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July 30, 2006

Altered Oceans

Anyone see Al Gore's movie An Inconvenient Truth?

The LA Times has done an in-depth series of stories on the world's seas called Altered Oceans. It's absolutely worth reading.

Here's a summary of the series:

On Sunday, July 30, the Los Angeles Times will publish a ground-breaking five-part series, "Altered Oceans," that looks at the man-made interlocking stresses that have created more than 150 known "dead zones" in the world's oceans. Those stresses have led to a reduction in marine life, an ever-increasing injury and infection rate among marine mammals and fish, and the dramatic growth of the types of toxic bacteria and algae that ruled the oceans at the dawn of evolution.

The series was written by Times staff writers Ken Weiss and Usha McFarling, and features photography and video by Times' award-winning photojournalists Rick Loomis and Brian VanderBrug.

If you are an educator interested in the series, I encourage you to contact the LAT to inquire about copies or reprints in the series. (213) 237-5000

(A detailed writeup at the jump.)

Altered Oceans Series Overview

DAY ONE -- Towards The Tipping Point

Synopsis: Fishermen in Moreton Bay, Australia, were plagued not only with strange rashes but a sharp drop in their catch. At about the same time, they noticed a strange new seaweed. Further research showed it was actually an ancient bacterium -- typical of the slimes, molds and other ancient life forms that thrived in the primordial seas and that are now taking over the oceans as pollution and over-fishing are decimating marine fish and mammals.

Multimedia content:
Video 1 -- Marine biologist Jeremy Jackson makes his first dive in Discovery Bay, Jamaica in 20 years. After a hurricane blasted the coral reef, he expected it to recover. It hasn't. The Caribbean has lost
about 80% of its coral reefs in the past three decades, a fact missed by most vacationers.
Video 2 -- Moreton Bay, Australia is a subtropical estuary roughly the size of San Francisco Bay. Instead of fish, shrimp or crabs, fishermen are pulling up tuffs of black matted lyngbya, a toxic 3-billion-year-old bacteria that has overrun the bay with its twisted dreadlocks. It grows like wildfire, feeding itself and burning the skin of anyone who touches it.
Video 3 -- On Georgia's Atlantic Coast, Grovea Simpson can make moremoney trawling for cannonball jellyfish—jellyballs, he calls them—than he can for the tasty but often elusive Georgia white shrimp. The decline of the more traditional fish catches and the rise of jellyfish illustrate the dire straits of the ocean's food chain.

DAY TWO -- The Dead and Dying

Synopsis: Dead or dying seals, dolphins and other marine mammals—the "sentinels of ocean health" —have been washing up along the California coast in unprecedented numbers over the past few years. Veterinarians caring for one such victim—a female sea lion named Neuschwander— identified the culprit: domoic acid, a toxin given off by a form of algae. Scientists suspect, but haven't proved, that the algae is proliferating because fertilizer, sewage and other runoff are sending plant food into the ocean.

Sidebar: For generations, Washington State's Quinault Indian tribe has depended on razor clams for food and income. But, buried in the meaty flesh of the clams is domoic acid, the same toxin that's infecting marine mammals like Neuschwander. Researchers are now in the middle of a five-year study of more than 600 Native Americans in five different tribes to figure out if the toxin is impairing memory of tribal members, especially their children.

Multimedia content:
Video 1 -- The 140-pound female California sea lion named Neuschwander was found comatose under the pier in Avila Beach near San Luis Obispo. One week later, she was found stranded again, but this time in Sacramento, 100 miles inland. Veterinarian Frances Gulland knew that the marine toxins she ingested were causing brain damage. With the help of an MRI, she was determined to find out just how much.
Video 2 -- Long-standing traditions and economic necessity are squaring off against public health concerns. A new type of algae-produced toxin that is poisoning razor clams may be causing memory
loss among Quinault tribal members and lower mental development among their children.

DAY THREE -- An Ill Wind

Synopsis: The sea breeze that blows onto Little Gasparilla Island, an idyllic spot off the Florida coast, often carries an arsenal of respiratory toxins produced by runaway algae. Health conditions force
residents to flee inland and fill emergency rooms with victims in respiratory distress. It's a powerful example of "blowback" caused by the continuing degradation of the world's oceans.

Multimedia content:
Video 1 -- An underwater statue in the Florida Keys, along with the surrounding reef, are carpeted with algae and seaweed. The plants are fed by a never-ending supply of human sewage that streams out of an off-shore pipe and agricultural runoff flowing out of canals and rivers.
Video 2 -- When the red tide is in full swing and the wind is blowing onshore, Florida's Little Gasparilla Island is unfit for humans and even the family dog. The brevotoxin that is causing coughing fits, headaches and sinus infections has made paradise a creepy place.
Video 3 -- Manatees are a big tourist draw in Ft. Meyers, Florida. But many of them are dying from the same red tide toxins that are causing so much trouble on the barrier islands.

DAY FOUR -- Trashing the World's Most Remote Island

Synopsis: On Midway Atoll, the most remote island in the world, albatross chicks keel over from malnutrition by the hundreds. Wildlife biologists, slitting open the birds' bellies, find the reason: a payload of plastics - bottle tops, Lego blocks, toothbrushes, syringes, toy soldiers. The plastic detritus of modern civilization gathers in enormous "gyres" clogging the oceans and killing sea life. One of those floating dumps is twice the size of Texas.

Multimedia content:
Video 1 -- Winter rains flush tons of trash down the Los Angeles River into the ocean. Much of it plastic, which can ride the ocean's currents for decades before getting spit onto a beach. One such "trash magnet" is Kamilo Beach on Hawaii's Big Island, where sometimes you can't even see the sand.
Video 2 -- Midway Atoll in the Pacific Ocean is an ideal rookery. The albatross chicks living there have full stomachs—stomachs full of plastic. Along with fish eggs and squid, their parents scoop up tons of plastic from a huge, floating trash dump in the middle of the ocean. The result: of the half-million albatross chicks born on the atoll, 200,000 die.

Day Five -- Oceans of Acid

Synopsis: The Greenhouse Effect does more than warm the planet. It is making the oceans more acidic. The pH of the seas has changed measurably just in the last 20 years—the result of carbon dioxide settling in the oceans and turning into them into carbonic acid. If the trend continues, tiny plankton—the foundation of the ocean's food chain—will start to die.

Posted by sedda at July 30, 2006 10:09 PM