Saturday, July 31, 2010

From the Inbox: Our World in Focus - Coasts

072910V2 Coast Header
In Brazil, 1,000 kilometers north of Rio de Janeiro, is the most diverse concentration of marine life in the South Atlantic. Here, people have lived in harmony with the sea for centuries. As in so much of the world, the balance of this unique ecosystem is under pressure. A small team of Conservation International staff have not only helped protect this area, but extend its boundaries. This is the story of their success—from the coast to the ocean. Dive into Abrolhos.
Green Sea Turtle Abrolhos
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Sea Film

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Abrolhol Video

Abrolhos Seascape: The first marine park in Brazil
Successes in Abrolhos
CI Field Programs: Abrolhos
Abrolhos photo album
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Thank you to Kathryn Powers and David Morris for uploading their amazing coastal photo to the CI Flickr gallery.
072910 Costa Rica
CI wants to see your mangrove photography! Join us on Flickr to upload your images to the CI gallery.

Stay tuned for the last edition of Our World in Focus next week.

Masked Booby © CI/Photo by Sterling Zumbrunn 
Green sea turtle off the Santa Barbara Island © Luciano Candisani/iLCP
Beach in Costa Rica © Kathryn Powers and David Morris

The non-Ice Age cometh

The fast-disappearing Arctic  ice cap could indicate that Russia is in for more summer heat waves – and winter deep freezes – as climate change creates more instability in global weather.

That’s the warning from Russian scientists, who say that while global warming is not exactly to blame for the country’s current heat wave, increasingly erratic weather is causing Arctic Sea ice to disappear at an alarming rate.

And that could speed up global warming.

“Arctic ice doesn’t impact climate, it is the climate,” climatologist Vladimir Kattsev of the Voyeykov Geophysical Observatory told The Moscow News.

And the latest reports from up north aren’t promising.

“Ice in the Arctic is melting very fast,” Alexander Frolov, head of Russia’s Federal Hydro-Meteorological and Environmental Monitoring Service, was quoted by RIA Novosti as saying.

The shrinking ice area could set a new record this season and dip below the 4.14 million square kilometers registered in 2007, he said.

A vicious circle

What this means is that the Arctic could be seeing ice-free summers within a few decades, freeing up waterways and minerals deposits for Russia. “Perennial ice is fast turning into seasonal ice that disappears in the summer,” Kattsev said.

If previous models predicted ice-free summers by the end of the century, that could happen a lot sooner than expected, he added.

Newer models suggest that “ice could become completely seasonal by around 2050,” he said.

But in what many are touting as a silver lining for Russia, this could make the Arctic more accessible, “shortening northern transit routes and making them safer.”

This could explain why Russian researchers have been making a run for the Arctic, staking out territory that could later yield valuable natural resources.

Whatever the benefits, people shouldn’t forget that the Arctic is a formidable force of nature. Possible advantages would be

offset by dangers like shore erosion and volatile seas, Kattsev said.

“And let’s not forget that the polar bears will suffer from this.” More disturbingly, ice-free summers in the Arctic will speed up global warming. 

Heating up oceans

In what is fast turning into a vicious circle, with less white ice area to reflect the sun, warmth will be absorbed by the

darker ocean waters, heating up the currents and causing further changes in the weather – and more ice to melt.

Meanwhile, the sweltering weather that has already made Moscow feel more like Texas shows no signs of abating, with temperatures set to climb as high as 39 degrees Celsius by the end of the week.

The current heat wave has affected a larger area and has lasted longer than any other since 1972.

Hotter up north

Even Russia’s northernmost reaches are feeling balmier than usual.

“This summer is noticeably warmer. It’s about 20 degrees right now, with high humidity,” said a spokeswoman for the Solovetsky Gulag Museum on the Solovki Islands (on right) in the Arctic.

“It has reached 30 this summer, which is unusual, and we’re seeing rapid temperature changes,” she said.

This, however, is not necessarily a signal of global warming, Kattsev, the climatologist, said.

“Just as the abnormally cold winter was not a counter-argument to global warming, the heat is not an argument for it,” he said. “It is merely an enormous weather anomaly that by itself doesn’t speak of anything.”

But over a wider time-span, if these anomalies become more frequent over the course of several decades, this would indicate climate change.

“Average temperatures could remain the same, with colder winters offsetting warmer summers,” he said. “But more extreme weather patterns are certainly an indicator.”

The Moscow News,"The non-Ice Age cometh", accessed July 28, 2010

Friday, July 30, 2010

From the Inbox: Urge your representative to co-sponsor the national Toxic Chemical Safety Act

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July 27, 2010 Urge your representative to co-sponsor the Toxic Chemicals Safety Act
Take Action
Take Action Now

The Toxic Substances Control Act, the law regulating the use of industrial chemicals, was enacted in 1976 and is in serious need of an overhaul. Although other laws require pharmaceuticals and pesticides to undergo safety testing before they are available for purchase, the Toxic Substances Control Act has allowed thousands of industrial chemicals -- used in children's products, cleaning products, toys, furniture and electronics, and as oil dispersants in the Gulf of Mexico -- to reach consumers without that same precaution.

Rather than requiring chemical manufacturers to prove the safety of their products before putting them on the market, the Toxic Substances Control Act compels the Environmental Protection Agency to prove that a chemical is unreasonably dangerous before its use can be restricted or prevented. To make matters worse, the law drastically limits the EPA's ability to obtain information from companies about the potential environmental and health effects of the chemicals they produce.

In April, Senator Lautenberg (D-NJ) introduced the Safe Chemicals Act to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act. Now Rep. Waxman (D-CA) has introduced a House companion to that bill, the Toxic Chemicals Safety Act, moving us one step closer to passing these much needed reforms into law.

Like its Senate companion, the Toxic Chemicals Safety Act would strengthen the current law by shifting the burden back to the chemical industry to prove its products are safe, establishing health standards for chemicals to protect children and other vulnerable groups, and strengthening the public's right to know about the safety and use of chemicals.

What to do

Send a message urging your representative to co-sponsor the Toxic Chemicals Safety Act (H.R. 5820).

Take Action Now

President announces new national oceans policy
For the last year, you have sent tens of thousands of comments urging the Obama administration to establish the nation's first-ever comprehensive policy for our oceans, coasts and Great Lakes. And we are thrilled to report that on July 19th President Obama signed an executive order to do exactly that! Just as we have a Clean Water Act for our water and a Clean Air Act for our air, we now have a national policy for our oceans that will help better protect, maintain and restore ocean ecosystems. Our oceans, coasts and the Great Lakes are valuable economic engines providing jobs, food, energy resources, recreation and tourism, and the administration's ground-breaking action will help ensure that our oceans are better managed to meet the needs of present and future generations.  

Thanks to everyone who took action, and congratulations on this remarkable victory!

You can read the full executive order at the White House website.

Scientist says hundreds may die as smog blankets Moscow

A prominent scientist said hundreds of people could die as smog from peat fires blanketed a sweltering Moscow for a second day on Tuesday.

Moscow region chief Boris Gromov asked Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to allocate 25 billion roubles ($827 million) to fight the fires smoldering in the forests around Moscow.

Alexei Yablokov, an internationally renowned biologist who runs Russia's Green Party, said air pollution caused by the smog's high amount of carbon dioxide could kill hundreds more people than usual in the Moscow region.

"There will be at least 100 additional deaths per day this time round," Yablokov stated, referring to the last such smog cloud in 2002 in which he calculated 600 people had died each week.

The Moscow government agency overseeing air pollution, Mosekonomonitoring, said the levels of carbon monoxide in the air on Tuesday shot up by 20-30 percent more than normal levels. (Left: Kremlin barely shows through smog)

Russia's senior public health official suggested on Tuesday employers free their staff while the thick smog and record-breaking heat in the Russian capital surged.

"Employers, if there is a possibility, could allow people to not come to work," Gennady Onishchenko, head of Russia's health

protection agency, told Interfax news agency.

Peat, used in the past to produce heat and electricity, smolders deep underground in winters and summers. Gromov said the only solution to the fires was to pour water over deposits.

"According to preliminary estimates, only in one district where fires are now most severe, over 4.5 billion roubles is needed. We have five such districts," Gromov told Putin during an emergency video conference.

Putin said he would ask the emergency and economy ministries to examine the request.

The emergencies ministry said that in the last 24 hours there had appeared 58 new fires in the Moscow region, 30 of them at peat deposits.


Reuters,,"Scientist says hundreds may die as smog blankets Moscow", accessed July 28, 2010

Thursday, July 29, 2010

From the Inbox: Make a Real Difference for Wildlife: Volunteer in the Gulf Coast

National Wildlife Federation

nwfaf_turtle_suanDear Friend,

You can make a big difference for wildlife affected by the Gulf Coast tragedy.

National Wildlife Federation’s Wildlife Surveillance network is the only volunteer corps monitoring and recording impact of the oil spill on all wildlife, and we need your help!

Volunteer today to grow and expand the network of volunteers across the coast.

Volunteers participate on a weekly basis by walking, rowing, or boating a specific section of the Gulf and reporting observations of wildlife affected by oil.

Reports include observation, GPS and photographic data. The data being collected will help to create a map of the extent and degree of impact to assist with future habitat restoration.

Make a difference for wildlife and coastal habitats by volunteering today!

Volunteers are required to:
  • Live in the Gulf region (TX, LA, FL, AL, MS).
  • Be able to walk lengthy distances on various terrain (1 to 2 miles of coastline).
  • Arrange for own boating or have your own boat, kayak or canoe.
  • Commit to weekly monitoring of 2 to 4 hours for 2 weeks at a time.
  • Have access to a computer (PC or MAC) for reporting.
  • Provide own transportation and have own accomodations.

We are looking for individuals with the following interest and skills:
  • Familiar with geography of the region (waterways, accessible beaches).
  • Familiar with wildlife and wildlife behavior in the region.

Still interested? Sign up today!

Training is provided for qualified individuals.


National Wildlife Federation

Smog blankets Moscow on city's hottest day

People walk along Red Square,
with St. Basil's Cathedral seen
through heavy smog caused
by peat fires in out-of-city
forests, in Moscow, July 26, 2010.

Moscow sweltered on Monday through its hottest day since records began 130 years ago, as temperatures hit 37.4 degrees Celsius (99.3 degrees Farenheit) sparking 34 peat fires and 26 forest fires that blanketed the city in smog.

A heatwave has engulfed central parts of European Russia, and
Siberia since June, destroying crops covering an area the size of Portugal. Green groups, including Greenpeace, say the temperatures are evidence of global warming.

"The all-time record has been broken, we have never recorded a day this hot before," said Gennady Yeliseyev, deputy head of Russia's state weather agency. The previous high of 36.8 degrees Celsius was recorded on August 7, 1920, he said.

"The new record could be broken by Wednesday," he said. 

A dome of Christ the Saviour
Cathedral is seen through
heavy smog, caused by peat
fires in out-of-city forests,
in Moscow, July 26, 2010

Muscovites have struggled to deal with the heat, with most electronics retailers selling out of fans and air conditioners, and many cafes running out of ice and cold beer by early afternoon.

Women were using golf umbrellas to shield themselves from the sun on Red Square. Bloggers have begun to complain of men traveling with bare torsos on the metro.

"This summer is very hard, physically and emotionally," said accountant Marina Veselkova, trying to cool off by a fountain in front of Bolshoi Theater after sending her children to relatives in the country.

"It's very bad," said Alexander, a courier. "I go to the beach at the weekends but it's difficult to swim because the water is so hot."


Russian grain prices shot up last week on advancing drought . The Agriculture Ministry said late on Friday that by July 22 drought had killed crops over 100,000 square kilometers (38,600 square miles), an area larger than Portugal.

Muscovites' discomfort was compounded on Monday by a blanket of smog, whose sharp, cinder-filled smell permeated the city and crept into offices, homes and restaurants via windows and doors.

The emergencies ministry said 34 peat fires and 26 forest fires were blazing on Monday in the area surrounding Moscow, covering 59 hectares (145 acres) although in a late report Pravada reported that specialists had reported
A tower of the Moscow Kremlin
(in the foreground) is seen through
heavy smog, caused by peat fires
in out-of-city forests, July 26, 2010.
63 forest fires taking place on the outskirts of the city on the total square of 71 hectares.

"Muscovites will have to inhale smoke for another two to two and a half months," said Alexei Yaroshenko, head of the forest program at Greenpeace Russia. He said the smoke could eclipse the worst smog registered in Moscow, in 1872 and 1837.  Russia's Chief Therapist Alexander Chuchalin recommends Muscovites and residents of other territories should stay outside as short a time as possible.

Summer temperatures in Moscow have already set nine records in just 1.5 months.

Airports serving Moscow were unaffected by the smoke.

Vessels move along the
Moskva River shrouded by
heavy smog, caused by
peat fires in out-of-city
forests, in Moscow,
July 26, 2010
"This is awful. It is going to damage people's health," said telephone engineer Davit Manukov, 25, standing by the Kremlin where black clouds of smoke enveloped its golden onion domes.

The Moscow government agency overseeing air pollution, Moseko monitoring, stated that the amount of harmful impurities in Moscow's air exceeded the norm by 5-8 times.

The elderly and those suffering from heart disease should try and avoid contact with the smog, said its chief specialist Alexei Popikov, adding that the levels of carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide were high.

Reuters, "Smog blankets Moscow on city's hottest day", accessed July 28, 2010

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

From the Inbox: This Green Life

This Green Life

JULY 2010: It's not a pristine wilderness, but this urban wildlife refuge sure serves a lot of people and animals—and is about to get a much needed clean-up.

Saving an Urban Wild Land
A good news story

One of the natural places NRDC works to protect is very near and dear to my heart. Though not officially an NRDC BioGem—or any kind of wilderness—it is as irreplaceable in its own way as Yellowstone. And like much of the Yellowstone area, it is managed by the National Park Service.

At the heart of this special place is a wildlife refuge, the only one of its kind in the national park system. But the true wonder of it is that it is in New York City, my hometown.

I am speaking of Jamaica Bay, which sits at the southern intersection of Brooklyn and Queens—so close to me I can get to it by public transit. My web design firm works with an NPS partner organization, the National Parks of New York Harbor Conservancy, so that is another point of connection for me.

Within Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, you can hike wooded trails, kayak through wetlands and do world-class bird-watching. Some 330 bird species have been observed there—20% of North America's total. And you don't need to know a sandpiper from a tern to enjoy the spectacle.

Birds are not all. Jamaica Bay is home to 60 species of butterfly and 80 species of fish, as well as reptiles, amphibians and small mammals. Every spring diamondback terrapins crawl up on the beach to lay their eggs. The horseshoe crabs also come ashore to mate and dig nests, as I have witnessed myself on a guided walk with park rangers.

This sanctuary for humans and wildlife is like another world. And yet, from certain spots, the Empire State Building is clearly visible in the distance. The "A" train periodically rattles across a bridge (yes, that storied train of song) and planes from nearby JFK Airport rise overhead.

It is just that rare mix—of being in the city but not of it—that makes Jamaica Bay so important to protect.

The threats are formidable. One is sea level rise from global warming, which is contributing to the alarming disappearance of the marsh grass islands that dot and define the bay—both ecologically and aesthetically. These islands are projected to vanish within 15 years if the present trend continues.

The other main threat is local and therefore more easily addressed—effluent from four sewage treatment plants that flood the bay with nitrogen.

If you garden (and even if you don't), you may know that nitrogen helps plants grow. Well, it has the same effect in an aquatic environment—with consequences that can be disastrous. Alga can proliferate, reducing oxygen in the water, which makes the environment inhospitable to fish and other creatures, with domino effects on the birds that eat them and animals that eat the birds. It's an undesirable chain of events in any habitat, let alone a wildlife refuge.

Maybe you've heard of the gigantic dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Before the BP oil spill, it was the Gulf's chief environmental problem. The cause is fertilizer run-off into the Mississippi River, which lets out into the Gulf. (Nitrogen is a key ingredient in fertilizer.) Virtually nothing lives in the dead zone, which this year is projected to reach 6,500 to 7,800 square miles, roughly the size of New Jersey. That is the effect of excess nitrogen and other plant nutrients writ large.

Back in my small corner of the world, the dead fish regularly found floating in the bay provide evidence of our local nitrogen problem. Experts suspect that the high levels of nitrogen are also contributing to the problem of the disappearing marsh islands.

But here, at last, is the good news!

New York City has agreed in principle to a sewage treatment plan that will nearly halve nitrogen discharges into the bay, as well as to significant improvements in water quality monitoring. In addition, the city has pledged $15 million over five years for marsh restoration, which, it is hoped, the federal Army Corps of Engineers will match, two to one.

There's more. The Army Corps of Engineers, in partnership with the National Park Service, has been restoring marsh islands with material dredged from the harbor floor to deepen shipping lanes. And soon, the National Parks of New York Harbor Parks Conservancy will be launching a "Campaign for Jamaica Bay" to leverage government funding for the bay with private sector support—and a roster of programs and activities that will benefit the community.

One interesting plan for the bay is oyster bed restoration. A keystone species that was once abundant in the bay and throughout the harbor, oysters eat algae and filter nitrogen from the water. Their return could play a significant role in bringing the ecosystem back to health.

It is still unclear what the future holds for Jamaica Bay, but the prospects have begun to look brighter. From your vantage, wherever you reside, it may not seem to matter much. Jamaica Bay will never match the majesty of the great wild places that you dream of visiting one day. But Jamaica Bay is in a city where millions of people live—and can be visited any day. That, in a nutshell, is the beauty of it.

—Sheryl Eisenberg

Egret at Jamaica Bay with Manhattan skyline in background

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The Fall Migration The Fall Migration
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In the Bay of Whales In the Bay of Whales
A kiss and tell story
Mothballed Getting in Touch
Out of the park and into the wild
On This Topic

Jamaica Bay soundscape
CATBIRDS, TOWHEES AND CRICKETS are among the wildlife I encountered on a visit to Jamaica Bay last September. On the trip, I collected sounds and pictures for an interactive "soundscape" for the National Parks of New York Harbor Conservancy.

Spring peeper
YOU CAN DOWNLOADfree ringtones and wallpaperYouTube video by kelsadee.based on audio and photography from my visits to Jamaica Bay. The chiming sound of spring peepers (that's a peeper above) is an early sound of spring at the refuge and makes a particularly good ringtone. See how a peeper makes his call in this


New York Harbor Parks
Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge

10,000 Birds
Jamaica Bay Birding (amazing photos!)

NRDC's Switchboard
NYC to Clean up Jamaica Bay

Gotham Gazette
Can the City & Oyster Save Jamaica Bay?

The New York Times
Scientists Baffled by Loss of Marsh
Muck to Restore Islands in Jamaica Bay

Goddard Institute for Space Studies
The Vanishing Marshes of Jamaica Bay: Sea Level Rise or Environmental Degradation?

Gulf Restoration Network
The Dead Zone

Bird on West Pond