Posts Tagged 'NPR'



A Blue View: Explore A Shore Responsibly

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 pm as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

June 12, 2013: Explore the Shore

A Blue View podcast

Click here to listen to John discuss the importance
of responsibly enjoying the shore!

Whether boating, fishing, or just walking along the sandy shore, spending time on the water is a classic summer pastime. For many of us, these visits are an opportunity to explore. From birds, crabs, and fish, to the occasional dolphin and seal sighting, an amazing diversity of life lives in harmony along the shore. It is critical, though, as many of us make our way to the water, that we take responsibility for the ways that our actions impact the environment.

When we get too close to certain wildlife, for example, we can unintentionally cause a nest failure or force an animal to flee, putting its survival at risk. Never feed wildlife, not even the bread scraps from your beach picnic, and avoid sensitive sand dunes by sticking to walkways. And when boating, obey posted speed limits and slow down while motoring through shallow waterways. Respect these natural habitats by observing wildlife from a distance—close enough to appreciate the beauty of these incredible ecosystems but far enough away to leave wildlife and plants undisturbed.

It’s also essential to dispose of trash properly. Every summer, people leave their footprints—and a whole lot of trash—along our coasts. From fishing line to plastic bags, our throwaways can throw our oceans into turmoil if we don’t dispose of these materials responsibly.

Fishing line is particularly dangerous to animals. Wildlife often eat or become entangled in monofilament line, which is practically invisible. One unfortunate sea turtle was found with an astounding 590 feet of fishing line in his gut. One study showed that more than 50 percent of sea turtles stranded on a beach contained traces of debris in their digestive tracts. Sixty-five percent of those animals had ingested plastic bags, and it’s no wonder: the U.S. International Trade Commission reported that 102 billion plastic bags were used in the United States in 2008 alone—that’s a bag a day for every woman, man and child.

Though there are many statistics citing the numbers of animals that die as a result of marine debris each year—one estimate in fact is 100,000 marine mammals and millions of birds and fishes—this area of study is evolving. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris Program is taking essential strides in supporting efforts to research, prevent, and reduce the impacts of marine debris, but it’s clear that we can’t afford to wait to take action. The bottom line is that even one piece of garbage on the beach is one too many.

This year, think about your impacts as you pack for your day at the beach. A great place to start is reusable goods. It’s often windy by the shore, so keep your trash and belongings from blowing into the ocean. Some popular fishing areas provide safe recycling containers for monofilament line. You can also ship monofilament to the Berkley Recycling Center in Iowa. This company will use your line to create Fish-Habs, which are four-foot underwater habitat structures made from recycled fishing line, milk cartons, and soft drink bottles. These cubes attract fish and encourage plant growth, providing natural cover necessary to maintain healthy habitats.

Whatever you do, follow this one essential rule when you’re at the shore this summer: When it’s time to go home, leave nothing but your footprints!

A Blue View: Our Ocean Junk

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

June 5, 2013: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

A Blue View podcastListen to John discuss how marine debris
is seriously affecting the health of our oceans. 

In 1900, plastic debris did not exist in the ocean. Today, hundreds of millions of metric tons affect our seas. The oceans need our help now.

Imagine a stroll along the beach. You might picture a beautiful, uncluttered expanse of blue. The reality is that the ocean is a complex system filled with plants, animals, minerals, elements, and, yes, trash.

This trash often ends up in a gyre.  Gyres are large areas of calm water that are encircled by ocean currents formed by the earth’s wind patterns and rotation of the planet. Debris that drifts into these gyres stays there for years – pushed gently in a slow spiral toward the center. Every ocean in the world has a gyre, with additional gyres near Antarctica and Alaska.

five gyres

Map courtesy of 5 gyres.

Within these enormous ocean junkyards, you aren’t likely to see giant pieces of plastic and other trash floating on the surface. Animal ingestion and entanglement in larger types of marine debris is a major issue. But primarily, these garbage patches are made up of plastic that has broken down over time into smaller, sometimes microscopic, pieces. This plastic is suspended in a layer of the water column that reaches below the surface. Because most of the debris isn’t readily visible on the surface, the size of the garbage patch cannot be seen or tracked by satellite or aircraft.

These plastic particles that circulate through oceans act as sponges for contaminants that have washed through our watersheds. These persistent organic pollutants absorb into plastic in high concentrations. Once in the oceans, fish and other marine animals cannot avoid eating this minute particles, so plastic enters the ocean food chain at its most basic level. These fish are then eater by other fish and organisms, delivering this pollution to onto our dinner plate.

So who is responsible for cleaning up these oceanic garbage dumps? Because these gyres are so far from any country’s coastline, no nation has been willing to take responsibility. It’s up to concerned citizens to make this issue a priority. One group that has stepped up to inform and inspire the public about this issue is 5 Gyres. Through events and other outreach opportunities around the country, including at both National Aquarium venues in 2012, the group aims to conduct research and employ strategies to eliminate the accumulation of plastic pollution.

Since plastics are not going away, we as a culture need to figure out how to balance our use of these items with awareness and concern for their impact on the environment. This issue may seem insurmountable, but even one person cutting back on their plastic consumption can make a difference starting today.

Did you know? Approximately 29 billion bottles are purchased every year in the United States. Make a pledge to reduce your consumption of plastic bottles today and help us take better care of our oceans! 

Diane Rehm’s Environmental Outlook: Jellyfish And The Health Of The Ocean

Blog-Header-AnimalExpertUpd

Earlier today, I spoke to NPR’s Diane Rehm about jellies and the impact that jellyfish population increases and expansion of some species’ geographic ranges are having on the health of our oceans.

Jack Cover at Diane Rehm show

With Bill Dennison and Diane Rehm at NPR.

Jellyfish first appeared around 560 million years ago (long before the time of dinosaurs). They’re 95 percent water, have no brains and no bones and no heart or blood, yet these gelatinous animals are among the worlds’ most resilient organisms.

The jellies simple body plan has remained relatively unchanged. But lately some scientists are concerned the animals are thriving too well – overrunning marine ecosystems, forcing nuclear power plants to shut down and filling the nets of commercial fisherman and shutting down fisheries around the world.

Some of the jellyfish species on exhibit here at the Aquarium.

Jellyfish species from top left (clockwise): blue blubber jelly, upside down jelly, spotted lagoon jelly, Leidy’s comb jelly

There are both ecological human-related issues causing an “explosion” of jellyfish populations around the world.

  • Over the years, climate change has raised the average temperature of the ocean. While this rise has negatively impacted organisms like coral, warm season jellies start breeding earlier and have longer active seasons.
  • Human activities, such as the over-fertilization of our lawns and farms, results in a runoff of excesses of nutrients into the Chesapeake Bay and ocean. This results in what’s known as an algal bloom. When the algae absorbs all of this nutrient run-off, it dies. Bacteria then feeds on the dead algae and removes all dissolved oxygen from the water – this process is called eutrophication and produces “dead zones.” Fish and crabs perish in these dead zones, but not the resilient jelly. Jellyfish can survive with low oxygen levels!
  • Jellyfish are opportunistic feeders. When food, like zooplankton, is abundant, they will grow rapidly and reproduce at a rapid rate. Excessively large jellyfish populations can out compete young fishes that also feed on zooplankton.
  • Some scientists speculate that the reproduction of jellyfish predators may also be giving jelly populations a boost. For example, all seven species of sea turtle will opportunistically feed on jellyfish when they are encountered. The largest species of sea turtle, the leatherback, feeds almost exclusively on jellies. Pacific populations of leatherbacks are currently at about 7 percent of their historic population levels. Human activities are the cause of sea turtle population declines. Overfishing has reduced fish populations that also feed on jellies.

To listen the full “Environmental Outlook” segment on Diane Rehm’s show, click here

Jack Cover

A Blue View: A Devastating Year for Manatees

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 pm as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

May 15, 2013: A Devastating Year for Manatees

A Blue View podcast

Click here to listen to John discuss the issues
facing manatee populations in Florida.

Gentle giants with few enemies, manatee populations have nonetheless long been threatened. The species has been on the federal endangered species list since 1967, when the list was created, and has been protected by Florida state law since 1893. Thanks to this, manatee populations have grown in recent years.

Typically, manatee deaths and injuries are associated with boat strikes. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a manatee without tell-tale propeller scars. But this year, a particularly aggressive red tide along Florida’s southwest coast has killed more than 265 manatees. Combined with other causes of death, more than 580 manatees have died out of an estimated population of 5,000—a staggering number that has erased those recent population gains.

Red tide is an algae bloom that occurs naturally every year, though the 2013 bloom has proven to be more deadly than any previous year on record. Characterized most often by a red discoloration of the water, the algae produces toxins that affect the nervous system of vertebrates. These toxins can settle on sea grass and blow through the air when waves break the algae apart. Since manatees eat up to 100 pounds of sea grass per day, this can have devastating effects.

Symptoms of red tide toxicity in manatees include muscle twitching, lack of coordination, difficulty breathing, and seizures, but they aren’t the only ones affected. It can also cause human respiratory distress, shellfish poisoning, and the deaths of other marine mammals, fish, and turtles.

So what can be done? The truth is, when red tide strikes, little can be done besides just waiting it out. Florida state wildlife officials believe that this year’s red tide is subsiding, but the effects of the bloom are likely to be seen over the next weeks and months, resulting in more deaths.

Several facilities in Florida are equipped to handle critical care of manatees, but the Lowry Park Zoo’s Manatee Hospital is the only one rehabilitating red tide patients. Not many have been rescued, though every life saved is a victory for this endangered species.

manatee

A manatee in rehabilitation at Lowry Park Zoo.

To date, 13 manatees with red tide toxicity have been admitted to the hospital for care. Staff members monitor each sick manatee around the clock until the danger has passed, holding up the manatee’s head so it can breathe. Once out of the red tide environment, manatees recover fairly quickly. Unfortunately, there really isn’t anywhere for them to go.

Manatees are migratory animals, and staff at the hospital don’t want to release their patients only to have them wind up in danger again. They are working with state and federal partners to determine when the manatees can be safely returned to the open waters.

Efforts are ongoing to understand why this year’s red tide bloom was so toxic and long-lasting. An uncommonly mild winter most likely contributed because the algae bloom didn’t die off as quickly as normal. Manatees swam right into the red tide in their search for warmer waters. There’s also speculation that phosphorus runoff from farms and lawns are been a factor in the red tide’s severity. The hope is that as scientists better understand the reasons behind this extraordinary red tide event, the lessons learned can better prepare us for the next time, and more manatees can be saved.

A Blue View: Vernal Pools

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

April 17, 2013: Vernal Pools

A Blue View podcastClick here to listen to John discuss what vernal pools
and the important role they play for our woodland ecosystems. 

When most of us think of aquatic ecosystems, what usually comes to mind are oceans, rivers, bays, lakes, and streams. But there is another essential body of water, one not commonly known, that provides critical habitats for many woodland animals.

Vernal pools are similar to swamps or small ponds in appearance, but there’s one key difference: They fill and dry cyclically throughout the year. These temporary woodland ponds occur in shallow depressions and typically fill in the spring and dry out during the summer only to fill once again in the fall. Small in size, usually less than an acre, vernal pools are often surrounded by woodlands.

Several species of frogs, toads, salamanders, and numerous invertebrates use these pools as their primary breeding habitat, making their role in landscapes in the northeastern United States even greater than one might expect given their small size and temporary nature.

Vernal pools usually are at their deepest in the spring, which is where these pools get their name: vernal comes from the Latin “vernus,” meaning “belonging to spring.” They fill with rainwater, snow melt, and runoff from higher areas, and though small, they are literally teeming with life. The first warm rains of March and April set off mass migrations of frogs and salamanders from the surrounding woodlands into the pools, which provide a space for all sorts of plants, insects, and other animals to grow and thrive.

Take marbled salamanders, for instance. At summer’s end, many of the vernal pools are completely dry. By the end of September, prior to the onset of fall rains, hundreds of female marbled salamanders assemble and lay up to 200 eggs in depressions under logs, vegetation, and leaves in the lower areas of a vernal pools. The eggs are guarded until rains fill the low-lying areas, and the eggs hatch soon after coming into contact with water.

Fairy shrimp eggs that have been lying dormant in the dry mud also start hatching when these pools fill with water. Species such as wood frogs and spotted salamanders almost exclusively utilize vernal pools for breeding. Even mollusks, such as fingernail clams, can be found in vernal pools, surviving by remaining dormant in pool sediment during the dry season.

This wetland-then-drought cycle means that fish and other species that depend on permanent water cannot survive, providing an ideal habitat for the aquatic larvae of insects and amphibians. Any frog or salamander that lays its eggs in a vernal pool benefits by not having its offspring eaten by fish. These species would otherwise be challenged with competition or predation from larger aquatic species. The inhabitants of these vernal pools aren’t without predators, however. In April and May, snakes, turtles, birds, and mammals visit the vernal pools to feed on amphibians and their larvae. As the year progresses other species are drawn to vernal pools as well for food, water and shelter.

In addition to the providing a diverse ecosystem for wildlife, vernal pools help to gather and hold runoff from heavy rains, serving as storage tanks and settlement ponds for areas such as the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Without vernal pools, the runoff and silt load is increased and delivered directly into larger water sources.

Despite their vast importance, these wetland ecosystems are threatened. Because they are temporary, they are often not protected by wetlands laws. The study of these vernal pools is evolving, and ecologists are steadily increasing their understanding of these pools as a healthy habitat and breeding ground for many species.

This spring, you can see these vibrant ecosystems for yourself as you hike or bike through the forests of Maryland. These specialized, woodland wetlands can often be located by following the sounds of calling frogs. Take care not to disturb them, but by all means pause and look at the diversity of life that exists in these vernal pools.

A Blue View: The Chesapeake Bay as a Classroom

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 pm as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

April 10, 2013: The Chesapeake Bay as a Classroom

A Blue View podcast

Click here to listen to John share ways locals
of all ages can get to know the Chesapeake Bay!

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation offers a variety of opportunities for all ages—students and adults—to learn about the Bay throughout the year. From field programs to professional development opportunities, learn what is available here.

The 46-foot workboat Snow Goose allows students to get up-close in their study of the dynamic relationship between the Port of Baltimore and the Chesapeake Bay’s Patapsco River. Serving as a classroom on water, all of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s boat programs are equipped with state-of-the-art water quality monitoring equipment, allowing groups to generate data instantaneously, including pH, temperature, dissolved oxygen, salinity, chlorophyll, and other indicators to build a complete picture of the health of the river. Participants can then compare their findings to the data of professional Bay scientists through on-board wireless laptops.

Learn more about the Baltimore Harbor Program and the Snow Goose here.

A Blue View: Bayscaping!

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 pm as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

April 3, 2013: Bayscaping

A Blue View podcast

Click here to listen to John discuss the importance
of conservation-minded landscaping!

For many of us, spring means we can get our hands dirty. We bring out the mowers and the yard tools, head to the nurseries to buy seeds or plants for the garden, and enjoy spending our weekends outdoors working in the yard.

Increasingly in our region, a conservation-minded landscaping trend is taking hold. Sometimes called “bayscaping” here in the Mid-Atlantic, conservation landscaping incorporates sustainable strategies. The goal is to create an outdoor environment that reduces pollution and helps combat the contaminants that run into the Chesapeake Bay every day.

According to Blue Water Baltimore, Americans use 5 million tons of fertilizer and more than 70 million pounds of pesticides every year. Many times, these treatments are over-applied or applied at the wrong time, and they run off into our waterways.

To minimize the use of these types of garden treatments, one of the first things you can do is eliminate invasive plant species and instead incorporate native plants into your yard. Native plants are those that are naturally present in your region, while non-native species have been brought to the region at some point in history. Because native plants are uniquely adapted to a particular region, they don’t require as much water, fertilizer, or pesticides to be healthy. If you do find it necessary to use pesticides in your yard, first try alternatives, such as horticultural soaps. Pesticides not only kill the pests, but they harm other inhabitants of your yard as well.

Another key goal of bayscaping is the establishment of your green space as a dynamic wildlife habitat. According to the Chesapeake Conservation Landscaping Council, minimizing the amount of lawn and replacing it with layers of plants—including trees, shrubs, and perennials—make yards wildlife friendly by providing a variety of shelter. Less lawn also means less mowing, which is another environmental plus. It’s also important to provide year-round water and food sources for your yard inhabitants.

Incorporating bayscaping strategies may mean that your yard doesn’t look like your neighbor’s, but that’s not a bad thing. Take the opportunity to educate them about sustainable landscaping practices. You may start a neighborhood trend that the Chesapeake Bay will thank you for!

Once your yard is bayscaped, there are several certification programs that will validate your conservation efforts. To achieve Bay-Wise certification, a Master Gardener will assess your property and give your yard a score. You can also create a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat by providing appropriate shelter, food, and water for the animals in your yard!


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