Expanding Hypoxic Areas in Coastal Waters

Coastal Hypoxia NASA
Off the coast of Oregon, a large dead zone—an area of water where the oxygen concentration is so low that little to no marine life can survive—has been appearing each summer since 2002.


A report issued September 3rd, by key environmental and scientific federal agencies, assesses the increasing prevalence of low-oxygen “dead zones” in U.S. coastal waters and outlines a series of research and policy steps that could help reverse the decades-long trend.

The interagency report notes that incidents of hypoxia, a condition in which oxygen levels drop so low that fish and other animals are stressed or killed, have increased nearly 30-fold since 1960. Incidents of hypoxia were documented in nearly 50 percent of the 647 waterways assessed for the new report, including the Gulf of Mexico, home to one of the largest such zones in the world.

The impact of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill on oxygen levels in the Gulf of Mexico was not considered in this report because the spill had not yet occurred at the time the report was completed. Only additional research will reveal how the presence of oil in the gulf is affecting the large dead zone that forms every summer to the west of the Mississippi delta (see fact sheet), the more than 100 other independent sites along the Gulf of Mexico coast that experience low-oxygen problems, and areas of naturally-occurring deepwater oxygen depletion…

Read Full Article, United States Environmental Protection Agency, EPA

Dead Zones or Hypoxic areas Worldwide, NASA
The cause of anoxic bottom waters is fairly simple: the organic matter produced by phytoplankton at the surface of the ocean (in the euphotic zone) sinks to the bottom (the benthic zone), where it is subject to breakdown by the action of bacteria, a process known as bacterial respiration. The problem is, while phytoplankton use carbon dioxide and produce oxygen during photosynthesis, bacteria use oxygen and give off carbon dioxide during respiration. The oxygen used by bacteria is the oxygen dissolved in the water, and that’s the same oxygen that all of the other oxygen-respiring animals on the bottom (crabs, clams, shrimp, and a host of mud-loving creatures) and swimming in the water (zooplankton, fish) require for life to continue.
The dead zones are areas in the ocean where it appears that phytoplankton productivity has been enhanced, or natural water flow has been restricted, leading to increasing bottom water anoxia.

Annual International Coastal Cleanup Day, 2010

Philippe Cousteau, International Coastal Cleanup,September 25th, 2010, Ocean Conservancy

Ocean Conservancy: International Coastal Cleanup Day: September 25th, 2010


The International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) is the world’s largest, one-day volunteer effort to clean up the marine environment. Every September, from Baltimore to Bangladesh, volunteers from over 100 countries descend on local beaches, rivers, lakes and canals to show their commitment to cleaner waterways.The Ocean Conservancy, has lead and sponsored this world’s most astounding grassroots cleanup effort every year, for the past 25 years…

Sign up for the 25th Annual International Coastal Cleanup!

Read Full Article, Ocean Conservancy: International Coastal Cleanup Day: September 25th, 2010

The 26th Annual California Coastal Cleanup Day is also Saturday, September 25th, 2010

California Coastal Commission
In 2009, more than 80,600 volunteers worked together to collect more than 1,300,000 pounds of trash and recyclables from our beaches, lakes, and waterways. California Coastal Cleanup Day has been hailed by the Guinness Book of World Records as “the largest garbage collection” (1993). Since the program started in 1985, over 800,000 Californians have removed more than 14 million pounds of debris from our state’s shorelines and coast…

Bali Plastic Pollution
Photograph courtesy of: © Claude Graves; Bali, Coastal Care, Plastic Pollution.

New York City and Risk of Higher Seas

Photograph: © SAF — Coastal Care


When major ice sheets thaw, they release enough fresh water to disrupt ocean currents world-wide and make the planet wobble with the uneven weight of so much meltwater on the move. Studying these effects more closely, scientists are discovering local variations in rising sea levels, and some signs pointing to higher seas around metropolitan New York…

Read Full Article, The Wall Street Journal

Coral Reef and Planet’s Changing Sea Levels

Photograph: © SAF — Coastal Care
Australia’s Great Barrier of Reef traces a graceful 1,250-mile-long (2,000-kilometer-long) arc off the nation’s northeast coast. This largest of all coral habitats covers an area larger than Poland, and is made up of some 2,800 separate reefs.


A voyage to the outer edges of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has brought back pieces of an ancient, fossilized ancestor to the vast, living ecosystem.

This fossilized coral reef was alive about 20,000 years ago, during the height of the last glacial period, a time when Earth was around 9 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius) cooler than it is now, and the city of Chicago was buried beneath an ice sheet almost 2 miles (3 kilometers) thick.

By studying this ancient coral, scientists are hoping to put together the most accurate picture yet of how sea levels have changed over thousands of years, data that can help inform projections of how sea levels may change in the future…

Read Original Article, LiveScience

Millions of Migrating Birds Heading to Oil

Gulf Oil Disaster-Oiled Feather on Boom. Oil saturated feather and partially dry oil are just above the water line on a “hard” rubber boom anchored around a small unnamed bayou with a large bird population in Bartaria Bay, La., on June 23, 2010. Captions And Photo source: ©© Lance Cheung


Nearly five million Migratory birds from Canada are now winging their way south across North America, and many of them could be in for a nasty shock when they reach the oily marshes and beaches along the Gulf Coast…

Read Full Article, Discovery News

Tar balls coat Indian beaches

Photo source: NOAA


Wave after wave of tar balls floated ashore last wednesday, on the renowned Goa beaches after a ship dumped tons of waste oil off India’s western coast, officials said.

Semisolid lumps of oil formed layers up to six inches deep (15 centimeters deep) on beaches in the popular tourist destination…

Read Full Article, AP

Beach pollution due to tar balls an annual event, The Times of India
The Goa government on Thursday downplayed the pollution of beaches due to tar balls in the state by terming it an “annual phenomenon”. The tourism industry which is gearing up for the tourist season in October had feared adverse impact on business after the tar balls on Goa beaches made national and international headlines.

NIH to launch Gulf oil spill health study

Hands In BP’s Oil, Greenpeace. Photo source: © Greenpeace

Embargoed for Release, Tuesday, September 7, 2010.

The National Institutes of Health will launch a multi-year study this fall to look at the potential health effects from the oil spill in the Gulf region. The Gulf Worker Study, announced by NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., in June, is in response to the largest oil spill in U.S. history, caused by the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Dr. Collins pledged $10 million in NIH funding for the study’s initial phases.

To help expedite the launch of the study, BP will contribute an additional $10 million to NIH for this and other important health research. The BP funding will come through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GRI). The GRI is a ten-year, $500 million independent research program established by BP to better understand and mitigate the environmental and potential health effects of the Gulf spill. The NIH will have full autonomy regarding the distribution of the $10 million, with input from external scientific experts in environmental health and who are familiar with the Gulf region…

Read Full Article, By The National Institutes of Health, U.S Department of Health and Human Services.

Red Tide Found in New York Harbor

HAB Red Tide

By The Associated Press.

The Coast Guard says a nearly 10-mile-long ribbon of red tide has been spotted in New York Harbor.

The agency says the outbreak of potentially harmful algae was reported early Monday and confirmed by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. DEP representatives didn’t immediately respond to telephone and e-mail messages on the Labor Day holiday.

Authorities say swimmers and boaters should avoid contact with the reddish-brown sheen. It stretches from about the site of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum off Manhattan to Hoffman Island, off Staten Island.

Red tide is caused by naturally occurring algae that produce a toxin. It can cause temporary breathing trouble and other problems if people ingest it and can make shellfish unsafe to eat.

Original Article

Red Tide: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

A “red tide” is a common term used for a harmful algal bloom.

Harmful algal blooms, or HABs, occur when colonies of algae, simple ocean plants that live in the sea, grow out of control while producing toxic or harmful effects on people, fish, shellfish, marine mammals and birds. The human illnesses caused by HABs, though rare, can be debilitating or even fatal.

While many people call these blooms red tides, scientists prefer the term harmful algal bloom. One of the best known HABs in the nation occurs nearly every summer along Florida’s Gulf Coast. This bloom, like many HABs, is caused by microscopic algae that produce toxins that kill fish and make shellfish dangerous to eat. The toxins may also make the surrounding air difficult to breathe. As the name suggests, the bloom of algae often turns the water red.

HABs have been reported in almost every U.S. coastal state, and their occurrence may be on the rise. HABs are a national concern because they affect not only the health of people and marine ecosystems, but also the ‘health’ of local and regional economies.

But not all algal blooms are harmful. Most blooms, in fact, are beneficial because the tiny plants are food for animals in the ocean. In fact, they are the major source of energy that fuels the ocean food web.

A small percentage of algae, however, produce powerful toxins that can kill fish, shellfish, mammals and birds, and may directly or indirectly cause illness in people. HABs also include blooms of non-toxic species that have harmful effects on marine ecosystems. For example, when masses of algae die and decompose, the decaying process can deplete oxygen in the water, causing the water to become so low in oxygen that animals either leave the area or die.

Scientists at the National Ocean Service have been monitoring and studying this phenomenon for a number of years to determine how to detect and forecast the location of the blooms. The goal is to give communities advance warnings so they can adequately plan for and deal with the adverse environmental and health affects associated with these ‘red-tide’ events.

Secrets Of Red Tide Revealed: Massachussetts Institute of Technology

Excerpt, from Journal Science.

In work that could one day help prevent millions of dollars in economic losses for seaside communities, MIT chemists have demonstrated how tiny marine organisms likely produce the red tide toxin that periodically shuts down U.S. beaches and shellfish beds.

Understanding how and why red tides occur could help scientists figure out how to prevent the blooms, which cause significant ecological and economic damage. The New England shellfish industry, for example, lost tens of millions of dollars during a 2005 outbreak, and red tide killed 30 endangered manatees off the coast of Florida this spring.

The discovery by MIT Associate Professor Timothy Jamison and graduate student Ivan Vilotijevic not only could shed light on how algae known as dinoflagellates generate red tides, but could also help speed up efforts to develop cystic fibrosis drugs from a compound closely related to the toxin. Red tides, also known as algal blooms, strike unpredictably and poison shellfish, making them dangerous for humans to eat. It is unknown what causes dinoflagellates to produce the red tide toxins, but it may be a defense mechanism, possibly provoked by changes in the tides, temperature shifts or other environmental stresses.

One of the primary toxic components of red tide is brevetoxin, a large and complex molecule that is very difficult to synthesize.

Twenty-two years ago, chemist Koji Nakanishi of Columbia University proposed a cascade, or series of chemical steps, that dinoflagellates could use to produce brevetoxin and other red tide toxins. However, chemists have been unable to demonstrate such a cascade in the laboratory, and many came to believe that the “Nakanishi Hypothesis” would never be proven.

“A lot of people thought that this type of cascade may be impossible,” said Jamison. “Because Nakanishi’s hypothesis accounts for so much of the complexity in these toxins, it makes a lot of sense, but there hasn’t really been any evidence for it since it was first proposed.”

Jamison and Vilotijevic’s work offers the first evidence that Nakanishi’s hypothesis is feasible. Their work could also help accelerate drug discovery efforts. Brevenal, another dinoflagellate product related to the red tide toxins, has shown potential as a powerful treatment for cystic fibrosis (CF). It can also protect against the effects of the toxins.

“Now that we can make these complex molecules quickly, we can hopefully facilitate the search for even better protective agents and even more effective CF therapies,” said Jamison.

Until now, synthesizing just a few milligrams of red tide toxin or related compounds, using a non-cascade method, required dozens of person-years of effort.

The new synthesis depends on two critical factors-giving the reaction a jump start and conducting the reaction in water.
Many red tide toxins possess a long chain of six-membered rings. However, the starting materials for the cascades, epoxy alcohols, tend to form five-membered rings. To overcome that, the researchers attached a “template” six-membered ring to one end of the epoxy alcohol. That simple step effectively launches the cascade of reactions that leads to the toxin chain, known as a ladder polyether.

“The trick is to give it a little push in the right direction and get it running smoothly,” said Jamison.

The researchers speculate that in dinoflagellates, the initial jump start is provided by an enzyme instead of a template.
Conducting the reaction in water is also key to a successful synthesis. Water is normally considered a poor solvent for organic reactions, so most laboratory reactions are performed in organic solvents. However, when Vilotijevic introduced water into the reaction, he noticed that it proceeded much more quickly and selectively.

Although it could be a coincidence that these cascades work best in water and that dinoflagellates are marine organisms, water may nevertheless be directly involved in the biosynthesis of the toxins or emulating an important part of it, said Jamison. Because of this result, the researchers now believe that organic chemists should routinely try certain reactions in water as well as organic solvents.

Original Article

Red Tide: Researchers Issue Outlook for a Significant New England Bloom of a Toxic Alga in 2010: Science Daily

By Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Excerpt in Science Daily.

“Red tide is a chronic problem in the Gulf of Maine, and states have limited resources to handle it,” said Darcie Couture, director of Biotoxin Monitoring for the Maine Department of Marine Resources. “When we get this information about the potential severity of a red tide season, and the dynamics of the bloom once the season has started, it gives us an advantage in staging our resources during an otherwise overwhelming environmental and economic crisis.”

Original Article

The mission of the Santa Aguila Foundation is to raise awareness of and mobilize people against the ongoing decimation of coastlines around the world.

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