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Coral species from different climes being mixed as a form of ‘assisted evolution’ to see if it will help them adapt more quickly to rising sea temperatures.
The Australian government’s marine research agency is looking to genetically alter species of coral to help them cope with rising sea temperatures, as new modelling showed the coverage of living corals on the Great Barrier Reef could decline to less than 10% if warming continued.
Scientists at the Australian Institute of Marine Science have partnered with the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology to look at how “assisted evolution” may help corals more quickly adapt to climate change. These studies are some of the first conservation-based, non-commercial uses of genetic modification.
A study modelling the prospects of the reef using a decade of data found there was a “very high likelihood” of coral cover plummeting below 10%, with corals replaced by sponges and algae as temperatures increased.
This would take the Great Barrier Reef beyond what previous studies suggested was a key “tipping point” that would threaten the reef’s ability to recover and grow. Such a reduction, the study suggested, could occur with just 1C to 2C of further warming in areas of the reef already experiencing pressure from other impacts such as fishing and pollution. This amount of warming is virtually locked in due to the current amount of greenhouse gas emissions.
“The Great Barrier Reef used to be one of the more pristine examples of reefs globally, but it has suffered a decline and will continue to do so if action isn’t taken,” said report co-author Jennifer Cooper, a James Cook University PhD student who worked on the study with scientists from the UK and the US.
“Our model showed that reducing the impact of other human threats to the reef, such as overfishing and pollution, did mitigate coral decline. However, if temperature increases more than 2C the benefit of lowering threat levels may not be enough to stop further coral loss.
“This suggests that climate change, and more specifically sea surface temperature increase, is an important driver of change on the reef.”
The stark warning on the reef’s future prospects follows a period of decline that has seen coral cover drop to 14% – half of what it was 30 years ago. Climate change, pollution and a plague of coral-eating starfish have been identified as the main causes of the deterioration.
Aims is now looking at radical new ways of helping Great Barrier Reef corals deal with the rapid rate of warming and acidification of the oceans.
Initial work has begun at the Australian institute’s sea simulator in Townsville, Queensland, where different types of coral were picked shortly before their annual spawning and matched via IVF to create new hybrids. Scientists reared the coral larvae and then settled them to assess their growth into juveniles.
Coral from the central part of the Great Barrier Reef has been crossed with coral from the colder reaches of the southern reef to see if the resulting hybrid was more resilient in higher temperatures. Scientists are also looking at whether they can alter the microbial communities, the algae that live within coral tissue, so they can adapt to climate change.
It is hoped the research can speed up the evolutionary process so that corals can cope with the almost unprecedented rate of warming in the oceans. While corals can adapt to different temperatures, it usually takes thousands of years before they can evolve within gradually changing climates.
Dr Madeleine van Oppen, a senior principal research scientist at Aims, told Guardian Australia: “We can create genetic diversity and new genetic variations, and then let natural selection pick and do the rest.”
“We are trying to accelerate the process of what happens in nature, to help them to cope better. This is theoretically possible.
“We want to spend the next five years experimenting, to find out which manipulations work best. It’s an important area to invest in. We need these methods available in case we want to implement them. If we don’t, we may be too late if the situation does get bad.
“The health and coral cover of the reef has declined over the last decade, it’s a great concern.”
Scientists are increasingly looking at new ways to mitigate the impact of warming seas, such as shading corals, in case emissions are not radically cut to stave off the worst of climate change.
Unesco’s world heritage committee will consider whether to list the reef as “in danger” in June. On Monday, the Australian government submitted a report to Unesco that argued the listing was not justified due to its efforts to reverse the reef’s decline.
Credit: The Guardian
The Wider Caribbean Region (WCR) has the greatest concentration of plant and animal species in the Atlantic Ocean Basin. Yet these precious, and often irreplaceable, natural resources are disappearing at an astounding rate. The vast majority of all species are threatened by habitat loss or modification in addition to unsustainable practices such as over-fishing, unplanned coastal development and pollution. These same habitats are often the main source of food and income for many coastal communities.
The Protocol Concerning Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW) of the Cartagena Convention, is a regional agreement for biodiversity management and conservation in the Wider Caribbean Region, in existence since 1990. It is managed by the United Nations Caribbean Environment Programme (CEP) and it became international law in 2000. It aims to protect critical marine and coastal ecosystems while promoting regional co-operation and sustainable development.
To date, sixteen countries from the region have ratified the Protocol: The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, France (through its Departments of Guadeloupe, Guyane, Martinique, Saint-Barthélémy and Saint-Martin), Grenada, Guyana, The Netherlands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Saba, Sint-Eustatius and Sint Maarten), Panama, Saint-Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, United States, and Venezuela.
Since 2012 SPAW has created a regional network of protected areas (PAs) or key conservation sites listed by the member governments under the Protocol. Under this network these sites benefit from a cooperation programme supported by SPAW, which includes: increased recognition and awareness as places of importance locally, regionally and globally; increased local and national pride resulting in national responsibility to support management; higher visibility with the possible result of increases in employment opportunities and income due to increased tourism marketing of the area; grants and technical assistance provided through SPAW; opportunities for enhancing capacity, management, protection and sustainability; and, opportunities for support of species conservation, pollution control and sustainable finance.
Countries which are party to the Protocol are invited to apply for their protected areas to be so listed using online forms. To be selected, sites must satisfy a rigorous set of ecological as well as cultural and socio-economic criteria. Applications are reviewed by the UN SPAW secretariat as well as by external experts prior to their approval by the Protocol’s scientific committee and it’s biennial Conference of Parties (COP). On 9th December 2014, in Cartagena, Colombia, the Protocol’s Eighth COP approved thirteen new protected areas:
The Regional Natural Park of wetlands between the Rivers León and Suriquí, Colombia
The Saba National Marine Park, the Kingdom of the Netherlands
The Saint Eustatius National Marine Park, the Kingdom of the Netherlands
The Man O War Shoal Marine Park (Sin t Maarten), the Kingdom of the Netherlands
The Reserve “Etang des Salines”, Martinique, France
The Reserve “Versants Nord de la Montagne Pelée, Martinique, France
The Port Honduras Marine Reserve, Belize
La Caleta Submarine Park, Dominican Republic
National Park Jaragua, Dominican Republic
Reserve “Los Haitises”, Dominican Republic
National Park “Sierra de Bahoruco”, Dominican Republic
Tobago Cays Marine Park, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
“Molinière Beauséjour” Marine Protected Area, Grenada
These protected areas vary greatly in description and characteristics. However they all meet the criteria for listing under SPAW. These include ecological value, and cultural and socio-economic benefits. A quick look at two of the areas listed illustrates this.
The Saint Eustatius National Marine Park, established in 1996 in the Eastern Caribbean, is only 27.5 square kilometres in area and extends around the entire island of Saint Eustatius, from the high water line to 30 metre depth contour. It protects a variety of habitats, including pristine coral reefs and 18th century shipwrecks. It includes two no-take zones (reserves) as well as general use zones and designated anchoring zones for large commercial ships. There is high biodiversity in its coral reefs and a wide variety of tropical reef creatures resides in and around these reefs as well, including the commercially important lobster and conch, key predators such as sharks and the endangered Sea Horses. Three species of sea turtles (all of them are endangered or critically endangered species) nest regularly on the island’s Zeelandia Beach – the leatherback, the greenand the hawksbill. Dolphins and large whales regularly visit and can often be heard as they migrate through the Marine Park between January and April. A number of birds live almost exclusively in the open ocean environment, using St Eustatius as a breeding ground or migratory stop over, such as the Audubon’s Shearwater Puffins and Red Billed Tropicbirds.
St Eustatius is also site of Statia Terminals, an oil transhipment facility, including one of the deepest mooring stations for super tankers in the world, located immediately south of the northern marine reserve on the West coast and which has been in operation since 1982 and expanded in 1993. It employs 10 per cent of the island’s population. During the 18th century, this was one of the busiest ports in the world, hence the presence of shipwrecks within the marine park up to today.
In contrast, the Port Honduras Marine Reserve (PHMR), established in 2000, in Belize is 405 square kilometres in area and has three adjacent and nearby human settlements: Monkey River, Punta Negra and Punta Gorda. It is unique along the coast of Central America in lagoon system size and the number of in-shore mangrove islands. It is in relatively pristine condition and includes coastal and tidal wetlands, marine lagoons, and mangrove islands with associated shallow banks and fringing coral reefs. Almost all of the coastal and island vegetation, including mangroves, is intact. Maintaining coastal ecosystem functions and natural resource values, including water quality and nursery habitats of the area, is important in order to protect biodiversity and traditional fishers’ livelihoods. It is a major breeding and nursery area for juveniles of many species. Threats are expected to increase as the area is attracting more visitors for fly-fishing and sailing.
The SPAW Protocol and the listing of Marine Protected Areas is driven by the need to first recognize sites of great regional and international ecological and socio-economic value and then put measures in place to protect and conserve these areas. The Caribbean’s rich and beautiful natural heritage deserves our best efforts while also protecting the sustainable livelihoods of coastal communities.
For further information: Alejandro Laguna - Comunication and Information Officer United Nations Environment Programme, Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean Clayton, Ciudad del Saber - Alberto Tejada, Building 103; Ancon - Panama City, Panama. Phone.: 305 3100 firstname.lastname@example.org
Credit: UNEP Environment for Development
Concerned that climate change could lead to an intensification of the global hydrological cycle, Caribbean stakeholders are working to ensure it is included in the region’s plans for Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM).
The basis of IWRM is that the many different uses of finite water resources are interdependent. High irrigation demands and polluted drainage flows from agriculture mean less freshwater for drinking or industrial use.
Contaminated municipal and industrial wastewater pollutes rivers and threatens ecosystems. If water has to be left in a river to protect fisheries and ecosystems, less can be diverted to grow crops.
Meanwhile, around the world, variability in climate conditions, coupled with new socioeconomic and environmental developments, have already started having major impacts.
The Global Water Partnership-Caribbean (GWP-C), which recently brought international and regional stakeholders together for a conference in Trinidad, is aimed at better understanding the climate system and the hydrological cycle and how they are changing; boosting awareness of the impacts of climate change on society, as well as the risk and uncertainty in the context of water and climate change and especially variability; and examining adaptation options in relation to water and climate change.
“Basically we’re looking to integrate aspects of climate change and climate variability and adaptation into the Caribbean water sector,” Natalie Boodram, programme manager of the Water, Climate and Development Programme (WACDEP), told IPS.
“And this is a very big deal for us because under predicted climate change scenarios we’re looking at things like drier dry seasons, more intense hurricanes, when we do get rain we are going to get more intense rain events, flooding.
“All of that presents a substantial challenge for managing our water resources. So under the GWP-C WACDEP, we’re doing a number of things to help the region adapt to this,” she added.
Current variability and long-term climate change impacts are most severe in a large part of the developing world, and particularly affect the poorest.
Through its workshops, GWP-C provides an opportunity for partners and stakeholders to assess the stage of the IWRM process that various countries have reached and work together to operationalise IWRM in their respective countries.
Integrated Water Resources Management is a process which promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land and related resources in order to maximise economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems.
IWRM helps to protect the world’s environment, foster economic growth and sustainable agricultural development, promote democratic participation in governance, and improve human health.
GWP-C regional co-ordinator, Wayne Joseph, said the regional body is committed to institutionalising and operationalising IWRM in the region.
“Our major programme is the WACDEP Programme, Water and Climate Development Programme, and presently we are doing work in four Caribbean Countries – Jamaica, Antigua, Guyana and St. Lucia,” he told IPS.
“We’re gender-sensitive. We ensure that the youth are incorporated in what we do and so we provide a platform, a neutral platform, so that issues can be discussed that pertain to water and good water resources management.”
The Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CYEN) is a non-profit, civil society body that focuses its resources on empowering Caribbean young people and their communities to develop programmes and actions to address socioeconomic and environmental issues.
Rianna Gonzales, the national coordinator of the Trinidad and Tobago Chapter, has welcomed the initiative of the GWP-C as being very timely and helpful, adding that the region’s youth have a very important role to play in the process.
“I think it’s definitely beneficial for young people to be part of such a strategic group of people in terms of getting access to resources and experts…so that we will be better able to communicate on water related issues,” she told IPS.
The CYEN programme aims at addressing issues such as poverty alleviation and youth employment, health and HIV/AIDS, climatic change and global warming, impact of natural disasters/hazards, improvement in potable water, conservation and waste management and other natural resource management issues.
The GWP-C said the Caribbean region has been exposed to IWRM and it is its goal to work together with its partners and stakeholders at all levels to implement IWRM in the Caribbean.
“A very significant activity for the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States has been to prepare a Water Sector Model Policy and Model Water Act which proposes to remedy the key water resources management issues through new institutional arrangements and mechanisms that include water and waste water master planning, private sector and community partnership and investment mechanisms,” GWP-C chair Judy Daniel told IPS.
IWRM has not been fully integrated in the policy, legal and planning frameworks in the Caribbean although several territories have developed/drafted IWRM Policies, Roadmaps and Action plans. Some of these countries include: Antigua and Barbuda; Barbados; Dominica; Grenada; Guyana, Jamaica; The Bahamas; Trinidad and Tobago; and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Credit: Inter Press Service News Agency
Over 80 percent of the Caribbean Sea is polluted from land-based sources and activities such as deforestation, untreated waste-water, oil spills, agricultural runoff, farm waste and litter. This affects livelihoods, health, economies and ecosystems.
To address these problems, pollution experts from across the Caribbean met recently at two meetings.
The seventh steering committee meeting for the Regional Activity Centre — Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Information and Training Centre for the Wider Caribbean (RAC-REMPEITC). That May 20-12 meeting in Curacao focused on an oil spill protocol for the region.
The second meeting was of the scientific, technical and advisory committee (STAC), to the protocol concerning pollution from land-based sources and activities (LBS STAC 2).The June 1-14 meeting in Nicaragua, which was hosted by UNEP’s Caribbean Environment Programme (UNEP CEP), was being staged for the second year.
Key recommendations included:
UNEP CEP and the government of Curacao agreed to the continued hosting of the regional activity centre in Curacao that supports the protocol concerning cooperation in combating oil spills in the wider Caribbean region (oil spills protocol).
UNEP CEP and partners to promote the integration of oil spill disaster planning into national disaster planning processes by working with regional disaster agencies such as Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA)
UNEP CEP to work with oil spill regional centre to provide technical support to countries affected by oil pollution including dispersants and rehabilitating areas contaminated with oil.
UNEP CEP to develop stronger partnerships with the GPNM (global partnership on nutrient management) to improve nutrient management within the wider Caribbean region.
UNEP CEP and partner agencies to develop activities which will enhance the implementation of the LBS Protocol with specific reference to ship generated waste, air pollution and pre-treatment of industrial effluent found in domestic waste-water.
Christopher Corbin, programme officer for the assessment and management of environmental pollution at UNEP CEP, noted that these meetings were critical to evaluate the status of pollution in the region and to identify future priorities.
Nelson Andrade Colmenares, the regional coordinator for UNEP’s Caribbean Environment Programme, stressed that “currently 50 percent of coral reefs are in decline within the region.” However, he added that “with continued stakeholder engagement, cooperation and action this trend can be reversed allowing the region to prosper for generations to come.”
The recommendations from the technical meetings will be presented to the thirteenth meeting of the contracting parties to the convention for the protection and development of the wider Caribbean region, which will be held in Cartagena, Colombia.
In this International Year of Small Island Developing States, ocean, seas and biodiversity have been listed as priority areas. Management of pollution can be addressed by education, stakeholder engagement and a commitment to tackling these issues and it is anticipated that these regional and global efforts will result in action.
Credit: Caribbean News Now!
Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Brief Highlights Climate Change Impacts on Fisheries and Aquaculture
The Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP) has issued a brief,’Climate Change: Implications for Fisheries and Aquaculture,’ which details the threats of climate change and ocean acidification to fisheries, aquaculture and marine resources as relayed in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5).
The brief highlights that climate change and ocean acidification are altering ocean ecosystems, leading to a loss of marine biodiversity and changes in seafood production levels, including through the displacement of stocks and rising mortality of shellfish. It notes that other factors such as over-fishing, habitat loss and pollution worsen the impacts of climate change on marine resources. The publication also highlights impending issues such as: the rapid decline of coral reef ecosystems, with the risk of collapse of some coastal fisheries; the likely increase in coral bleaching; potential increases in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing from changes in coastal resources and food insecurity; and possible mass die-offs in farmed fish due to harmful algal blooms.
The brief explains that fishers can adapt to some of the impacts, through, inter alia: changing gear or target species; increasing aquaculture; and moving to dynamic management policies. Additionally, some positive impacts of climate change are highlighted, including faster growth rates and food conversion efficiency, longer growing seasons, and new growing areas due to decreases in ice cover.
Regarding the potential for mitigation in the fisheries sector, the brief highlights options such as strengthening coastal zone management to reduce land-sourced pollution, over harvesting and physical damage to resources. It also suggests creating new habitats, such as artificial reefs, to act as fish nurseries in areas where coral reef destruction occurs. According to the report, protecting some ocean ecosystems will help moderate the speed and scale of climate change, as well as build ecosystem health.
The brief is published jointly by the SFP and the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership and Cambridge Judge Business School, and is supported by the European Climate Foundation. It is one of a series of publications synthesizing the most relevant AR5 findings for specific economic and business sectors, and grew from the idea that the fisheries and aquaculture sector could make better use of the AR5, if distilled into an accessible and succinct summary.
Credit: SFP News Story from the Climate Change: Implications for Fisheries and Aquaculture publication.
Today President Obama made a landmark announcement on new pollution rules. The announcement is widely considered to be a big moment for the United States and the rest of the world, too. See video above.