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Animals Eat Ocean Plastic Because it Smells Like Food

SOURCE:  National Geographic/Laura Parker – November 9, 2016

A new study sheds light on why so many seabirds, fish, whales, and other critters are gobbling up so much marine plastic debris. And it’s not quite what scientists thought.

As the oceans fill with plastic debris, hundreds of marine species eat astonishing amounts of it. Yet the question of why so many species, from the tiniest zooplankton to whales, mistake so much of it for food has never been fully explored.

Now a new study explains why: It smells like food.

Algae are consumed by krill, a small crustacean that is the primary food source for many sea birds. As algae breaks down naturally in the ocean, they emit a stinky sulfur odor known as dimethyl sulfide (DMS). Sea birds in the hunt for krill have learned that the sulfur odor will lead them to their feeding grounds.

It turns out that floating plastic debris provides the perfect platform on which algae thrives. As the algae breaks down, emitting the DMS odor, sea birds, following their noses in search of krill, are led into an “olfactory trap,” according to a new study published November 9 in Science Advances. Instead of feeding on krill, they feed on plastic.

“DMS is the dinner bell,” says Matthew Savoca, a doctoral student at the University of California, Davis, and lead author of the study. “When people hear the dinner bell, we know food is going to be in the area. This is the same sort of idea. Once the birds’ noses have told them this is where they should expect to find krill, it gets their foraging mode turned on, and their threshold is down for what the food is. ”

Plastic debris has been accumulating rapidly in the world’s ocean, roughly doubling every decade. In 2014, a global analysis measured ocean plastic at a quarter of a billion metric tons, much of it suspended in small rice-sized particles. More than 200 animal species have been documented consuming plastic, including turtles, whales, seal, birds, and fish. Seabirds are especially at risk; a study published last year by scientists in Australia concluded that virtually all seabirds have consumed plastic.

Scientists have long known that ocean plastic is consumed because it looks like food. Sea turtles, for example, often mistake flimsy, clear plastic bags for jellyfish. Other marine animals, including fish, gobble bits of rice-sized micro plastics broken down by sunlight and wave action because they resemble the small particles they normally eat. (See the first of its kind map of ocean plastic pollution.)

But the study of how odors might play a role in marine animals’ consumption of plastic is the first of its kind. Sovaca teamed up with a scientist who studies how odors affect decision-making and a food and wine chemist to determine what smell could be the culprit.

“This does not disprove that plastic might look enticing,” he says. “Often, it’s the smell that gets animals foraging in the area and turns their feeding mode on. It adds another layer on top of it. It is far more likely that a seabird will eat it if it looked and smelled like food.”

Chelsea Rochman, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Toronto, who studies the toxic effects of plastic consumed by fish, called the study an important step toward understanding why marine animals are eating plastic.

“Throughout the literature on plastic debris, you see researchers write statements implying that animals are ‘choosing’ to eat plastic debris without a proper test or explanation of why,” she says. “This is the first group to really dive into the details of why.”

Savoca’s team decided to focus on birds already severely affected by plastic consumption: albatrosses, petrels, and shearwaters. They began the study by placing buoys of micro plastics in bags in Monterey Bay and Bodega Bay off the California coast. After three weeks, they retrieved the buoys and tested them in the lab for smell.

“They reeked of sulfur,” Savoca says.

It didn’t take long to identify DMS as a strong predictor of plastic consumption and the “keystone infochemical” that drew marine animals to plastic as if it was krill. Odor extraction tests confirmed that three common varieties of plastic acquired a “DMS signature” in less than a month. The team also found, not surprisingly, that the birds most attracted to the DMS odor are the albatrosses, petrels, and shearwaters that are most severely affected by plastic consumption.

Many of those birds nest in underground burrows, and juvenile birds spend many more months on the ground than birds that nest above the surface. Consequently, burrow-nesting birds rely much more heavily on their sense of smell to get around.

“We should be paying more attention to those species,” Savoca says.

Stark County Broadband Study Results on Schedule

Source: Canton Repository/Edd Pritchard – October 10, 2016

The Stark County Broadband Task Team will meet on Wednesday to explain details of the broadband feasibility study and discuss the next option.

JACKSON TWP. Volunteers pushing for a high-speed broadband access plan hope to build support for the next phase in the project this week when they discuss results of a feasibility study.

The Stark County Broadband Task Team — using the www.theforthutility.org website — hired Magellan Advisors to conduct the study. Task team will unveil the study results during a community meeting that begins at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Kent State University Stark Conference Center.

Task team members have been working three years to develop a “future-ready plan for reliable, high-speed broadband access at competitive prices.” The effort has been endorsed by elected officials, municipalities and community groups.

Ed Roth, chief executive officer of the Aultman Health Foundation, will open the meeting by adding Aultman’s endorsement of the Broadband Task Team’s work. Healthcare systems have invested in clinical information systems and digital technology and support efforts to develop a community-wide broadband infrastructure, he said in a news release.

Kent State Stark also supports the task team’s effort. “We all need to work together and focus on the future,” Dean Denise Seachrist said in the release, noting that students need affordable access to the internet.

Research effort

More than 100 leaders from the Stark County area participated in interviews and focus groups led by Magellan. That information and extensive research on the county’s existing infrastructure, bandwidth potential and pricing are the basis of Magellan’s report, task team members said.

“This had to be done and we had to have a starting point,” said Jacqueline DeGarmo, president and founder of Hilliard Jeane LLC and Task Team co-chair.

Researchers met individually and in groups with companies providing internet service to residents and businesses in the county. The three large players are Time Warner Cable, MCTV in Massillon and AT&T, which have systems that use cable and the lines to carry broadband service, but there also are smaller companies offering connections.

Victor Pavona, director of the Stark County Small Business Development Center and task team director, said the internet providers have participated in different ways. He hopes the providers remain involved.

Next step

DeGarmo said the feasibility report should provide data and a platform to begin planning efforts. The goal has been to map out a plan that will ensure the community’s future, and the next step is to pull together a coalition and see where to go, she said.

Pavona said the committee, which has received financial help from Herbert H. Hoover Foundation and backing from residents and businesses, was conceived to bring a plan to the community.

So far local officials have endorsed the need for a strong broadband system, Pavona said. How the community reacts and whether it accepts the plan will determine the next move, he said.

Wednesday’s meeting is open to the public. For more information or to register, visit www.thefourthutility.org.

U.S. Giant Salamanders Slipping Away: Inside the Fight to Save the Hellbender

SOURCE:  National Geographic/Jane J. Lee – December 22, 2013

Snot otters. Lasagna lizards. Allegheny alligators. With nicknames like these, you’d think the actual animal, a salamander more commonly known as a hellbender, would be a natural poster child for endangered wildlife.

 Instead, hellbenders live quiet lives tucked away under large rocks in the mountain streams of eastern North America, from Arkansas to New York. Ranging in color from mottled olive-gray to chocolate brown with rust-colored splotches, the nocturnal amphibians can easily be mistaken for rocks, if they’re seen at all.

But that rarity is what concerns researchers. There are two varieties or subspecies of hellbenders—the Ozark hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis bishop) and the eastern hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis alleganiensis)—and both have been quietly slipping away since about the 1980s.

The U.S. government currently considers the eastern hellbender a species of concern, while the Ozark subspecies was federally listed as endangered in 2011. The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species classifies the hellbender as near threatened, although their total number is unknown. (See “‘Snot Otter’ Sperm to Save Giant Salamander?”)

In New York State, researchers began to see small declines in their eastern hellbender population starting in the 1980s, said Ken Roblee, senior wildlife biologist with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation.

But it wasn’t until a 2005 survey that scientists saw a 40 percent reduction in the number of adults at monitoring sites, perhaps due to predation or disease—researchers are still trying to figure out the causes. “That got us really concerned,” Roblee said.

View Images 

Declining populations have prompted conservation efforts in New York, as well as in states across the hellbender range, including Ohio and Missouri.

These programs aim to study the biology of North America’s largest salamander—which can reach a length of 2 feet (0.6 meter)—as well as to try and reintroduce the animals to the wild.

Murky Future

Salamanders are vulnerable for a few reasons. First, “they are really closely tied to their environment,” said Kim Terrell, a conservation biologist with the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C., who studies hellbender immune systems.

“Unlike a lot of other salamanders, [hellbenders] breathe entirely through their skin,” she explained. That means the fully aquatic amphibians need clean, cold, oxygen-rich freshwater to live.

Because of that, hellbenders thrive only in areas with good water quality, Terrell said.

“Imagine if you’re in a river, and you’re dragging your lungs around behind you—things are not going to go well if that river is polluted or muddy or murky,” the conservation biologist explained.

And declining hellbender numbers are mirroring the declining health of their habitats. (Read about vanishing amphibians in National Geographic magazine.)

View Images 

Changing land use, such as an increase in agriculture, is causing greater loads of dirt and sediment to pile up in streams throughout the hellbenders’ range, reducing water quality. What’s more, many of these streams also contain harmful toxins and chemicals. Both developments are driving this unassuming amphibian into the ground.

Mysterious Disease

Unknown diseases may also be afflicting hellbenders, and researchers are ramping up monitoring efforts to try to understand why the animals are getting hit with chronic skin conditions. For example, several biologists are swabbing hellbenders and cataloguing any potential disease-causing organisms they find.

“We know that hellbenders are really sensitive to disease,” Terrell said. “And we find animals that have evidence of skin disease quite often in the wild. But we don’t know what’s causing it.”

One particularly nasty infection can cause some hellbenders to lose one or more of their feet. “Something is eating that foot tissue, and you’ll find animals with exposed bone, missing feet,” explained Terrell. “That’s pretty serious for a group of animals that tend to have incredible healing abilities.”

Experts thought at first that the chytrid fungus—responsible for demolishing frog populations around the world—was causing the hellbender skin disease. (See “African Clawed Frog Spreads Deadly Amphibian Fungus.”)

The fungus is found in hellbender habitats, and on the animals themselves, said Thomas Floyd, a wildlife biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Previous research has found that chytrid can also hide out in crayfish—hellbenders’ favorite food—showing that the fungus can persist in other species before it jumps to an amphibian.

But based on skin swabs from hellbenders, “there’s no indication it’s a problem yet,” Floyd said.

Healthy Hellbenders

Floyd and his colleagues are working hard to ensure their hellbender populations remain safe.

The state has perhaps some of the healthiest populations of hellbenders in the country, Floyd explained, and they regularly monitor the wild animals to make sure they stay that way.

That often involves donning a mask and snorkel and rooting under rocks in water as chilly as 60°F (16°C) to look for the animals.

“[In Georgia], if you look at areas where they’re doing really well, they’re on public land,” which tends to have more intact forests, he explained. “There’s a direct correlation between forest cover and habitat quality.”

That’s because forests are natural barriers against erosion, preventing sediments from washing into mountain streams and clogging up the waterways.

Hellbenders in the Empire State

Unfortunately, hellbenders in New York aren’t doing as well.

“We have them in only two watersheds in New York State—the Allegheny River watershed and the Susquehanna watershed,” said New York State’s Roblee.

“The hellbenders in Susquehanna have nearly disappeared, and we don’t know the reasons for the decline,” he said. Researchers have seen only two hellbenders in this watershed over the past three years.

A team of biologists and students tried searching for the wrinkly creatures again this year, with no luck. “The situation there is quite dire,” said Roblee.

The wildlife biologist and his colleagues are instead concentrating their efforts on the Allegheny, “where the hellbenders are doing better, thankfully,” Roblee said.

Population numbers in the Allegheny River seem to have stabilized in the past two years: Surveys in 2012 found between 60 and 100 hellbenders at various monitoring sites, and those numbers seem to be holding.

Luckily, “no severe health problem has shown up,” he added.

Even so, the Allegheny populations have declined 40 percent since the 1980s. (See more pictures of amphibians declining worldwide.)

The problem could be due to the fact that not enough young hellbenders are making it to adulthood, Roblee said. “Many of the monitored sites only had large adults.”

So the biologist and his colleagues decided to give young hellbenders a leg up.

A Head Start

By hatching and raising hellbenders in captivity, Roblee and colleagues hoped to give the amphibians a refuge to grow to a size—around 9 inches (23 centimeters)—that makes them less vulnerable to predators.

Once the animals get big enough, they’re released back into streams in the Alleghenies. (See “Hellbenders Reintroduced in New York: Freshwater Species of the Week.”)

A 2009 grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service enabled Roblee and colleagues at the Buffalo Zoo in New York to collect 744 eggs from a hellbender nest in the wild.

The team successfully hatched 610 of the eggs, but soon realized they needed help raising all those animals. Luckily the Bronx Zoo; the Seneca Park Zoo in Rochester, New York; and the Seneca Nation of Indians expressed interest in taking some of the amphibians in, and each soon had their own colonies of young hellbenders.

The first release of hellbenders occurred in 2011, when 46 young salamanders bearing tiny radio-tracking tags were released into streams in the Alleghenies. The scientists released another hundred tagged animals in 2012.

But the results have been mixed. When researchers went back to check on the tagged amphibians released in 2011, only 4 percent of the animals remained where scientists had released them. Of the 2012 reintroduction, only 8 percent were found in the original area.

Roblee explained that they’ve observed some of the hellbenders moving farther downstream, up to about 3,000 feet (900 meters) away.

This wanderlust may be a problem, because when young hellbenders travel, they’re leaving the protection of their rocks and exposing themselves to predators.

So this year, when the biologists released another 250 young hellbenders, they tried enclosing the amphibians’ rocks in vinyl wire cages to keep the animals from wandering too far from safety. But the salamanders escaped.

Several of the 2013 animals ended up dead—suggesting predators including raccoons, mink, and otter are eating them.

But the researchers aren’t giving up yet: They have 150 hellbenders left in captivity, which are slated for release in 2014. “We’re modifying the cage design to keep [the hellbenders] securely inside to reduce the predation we’re seeing,” Roblee said.

The hope is that the cages will keep the salamanders in place long enough for them to become accustomed to their new homes—enough time so they won’t feel the need to leave.

Salamander Saviors

Roblee has had a much easier time working with the landowners who live among hellbenders.

Initially, most weren’t aware that they even had these giant salamanders on their property, he said. But once they learned about the animal and what researchers were doing, they were willing to work with the scientists.

One campground owner is even helping the Smithsonian’s Terrell collect data on how changing temperatures affect hellbenders.

The volunteer kayaks out to collect temperature sensors scattered in the stream, sends the data to Terrell, and then returns the sensors to the river, said Roblee.

The fascination with the salamander and a willingness to work with conservation efforts is something Will Miller, chief conservation officer with Seneca Nation Fish and Wildlife, has noticed during his outreach efforts.

The Seneca Nation originally got interested in hellbenders because of a cultural connection, Miller said. Tribe historians say some of the Nation’s stories are connected to the hellbender, he said.

In addition to monitoring the Seneca Nation’s territory for hellbenders and raising 20 of the amphibians for the reintroduction program, Miller and his colleagues travel to hunting shows and local schools to help the public understand the salamander’s situation.

Their efforts were rewarded this year when fishers sent Miller a cellphone picture of a hellbender they had accidentally caught but then released once they realized what it was.

New York State’s Roblee hopes to capitalize on that appreciation to save the amphibian from extinction.

“As a society, as we move forward in time, we’d like to take the hellbenders with us,” he said, “and not be responsible for their demise.”

We’ve been protecting Earth’s land for 100 years. We’re finally starting to protect its oceans

NOTE:  This article originally appeared in the Washington Post on September 14, 2016

A decade ago, only a tiny fraction of the world’s oceans had been protected from overfishing and other environmental threats. The United States had scores of national parks and other landmarks. Other countries had safeguarded cultural, historical and natural treasures. But for the oceans, such efforts remained in their infancy.

“Ocean conservation was an afterthought,” said Matt Rand, who directs the Global Ocean Legacy project for the Pew Charitable Trusts. “When you looked around the world a decade ago, very little investment was going into the conservation of ocean ecosystems.”

A key example of how that began to change came in 2006, when President George W. Bush designated an island chain spanning nearly 1,400 miles of the Pacific northwest of Hawaii as a national monument. Last month, President Obama expanded the Papahānaumokuākea (pronounced “Papa-HA-now-moh-koo-AH-kay-ah”) Marine National Monument to 582,578 square miles of land and sea, creating the largest ecologically protected area on the planet.

As government leaders, scientists and environmental activists from around the world gather this week at the State Department for what has become an annual global conference on preserving the oceans, roughly 3 percent of the world’s oceans are now protected. That’s a far cry from the 30 to 40 percent that many scientists think will be necessary over the long term to maintain the sustainability of the seas that feed billions of people and employ millions of workers. But it’s exponentially more than only a few years ago.

“I’m thrilled with the progress we’ve made,” Secretary of State John F. Kerry, who engineered the first such gathering in 2014, said in an interview, even as he acknowledged that much more work lies ahead. “Through my years in the Senate, there had been great [nongovernmental] oceans advocates. … But I think it needed the force of an administration and a department like the State Department to say, ‘We’re not going to leave you out there on your own. This is our responsibility, too.’ “

The Obama administration’s embrace of the cause has emboldened ocean advocates and helped fuel a global push to set aside more protected areas.

“Right now, I’m more hugely hopeful for ocean conservation than I’ve ever been at any other time in my career,” said Janis Jones, president of the Ocean Conservancy, an environmental advocacy group. “There are more and more people invested in protecting the ocean.”

Those people include local advocates trying to protect marine species from threats that include plastic debris and the acidification underway as oceans absorb human-generated carbon emissions. But increasingly, it also includes high-level leaders in different parts of the globe.

Last year, for instance, the president of the tiny island country of Palau in the western Pacific Ocean pushed to create a marine reserve larger than the state of California. President Thomas Esang “Tommy” Remengesau Jr. signed a designation to keep 80 percent of its territorial waters from activities such as fishing and mining. About the same time, Chile created the largest marine reserve in the Americas off its coast called Nazca-Desventuradas Marine Park. The area encompasses roughly 115,000 square miles — almost the size of Italy.

And last week, the presidents of Ecuador, Colombia and Costa Rica announced they would expand the marine protected areas under their jurisdiction to more than 83,000 square miles, creating a network of underwater “highways” that will allow wide-ranging species such as sea turtles and sharks more freedom to move without facing intense fishing pressure. Making the announcement, Ecuador President Rafael Correa noted his nation’s underwater territory is five times larger than its terrestrial one.

Aulani Wilhelm, vice president of Conservation International’s Oceans Center, said the push to protect large parts of the sea signals a cultural shift.

“Large-scale marine protected areas are the single largest driver for ocean protection right now,” said Wilhelm, who led the public process that resulted in President Bush creating the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in 2006. “It was a crazy idea back in 2000. And now it’s normal.”

Wilhelm, who served as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration superintendent of Papahānaumokuākea from June 2006 to July 2014, said protecting those areas required a shift in mindset among policymakers. Once they accepted the idea of places in the ocean as part of a country’s cultural and historic heritage, she said, it became easier to declare them off limits.

“Before, we thought about heritage as cathedrals or maybe Mount Kilimanjaro,” Wilhelm observed, “but not about wild oceans.”

Eric Reid, general manager at a fish processing plant in Point Judith, R.I., said in an interview that just because the reserve closes off a small fraction of the ocean does not soften the economic impact on communities that fish there.

“If the state of Connecticut was turned into a monument and there was no economic activity whatsoever, or hit by a meteor or vaporized, the spin that could be used is it’s only 2 percent of the States,” Reid said. “But the people of Connecticut would be pretty uptight.”

A group of marine biologists and conservationists decided more than a decade ago to spur an intentional competition among heads of state in which leaders would vie for the mantle of designating the largest marine reserve on Earth. When Bush invoked the 1906 Antiquities Act to protect the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands in 2006, it ranked as the world’s largest protected area, but by earlier this year it had slipped to 10th in the rankings. With its recent expansion, it reclaimed the No. 1 spot.

Advocates have appealed personally to heads of state — and their spouses — to grant these safeguards. Two wildlife photographers, David Liittschwager and Susan Middleton, spent much of 2003 and 2004 documenting marine and terrestrial species on the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and in the fall of 2005 the then-head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, James L. Connaughton, gave their book “Archipelago” to first lady Laura Bush. The first lady, an avid birder, became a passionate advocate for creation of the monument and traveled there in 2007.

At times, scientists have even taken leaders underwater to view potential sites for protection. National Geographic explorer-in-residence Enric Sala went in a remotely operated underwater vehicle piloted by the president of Gabon to survey that nation’s offshore resources, and in 2014 President Ali Bongo Ondimba created a series of marine parks covering 18,000 square miles — 23 percent of the waters under Gabon’s jurisdiction.

Sala wrote in an email that there is plenty of scientific evidence to show that large marine protected areas ensure their habitats are more resilient to climate change and boosts the size and reproductive capacity of fish there. Coral reefs have recovered in a protected area in the Pacific’s Phoenix Islands Protected Area, he noted, where fishing is prohibited. And scientific analyses have found a fourfold increase in the biomass of fish in protected areas over time.

“I saw that myself diving in the remote and unfished southern Line Islands in 2009,” he said. “These islands were hit by the strong El Niño of 1997-98, but 10 years later the corals looked pristine and healthy, as though that warming event never happened.”

Historically it has been difficult to get momentum behind ocean conservation in part because so much of the ocean is considered international high seas, and no one leader or one country can decide to protect it. Sala said this is the area that policymakers need to eye next.

“If nobody owns or is responsible for a patch of the ocean, it makes it much harder to create the coalition that’s necessary and the authority that’s necessary to move that ocean space into conservation,” Jones said. “It’s really hard, because the lines are not clear.”

She said that treating the oceans as a common space has hindered the world’s ability to safeguard them, and only in recent hears have nations made more concrete efforts to work together to grapple with which areas deserve protection.

“Continuing to treat the ocean just as a global commons is really ruinous for us all,” she said. “When everybody is responsible, nobody is responsible.”

Still, most experts said, many citizens in the United States and abroad have a hard time understanding the need for marine protected areas.

“People get parks on land. They don’t really get parks in the ocean. Not just green parks, but blue parks,” said Jane Lubchenco, who served as head of NOAA during Obama’s first term. “A hundred years ago it was set in motion a movement to protect special places on land. Now is the time to think about protecting special places in the ocean.”

Where Does Water Come From?

Source: World Ocean Radio/Peter Neill – August 30, 2016 in Radio

Where does water come from? We know from science that water evaporates from the ocean reservoir, is captured in clouds, fog and rain, descends to seep into the underground aquifer or be distributed via lake and stream. In this episode of World Ocean Radio, host Peter Neill reminds us that the ocean exists at both ends of the water cycle–at mountaintop and abyssal plain–and essential to the sustainable ocean is the protection and conservation of the vast, fluid passage that each of us on this earth relies upon.

Transcript:

Where does water come from? It seems such a simple question, and the answer is known from our earliest science lessons when we are introduced to the water cycle and the global circulation system that is so essential to our well-being now and forevermore. Water evaporates from the ocean reservoir, captured in clouds and fog and rain, from which it descends to become ground water, seeping into the underground aquifer, or surface water distributed by lakes and streams. Some of the water is captured in ice as glaciers and high mountain peaks; some is retained deep in the earth, some perhaps pre-historic in its deposit, but there for now beyond our eager, sometimes desperate, digging and drilling.

All of it is finite in volume.

We know this cycle, and if we think about it at all, it becomes easy to understand the idea that the ocean where 97% of that volume is contained is the alpha and omega, the mouth and tail from this circle of sustenance. It becomes easy to see the “edge” of the ocean not at the boardwalk and beach, but rather at the distant snow-capped range where begins the long, convoluted flow of water down and across the land until it reaches its ocean origin…and the cycle begins again.

Essential to the sustainable ocean, then, is the protection and conservation of this fluid passage, the global hydraulics that can be compared to the circulation of blood through our bodies, themselves made substantially of water. Each of us is an ocean, with a comparable circulation, and a reliance on a healthy environment to sustain it. Extend the metaphor: if we treat those bodies with indifference, pollute them with excess and poisons, then we can expect them to succumb to obesity, disease, and collapse. If you think of yourself as the ocean, your family as the ocean, your community as the ocean, your nation as an ocean, then perhaps you will take the necessary steps to sustain the health of each of these many seas.

So, too, with the earth, and we return again to the geography of our living; the ocean, as I choose to define it, as a vast global system of interacting, infused water that extends from mountain-top to abyssal plain and connects us all – physically, financially, politically, socially, and spiritually.

I belabor this point because it lies at the core of any strategy for change. It establishes the context for every decision that follows – the choice to conserve hillsides and watersheds, lakes, ponds, and rivers; the planning for different settlement and systems, for new construction and re-construction; the promulgation of new standards for economic development; the recognition of natural capital and new economic models as significant elements in the pricing of goods and services and the calculation of our gross national product; the re-engineering of the coastal zone; and the definition of new policies to maintain the quality of our air and water, to manage responsibly our ocean resources, and to govern the open ocean under an egalitarian and equitable set of international treaties and agreements that benefit us all.

I belabor this point because that without our understanding of this absolute, this measurable, undeniable fact of life, all our efforts may be for naught, all our strategies may be half-baked, all of our results inadequate. We cannot build a new society, hydraulic or otherwise, if we build it on a weak and corrupted foundation. We cannot change behaviors if we do not accept and assert new core values. This clear and present understanding of the wisdom of Nature and the knowledge revealed can guide and protect us in our first steps toward sustainable practice and global renewal.

Where does water come from? That’s one question, and we know the answer, but here’s another, more difficult one: what will we do, who will we be, when that water has come…and gone?

We will discuss these issues, and more, in future editions of World Ocean Radio.

WORLD OCEAN RADIO IS A PROJECT OF THE WORLD OCEAN OBSERVATORY IN ASSOCIATION WITH WERU FM, BLUE HILL, MAINE. WORLD OCEAN RADIO IS DISTRIBUTED BY THE PUBLIC RADIO EXCHANGE AND THE PACIFICA NETWORK. FIND OUR PODCAST ON ITUNES AND AT WORLD OCEAN OBSERVATORY DOT ORG.

World Ocean Radio

World Ocean Radio is brought to you in collaboration with the World Ocean Observatory. The World Ocean Observatory advocates for the ocean through independent, responsible, apolitical science, and is dedicated to advancing public understanding of ocean issues through institutional collaboration and partnerships, pro-active programs, and connection with individual subscribers around the world.

Study Finds Shark Fins & Meat Contain High Levels of Neurotoxins Linked to Alzheimer’s Disease

UM research team says restricting shark consumption protects human health and shark populations

August 29, 2016

MIAMI—In a new study, University of Miami (UM) scientists found high concentrations of toxins linked to neurodegenerative diseases in the fins and muscles of 10 species of sharks. The research team suggests that restricting consumption of sharks can have positive health benefits for consumers and for shark conservation, since several of the sharks analyzed in the study are threatened with extinction due to overfishing.

Fins and muscle tissue samples were collected from 10 shark species found in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans for concentrations of two toxins—mercury and β-N-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA).  “Recent studies have linked BMAA to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS),” said Deborah Mash, Professor of Neurology and senior author of the study.

Researchers at the UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and UM Miller School of Medicine detected concentrations of mercury and BMAA in the fins and muscles of all shark species at levels that may pose a threat to human health. While both mercury and BMAA by themselves pose a health risk, together they may also have synergistic toxic impacts.

“Since sharks are predators, living higher up in the food web, their tissues tend to accumulate and concentrate toxins, which may not only pose a threat to shark health, but also put human consumers of shark parts at a health risk,” said the study’s lead author Neil Hammerschlag, a research assistant professor at the UM Rosenstiel School and UM Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy.

Shark products including shark fins, cartilage and meat are widely consumed in Asia and globally in Asian communities, as a delicacy and as a source of traditional Chinese medicine. In addition, dietary supplements containing shark cartilage are consumed globally.

Recently scientists have found BMAA in shark fins and shark cartilage supplements. The neurotoxic methyl mercury has been known to bioaccumulate in sharks over their long lifespans.

About 16 percent of the world’s shark species are threatened with extinction. The shark species sampled in this study range in threat status from least concern (bonnethead shark) to endangered (great hammerhead) by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

“Our results suggest that humans who consume shark parts may be at a risk for developing neurological diseases.” said Mash.

“People should be aware and consider restricting consumption of shark parts.  Limiting the consumption of shark parts will have positive health benefits for consumers and positive conservation outcomes for sharks, many of which are threatened with extinction due in part to the growing high demand for shark fin soup and, to a lesser extent, for shark meat and cartilage products.” said Hammerschlag.

The study, titled “Cyanobacterial Neurotoxin BMAA and Mercury in Sharks,” was published in Aug. 16 in the journal Toxins. The study’s coauthors include: Neil Hammerschlag; David A. Davis, Kiyo Mondo, Matthew S. Seely, and Deborah C. Mash from the UM Miller School of Medicine’s Department of Neurology; Susan J. Murch and William Broc Glover from the University of British Columbia; and Timothy Divoll and David C. Evers from the Biodiversity Research Institute in Maine. The Herbert W. Hoover Foundation provided the funding for this study.

# # #

About the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School

The University of Miami is one of the largest private research institutions in the southeastern United States. The University’s mission is to provide quality education, attract and retain outstanding students, support the faculty and their research, and build an endowment for University initiatives. Founded in the 1940’s, the Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science has grown into one of the world’s premier marine and atmospheric research institutions. Offering dynamic interdisciplinary academics, the Rosenstiel School is dedicated to helping communities to better understand the planet, participating in the establishment of environmental policies, and aiding in the improvement of society and quality of life. For more information, visit:  www.rsmas.miami.edu. To learn more about UM’s Shark Research and Conservation Program, visit www.SharkTagging.com

Photo Credit: Photo – Neil Hammerschlag, Ph.D.
Graphics – University of Miami Miller School of Medicine

We must recommit to national parks, America’s cathedrals

By Jonathan B. Jarvis

Jonathan B. Jarvis is Director of the National Park Service.

[Editors Note:  This editorial originally appeared in the Washington Post on August 24, 2016]

In 1914, Stephen Mather, a wealthy director of a borax mining company in California, observed the deteriorating conditions of some of America’s national parks and wrote a letter of protest to Interior Secretary Franklin Lane. Lane responded: “Dear Steve, if you don’t like the way the parks are being run, come on down to Washington and run them yourself.” Such challenges have launched many political careers in Washington, including my own. I started in the National Park Service during the nation’s bicentennial in 1976, and a similar call brought me to Washington in 2009 to lead the agency through its centennial this year.

One hundred years ago Thursday, on Aug. 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the act creating the National Park Service — with Mather as its first director. The Organic Act states that the fundamental purpose of the NPS “is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

For the past century, the National Park Service has been providing for the enjoyment of our most beautiful, treasured and historic places, put into our stewardship by Congress and both Democratic and Republican presidents. A

large number of NPS employees join the service for life, because this work is more than a career; it is a mission. That mission is unlike that of any other federal agency: We serve as keepers of the nation’s cultural memory.

The 413 units of the national park system are a collective expression of who we are as a people, and in the words of historian John Hope Franklin, “the public looks upon national parks almost as a metaphor for America itself.” The parks deliver messages to current and future generations about the foundational experiences that have made the United States a symbol of democracy’s greatest achievements for the rest of the world. The Obama administration has worked to ensure that the parks tell the story of the United States’ cultural history. Among the 22 sites that President Obama has added to the national park system are places that will ensure that the memories of Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, Col. Charles Young and the Buffalo Soldiers, and César Chávez endure.

One of our newest sites, the Stonewall National Monument in New York, will memorialize the struggles that the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community has faced over the years, along with one of its major victories.

But the National Park Service’s enabling legislation requires that these places and ideas are not just preserved but enjoyed. This leads me to believe that we are the only federal agency with a mandate to ensure that the American people have some fun.

In 1956, when planning for our 50th anniversary, the National Park Service invited World War II veterans to come and see what they had fought for. In partnership with the growing automobile industry, the service invited them to “See the USA in your Chevrolet.” Veterans came out in droves with their children in the back seats of their station wagons, and from those experiences grew a groundswell of support for conservation and historic preservation. Those children today are the baby boomers, now with millennial children and grandchildren.

For our 100th anniversary, in partnership with the National Park Foundation, we invited everyone to “Find Your Park,” to foster the creation of a new generation of park visitors, supporters and advocates reflecting the diversity of our nation. The result of this effort has been record-setting visitation and a surge of sharing on social media about extraordinary park experiences.

But this anniversary is much more than a celebration. It also calls for introspection and a forward-looking vision recommitting to the ideals and aspirations that bind us as a nation and to the institution tasked with their stewardship — the National Park Service.

Filmmaker Ken Burns said that national parks are the Declaration of Independence applied to the land. Regardless of ethnicity, social status or level of wealth, Americans appreciate the beauty of grand landscapes. Our national parks provide the opportunity for all to experience that beauty as equals.

It is pretty hard to not feel a wash of pride for our country when you stand at the rim of the Grand Canyon National Park, in the alpine glow of Grand Teton National Park, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial or on the bloodstained fields of Gettysburg National Military Park. These are our American cathedrals, and they belong to you. Come and enjoy them and refresh your memory of what it means to be an American.

Editorial: Embrace group’s effort to bring high-speed broadband to Stark

The Herbert W. Hoover Foundation was the initial funder of a study for broadband access and feasibility in Stark County.  This editorial originally appeared in the Canton Repository on August 21, 2016.

By The Repository Editorial Board

August 21. 2016 7:45AM

Earlier this month, Fairlawn began constructing its FairlawnGig network in neighborhoods across the city. The municipal broadband utility is already delivering “warp” internet speeds to select areas, according to media reports.

It could take up to two years and $10 million to run the network past each of Fairlawn’s 3,800 homes and business, but once it’s complete, internet speeds will dwarf those now available. According to the city, speeds will be 20 times faster for downloads and 200 times faster for uploads than anything previously available. Residential plans range from $30 to $75 a month. Businesses plans cost from $150 to $500.

A similar story has unfolded in Hudson, which last fall launched its Velocity Broadband service, which the city promises will outpace and be more reliable than any existing service offered by cable, phone and wireless companies, according to Crain’s Cleveland Business.

Hudson, Fairlawn and hundreds of other cities across the country are embarking on this digital frontier in hopes of providing faster and cheaper internet service to residents and businesses.

In Stark County, a similar push is underway. The Stark County Area Broadband Task Team will release a feasibility study Oct. 12 during a program at Kent State University at Stark. The Canton Repository’s Edd Pritchard reported Tuesday that Kent State Stark is the task team’s newest partner. It plans to explore opportunities for service, research and integration.

The Broadband Task Team, made up of large and small businesses, local governments and nonprofit agencies, believes high-speed broadband is needed to support an economy that’s more and more reliant on internet-based applications and cloud computing and that one day will see artificial intelligence and robotics “supplement” human labor. Access to high-speed broadband can help the county improve educational opportunities, retain our best and brightest workers and expand the economy.

The so-called “fourth utility” would provide 1 gigabit service to households and 100 gigabit service to businesses. Currently, Ohio’s average speed is 28 megabits, according to Seattle-based Speedtest. Service at 1 gigabit would provide speed about 35 times faster.

Jackie DeGarmo, founder and co-chair of the task team, compares — accurately — these efforts to those of the city of Canton in the 1950s and 1960s, when the leaders constructed a massive water system to serve resident and industries. Today, the water system is considered one of the city’s greatest assets. It has been used as a marketing tool to lure big businesses.

DeGarmo says the task team’s goals can be achieved in several ways, including through public-private partnership that involves current providers.

The study, which is being prepared by Magellan Advisors, will be key to determining how much a high-speed broadband network will cost to construct, how to fund the work and its overall feasibility. Ninety community leaders already have been interviewed, but the task team needs more input. That’s why we urge residents to participate in a survey at TheForthUtility.com. (Yes, it’s “forth” in the URL.)

Let’s not fall behind other cities that aggressively are laying the infrastructure of the future. If we truly want to reverse the negative economic trends of the last few decades and turn Stark County into a place our children want to call home, than it’s imperative that we recognize the value of this endeavor and embrace the work of the Stark County Broadband Task.

Is That Real Tuna in Your Sushi? Now, a Way to Track That Fish

“Most people don’t think data management is sexy,” says Jared Auerbach, owner of Red’s Best, a seafood distributor in Boston. Most don’t associate it with fishing, either. But Mr. Auerbach and a few other seafood entrepreneurs are using technology to lift the curtain on the murky details surrounding where and how fish are caught in American waters.

Beyond Maine lobster, Maryland crabs and Gulf shrimp, fish has been largely ignored by foodies obsessing over the provenance of their meals, even though seafood travels a complex path. Until recently, diners weren’t asking many questions about where it came from, which meant restaurants and retailers didn’t feel a need to provide the information.

Much of what’s sold has been seen as “just a packaged, nondescript fish fillet with no skin,” says Beth Lowell, who works in the seafood-fraud prevention department at Oceana, an international ocean conservation advocacy group. “Seafood has been behind the curve on both traceability and transparency.”

What’s worse is that many people have no idea what they’re eating even when they think they do. In a recent Oceana investigation of seafood fraud, the organization bought fish sold at restaurants, seafood markets, sushi places and grocery stores, and ran DNA tests. It discovered that 33 percent of the fish was mislabeled per federal guidelines. Fish labeled snapper and tuna were the least likely to be what their purveyors claimed they were.

Several years ago, Red’s Best developed software to track the fish it procures from small local fishermen along the shores of New England. Sea to Table, a family business founded in the mid-1990s with headquarters in Brooklyn that supplies chefs and universities, has also developed its own seafood-tracking software to let customers follow the path of their purchases. Wood’s Fisheries, in Port St. Joe, Fla., specializes in sustainably harvested shrimp and uses software called Trace Register.

And starting this fall, the public will be able to glimpse the international fishing industry’s practices through a partnership of Oceana, Google and SkyTruth, a nonprofit group that uses aerial and satellite images to study changes in the landscape. The initiative, called Global Fishing Watch, uses satellite data to analyze fishing boat practices — including larger trends and information on individual vessels.

From a young age, Mr. Auerbach had romantic notions about fishing, specifically the idea of catching fish to feed his family and neighbors.

“It’s cool in this day and age that people wake up in the morning and go make a living interacting with nature and feeding their community,” he said. He went into commercial fishing straight out of college, taking a job on an Alaskan salmon boat and later returning to New England to work on lobster boats and learn more about the fishing industry there.

Soon after Mr. Auerbach founded Red’s Best in 2008, he realized that a combination of government regulations and commercial fishing’s embrace of technology were effectively threatening the existence of small fishing boats. Yet smaller boats travel short distances and catch fewer fish, which Mr. Auerbach said improves their quality.

“We try to push people to eat local, traceable fish,” he said.

Like most other seafood distributors, he was relying on an antiquated, four-part carbon copy system that was so cumbersome, he was routinely shuffling paperwork until 2 a.m.

“The boat would get a copy at the point of unloading,” Mr. Auerbach said. “The government would get a copy. I’d file a copy. And then I’d write in the prices.” As for paying the fishermen: “I’d have to get checks and then match the checks to the paperwork and mail them. It was an absolute nightmare that wasn’t scalable.”

Now the Red’s Best software does that work. For instance, a company driver backs a truck down to the long wooden pier in Woods Hole, Mass., each afternoon, so that fishermen can load their bluefish, striped bass, bonito, conch, horseshoe crabs and other seafood. But instead of a thick pad of paper and carbon sheets, the driver wields a waterproof wireless computer tablet with a Bluetooth mobile printer.

“He’s putting their catch data directly onto the internet, and our whole staff all over the country can see in real time as fish is being unloaded onto our truck,” Mr. Auerbach said. When the fish arrives at Red’s Best’s Boston plant, it is instantly received into inventory and reported to the federal government.

The company affixes a traceability label on each box of fish. The label has a two-dimensional bar code that can be scanned by smartphones to reveal who caught the fish, where and how. A unique web page is automatically created for that fish. Buyers, typically high-end wholesalers throughout the country, and their customers can scan the code to learn the story behind the fish.

Mr. Auerbach, who has 100 employees, projects the company will sell 20 million pounds of seafood this year, caught almost exclusively by 1,000 small vessels.

Eventually, Red’s Best hopes to sell directly to consumers. “Like, a bluefin tuna is being unloaded right this second in Provincetown, Mass., and you buy a pound of it to be delivered to your home tomorrow,” he said. “I want that tuna sold as deep into the supply chain as possible.”

By that he means ideally the fish will travel from the company’s Boston hub directly to home cooks’ refrigerators. Currently, people can buy Red’s Best fish at its store at the Boston Public Market, at several farmers’ markets, or shipped through AmazonFresh and, starting last week, FedEx.

“I got the data,” he said. “I got the fish. I know people want it.”

Sea to Table hopes to sell fish directly to home chefs starting this year, too.

But local seafood can cost more than many Americans are accustomed to paying, which partly accounts for the rampant seafood fraud in this country.

“U.S. fisheries are very well managed and are actually growing nicely,” said Michael Dimin, the founder of Sea to Table. “But the U.S. consumer’s been trained to buy cheap food, and imported seafood is really cheap because of I.U.U. fishing.” I.U.U. stands for illegal, unreported and unregulated. The result is unsustainably fished, cheap seafood flooding American fish markets and grocery chains.

“To us, the secret is traceability,” Mr. Dimin said. “If you can shine a light on where it came from, you can make informed decisions.”

Mr. Auerbach concedes that some local fish is expensive, but he maintains that many lesser-known varieties are affordable. “Maybe halibut and scallops are for the wealthy,” he says. “But dogfish, skate, porgy and mackerel are all very inexpensive, healthy and great tasting.”

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