Category Archives: Features

Oysters Disappearing Worldwide: Study

Oyster Reef
Oyster Reef

Excerpt from the American Institute of Biological Sciences

A new, wide-ranging survey that compares the past and present condition of oyster reefs around the globe finds that more than 90 percent of former reefs have been lost in most of the “bays” and ecoregions where the prized molluscs were formerly abundant. In many places, such as the Wadden Sea in Europe and Narragansett Bay, oysters are rated “functionally extinct,” with fewer than 1 percent of former reefs persisting.

The declines are in most cases a result of over-harvesting of wild populations and disease, often exacerbated by the introduction of non-native species.

Oysters have fueled coastal economies for centuries, and were once astoundingly abundant in favored areas.

Mangrove Recolte Huitres
Oysters harvesting in mangroves, Dakar. Photo Source: flick’r

The new survey is published in the February issue of BioScience, the journal of the American Institute of Biological Sciences. It was conducted by an international team led by Michael W. Beck of The Nature Conservancy and the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Beck’s team examined oyster reefs across 144 bays and 44 ecoregions. It also studied historical records as well as national catch statistics. The survey suggests that about 85 percent of reefs worldwide have now been lost. The BioScience authors rate the condition of oysters as “poor” overall.

Most of the world’s harvest of native oysters comes from just five ecoregions in North America, but even there, the condition of reefs is “poor” or worse, except in the Gulf of Mexico. Oyster fisheries there are “probably the last opportunity to achieve large-scale oyster reef conservation and sustainable fisheries,” Beck and his coauthors write.

Oysters provide important ecosystem services, such as water filtration, as well as food for people. The survey team argues for improved mapping efforts and the removal of incentives to over-exploitation. It also recommends that harvesting and further reef destruction should not be allowed wherever oysters are at less than 10 percent of their former abundance, unless it can be shown that these activities do not substantially affect reef recovery.

Photo Source: Maohi 64

Read Full Article, Science Daily

Giant Cyclone Pounds Australia Coast

Yasi Cyclone

By Rob Taylor, Reuters

One of the most powerful cyclones on record slammed into Australia’s northeast coast on Thursday, tearing off roofs and bringing down power lines but there were no reports of deaths as first light broke.

Cyclone Yasi, packing winds of up to 300 km (186 miles) an hour near its core, came ashore along hundreds of kilometers of coastline in Queensland state.

Mines, rail lines and coal ports have been shut, with officials warning the storm could drive far inland, hitting mining areas struggling to recover from recent devastating floods.

Queensland accounts for about a fifth of Australia’s economy and 90 percent of its steelmaking coal exports but the extent of the damage might not be known for many hours.

The eye of the cyclone crossed the coast close to the tourist town of Mission Beach at around midnight.

“It sounds like a roaring train going over the top of the house. There are trees cracking outside,” Hayley Leonard told Seven Network television from a concrete bunker beneath her home in the town of Innisfail.

Despite the ferocity of the cyclone, Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said there had been no reports of deaths.

“What I’m very relieved about is that we have yet to hear any reports from any police or any other source of any serious injury or fatality,” Bligh told Sky TV.

She said evacuation centers, where more than 10,000 people had sheltered across the state, had not reported structural damage.

Major towns in the area including Cairns and Townsville appeared to escape the full brunt of the storm, but Bligh said “devastating damage” was expected in smaller communities.

Power was cut in the western side of Cairns and a power official said more than 170,000 residents were without power.
Yasi was rated a maximum-strength category five storm and drew comparisons with Hurricane Katrina, which wrecked New Orleans in 2005.

It has been downgraded to a category two storm as it moves inland. But its core remained very destructive, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

Almost everyone in the storm zone was bunkered down at home or in cyclone shelters. Tens of thousands of people were evacuated in the hours before the storm struck.

A Bureau of Meteorology spokesman said a storm surge of two meters (six feet) above the normal level of the tide had inundated one stretch of coast but reporters said the surges were not as severe as feared.

More than 400,000 people live in the cyclone’s path. The entire stretch is popular with tourists, includes the Great Barrier Reef, and is home to major coal and sugar ports.

The storm could inflate world sugar, copper and coal prices, after forcing a copper refinery to close and paralyzing sugar and coal exports. It even prompted a major mining community at Mt Isa, almost 1,000 km (620 miles) inland, to go on alert.

Global miners BHP Billiton and Peabody Energy had shut several coal mines, an official for the union representing Queensland coal miners told Reuters.

Engineers warned that Yasi could even blow apart “cyclone proof” homes when its center moved overland, despite building standards designed to protect homes from a growing number of giant storms.

“I think all the roof is gone,” Ray, one resident of a town south of Innisfail, told ABC news. “It just sounded like an automatic rifle going bang, bang, bang, bang as it went.”

Bligh said the cyclone could batter the state for up to three days as it moved inland.

She said a giant nine-meter (30-foot) wave had been recorded off the coast on Wednesday.

Satellite images showed Yasi as a massive storm system covering an area bigger than Italy. It is predicted to be the strongest ever to hit Australia.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has put 4,000 soldiers based in Townsville on standby to help once the cyclone passes, as well as military ships and helicopters.

Queensland has had a cruel summer, with floods sweeping across it and other eastern states in recent months, killing 35 people.

The state is also home to most of Australia’s sugar industry and losses for the industry from Yasi could exceed A$500 million, including crop losses and damage to farming infrastructure, industry group Queensland Canegrowers said.

Bligh said there had been reports of damage to crops. Near the town of Innisfail, banana plantations had been ripped out of the ground.

Original Article

Exploring Links Between Stronger Hurricane and Low Lying Coastal Zones, in Coastal Care

Mangroves as Lives Saver When Natural Disaters Strike, in Coastal Care

Study shows rapid deforestation in Malaysia

Mangrove Sarawak
Aerial view of the Salak River and Mount Santubong rises in the distance.The Salak River, in Sarawak, Malaysia, winds its way through coastal mangrove swamps and forests, and prime proboscis monkey habitat. Tim Laman/National Geographic

By Arthur Max, Associated Press

New satellite imagery shows Malaysia is destroying forests more than three times faster than all of Asia combined, and its carbon-rich peat soils of the Sarawak coast are being stripped even faster, according to a study released Tuesday.

The report commissioned by the Netherlands-based Wetlands International says Malaysia is uprooting an average 2 percent of the rain forest a year on Sarawak, its largest state on the island of Borneo, or nearly 10 percent over the last five years. Most of it is being converted to palm oil plantations, it said.

The deforestation rate for all of Asia during the same period was 2.8 percent, it said.

In the last five years, 353,000 hectares (872,263 acres) of Malaysia’s peatlands were deforested, or one-third of the swamps which have stored carbon from decomposed plants for millions of years.

“We never knew exactly what was happening in Malaysia and Borneo,” said Wetlands spokesman Alex Kaat. “Now we see there is a huge expansion (of deforestation) with annual rates that are beyond imagination.”

The study was carried out by SarVision, a satellite monitoring and mapping company that originated with scientists at Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

“Total deforestation in Sarawak is 3.5 times as much as that for entire Asia, while deforestation of peat swamp forest is 11.7 times as much,” the report said.

Malaysia’s peatland forests are home to several endangered animals, including the Borneo Pygmy elephant and the Sumatran rhino, as well as rare timber species and unique vegetation.

Kaat said the study showed deforestation was progressing far faster than the Malaysian government has acknowledged.

Scientists say the destruction of the Amazon, the rain forests of central Africa and in Southeast Asia accounts for more than 15 percent of human-caused carbon emissions blamed for global warming.

Live forests soak up carbon from the atmosphere, while burning trees release that stored carbon, contributing to climate change in two ways at once. But emissions effect is amplified when trees are felled from the peatlands and the swamps are drained for commercial plantations.

Malaysia and Indonesia produce about 85 percent of the world’s palm oil, an ingredient in cooking oil, cosmetics, soaps, bread, and chocolate. It also is used as an industrial lubricant and was once considered an ideal biofuel alternative to fossil fuel, but it has fallen out of favor because of earlier reports of widespread rainforest destruction for the expansion of plantations.

Indonesia has pledged to slow deforestation in its territory, and last year Norway pledged to give Jakarta $1 billion a year to help finance an independent system of monitoring and quantifying greenhouse gas emissions.

Original Article

Jasper Beach, Machiasport, Maine, USA; By Joe Kelley

By Joe Kelley, University of Maine

Jasper Beach takes the breath away from a first-time visitor. It is located in remote, “Downeast” Maine, USA, at the end of a 10 km (6 miles) peninsula (Figure 1).

The area is very rural with only a few fishing villages, though in recent years, grand vacation homes have sprung upon on some nearby rocky cliffs. As a measure of its remote nature, the 800 m long gravel beach and much of a nearby forested, rocky peninsula was available for less than $50,000 20 years ago. Fortunately, the town of Machiasport, ME bought the beach as a park, and it is free to visit. So lucky for us all!

Jasper Beach is composed of red-colored gravel. Though not “true” Jasper (a silica-rich stone with some iron in it), the fine-grained red volcanic rock polishes well and the long spit gleams in the morning light (Figure 2).

On its extreme western end an eroding bluff of glacial material provides an obvious source of gravel for the beach (Figure 3).

The stones that fall from the bluff range up to 10 cm in length (5 inches), but many sizes occur together near the source. Waves take the eroded material to the east and progressively break the stones down as they travel. About 500 m away from the bluff, there is enough sand in the upper beach to trap rainwater and permit sand dune plants to live. By the eastern end of the strand, the beach material is a mix of fine gravel and sand.

Jasper Beach has a vertical dimension that is not seen in typical sandy beaches. The tides in the area are up to 4.25 m (14 feet) and the beach extends steeply upward for another 4 m (Figure 4).

This high pile of gravel is eroded by waves in winter storms and several erosional steps, or storm berms, are typically cut into the seaward side of the beach. On the landward edge, gravel thrown up by storms surrounds alder and spruce trees, marking the landward advance of the barrier spit. Rising sea level will continue to drive the beach landward over a salt marsh and lagoon, but here there is so little development that it is of no concern.

Other evidence for rising sea level can be seen on low tide at Jasper Beach. As the ocean has risen and driven the immense pile of gravel landward, the beach has rolled over salt marsh and upland plants. Spruce stumps still rooted in soil and overlain by salt marsh peat are exposed at the lowest part of the beach. Geologists from the University of Maine have radiocarbon-dated these and drilled cores through the nearby lagoon to determine the age of the beach (Figures 5, 6).

For more than 4,000 years, Jasper Beach has protected a salt marsh and maintained a lagoonal ecosystem.

Though remote, there are signs of human activity around Jasper Beach. On nearby Howard Cove Mountain, an abandoned distant early warning (DEW) radar station (Figure 4) reminds us of the Cold War.

Fishing weirs (Figure 7) were also a part of the beach when fish abounded in the Gulf of Maine and canneries employed people in Machiasport. These are no longer used, however, and Jasper Beach is largely just a great place to walk and watch Bald Eagles. Unfortunately, a new human activity has appeared on Jasper Beach, one sadly prevalent in rural areas: beach mining. No one will say who takes the red stones from the beach, but a large borrow pit scars the beach near the parking lot (Figure 8).

The State is aware of this robbery and hopefully the guilty, who presumably sell their wares as jewelry to tourists, will be found.

A final note on the unique nature of Jasper Beach is the audio component. Wave after wave rushes in and out and moves the stones back and forth with a rumbling sound. This is so peaceful in the summer; one can scarcely imaging the sound in a winter storm!

First Artificial Island to Be Built In The Americas

Photograph: © SAF — Coastal Care

Excerpt from Dredging Today

Royal Boskalis Westminster N.V. (Amsterdam) has been awarded a contract from Ocean Reef Island Inc to construct an artificial island off the coast near the residential area of Punta Pacifica in Panama City.

The project, with a contract value of approximately € 55 million, is already underway and the project is expected to be completed mid 2012…

Read Full Article, Dredging Today

Surf’s Up: New Research Monitor Ocean Wave Behavior and Shore Impacts

Photograph: © SAF — Coastal Care


Engineers have created a new type of “stereo vision” to use in studying ocean waves as they pound against the shore, providing a better way to understand and monitor this violent, ever-changing environment.

The approach, which uses two video cameras to feed data into an advanced computer system, can observe large areas of ocean waves in real time and help explain what they are doing and why, scientists say…

Read Full Article, Oregon State University

Beach mining study bodes well for prospectors

Photograph: © SAF — Coastal Care


Beach mining has received favorable reviews in a two-year study conducted by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Washington State GPAA Director Rob Matthews is pleased with the findings of a WDFW report, which suggests the department is satisfied that prospecting and smallscale mining on and near seven beaches pose no real threat to wildlife or the environment and that ‘beach mining’ should be allowed to continue…

Read Full Article, Gold Prospectors Association of America (GPAA) Editor

Can the sea solve China’s water crisis?

Photograph: © SAF — Coastal Care

The highest-tech effort yet to ease China’s water crisis sits between a wide, flat grid of salt farms and two giant cooling towers that rise up from a vast expanse of reclaimed land on the western shore of the Bohai Sea.

Odourless, quiet and billowing clear white smoke into a sharp blue sky, the Beijiang desalination and power plant contrast sharply with the tangled pipes, dirty chimneys and foul waterways more usually associated with China’s traditional industrial landscape…

Read Full Article, Guardian UK

Desalination Projects: Option or Distraction for a Thirsty World?

50 Houses on Kiawah Sand

Documentary about proposed development at south end of Kiawah Island, produced by Mary Edna Fraser and Celie Dailey. Includes interviews with Dr. Orrin Pilkey, Professor of Earth Scieces at Duke University, and Nancy Vinson, Coastal Conservation League’s Program Director for Air and Water Quality. Diagrams and maps are provided by geologist Miles O. Hayes, quoted in a recent Post & Courier article as saying, “I’m appalled that they want to develop that spit. Ridiculous. Stable? It’s one of the most unstable places on the East Coast.”