July 31, 2013

Matchmaking for Abalone

White abalone, a Southern California native and the first marine invertebrate to be placed on the endangered species list, is seeing some positive progress toward recovery. UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory has been successful at breeding the mollusk in captivity thanks to a combination of temperature and lighting cues. In other words: ambience. 

Since 2003, the researchers tried to coax the captive white abalone into mating to no avail but last year they finally had success. The first spawn of abalone has now made it past its first year—a very promising sign! Researchers report that there are about 125 abalone, including 60 adults, living in the program now.

Once the captive population has grown, the scientists plan to repopulate the subtidal zone of Southern California by replanting. It is thought that this program is the last hope for white abalone populations to rise again in the wild.

Abalone have a high mortality rate with about 99 percent never reaching adulthood. In the wild, white abalone males and females are so spread apart following years of overfishing that their broadcast spawning is rendered ineffective. 

Carbon dating on their shells has shown scientists that most of the white abalone found in Southern California oceans have passed their reproductive age. They fear that the species is only 10 to 15 years from complete extinction. 

Populations of red abalone in the Monterey Bay all the way to Crescent City have fortunately been subject to heavy regulation and study. There is current research being conducted that is exploring whether blanket regulation or regional regulations are most effective due to major differences in abalone populations along the coast. 

Currently, abalone are enjoying respite after decades of overfishing, although populations are slow to recover. No abalone diving is permitted south of San Francisco Bay and divers are not allowed to use SCUBA gear—they must hold their breath for the dive. 

We wish UC Davis researchers and their partners luck in replenishing Southern California oceans with white abalone. The scientific community is playing an integral part in giving marine animals the chance they deserve to rebound. 

picture courtesy of NOAA

July 30, 2013

Tackling Plastic Pollution and Poverty

Plastic products are ubiquitous. They are in our homes, at work and unfortunately make their way into marine and coastal habitats. Plastic Bank has a new twist on an old concept that might just help: a wide-scale recycling program where people can trade in plastics for household items, tools or loans. 

Noticing that impoverished areas often go hand in hand with high litter levels and low regulations, the people at Plastic Bank have developed a self-sustaining business model that they say, “empowers people to harvest plastics as a currency they can exchange for tools, household items and parts.” This is an amazing variation of the usual 5 cent refund for a soda bottle. 

Plastic Bank refers to the litter as “social plastics” and hopes that this idea could revolutionize the way people think about plastic waste. Rather than leaving it on the beach, the goal is that using it as a currency would encourage many more people to pick it up, saving the ocean and other habitats from thousands of pounds of refuse each year. 

Once turned in, the plastic would undergo a transformation using 3-D printer technology. This on-the-spot repurposing is an interesting alternative to other recycling methods that put questionable amounts of toxins into the air. The same plastic carton that someone turns in could be a chair tomorrow. People can also choose to trade in the “social plastic” for micro-loans to start small businesses. 

Plastic Bank is trying a very different and innovative take on old solutions to old problems. We wish them success as they take on two of our world’s greatest problems! 

You can read more about their efforts and ideas on their blog, here.The pilot program is supposed to start in Lima, Peru.

Jakarta Post/P.J. Leo

July 29, 2013

Shark Fin Trade Bans on West and East Coast

New York has announced that the selling or trading of shark fin products will be banned beginning July 1, 2014, exactly one year after California’s landmark legislation went into effect. However, New York has made the exception for two species of dogfish, the most populous shark in the North Atlantic.

The Shark Conservation Act of 2011 was a great step toward protecting the keystone species but sharks have been continuously slaughtered outside of United States waters and then sold in coastal states for high profits. It is estimated that more than 73 million sharks are killed to make shark fin soup each year. A ban on the sale and trade of the fins caught elsewhere is a move toward shrinking that shocking number!

It is hoped that the combination of new regulations in New York and California, two of the nation’s largest markets for shark fins, will make large strides in shark protection. Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Delaware, Oregon, Washington, Samoa, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands have already banned the sale of shark fin. The European Union placed a “fins attached” regulation earlier this month.

With nearly 90 percent of top predators missing from our oceans this is a pertinent issue. Without sharks certain species can overpopulate, throwing the marine ecosystem out of balance. Their presence also marks the cleaning and vitality of ocean habitats. Sharks need to be given every opportunity to regrow their populations. 

In the same way that land predators such as wolves have needed extra protection from fear, stereotypes and hunting, sharks are earning a well-deserved spotlight in the conservationist world. Their existence is so critical to marine habitats and humans alike. 

Save Our Shores believes in sustainable fishing practices. The needless killing of sharks, who often have their fin removed and are then thrown back into the sea and left to drown, is a practice that must be stopped. This is neither sustainable nor humane.  We applaud the actions of conservationists and the legislators who heed their calls to end the slaughter of such an important species. 

July 26, 2013

High Tech Seafood?

The deceptive practice of bait and switch seafood in restaurants and grocery stores has been a hot topic, particularly in California. San Diego sushi chef Rob Ruiz says he has a solution: smart phone QR codes printed on edible rice paper.

The idea is simple. Customers could scan the printed code with their smart phones to find out where the seafood was caught and how. The chef hopes that this would put an end to the fraudulent practice such as putting sustainable tuna on the menu and serving up escolar, a fish known to cause stomach discomfort in some people.

International ocean conservancy Oceana  launched a seafood fraud investigation that found one third of fish sold in grocery stores and restaurants to be misrepresented. Sushi restaurants as a group were found to be mislabeled a shocking 74 percent of the time. 

With well-meaning customers paying higher prices for sustainable or wild-caught seafood, it is disturbing to know that they are often taken advantage of. The QR code idea, and scanning your dinner plate, may seem a bit odd but with a wealth of information available at our finger tips the codes could empower customers to make decisions that are better for their bodies, their wallets and the environment. 

Thanks to grist.com for this photo

July 22, 2013

Too Little Too Late: TEPCO Finally Admits to Radioactive Leak

The devastating effects of the 2011 earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan have slowly continued to roll on, and into the bay, at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, according to a Huff Post Green report

Tokyo Electric Power Co., the utility company that runs the plant and has been criticized for not fully disclosing hazards to the community, announced Monday that there has most likely been a leak of radioactive water into the sea since the giant 9.0 earthquake rumbled Japan and the reactors more than two years ago. 

Nuclear experts and environmentalists have suspected a leak since the devastating natural disaster, but until now TEPCO has denied any problems. They know say that water tests show elevated radiation levels in ground water and around the bay. The company’s spokesperson assured the public that they were trying to keep the contaminated water localized by infusing chemical solution into the shoreline edge to congeal underground structures. 

Marine biologists have repeatedly warned that there have been higher radioactive levels in fish collected near the power plant since just months after the disaster. 

The fortunate news is that many officials don’t believe the nuclear-contaminated water has reached the Pacific Ocean yet, and if it were it would become heavily diluted. However, some disagree, stating that even though the ocean is large it can only take on so much. We agree. More information needs to come to the foreground and the leak must be stopped immediately. Two-years is too long.