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Environment: Microplastic pollution gets inside crabs via gills

Caption: This image depicts polystyrene microspheres inside the gills of a shore crab. Credit: Andrew Watts

This image depicts polystyrene microspheres inside the gills of a shore crab. Image by Andrew Watts, University of Exeter, UK.

Is there a risk higher up the food chain?

By Bob Berwyn

* Read more Summit Voice stories on ocean plastic pollution here.

FRISCO — By some estimates, humankind now produces about 288 million tons of plastic per year, and about 10 percent of that likely ends up in the world’s oceans as a finely ground, totally human-produced source of pollution. Floating about in the seven seas, the microplastics can form rafts that harbor non-native bacteria and scientists know that the plastic is being eaten  by marine critters. Continue reading

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Seabed dredging linked to coral reef disease

Study findings to help inform coastal management

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Dredging near coral reefs can lead to chronic disease and decline.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Along with the stress of global warming and the disappearance of reef-grazing fish, corals are also beset by the increasing pace of coastal development — specifically dredging — which can increase the frequency of diseases affecting corals.

Australian researchers with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies made their findings after studying a site near Barrow Island, off the West Australian coast, where an 18-month, 7-million cubic metre dredging project took place, developing a channel to accommodate ships transporting liquefied gas to a nearby processing plant. The site was in otherwise very good condition. Continue reading

Environment: EPA to take hard look at impacts of proposed open pit mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay

Agency likely to restrict mining activities based on concerns about impacts to salmon fishery, other resources

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Proposed Alaska mine gets careful EPA scrutiny.

Donate to the Rocky Mountain Climate Ranger project

mtnYour contribution to this independent journalism project will be matched dollar for dollar by Beacon. Click to learn more and make a donation.

Staff Report

FRISCO — A proposed mine in coastal Alaskan waters would spread across an area larger than Manhattan and jeopardize the health and sustainability of one of the world’s great salmon fisheries, the EPA said this week, releasing a draft version of its plan for protecting aquatic resources in Bristol Bay from a vast open pit mine.

According to the EPA, the proposed mine in its present form would have unacceptable impacts on Bristol Bay natural resources. As a result, the agency’s draft lays out common sense rules and guidelines that would ensure the integrity of those resources by prohibiting the discharge of any mining materials into critically important waters of the U.S. Continue reading

Morning photo: Take 2!

Mountain view

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Mount if the Holy Cross from near Shrine Pass.

FRISCO — This set is a grab-bag of images from the past week or so, including a very early morning trek up to the Vail Pass area. Right now, we’re definitely in high summer in terms of light. The rest of the year, details of the mountain faces are often hidden by long shadows, but the high summer sun angle reveals details that you can’t see the rest of the year.

Summit Voice readers, if you enjoy our daily photo posts, please have a look at the Rocky Mountain Climate Ranger Project. We are trying to fund a two month reporting trek to do some some in-depth reporting on how global warming is changing the Rockies. Along with the stories, we’ll have live social media chats and we will be doing plenty of photography to be featured in our morning photo series.

It’s a crowdfunded project and we need your help to make it happen. Every little bit helps, and if you’re feeling generous, you can earn a free dinner at the Sunshine Cafe in Dillon, along with framed fine art prints from the Summit Voice gallery. Please visit the Rocky Mountain Climate Ranger project pledge page and share the link with your friends! Continue reading

Colorado reauthorizes operations at wastewater injection well linked with earthquakes

Investigators also eye possible permit violations at Weld County site

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More #fracking ahead?

Donate to the Rocky Mountain Climate Ranger project

mtnYour contribution to this independent journalism project will be matched dollar for dollar by Beacon. Click to learn more and make a donation.

Staff Report

FRISCO — State regulators have reauthorized operations at a Weld County wastewater injection well after determining that the well may be linked with earthquakes in the area. State officials will also investigate whether the well operators violated their permit by pumping too much drilling sludge into the well.

“We are proceeding with great care, and will be tracking activities at this site closely,” said Matt Lepore, director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.  “We’re moving slowly and deliberately as we determine the right course for this location,” Lepore said, explaining that new limits on the well are aimed easing the potential for more earthquakes. Continue reading

4 years after Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, dispersant still found lingering in the environment

Study looks at concentrations of oil and dispersant in ‘sand patties’ found along the Gulf Coast

32 beaches were sampled, with contamination found at 26 sites. MAP COURTESY JAMES "RIP" KIRBY, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA.

In 2012, University of South Florida scientists found oil remnants all along the Gulf Coast, often at levels that pose a potential risk to human health. MAP COURTESY JAMES “RIP” KIRBY, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA.

New research in Florida shows

The mess from BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil disaster is still not completely cleaned up.

Read more Summit Voice stories about dispersants and the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon spill here.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Fossil fuel companies involved in offshore oil drilling may have to rethink their emergency response plans for oil spills after a new study showed that dispersant used to prevent large slicks persists in the environment much longer than previously thought.

Scientists at Haverford College and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) has found that the dispersant compound DOSS, which decreases the size of oil droplets and hampers the formation of large oil slicks, remains associated with oil and can persist in the environment for up to four years.

The EPA approved the use of massive quantities of dispersant after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in hopes of preventing oil from fouling beaches, reasoning that the chemicals degrade rapidly. The Deepwater oil spill was the largest ever, releasing at least 210 million gallons of oil. BP applied almost 2 million gallons of dispersant, much of it deep beneath the surface.

But it’s far from clear that the use of dispersant is an overall environmental benefit. Ongoing studies have shown that the mixture of dispersant and oil is far more toxic to many marine organisms than either substance on its own. For example, a study by scientists with the Georgia Institute of Technology and Universidad Autonoma de Aguascalientes, Mexico showed that the oil-dispersant mix was up to 52 times more toxic to tiny rotifers, microscopic grazers at the base of the Gulf’s food chain. Continue reading

Environment: Changes in precipitation may drive birds response to global warming

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New model unravels some of the complexities of how wildlife will respond to global warming

Staff Report

FRISCO — Populations of familiar backyard birds like the rufous hummingbird and evening grosbeak are declining, a trend that may be linked with changes in precipitation patterns across the western U.S.

Scientists studying the changes with a new model say precipitation, rather than temperature, may be the the main factor in determining how birds will respond to climate change.

Several past studies have found that temperature increases can push some animal species – including birds – into higher latitudes or higher elevations. Few studies, however, have tackled the role that changes in precipitation may cause, according to Matthew Betts, an Oregon State University ecologist and a principal investigator on the study. Continue reading

Study: English Channel all fished out

Scientists call for network of protected areas

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The English Channel. Photo courtesy NASA.

Staff Report

FRISCO — The English Channel is all but fished out, leaving fishermen scraping the bottom of the barrel in their quest for a commercial haul.

Sharks, rays, cod, haddock and many other species at the head of the food chain are at historic lows with many removed from the area completely, according to UK marine biologists, who analyzed catches over the past 90 years and found significant evidence of the practice of fishing down the food web.

“It is clear from our analyses that fishing pressure has caused significant changes to food webs of the English Channel over the past 90 years,” said Plymouth University Professor Jason Hall Spencer, with the School of Marine Science and Engineering, and the Marine Institute.

The report, published in the PLOS ONE journal, used catch statistics from the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas to establish a ‘mean trophic level’ for catches – an average for how far up the food chain the fish are located. Continue reading

Oceans: Mediterranean fish in steady decline

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Albanian fishermen tend nets in Saranda. bberwyn photo.

Unregulated coastal fisheries, juvenile catch threaten sustainability

Staff Report

FRISCO — Stocks of commercially valuable fish in the Mediterranean Sea are disappearing steadily because of a lack of good planning and management, as well as inadequate enforcement of existing regulations. Without action, some species are likely to disappear, scientists warned last week in a report showing that fisheries resources in the Mediterranean have deteriorated in the past 20 years.

The report evaluated nine fish species and called for stringent monitoring of Mediterranean fishing activities, better enforcement of fisheries regulations, and advanced management plans in Mediterranean waters. The findings were published July 10 in the Cell Press journal Current Biology.
Continue reading

Wildlife: Denali wolf packs hammered by hunting

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Wolves draw tourists to Denali National Park.

Death of breeding wolves affects pack size and persistence

Staff Report

FRISCO — Following a steep drop in the Denali National Park wolf population, biologists have documented how the death of breeding wolves affects pack size and persistence. The number of wolves in the 6million acre park in Alaska dropped from 143 in the fall of 2007 to just 55 wolves in the spring of 2013, raising concerns about impacts to tourism.

Many visitors come to Denali with the expectation of seeing wolves, but a recent state decision to allow wolf hunting in area previously deemed a buffer zone has had a big impact on wolf numbers. According to the latest research, the death of a breeding wolf sometimes results in a wolfpack disbanding. Continue reading

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