Why Seabirds Tragically Mistake Ocean Plastic for Food

Why Seabirds Tragically Mistake Ocean Plastic for Food

980x-2

Many seabird species, including the blue petrel (Halobaena caerulea), consume plastic at sea because algae on the plastic produce an odor that resembles their food sources. J.J. Harrison

Imagine that you are constantly eating, but slowly starving to death. Hundreds of species of marine mammals, fish, birds and sea turtles face this risk every day when they mistake plastic debris for food.

Plastic debris can be found in oceans around the world. Scientists have estimated that there are more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic weighing more than a quarter of a million tons floating at sea globally. Most of this plastic debris comes from sources on land and ends up in oceans and bays due largely to poor waste management.

Plastic does not biodegrade, but at sea large pieces of plastic break down into increasingly smaller fragments that are easy for animals to consume. Nothing good comes to animals that mistake plastic for a meal. They may suffer from malnutrition, intestinal blockage or slow poisoning from chemicals in or attached to the plastic.

Despite the pervasiveness and severity of this problem, scientists still do not fully understand why so many marine animals make this mistake in the first place. It has been commonly assumed, but rarely tested, that seabirds eat plastic debris because it looks like the birds’ natural prey. However, in a study that my coauthors and I just published in Science Advances, we propose a new explanation: For many imperiled species, marine plastic debris also produces an odor that the birds associate with food.

Many tube-nosed seabirds, like this Tristram's storm petrel (Oceanodroma tristrami), eat plastic particles at sea because they mistake them for food. Sarah Youngren / Hawaii Pacific University/ USFWS

Many tube-nosed seabirds, like this Tristram’s storm petrel (Oceanodroma tristrami), eat plastic particles at sea because they mistake them for food.
Sarah Youngren / Hawaii Pacific University/ USFWS

A Nose for Sulfur

Perhaps the most severely impacted animals are tube-nosed seabirds, a group that includes albatrosses, shearwaters and petrels. These birds are pelagic: they often remain at sea for years at a time, searching for food over hundreds or thousands of square kilometers of open ocean, visiting land only to breed and rear their young. Many are also at risk of extinction. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, nearly half of the approximately 120 species of tube-nosed seabirds are either threatened, endangered or critically endangered.

Although there are many fish in the sea, areas that reliably contain food are very patchy. In other words, tube-nosed seabirds are searching for a “needle in a haystack” when they forage. They may be searching for fish, squid, krill or other items, and it is possible that plastic debris visually resembles these prey. But we believe that tells only part of a more complex story.

Pioneering research by Dr. Thomas Grubb Jr. in the early 1970s showed that tube-nosed seabirds use their powerful sense of smell or olfaction, to find food effectively, even when heavy fog obscures their vision. Two decades later, Dr. Gabrielle Nevitt and colleagues found that certain species of tube-nosed seabirds are attracted to dimethyl sulfide (DMS), a natural scented sulfur compound. DMS comes from marine algae, which produce a related chemical called DMSP inside their cells. When those cells are damaged—for example, when algae die, or when marine grazers like krill eat it—DMSP breaks down, producing DMS. The smell of DMS alerts seabirds that food is nearby—not the algae, but the krill that are consuming the algae.

Dr. Nevitt and I wondered whether these seabirds were being tricked into consuming marine plastic debris because of the way it smelled. To test this idea, my coauthors and I created a database collecting every study we could find that recorded plastic ingestion by tube-nosed seabirds over the past 50 years. This database contained information from over 20,000 birds of more than 70 species. It showed that species of birds that use DMS as a foraging cue eat plastic nearly six times as frequently as species that are not attracted to the smell of DMS while foraging.

To further test our theory, we needed to analyze how marine plastic debris smells. To do so, I took beads of the three most common types of floating plastic—polypropylene and low-and high-density polyethylene—and sewed them inside custom mesh bags, which we attached to two buoys off of California’s central coast. We hypothesized that algae would coat the plastic at sea, a process known as biofouling and produce DMS.

After the plastic had been immersed for about a month at sea, I retrieved it and brought it to a lab that is not usually a stop for marine scientists: the Robert Mondavi Institute for Food and Wine Science at UC Davis. There we used a gas chromatograph, specifically built to detect sulfur odors in wine, beer and other food products, to measure the chemical signature of our experimental marine debris. Sulfur compounds have a very distinct odor; to humans they smell like rotten eggs or decaying seaweed on the beach, but to some species of seabirds DMS smells delicious!

Sure enough, every sample of plastic we collected was coated with algae and had substantial amounts of DMS associated with it. We found levels of DMS that were higher than normal background concentrations in the environment and well above levels that tube-nosed seabirds can detect and use to find food. These results provide the first evidence that, in addition to looking like food, plastic debris may also confuse seabirds that hunt by smell.

Author Matthew Savoca deploys experimental plastic debris at a buoy in Monterey Bay, California.

Author Matthew Savoca deploys experimental plastic debris at a buoy in Monterey Bay, California.

When Trash Becomes Bait

Our findings have important implications. First, they suggest that plastic debris may be a more insidious threat to marine life than we previously believed. If plastic looks and smells like food, it is more likely to be mistaken for prey than if it just looks like food.

Second, we found through data analysis that small, secretive burrow-nesting seabirds, such as prions, storm petrels and shearwaters, are more likely to confuse plastic for food than their more charismatic, surface-nesting relatives such as albatrosses. This difference matters because populations of hard-to-observe burrow-nesting seabirds are more difficult to count than surface-nesting species, so they often are not surveyed as closely. Therefore, we recommend increased monitoring of these less charismatic species that may be at greater risk of plastic ingestion.

Finally, our results provide a deeper understanding for why certain marine organisms are inexorably trapped into mistaking plastic for food. The patterns we found in birds should also be investigated in other groups of species, like fish or sea turtles. Reducing marine plastic pollution is a long-term, large-scale challenge, but figuring out why some species continue to mistake plastic for food is the first step toward finding ways to protect them.

Matthew Savoca is a Ph.D. student in the Graduate Group in Ecology at UC Davis.

via The Conversation, ecowatch.com

Supermoon and Space Station

Supermoon and Space Station

isstransit_smith_960

Image Credit & Copyright: Kris Smith

What are those specks in front of the Moon? They are silhouettes of the International Space Station (ISS).

Using careful planning and split-second timing, a meticulous lunar photographer captured ten images of the ISS passing in front of last month’s full moon. But this wasn’t just any full moon — this was the first of the three consecutive 2016 supermoons.

A supermoon is a full moon that appears a few percent larger and brighter than most other full moons. The featured image sequence was captured near Dallas, Texas.

Image Credit & Copyright: Catalin Paduraru

Image Credit & Copyright: Catalin Paduraru

Source: APOD NASA

The Close Door Buttons On Elevators Do Absolutely Nothing At All

The Close Door Buttons On Elevators Do Absolutely Nothing At All

Shutterstock

Shutterstock

Conspiracy theories are everywhere these days, and almost all of them are completely unfounded. No, the Moon landings weren’t faked. No, vaccines aren’t a way for the government to control population numbers. No, climate change isn’t a Chinese hoax.

Actually, if any conspiracy theories are true, it’s the ones linked to the smallest things in life. As reported by the New York Times, if you’ve always been convinced that the close door buttons in elevators were nothing but a placebo, then you’d be right.

The executive director of the National Elevator Industry trade group revealed last week that the close door button has been disabled on all US elevators for a considerably long time. Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act passed in 1990, the law requires that elevator doors remain open long enough for anyone that uses walking aids or a wheelchair to get inside safely.

As most elevators have a lifespan of around 25 years, it’s likely that very few still exist with working close door buttons.

Just recently, many were shocked to find out that the buttons on traffic crossings are almost always non-functional. This new announcement will only serve to exacerbate humanity’s distrust in buttons.

John Kounios, a professor of psychology at Philadelphia’s Drexel University, told the NYT that the “white lie” of the close door button is harmless, as it gives us the brief illusion of control. “A perceived lack of control is associated with depression, so perhaps this is mildly therapeutic,” he noted.

Nevertheless, this bombshell of a revelation will likely frustrate those who have long considered elevators to be far too laissez-faire when it comes to transporting people up and down buildings.

We’ve all been there. That coworker you just can’t stand – you know the one – is speeding towards you in the elevator, where you are the sole occupant. To the left is the altruistic, empathy-inducing button that will keep the doors open. To the right is the hardline close doors button.

You ponder on it, and you decide that you really don’t care if that coworker stampeding towards you has to run down a huge flight of stairs. They knocked over your coffee earlier. Now, they will reap the whirlwind.

You furiously stab the close door button with the palm of your hand, and to your dismay, you find that nothing immediately happens. Your workplace associate breathlessly dives into the elevator and thanks you for holding the doors. You fire a forced smile their way, and down you both go, your day made ever so slightly worse as a result.

For those who are a little more forgiving, you’ll be pleased to know that the open door buttons are fully functional.

via New York Times, iflscience

Gaia’s Billion Star Map Hints At Treasures To Come

Gaia’s Billion Star Map Hints At Treasures To Come

gaia_s_first_sky_map_large

Gaia’s first sky map. Source: ESA

The first catalogue of more than a billion stars from ESA’s Gaia satellite was published today – the largest all-sky survey of celestial objects to date.

On its way to assembling the most detailed 3D map ever made of our Milky Way galaxy, Gaia has pinned down the precise position on the sky and the brightness of 1142 million stars.

As a taster of the richer catalogue to come in the near future, today’s release also features the distances and the motions across the sky for more than two million stars.

“Gaia is at the forefront of astrometry, charting the sky at precisions that have never been achieved before,” says Alvaro Giménez, ESA’s Director of Science.

Gaia mapping the stars of the Milky Way. Source: ESA.

Gaia mapping the stars of the Milky Way. Source: ESA.

“Today’s release gives us a first impression of the extraordinary data that await us and that will revolutionise our understanding of how stars are distributed and move across our Galaxy.”

Launched 1000 days ago, Gaia started its scientific work in July 2014. This first release is based on data collected during its first 14 months of scanning the sky, up to September 2015.

“The beautiful map we are publishing today shows the density of stars measured by Gaia across the entire sky, and confirms that it collected superb data during its first year of operations,” says Timo Prusti, Gaia project scientist at ESA.

Source: ESA

Why If Coffee Is A Drug, It’s a ‘Good’ One

Why If Coffee Is A Drug, It’s a ‘Good’ One

14462682 - woman drinking coffee at home with sunrise streaming in through window and creating flare into the lens.

14462682 – woman drinking coffee at home with sunrise streaming in through window and creating flare into the lens.

Could coffee do more than just stimulate alertness and stress out the adrenals? What if there was more going on to this ritualistic beverage consumed by billions around the world than just caffeine addiction? What if it was medicine for both the body and soul?

That coffee possesses ‘drug-like’ properties, we know quite well. Some of us, in fact, revel in its addictive properties, as it comes with a certain — albeit a tad bit pathological —  industriousness. After all, is there anyone more disciplined/obsessed than a coffee drinker — at least, that is, when it comes to acquiring and drinking coffee?

You can set your clocks with exactitude to the performance of their daily coffee-associated machinations, to the point where some coffee makers already have built in clocks, so as not to delay or miss any opportunity for its owner to imbibe.  The type of sober religiosity required to turn drinking a beverage into a ritual is known only by a few Zen tea drinkers and quite possiblybillions of habitual coffee drinkers.

It is inhumane, in my opinion, to force people who have a genuine medical need for coffee to wait in line behind people who apparently view it as some kind of recreational activity.” ~ David Barry

Let us also not forget that one of the first documented uses of coffee over 500 years ago was in the Sufi monasteries of Yemen where coffee was known as qahhwat al-bun, or, the ‘wine of the bean,’ the phrase which provided the etymological origin of the word coffee.  Once lauded as a “miracle drug” and used as a sacrament in late-night rituals to invoke the sensation of God within revelers, still today, coffee drinkers are known to cast themselves into bouts of coffee-drinking induced reverie and enthusiasm (literally: en “in”  + theos “god” or “god-filled”) by drinking this strangely intoxicating, and yet somehow still sobering concoction.

It is interesting that even addictions can be viewed as a form of ritual — albeit degenerated ones performed semi- or subconsciously.  But that cup of Joe gets many of us up in the morning to perform our secular duties, which says a lot considering what many of us are forced or coerced to do for a living.

While many attribute coffee’s vise-like hold on their physiology to its caffeine content, there is much more going on than simply a fixation on a ‘stimulant.’ It has been known for over a quarter of a century that coffee contains a compound known as cafestrol with significant opiate-like properties and which is found within both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee forms. The ‘narcotic’ properties of coffee, therefore, are no doubt due to a complex interplay between a wide range of compounds — not just a stimulant, but an opioid agonist as well.

Coffee is also a ‘brain-booster’ and contains a compound called trigonelline which in vitro research both stimulates the release of dopamine (not unlike cocaine), and stimulates neurite outgrowth, which involves the extension of dendrites and axons in neurons and which may compensate and rescue damaged neuronal networks in the aging brain.

One of history’s greatest nutrition philosophers, Rudolf Hauschka, described coffee’s action on our body-mind as follows:

Coffee makes us more aware of our bodily structure. And since this structure is so wise and logical, our thoughts become logical in their awareness of it. Coffee thus helps thinking to find a firm foundation. The connection between bodily being and thinking, keeps calling itself to our attention.

Coffee has the same effect on digestion that thought has on our upper man, i.e., a properly ordered metabolism goes hand in hand with orderly thinking. Both are founded on a properly ordered physical structure.” ~ Rudolf Hauschka, Nutrition: A Holistic Approach

Coffee is also one of the only sources of “bitters” remaining in the sweet-fixated Western diet, which sadly comes with a certificate of guarantee that the bearer will likely develop type 2 diabetes, heart disease or a receive a cancer diagnosis at some point in their life. Could the extreme bitterness of coffee be the reason why it has been repeatedly shown to reduce type 2 diabetes risk, as it is one of the only ways we can balance out the highly inappropriate excesses of carbohydrate in our modern dietary configuration?

We don’t normally think of grains as sweet, but they are on the glycemic index. Puffed rice, for instance, can make the blood sweeter than white sugar which is why ‘complex’ carbs are known as “crouching diabetes, hidden sugar.” Coffee contains a wide range of blood-glucose and insulin sensitizing compounds, making it an ideal complement to a carbohydrate-deranged diet.

Coffee also awakens and stimulates the Qi, as it is known in the Chinese medical tradition. This was recently discussed in an article entitled “Similarity between the effects of coffee and qi stimulating events“. While raising Qi through exercise and energy work is the ideal situation, coffee provides a short-cut which is the modus operandi in the modern world: instant gratification in exchange for (energy) indebtedness.

When used responsibly,* however, coffee may be a great boon to health. There are in fact over 80 health conditions which may respond favorably to its use, or whose risk will be reduced through its consumption, as documented on our coffee research database node. We have also identified 33 distinct ‘pharmacological actions’ coffee may activate to produce positive health results. Just make sure its organic and prepared with clean, toxicant-free water.

Learn more about coffee’s potential health benefits by clicking the image below:

coffee

GreenMedInfo.com provides cutting-edge, evidence-based natural health information and has one of the internet’s most popular e-newsletters with over 100K subscribers. Register for free here.

6 Plastic Bag Bans Making a Huge Difference

6 Plastic Bag Bans Making a Huge Difference

ocean-pollution-001

Good news! Plastics bans across the world have been hitting the headlines lately.

From the U.S. to India to Morocco, governing bodies are taking control of the plastic pollution problem, bringing in either complete bans on plastic or bans on specific forms like polystyrene.

1. Karnataka, India

In March this year, the Indian state of Karnataka completely banned the use of plastic across the state. No wholesale dealer, retailer or trader can now use or sell plastic carrier bags, plastic plates, plastic cups, plastic spoons, cling film or anything of the sort. Since the ban came into effect four months ago 39,000kg of illegal plastic has been seized from Bengalaru, the state capital.

They even made sure to ban microbeads while they were at it! Go Karnataka!

2. The U.S. (Okay, So There’s a Few Places in the U.S.)

Back in 2007, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to ban plastic shopping bags and in 2014, the city banned plastic water bottles on city properties. Last month, San Francisco joined Los Angeles and Portland and enforced a ban on styrofoam. Styrofoam is the material used for packaging peanuts, the contents of beans bags (do people still have bean bags?). It’s expanded polystyrene, also known as thermocol.

Polystyrene is a problem plastic because it’s very difficult to recycle. In the U.S., it’s largely used for packaging eggs, meats and fruit and so a ban on this particular form of plastic will have a larger impact that you may first think.

In July 2015, Honolulu, Hawaii introduced a ban on single use plastic bags (with small exceptions, e.g. for medical use). The bill was passed by County Councils, rather than by the state legislature, which was a real victory for the local grassroots organizations. People power!

3. Coles Bay, Tasmania

Leading the way back in 2003, Coles Bay, Tasmania was the first town in Australia to ban disposable plastic bags. During the first year of the ban 350,000 fewer plastic bags were used in the area.

4. Ethiopia

In 2011, Ethiopia passed a ban preventing the manufacture and import of disposable (aka single use) plastic shopping bags. This ban was in conjunction with a decision to develop wind power and geothermal energy projects, as part of Ethiopia’s Green Growth Strategy.

5. France

Last month, France brought in a ban on single-use plastic bags (‘less than 10L capacity’ and with a thickness of less than 50 microns, you know … microns!), like the ones handed out by major supermarkets globally. This is part of a wider EU crackdown on plastic use, acknowledging that plastic has a major impact on the environment and must be addressed.

6. Morocco

Morocco is (or was) the world’s second largest consumer of plastic bags after the U.S.. Their ban is pretty comprehensive, it includes a stop on the production, import, sale and distribution of plastic bags, prompting a major rush on plastic bag stockpiling just before coming into effect. The resistance to the ban shows just how ingrained plastic and plastic bags are in our day-to-day habits and highlights the importance of a ban. Go Morocco!

These are just a few of the main plastics bans in place across the world, which is great, so why is it important? Plastic in the oceans is a real problem, already, huge gyres swirl with polluting plastic. And we’ve seen the dire consequences of marine life mistaking plastics for food. Greenpeace is campaigning hard to end plastic pollution in our oceans. Add your name to the Plastics Pledge to help cut plastic pollution!

By Fiona Nicholls

Fiona Nicholls is an oceans campaigner with Greenpeace UK.

Source: EcoWatch