Breathe Clean Air  The Environment

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I became an ocean person after moving to Texada Island in 1971. The waters of the Pacific Ocean surrounding Texada Island provided me with access to the ocean world, full of life – some exotic creatures and some intelligent marine mammals – seals, otters, sea lions, porpoises and whales. I developed a scuba meditation sitting on the sandy bottom of Gillies Bay as the tide came in. As an alternative to swimming underwater to see sea life, I sat and watched sea creatures pass by. An early discovery was zooplankton that had interesting shapes and some displayed orbiting bodies that suggested alien spaceships. At night bioluminescence was a delight. Since 1971 I have enjoyed a succession of boats and spent as much time as I could exploring local waters. I travelled with a microscope, centrifuge and containers to sample seawater. I followed red tide blooms caused by dinoflagellates that contained  a powerful neurotoxin, saxitoxin, that causes paralytic shellfish poisoning. When red tides appear, the harvesting of shellfish is prohibited.

Life began in oceans and all life continues to depend on a healthy ocean environment. Oceans are important players in the carbon cycle and are major determinants of climate and weather patterns. 230,000 known species live in oceans. Two million marine species are estimated to exist. Oceans contain 97% of Earth's water covering 71% of Earth's surface. Climate change is raising ocean temperatures. Rising levels of carbon dioxide are acidifying the oceans with adverse changes in aquatic ecosystems, threatening, for example, fisheries an important source of human food.


Ocean Zones

Plankton supply oxygen through photosynthesis which occurs in the photic zone to a depth of 200 m, Life found deeper relies on material sinking from above. Hydrothermal vents are also a source of energy in depths exceeding 200 m (aphotic zone). Three water density zones have been identified: the surface zone, the pycnocline, and the deep zone. The surface zone( 500 to 3,300 feet deep) is in contact with the atmosphere and the temperature and salinity are relatively constant. The pycnocline is characterized by increased water density and decreased temperature. The deep zone begins at depths below 3,300 feet in mid-latitudes occupied by 80% of the total volume of ocean water. The deep zone contains relatively colder and stable water. Vertical movement of water( thermoclines) transfer heat and salinity between the ocean zones.

Ocean Currents

Ocean currents determine Earth's climate by transferring heat from the tropics to the polar regions.. Surface heat and freshwater fluxes create global density gradients that drive the thermohaline circulation. The thermohaline circulation (THC) governs the transfer of deep waters to the surface which influences atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. THC is the ocean conveyor belt part of the large-scale ocean circulation that is driven by global density gradients created by surface heat and freshwater fluxes. Wind-driven surface currents such as the Gulf Stream travel pole wards from the equatorial Atlantic Ocean, cooling en route and eventually sinking at high latitudes forming the North Atlantic Deep Water. This dense water then flows into the ocean basins. Extensive mixing between the ocean basins makes the Earth's oceans a global system. Water masses transport heat, solids,, dissolved substances and gases around the globe. Pelagic ocean fish and mammals use ocean current to travel long distances.

Warming of ocean water is having a worldwide negative impact on ocean life. The world’s largest reef system, which stretches for over 1,400 miles off the coast of Australia, has been severely affected by rising water temperatures. In May 2016, researchers found more than a third of corals in central and northern parts of the reef had been killed and 93 per cent of individual reefs had been affected by a condition known as coral bleaching. Warmer water causes corals to expel algae living in their tissue, turning completely white. Corals depend on a symbiotic relationship with algae-like single cell protozoa. When these are expelled they stop growing and often die. Coral reefs are an important habitat for many fish species who die when the coral dies.

Whales and Dolphins

Whales and dolphins are the smartest creatures in oceans. Their intelligence rivals ours but their expertise is focused on underwater life. They are capable of worldwide migrations with expert navigational skills. They are social animals like us who depend on each other for survival. Their enemies are humans who hunt them with large ships and guns. Whaling almost obliterated them. Increasing human concern for their survival has limited whaling and their numbers have increased from near extinction levels.

My friends the Orcas live nearby and I am always thrilled to encounter them. Over many years, I have encounter the northern pod, salmon eaters who  travel through the archipelago  that separates the mainland coast from Vancouver island. These orcas  seen during the summer and fall months in the area of Johnstone  Strait where I encounter them and Queen Charlotte Strait.  Salmon funnel into narrow channels on their way to spawning rivers, and the orcas congregate to intercept them.

These  killer whales live in a matriarchal society.  Sons and daughters stay with their mother throughout their lives , these family units are known as matrilines. A pod is a larger unit that is made up of one or more matrilines that travel together and may be related. A clan is a group of pods that share similar calls or dialects, indicating that they share a common ancestry and a more closely related to each other than to whales in other clans. Each pod of resident orcas has a unique dialect that can be readily identified by the trained ear or sound analyzer.

Scientists believe there were about 86 southern resident killer whales, which were listed as endangered by the U.S. in 2005 when there were 89 of them, according to NOAA. Southern resident killer whales spend much of the year in the Strait of Georgia, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound in Washington and also feed on salmon in California rivers in winter. The J pod is the southern resident killer whale population, listed as endangered in 2005. They are found in the inland marine waters of Washington and southern British Columbia. 

The Marine Mammal Protection Act makes it illegal to harm, capture or kill whales. When J-34, an 18 year old male Orca was found dead close to Sechelt in December 2016, a major effort began to determine the cause of his death. An autopsy revealed a healthy looking Orca who suffered blunt force trauma to his head and neck, probably as a result of a boat collision. Orcas are well studied and treated as individuals. This latest death reduces the population to 79.

As with all human and animals, survival requires protection of their habitats and food supply. A British Columbia lawyer group, Ecojustice, goes to court to protect natural environments, animals and humans. They advanced a case to protect killer Whales in 2012, to the Federal Court of Appeal who confirmed that the federal government is bound to legally protect all aspects of the critical habitat of British Columbia’s killer whales. –They stated: ”British Columbia’s resident killer whales are made up of two distinct populations that live in the province’s waters year-round. The southern resident killer whales are listed as “endangered,” with about 85 members remaining, while approximately 235 threatened northern residents survive. Both species are listed under Canada’s Species at Risk Act, which means the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) is required to create plans for the species’ recovery and protection. A core part of the planning process is the identification and protection of critical habitat, which is defined as the habitat necessary for the survival and recovery of the species. “

Marc Mangel provided a comprehensive review of the International Convention on the Regulation of Whaling and its failure to successfully regulate whaling that according to the commercial moratorium in 1986. Japanese Whale Research Programs obtained a Special Permit in the Antarctica (JARPA I, JARPA II). Australia challenged Japan in the International Court of Justice. The Japanese research claim was spurious but the court found that they had no jurisdiction in the case. They stated:” resolving the preservationist/conservationist sustainable use dichotomy is neither a matter of science nor law.”

Protecting Oceans

The oceans have deteriorated because of human exploitation, ignorance and neglect. The assault on ocean heath is multifaceted and global. Increasing Environmental action groups have had some success in ameliorating the damage. Some more enlightened governments have passed laws to protect marine environments and developed enforcement infrastructures.

Lubchencoet al described strategies of ocean protection: ”Healthy ocean ecosystems are needed to sustain people and livelihoods and to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Using the ocean sustainably requires overcoming many formidable challenges: overfishing, climate change, ocean acidification, and pollution. Despite gloomy forecasts, there is reason for hope. New tools, practices, and partnerships are beginning to transform local fisheries, biodiversity conservation, and marine spatial planning. Modifying social norms can create conditions that incentivize a company, country, or individual to fish sustainably, curb illegal fishing, or create large marine reserves as steps to enhance reputation or self-image. In each example, the feedbacks between individual actors and emergent system properties were altered, triggering a transition from a vicious to a virtuous cycle. We suggest that evaluating conservation tools by their ability to align incentives of actors with broader goals of sustainability is an underused approach that can provide a pathway toward scaling sustainability successes. In short, getting incentives right matters.”

Fisherman in local British Columbia waters have been closely regulated for many years. All fishing private or commercial is done under licenses that define fishing rights, catch limits and obligations. Declining fish stocks are now protected by no fishing zones, and marine reserves that protect the entire underwater environment. In some countries tourist opportunities motivate local populations to limit fishing and to protect natural assets such as coral reefs. Some form of policing is usually required.

Lubchenco et al stated: ”designed secure-access fisheries align individual economic and conservation incentives by providing fishers predictable access to a portion of the allocated harvest (either a share of the total allowable catch or an area in which to fish). This approach provides motivation for fishers to act as stewards of the resource and allows fished populations to increase. Some of the biggest impediments include controversies around the initial allocation of quota. In addition, if stocks are already significantly depleted, reductions in catch are necessary to rebuild stocks regardless of the management system. Moreover, warmer waters and other impacts of climate change may introduce new stresses on fished populations, fishing communities, and ecosystems.”

  • Discussions of Environmental Science and Human Ecology were developed by Environmed Research Inc. Sechelt, B.C. Canada. Online Topics were developed from the 2017 book, The Environment. You will find detailed information about the sun, weather, soils, forests, oceans,  atmosphere, air pollution, climate change, water resources, air quality, energy sources, and preserving habitats. The Environment is available from Alpha Online as a Printed book or as an eBook Edition for Download. The Author is Stephen J. Gislason MD.
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