Friday, April 18, 2014

Great Ecology Blog: Marine Ecosystems Battling Oil Impacts

This is exactly why I need to get down to the gulf and do some exploring on my own. There is so much going on in this rich and diverse area and some of it is not good at all. Thanks to the folks at Great Ecology for putting this information together.


Marine Ecosystems Battling Oil Impacts

Apr 18, 2014 03:49 pm

By: Ashley Tuggle

The Gulf of Mexico is one of the most active areas for oil drilling in the country. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the Gulf accounts for 23% of total crude oil production and the Gulf coast contains over 40% of the oil refining capacity in the country. That much production and refining capacity centered in one region has made the Gulf a prime area for oil-related injuries. Galveston Bay in Texas, alone, has had an average of 285 oil spills annually since 1998.

The March 22 Houston Channel oil spill dumped 170,000 gallons of oil into the ecosystem. Image courtesy of

The March 22 Houston Channel oil spill dumped 170,000 gallons of oil into the ecosystem. Image courtesy of National Geographic Staff.

Most recently, the Houston Ship Channel oil spill on March 22 disrupted not only the Gulf's ecosystem, but one of the busiest seaports in the nation, gaining national attention for the magnitude of the spill, 170,000 gallons of tar-like oil, and its commercial and environmental impacts. The Channel closed for 4 days and significant injuries to marine and coastal wildlife were reported.

Under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, responsible parties must provide compensation for these natural resource injuries on top of the fines related to the spill itself. While the full magnitude of the Channel spill's impacts is still to be determined, it could be extensive as globally significant important shorebird habitat lining both sides of the waterway. The timing of the spill is especially concerning given that it comes just before peak shorebird migration season when tens of thousands of birds will pass through the area surrounding the Houston Ship Channel.

Compensation for environmental impacts from spills of this size typically comes from habitat restoration or creation. A tool called Habitat Equivalency Analysis can help translate environmental damages to wildlife and habitat into restoration acreage.

Spills from ships and pipelines are not the only culprits for oil impacts in North America's coastal waters. Widely-publicized major spills like the Houston Ship Channel spill typically account for only 8% of the petroleum inputs into the North American marine ecosystem. Natural seeps, cars, and other land vehicles, along with recreational boats are major contributors to oil pollution in the Gulf. It is death by a thousand paper cuts. None of these impacts are on the scale of oil spills, but taken in sum, they can add up to the more insidious and chronic injuries impacting our oceans.

Natural oil seeps in the Gulf of Mexico. Image courtesy of the NASA Earth Observatory.

Oil on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, from the natural seeps. Image courtesy of the NASA Earth Observatory.

Natural seeps contribute the majority of the oil load in North American waters, about 60%. However, bacteria have evolved around these seeps that naturally break down the oil coming from them, which is why it is much more of an issue when an oil spill from a tanker occurs in an area that doesn't have these seeps or bacteria.

Cars and other vehicles constantly drip oil, further contributing to the problem. Many storm drains lead directly to the nearest water body without treating stormwater. This means that whatever happens to be on the street at the time may impact the nearby aquatic environment. This kind of pulse impact can lead to more chronic problems in the ecosystem as low-level influxes of oil occur continuously.

Recreational boating can result in small-scale spills that may go unnoticed or unreported. Some experts have noted that as many as 80% of small spills from recreational boats go unreported. This makes tracking the chronic impacts and the full magnitude of these types of spills complicated for regulators and researchers. In busy recreational areas, small spills may represent a much greater proportion of the impact from oil than large-scale spills since they occur on a more consistent basis. They may be the main source of oil for areas that have little to no commercial boat traffic or drilling activity.

Regardless of the source of oil, the impacts of spills, acute and chronic, on our marine ecosystems are extensive and an ongoing problem. When planning for restoration in compensation for major spills, the myriad sources of coastal pollution from oil and other sources must be taken into account for an effective habitat design that can withstand and sometimes even help to cleanse these environmental stressors from an ecosystem. Ending all oil spills is probably not possible, but designing restoration to try to combat their impacts is. Understanding the ecology of a system and the processes that make it more resistant and resilient to oil and other stressors can be the deciding factor in the success of a restoration project. With oil spills, large and small, and the other threats to our coastal waters, restoration success is something our marine ecosystems desperately need to survive.

Pay attention to the open skies, you never know what will be coming down.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Grassroots Restoration Story from India

Sometimes, a simple act repeated industriously can reap great benefits. A solo effort to restore a damaged forest is a very powerful example of that. "It was painful, but I did it".
Indian man single-handedly plants a 1,360-acre forest (and changes the story)
Jadav Payeng turned a barren sandbar in northern India into a lush new forest ecosystem.
A little more than 30 years ago, a teenager named Jadav "Molai" Payeng began burying seeds along a barren sandbar near his birthplace in northern India's Assam region to grow a refuge for wildlife. Not long after, he decided to dedicate his life to this endeavor, so he moved to the site so he could work full-time creating a lush new forest ecosystem. Incredibly, the spot today hosts a sprawling 1,360 acres of jungle that Payeng planted — single-handedly.
The Times of India recently caught up with Payeng in his remote forest lodge to learn more about how he came to leave such an indelible mark on the landscape.
It all started way back in 1979, when floods washed a large number of snakes ashore on the sandbar. One day, after the waters had receded, Payeng, only 16 then, found the place dotted with the dead reptiles. That was the turning point of his life.
"The snakes died in the heat, without any tree cover. I sat down and wept over their lifeless forms. It was carnage. I alerted the forest department and asked them if they could grow trees there. They said nothing would grow there. Instead, they asked me to try growing bamboo. It was painful, but I did it. There was nobody to help me. Nobody was interested," says Payeng, now 47.
While it's taken years for Payeng's remarkable dedication to planting to receive some well-deserved recognition internationally, it didn't take long for wildlife in the region to benefit from the manufactured forest. Demonstrating a keen understanding of ecological balance, Payeng even transplanted ants to his burgeoning ecosystem to bolster its natural harmony. Soon the shadeless sandbar was transformed into a self-functioning environment where a menagerie of creatures could dwell. The forest, called the Molai woods, now serves as a safe haven for numerous birds, deer, rhinos, tigers and elephants — species increasingly at risk from habitat loss.
Despite the conspicuousness of Payeng's project, forestry officials in the region first learned of this new forest in 2008 — and since then they've come to recognize his efforts as truly remarkable, but perhaps not enough.
"We're amazed at Payeng," says Gunin Saikia, assistant conservator of Forests. "He has been at it for 30 years. Had he been in any other country, he would have been made a hero."
With thanks to Bron Taylor, professor of Religion and Environmental Ethics at U of FLA.

Pay attention to the open skies, you never know what will be coming down.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Monday, March 31, 2014 Panel’s Warning on Climate Risk: Worst Is Yet to Come

Nobody on this planet will be untouched by climate change and the worst is yet to come.
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Panel's Warning on Climate Risk: Worst Is Yet to Come


A United Nations report warned that climate change is already having sweeping effects on every continent and is likely to grow substantially worse unless greenhouse emissions are brought under control.

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

White House fights global warming with data

More public access to data to help communities cope with climate change.

"Pay attention to the open skies"

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Retracing OR-7's Journey to California

It should be quite a story to follow: Group retracing trek of wandering Oregon wolf OR-7.

"Pay attention to the open skies"