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Posts from the ‘Environmental Issues’ category

Wasted. What is happening to the sea stars of the NE Pacific Ocean?

Where to relay sea star data  (of great value in understanding the survival, species impacted, range, and potentially, contributing factors of Sea Star Wasting Syndrome:

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Last update: December 4, 2022Screen Shot 2022-12-04 at 22.17.02

December 2022:  Roadmap to recovery for the sunflower sea star (Pycnopodia helianthoides) along the west coast of North America. The Nature Conservancy (Heady et al). 
From the Executive Summary:
“A sea star wasting disease (SSWD) event beginning in 2013 reduced the global population of sunflower sea stars by an estimated ninety-four percent, triggering the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to classify the species as Critically Endangered. Declines of ninety-nine to one hundred percent were estimated in the outer coast waters of Baja California, California, Oregon, and Washington. From the Salish Sea to the Gulf of Alaska, declines were greater than eighty-seven percent; however, there is uncertainty in estimates from Alaska due to limited sampling. A range-wide species distribution analysis showed that the importance of temperature in predicting sunflower sea star distribution rose over fourfold following the SSWD outbreak, suggesting latitudinal variation in outbreak severity may stem from an interaction between disease severity and warm waters. Given the widespread, rapid, and severe declines of sunflower sea stars, the continued mortality from persistent SSWD, and the potential for the disease to intensify in a warming future ocean, there is a need for a Roadmap to Recovery to guide scientists and conservationists as they aid the recovery of this Critically Endangered species . . . The area of greatest concern and need for immediate action common to all geographic regions is understanding disease prevalence and disease risk. Here we use the term “disease” to describe SSWD, also known as Sea Star Wasting Syndrome or Asteroid Idiopathic Wasting Syndrome, which affects some twenty species of sea stars and the cause(s) of which remain unknown and under debate in the literature. Much work is needed to improve our understanding of SSWD, the cause(s) of SSWD, how SSWD impacts wild sunflower sea stars, SSWD dynamics in a multi-host system, and to discover and develop measures to mitigate SSWD impacts and risks associated with conservation actions.”

December 27, 2021: Sunflower Stars now being considered for protection as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in America.
The species is already recognized as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature but this does not offer them protection in Canada or the US. Deadline for input into the American process is February 25, 2022. Please see this link for details.

Sea Star Wasting Disease (SSWD) – summary of current state of knowledge

Since 2013, more than twenty species of sea star have been impacted by SSWD from Mexico to Alaska. There is local variation in intensity of the disease and which species are impacted. It is one of the largest wildlife die-off events in recorded history. Sea stars contort, have lesions, shed arms and become piles of decay (see below for photos and detail about the progression of the disease).

There is NOT scientific consensus about the cause. Current hypotheses focus on (i) a virus and (ii) low oxygen at the surface of the sea star’s skin maintained due to bacteria. What is consistent in is that changing environmental conditions appear to allow the pathogen (be it bacteria or viruses) to have a greater impact.

The best current source for a summary of the research is Hamilton et al (August, 2021).  From that source: ” . . . outbreak severity may stem from an interaction between disease severity and warmer waters” and “Though we lack a mechanistic understanding of whether temperature or climate change triggered the SSWD outbreak, this study adds to existing evidence that the speed and severity of SSWD are greater in warmer waters”.

As with any pathogen (like the flu virus), the expression of a pathogen as disease is influenced by the number and proximity of individuals i.e. more animals together leads to faster spread of the virus and/or bacteria.

Currently, some species of sea star appear to be recovering while others remain very heavily impacted. Sunflower Stars (Pycnopodia helianthoides) have been devastated and were added to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) list as Critically Endangered on December 10th, 2020. There are current efforts in both Canada and the USA to have the species assessed and protected. In Canada an assessment will be delivered to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) with hopes that they receive protection under Canada’s Species at Risk Act. In the United States, feedback is current being requested (to February 25, 2022) and whereby Sunflower Stars may receive protection under the Endangered Species Act. 

See the media release from the Nature Conservancy “Iconic Sea Star Listed Critically Endangered After Study Finds Marine Epidemic Event Nearly Wiped Out Global Populationat this link.

There has been much recent media coverage on how Sunflower Stars are being bred in captivity. While such efforts are of course to be applauded and are part of the research needed to understand / mitigate Sea Star Wasting Syndrome, the inclination of the media to put this forward as the solution is troublesome. If the pathogen causing Sea Star Wasting Syndrome is not known, and the stressors related to climate change continue, releasing these Sunflower Stars into the Ocean would expose them to the same stressors as those who died.

Sunflower Stars are of great ecological importance in maintaining kelp forests. Research published by Burt et al in 2018 quantifies the importance of Sunflower Stars in maintaining kelp forests. Sunflower Stars feed on Green Urchins which graze on kelp. Findings included that the decline of Sunflower Stars  “corresponded to a 311% increase in medium urchins and a 30% decline in kelp densities”.  The loss of kelp forests can impact many other ecologically and commercially important species that relay upon them as habitat and food. Note too that our reliance on kelp forests includes oxygen production and carbon dioxide buffering.

From Hamilton et al (August, 2021):
“The aetiological agent(s) driving SSWD remain unidentified. Current hypotheses focus on (i) a viral-sized aetiological agent (e.g. sea star-associated densovirus) and (ii) low oxygen at the surface of the skin maintained through subsequent bacterial proliferation [7,15]. Additionally, the relationship between temperature and SSWD is unresolved. In laboratory studies, the lesion growth rate increased with increasing temperature, but evidence for warm temperatures triggering SSWD is mixed [1618]. Some studies showed a positive relationship between the timing of the outbreak and temperature [6,18,19], while others found no relationship [8,20] or a negative relationship [21]. Differences in disease detection could explain these variable field observations. SSWD is a fast-paced disease accelerating at the scale of weeks to months, so peak prevalence of infection is difficult to detect from seasonal or annual monitoring programmes [7]. Thus, the relationship between environmental triggers of an outbreak can easily be confounded with pandemic disease dynamics [22] . . . Additionally, whether climate change or warm temperatures triggered the outbreak remains unknown. Harvell et al. [6] showed that warm temperature anomalies explained more than a third of the variance in Pycnopodia outbreak timing in the Salish Sea [6]. Furthermore, Aalto et al. [19] modelled the initial outbreak spread dynamics and suggested that warm temperatures can trigger disease and increase mortality [19]. Conversely, several studies found that warmer ocean temperatures were not associated with SSWD outbreak timing in Pisaster ochraceus in Oregon and California [8,21]. Though we lack a mechanistic understanding of whether temperature or climate change triggered the SSWD outbreak, this study adds to existing evidence that the speed and severity of SSWD are greater in warmer waters.”

Research on Sea Star Wasting Syndrome in reverse chronological order. 

Best current summary of research is the December 29, 2021 assessment report for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature = Gravem, S.A., W.N. Heady, V.R. Saccomanno, K.F. Alvstad, A.L.M. Gehman, T.N. Frierson and S.L. Hamilton. 2021. Pycnopodia helianthoides. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2021.

January 1, 2022 (first published in October 8, 2021) Burton, A. R., Gravem, S. A., & Barreto, F. S. (January 01, 2022). Little evidence for genetic variation associated with susceptibility to sea star wasting syndrome in the keystone species Pisaster ochraceus. Molecular Ecology, 31, 1, 197-205.

August 2021: Hamilton S. L., Saccomanno V. R., Heady W. N., Gehman A. L., Lonhart S. I., Beas-Luna R., Francis F. T., Lee L., Rogers-Bennett L., Salomon A. K. and Gravem S. A. (2021) Disease-driven mass mortality event leads to widespread extirpation and variable recovery potential of a marine predator across the eastern Pacific. Proc. R. Soc. B.288

June 2021: Jackson, E.W., Wilhelm, R.C., Johnson, M.R., Lutz, H., Danforth, I., Gaydos, J., Hart, M., & Hewson, I. (2020). Diversity of Sea Star-Associated Densoviruses and Transcribed Endogenous Viral Elements of Densovirus OriginJournal of Virology, 95.

January 2021: Aquino CA, Besemer RM, DeRito CM, Kocian J, Porter IR, Raimondi PT, Rede JE, Schiebelhut LM, Sparks JP, Wares JP and Hewson I (2021) Evidence That Microorganisms at the Animal-Water Interface Drive Sea Star Wasting Disease. Front. Microbiol. 11:610009. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2020.610009. See Cornell University coverage of this research “Organic matter, bacteria doom sea stars to oxygen depletion”. Also, see further communication from one of the lead researchers, Dr. Ian Hewson, at this link. 

November 2020: Hewson, I.; Aquino, C.A.; DeRito, C.M. Virome Variation during Sea Star Wasting Disease Progression in Pisaster ochraceus (Asteroidea, Echinodermata). Viruses 2020, 12, 1332.

Harvell, C. D., Montecino-Latorre, D., Caldwell, J. M., Burt, J. M., Bosley, K., Keller, A., Heron, S. F., … Gaydos, J. K. (January 01, 2019). Disease epidemic and a marine heat wave are associated with the continental-scale collapse of a pivotal predator (Pycnopodia helianthoides)Science Advances, 5, 1.)

Burt JM, Tinker MT, Okamoto DK, Demes KW, Holmes K, Salomon AK (2018) Sudden collapse of a mesopredator reveals its complementary role in mediating rocky reef regime shifts. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 285(1883): 20180553.

Hewson I, Bistolas KSI, Quijano Cardé EM, Button JB, Foster PJ, Flanzenbaum JM, Kocian J and Lewis CK (2018) Investigating the Complex Association Between Viral Ecology, Environment, and Northeast Pacific Sea Star WastingFront. Mar. Sci. 5:77. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2018.00077

Schiebelhut, Lauren (2018), Supporting Files for Schiebelhut LM, Puritz JB & Dawson MN (2018) Decimation by sea star wasting disease and rapid genetic change in a keystone species, Pisaster ochraceus PNAS, UC Merced Dash, Dataset.

Cornell Chronicle, Scientists unravel complex factors of starfish diseases.

Miner CM, Burnaford JL, Ambrose RF, Antrim L, Bohlmann H, Blanchette CA, et al. (2018) Large-scale impacts of sea star wasting disease (SSWD) on intertidal sea stars and implications for recovery. PLoS ONE 13(3): e0192870. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0192870


Why share this information? It is often marine species that testify to environmental problems first, serving as indicators for the resources upon which we too depend. The hypothesis remains that the sea stars have succumbed in an unprecedented way because of changed ocean conditions (stressors). Too few of us realize the importance of sea stars in the ocean food web (see video below) let alone the importance of what they might be indicated about environmental health.

Quote from Drew Harvell, Cornell University professor of ecology and evolutionary biology who studies marine diseases: “these kinds of events are sentinels of change. When you get an event like this, I think everybody will say it’s an extreme event and it’s pretty important to figure out what’s going on . . . Not knowing is scary . . . If a similar thing were happening to humans, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would commit an army of doctors and scientists to unraveling the mystery.”


Below, January 30, 2019 video by the Hakai Institute re. Sunflower Stars and Sea Star Wasting Disease.


Further detail on recent research

Research published on January 6th, 2021 (Aquino et al) suggests that the pathogen is not a virus but a bacteria but, again, there is not scientific consensus about this. The research puts forward that warmer oceans and increased organic matter appear to lead to increases in specific bacteria (copiotrophs) that then use up the oxygen at the interface of the sea star and the bacteria, and the sea stars can’t breathe. The hypothesis includes that “more heavily affected species were rougher and therefore had a much larger boundary layer (the layer at the animal-water interface) than those species which were less affected.”

October 21, 2019 – Research by Rogers-Bennet and Catton published in Scientific Reports on Bull Kelp deforestation off the coast of Northern California  – Marine heat wave and multiple stressors tip bull kelp forest to sea urchin barrens. Abstract: “Extreme climatic events have recently impacted marine ecosystems around the world, including foundation species such as corals and kelps. Here, we describe the rapid climate-driven catastrophic shift in 2014 from a previously robust kelp forest to unproductive large scale urchin barrens in northern California. Bull kelp canopy was reduced by >90% along more than 350 km of coastline. Twenty years of kelp ecosystem surveys reveal the timing and magnitude of events, including mass mortalities of sea stars (2013-), intense ocean warming (2014–2017), and sea urchin barrens (2015-). Multiple stressors led to the unprecedented and long-lasting decline of the kelp forest. Kelp deforestation triggered mass (80%) abalone mortality (2017) resulting in the closure in 2018 of the recreational abalone fishery worth an estimated $44 M and the collapse of the north coast commercial red sea urchin fishery (2015-) worth $3 M. Key questions remain such as the relative roles of ocean warming and sea star disease in the massive purple sea urchin population increase. Science and policy will need to partner to better understand drivers, build climate-resilient fisheries and kelp forest recovery strategies in order to restore essential kelp forest ecosystem services.”

January 30, 2019 – Paper published in Science Advances by Harvell et alDisease epidemic and a marine heat wave are associated with the continental-scale collapse of a pivotal predator (Pycnopodia helianthoides). Quote from lead author: “The main takeaway is the speed with which a multi-host infectious disease can cause decline in the most susceptible host [Sunflower Stars] and that warming temperatures can field bigger impacts of disease outbreaks.” Abstract includes: “Since 2013, a sea star wasting disease has affected >20 sea star species from Mexico to Alaska. The common, predatory sunflower star (Pycnopodia helianthoides), shown to be highly susceptible to sea star wasting disease, has been extirpated across most of its range. Diver surveys conducted in shallow nearshore waters (n = 10,956; 2006–2017) from California to Alaska and deep offshore (55 to 1280 m) trawl surveys from California to Washington (n = 8968; 2004–2016) reveal 80 to 100% declines across a ~3000-km range. Furthermore, timing of peak declines in nearshore waters coincided with anomalously warm sea surface temperatures. The rapid, widespread decline of this pivotal subtidal predator threatens its persistence and may have large ecosystem-level consequences.”

The paper’s discussion includes: “Cascading effects of the P. helianthoides loss are expected across its range and will likely change the shallow water seascape in some locations and threaten biodiversity through the indirect loss of kelp. P. helianthoides was the highest biomass subtidal asteroid across most of its range before the Northeast Pacific SSWD event. Loss or absence of this major predator has already been associated with elevated densities of green (Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis), red (Mesocentrotus franciscanus), and purple urchins (Strongylocentrotus purpuratus) across their range, even in regions with multiple urchin predators. Associated kelp reductions have been reported following the outbreak . . . SSWD, the anomalously warm water, P. helianthoides declines, and subsequent urchin explosions . . . have been described as the “perfect storm.” This “storm” could result not only in trophic cascades and reduced kelp beds but also in abalone and urchin starvation.”

July 2018 – Research published by Burt et al) quantifies the importance of Sunflower Stars in maintaining kelp forests. Includes that the decline of Sunflower Stars  “corresponded to a 311% increase in medium urchins and a 30% decline in kelp densities”. See news coverage on the research at this link.

March 7, 2018 – Additional research by Hewsen et al has found that, while a virus appears associated with the disease in Sunflower Stars, the situation is more complex and the virus does not appear to be the cause in other sea star species.  The cause is “likely a complex tango of diverse potential pathogens and environmental conditions” / “We speculate that SSWD may represent a syndrome of heterogeneous etiologies [causes] between geographic locations, between species, or even within a species between locations.” Those considered in the paper in addition to viruses: Drought / excessive rainfall; freshwater toxins (transmitted by excessive rainfall post drought); temperature swings.

This does not let climate change off the hook. Quote by lead author: “Since some of those disease causes may include swings in temperature or precipitation, ultimately which may be related to climate change, we need to focus our efforts on remediating climate change . . ”
The paper suggests renaming the wasting disease to Asteroid Idiopathic Wasting Syndrome because the term correlates with an array of symptoms, “which is more correct for describing this situation, as there are likely multiple diseases present . . .”

Green Urchins grazing on Split Kelp. ©Jackie Hildering.

Research published in June 2018 (Schiebelhut et al), specifically on Ochre Stars, found that the genetic makeup of the species has changed since the outbreak. Young Ochre Sea Stars are more similar genetically to adults who survived than to those who succumbed. This “may influence the resilience of this keystone species to future outbreaks”. The findings of an additional March 2018 paper (Miner et al) include ”  . . . we documented higher recruitment of Pochraceus [Ochre Stars] in the north than in the south, and while some juveniles are surviving (as evidenced by transition of recruitment pulses to larger size classes), post-SSWD survivorship is lower than during pre-SSWD periods.

Sunflower star with sea star wasting syndrome. Photo - Neil McDaniel; www.seastarsofthepacificnorthwest.info

Sunflower star with sea star wasting syndrome. Tissue wastes away. Legs often break off and crawl away briefly before rotting away. Photo – Neil McDaniel; http://www.seastarsofthepacificnorthwest.info

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The content below is from my original blog November 10, 2013:

There has already been much reporting on the gruesome epidemic spreading like wildfire through several species of sea star in the NE Pacific Ocean.

“Sea star wasting syndrome” is incredibly virulent and is causing the mass mortality of some sea star species in British Columbia and beyond. “Sea stars go from “appearing normal” to becoming a pile of white bacteria and scattered skeletal bits is only a matter of a couple of weeks, possibly less than that” (Source #1).

Rotting pile of sunflower stars. Photo and descriptor - Neil McDaniel; www.seastarsofthepacificnorthwest.info

Rotting pile of sunflower stars. Photo and descriptor – Neil McDaniel; http://www.seastarsofthepacificnorthwest.info

What I have strived to do is bundle the state of knowledge so far, relying heavily on the expertise of two extraordinary divers and marine naturalists: (1) Neil McDaniel, marine zoologist and underwater photographer / videographer who maintains a website on local sea stars and has put together A Field Guide to Sea Stars of the Pacific Northwestand (2) Andy Lamb, whose books include Marine Life of the Pacific Northwest.

I am hoping that kayakers, beach-walkers and fellow divers will help monitor and report on the spread of the disease but I am also hoping that all of us may learn from this tragedy that has impacted “one of the most iconic animals on the coast of British Columbia . . . more abundant and diverse in our waters than anywhere else in the world” (Source #3).

Sea Star Wasting Syndrome reminds us of the fragility of ocean ecosystems; how very quickly disease could spread in the ocean; and how we are all empowered to reduce stressors that increase the likelihood of pathogens manifesting as disease  (e.g. climate change) or even that pathogens enter the environment (e.g. sewage).

Species impacted? 

High mortalities (note that the first 4 are members of the same family – the Asteriidae):

  1. Sunflower star (Pycnopodia helianthoideshardest hit in southern British Columbia. From communication with Neil McDaniel ” . . .so far I estimate it has killed tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of Pycnopodia in British Columbia waters.”
  2. Mottled star (Evasterias troschelii
  3. Giant pink star (Pisaster brevispinus)
  4. Ochre star aka purple star (Pisaster ochraceus)
  5. Morning sun star (Solaster dawsoni)

More limited mortalities:

  1. Vermillion star (Mediaster aequalis); video of an afflicted star here.
  2. Rainbow star (Orthasterias koehleri)
  3. Leather star (Dermasterias imbricata)
  4. Striped sun star (Solaster stimpsoni)
  5. Six-rayed stars (Leptasterias sp.)

Update January 21st, 2014Possibly: Rose star (Crossaster papposus) – I have noted symptoms in this species on NE Vancouver Island as has Neil McDaniel in S. British Columbia).

Symptoms and progression of SSWD:

Neil McDaniel shared the following 7 images for the progression of the disease in Sunflower Stars [Source #2 and #14]. See the end of this blog item for images showing symptoms in other sea star species as well as a 1 minute time-lapse clip showing the progression of the syndrome in a Sunflower Star over 7 hours. [Note that the progression of the Syndrome on NE Vancouver Island appears that it may be different from what has been observed further to the south.]

1. In this image most of the Sunflower Stars appear healthy “other than one just right of center frame is exhibiting the syndrome, looking “thinned-out” and emaciated.”

Click to enlarge. Photo and descriptor - Neil McDaniel; www.seastarsofthepacificnorthwest.info

Click to enlarge. Photo and descriptor – Neil McDaniel; http://www.seastarsofthepacificnorthwest.info

2. This images “shows this thinning in close-up. Note how distinct the edges of the rays look and how flat the star is.”

Photo and descriptor - Neil McDaniel; www.seastarsofthepacificnorthwest.info

Click to enlarge. Photo and descriptor – Neil McDaniel; http://www.seastarsofthepacificnorthwest.info

3. This image “shows how the body wall begins to rupture, allowing the gonads and pyloric caeca to spill out.” 

As the animals become more stressed, they often drop several rays (which wander off on their own for a while). At this point the body wall becomes compromised and the pyloric caeca and/or gonads may protrude through lesions. As things progress, the animals lose the ability to crawl and may even tumble down steep slopes and end up in pile at the bottom. Soon after they die and begin to rot
Photo and descriptor - Neil McDaniel; www.seastarsofthepacificnorthwest.info

Photo and descriptor – Neil McDaniel; http://www.seastarsofthepacificnorthwest.info

4. This image “shows the gonads breaking through holes in the body wall. At this point rays often break off and crawl away briefly.”

Photo and descriptor - Neil McDaniel; www.seastarsofthepacificnorthwest.info

Photo and descriptor – Neil McDaniel; http://www.seastarsofthepacificnorthwest.info

5. As things progress, the animals lose the ability to crawl [and hold grip surfaces] and may even tumble down steep slopes and end up in pile at the bottom. Soon after they die and begin to rot.

Photo and descriptor - Neil McDaniel; www.seastarsofthepacificnorthwest.info

Photo and descriptor – Neil McDaniel; http://www.seastarsofthepacificnorthwest.info

6. The bacteria Beggiatoa then takes over and consumes all of the organic matter, leaving a scattering of skeletal plates on the bottom. The syndrome develops quickly and in only one to two weeks animals can go from appearing healthy to a white mat of bacteria and skeletal plates

Photo and descriptor - Neil McDaniel; www.seastarsofthepacificnorthwest.info

Photo and descriptor – Neil McDaniel; http://www.seastarsofthepacificnorthwest.info

7. This image “shows an individual star that is being consumed by mat bacteria.”

Photo and descriptor - Neil McDaniel; www.seastarsofthepacificnorthwest.info

Photo and descriptor – Neil McDaniel; http://www.seastarsofthepacificnorthwest.info

The 1-minute time-lapse video below shows the progression of the Syndrome in a sunflower star over 7 hours.

Cause(s)?
To date, the cause(s) have not yet been identified. Scientific opinion appears to be that most likely the cause is one or more viruses or bacteria. As with any pathogen (like the flu virus), the expression of a pathogen as disease is influenced by the number and proximity of individuals and could be exacerbated by environmental stressors.

Using cutting-edge DNA sequencing and metagenomics, Hewson is analyzing the samples for viruses as well as bacteria and other protozoa in order to pinpoint the infectious agent among countless possibilities.

“It’s like the matrix,” Hewson said. “We have to be very careful that we’re not identifying something that’s associated with the disease but not the cause.”

    • ”In previous outbreaks the “proximal cause” was found to a vibrio bacterium but “a recent wasting event on the east coast of the United States has been attributed to a virus  . . . such events are often associated with warmer than typical water temperatures . . . Please note that we do not know what is causing Sea Star Wasting Syndrome, and the cause may be different in different regions  . . .  the period prior to Wasting was characterized by warm water temperatures” (University of California Santa Cruz, Source #4).
    • Bates et al reported on an outbreak of wasting syndrome in ochre stars in Barkley sound in 2008. This included conducting lab experiments finding that the “prevalence and infection intensity were always higher in warm temperature treatments” and that “small increases in temperature could drive mass mortalities of Pisaster [ochre stars] due to wasting disease.” [Source #13 and #14]
    • “Do not believe this is related to a warming trend” (Source #18).
    • “Overpopulation” of sunflower stars appears to be a factor with outbreaks occurring where there is a high abundance of sea stars. “Often when you have a population explosion of any species you end up with a disease outbreak” (Source #5). “This could be perfectly normal as a way to control overpopulation” (Source #18).
    • “Some initial samples sent to DFO [Department of Fisheries and Oceans] and UBC [University of British Columbia] have not isolated a specific causative agent for this sea star die off. More samples are being collected and additional tests will be conducted” (Source #2 and #7). Viruses are notoriously difficult to detect. Cornell University (New York) has begun viral and bacterial culturing (Source #8). Updates will be provided here as they become available. See Source #14 for the results of pathology reports from October 4, November 12 and November 13.
    • Quote from Drew Harvell, a Cornell University professor of ecology and evolutionary biology who studies marine diseases: “these kinds of events are sentinels of change. When you get an event like this, I think everybody will say it’s an extreme event and it’s pretty important to figure out what’s going on . . . Not knowing is scary . . . If a similar thing were happening to humans, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would commit an army of doctors and scientists to unraveling the mystery.” (Source #12)
    • Fukushima is a contributing factor?! There is no data to date to support this and, while of course radiation benefits nothing, I worry that pointing the finger away from ourselves takes away from the opportunity to recognize and act on how we all contribute to ocean stressors such as increasing temperature. From Source #19 – “scientists see Fukushima as an unlikely culprit because the die-offs are patchy, popping up in certain places like Seattle and Santa Barbara and not in others, such as coastal Oregon, where wasting has only been reported at one location.”
    • Ballast water? “From Source #19- “Others have wondered if a pathogen from the other side of the world may have hitched a ride in the ballast water of ocean-going ships. Scientists say this fits with the fact that many of the hot spots have appeared along major shipping routes. However, the starfish in quiet Monterey Bay, Calif. have been hit hard, whereas San Francisco’s starfish are holding strong.”

Has this happened before?
Never to this large a scale. “Although similar sea star wasting events have occurred previously, a mortality event of this magnitude, with such broad geographic reach has never before been documented.” (Source #17).

  • “Southern California in 1983-1984 and again (on a lesser scale) in 1997-98” (Source #4 and #13)
  • Florida (Source #5).
  • Update November 30: Sunflower die offs [on much smaller scale] have been noted in the past in Barkley Sound. In 2008 ochre star die offs were documented in Barkley Sound. In 2009 Bates et. al. reported on this and observed that the prevalence of disease “was highly temperature sensitive and that populations in sheltered bays appeared to sustain chronic, low levels of infection.” (Source #14 and #15).
  • “Similar events have occurred elsewhere over the last 30 years. Sea stars have perished in alarming numbers in Mexico, California and other localities” (Source #2).
  • “In July, researchers at the University of Rhode Island reported that sea stars were dying in a similar way from New Jersey to Maine .  . a graduate student collected starfish for a research project and then watched as they “appeared to melt” in her tank” (Source #5).

Sources:

  1. Email communication with Neil McDaniel.
  2. Email communication with Andy Lamb.
  3. http://www.vanaqua.org/act/research/sea-stars
  4. http://www.eeb.ucsc.edu/pacificrockyintertidal/data-products/sea-star-wasting/
  5. http://commonsensecanadian.ca/alarming-sea-star-die-off-west-coast/
  6. http://www.businessinsider.com/disease-ravaging-west-coast-starfish-2013-11
  7. Shellfish Health Report from the Pacific Biological Station (DFO) conducted on 1 morning sun star and 7 sunflower stars collected on October 9, 2013 at Croker Island, Indian Arm; case number 8361.
  8. Email communication with Jeff Marliave.
  9. http://www.reef2rainforest.com/2013/11/09/disaster-deja-vu-all-over-again/
  10. http://www.aquablog.ca/2013/11/family-relations-in-starfish-wasting-syndrome/ 
  11. http://www.komonews.com/news/eco/Whats-causing-our-sea-stars-to-waste-away–231982671.html
  12. http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/sea-stars-are-wasting-away-in-larger-numbers-on-a-wider-scale-in-two-oceans/2013/11/22/05652194-4be1-11e3-be6b-d3d28122e6d4_story.html
  13. https://science.nature.nps.gov/im/units/medn/symposia/5th%20California%20Islands%20Symposium%20(1999)/Marine%20Ecology/Eckert_Sea_Star_Disease_Population_Decline.pdf
  14. Sea star wasting syndrome, Nov 30-13https://jackiehildering.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/sea-star-wasting-syndrome-nov-30-13.pdf 
  15. Bates AE, Hilton BJ, Harley, CDG 2009. Effects of temperature, season and locality on wasting disease in the keystone predatory sea star Pisaster ochraceus. Diseases of Aquatic Organisms Vol. 86:245-251 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20066959
  16. Video showing impacts in Elliott Bay, Seattle http://earthfix.info/flora-and-fauna/article/sea-stars-dying-off-west-seattle/
  17. University of California, Santa Cruz Press Release; December 22, 2013; Unprecedented Sea Star Mass Mortality Along the West Coast of North America due to Wasting Syndrome
  18. Vancouver Aquarium; January 21, 2014; Presentation – Mass Dying of Seastars in Howe Sound and Vancouver Harbour (Dr. Jeff Marliave and Dr. Marty Haulena).
  19. Earth Fix; January 30, 2014; Northwests starfish experiment gives scientists clues to mysterious mass die-offs 

Images showing symptoms in other sea star species:

Ochre star (aka purple star) with sea star wasting syndrome. Photo and descriptor - Neil McDaniel; www.seastarsofthepacificnorthwest.info Click to enlarge.

Ochre star (aka purple star) with sea star wasting syndrome. Photo and descriptor – Neil McDaniel; http://www.seastarsofthepacificnorthwest.info
Click to enlarge.

Mottled star with sea star wasting syndrome. Photo and descriptor - Neil McDaniel; www.seastarsofthepacificnorthwest.info Click to enlarge.

Mottled star with sea star wasting syndrome. Photo and descriptor – Neil McDaniel; http://www.seastarsofthepacificnorthwest.info
Click to enlarge.

Mottled star with sea star wasting syndrome. Photo and descriptor - Neil McDaniel; www.seastarsofthepacificnorthwest.info Click to enlarge.

Mottled star with sea star wasting syndrome. Photo and descriptor – Neil McDaniel; http://www.seastarsofthepacificnorthwest.info
Click to enlarge.

Mottled star with sea star wasting syndrome. Photo and descriptor - Neil McDaniel; www.seastarsofthepacificnorthwest.info Click to enlarge.

Mottled star with sea star wasting syndrome. Photo and descriptor – Neil McDaniel; http://www.seastarsofthepacificnorthwest.info
Click to enlarge.

Morning sun star with lesions indicating the onset of sea star wasting syndrome. Photo and descriptor - Neil McDaniel; www.seastarsofthepacificnorthwest.info Click to enlarge.

Morning sun star with lesions indicating the onset of sea star wasting syndrome. Photo and descriptor – Neil McDaniel; http://www.seastarsofthepacificnorthwest.info
Click to enlarge.

Giant pink star with sea star wasting syndrome. Photo and descriptor - Neil McDaniel; www.seastarsofthepacificnorthwest.info Click to enlarge.

Giant pink star with sea star wasting syndrome. Photo and descriptor – Neil McDaniel; http://www.seastarsofthepacificnorthwest.info
Click to enlarge.

What was once a giant pink star. Photo and descriptor - Neil McDaniel; www.seastarsofthepacificnorthwest.info Click to enlarge.

What was once a giant pink star. Photo and descriptor – Neil McDaniel; http://www.seastarsofthepacificnorthwest.info
Click to enlarge.

What’s At Stake – Images Speaking Louder Than Words

Three minutes of images speaking louder than words . . .

This short slide show of my images testifies to the astonishing marine biodiversity of Northern Vancouver Island and what is put at risk with projects like the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project which would bring super-tanker traffic of toxic bitumen and condensate to B.C.’s fragile coast, and to the waters on which we depend for oxygen, food, buffering of climate change gases, aesthetics and so much more.

I have submitted this slide show for inclusion on “Hope, the Whale”, a 25′ whale sculpture being brought to the Vancouver Enbridge public hearings (January 14 to 18, 2013) “to symbolize the expansive and growing community of people with a vision of an oil-free coast in BC. The sculpture is designed to be a welcoming, collaborative, visual, interactive and peaceful approach to supporting a healthy environment. The whale will amplify our a collective messages of hope and a vision for a healthy ocean, water, land, communities, green economy, cultures and people.” See this link to contribute your message.

For more information, see my testimony to the Joint Review Panel included in my blog item “Super Natural or Super Tanker?” at this link.

Success! No Tidal Turbines in Whale Epicentre

“KC” breaches in Blackney Pass. Photo: Hildering

As follow-up to last week’s call to action, “Tidal Turbines in Whale Epicentre? Hell No!” , I am so pleased to relay the following media release from myself, the OrcaLab and the proponent, SRM Projects Ltd

The short of it is, due to the efforts of many (including you) and the integrity and ethics of the proponent – the application for an investigative license for ocean power in whale critical habitat has been withdrawn. 

Please read further below.

 Media Coverage:

For details of how this resolve was achieved see this OrcaLab blog item. 

Humpback whale “KC” (BCY0291, born in 2002) breaching in Blackney Pass.
The investigative license application for ocean power has now been withdrawn for this area.
© 2012 Jackie Hildering; http://www.themarinedetective.ca

Tidal Turbines in Whale Epicentre? Hell No!

[Updates: November 18, 2012 – the application for an investigative license for ocean power in whale critical habitat has been withdrawn. Please see the media release at this link.
November 14, 2012 – To our surprise, the deadline to provide comment regarding the land tenure has been extended, it is now also December 2nd.
November 13, 2012 – As testimony to how serious this is – international Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) has picked this up and put out an action alert.]


For a bundling of media items on this see the end of the blog.] 

There are times when expletives like “Hell No!” are justified and I am sure you will agree this is one of those very unfortunate times and – your action is needed.

Blackney Pass off Johnstone Strait is an epicentre of whale activity and there is an application for an “Investigative License of Occupation – Ocean Power ” for this very area. Yep, that’s right . . . an application for “actual installment of technical investigative and monitoring equipment” that could lead to turbines being in critical whale habitat. The proponent is SRM Projects Ltd of Nanaimo, B.C.

While I of course support initiatives to reduce the use of climate-changing fossil fuels, to have turbines in critical whale habitat would be pure, simple, total, utter insanity. No matter how advanced the turbine technology, no amount of mitigation could compensate for the noise, prey reduction, and other disturbance to the whales.

The deadline for your two quick submissions is December 2nd. Below, I have strived to make commenting very expeditious for you, but first, a bit more on how preposterous the application is, just to fuel you up for those comments. 

Here is the map showing the area for the “license of occupation“.

Source: Application for OCEAN ENERGY/INVESTIGATIVE AND MONITORING by SRM Projects Ltd of Nanaimo, B.C.  Click image to enlarge.

Here is the map showing the application site relative to the critical habitat map for northern resident killer whales from the Final Amended Recovery Strategy for Northern and Southern Resident Killer Whales in Canada. [Why was it amended you might ask? Because the federal government had to be taken to court TWICE to enforce their legal obligation to protect killer whale habitat – first ruling December 7, 2010; appeal ruling February 9th, 2011.]

Proposed site (red) relative to acknowledged northern resident killer whale critical habitat (cross hatched area). Source Amended Recovery Strategy for Northern and Southern Resident Killer Whales in Canada. Click image to enlarge.

The very ocean current that makes this area of interest for staking a claim for ocean energy is what makes this such a rich area for marine life. Multiple currents collide causing a merry-go-round in which plankton and fish are concentrated. The threatened northern resident killer whales feed here with great regularity, as do members of the threatened population of humpback whales, Steller sea lions, Dall’s porpoise, etc.

The importance of this area for killer whales can be supported by almost 4 decades of data collected by Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the OrcaLab. More recently, with regard to the humpbacks, I and my fellow researchers from the Marine Education and Research Society, can testify to how often these giants are in this area.

But it is the whales that speak with the most convincing voices of all. Here is the OrcaLab’s September 16th, 2012 visual and acoustic recording of the I15 and A30 matrilines of northern resident killer whales in the very area “in question”.

For researchers, whale watchers and on-line followers of the OrcaLab’s monitoring of whales, we all know that this kind of activity is not exceptional in this area and we know what is at stake.

As final stark evidence of how often there are whales in this area, note where, of all the places the OrcaLab could have put their whale-monitoring cameras and hydrophones, they are positioned. Then again, note the location of the proposed ocean power project.

Proposed site (red) relative to positions of the OrcaLab, and their hydrophones and cameras. Testimony to just how often there are whales here. Click image to enlarge.


One would hope that government agencies would surely deny this application but  . . . we have so many recent examples of this being tragically misplaced faith and we cannot count on there being any legislation in place for sound environmental assessment that would confirm environmental impacts. May I point out again that the government had to be taken to court TWICE to be order to acknowledge and protect killer whale critical habitat?!

Therefore, we collectively need to make our “Hell No!” heard now.

Essential action needed by December 2nd – submission to two government agencies. 

  1. By December 2nd, regarding the land tenure,  click this link, go to the bottom of this Integrated Land Management Bureau page, and comment on the project. Sample text below in green. [Note that, to our surprise, this deadline changed on November 14th, the date that was the initial deadline for comment to this agency.]
  2. By December 2nd, regarding the license of occupation, click this link and email your comment to Forests, Lands and Natural Resources Operations. You could use the same text as you did for the above.

If you can, come to the Port McNeill “community information session” given by the proponent, SRM Projects Ltd of Nanaimo, on November 20th in Room 4 of the Old School from 6:30 to 7:45 PM. There will also be an information session in Campbell River on November 22nd but this will focus on SRM’s proposals for the Discovery Passage and Seymour Narrows. It will be in the Rivercorp Boardroom, 900 Alder Street from 7:00 to 8:30 PM.

  • Sample text for both of the above. “With regard to Land File Number 1412946, the application for SRM Project Ltd’s “Investigative License of Occupation – Ocean Power” in the Blackney Passage / Johnstone Strait area, I write you to express that this application must not be granted. This is scientifically confirmed critical habitat for northern resident killer whales and it has been legally ruled that this must be protected as per Canada’s Species at Risk Act. In addition, the area is of great importance to humpback whales and many other marine species. No matter how advanced the turbine technology, no amount of mitigation could compensate for the noise, prey reduction, and other disturbance to the whales.”  You may even want to reference this blog and provide the link e.g. “For further details of the reasons for my great objection to this application see the rationale and resources provided at http://wp.me/pPW6V-LE.”

With this application being so ludicrous, I can’t help but wonder if I am missing something. Is this just part of a staking frenzy or is it some sort of distractor so that attention is taken away from something else?

SRM LTD’s projects are listed here. Again, reductions to our voracious fossil fuel consumption are very much needed but, at the cost of having turbines in whale critical habitat? Unequivocally – no. 

So much insanity  . . . so little time.  Sigh.

Huge gratitude and respect to Angela Smith for being the one to take note of the notification of this application and to Leah Robinson for ensuring I had many of the details I needed for this blog.

Media items:

References:

This posting on my FaceBook page has had success in creating further awareness. Feel free to share! Whale on right is Tsitika (A30). She is 65 years old. She loves Chinook salmon and is always within calling range of her sons, daughters and grand-calves. Most often, as is the case here, she is right beside her eldest surviving son, Blackney (A38) who is 42. Tsitka has lived through the human impacts of being shot at when that was our way; our use of toxins that bioaccumulate in the flesh of her kind reducing their immunity and ability to reproduce; our practices that have reduced the availability of salmon and . . . the noise! The next assault – turbines in the very area where her family most often fishes? The same area that is the namesake of her son i.e. “Blackney Pass” and where this photo was taken? The area that is designated as critical habitat for her population?

Super Natural or Super Tanker?

Northern Resident Killer Whale R12 (male born in 1967) in Caamano Sound – part of the proposed tanker route that would carry bitumen crude along B.C.’s fragile coast. Photo by James Pilkington taken during the time he spent 3 seasons at a remote outpost documenting the biodiversity of the area for the North Coast Cetacean Society. http://www.cetacealab.org/

August 8, 2012: Last night and this afternoon concerned Northern Vancouver Islanders resolutely, passionately, creatively, eloquently and unequivocally said “NO” to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project. Below, is the text that I used to guide my testimony to the Joint Review Panel:  

My name is Jackie Hildering and I speak from the perspective of a marine educator who has lived in this area for 13.5 years. I moved here after a 14-year international teaching career choosing B.C.’s Coast specifically because of its extraordinary marine biodiversity and what I perceived to be the potential to leverage this biodiversity to motivate people to undertake positive environmental change.    In my years here:

  • I have worked as a whale watching naturalist for a company serving some 10,000 guests a year of which a conservative estimate is that 65% come from outside British Columbia;
  • For 8 years, I was DFO’s Education Coordinator for this area;
  • I am a humpback whale researcher; and
  • I am a very avid cold-water scuba diver using my underwater experiences and photographs, in addition to the marine mammal engagers, in my education and conservation efforts.

I am the 2010 recipient of the Vancouver Aquarium’s Murray A. Newman Award for Excellence in Aquatic Conservation and have received written commendation for my work from DFO’s Director of Oceans, Habitat and Enhancement. I share this depth of personal background with you to fortify my testimony:

  • On how extraordinary the marine biodiversity of this area is;  
  • The value of the resources being put at risk; and
  • That this risk is simply too great to allow the marine transport of bitumen in the proposed area.

It is an inescapable conclusion that the transport of bitumen crude along our Coast constitutes a massive gamble where human ingenuity is being pitted against the resilience of Nature and our dependence on it. I can testify that this marine ecosystem is extraordinary on a global scale. I have photographed invertebrates that were previously unknown to science, and have participated in documenting rare organisms such a corals and glass sponge reefs at depths much shallower than what had been previously documented.   I acknowledge however, that when there is such absence of knowledge, it is more difficult to make the case for how the life hidden below the surface may be impacted by this Project. Therefore, I will use the marine mammals and what we do know about them as ambassadors for the fragility of the other life below the surface. The marine mammals that have been acknowledged to be at risk in the area are the:

  • Species of Special Concern – the harbour porpoise, gray whale, Steller sea lion, and sea otter;
  • Species recognized as being Threatened – humpback whale, fin whale, northern resident, and transient killer whales; and
  • The Endangered southern resident killer whales and potentially, blue whales and sei whales.

In fact, bitumen transport would take place through what has been acknowledged by government to be critical habitat for humpback whales, and what is candidate critical habitat for northern resident killer whales and fin whales. The marine mammals, to varying degrees, have survived culling and whaling but continue to experience the treats of reduced prey availability, bioaccumulation of toxins, ocean acidification and further impacts of climate change, noise, vessel strike, entanglement, and more. The anthropogenic impacts on these species’ survival would indisputably be amplified further by this Project due to chronic noise and increased risk of ship strike. As a humpback researcher, I can attest to how oblivious this species can be to boats. I have watched them surface directly in front of motorized vessels after previously having been 400 plus meters away. When one considers the size of the tankers, how narrow the inlets are, the difficulty in adjusting the course of these large vessels, the density of humpback whales, and the potential weather conditions – vessel strike of humpbacks is a very real risk and one that cannot be mitigated by the presence of marine mammal observers. The humpbacks are going to be there.  Then what? Outside of concerns about the noise and further traffic impacts to the marine life, and what this means to their survival, the potential losses that would result from a spill are simply the stuff of nightmares.  When something goes wrong – then what?  It is my understanding that, at best, when there is a spill there would be 15% recovery. And we can’t hope for “at best” – seen Enbridge’s performance record; the likely wind and wave action that would be associated with a spill; that the federal government is closing B.C.’s command centre for emergency oil spills and centralizing operations in . . . Quebec; and that the closure of a Coast Guard base and three marine communication centres in B.C. will leave only two marine communication centres to monitor B.C.’s 27,000 kilometres of coastline.  And after the spill, with irreversible and catastrophic loses, what mechanism is there to hold industry accountable? What is there when, concurrent with the review of a Project such as this with the potential for devastating impacts, the government is atrophying or removing the checks and balances the would allow appropriate assessment of risk? The latest Harper statement is that science, not politics, will drive decision making around such projects. How?

  • The ocean contaminants program will be all but be shut down;
  • Government researchers, whose work has been paid for by the taxpayer, are stifled in their communications;
  • Bill C-38 has gutted Canada’s Fisheries Act, undermined the Species at Risk Act and repealed the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and it was done in such a way that even the Conservatives could not vote against it since, to defeat an omnibus budget bill is to defeat one’s own government;
  • Testimony at the Cohen Inquiry into the Decline of Fraser River Sockeye has made clear how government bodies are made to work with industry rather than safeguard our natural resources – even a keystone species; and
  • Environmental governmental organizations are more overwhelmed than ever as a result of these many attacks against science and the environment in addition to now struggling under the needless scrutiny and vilification by our federal government.

This current government climate is the epitome of decision-making based on short-term economic gain over long-term environmental health. I solidly believe there is another economic path that does not put our resources at risk in the way that marine bitumen transport would and where there is so much to lose economically, socially, and culturally. As a result of my work, I believe we have not come close appreciating nor maximizing the economics of the international attraction of British Columbia for its natural splendor. Outside of the First Nations, our culture has largely been one of being gold-rushers, and I think we, the keepers of paradise, often don’t know that we are in it. We don’t fully recognize how extraordinary B.C.’s Coast is and therefore don’t understand adequately what is being put at risk.   There is certainly an element of taking our resources for granted, and increasingly, that society does not appreciate our connection and dependency on them. Therefore, we fall short in our ability to attract and capitalize on B.C.’s international wild appeal and we are not inclined to move toward a greener economy nor to adequately protect our environment. I can testify to the potency of our Coast to attract those looking to connect to the wild, to view giants, and breath in the sense of space and raw beauty of this area and how I believe this can be capitalized upon economically, while creating societal good. It is of course so difficult to measure, but I will also dare state, based on my experience in the trenches of conservation, that the connection to the wild positively impacts, inspires, fortifies and empowers humanity in a way that cannot be achieved in an urbanized setting. [And this is where I virtually lost it and needed to choke out the remaining words.] We simply need places like this and can’t expose them to this kind of risk. My position on the decisions Panel should make is:

  • The potential of environmental impact is too great and cannot be mitigated for;
  • There is too much at risk – environmentally, economically, culturally and socially; and
  • That therefore, transport of bitumen crude cannot take place along B.C.’s fragile and extraordinary coast and the Enbridge Project must not be approved.   

Simply, we should be capitalizing on this being Super Natural British Columbia, not Super Tanker British Columbia. 

 

Blacked Out – June 4, 2012

“Speak out in defence of two core Canadian values: Nature and Democracy”. See http://www.blackoutspeakout.ca

As a very wise man recently said, I too am “profoundly disturbed by the current political atmosphere.”

From where I sit, I see steamrollers coming in, clearing the way for short-term economic gain by systematically eliminating the environmental checks and balances that safeguard the health of Canada’s environment.  Environmental regulation is being weakened; scientific research is being silenced or eliminated; and the activities of environmental non-profits are being thwarted. 

For example:

  • Bill C-38 is a 452 page “budget implementation bill” which amends more than 60 diverse social and environmental acts including gutting the Canada’s Fisheries Act, undermining the Species at Risk Act, and repealing the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. Ecojustice references this as “the most far-reaching and devolutionary reform of federal environmental governance attempted in any one bill ever”. See their analysis of the top environmental concerns of Bill C-38. The Bill also designates $8 million over the next two years to fund “education and compliance activities with respect to political activities by charities” – charities that Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver has referenced as “environmental and other radical groups”. 
  • Bill 37, the B.C. Animal Health Act, has now been withdrawn due to public outrage but this appears to have been an attempt to prevent the public release of information related to disease outbreaks like infectious salmon anemia. The Act contained the language that “a person must refuse, despite the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, to disclose . . . information that would reveal that a notifiable or reportable disease is or may be present in a specific place”. Furthermore, the Act would have made the reporting on such outbreaks punishable by fines of up to $75,000 and two years in prison.
  • Despite the knowledge that marine organisms will testify to the effects of chemical pollution first, 75 scientists are to be laid off from Canada’s ocean contaminants program. This will leave only 5 junior scientists to do ocean contaminants research in the country with more coastline than any other in the world.  In the words of Dr. Peter Ross, who is world renown for his work on the bioaccumulation of contaminants in killer whales, this move by government qualifies as a “wholesale axing of pollution research” in Canada. 

This is why I supported the BlackOutSpeakOut campaign on June 4th, 2012, wanting to do what I can to provide a powerful signal to government that we, the keepers of paradise, will not allow short-term economic “growth” to be at the cost of long-term environmental devastation. Click here for the top 5 reasons to Speak Out. 

Tag – you’re it dear readers. Please help raise awareness. 

“R” We Getting It? Reflections for Earth Day – April 22nd

Earthling design by Kitty Chan. The "Earthlings" were a school environmental group I had the joy of working with in the 1990s in Rotterdam. Kitty allowed me to use this as the logo for my company "Earthling Entreprises".

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

Like automatons we can chant out this slogan when asked what we can for environmental good, so successfully ingrained is the motto believed to date back to the first Earth Day on April 22nd, 1970. For many of us, the chanting is accompanied by visions of blue boxes and the logo with 3 arrows.

Is this good, or bad?

It is of course good that the solution for reducing waste is so well known. That the solution can be captured in just 3 words also certainly makes the point that it’s pretty simple to live more sustainably.

Except, something got lost along the way.

It is not Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

It is REDUCE –> Reuse –> Recycle. The 3R slogan was born as the “waste hierarchy”. The 3 actions are not equal. “Reduce” is far, far more important than “Reuse” and the least impactful of the 3Rs is “Recycle”.

To use the case of the plastic water bottle to emphasize this, yes, you can recycle the bloody thing so it is not part of the legacy of plastics drifting and seeping around the planet BUT it shouldn’t even exist in the first place (at least in the developed world.) The tap water on northern Vancouver Island is of very high quality and by using it, you avoid the chemical and energy cost of the bottle being made, transported and . . . recycled.  If you have more urban tap-water, filtering can solve the issue of any taste you may not enjoy. 

Having the great privilege of working with children to help them feel empowered in a world with a lot of environmental gloom, I’ve polled them to find out what they believe to be the most important “R”. Almost always, the answer is “Recycle”.

Oops. This isn’t good. This really isn’t good. The shiny, most powerful, most hope-inspiring gem of environmental change has been misidentified. Striving to “Reduce” consumption of resources is the most powerful tool against all environmental problems; from waste management, to bioaccumulation and climate change. It is also the “R” that will give you the greatest bang for your buck – a buck you can cash in at the bank of happiness. Less misspent cash on disposable, nondurable and frivolous items and less wasted energy and other resources, means greater freedom from the consumer paradigm and a greater sense of hope for the future.

Earthling design by Kitty Chan.

How is that the most powerful “R” has become misidentified and that the whole concept of the 3R hierarchy has become lost? Is it because recycling is something tangible where it is difficult to visualize the action of “reducing”? I would argue that this should not be the case. 

“Reducing” should be the great green common denominator.

To use some examples applicable to teaching: we are leaving half the lights off in the classroom to use LESS energy; please use the paper in the recycling bin so we use LESS paper; close the door so we waste LESS heat; and how wonderful that you are using a reusable container for your lunch so there are LESS baggies bulging from school garbage cans and swirling around school yards. You get the idea.

Is it then because recycling allows us to have our plastic wrapped cake and eat it too? Certainly this is how the oh-so-powerful and oppressive consumer paradigm wishes to manipulate us i.e. “We’ll green-up making you feel less consumer guilt, but you’ve got to keep buying in the volume to which we’ve become accustomed”.

Or, are there many of us that don’t really believe how essential it is to get our act together for future generations and that by recycling we deliver an act of appeasement, just in case?

If you have read this far, thank you, for you are a significant player in creating positive environmental change. That’s the irony of writing an item such as this – it won’t reach the audience that needs to change the most; those who do not even recycle.

You care enough to want to refine what it is you already do.

Know that this is not about being perfect. It is about ensuring that our efforts have the greatest net gain and that we recognize the power that lies in “Reduce”.

Simply stated, less is more – more positive impact; more financial liberty; and more empowered, shiny-eyed, happy and healthy children in a future we cannot see.*

*Inspired by the quote “Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see”  by John W. Whitehead. 

Earthling design by Kitty Chan.

Earthling design by Kitty Chan.


Oceans Day – The Wisdom of James Cameron

June 8th is World Oceans Day (originating from the 1992 Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit and recognized by the United Nations since 2008). 

Mature male fish eating( (“resident”) killer whale – “Skeena” (A13; born 1978; missing 2010).
Photo – Hildering.

In reflecting on what I can best share with you to honour Oceans Day and make clear the human dependence and impact on the oceans, I have decided that no one has made these points more solidly and eloquently than fellow Canadian, James Cameron. He is a lifelong activist for marine conservation who, among many other achievements,  is the award-winning director of “Titanic” and  “Avatar”. 

Below, please read, and heed, the text from his 1998 acceptance speech for the SeaKeeper Award.  

The message is more important and urgent –  than ever.  

View towards Alert Bay, Northern Vancouver Island. Photo – Hildering

James Camerson:
“Every
living soul on earth, no matter how far inland they live or how much they may hate eating fish, is utterly dependent on the divine saltwater soup of the ocean. The ocean is the engine that drives our weather and moderates our climate. The phytoplankton in the seas create the majority of the oxygen we breathe. These microscopic plants also form the bottom of a vast food chain from which we harvest a large portion of our food.

As our population increases, and arable land remains finite, we will look to the oceans more and more for our survival. Thus, our destiny as a species is interlocked with the destiny of the sea. If the seas become sick, we become sick. If they die, we die. Subconsciously we think the sea will always be there for us. 

Sunset Port McNeill. Photo – Hildering.

Right now, all over the world, coral reefs are threatened, and 40-mile-long drift nets cut huge, sterile swaths through the open ocean. Biologists estimate that over one hundred million undiscovered species remain to be identified in the oceans. We will kill half of these before, we have even had a chance to give them names.

Life began in the sea over three billion years ago. Our first upright walking ancestors appeared a mere four million years ago, and human civilization is less than ten thousand years old. If the natural history of life on earth could be viewed as a single Great Year, all of human recorded history inhabits the last couple of seconds of the last minute before midnight at the end of that year. And yet, in those last seconds, that eyeblink, we have multiplied exponentially, and our impact on the natural world has increased logarithmically.

It took the entire history of humankind to produce a global population of a billion people by the year 1800. By 1930, in just over a century, it had doubled to two billion. In another fifty years, it had doubled again to four. Now, at close to 6 billion, we are likely to double again in less than thirty years. picture it, 12 billion human souls, human mouths, crying out for food, struggling to survive, competing for resources, choking in a poisoned and depleted world, and all within the lifetime of our children.

Sunset off the coast of Northern Vancouver Island. Photo – Hildering.

We are alive now, and doing those works for which we will be remembered, at the most critical instant in the history of the Earth. Millions of years of natural evolution are focusing down to a few decades during which the game will be won or lost. And like it or not, we are the players in that game.

This is both a great honor, and a terrifying responsibility- As leaders, as decision-makers, as influencer’s of public opinion, we must do our best to preserve and restore the oceans. Humankind has, unwittingly, assumed the role of executioner of our own planet’s life force. But we can also be saviors, if we choose, and if we are willing to make the sacrifices necessary . . .

Sunrise Port McNeill – looking toward Haddington Island and Sointula. Photo – Hildering.

There is no one here who would not do the very best for their children – the best schools, the best food, the best doctors. Think of the ocean as the ultimate trust fund for your children, a living and life-giving fund.  A healthy ocean is the best gift you can give them . . . l ask everyone. . . to assume a leadership role in guarding and restoring the oceans in all ways, and as a life philosophy.”

Please see my 2020 blog “How to Love the Ocean – Daily Actions for Future Generations”

Invasive and Indiscriminate Tagging of Whales?

Update: October 2016 – Confirmed that endangered Southern Resident L95 died due to an infection resulting from limpet tagging. Read news item here.

Update: January 22, 2012 update to the December 10, 2010 blog item below:  Approval granted to limpet tag the endangered southern resident killer whales. See news items at the end of the blog. 

The American “Northwest Fisheries Science Center” (NWFSC) has applied for expansion of their permit to satellite tag endangered and threatened whales with airguns, including the endangered Southern Resident killer whale population and the threatened Northern Residents and Transient populations (the range of all these whales very much includes British Columbian waters).

It is the opinion of many involved in whale research and conservation that the impact of the airgun tagging far out weighs any benefit to the whales. There are other ways to get data on the movement of killer whales e.g. acoustic tracking and collaboration with researchers who have been studying these whales more extensively than NWFSC.

It is my opinion that the tagging cannot provide data that will help reduce the threats of toxin accumulation, prey availability, disturbance or noise so – why do it?  The photos here indicate just how invasive these types of tags are.

Below, I also include a letter from the North Island Marine Mammal Stewardship Association (NIMMSA) in which they powerfully express their concerns about the tagging.

If you too are concerned about the merit of this tagging program, please help in creating awareness. Share this blog on Facebook; do what you want with the images (help them go viral) and provide coment via this link before December 23rd, 2010.

Close up of the tag.

News items and further resources regarding limpet tagging of killer whales:

Humpback Comeback Project – Worth the Vote

Update: See this link for the results of the Humpback Comeback Project in the AVIVA competition.

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In recognition of how important the information was to our Humpback Comeback Project, Jim Borrowman provided us with his photos of a humpback whale entanglement dating back to September 23rd, 1994. This was a time when it was very rare to see humpbacks around N. Vancouver Island (B.C., CANADA) since they had been whaled intensely into the 1950s.

I include one of these images below but be warned that it is very upsetting.  I share it with you as it shows how devastating the threat of getting entangled in fishing gear can be. The photo provides insight into how necessary research into the threat of entanglement is and  . . . how valuable your voting is for the Humpback Comeback Project. (Please click here to place your daily vote so that $25K could be won for humpback entanglement research).

Christie McMillan (colleague in the Project who has expertise in judging the severity of entanglement injuries), concluded that the whale must have been entangled for a considerable time before these images were taken. The evidence of this is that the whale is very thin (emaciated) and its skin condition is very poor, being heavily covered in cyamids (whale lice).

Whale with severe entanglement injuries, 1994. Photo by Jim Borrowman; Stubbs Island Whale Watching; http://www.stubbs-island.com/

 

Jim Borrowman, Mike Durban and Dave Towers worked together and succeeded in freeing this whale from the lines. This heroic effort served as the inspiration for the children’s book “The Rescue of Nanoose” by Mary Borrowman and Chloe O’Loughlin; illustrated by Jacqueline Wang.

More, larger photos showing the severity of this entanglement at this link.

If you need more background on how to vote for the Humpback Comeback Project , please click here.