Thursday, July 9, 2009

Ocean Contaminants, Pollution & Trash: the water's murky but the issue is clear

I was reviewing the latest Marine Science Review from Seaweb on Contaminants and Pollution #318. It listed over 20 articles covering research studies on the impact of pollutants on marine ecosystems. From everything including pharmaceuticals to pesticides to manufacturing process ingredients, a chemical witches' brew is able to find its way into the seas through direct discharge into waterways, seepage through soil and groundwater, and from the sky.

The impact is felt worldwide, from deformed sturgeon in China due to triphenyltin, an agricultural fungicide; to contaminants found in seagull eggs as far north as Alaska; to the effect of pharmaceuticals and other pollutants on parasites and other single-celled organisms that form the foundation of a marine ecosystem.

Laying blame or divining efficient solutions is not so easy. Though banned for many years, there are still significant traces of the pesticide DDT being found in the egg shells of Arctic seabirds. There is plenty of research going on that is producing alarming, definitive data. The question is: What is being done to stop it?

In San Francisco, California, one positive move has occurred: under a settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity, last week the Environmental Protection Agency proposed to formally size up the harmful effects of 74 poisonous pesticides on nearly a dozen imperiled species in the San Francisco Bay Area. The settlement concludes a 2007 Center suit over the EPA's violation of the Endangered Species Act in registering the pesticides and allowing their use without considering the detrimental effects they may have on federally protected species -- decidedly not pests. The settlement could be a habitat-saving grace for 11 Bay Area animals, from the delta smelt to the San Joaquin kit fox. And until EPA's analysis of the pesticides' effects is completed, the agency promised, it will restrict the use of all 74 pesticides in and abutting endangered species habitat.

"The toxic stew of pesticides in the Bay-Delta has played a major role in the collapse of native fish populations, and pesticides are a leading cause of the loss of native amphibians," said Center Conservation Advocate Jeff Miller. "This agreement is a positive step for protection of some of the Bay Area's most endangered wildlife from pesticides."

Also, check out this very thorough report from the United Nations Environmental Programme, Marine Litter: A Global Challenge. Not only does it provide a detailed examination of marine litter in all of the major oceans, from plastic to, well, you name it, but it also provides strategies and solutions for each region. It's a great reference tool, not just a quick skim read. Check it out; it's a free PDF download.

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