Category Archives: Features

New Questions Arise On Dispersant Use In Oil Spill

dispersant-oil-spill
Plane Drops Dispersants on Oil Spill. Captions and Photo source: ©© NWF

Excerpts;

BP inched closer to permanently sealing the blown-out oil well in the Gulf of Mexico as environmental officials defended themselves Sunday against assertions they allowed the oil giant liberal use of chemical dispersants whose threat to sea life remains unknown.

The Coast Guard routinely approved BP requests to use thousands of gallons of chemicals per day to break up the oil, despite a federal directive to use the dispersant rarely, congressional investigators said…

Read Full Article, AP / The Economic Times

Pondicherry-Tamil Nadu, South India; By Aurofilio Schiavina

After June 2002

Anthropogenic coastal erosion along the Pondicherry-Tamil Nadu coastline, South India

© By Aurofilio Schiavina

The town of Pondicherry lies on the eastern coast of the South Indian peninsula. About 100 km to the south of Pondicherry is the Cauvery delta, fed by the Cauvery River that flows from the west to east across the Indian peninsula depositing considerably large volumes of sand. The large input of sediment along the eastern coast of India resulted in the formation of large and wide sandy beaches, dunes and estuaries.

Two monsoon seasons drive the sand and sediment up and down the eastern coast of India. The south-west monsoon season lasts for about 8 to 9 months from March to October, and the north-eastern monsoon season lasts for about 3-4 months during the remaining winter months. It is estimated that during the SW monsoon about 0.5 to 1.0 million cubic meters of sand are driven northwards by the waves, winds and littoral currents. The situation reverses itself during the NW monsoon and about 0.1 – 0.2 million cubic meters of sand is driven southwards. This uneven movement of sand or littoral drift along the coast results in a net movement and transportation of sand towards the north.

In 1989, the Government of Pondicherry received funds for the development of a small commercial harbor near Pondicherry at the mouth of the Ariyankuppam River. The design included a 350 m long jetty and breakwater at the harbor entrance and a sand by-passing system to help mitigate the impacts of erosion that an artificial structure along the coast would cause to the north of the harbor. This region north of the harbor, near Pondicherry and Tamil Nadu is densely populated.

Unfortunately, Pondicherry harbor generated little revenue. This resulted in no available funding for the mitigation and sand by-passing system. Dredging occurs only when the harbor mouth gets choked with sand. This deepens the channel for the increasing number of fishermen who have adopted this harbor. Due to the lack of dredging, mostly as a result of the lack of political will and bureaucratic hurdles the sand by-passing system was not fully implemented. As a result, the breakwaters at the harbor entrance have interfered and interrupted the littoral drift causing severe and extensive erosion to the north of the harbor.

By the mid-late 1990s, the erosion of the Pondicherry coast was severe. Instead of utilizing the sand by-passing system, government agencies elected to armor the beach with large rocks, build a seawall, and construct several groins to protect the town. These measures did not address the root cause of the problem; the interruption of the littoral drift. As a result of the use of hard coastal protection measures (instead of sand by-passing), up to 10 km of beaches to the north of the harbor have completely been lost and signs of coastal erosion can be seen up to a distance of about 30 km. It is estimated that the erosion is advancing northwards at a rate of about 500 meters a year.

The erosion of this coast has resulted in the loss of beaches including 200 acres of coastal land and environment. Most importantly, erosion has destroyed the homes of poor traditional fishing families who live next to the sea. A government report states that about 35,000 fishing families are vulnerable to inundation from the sea. This land loss has severely affected their livelihoods as they use the beach space for all their activities. It has also caused saltwater intrusion into their aquifers, leading to shortages of drinking water.

Erosion from poorly planned engineering activities has extended into the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu causing inter-state problems. The construction of more seawalls and groins is being considered by the government, but informed citizens and environmental groups such Pondy Citizens’ Action Network (Pondy CAN!) are trying to put an end to this man-made disaster. These groups are asking the government to take all the required measures to restore this coastal environment without hardened beach structures.

The erosion of Pondicherry beaches is not an isolated case along the Indian coastline; it is estimated that the Indian coastline has already lost about 25% (1,500 km) of its beaches due to anthropogenic factors. It is hoped that reversing the erosion caused in Pondicherry and restoring this part of the coastline could serve as a model and example which could be replicated in other parts of this country and region.

Pondicherry Tamil Nadu Beach Erosion

PondyCan Organization

Jamaica’s Beaches in peril

negril-jamaica
Negril, Westmoreland, Jamaica. Captions and Photo source: ©© Jannes Pockele

Excerpts;

For centuries, Negril, a seven-mile stretch of white sand beach on the western tip of Jamaica, was cut off from the rest of the island by bad roads and a large swamp.

Negril beach, Jamaica, remained relatively unknown to the world until the 1960s and 1970s, when U.S. “hippies,” students and Vietnam veterans gravitated towards this laid-back village.

The U.S. travellers arrived in ever-increasing numbers and, towards the end of the 1970s, Negril blossomed as a tourist destination. But with the growing population and improved infrastructure, the natural beauty of Jamaica’s third largest tourism centre has suffered visible deterioration…

Read Full Article, IPS News

negril-beach-jamaica
Negril beach, Jamaica. Photo source: ©© Emilio Santacoloma

China alleges: ocean cleared of oil 10 days after spill

bohai oil spill greenpeace
Photo source: © Greenpeace

Excerpts;

Chinese officials said July 26th, that an oil slick in coastal waters has been cleaned up 10 days after a massive explosion sent an estimated 1,500 tons of crude into the Yellow Sea along the northeastern port city of Dalian.

But beaches along Dalian’s long shoreline remain closed indefinitely, with oil covering rocks and pebbles on the sand, and fishing has been banned until the end of the summer. Environmentalists say nearby bays are also polluted…

Read Full Article, The Los Angeles Times

Cleaning Dalian Harbor, Boston Big Picture

On the Surface, Gulf Oil Spill Is Vanishing Fast; Concerns Stay

oil-pollution-gulf
Oil in the surf, Orange beach, Alabama, June 2010. Captions and Photo source: ©© David Rencher

Excerpts;

The oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico appears to be dissolving far more rapidly than anyone expected, a piece of good news that raises tricky new questions about how fast the government should scale back its response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

The immense patches of surface oil that covered thousands of square miles of the gulf after the April 20 oil rig explosion are largely gone, though sightings of tar balls and emulsified oil continue here and there.

Reporters flying over the area Sunday spotted only a few patches of sheen and an occasional streak of thicker oil, and radar images taken since then suggest that these few remaining patches are quickly breaking down in the warm surface waters of the gulf…

Read Full Article, The New York Times

Mangroves worldwide: a global loss of tidal forests


Photograph: © SAF – Coastal Care

By UNEP;

The first global assessment of mangroves in over a decade reveals that rare and critically important mangrove forests continue to be lost at a rate three to four times higher than land-based global forests, despite positive restoration efforts by some countries.

About one fifth of all mangroves are thought to have been lost since 1980. Although losses are slowing at 0.7 per cent a year, the authors warn that any further destruction due to shrimp farming and coastal development will cause significant economic and ecological decline.

Economic assessments provide some of the most powerful arguments in favour of mangrove management, protection or restoration. Studies estimate that mangroves generate between US$2000-9000 per hectare annually, considerably more than alternative uses such as aquaculture, agriculture or insensitive tourism.

The new atlas also underscores positive trends. Restoration efforts now cover some 400,000 hectares, as foresighted countries make the link between these coastal forests and economically-important services from flood defenses and fish nurseries to carbon storage to combat climate change.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director, UN Environment Programme (UNEP), said: “The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, which is hosted by UNEP is bringing to the fore the multi-trillion dollar value of the world’s nature-based assets. This atlas brings our attention onto mangroves and puts them up front and central, plotting where they are, describing where they have been lost, and underlining the immense costs those loses have had for people as well as nature”.

“Together, the science and the economics can drive policy shifts. Some 1,200 protected areas are now safeguarding around a quarter of remaining mangroves and many countries are now embarking on major restorations-a positive signal upon which to build and to accelerate a definitive response in 2010, the UN’s International Year of Biodiversity,” he added.

“Mangrove forests are the ultimate illustration of why humans need nature,” says Dr. Mark Spalding, lead author of the World Mangrove Atlas and senior marine scientist with The Nature Conservancy. “In place after place the book details the extraordinary synergies between people and forests. The trees provide hard, rot-resistant timber and make some of the best charcoal in the world. The waters all around foster some of the greatest productivity of fish and shellfish in any coastal waters. What’s more, mangrove forests help prevent erosion and mitigate natural hazards from cyclones to tsunamis – these are natural coastal defenses whose importance will only grow as sea level rise becomes a reality around the world.”

“Given their value, there can be no justification for further mangrove loss. What’s urgently needed is for all those working in fields of forestry, fisheries and the environment to work together and communicate their worth, both to the public and to those with the capacity to make a difference”, said Emmanuel Ze Meka, Executive Director of the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) which provided the bulk of funding for the Atlas. This book goes a considerable way to communicating that message.”

“The Nature Conservancy is an organization with its feet firmly on the ground in 30 countries,” said Mark Terceck, CEO of the Conservancy. “Already we have teams working to protect and restore mangroves from Florida to Indonesia, Palau to Grenada. This book raises the stakes and engenders urgency, but it also offers hope. These are robust and resilient ecosystems. Get things right for them and the payback will be immense: security for rich biodiversity and a lifeline to many of the world’s most vulnerable people.”

Key Findings from the Atlas

Loss and restoration

The global area of mangroves, 150 000 square kilometers, is equivalent to the area of Suriname, or the state of Illinois, or half the area of the Philippines. Mangrove forests straddle land and sea and are found in 123 countries in tropical and subtropical regions.

The nations with the largest mangrove areas include Indonesia with 21 per cent of global mangroves, Brazil with 9 per cent, Australia 7 per cent, Mexico 5 per cent and Nigeria with 5 per cent.

The greatest drivers for mangrove forest loss are direct conversion to aquaculture, agriculture and urban land uses. Coastal zones are often densely populated and pressure for land intense. Where mangroves remain, they have often been degraded through over harvesting.

Where vast tracts of mangroves have been cleared for shrimp aquaculture, fast profits often left a legacy of long-term debts and poverty, which are hard to reverse.

According to the FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization) mangrove losses have been considerable and are continuing. Some 35,600 square kilometers were lost between 1980 and 2005.

While there are no accurate estimates of the original cover, there is a general consensus that it would have been over 200,000 square kilometers and that considerably more than 50,000 square kilometers or one-quarter of original mangrove cover has been lost as a result of human intervention.

Mangroves have now been actively planted or encouraged to grow through activities such as site clearance and the removal of waste. Examples include Australia, Bangladesh, Benin, Brazil, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

Use and ecological niche

Mangroves contribute to livelihoods locally and globally by providing forest resources such as timber, firewood and thatching materials as well as non-timber products.

They are also recognized as an important greenbelt and carbon sink that protects coastal areas from natural disasters such as tsunamis, cyclones and erosion resulting from sea-level rise especially in small island countries.

There is good evidence that mangroves even reduced the impact of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami in a number of locations.

There is also considerable storage of organic carbon in mangrove soils, meaning they may have an important role to play in the process of mitigating climate change. Preliminary estimates indicate that the total above-ground biomass for the world’s mangrove forests may be over 3700Tg of carbon, and that carbon sequestration directly into mangrove sediments is likely to be in the range of 14-17Tg of carbon per year.

Mangroves are also among the most important intertidal habitats for marine and coastal fisheries. Mangrove related species have been estimated to support 30 per cent of fish catch and almost 100 per cent of shrimp catch in South-East Asian countries, while mangroves and associated habitats in Queensland, Australia support 75 per cent of commercial fisheries species

Policy and solutions

The destruction of mangroves is often prompted by local decisions, market forces, industrial demand, population expansion or poverty. However, in many countries, the fate of mangroves is also determined by high level policy decisions.

In the Philippines, as an example, state-wide encouragement of aquaculture dating back to the 1950s led to massive losses. In Malaysia, by contrast, state ownership of mangroves prevails. While there have still been losses, large areas remain in forest reserves, managed for timber and charcoal production, with concomitant benefits for fisheries.

Trends of mangrove gain or loss can be rapidly and quite dramatically reversed. Laws addressing the placement of aquaculture standards or water quality pollution minimization have greatly altered the shape of new aquaculture developments in many countries.

New policies and projects have led to widespread mangrove plantation across the Philippines. Policies have led to the offsetting of mangrove loss by replanting or restoration with examples in Florida (US) and Australia.

Many countries, such as Mexico, Belize, Tanzania and Mozambique, have also established general legal protection for mangroves, controlling destructive activities through strict licensing systems.

The atlas brings together an unprecedented partnership of organizations, from forestry and conservation sectors and from across the United Nations, and includes a new and comprehensive map and account of mangrove forests.

Original Article And Learn More; UNEP

Mangroves Report Reveals Threats & Opportunities to Global Economy & the Planet; UNEP

Mangroves worldwide: a global loss of tidal forests, The National Geographic
Mostly because of coastal development, Earth has already lost perhaps as much as a quarter of its mangrove forests, and many species of mangrove plants are edging toward extinction. The remaining mangrove zones add up worldwide to no more than the area of the U.S. state of Illinois, and they shrink every year under the onslaught of development, pollution, and climate change.
The World Atlas of Mangroves published July 14th 2010, is the most comprehensive assessment of mangroves yet. It reveals “drastic loss to global economy and livelihoods,” the publishers said in a news release about the book.
More than 100 top international mangrove researchers and organizations provided data, reviews and other input. Spanish and French versions of the Atlas are being prepared.

Plastiki: a journey from plastic trash to triumph


The Plastiki reaching Sydney. Captions and Photo source: ©© Ars Electronica

Excerpts;

A sailboat largely constructed from 12,500 recycled plastic bottles has completed a 4-month journey across the Pacific Ocean meant to raise awareness about the perils of plastic waste.

The Plastiki, a 60-foot (18-meter) catamaran, and its six crew weathered fierce ocean storms during its 8,000 nautical miles at sea. It left San Francisco on March 20, stopping along the way at various South Pacific island nations including Kiribati and Samoa. It docked Monday in Sydney Harbour.

De Rothschild, 31, said the idea for the journey came to him after he read a United Nations report in 2006 that said pollution, and particularly plastic waste, was seriously threatening the world’s oceans…

Read Full Article, Boston Online

Exploring Algae as Fuel


Photograph: © SAF – Coastal Care

Excerpts;

In a laboratory where almost all the test tubes look green, the tools of modern biotechnology are being applied to lowly pond scum.

Foreign genes are being spliced into algae and native genes are being tweaked.

Different strains of algae are pitted against one another in survival-of-the-fittest contests in an effort to accelerate the evolution of fast-growing, hardy strains.

The goal is nothing less than to create superalgae, highly efficient at converting sunlight and carbon dioxide into lipids and oils that can be sent to a refinery and made into diesel or jet fuel…

Read Full Article, The New York Times.