Vanishing Islands, nuclear leaks, oceans of plastic, and one feisty Beluga. Weekly Salvage: November 18, 2019

Transcript available below.


I’ve spent the last month trying to make a silent 3D printer. If you want to hear just how quiet it is, you’ll have to watch to the end.

Welcome to the Weekly Salvage. 


From the Chesapeake Bay to the Mediterranean Sea to the Coast of Japan, islands are slowly disappearing into the relentlessly rising sea. 2019 was the year of vanishing islands. 

Close to my home, Great Fox Island, a marsh island in the Chesapeake Bay which supported the Fox Island Nature Center, has degraded so much from erosion and rising sea levels that the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has officially shut down operations. This is a huge loss to schools in Maryland and Virginia, who frequently used the facility for educational programming. My own high school class ventured out to Fox Island for a multi-day stay at the retrofitted hunting lodge where we learned about the fisheries and ecosystems of America’s largest crater. 

What, you didn’t know that the Chesapeake Bay is a massive bolloid impact crater? Oh yeah, it is. 

Last week also brought stunning pictures of Venice, which experienced one of its worst days of storm tide flooding in recorded history. And, FYI, Venice has a lot of recorded history. Since 1880, Venice has experienced tides exceeding 140 centimeters on 20 times. 12 of those occurred in the last 2 decades, of which three occurred in the last, uh, week. 

It probably doesn’t help that, as we approach the dead of winter, Arctic sea ice looks more like summer ice, this year

Buckle up folks, for the foreseeable future, it’s only getting worse. 


An errant Beluga whale was filmed last week playing catch with a passing vessel. And look, this is very much not normal behavior for a wild animal and as fun as the video is, it likely has an extremely dark backstory. Though no one is sure where the Beluga came from, it is likely an escapee from a military or other captive marine mammal program. Grim. 

A hat made from the world’s most exclusive textile, Sea Silk, was auctioned this week. This material is made from the byssal threads of the noble pen shell, a meter-long mollusk now protected throughout the Mediterannean. Though the now-endangered species enjoys the strongest environmental protections throughout its range, recent disease outbreaks have wiped out as much as 99% of surviving stocks in some regions. That’s some bad hairy hat. 

There’s 22 million gallons of nuclear waste under a failing concrete dome on a sinking Pacific Island. I guess we’re not doing a good news sandwich this week? Runit Dome on  Enewetak Atoll contains the spoils of two decades of nuclear devastation as the United States tested its arsenal of mass destruction against the Marshall Islands and its people. The thing about concrete and saltwater is that concrete doesn’t survive in saltwater. The Tomb, as it’s called, is slowly failing, threatening to leak America’s atomic legacy back into the Pacific. 

And, the government of Guam is currently debating a proposed ban to SCUBA fishing. The bill under discussion would prohibit the use of SCUBA gear while fishing, throughout Guam. SCUBA fishing threatens coral reef recovery in this US territory.


Plastic is just everywhere. In Prey-size plastics are invading larval fish nurseries researchers from Hawai’i looked at the concentrations of toxic, prey-sized plastics in surface slicks where larval fish aggregate and ocean plastics accumulate. And it’s not great. These slicks contained almost half of all larval fish and more than 90% of all floating plastic. The ratio of prey-sized plastic to prey was 60 times higher in the surface slicks than in the surrounding ocean. Plastic was found in numerous larval fish taxa. Almost 10% of individuals had ingested plastic. Commercially important species like swordfish as well as critically important prey species like flying fish had plastic in their guts. 

All of which is yet another reason why you can’t just go scoop up plastic from the ocean. The plastic accumulates where fish, especially larval fish, aggregate. You can’t remove one without the other. Which is why we need to stop plastic at the source, before it reaches the oceans. 

Engine Room

This printer has been running literally the entire time! Head on over to Southern Fried Science to find out how we built a $300 silent 3D printer and get our recommendations for the best dirt cheap, field hardened 3D printers for ecology and conservation work. 


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