Tag Archives: marine

Is cleaning up oil spills all about aesthetics?

If not, why would you pour 6.6 million litres of a synthetic petroleum solvent as a dispersant into the already oil-filled Mexican Gulf? Why are they letting BP continue to pour in this dispersant of relatively unknown effects on marine and coastal organisms (other than breaking up obvious plumes of oil to make the stuff less visible)? Because the pictures of heavy oil are bad PR? I’d rather let the world see, on a daily basis, what has been wrought by our thirst for oil, instead of trying to spread it around thinly and hoping some microbes will be able to break it down more easily that way – without a whole lot of evidence to back up that hope! Nature News has more on the growing debate over the impact of dispersed oil:

It may look unhealthy, but the cure could be worse.

USCG/Petty Officer 1st Class Tasha Tully

For years, Robert Twilley has worked to bridge the traditional academic divides between oceanography and coastal science.

“They really are not two separate systems,” says Twilley, a coastal scientist from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. “Whatever you do offshore certainly has implications to the shoreline and bay estuary environments.”

Now, Twilley is watching this lesson unfold before his eyes. As London-based BP continues to pour vast quantities of dispersants into the Gulf of Mexico, Twilley and many other scientists are growing increasingly concerned about the chemical soup that may be creeping onshore, as well as the poorly understood effects of dispersant in the water column at sea.

Initially, BP and the federal agencies involved in the spill response made the decision to use dispersant offshore to limit the amount of viscous oil washing up on beaches and into the wetlands, says Ed Overton, an environmental chemist at Louisiana State University. The idea behind the use of dispersants offshore, says Overton, “is you hold your nose and accept damage offshore to try to prevent damage onshore”.

So far, more than 6.6 million litres of dispersant have been applied: more than 4 million litres offshore and more than 2.5 million litres at the site of the leak. On the surface, dispersants are sprayed from planes over the surface of the oil. To reach oil at depth, dispersant is pumped from a vessel at the surface down to a wand pointed into the oil flowing from the broken wellhead, some 1.5 kilometres deep. Before the Deepwater Horizon spill, dispersants had only been used to treat surface oil.

Therein lies the worry, says David Valentine, a geomicrobiologist at the University of California in Santa Barbara. “It’s an experiment that’s never been performed before—to dump that much of an industrial chemical into the ocean.”

“My hunch is that when this thing started they wanted to keep the oil off the beaches, so they used the dispersants.” says Samantha Joye, a biogeochemist at the University of Georgia in Athens. “But no one thought it would go on this long.”

Now there are fears that that dispersed oil is making its way into shallow waters even as questions abound about the impacts on the water column at depth. We are trying “to unravel what’s truth and what’s purely speculation,” says Twilley.

The weird and wonderful beauty of the Spanish Shawl and other nude molluscs

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… er… I mean, nude-gilled (but otherwise clothed in a shawl?!) molluscs, i.e., Nudibranchs. The above blurry image shows the closest I’ve ever come to one (to my knowledge), separated only by a glass wall in the Monterey Bay Aquarium a year ago. It was but a small splash of bright color among a mess of other critters in a corner of the rocky tidal shore area of the exhibits (if I remember correctly). It wasn’t even specifically identified on the info panel on its enclosure – I only discovered later what it was. And I remembered this image today when I saw this fantastic gallery of Nudibranch portraits at National Geographic. Go check them out. They just might brighten your day too!

Will this stop the International Whaling Commission from lifting the ban on whaling?

The Whales and Dolphins Conservation Society sure hopes this new graphic commercial will turn enough stomachs to press the IWC into not lifting the quarter-century ban on commercial whaling when they meet in Agadir, Morocco next week. The NRDC meanwhile, hopes that any agreement will at least include measures to put a permanent end to whaling, eventually. The signs are not that hopeful, however. You can try to register your protest electronically via the WCDS.


Did the Pier 39 Sea Lions disappear because of 20th anniversary blues?

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Perhaps they skipped town because they got wind of a party being thrown to mark the 20th anniversary of their taking over San Francisco’s Pier 39. I imagine it could be depressing for these wonderful creatures of the open sea to realize that they’ve spent almost 20 years hanging out in an urban tourist trap! And not merely hang out, but actually become the bait in that tourist trap… yikes! Surely that’s reason enough to hightail it out of there?!

All kidding aside, back on shore, someone over at the Marine Mammal Center has got to be wondering why on earth no one thought of tagging some of these beasts! You know, with one of them GPS transponder things so they could have kept track of them at times like these. Did no one ever think the animals might just take off some day, as abruptly as they had appeared?

Meanwhile, they had to postpone the anniversary party to a later date when, hopefully, the guests of honor will actually deign to be present! I sure hope they do return…