Tag Archives: Pacific

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Double disaster batters Pacific islands

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE An escalating crisis caused by the simultaneous disasters of floods and drought is threatening the Marshall Islands, leading the Pacific nation’s government to appeal to world leaders for action on climate change before it is too late LONDON, 30 June –  High tides have surged over sea walls defending the capital of the Marshall Islands, adding to the crisis situation in this tiny Pacific nation, where a state of emergency was declared only last month because of a devastating drought in the scattered northern atolls. In the last week, what the islanders call “king tides” have repeatedly flooded parts of the capital, Majuro, and its airport, in one of the countries most vulnerable to sea level rise. With a population of 68,000 spread across 34 coral atolls, none of which is more than two metres above sea level, the country has been at the forefront of appeals for action on climate change. Aid from the US and other countries is now coming to the scattered communities that inhabit the palm-covered atolls, living on a few crops, seafood and a breed of small pig descended from animals that arrived on the islands centuries ago from the ships of European explorers and missionaries.

Crops destroyed

The Marshall Islands government says the drought conditions have depleted water tanks and made groundwater unsuitable for human consumption because of high salinity. In addition, the drought has damaged or destroyed local food crops, including breadfruit and banana, and about 6,000 people on 15 northern atolls are relying on fish, crabs and other coastal food resources for survival. All 34 atolls are chains of islands sitting on top of coral reefs – the remnants of long-extinct volcanoes that have sunk below the sea, leaving idyllic-looking, palm-fringed lagoons. The 1,100 islands are sometimes a few kilometres long but only 100 metres or so wide and less than two metres above sea level, leaving them vulnerable to storm surges and exceptional tides. Normally, the scant fresh water supplies are topped up from frequent evening rains, but a devastating drought, which the locals blame on climate change, has reduced a desperate population to rationing water supplies to a litre a day. Their plight has been made worse by the high tides that threaten their homes and tiny gardens.

Storm waves

Following a request from Marshallese President Christopher Loeak to American President Barack Obama, the US declared the drought a disaster on June 14, paving the way for the provision of disaster assistance by US government agencies.  A team from the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) arrived in Majuro last week to assess the drought – only to witness the”king tide” and storm waves knock down the seawalls and flood the airport’s runway. Tony deBrum, Minister-in-Assistance to the President  of the Marshall Islands, is responsible for climate change issues and has called for a new surge of political commitment and international leadership to stave off further climate disasters from battering his country, and other vulnerable countries like it. “From drought to deluge, my people are suffering an escalating climate crisis,” DeBrum says. “Thousands of my people in the north are thirsty and hungry, while thousands of us here in the south are now drenched in seawater.  As I said to the US emergency team this morning, ‘Welcome to Climate Change!'”

Climate leadership

“We are very grateful for the help we have received,  but aid will not stop floods, droughts and disease from becoming the new norm.  As we have said for years, prevention is far better than cure.  What we need is a new wave of climate leadership. “This September, we will host the 44th Pacific Islands Forum Summit, bringing together leaders from the Pacific Island countries, Australia and New Zealand, and our development partners from the world’s biggest emitters, including the US, China, the EU, India, Japan and Canada. “At the Forum, we will propose a Majuroro Declaration for Climate Leadership, to galvanise more urgent and concrete action on climate change.” He said President Obama’s announcements in the last few days about combating climate change were a welcome, if long overdue, step in the right direction – but he stressed that it was only a first step. “I urge US Secretary of State John Kerry and other climate leaders to accept our invitation to come to the Forum in Majuro.  Standing just two metres above sea level, there is no more poignant place to say: ‘Enough is enough. We will beat this thing.’” – Climate News Network

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE An escalating crisis caused by the simultaneous disasters of floods and drought is threatening the Marshall Islands, leading the Pacific nation’s government to appeal to world leaders for action on climate change before it is too late LONDON, 30 June –  High tides have surged over sea walls defending the capital of the Marshall Islands, adding to the crisis situation in this tiny Pacific nation, where a state of emergency was declared only last month because of a devastating drought in the scattered northern atolls. In the last week, what the islanders call “king tides” have repeatedly flooded parts of the capital, Majuro, and its airport, in one of the countries most vulnerable to sea level rise. With a population of 68,000 spread across 34 coral atolls, none of which is more than two metres above sea level, the country has been at the forefront of appeals for action on climate change. Aid from the US and other countries is now coming to the scattered communities that inhabit the palm-covered atolls, living on a few crops, seafood and a breed of small pig descended from animals that arrived on the islands centuries ago from the ships of European explorers and missionaries.

Crops destroyed

The Marshall Islands government says the drought conditions have depleted water tanks and made groundwater unsuitable for human consumption because of high salinity. In addition, the drought has damaged or destroyed local food crops, including breadfruit and banana, and about 6,000 people on 15 northern atolls are relying on fish, crabs and other coastal food resources for survival. All 34 atolls are chains of islands sitting on top of coral reefs – the remnants of long-extinct volcanoes that have sunk below the sea, leaving idyllic-looking, palm-fringed lagoons. The 1,100 islands are sometimes a few kilometres long but only 100 metres or so wide and less than two metres above sea level, leaving them vulnerable to storm surges and exceptional tides. Normally, the scant fresh water supplies are topped up from frequent evening rains, but a devastating drought, which the locals blame on climate change, has reduced a desperate population to rationing water supplies to a litre a day. Their plight has been made worse by the high tides that threaten their homes and tiny gardens.

Storm waves

Following a request from Marshallese President Christopher Loeak to American President Barack Obama, the US declared the drought a disaster on June 14, paving the way for the provision of disaster assistance by US government agencies.  A team from the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) arrived in Majuro last week to assess the drought – only to witness the”king tide” and storm waves knock down the seawalls and flood the airport’s runway. Tony deBrum, Minister-in-Assistance to the President  of the Marshall Islands, is responsible for climate change issues and has called for a new surge of political commitment and international leadership to stave off further climate disasters from battering his country, and other vulnerable countries like it. “From drought to deluge, my people are suffering an escalating climate crisis,” DeBrum says. “Thousands of my people in the north are thirsty and hungry, while thousands of us here in the south are now drenched in seawater.  As I said to the US emergency team this morning, ‘Welcome to Climate Change!'”

Climate leadership

“We are very grateful for the help we have received,  but aid will not stop floods, droughts and disease from becoming the new norm.  As we have said for years, prevention is far better than cure.  What we need is a new wave of climate leadership. “This September, we will host the 44th Pacific Islands Forum Summit, bringing together leaders from the Pacific Island countries, Australia and New Zealand, and our development partners from the world’s biggest emitters, including the US, China, the EU, India, Japan and Canada. “At the Forum, we will propose a Majuroro Declaration for Climate Leadership, to galvanise more urgent and concrete action on climate change.” He said President Obama’s announcements in the last few days about combating climate change were a welcome, if long overdue, step in the right direction – but he stressed that it was only a first step. “I urge US Secretary of State John Kerry and other climate leaders to accept our invitation to come to the Forum in Majuro.  Standing just two metres above sea level, there is no more poignant place to say: ‘Enough is enough. We will beat this thing.’” – Climate News Network

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Acid oceans threaten billion-dollar oyster business

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Scientists have identified the problem that commercial hatcheries must overcome to keep baby oysters alive in increasingly acid seas − but wild oysters are still under threat LONDON, 22 June − Bad news for American gourmets: the commercial oyster industry in the Pacific Northwest has been failing for several years, and may go on failing as increasingly acid oceans put the larvae of the bivalve Crassostrea gigas seriously at risk. The good news is that US scientists now know exactly why things are going wrong in the oyster beds, which opens up the possibility of commercial hatcheries finding ways to get round the problem. First, the facts: as carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere rise inexorably, so the gas dissolves in water and falls as a very weak carbonic acid rain, with a subtle but measurable change in the pH values of the planet’s oceans. There have always been dissolved gases in rainwater, but as long as pH levels remain stable, the ocean’s corals and molluscs not only adapt, they subtly exploit the water chemistry to build stronger bones and shells.

Sensitive to change

Oysters seem unusually sensitive to changes in pH, but marine biologist George Waldbusser and research colleagues at Oregon State University report in Geophysical Research Letters that the failure of the oyster harvest isn’t a simple case of acid waters dissolving calcium carbonate shells. Instead, water high in dissolved carbon dioxide tends to alter the shell formation rates, the energy usage and, ultimately, the growth and survival of young oysters. Females tend to produce eggs by the million as water temperatures reach around 20°C. Once fertilised and hatched, the embryos have about two days to start building a shell. Raised carbon dioxide levels in the water impose an extra energy cost for the little shell-builders. Mature oysters can take their time and assemble calcium carbonate production more slowly, but larvae don’t have the time. Their only energy supply is the nourishment in the egg. “From the time eggs are fertilised, Pacific oyster larvae precipitate roughly 90% of their bodyweight as calcium carbonate shell within 48 hours,” Dr Waldbusser says. “They must build their first shell quickly on a limited amount of energy – and, along with the shell, comes the organ to capture external food.

Death race

“It becomes a death race of sorts. Can the oyster build its shell quickly enough to allow its feeding mechanism to develop before it runs out of energy from the egg?” Armed with this insight into oyster bed ecology, the scientists say, there are interventions that can be introduced at hatcheries that may offset some of the effects of ocean acidification. Some hatcheries have started to “buffer” the water supplies in commercial hatcheries that supply the marine and estuary oyster beds − essentially, adding antacids to incoming waters. However, what may be hopeful news for fish farmers may not be such good news for the wild oyster, which will no doubt experience more stress in its native waters as carbon dioxide levels go on rising. The research matters at one level because Pacific oyster farming is now a billion-dollar business, and at another because it exposes something of the intricate connection between sea-dwelling creatures and the chemistry of the sea. It is also a reminder that any creature faces different hazards at every stage of its life cycle. The report’s authors say: “We suggest that the predictions of winners and losers in a high CO² world may be better informed by calcium carbonate kinetics, bioenergetics, ontogeny, and life-history characteristics than by shell mineralogy alone.” − Climate News Network  

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Scientists have identified the problem that commercial hatcheries must overcome to keep baby oysters alive in increasingly acid seas − but wild oysters are still under threat LONDON, 22 June − Bad news for American gourmets: the commercial oyster industry in the Pacific Northwest has been failing for several years, and may go on failing as increasingly acid oceans put the larvae of the bivalve Crassostrea gigas seriously at risk. The good news is that US scientists now know exactly why things are going wrong in the oyster beds, which opens up the possibility of commercial hatcheries finding ways to get round the problem. First, the facts: as carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere rise inexorably, so the gas dissolves in water and falls as a very weak carbonic acid rain, with a subtle but measurable change in the pH values of the planet’s oceans. There have always been dissolved gases in rainwater, but as long as pH levels remain stable, the ocean’s corals and molluscs not only adapt, they subtly exploit the water chemistry to build stronger bones and shells.

Sensitive to change

Oysters seem unusually sensitive to changes in pH, but marine biologist George Waldbusser and research colleagues at Oregon State University report in Geophysical Research Letters that the failure of the oyster harvest isn’t a simple case of acid waters dissolving calcium carbonate shells. Instead, water high in dissolved carbon dioxide tends to alter the shell formation rates, the energy usage and, ultimately, the growth and survival of young oysters. Females tend to produce eggs by the million as water temperatures reach around 20°C. Once fertilised and hatched, the embryos have about two days to start building a shell. Raised carbon dioxide levels in the water impose an extra energy cost for the little shell-builders. Mature oysters can take their time and assemble calcium carbonate production more slowly, but larvae don’t have the time. Their only energy supply is the nourishment in the egg. “From the time eggs are fertilised, Pacific oyster larvae precipitate roughly 90% of their bodyweight as calcium carbonate shell within 48 hours,” Dr Waldbusser says. “They must build their first shell quickly on a limited amount of energy – and, along with the shell, comes the organ to capture external food.

Death race

“It becomes a death race of sorts. Can the oyster build its shell quickly enough to allow its feeding mechanism to develop before it runs out of energy from the egg?” Armed with this insight into oyster bed ecology, the scientists say, there are interventions that can be introduced at hatcheries that may offset some of the effects of ocean acidification. Some hatcheries have started to “buffer” the water supplies in commercial hatcheries that supply the marine and estuary oyster beds − essentially, adding antacids to incoming waters. However, what may be hopeful news for fish farmers may not be such good news for the wild oyster, which will no doubt experience more stress in its native waters as carbon dioxide levels go on rising. The research matters at one level because Pacific oyster farming is now a billion-dollar business, and at another because it exposes something of the intricate connection between sea-dwelling creatures and the chemistry of the sea. It is also a reminder that any creature faces different hazards at every stage of its life cycle. The report’s authors say: “We suggest that the predictions of winners and losers in a high CO² world may be better informed by calcium carbonate kinetics, bioenergetics, ontogeny, and life-history characteristics than by shell mineralogy alone.” − Climate News Network