to-Reefs waiver process instead allows these massive industrial structures to become permanent fixtures on the ocean floor. This waiver obviously saves the petroleum industry millions of dollars, but is not justifiable in terms of supporting larger Gulf of Mexico restoration or fisheries goals. These structures impose an unnecessary long term maintenance and liability burden on the public in states with Rigs-to-Reefs programs and create serious environmental and stakeholder issues. Bring Back the Gulf is the story of how Big Oil decided to fool the American taxpayer, and why their complicated scheme is not in the public interest.

Bring Back the Gulf

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World Premier of The Silver Mirror

The historic Palace Theatre in downtown Canton, Ohio, was selected to debut The Silver Mirror, a feature-length global documentary film that investigates the topic of aging and extending healthier lifespans – and their effects on our society, healthcare and environment in the 21st century. The film is narrated and hosted by two-time Emmy Award®-winning and Golden Globe®-nominated actress Blythe Danner, with an original film score performed by the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra. The film’s writer-producer-director, Ali Habashi, presented the film at its premiere, Tuesday, June 4 at 7:30 p.m.

Sponsored by the Herbert W. Hoover Foundation as part of a collaborative grant with Kent State University at Stark and the Edward H. Arnold Center for Confluent Media Studies at the University of Miami, The Silver Mirror takes the audience on an enlightening journey through 12 countries around the world, searching for a universal voice that fearlessly and intimately conveys humanity’s ancient, collective and fundamental struggle with the fragility of the human condition imposed by the inevitability of aging – while also pondering that for the first time in human history, impending scientific surges in our health-span will drastically change how we live our lives.

“Science is on the precipice of understanding and being able to manipulate the process of aging. In the very near future, the average lifespan is expected to be increased to well over 100 years,” remarked Herbert W. Hoover Foundation Chair, Elizabeth Lacey Hoover. “Now is the time to consider the consequences, not just relating to personal experience, but also to the impact on the planet, including the environment, food, water and social issues.”

Based on the cutting-edge work of many leading scientists worldwide, The Silver Mirror features interviews with several distinguished experts, including Dr. Bonnie Kantor-Burman, director of the Ohio Department of Aging, on the challenges of providing care for Ohio’s elderly population, given that the number of Ohioans over the age of 60 is expected to increase by 25 percent by 2020.

Silver Mirror Premier in Palace Theather

For more information about the film, contact:

Christina Delphus, Associate Director
Edward H. Arnold Center for Confluent Media Studies
University of Miami

Ali Habashi, Director
Edward H. Arnold Center for Confluent Media Studies
University of Miami
Phone: (305)284-4121

See more information about “The Silver Mirror”

Giant squid scientist talks deep-ocean discovery – CBSNews

(CBS News) For the first time, scientists recently captured images of the mysterious giant squid in their natural habitat off the coast of Japan.

Edith Widder, oceanographer and marine biologist, who was involved in the expedition, said on “CBS This Morning” the breakthrough could be the beginning of many discoveries of the ocean’s depths.

She said, “It’s been said that we know more about the moon’s behind than the ocean’s bottom, and we’ve explored only 5 percent of our ocean’s bottom. Look what’s down there. … We know so little. … There could be cures for cancer. The Nobel Prize in 2008 was awarded for a chemical extracted from a bio-luminescent jellyfish and that’s discovery has been equated to the invention of the microscope in terms of the impact it’s had on science. So how do we even know? And we’ve spent billions on exploring outer space and only millions on exploring the deep ocean. … I think that there will be new discoveries so long as we have the opportunity to go out with ships and submersibles.”

Widder said people have been trying to catch a glimpse of the giant squid alive in their natural habitat for a long time, and in the past 50 years have made many attempts. This is the first time it’s succeeded. She attributes the success to the method used by her team.

“Unfortunately, we do go out with remote-operated vehicles that do scare them away, but the submersibles and the camera system I was using are unobtrusive and I think that will allow us to see a whole lot more. … We were exploring in a different way than ever before,” she said. “In the past we were scaring them away. (Our team) used a red light that they can’t see and an optical lure to draw them in towards us.”

Widder said she hopes the discovery “will help people feel different about the ocean, in general.”

Source: CBS News

Herbert W. Hoover Foundation Supports Stark County Water Testing Project

Making The Invisible Visible: Water Quality in Stark County’ to provide critical information and education on Nimishillen Creek watershed

CANTON, Ohio (PRWEB) June 04, 2012

In a unique and groundbreaking collaboration, students from five colleges and universities in Stark County, and several nationally recognized science and environmental partners, will focus on testing local water resources beginning June 5. The water sampling project, Making the Invisible Visible: Water Quality in Stark County, is funded by the Herbert W. Hoover Foundation.

In addition, the Herbert W. Hoover Foundation is pleased to sponsor guest speaker, Edith Widder, Ph.D., acclaimed biologist and co-founder and CEO of Ocean Research and Conservation Association (ORCA). Widder will be at Kent State University at Stark on Tuesday, June 5, from 8:00-10:00 a.m. to address students, faculty and community leaders before they begin testing. Nearly 20 students are expected to participate from Kent State University at Stark, Stark State College, Malone University, the University of Mount Union and Walsh University.

Students will utilize ORCA’s Fast Assessment of Sediment Toxicity procedure to analyze water and collect baseline sediment particles from 75 sites along the Nimishillen Creek Watershed. The samples will then be scientifically analyzed for pollutants in laboratories at the universities and colleges, as well as ORCA’s home base in Florida. This will complement and support EPA-mandated monitoring in the region. Researchers from the local colleges and universities who specialize in these areas will lead the efforts in additional testing, which include sampling of other water quality parameters, macro invertebrates, pH levels and habitat type and quality, among others.

An environmental filmmaking team composed of award-winning filmmaker, Ali Habashi; filmmaker Colton Hoover Chase; and journalism professors and students from Kent State University, will document the project. Making the Invisible Visible is an ongoing component of the HOOVER INITIATIVE IN ENVIRONMENTAL MEDIA at Kent State University at Stark.

“The Herbert W. Hoover Foundation is proud to fund such an important project that brings multiple educational institutions and disciplines together working toward a common goal: to help us better understand our environment,” said Colton Hoover Chase, Vice Chairman of the Herbert W. Hoover Foundation. Chase’s primary focus is on ecosystem science and specifically how to articulate issues facing the environment to the general public through the use of film and other new media forms. He continued, “The Foundation funded this water sampling project in the hopes that we could enhance the visibility of water issues, and help communities like ours work on solutions to keep these waterways pristine.”

According to Dr. Penny L. Bernstein, Associate Professor Biological Sciences at Kent State University at Stark and project coordinator, “Agencies do not have the resources needed to sample water throughout Stark County on a regular basis. Making the Invisible Visible provides science education to students throughout the County, and additional baseline water quality data for the County’s watershed, supplementing the more periodic data from the EPA and other agencies.”

For more information regarding Making the Invisible Visible: Water Quality in Stark County, or to see clips of the students in action, please visit

About the Herbert W. Hoover Foundation

Herbert W. Hoover was an industrialist and early leader in the conservation movement, fighting to protect natural resources in both Ohio and Florida through accurate scientific research, public information and education. Founded in 1990, the Herbert W. Hoover Foundation has taken up the mantle, and established itself as a leader in funding unique opportunities that provide solutions to issues related to the Community, Education, and the Environment. For more information, visit or email contact hwh(at)hwhfoundation(dot)org.

Tiffini Bloniarz


Source / Credit: Yahoo! News

Other Coverage on this Event

Massillon Independent – Testing the water: College students help determine its quality
June 6, 2012

Canton Repository – Area colleges help track pollution of Stark’s waterways

June 6, 2012

North Canton Patch (online publication) – What’s in Your Water? Kent Stark Students, Faculty Embark on Project to Find Out

June 6, 2012

Kent State University – Natural Collaboration: Dr. Penny Bernstein

June 5, 2012


HWH funded research at University of Miami pinpoints sharks as clues to Human Diseases

HWH funded research at University of Miami pinpoints sharks as clues to Human Diseases.

Michelle Gillen
by Michele Gillen

MIAMI – February 22, 2012 – (CBS4) – As a top marine researcher, Dr. Neil Hammerschlag, scours the oceans in search of sharks.

On a recent afternoon aboard a research boat, Hammerschlag and his team from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, found what they refer to as an “amazing” creature.

“Any day that you can see a shark is an amazing day,” Hammerschlag said. “Sharks are in a lot of trouble. They need all the help they can get.”

Hammerschlag studies the mythical sea creatures to discover how their ailments could be linked to the development of human diseases.

“The shark is sending us an SOS,” he said as he traveled on a boat with his research team. “I’m attempting to draw blood.”

It’s an SOS about a health threat that not only affects sharks, but also affects man. His team has found links between the sharks and diseases that cripple and kill humans.

“Toxins that can give you Alzheimer’s, dementia, ALS, Parkinson’s. Pretty scary stuff,” Hammerschlag said.

Back on land, his partner Dr. Deborah Mash, a professor of Neurology for the Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami, studies his findings inside a lab.

“This is a first. No one has seen this data,” Mash said.

“Is there a footprint suggesting an SOS from the shark?” CBS4’s Chief Investigative Reporter Michele Gillen asked.

“There is,” Mash said. “He is an apex predator, as we are. He is going to mirror what we are doing to our bodies. The shark is giving us a mirror on what is coming into our diet. Showing us what is out there in our marine environment that can damage out bodies.”

The journey for answers begins with a dizzying display of precision, which begins with the intubation of the shark so that oxygenated water pours through its gills. Then, the sharks are examined, biopsied, blown on and electronically tagged.

For scientists and students, this is a key moment – not only tagging the shark but evaluating the blood and stress levels of the shark, for research the world awaits.

What they found in the shark fin? The neurotoxin BMAA (short for B-Methylamino-L-alanine), which is produced by an algae known as cyanobacteria, often found in lakes, oceans and the soil.

“We were really surprised at the level of detection of this toxin BMAA in the shark fins,” Mash said.

The team examined 100 samples from seven shark species.

“We found it in all but three samples that we tested. I never expected that. That means that it is very prevalent in the shark diet,” Mash said. “The results are staggering. I never predicted that we would see the incidence of this toxin in the large number of shark samples off the South Florida coastal waters.”

When asked why this toxin is so dangerous, Mash said, “This toxin has been shown to damage neurons. Neurons are the primary building block of the brain.”

SharksThe toxin, which has been shown to kill brain cells, has turned up – repeatedly – in Mash’s studies of the human brain – particularly of the brains of victims of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson and Lou Gehrig’s patients.

“We are detecting BMAA in the brains of the patients that have donated them for research,” Mash said. “That is why we are seeing linkage with Alzheimer’s and with Lou Gehrig’s disease.”

If the shark holds clues to brain-based diseases that have the potential to affect everybody – it’s even more chilling that the shark is threatened today because of a demand for soup made from its fin.

“100 million sharks are killed a year,” Hammerschlag said. “A rate of 270,000 sharks per day mostly to make shark fin soup.”

The soup is considered a delicacy and sign of prosperity in Asian cultures. But South Florida’s team of scientific detectives are just publishing their work that suggests consumers might want to think twice before biting into a food that tradition says will bring them luck.

“If you consume shark fin products or you use this in your diet, yes, you are going to be exposed to increasing amounts of BMAA’s,” Mash said. “With repeat exposure throughout the life span, it could put someone at risk for a brain disorder like Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease.”

All this is the first chapter of a medical mission aimed at unearthing clues that link man – the oceans top predator – and our survival.

“This is all about human health and this is all about the risk to human health,” Mash said. “And the shark may give us the fundamental clue that allows us to make a great breakthrough.”


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