Friday, June 19, 2009

Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone

News about the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone

Large 2009 Gulf Of Mexico 'Dead Zone' Predicted

ScienceDaily (June 18, 2009) — University of Michigan aquatic ecologist Donald Scavia and his colleagues say this year's Gulf of Mexico "dead zone" could be one of the largest on record, continuing a decades-long trend that threatens the health of a half-billion-dollar fishery.
The scientists' latest forecast, released June 18, calls for a Gulf dead zone of between 7,450 and 8,456 square miles—an area about the size of New Jersey.
Most likely, this summer's Gulf dead zone will blanket about 7,980 square miles, roughly the same size as last year's zone, Scavia said. That would put the years 2009, 2008 and 2001 in a virtual tie for second place on the list of the largest Gulf dead zones.
It would also mean that the five largest Gulf dead zones on record have occurred since 2001. The biggest of these oxygen-starved, or hypoxic, regions developed in 2002 and measured 8,484 square miles.
"The growth of these dead zones is an ecological time bomb," said Scavia, a professor at the U-M School of Natural Resources and Environment and director of the U-M Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute.
"Without determined local, regional and national efforts to control them, we are putting major fisheries at risk," said Scavia, who also produces annual dead-zone forecasts for the Chesapeake Bay.
The Gulf dead zone forms each spring and summer off the Louisiana and Texas coast when oxygen levels drop too low to support most life in bottom and near-bottom waters.
The Gulf hypoxia research team is supported by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research and includes scientists from Louisiana State University and the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium.
The forecast for a large 2009 Gulf hypoxic zone is based on above-normal flows in the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers this spring, which delivered large amounts of the nutrient nitrogen. In April and May, flows in the two rivers were 11 percent above average.
Additional flooding of the Mississippi since May could result in a dead zone that exceeds the upper limit of the forecast, the scientists said.
"The high water-volume flows, coupled with nearly triple the nitrogen concentrations in these rivers over the past 50 years from human activities, has led to a dramatic increase in the size of the dead zone," said Gene Turner, a lead forecast modeler at Louisiana State University.
Northeast of the Gulf, low water flows into the Chesapeake Bay shaped Scavia's 2009 forecast for that hypoxia zone.
The Bay's oxygen-starved zone is expected to shrink to between 0.7 and 1.8 cubic miles, with a "most likely" volume of 1.2 cubic miles—the lowest level since 2001 and third-lowest on record. The drop is largely due to a regional dry spell that lasted from January through April, Scavia said. Continued high flows in June, beyond the period used for the forecasts, suggest the actual size may be near the higher end of the forecast range.
"While it's encouraging to see that this year's Chesapeake Bay forecast calls for a significant drop in the extent of the dead zone, we must keep in mind that the anticipated reduction is due mainly to decreased precipitation and water runoff into the Bay," he said.
"The predicted 2009 dead-zone decline does not result from cutbacks in the use of nitrogen, which remains one of the key drivers of hypoxia in the Bay."
Farmland runoff containing fertilizers and livestock waste—some of it from as far away as the Corn Belt—is the main source of the nitrogen and phosphorus that cause the Gulf of Mexico dead zone.
Each year in late spring and summer, these nutrients make their way down the Mississippi River and into the Gulf, fueling explosive algae blooms there. When the algae die and sink, bottom-dwelling bacteria decompose the organic matter, consuming oxygen in the process. The result is an oxygen-starved region in bottom and near-bottom waters: the dead zone.
The same process occurs in the Chesapeake Bay, where nutrients in the Susquehanna River trigger the event. In both the Gulf and the Bay, fish, shrimp and crabs are forced to leave the hypoxic zone. Animals that cannot move perish.
The annual hypoxia forecasts helps coastal managers, policy makers, and the public better understand what causes dead zones. The models that generate the forecasts have been used to determine the nutrient-reduction targets required to reduce the size of the dead zone.
"As with weather forecasts, the Gulf forecast uses multiple models to predict the range of the expected size of the dead zone. The strong track record of these models reinforces our confidence in the link between excess nutrients from the Mississippi River and the dead zone," said Robert Magnien, director of NOAA's Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research.
U.S. Geological Survey data on spring river flow and nutrient concentrations inform the computer models that produce the hypoxia forecasts.
The official size of the 2009 hypoxic zone will be announced following a NOAA-supported monitoring survey led by the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium on July 18-26. In addition, NOAA's Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program's (SEAMAP) is currently providing near real-time data on the hypoxic zone during a five-week summer fish survey in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

Monday, June 15, 2009

National Ocean Month - June 09

For Immediate Release June 12, 2009

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Oceans are the Earth's dominant feature. They cover more than 70 percent of the planet's surface and affect our lives in a variety of ways. This month we celebrate the wonder of the oceans, and we commit to protecting and sustaining them for current and future generations.

The oceans are critical to supporting life. From the abyssal plains of the Pacific to the shallow coral reefs and seagrass beds of the Florida Keys, oceans support an incredible diversity of marine life and ecosystems. The base of the oceanic ecosystem provides most of the oxygen we breathe, so oceans are critical to our survival. These bodies of water also drive weather patterns and affect climate.

Our Nation's economy relies heavily on the oceans. Goods and services are transported across them constantly. They support countless jobs in an array of industries, including fishing, tourism, and energy. The economies of entire regions depend on the oceans.

The United States has been a leader in exploring and protecting this critical resource. We have gained new insights into the ocean ecosystems through research and monitoring. We have promoted innovative conservation efforts, such as setting aside special areas as national marine sanctuaries. We have also reduced overfishing, made great strides in reducing coastal pollution, and helped restore endangered species and degraded habitats.

My Administration continues to build upon this progress, and we are taking a more integrated and comprehensive approach to developing a national ocean policy that will guide us well into the future. This policy will incorporate ecosystem-based science and management and emphasize our public stewardship responsibilities. My Administration also is working to develop a systematic marine spatial planning framework for the conservation and sustainable use of ocean resources. I am committed to protecting these resources and ensuring accountability for actions that affect them.

During National Oceans Month, we celebrate these vast spaces and the myriad ways they sustain life. We also pledge to preserve them and commend all those who are engaged in efforts to meet this end.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 2009 as National Oceans Month. I call upon all Americans to learn more about the oceans and what can be done to conserve them.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twelfth day of June, in the year of our Lord two thousand nine, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-third.


Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force



The oceans, our coasts, and the Great Lakes provide jobs, food, energy resources, ecological services, recreation, and tourism opportunities, and play critical roles in our Nation's transportation, economy, and trade, as well as the global mobility of our Armed Forces and the maintenance of international peace and security. We have a stewardship responsibility to maintain healthy, resilient, and sustainable oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes resources for the benefit of this and future generations.

Yet, the oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes are subject to substantial pressures and face significant environmental challenges. Challenges include water pollution and degraded coastal water quality caused by industrial and commercial activities both onshore and offshore, habitat loss, fishing impacts, invasive species, disease, rising sea levels, and ocean acidification. Oceans both influence and are affected by climate change. They not only affect climate processes but they are also under stress from the impacts of climate change. Renewable energy, shipping, and aquaculture are also expected to place growing demands on ocean and Great Lakes resources. These resources therefore require protection through the numerous Federal, State, and local authorities with responsibility and jurisdiction over the oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes.

To succeed in protecting the oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes, the United States needs to act within a unifying framework under a clear national policy, including a comprehensive, ecosystem-based framework for the longterm conservation and use of our resources.

In order to better meet our Nation's stewardship responsibilities for the oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes, there is established an Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force (Task Force), to be led by the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality. The Task Force shall be composed of senior policy-level officials from the executive departments, agencies, and offices represented on the Committee on Ocean Policy established by section 3 of Executive Order 13366 of December 17, 2004. This Task Force is not meant to duplicate that structure, but rather is intended to be a temporary entity with the following responsibilities:

1. Within 90 days from the date of this memorandum, the Task Force shall develop recommendations that include:

A national policy that ensures the protection, maintenance, and restoration of the health of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems and resources, enhances the sustainability of ocean and coastal economies, preserves our maritime heritage, provides for adaptive management to enhance our understanding of and capacity to respond to climate change, and is coordinated with our national security and foreign policy interests. The recommendations should prioritize upholding our stewardship responsibilities and ensuring accountability for all of our actions affecting ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes resources, and be consistent with international law, including customary international law as reflected in the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
A United States framework for policy coordination of efforts to improve stewardship of the oceans, our coasts, and the Great Lakes. The Task Force should review the Federal Government's existing policy coordination framework to ensure integration and collaboration across jurisdictional lines in meeting the objectives of a national policy for the oceans, our coasts, and the Great Lakes. This will include coordination with the work of the National Security Council and Homeland Security Council as they formulate and coordinate policy involving national and homeland security, including maritime security. The framework should also address specific recommendations to improve coordination and collaboration among Federal, State, tribal, and local authorities, including regional governance structures.
An implementation strategy that identifies and prioritizes a set of objectives the United States should pursue to meet the objectives of a national policy for the oceans, our coasts, and the Great Lakes.
2. Within 180 days from the date of this memorandum, the Task Force shall develop, with appropriate public input, a recommended framework for effective coastal and marine spatial planning. This framework should be a comprehensive, integrated, ecosystem-based approach that addresses conservation, economic activity, user conflict, and sustainable use of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes resources consistent with international law, including customary international law as reflected in the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

3. The Task Force shall terminate upon the completion of its duties.

The Task Force's recommendations and frameworks should be cost effective and improve coordination across Federal agencies.

This memorandum covers matters involving the oceans, the Great Lakes, the coasts of the United States (including its territories and possessions), and related seabed, subsoil, and living and non-living resources.

This memorandum is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person. Nothing in this memorandum shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect the functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, regulatory, and legislative proposals.

The Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality is hereby authorized and directed to publish this memorandum in the Federal Register.


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Maryland Coastal Bays Program

More polluted bays.

Coastal bays decline troubling
Worcester County receives wake-up call on water quality
June 14, 2009
Worcester County's coastal bays are beginning to suffer a decline in water quality, according to a report recently released by the Maryland Coastal Bays Program and other agencies. Even the southern Chincoteague Bay, normally one of the cleaner areas, is seeing a drop. The coastal bays overall received a grade of C+, while the Chincoteague Bay got a B-. The healthiest was the Sinepuxent Bay, which borders the federally protected Assateague Island National Seashore, while the Newport Bay and St. Martin River, both of which receive runoff from nearby developed areas, earned grades of D+.

The measurements that dictated these report card-style grades include quantity of seagrasses and hard clams on the bay floor, nitrogen and phosphorus levels in the water itself, chlorophyll counts and dissolved oxygen in the water.

There is concern that the coastal bays could fall into the kind of decline seen in the Chesapeake Bay, and rightly so.

Tracking the health of these various bodies of water in Worcester County appears to provide some insight into the impact human activities can have on waterways. The healthiest water is found adjacent to waters whose shores see little human activity, thanks to protection provided by the area's national park status. The worst water quality exists in areas that receive high levels of nutrient runoff. The unexplained wild card is the decline in Chincoteague Bay, an area that sees little growth.

While these particular bodies of water are of greatest relevance to Worcester County residents and visitors, what is happening there can provide valuable information that could be used to protect and/or help restore water quality to other areas in the region.

It is important to remember, however, that what happens throughout the watershed can affect all of the waterways within it.

Given northern Worcester County's reliance on tourism, which is in turn based on a pristine natural environment that offers opportunity for recreational boating, fishing and other water-based activities as well as the presence of beaches and ocean, stemming this decline in water quality before it begins to impact these activities is important on many levels.

If the tide can be turned in the coastal bays, perhaps the knowledge gained could then be applied to the larger Chesapeake Bay to help begin a widespread return to healthier waters and habitat in that unique treasure.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Global Warming: Oxygen and Aquatic Habitats ..

A very interesting project about growing number of Dead Zones in oceans and eutrophication.

Global Warming: Oxygen and Aquatic Habitats in a Changing World
Dr. Manfred Schloesser, Presse- und ├ľffentlichkeitsarbeit
Max-Planck-Institut f├╝r marine Mikrobiologie

All higher aquatic life depends on oxygen. It is, thus, an alarming finding that hypoxic (low oxygen) conditions in aquatic ecosystems increase in number, duration and extent due to global warming and eutrophication.

On the 1st of April the EU-funded project HYPOX started with the goal to understand causes, temporal dynamics, future trends and consequences of hypoxia (i.e., low oxygen conditions) in aquatic systems.

The alarming observation of propagating "dead zones" where ecosystems collapse due to oxygen depletion as well as the potential worsening effect of climate change call for stronger scientific efforts in this field. Global warming will lead to degassing of oxygen, increased stratification, reduced deep-water circulation and changes in wind patterns affecting transport and mixing. Observed and projected increases in hypoxia are accompanied by enhanced emission of greenhouse gases and losses in biodiversity as well as ecosystem functions and services such as fisheries, aquaculture and tourism. A better understanding of global changes in oxygen depletion requires a global observation system continuously monitoring oxygen and associated parameters at high resolution, including the assessment of physical mixing and of the role of the seafloor in controlling the sensitivity of aquatic systems to oxygen depletion and their recovery after periods of hypoxia.

Within the project HYPOX, oxygen depletion and associated processes will be monitored through a network of individual observing stations at selected locations distributed over Europe. The selected observation sites cover a broad range of aquatic systems that differ in oxygen status or sensitivity towards change: oxygen-rich open ocean with high sensitivity to global warming (Arctic), semi-enclosed basins with permanent anoxia (Black Sea, Baltic Sea) and seasonally or locally anoxic land-locked systems (fjords, lagoons, lakes). The obtained monitoring results will be combined with information on past hypoxia events and state-of-the-art numerical modeling to predict future hypoxia and its effect on aquatic ecosystems. Thus HYPOX will form a first step towards establishing a sustainable ocean observing network for oxygen monitoring contributng to the currently evolving Global Earth Observation System GEOSS.

In order to get the scientific work started the MPI in Bremen hosted the first general (kick-off) meeting. For three days (15.-17.04.2009) the scientists from all 16 partner institutions of 11 nations jumped right away into lively discussions on all aspects of the project. The scientific program of the meeting was focusing on structure and tasks of the eight Work Packages and on the characteristics of the project sites and work to be carried out there. Inspiring scientific and technological input was provided by talks on hypoxia occurrence and science (Jack Middelburg, NIOO-KNAW), state of the art in long term oxygen measurements (Anders Tengberg, UGOT), and the challenges and benefits of the GEO and GEOSS initiatives (Christoph Waldmann, MARUM). The program was completed by presentations on related projects: the ESONET/EMSO Network of Excellence (Jean Francois Rolin, Ifremer), the HYPER project (Jacob Carstensen, University of Aarhus, Denmark), and the project EuroSITES (Kate Larkin, National Oceanography Centre, Great Britain). The HYPOX project is coordinated by Antje Boetius (Leader Prof. Dr. Antje Boetius) and Felix Janssen (MPI) together with Christoph Waldmann (MARUM).

More information:
EU project HYPOX grant agreement No. 226216

Weitere Informationen: homepage of the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology homepage of the EU project HYPOX

Diatoms are kind of these good grasses

Another confirmation of usefulness of Diatom Algae.

"Place cites research based on water samples taken over the past 20 years by the Department of Natural Resources. They show that the characteristic signature of diatoms ("Diatoms are kind of these good grasses of the ocean, basically" he explains) have decreased and the signature of dinoflagellates (a particular type of single-celled organism), like P. minimum have increased."

Mobtown Beat
In Bloom
Everything you ever wanted to know about the algae causing the Inner Harbor stench

Fish killed in the Inner Harbor by the recent bloom and crash of prorocentrum minimum algae.

The Reek Goes On: Despite clean-up efforts, Baltimore's filthy harbor water continues to cause a stink
By Chris Landers | Posted 6/10/2009
The fire department called it the night of May 25, but the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) had been receiving calls about the smell even before the dead fish showed up.

The next morning there were an estimated 3,200 of them in the Inner Harbor, mostly menhaden, but with other species mixed in. Most of them floated near the Maryland Science Center, but they were also spread across the south shore of the harbor from Domino Sugar to the HarborView building, according to a memo sent out by MDE.

The Inner Harbor algae bloom has become an annual sign of approaching summer. The only thing remarkable this year was the smell, which reached as far north as Charles Village and lingered for days. The culprit was Prorocentrum minimum, a long-time and largely innocuous resident of the Chesapeake Bay. It is considered largely harmless, but the organism's recent bloom and subsequent die off provide visible evidence that all is not well in the delicate ecosystem of the harbor.

"In a perfect system, these algae would sort of continue on at optimal levels, not in these bloom-like conditions" explains Mark Trice, program chief of water quality for Maryland's Department of Natural Resources.

Fed by nutrients in the water, supplemented by storm runoff, sewage, and fertilizer from farms, the algae simply grow too numerous to sustain themselves; when they run out of things to eat, they die, and the decomposition of the algae eats up oxygen in the water. The menhaden and other fish become the indirect victims of P. minimum's rapid growth and subsequent crash.

"You can actually consider it like your lawn," Trice says. "These algae are little plants. If you feed your lawn more nitrogen, more phosphorous, more fertilizer, you're going to have more grass. It's the same thing with algae. If you start pumping more nutrients through point sources such as wastewater treatment plants or non-point sources such as agriculture or runoff from lawns, then it's going to fuel these blooms."

P. minimum, and the bloom known locally as Mahogany Tide after the distinctive color of the bloom, occurs around the world. Patricia Glibert, of the Horn Point Laboratory on the Eastern Shore, says that world-wide, there appears to be a correlation between P. minimum blooms and areas of high nutrient pollution. Weather plays a part as well.

"The spring blooms in recent decades," Glibert says, "have been larger than they have been in prior years, although different years have different characteristics. This has been a particularly wet year--a lot of the blooms are associated with [increased] freshwater flow and the nutrients that come with that."

Allen Place, a professor at University of Maryland's Biotechnology Institute, who works out of the Columbus Center on the north side of the harbor, largely agrees with Trice and Gilbert on the crash's cause, although he holds the door open for the possibility that a virus was responsible for the death of the algae.

"There may be other things out there that are causing it to crash," he says, "but the bottom line is it just overtakes all the resources."

P. minimum move to the top of the water during the day for sunlight, then drop down at night to avoid predators like the menhaden. Because of winds in the harbor, they tend to be blown into clumps between the piers, causing an even higher concentration of the algae.

Place cites research based on water samples taken over the past 20 years by the Department of Natural Resources. They show that the characteristic signature of diatoms ("Diatoms are kind of these good grasses of the ocean, basically" he explains) have decreased and the signature of dinoflagellates (a particular type of single-celled organism), like P. minimum have increased.

He gives a reporter a look at a sample of prorocentrum under a microscope in an upstairs laboratory at the Columbus Center.

A young man carrying sample bottles of various species offers an assessment as he hands one of them over: "Prorocentrum isn't very interesting."

Place doesn't exactly agree with him, but he has other dinoflagellates to fry. Save for indirect victims like the menhaden of the harbor, P. minimum is believed to be non-toxic to humans and other species. Other dinoflagellates are not.

If there is a rock star of the algae world, it is likely Pfiesteria piscicida. Widely publicized after a late '90s bloom caused a fish kill in the southern Chesapeake and subsequently linked to health problems in humans, pfiesteria made headlines and was the subject of the book And the Water Turned to Blood, which the Library Journal described thusly: "roused by pollution, a tiny organism in the Chesapeake waters threatens to make the Ebola virus look like a picnic."

Place says he can't speak to the human health effects of pfiesteria, but believes that in the case of the fish kill, popular wisdom has convicted the wrong dinoflagellate. Place found samples of another toxic algae along with pfiesteria in samples from fish-kill areas, and right now he's waiting for Karlodinium veneficum to bloom down at the harbor.

P. minimum, Place says, is not very harmful by itself. At lower densities of the algae, it is fairly trouble free. Karlodinium on the other hand, has a toxin. "It's not a very good plant," he says.

Because P. minimum blooms often precede K. veneficum, Place has been testing the water regularly, and saw the P. minimum grow.

"You can tell immediately because you get this brownish-red color in the water," he says. "It's not new, it's kind of anticipated."

Email Chris Landers

World Oceans Day - June 8

8 June - World Oceans Day

In 2008, the United Nations General Assembly decided that, as from 2009, 8 June would be designated by the United Nations as “World Oceans Day” (resolution 63/111, paragraph 171). Many countries have celebrated World Oceans Day following the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, which was held in Rio de Janerio in 1992.

The oceans are essential to food security and the health and survival of all life, power our climate and are a critical part of the biosphere. The official designation of World Oceans Day is an opportunity to raise global awareness of the current challenges faced by the international community in connection with the oceans.

The theme of the inaugural observance of the World Oceans Day by the United Nations in 2009 is “Our Oceans, Our Responsibility”. The Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, in cooperation with the Department of Public Information, is organizing a number of events and activities at United Nations Headquarters in New York on 8 June 2009.

Press Release


the Secretary-General


8 June 2009

The first observance of World Oceans Day allows us to highlight the many ways in which oceans contribute to society. It is also an opportunity to recognize the considerable challenges we face in maintaining their capacity to regulate the global climate, supply essential ecosystem services and provide sustainable livelihoods and safe recreation.

Indeed, human activities are taking a terrible toll on the world’s oceans and seas. Vulnerable marine ecosystems, such as corals, and important fisheries are being damaged by over-exploitation, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, destructive fishing practices, invasive alien species and marine pollution, especially from land-based sources. Increased sea temperatures, sea-level rise and ocean acidification caused by climate change pose a further threat to marine life, coastal and island communities and national economies.

Oceans are also affected by criminal activity. Piracy and armed robbery against ships threaten the lives of seafarers and the safety of international shipping, which transports 90 per cent of the world’s goods. Smuggling of illegal drugs and the trafficking of persons by sea are further examples of how criminal activities threaten lives and the peace and security of the oceans.

Several international instruments drawn up under the auspices of the United Nations address these numerous challenges. At their centre lies the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. It provides the legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out, and is the basis for international cooperation at all levels. In addition to aiming at universal participation, the world must do more to implement this Convention and to uphold the rule of law on the seas and oceans.

The theme of World Oceans Day, “Our oceans, our responsibility”, emphasizes our individual and collective duty to protect the marine environment and carefully manage its resources. Safe, healthy and productive seas and oceans are integral to human well-being, economic security and sustainable development.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Declining fish population

The End of the Line Trailer

"The End of the Line is a powerful film about one of the world's most disturbing problems - over-fishing. Advances in fishing technology mean whole species of wild fish are under threat."