Thursday, April 29, 2010

Gulf Oil Spill Threatens Blue Carbon Ecosystems

Gulf Oil Spill Threatens Natural Wildlife Areas
Endangered species, waterfoul, coastal communities and the climate change mitigation potential of coastal wetlands threatened as oils slick moves closer to land

April 29 / Miami FL / Fears are escalating of coastal impacts on the Mississippi Delta and neighboring areas despite the Coast Guard setting the oil spill on fire on Wednesday.  Apparently, early reports grossly underestimated the volume of the spill and the wind is strengthening in the wrong direction, towards land.

The oil spill may first impact the Delta National Wildlife Refuge and Pass-a-Loutre Wildlife Management Area, which together encompass 164,000 acres of pristine coastal marsh habitat located at the mouth of the Mississippi River.  This area is known for lush vegetation and multitude of fish, waterfowl and animals.  Endangered and Threatened Species found there include American alligator, brown pelican, Arctic peregrine falcon and piping plover.

The coastal marshlands also serve as a natural carbon sink, storing and absorbing atmospheric carbon through biomass production and sediment trapping, therefore helping to mitigate climate change.  This ability may be impaired by oil contamination.

The value of coastal ecosystems in mitigating climate change was recognized by nine U.S. Senators, in their sponsorship of marine habitat language included in the Clean Energy Partnerships Act earlier this year.

The cost of oil cleanup in marshlands is expected to be high.  The oil spill also threatens the barrier islands of the Breton National Wildlife Refuge, tourism along beaches in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, as well as commercial oyster and shrimp fisheries.

Oil slick reported within 8 miles of coastline on Wednesday, April 28, 2010.
Image source: 


April 30 / This blog was edited to include the Pass-a-Loutre Wildlife Management Area. Thanks for the comment! -Steven

Friday, April 23, 2010

Whale poop is vital to ocean's carbon cycle

Tags: baleen whale feces, ocean carbon cycle, iron fertilization

A Baleen whale feces event in the Southern Ocean (Image: J Brokowski)

- More on the contribution of whales (feeding habits) to the ocean's carbon cycle -

Q: How does this natural process compare to the old ruse of iron fertilization?

Q: How much of this carbon actually makes it depth?

Q: What about methane released in whale flatulence?

6:37 22 April 2010 by Wendy Zukerman

Saving endangered baleen whales could boost the carbon storage capacity of the Southern Ocean, suggests a new study of whale faeces. Whale faeces once provided huge quantities of iron to a now anaemic Southern Ocean, boosting the growth of carbon-sequestering phytoplankton.

So says Stephen Nicol of the Australian Antarctic Division, based in Kingston, Tasmania, who has found "huge amounts of iron in whale poo". He believes that before commercial whaling, baleen whale faeces may have accounted for some 12 per cent of the iron on the surface of the Southern Ocean.

Previous studies have shown that iron is crucial to ocean health because plankton need it to grow. "If you add soluble iron to the ocean, you get instant phytoplankton growth," says Nicol. The amount of iron in whale faeces means that protecting Antarctic whales could swell populations of phytoplankton, which absorb carbon dioxide.

Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) feed on the phytoplankton, concentrating the iron in their tissue. And in turn, baleen whales eat the krill.

Iron rations
It had already been suggested that whales recycled iron in the ocean by eating it in krill and making it available to phytoplankton in faeces. But until this study, no one had analysed whale faeces to confirm if it indeed contained significant quantities of iron.

Nicol's team analysed 27 samples of faeces from four species of baleen whales. He found that on average whale faeces had 10 million times as much iron as Antarctic seawater.

The team confirmed the iron came from krill by analysing the iron content in whole krill and sampling genetic material from the whale faeces for krill DNA. "We confirmed the vast majority of the iron in the poo came from krill," says Nicol.

Using estimates of the whale population before commercial whaling in the Southern Ocean began early last century, Nicol predicts that baleen whales – now endangered – once consumed about 190 million tonnes of krill every year and produced 7600 tonnes of iron-rich faeces.

Big eaters

Larger populations of whales would have produced more of this "bio-available" iron, leading to bigger phytoplankton and krill populations in turn, says Nicol.

"Allowing the great whales to recover will allow the system to slowly reset itself," he says. And this will ultimately increase the amount of CO2 that the Southern Ocean can sequester.

David Raubenheimer, who researches marine nutritional ecology at Massey University in Auckland, New Zealand, says the findings are convincing and important. They highlight a specific ecological role for whales in the oceans "other than their charisma", he says.

Peter Gill, a whale ecologist at Deakin University in Warrnambool, Victoria, Australia, calls the research "exciting stuff".

"So many whales were moved from the ocean before we could understand the ocean ecology," says Gill. "It's exciting when we can reconstruct the past, and all these bits fall into place."

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Blue Climate Solutions Rallies Against Oil Drilling off Florida

Blue Climate Solutions joined Environment Florida, 1Sky, Miami Surfrider and others to protest oil drilling off Florida.

April 18 / Miami FL / Blue Climate Solutions joined Environment Florida, 1Sky, Miami Surfrider, Urban Paradise Guild and others rallying to urge President Obama to protect Florida's beaches and coastal ecosystems from oil drilling on Thursday, April 15th.

An oil spill could potentially foul local beaches, coral reefs, and blue carbon ecosystems, such as mangrove forests, saltwater marshlands and shallow seagrass meadows.

Obama was in Miami to attend a fundraiser at the Adrienne Arsht Center.

We hope that Thursday’s protest will help the Obama Administration scrutinize the wisdom of opening oil drilling close to these valuable and fragile ecosystems.

More images of the event are available at: