In light of the BP oil spill, this week’s installment of Chemistry of the Great Big Blue will be particularly relevant to current events and hopefully already on the minds of everyone reading. Where do petrochemicals in the marine environment come from other than oil spills? Road runoff, refineries, plastic production, plastic degradation, atmospheric deposition and ocean circulation from other parts of the world, natural seeps, and the list goes on and on. It is important to note, however, that oil spills are not necessarily the predominant source of petrochemicals. So what exactly is a petrochemical and what does it do?
Dr. Tyrone Hayes is a professor of Biology at UC Berkley who has been at the forefront of some groundbreaking research into the developmental effects of the pesticide Atrazine on amphibians and mammals. Dr. Hayes runs the Atrazinelovers homepage, a site dedicated to educating the public about the effects of the pesticide on our environment and human health. His research and outreach have earned him the ire of many in the pesticide industry, especially from Syngenta, the company that manufactures Atrazine. The Oyster’s Garter provides a good introduction to his research here.
Below is a video of one of his talks, summarizing his research:
Remember when I promised to profile chemicals in the ocean as a New Year’s resolution? If not, here‘s my first in the series of one posts that resulted, reposted here as a reminder. As always, I encourage checking out the old comments. From now on, I still hope to give the series a second shot at life, so keep checking back for more installments of the series.
As my fellow fry-entists can attest, we know so little about the oceans that every deep sea expedition yields a handful of new species to describe, focus on saving one species may come at the demise of another, and people still won’t go swimming in some areas for fear Jaws will eat them. And that’s just a quick sampling of what we’ve written so far. The depth of our societal ignorance about the ocean and how it functions is enormous. Just as the fishermen of days gone by used to think that the sea offered God’s unlimited bounty, modern day people don’t seem to understand that the ocean isn’t an endlessly large dumping ground for all things undesired in our terrestrial lives. From trash to carbon dioxide to birth control pills, our oceans are the unfortunate downstream victims of human decisions. We don’t understand the impacts, sources, or even types of chemicals that are ending up flushed to the seas. One of my new year’s resolutions is to become more acquainted with the chemicals of the great big sea. Today’s profiled chemical: the unknown. Continue reading Chemistry of the Great Big Blue
With seafood season in full swing, I thought I’d repost this review of certification programs. I’ve learned lots since writing this article, most notably that the compiled data from the EDF study comes from a huge database of government sources. This gives me more confidence in their truth, but the areas tested are still light on estuaries. Everything else still stands. Please check back at the old site for comments.
Another thought process to add to the many considerations of food ethics: if you choose to eat seafood, which fisheries are sustainable and eco-friendly? For those of us who live on the coast, seafood represents local food that supports local businesses and helps make the connection between producer and consumer. So step one, deciding to eat seafood, has been taken. But then what? A number of nonprofits have taken on that burden and created seafood guides and certification to help you as an informed consumer. Only problem is, they sometimes differ in their listings based on what criteria they use and how they weight those criteria. Continue reading Wading Through a Sea of Eco-Certification
A while back I reviewed the many seafood guides and the various ways they rank seafood choices. They do share one thing in common, however, and that’s the special denotation of certain species as hazardous to human health because of toxin load. Specifically, high levels of mercury and PCBs as found by an Environmental Defense study.
First, kudos to EDF for making their data have immediate impact. Other studies of toxins in fish have sat around for literally decades before becoming part of the mainstream discourse about fisheries. But it does beg the question, what makes mercury and PCBs so important among the myriad toxins in our oceans and our seafood?
There’s an elephant in the room as summer arrives on the Gulf Coast: hypoxia season.
This year, it’s a different Gulf, one covered in the largest oil slick in our country’s history. No one is quite sure what the interaction between the oil and hypoxia will be. Best guess is that both stresses will mean the end for most organisms living in the area and that hypoxia will exacerbate problems associated with the spill and hinder recovery by limiting oxygen availability for detoxifying bacteria. However, step back for a minute and speculate on other possibilities: could the oil spill actually be helpful if it prevents or slows the eutrophication process? Could the damages associated with the oil spill be less than those associated with a large hypoxic zone?
The Cove has recently collected a long list of awards including most notably an Oscar for best documentary. These well-deserved accolades reward the filmmakers for risky and groundbreaking filming in a highly protected cove in Japan where a dolphin fishery thrives, both to feed the aquarium trade and citizens wishing to enjoy a dolphin dinner. However, I caution viewers, as with most works of art that rely heavily on scientific information, that you should use the movie as inspiration but turn to the scientific literature for accurate information, especially in terms of mercury concerns within the dolphins. Mercury poisoning is scary, but it is only one amongst a long and growing list of toxicological concern. Its effects are relatively well-understood and known to be primarily of concern for pregnant women and small children.
If you were follwing along on Twitter this weekend, you know that all three of us were at the Benthic Ecology 2010 meeting in Wilmington, NC. Below are some of the more interesting conversations that occurred while livetweeting the event.