Wildlife

Orca Spotted with Plastic Bag in Mouth

Researchers snapped a picture of a baby killer whale in the Pacific Northwest holding a plastic bag in its mouth, just the latest example of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans. Last month, scientists from the Centre for Whale Research monitoring orcas in the Salish Sea say they spotted a calf playing with what at first looked like a small scrap of blubber. When the baby whale dropped the item from its mouth, they realized it was actually a plastic bag.

Rogue plastic trash can be a problem when it gets into the mouths of the ocean’s animals like whales, turtles and seals, but it can even harm creatures deep beneath the surface. One group of researchers recently published a database of trash on the seafloor from California to Canada and offshore of Hawaii. They found that most garbage in their catalogue was plastic, and of those items, more than half were plastic bags, some choking corals nearly 7,000 feet (2,115 meters) below.

Baby orca

Environment

Pollution Shortens Life-Expectancy – China

Chinese living in heavily polluted northern areas of the country have their lives cut by an average of 5.5 years by airborne toxins compared to those living in the relatively cleaner south of the country.

A report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says that the widespread use of coal in the north is the main cause of the shorter life spans.

Using official data from Chinese sources, an American, an Israeli and two Chinese scholars found that decades of burning coal have led to more deaths from cardio-respiratory diseases for people living north of the Huai River, which is considered the dividing line between northern and southern China.

The use of coal in central heating systems in colder northern climes is the main reason for the high emissions.

Coal has also been used to feed the explosive growth of heavy industry there.

In the aftermath of China’s Maoist revolution, the government began giving free coal for boilers so people could keep warm during the north’s cold winters. That policy is still in place.

Environment

Man-made Particles Lower Hurricane Frequency

Higher levels of air pollution reduced the frequency of North Atlantic hurricanes and other tropical storms for most of the 20th century, a study said Sunday.

Adding to evidence for mankind’s impact on the weather system, the probe found a link between these powerful storms and aerosols, the scientific term for specks of matter suspended in a gas.

Aerosols can occur in natural form — as dusty volcanic plumes, clouds or fog — but are also man-made, such as sooty particles from burning coal or oil.

The study focused on particles from North America and Europe that were generated mainly from burning fossil fuels.

Researchers from the UK Met Office created weather simulations covering the period 1860 to 2050.

They found that tropical storms were much less frequent during periods when emissions of man-made aerosols increased over the North Atlantic.

Aerosols reflect solar rays and change the brightness of clouds, which affects how much of the Sun’s heat is projected onto the surface of the sea.

Ocean warmth provides the raw energy for tropical storms, which in extreme conditions can brew into destructive hurricanes.

Conversely, the study found that measures since the 1980s to tackle pollution and improve air quality reduced levels of aerosols — have in turn ramped up hurricane activity.

The clean-up of industrial aerosols in the last 20 years, while being beneficial for human health and linked to a recovery of African Sahel rains since the 1980s droughts, may have contributed to increases in Atlantic hurricane activity.

The research team postulates that in the future, it will be Earth-warming greenhouse gases, much longer-lasting than aerosols, that will exert the most influence on tropical storm frequency.

Environment

Trashing the Seafloor

In their 25 years of exploring the deep seafloor, researchers with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California have discovered trash and debris littering the floor of the Pacific Ocean. Most of the garbage was recyclables such as plastic bottles, soda and food cans. But plastic bags, shoes and even shipping containers make their way to the deep ocean depths, 13,000 feet (4,000 meters) below the surface.

More than half of the plastic items were bags. A deep-sea coral living nearly 7,000 feet (2,115 meters) off the Oregon Coast had a black plastic bag wrapped around its base, which will eventually kill the organism.

Trash 3 intro bag coral

The second biggest source of ocean trash was metal — soda and food cans. Other common types of debris included rope from fishing equipment, glass bottles, cardboard, wood and clothing.

Because most of the ocean pollution came from single-use plastic bottles and cans, it is hoped the research will inspire more people to reduce, reuse and recycle.

Trash 9 rope 350

Environment

Sandstorm in Beijing.

Beijing and other parts of northern China were stung by hazardous air pollution levels Thursday as strong winds blew a sandstorm through the region.

Air in the capital turned a yellowish hue as sand from China’s arid northwest blew in, turning the sky into a noxious soup of smog and dust.

130228 beijing sand2 6a 380

Beijing’s municipal government issued a yellow-haze warning late Wednesday while state media urged citizens to stay indoors or to take precautions such as donning face masks before venturing outside.

Environment

Chinese media urges action on air pollution

Chinese media said on Monday the government had to take urgent action to tackle air pollution, which has blanketed parts of the country at dangerous levels in recent days, and one newspaper called for a re-think of a “fixation” on economic growth.

China’s media are under tight Communist Party control and usually steer clear of controversy, but news organisations are more free to report on pollution, partly because it can’t be hidden from the public.

Air quality in Beijing was far above hazardous levels over the weekend, reaching 755 on an index that measures particulate matter in the air with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers. A level of 300 is considered dangerous while the World Health Organisation recommends a daily level of no more than 20.

Beijing Smog

Environment

The Arctic Ocean is increasingly becoming the world’s garbage dump, with twice as much plastic trash and other litter covering its seabed compared to 10 years ago.

The amount of human refuse seen at the Arctic deep-sea observatory was found to be even greater than in a deep-sea canyon near the Portuguese capital of Lisbon.

arctic refuse

Wildlife

Pollution and bush fires choke honey production in the Rift Valley, Kenya.

The heavy presence of pesticides in the air and environmental degradation in bee keeping areas is affecting production. Some of the agrochemicals being used to spray large-scale farms and ranches are harmful and have affected production of honey by poisoning pollen which is the main food of the bees.

Sporadic fires in Mt Kenya forest worsened matters for bee keepers in Laikipia East as heavy smoke was swept into hives, killing millions of bees.

Environment

University of Hawaii scientists say a disease outbreak amongst the island’s coral at Hanalei Bay on Kauai’s north shore is killing the coral at an alarming rate. Attempts are being made to stop the spread of the disease by covering the coral with marine putty, to cut the disease off from healthy coral. The underlying causes include overfishing, pollution and sewage spills. Coral is the foundation for the ocean ecosystem, and without it the ecosystem will fail.