HUMANITY HAS RAISED EXTINCTION RATE A THOUSANDFOLD
Human activity is wiping out species of plants and animals at a dizzying rate, leaving the world on the verge of the sixth great extinction in its history, a new study warns. Researchers found that species are vanishing around 10 times faster than previously believed—and 1,000 times faster than they did before humans emerged, the AP reports. A mass extinction on the scale of the one that wiped out the dinosaurs is close, and “whether we avoid it or not will depend on our actions,” says the lead researcher. Habitat loss is the main factor causing species to disappear, but climate change, overfishing, and the spread of invasive species also play a role.
But the situation isn’t completely hopeless: Modern technology and “citizen scientists” are helping biologists locate endangered species, aiding efforts to save their habitats, the study author tells National Geographic. Thanks to mobile apps like iNaturalists and online crowdsourcing, “we know where the species are, we know where the threats are, and—even though the situation is very bleak—we are better able to manage things,” he says. What can the average citizen do? A scientist not involved in the study suggests encouraging lawmakers to connect nature reserves to each other, and the study author notes that extinction rates of mammals, birds, and amphibians are 20% lower than they would be without protected refuges. About 13% of the planet’s land has been designated as such; the same holds true for only about 2% of the ocean.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department says the dead fish began showing up last weekend. Now, the fish litter the shoreline, and the stench fills the air.
“It just stinks really bad,” said Yesenia Compean. “You had to cover your nose when you walk by there.”
Edward Hinojosa and his family spend almost every other weekend in the Kemah area.
“Never seen nothing like that in my life,” said Hinojosa.
Texas Parks and Wildlife says the shad or bait fish are likely showing up dead because of oxygen depletion.
At this time, there are no plans to investigate the fish kill any further. There’s also no word on any plans to clean the fish off the shoreline.
It’s a happy accident: A mistake at an IBM research lab has created “a super-strong, super-light, and super-recyclable new material,” that could transform the old-school world of plastics and polymers and improve a slew of products, NBC News reports. Most of our polymers date back decades—think Styrofoam from the 1940s or nylon from the ’30s. But when researcher Jeannette Garcia forgot an ingredient in a polymerization reaction, she ended up making two new polymers—the first discovered in 20 years—including one so strong “I couldn’t even get it out of the flask,” she says. “I had to break the glass with a hammer.”
That polymer, nicknamed “Titan,” has about one-third the strength of steel and could show up in future computers, reports Mashable. The second, called “Hydro,” is a gel-like material that essentially heals itself when cut in two—which could work wonders as a “powerful-on-contact adhesive,” it adds. Both reduce down to molecules easily, which is big news because, “We can begin as scientists to design molecules that are incredibly tough, incredibly durable, but still recyclable,” a chemistry professor explains. That could mean a more eco-friendly shopping bag or water bottle, or even a tougher material for military drones.
Your face wash may be bad for the environment, and several states are trying to do something about it. The problem is “microbeads,” minuscule pieces of plastic about the size of Abe Lincoln’s eye on a penny, Time reports. They’re found in all kinds of products from the likes of Clean & Clear and Olay, and after traveling down the drain, they land in lakes and oceans. There, experts say, they may collect toxins before they’re eaten by fish—and end up in the food chain. “Big fish eat little fish; eventually the fish is on your dinner plate,” a scientist tells CBS News.”
Researchers haven’t yet determined for sure whether microbeads cause environmental harm. Still, New York, Illinois, California, Ohio, and Minnesota are debating bills to ban the beads. “The fundamental question is going to be: Do we wait to take this material out until we prove that this microbead causes harm?” asks a marine ecologist. If laws are passed against the beads—the New York State Assembly this week voted 108-0 to ban them, Plastics News reports—companies may not put up much of a fight. Johnson & Johnson already plans to get rid of microbeads by 2017, and Procter & Gamble is also moving against the beads.
If you haven’t already, please check out our website. Go over it, and learn exactly who we are, what we are doing, and why: http://www.titan-oceanus.com
Even creatures at the bottom of the ocean aren’t sheltered from the detritus of human civilization. Underwater surveys conducted at dozens of sites in the northeast Atlantic and Acrtic oceans and the Mediterranean Sea found fishing gear, plastic, metal, glass and other bits of garbage in shallow and deep waters both near and close to shore.
The research, led by Christopher Pham of the University of the Azores in Portugal, was published today in PLOS ONE. Similar studies have documented trash lining the seafloor in other areas, such as Monterey Canyon off California and the more than 7000-meter-deep Ryukyu trench off the coast of Japan [PDF]. Our trash is everywhere.
Around 14 billion pounds of litter makes its way into the world’s oceans every year. Some is created when fishing gear is lost. More comes when our trash washes off streets and down through waterways to the sea. Whole containers of goods may be swept overboard from the numerous ships plying the waves. And plenty of trash was deliberately dumped from barges and ships (a practice only recently banned by international convention).
The trash that floats on top of the ocean—often in great garbage patches at the center of gyres—or that washes onto beaches is most visible and gets the most attention. But plenty of it ends up on the seafloor. It’s just harder to see.
“The large quantities of litter reaching the deep ocean floor is a major issue worldwide, yet little is known about its sources, patterns of distribution, abundance and, particularly, impacts on the habitats and associated fauna,” Pham and colleagues write.
Pham’s team collected data from surveys at 32 underwater sites in the northeast Atlantic and Acrtic oceans and the Mediterranean Sea that took place between 1999 and 2011. These surveys either trawled the seafloor or sent down still and/or video cameras to image what was on the ocean bottom. The surveyed sites were located near as well as thousands of kilometers from shore, at depths of 35 to 4,500 meters, and were located on continental shelves and slopes, ocean ridges, banks, mounds and seamounts and within submarine canyons and deep basins.
Not one site was free of human garbage.
The surveys turned up trash along the mid-Atlantic ridge, 2,000 kilometers from shore. It was found in the shallowest waters as well as the deepest. Actually, the deepest areas, such as the Lisbon and Blanes canyons, had the highest densities of garbage, the researchers calculated.
“Such records were not surprising,” Pham’s team noted in their paper, “as litter is known to be present in all seas and oceans of the planet, as remote as the Southern Ocean and at depths as deep as 7,216 m in the Ryuku trench, south of Japan.”
The most common items were the ubiquitous plastic bags now banned in some cities. There were also glass bottles, fishing lines and nets, wood, cardboard, bits of clothing, pottery and a material called clinker. Clinker is the residue of burnt coal, and it was common in the late 18th to 20th centuries for steam ships to dump this waste material overboard, so most of this type of trash is more than 100 years old.
The abundance of plastic might be a surprise for some as plastic floats. But about 70 percent of it eventually sinks to the seafloor, the researchers note.
Abandoned, derelict fishing lines and nets were most often found in areas such as seamounts and banks that host dense communities of fish and shellfish. Those are the regions, of course, where fishing vessels are most likely to ply their trade.
Scientists are still figuring out the global patterns of distribution of all this garbage. But they do know quite a lot about its effects on marine life. Some organisms eat the trash, thinking its food. Others—especially turtles, marine mammals and birds—get entangled in it, and sometimes die. Fish get caught up in drifting nets, in what’s known as “ghost fishing.” And chemicals such as dioxins get consumed by small organisms and concentrated in organisms further up the food web, where these poisons can reach lethal levels.
This has to make us wonder: Is there any pristine place left on Earth?
Article compliments of the Smithsonian.