Lehigh University

Worldwide Coastal and Oceans Woes Continue.

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Courtesy of Lehigh University

'The oceans are in trouble and so are we,' oceanographer Sylvia Earle, National Geographic explorer in residence and researcher for the Smithsonian, was quoted as saying in an article on the web by Seth Borenstein writing for the Philadelphia Inquirer and San Jose Mercury News Washington Bureaus. Citing a study by the Harvard Medical School's Center for Health and the Global Environment covering 1976 to 1996, Borenstein reports a greater than fourfold increase in harmful algal blooms (74 to 329). 'stranding of whales, dolphins and porpoises jumped from nearly zero in 1972 to almost 1,400 in 1994,' he writes. And mass fish kills, which were 'nearly unheard-of before 1973' reached 'almost 140 in 1996.' While fish and mammals were dying, and increasing number of people were suffering from health problems associated with water: swimmer's itch, pfiesteria and cholera, according to Borenstein.

If human health doesn't make you worry about the quality of water, consider the economics. Pfiesteria, which causes temporary memory loss, 'cost $60 million in losses to fisheries and tourism, hospitalization of victims and cleanup efforts,' Borenstein writes.

Don't think that the U.S. coastal woes are the only ones in the world. Ireland's coast has become a dumping ground for 'litter, sewage, builders' rubble, plastic fishing gear and coastal erosion,' according to a study by an environmental group, Coastwatch, and reported by Tim O'Brien in The Irish Times. He reports that the greatest threat is erosion.

Meanwhile, down under, 200 years of tree-clearing in the Murray-Darling Basin has contributed to 'rapid escalation of a ‘salinity crisis' afflicting Australia's biggest river system, the Murray-Darling, according to an article by Murray Hogarth in The Sydney Morning Herald. Hogarth cites a major report by the 'Prime Minister's most senior advisors' that warns of a serious threat of salt intrusion on 'agricultural production, fauna and flora, water quality and even roads, buildings and other infrastructure in towns.' Salinization occurs in the basin because ancient salt deposits are carried to the surface by rising water tables.

Hogarth quotes the doom and gloom report as saying that 'The numbers and areas impacted will increase due to past actions, regardless of what actions we take now.' He writes: 'New forecasts in the report say that over the next 50 years salt is expected to devastate up to 15 million hectares of farmland, half of it in NSW (New South Wales). . .,' where it will 'also threaten urban water supplies, and a million people in Adelaide may be infected.' He writes that the greatest risk is to the 'West Australian wheat belt, and much of the Murray-Darling Basin, which provides water for 3 million people in four States, as well as agriculture worth nearly $9 billion a year.' Hogarth writes that the projected economic impact of the salinization is great: '$700 million in the capital cost of land lost to salt; $130 million a year from lost agricultural production; $100 million in damage to infrastructure such as roads, bridges, pipelines and buildings; up to $65 million a year for extra water treatment for Adelaide; and 40 million in lost ‘environmental assets.'

 

The only way out of this dilemma is to replant somewhere between 5 and 10 billion trees in 30 to 50 percent of the basin, Hogarth quotes an expert as saying.

Also down under, in Australia, New Zealand and South America, coastal land use is being blamed for a threat to penguins, according to an article in the San Jose Mercury News web edition by Usha Lee McFarling. The New England Aquarium issued a report in early December in which international penguin experts warned that 11 of 17 penguin species face the threat of extinction–twice as many as in 1996.

The threat to penguins is two-fold, McFarling reports. 'Vacation houses in Australia, sheep grazing and farming in South America' are taking away breeding beaches from the penguins. Ferrets, cats and dogs in Australia and New Zealand invade penguin rookeries for food.

At sea, pollutants and oil spills sicken and kill many species. Forty thousand penguins are affected by oil off the Argentine coast each year, according to Tony Williams, a penguin specialist from Cape Town, South Africa quoted by McFarling. Overfishing and El Niño have reduced the number of fish available for food for penguins. Fishermen are handily beating out penguins in the race for anchovies and sardines, McFarling says. Fishing boat nets 'snare and drown penguins,' McFarling quotes report editor Susan Ellis of the International Union of Concerned Nations as saying. Fishermen from some countries use penguin meat as bait. Some wet cat foods are made from fish taken away from the penguins. Author Kenneth Friedman Published January 1, 1999

Note: This article is reprinted with the author permission from Suite 101.com

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