I Don’t Think You’re Ready, For This Jelly

In Sweden, jellyfish populations overwhelmed and clogged a nuclear power plant’s pipes. These pipes turned out to be extremely important as they cool the plant’s turbines, and the nuclear power plant had to shut down. A year before, the same thing happened in California. In less extreme cases, yet still costly, large amounts of jellyfish have clogged fishing nets and damaged fishing gear. All of these jellyfish problems have raised eyebrows, and when scientists looked into jellyfish populations, they found that jellyfish are blooming more often, earlier, more intensely, and staying longer.

Around the world, jellyfish populations are booming. While this may not seem like such a big deal, it is yet another sign of climate change and environmental degradation, one that is costing various industries millions of dollars. In addition, the jellyfish feed on plankton, crustaceans, small fish, and fish eggs, which are all food resources of which larger mammals such as whales rely on. Jellyfish are thriving in places the don’t usually thrive, and this is seen as a sign that oceans around the world are stressed or unhealthy.

Map of population trends of native and invasive species of jellyfish

***Jellyfish population trends. Red indicates an increase with a high degree of certainty, while orange indicates an increase with a low degree of certainty. Blue indicates a decrease. Green represents a stable or variable population. Grey indicates no data.***

In areas where jellyfish populations have boomed causing nuclear power plants to shutdown, scientists have found that the species is causing the damage is the common moon jellyfish. This species of jellyfish thrives in areas of the ocean that have been “overfished or have bad conditions.” Bad conditions refers to anything from toxic chemicals, fertilizers, and too much trash in the oceans. Overfishing leaves lots of open space for the jellyfish to thrive, and when the fish are gone, jellyfish have the chance to dominate the ecosystem. It seems as though we have another case where humans have exploited the environment and caused detrimental effects.

What You Can Do To Help

One of the biggest problems with the booming jellyfish populations is that no monitoring exists to track the jellyfish populations. Data gained from the monitoring is needed for scientists to figure out how to address the issue. Luckily, a website and apps for iPhones and Androids have been created where the public is able to report where jellyfish are blooming. The scientists will use this data to figure out where jellyfish are, how often the blooms are occurring, and for how long. Without the help of the public, this research would be too expensive. With more research occurring, scientists will be able to find and implement ways to curb the jellyfish explosion. If you see jellyfish, report it!

Photo Cred: cbc.ca

As always: comments, questions, concerns or even random thoughts? I would love if you shared them with me so please comment below!

Some Not So Humble News!

The Humble Bumble was a blog post I wrote which described why bees are so important to humans, and how these bees are threatened from the use of pesticides. At the end of this post I has stated that Health Canada would reevaluate the measures it had taken to combat pesticides harming bees if these measures proved insufficient. In addition, I stated that the measures were indeed not enough and that further action was needed.

It is with great pleasure that I can now inform you that Ontario is looking to restrict the use of bee-killing pesticides!

Ontario’s Agriculture Minister Jeff Leal has said that Ontario wants to ““move away from the widespread, indiscriminate use of neonicotinoid-based pesticides.” These are the pesticides which have been deemed unsafe by many scientists and ecologists world-wide. Leal is considering implementing a licence system to control the use of the pesticide. This is not quite the ban which Europe has itself done. The licence system is one where the province hopes to reduce the use of the pesticide to only areas where there is ‘demonstrated need’.

The article that was released shows that there is growing evidence against neonicotinoid-based pesticides which links the pesticides to killing bees. The increased media attention has grown since the provincial election in June where the topic has been much discussed, and more big names have been reviewing their stances on the use of these pesticides. Rona, Canadian Tire, and Home Depot are now reassessing their need to use the pesticides and Health Canada is monitoring the situation.

This is a great step forward in protecting our bees and gaining more awareness on the issue. Hopefully this will lead to more adaptation, monitoring, and elimination of the harmful pesticides we use in Canada!

PhotoCred: http://www.salon.com/2013/12/14/can_bees_be_trained_to_sniff_out_cancer_this_designer_says_yes_partner/

As always: comments, questions, concerns or even random thoughts? I would love if you shared them with me so please comment below!

The Humble Bumble

Bumble bees are incredibly important to our food systems. It has been estimated that a third of the food which humans consume each and every day relies on the pollination which bees provide. Examples of foods which require the pollination of bees includes avocados, soybeans, apples, strawberries, blueberries, asparagus, broccoli, celery, squash, sunflowers, cucumbers, citrus fruit, peaches, kiwis, cherries, cranberries, melons and many more. In addition, bees pollinate clover and alfalfa, which is used to feed cattle, and cotton and flax, which is used to make clothes. This means there are many implications for meat, dairy, and clothing industries as well. Essentially, honeybees are a main reason why mankind is able to enjoy a diet that consists of more than just water.

Bees help humans by pollinating plants and making these plants able to reproduce and grow. Unfortunately, pesticides used for agriculture often unintentionally kill bees which are necessary for crops to reproduce. This has resulted in reductions in the number of wild bee colonies world wide. As a result, scientists have petitioned for two commonly used pesticides to be banned around the world to minimize the amount of mass killings of bees which harms the planet’s ecosystem.

These scientists hold that “life would be awful” without bees for the reasons outlined above. With these pesticides, bees are being killed which will result in a lot less fruit and vegetables humans like to eat, any plant or animal that relies of these plants or seeds would be at risk, and soil and water environments are polluted. In fact, “more than 90 per cent of the pesticide goes into the environment rather than the crop”, and these pesticides build up until groundwater and streams become contaminated. This contamination in turn has negative effects on other environments, plants, and animals, such as terrestrial animals like worms who live within the contaminated soil.

Health Canada found pesticides on 70% of dead bees last spring, but believes this to be due to the bees being “exposed to the dust that’s kicked up during the planting process”.  The Canadian Government has been monitoring these effects and has created measures for minimizing bee exposure to pesticides. These measures include reducing dust from coated seeds, safer seed planting practices, and labels with enhanced warnings. In addition, Health Canada has stated that if these measures turn out to be insufficient, they will reevaluate the situation and take new measures to minimize bee risks.

However, these measures are not enough. Europe has linked these pesticides to the death of honeybees and as a result has decided to ban the use of the pesticides. In addition, it has been found that reducing dust coated seeds has not reduced the risk to bees. While not everyone agrees with the EU’s decision, until the risks of these pesticides are understood, they should not be used in order to ensure that the bees are not placed in irreparable risk.

Photo Cred: whyfiles.org

As always: comments, questions, concerns or even random thoughts? I would love if you shared them with me so please comment below!

The ‘Scientific’ Whaling Charade

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Japan claims that it needs to catch (kill) 850 minke, 50 fin and 50 humpback whales every year for ‘scientific’ purposes. THANKFULLY the International Court of Justice has ordered Japan to stop its whaling program because it has found that the program is not actually for scientific purposes that the Japanese government had claimed.

This Japanese whaling program has been criticized for years due to its unsustainable and unethical nature. Analysis has shown that if this program of hunting whales, dolphins and porpoises continues, many species may be driven to extinction, but Japanese governments have defended its program by declaring it a tradition practice. For hundreds of years Japanese cultures have hunted whales and they are offended by the suggestion that this part of their culture needs to stop because this is threatening their culture. But it is much more than that.

ETHICS: Whales are highly evolved and highly intelligent mammals that can feel pain and who have the right to live no matter what their economic value.

SUSTAINABILITY: Many whales are either extinct or endangered and with programs existing to hunt these animals their precarious situations will only worsen, making it folly to continue to kill them.

WHALE WATCHING INDUSTRY: A US$ 1 billion per year industry, whaling initiatives can only harm these businesses’ causing economic hardship and a loss of entertainment.

CONTROVERSY: The Japanese whaling industry has faced numerous counts of scandal, debt and corruption accusations regarding their operations.

GLOBAL EFFECTS: Whales contribute in many ways to create and maintain life in the oceans around the world. The ocean plays major environmental, economic and social roles around the world, and if whales were to become extinct, humans everywhere would be negatively affected.

It is great to see this major step against whaling take place. Hopefully in the future all other nations such as Norway and Iceland will see similar changes that protect these great species. Finally, if you ever have the opportunity to go whale watching, I suggest you capitalize on the opportunity because it is an awesome experience as the picture above shows!

For more information on this topic check out these links (especially #5! So cool.):

  1. http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/31/world/asia/japan-whale-hunt/
  2. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/01/world/europe/united-nations-court-rules-against-japan-in-whaling-dispute.html
  3. http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/oceans/whaling/ending-japanese-whaling/
  4. http://www.animalplanet.com/tv-shows/whale-wars/about-whaling/why-japanese-hunt-whales.htm
  5. http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/photos/whales/

As always: comments, questions, concerns or even random thoughts? I would love if you shared them with me so please comment below!

Exxon Valdez-25 Years Later

Twenty five years ago today, the super tanker Exxon Valdez struck Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound. The result? Oil covering over 1,100 miles of Alaska`s coastline. To put this into context, that is the equivalent of covering everything from Atlanta to Boston. Nothing has been the same since.

A few quick facts:

  • Approximately 11 million gallons or 257,000 barrels or 35,000 metric tonnes of oil spilled (roughly equivalent to 17 Olympic-sized swimming pools)
  • Widely considered to be one of the biggest spills worldwide in terms of damage to the environment
  • It took more than four summers of cleanup efforts before the cleanup stopped. Not all beaches were cleaned and some beaches remain oiled today (Winter storm wave action is believed to have done more to clean the beaches than all of the human effort involved)
  • The ship went back to work under various new names

The evidence of lingering effects is clear. Rough estimates pin the deaths of 250,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters and 300 harbor seals directly on the oil spill. Two groups of killer whales swam through the affected parts of the Prince William Sound, and a study found that these pods experienced population losses around 41 percent in the year after the spill. The sea otters populations have only just-25 years later- recovered. Three species of cormorant, the common loon, the harbor seal, the harlequin duck, the pacific herring and the pigeon guillemot never fully recovered.

The BP oil spill in 2010 demonstrates that these oil disasters will happen again. Many of you will have probably visited a beach in your recent memory. My family, for example, visits the beaches in Maine (the photo above) nearly every year and would be devastated if they ever experienced an oil spill. The countless environmental, political and social implications that oil spills cause calls for a plan of action.

Generally oil spill cleanup will rest on a large, organized incident management group, but the first responders will most likely be the closest locals who have the most knowledge of the natural resources, and have the most at stake in relation to the spill. The Arctic, where the Valdez spill occurred, is an area that has a large amount of risk of oil spills occurring as Arctic waters are full of shipping activities. Giving the people who stand to lose the most to an oil spill event should be provided with training and equipment that could help them play a role in responding to any future environmental disaster.

The cheapest option available is to hope for the best, but with the amount of devastation an oil spill can cause, the value of prevention and preparedness is priceless.

Photo Cred: Tricia Skorupinski

As always: comments, questions, concerns or even random thoughts? I would love if you shared them with me so please comment below!

Santa’s Revenge

Santa's Revenge

Santa’s Revenge is the theory that persistent weather patterns in mid-latitude areas, such as this extraordinarily long, harsh, record breaking snowy, and freezing winter that we are experiencing in Southern Ontario, is a result of climate change warming the Arctic.

The picture above shows me on February 26th, in downtown Toronto beside Lake Ontario braving the -16 degrees Celsius weather mixed with extreme winds to make it feel like negative 1 billion (an exaggeration due to annoyance). In fact, it was so cold that the Great Lakes were more frozen than any other time in the past 35 years (92.2 percent ice coverage).

An article has now been published which gives new evidence to suggest that the link between the Arctic getting warmer, and the mid-latitudes experiencing persistent weather. This theory has been debated time and time again, but the fact is that it has extreme implications for severe weather occurrences, food security, and water use in the northern hemisphere that would have large economic impacts.

Here are a couple of quotes from the article:

-“It’s starting to get harder to say that something isn’t happening”

-“Events like the extended cold spell… are very consistent with the kind of pattern we expect to see related to the Arctic warming so fast.”

-“Potential to drastically affect international food supplies and prices”

-“We produce the bulk of our crops at that mid-latitude area”

Climate change is extremely worrisome. With 7 billion people in the world we cannot afford to experience food security issues as many people will be left without access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food. An increase in severe weather occurrences will cause more damages, more serious social disruption and more loss of human life. The economic impacts of climate change will leave many economies around the world in disarray as they try to cope with its negative effects.

“The real question is whether we can adapt and change faster than the climate.”

Photo Cred: Flavia Craciun

As always: comments, questions, concerns or even random thoughts? I would love if you shared them with me so please comment below!

Apex Predators

One species of animal can greatly influence an entire ecosystem. This cascading effect that can occur can even change the geography of an area, showing the extent of influence an animal can hold in an ecosystem.

A video has recently gone viral which shows how the introduction of wolves into an ecosystem actually changed a river’s path. This video is entitled How Wolves Change Rivers. In this video a man describes how wolves were introduced into Yellowstone National Park in the United States, and, through this reintroduction of a species into an ecosystem, how the wolves led to an increase in vegetation, and the eventual change in course of a river. Although many people are aware that wolves kill other animals, most are unaware that they can give life. Yellowstone Park was overpopulated with deer and these deer had grazed all of the vegetation, leaving bare flat lands. In this case study the wolves ate the dear in the park, which led to less deer, and made the remaining deer avoid the wolf populated areas. These avoided areas then experienced a rapid increase in vegetation growth, creating forests in places which once only held grass. Due to the increase in trees there was an increase in beavers because, well, beavers like trees. These beavers are ecosystem engineers and they in turn built dams which provided shelter for countless other species. The wolves also killed coyotes and this meant that there was an increase in mice, rabbits, hawks, weasels, foxes, badgers, ravens, and bald eagles. Now not only was there a massive increase in species throughout the park, but the river running through the park experienced less erosion, the channels narrowed, and pools formed due to the increase in vegetation and the stabilization of the river banks that this vegetation provided. The river itself changed. This process is known as a tropic cascade.

The concerning issue about this case study is the fact that wolves are only one apex predator in the world: lions in Africa, tigers in Asia. Sharks, bears, and wild dogs are example of species at the top of their particular food chains, stabilizing the ecosystem and species they live and prey on, and influencing the health of plants and animals all the way to the bottom of the tropic ladder.

The truly disturbing part is that a majority of these apex predators are facing a decline in population numbers, potentially endangering the ecosystems where they reside.

This calls for change. It’s time for us, as humans, to change our overall perception of predators. We cannot condone the mass culling of sharks as has recently been approved in Western Australia. Stop the poaching of Tigers in Asia. No more habitat destruction in Sub Saharan Africa that decimates lion populations.

Human/wildlife conflict is going to occur as population growth happens around the world. Humans need to change and start living with wildlife if we want to protect the beautiful, useful, and essential ecosystems around the world.

FYI: The picture is of a river that runs through my cottage a.k.a. The Farm, in Elphin, Ontario

Photo Cred: Anton Holland

As always: comments, questions, concerns or even random thoughts? I would love if you shared them with me so please comment below!

H2NO

While volunteering in Ethiopia I stayed in the capital city Addis Ababa. Addis is at an altitude of 2400 meters above sea level, which typically can cause a person to feel tired, sleepless and out of breath as you try to acclimatize to the elevation.  I was staying at Cheshire Services for the week which is surrounded by mountains making for a ton of walking. The combination of acclimatization and physical activity made me very thirsty. The only problem? The water is not safe to drink.

As you can see, I ended up drinking A LOT of bottled water during my one week stay. In this particular case I was forced to drink bottled water, which I am normally highly against. I agree that the market for bottled water in Ethiopia and countries with unsafe water should exist, but I am opposed to this market in Canada, as you should be as well.

Here are some not so fun facts that have dissuaded me from drinking bottled water in Canada.

  • It takes 3L of water to produce 1L of bottled water
  • Tap water is tested at least once a week whereas bottled water is only tested around 3 times a year
  • To meet North America’s water bottle ‘needs’ more than 17 million barrels of oil a year are used (that can fuel 1.3 million cars for a year!)
  • Bottled water=garbage: 1.5 million tons of plastic are created from bottled water each year; or that is to say 75% of bottles end up in a dump
  • In the U.S. it would cost $0.49 per year to consume the recommended 8 glasses of water a day from the tap, whereas it would cost around $1,400 to consume the same amount in bottled water
  • The big name companies such as Coca-Cola, PepsiCO and Nestlé have all faced legal cases regarding their water quality

Almost all Canadians have free access to water that comes from taps through our homes, jobs, and recreation facilities. Bottled water costs more, pollutes more, and exploits more, yet many people, including my roommates, insist on only drinking bottled water. Corporations have for a long time been linked to many issues regarding bottled water. An example of this is seen through Coca-Cola’s H2NO campaign. This upselling campaign aimed to dissuade consumers from drinking tap water, but instead point them towards Coke’s more profitable options including soft drinks, juice, or even bottled water. As a result people were sold previously free water, and sold unhealthy options.

I would like you all to join me in saying H2NO to bottled water.

Comments, questions, concerns or even random thoughts? I would love if you shared them with me so please comment below!