The climate denial industry in full swing, 5 storms rage across the Atlantic, and Orcas seek vengeance – What’s up with the Oceans this week?

Denial Incorporated. Over the weekend, the Administration announced the appointment of David Legates, an anti-science activist embedded in the climate denial industry. Legates will answer directly to acting NOAA administrator Neil Jacobs. Expect to see Legates making the media rounds downplaying the impact of climate change on the occurrence of more frequent and powerful tropical storms because…

There are currently 5 active tropical cyclones in the Atlantic. This has only ever been documented once before. Historically, we are just entering the most active part of the Atlantic Hurricane season and it’s already time to move on to Greek letters. The next earliest 20th named storm was Tropical Storm Tammy, which formed October 5, 2005.

Killer whales are attacking boats in the Mediterranean. Ok, then.

Upwelling.

This is possibly the grimmest climate change model I’ve seen in a long time: New Climate Maps Show a Transformed United States.

Great Whites get down to business, the Ocean Cleanup flounders, and a livestock carrier goes down – What’s up with the Ocean this week?

Frisky business for Great White Sharks. For only the second time since western scientists began studying the ocean, Great White Shark mating has been documented in the wild. Shark sex is infrequently observed in the wild, and this fisherman’s observations can provide invaluable insight in the lives and loves of this iconic species.

The Ocean Cleanup. Dr. Rebecca Helm of UNC Asheville spent the last week doing an extensive dive into the problems surrounding the Ocean Cleanup Project. The who thread, including all the updates, is worth a read for anyone interested in tackling the global problem of ocean plastics with practical solutions that don’t increase harm to marine ecosystems.

Search called for Gulf Livestock 1. The livestock carrier Gulf Livestock 1 capsized last week amidst heavy storms. Though three crew members have been found, the remaining crew, as well as the ship and its 6000 cattle, are still missing. The search was suspended earlier this week, due to weather.

Upwell

Burning Man, the legendary gathering in the Nevada desert, had its own shark jumping moment. After cancelling the main event due to the pandemic raging across America (and pretty much under control almost everywhere else), organizers decided to hold a mini-Burning Man on the actual playa–San Francisco’s Ocean Beach. It was a reckless and selfish gathering of 1000 people that put people’s lives at risk and forced the mayor to shut down beach access, depriving many city-dwellers of their nearest connection to nature in an age of lockdowns and limited travel.

New dives to Challenger Deep raise old questions about privatization and exploration

This article originally appeared in the June/July 2020 issue of the Deep-sea Mining Observer. It is reprinted here with permission. For the latest news and analysis about the development of the deep-sea mining industry, subscribe to DSM Observer here: http://dsmobserver.com/subscribe/

Featured Images: Friends of the Mariana Trench during the 2008 campaign to obtain Marine National Monument status
Featured Images: Friends of the Mariana Trench during the 2008 campaign to obtain Marine National Monument status for the Mariana Trench and surrounding island and seamounts.

For over 50 years, deep-ocean explorers have been able to claim that more people have walked on the moon than have dived to the deepest point on the Earth. Only two men descended into Challenger Deep in the 20th century–Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard–they were joined in the early 2010s by director James Cameron. Earlier this year, Victor Vescovo became the fourth to reach the bottom of Challenger Deep and, over the course of several subsequent dives this summer, the ranks of those who’ve reached the deepest ocean has swelled. 

Astronaut, oceanographer, and former NOAA Administrator Kathy Sullivan and explorer and mountaineer Vanessa O’Brien became the first and second woman to dive to the bottom of Challenge Deep aboard the privately owned HOV Limiting Factor, piloted by Vescovo and his team. 

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Dead dolphins wash up in Mauritius, mining for cobalt on the bottom of the sea, and Norwegian whaling – What’s up with the Ocean this week?

The disaster continues in Mauritius. With the cleanup and salvage well underway, Mauritius has begun assessing the broader impacts of the disastrous bulk carrier wreck. Fishermen have reported seeing 30 to 30 dead dolphins floating in a lagoon near the wreckage including mothers and calfs. Dead whales, as well as sick and injured whales, are also being recovered close to the site of the spill.

Deep-sea mining cracks the crust. The world’s first experimental deep-sea mining operation for cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts has successfully recovered ore from the seafloor. For a deeper looking into the development of the deep-sea mining industry, subscribe to the DSM Observer.

The mining machine on the seabed. Photo courtesy JOGMEC.

Whaling in Norway. Commercial whaling in Norway has reach a four-year-high. As of last week, Norwegian whaling vessels had killed 481 minke whales this season. The Norwegian whaling season is not over.

Upwelling.

I don’t have a huge soapbox to stand on this week, but there have been several good balanced articles about deep-sea mining that are worth a read, including this from Scientific American – Deep-Sea Mining: How to Balance Need for Metals with Ecological Impacts – and this by the Secretary-General of the International Seabed Authority, which oversees seabed mineral rights in areas beyond national jurisdiction – How to Mine the Oceans Sustainably.

Taking the bait, chopping up tankers, the calamari comeback, and some #scicomm advice– What’s up with the Ocean this week?

August 26, 2020

Don’t take the bait. Baiting fish for the sake of tourists has always engendered a fair bit of criticism. New research out of the Cook Islands demonstrates that frequent baiting at popular snorkeling sites alters fish behavior and causes harm to the reef ecosystem. Just don’t do it.

Etat-major des Armees/EPAhandout

More trouble in Mauritius. The government of Mauritius has begun the process of scuttling the bulk carrier that ran aground and spilled thousands of gallons of fuel oil in one of the worst environmental disasters for this small island nation. Though the cleanup is underway, the impacts will be felt for generations. Local reports are already showing a 5-fold increase in the level of arsenic found in fish near the wreck site.

All hail the Calamari Comeback State. Why is Rhode Island the Calamari Comeback state? Climate change and overfishing. Squid are moving north into Rhode Island’s waters and all their other major seafood products are becoming increasingly depleted due to overfishing and environmental degradation. What a comeback!

Upwelling (the part where Andrew gets on his soapbox)

Last week on Twitter I did a little a little briefing on competence laundering and how science communication can lend credibility to un-credible individuals by over-analyzing inane statements. Edited and reprinted below.

Sometimes, the current POTUS will go off on a weird nonsense ramble about a topic your have expertise in. There is a huge, natural desire to contextualize those statements and find the nuggets of reality in them.

This is competence laundering.

I’m guilty of it too. It’s so hard to resist talking about the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act when the President says we should buy Greenland. I was more vigilant during yesterday’s shark nonsense. Trying to contextualize what he’s really talking about is to ascribe a level of understanding to a topic that he clearly does not have.

Maybe he saw a thing about great whites on Fox News. Maybe he got a briefing about seal and salmon conflict in the Pacific Northwest. Or maybe he saw the Shark Week Mike Tyson Special and can’t tell the difference between the heavyweight champion of the world and the man who sung Kiss from a Rose because he’s an unrepentant racist.

You don’t know which it is. Trying to contextualize the inane ramblings of an incurious man does nothing but obscure the profound incompetence. It’s competence laundering. We don’t have to be complicit. The answer to what the heck he was talking about [last week] is “I don’t know and he doesn’t either.”

Facebook ditches drilling gear, Mauritius copes with a crisis, and a new giant rises from the deep – What’s up with the Ocean this week?

August 19, 2020

Facebook is a hardware company. This week Oregonian revealed that Facebook quietly abandoned drilling equipment off of the Oregon coast. Fifty feet below the seafloor, heavy drilling equipment designed to lay fiber optic cable was damaged and abandoned by the social media company’s subsidiary. Facebook has no plans to recover the abandoned 1,100 feet of pipe and 6,500 gallons of drilling fluid.

The Crisis in Mauritius. The bulk carrier the ran aground in Mauritius split in two. Though authorities were able to pump out much of the stored fuel oil, the tanker still leaked over 1,900 metric tons into the Indian Ocean. This is projected to be among the worst ecologic disasters in the nation’s history. The captain of the MV Wakashio has been arrested.

New giant deep-sea isopod. Bathynomus raksasa is a newly described species of giant deep-sea isopod found in the water of Indonesia. at 33 centimetres, it doesn’t quite match up with the one true king of giant deep-sea isopods Bathynomous giganteus, but it is a solid contender. And, for your situational awareness, you can catch giant isopods in Animal Crossing.

Upwelling.

Politics aside, just watch the amazing Roll Call Across America from last night’s Democratic National Convention. An absolutely amazing tour of the 50 states and seven territories of the United States.

The true, essential, and definitive guide to looking like a professional while teaching from home.

Our world is in turmoil. From the chaos rises a new breed of academics, dedicated to the proposition that, amidst the fire and fury, with the seas rising around us and pandemics descending upon our communities, they alone have the foresight to lead you into the light, to guide you towards a greater good,  to brace the walls and cry out, with clarity of purpose, “No More!” They will  raise a clarion against that greatest of tribulations: looking sloppy while teaching on Zoom. 

I get it. It’s frustrating right now. We’re all trying to figure out how to be good educators and mentors and colleagues in a new, uncertain semester of hybrid classes, asymmetric learning, and teaching from a home that perhaps reveals a little too much about the grim prospects of academia to our bright eyed students. There are ways to make it better, and there are faux pas to avoid but no one has any idea what “professionalism” looks like in the age of Zoom.

This is new ground. We are the professionals. Whatever we need to do to make the class work, provide our students with an enriching and valuable education experience, and not collapse, exhausted, into a three-week-old laundry pile where we lie, like a barnacle, until the next lecture, is professional. 

But given all that, there are a few things you can do to improve the teach-from-home experience for you and for your students.

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An extremely active hurricane season, collapsing ice sheets, massive oil spills, and sexual harassment in shark science – What’s up with the Ocean this week?

August 12, 2020

Buckle up and bunker down. NOAA has upgraded its predictions for the 2020 Atlantic Hurricane season to Extremely Active. We enter peak hurricane months without the buffer of a protection dust cloud swirling out of the Sahara, a reminder that climate systems on this planet are profoundly interconnected. We may see up to 25 named storms, eleven hurricanes, and six major hurricanes

Disaster in Mauritius. Mauritius, a small island nation off the coast of Madagascar, has declared a state of emergency following a massive oil spill. The MV Wakashio bulk carrier ran aground on the island’s fringing reef, spilling thousands of tons of fuel oil into the fragile ecosystem. Strapped for equipment, Mauritius is now soliciting hair donations (human hair will absorb oil, but not water) from its residents in a last ditch effort to get as much oil out of the wreck as possible before it breaks apart. 

Collapsing Milne. Canada’s Milne Ice Shelf has collapsed. The last intact ice shelf in Canada split apart in the days leading up to August 2. The satellite images released by Planet Labs are truly astounding. 

The only thing you should care about this Shark Week. Dr. Catherine Macdonald writes for Scientific American on the dark side of being a woman in shark science. Critical reading for anyone working or thinking about a career in marine science. 

Upwelling (the part where Andrew gets on his soapbox)

Earlier this week, we got news of a Evangelical missionary flying into the highlands of Papua New Guinea to preach to an “uncontacted” tribe. Now, I’m just a humble country deep-sea ecologist, but I did teach a robotics class through the University of Papua New Guinea and I have more than a few contacts out there who were happy to point out that the uncontacted tribe was making fun of this dude on Facebook, but it makes me furious that during a pandemic, ostensibly religious folks would put their own personal need for pride and attention ahead of the health and safety of a relatively secluded group of people. We have the potential to be better than the worst of us.

Bioprospecting in Practice: How a drug goes from the ocean to the clinic.

This article originally appeared in the June/July 2020 issue of the Deep-sea Mining Observer. It is reprinted here with permission. For the latest news and analysis about the development of the deep-sea mining industry, subscribe to DSM Observer here: http://dsmobserver.com/subscribe/

Bioprospecting, the discovery of new pharmaceutical compounds, industrial chemicals, and novel genes from natural systems, is frequently cited among the critical non-mineral commercial activities that yield value from the deep ocean. Isolating new chemicals or molecular processes from nature can provide substantial benefits to numerous industries. The value of products derived from marine genetic resources alone is valued at $50 billion while a single enzyme isolated from a deep-sea hydrothermal vent used in ethanol production has an annual economic impact of $150 million. 

In contrast to other extractive processes, bioprospecting is driven by and dependent on biodiversity. The greater the diversity and novelty of an ecosystem, the greater the likelihood that new compounds exist within that community. Bioprospecting is also viewed as light extraction, compounds only need to be identified once–actual production happens synthetically in the lab–thus leaving ecosystems relatively undisturbed compared to more intensive industries.

Despite the promise and importance of bioprospecting, there is generally a relatively poor understanding of what the process of discovery entails. How do researchers go from sponges on the seafloor to new antiviral treatments? 

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Hurricanes, Sharks, Mining the Deep Sea, and the Great American Outdoors – What’s up with the Ocean this week?

August 5, 2020

Holy Mola we are back! Bass my flounder for I have finned. It has been Half A Year since I last posted anything on Southern Fried Science. Granted, that year is 2020, so I think we can all give each other all the slack we need. I have missed this place, my weekly ocean news round ups, and my less frequent deep dives into ocean science, conservation, and exploration. So let’s get back to it: What the heck is up with the ocean this week?

Hurricane Isaias. Hurricane Isaias ripped across the eastern seaboard, striking the Bahamas as a category 1 hurricane before slowing as it approached the United States. It briefly ramped back up to a category 1 storm as it strafed the North Carolina coastline. Isaias spun off hundreds of tornadoes as far north as Delaware as it crawled towards Maine and the Canadian Maritimes. It is the ninth named storm of 2020, the earliest ninth storm to form on record, and the second consecutive hurricane of the season. 2020 is projected to be an exceptionally intense year for Atlantic hurricanes, because of course it is.  

An osprey braces itself against the wind as Isaias passes over the Maryland Eastern Shore. Photo by Andrew Thaler.

Woman killed by Great White Shark. A woman was killed by a Great White Shark last week in Maine’s first recorded lethal shark encounter. Though Great Whites are uncommon, they are not unheard of in northern waters and the recovery of shark populations in the north Atlantic is in general regarded as a success story. With rebounding populations, interactions between humans and wildlife will increase, although such tragic outcomes are still rare. In a strange twist, the victim in this case was an acquaintance of our own resident shark specialist

We still don’t know how to assess the impacts of deep-sea mining. In Deep-Sea Misconceptions Cause Underestimation of Seabed-Mining Impacts, Smith and friends outline the numerous potential misconceptions that may dramatically affect our estimations of the impact of deep-sea mining. These misconceptions include the scale of the operation, the rate of recovery, and the compounding impacts of other human-induced insults to the seafloor. 

Upwelling (the part where Andrew gets on his soapbox)

Yesterday, the President signed the Great American Outdoors Act, a largely bipartisan effort to dramatically increase funding for land conservation across the US; an act that was necessary following decades of Republican leadership gutting funding for the National Parks Service and deferring essential repairs. The $9 billion in funding for deferred maintenance will go towards offsetting over $12 billion in critical repairs that have accumulated since the 1980s, the last decade in which the Park Service budget was significantly increased. It also guarantees almost $1 billion per year for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is predominantly funded though royalty payments from offshore oil and gas. 

It’s a great law made necessary by decades of leadership failure. 

Saltiness aside, it comes at a time when access to the outdoors could not be more essential. With the country in the midst of an historic pandemic and travel significantly curtailed, access to green space is at a premium. And, unsurprisingly, nature deficit disproportionately affects historically marginalized communities, particularly those within urban areas where vast green spaces come in the form of literal walled gardens. 

Even with the Great American Outdoors Act, this administration has done more to destroy the environment than any modern presidency, and we can only hope that this will help lay the groundwork for the next president’s Green (and Blue) Awakening.