Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Save Yourself

With all the anthropogenic problems associated with the oceans, there is a lot we have done & a lot more we can do. But how do we progress from here & is there still time?

Let's not touch on legislation, treaties or agreements. Sometimes they seem too far-fetched, we lose ourselves in the complexity of numbers & we lose the concept of the role we play as inhabitants of the Earth. So let's talk about us; what we, as individuals, can do to save the ocean. As insignificant as you think you may be, it starts with you & me.

Here are 3 easy tips for YOU to make a BIG difference with SMALL actions:

Make safe & sustainable seafood choices
Yes, seafood is on the top of everyone's 'TO EAT' list in Singapore! We offer mouth-watering delicacies, like curry fish head, chilli crab & barbecued stingray, that are available at your neighbourhood hawker centre. But the next time you're craving for that local delicacy, think twice (or maybe thrice)! Consider the over-exploited species of seafood that are continually being sold due to their high consumer demand. This ensures the sustainability of their kind. Sounds easy, yes?

Take care of the beach
Going to Sentosa or East Coast Park may be one of your family's favourite pastime. I'm not asking you to stop going to the beach, I'm asking you to enjoy, appreciate & respect the beach - to clean up after yourselves without interfering with the wildlife or corals present. Let's create a culture of taking care of the beach & a sensitivity to the impacts we have on the environment.

Oh, & just so you know, we also have local beach clean-ups which you can sign up for here!

Educate & inform
The oceans are a vital resource in this inter-connected & complex ecological system we live in. A healthy ocean would mean a healthy environment. Information is endless, knowledge is priceless! Find out about the oceans, find out about its associated problems, find out what else YOU can do! & after you've done all of that, tell people about it! Spread the word & keep going & going... People keep telling me 'curiosity killed the cat', but they almost never mention the other half of it, that 'satisfaction brought it back'. So, I urge you go be curious & discover! & make a difference now, today!


They say that time & tide waits for no man. I can't tell you if there is time for us to turn around & make our oceans a better place (oh, how cliché, right!), neither can I tell you that I am hopeful of my future (yes, that's YOUR future too). But I can tell you that hope starts with us, like a little spark that ignites within your heart. So in this wave of action (or inaction) we've caught ourselves, it's time to decide if you want to be a destructive tsunami or a splash of hope!

You see, we try our best to fight the cancer in us, unknowing that we are the cancer of the Earth; unknowing that the cancer in us is but a manifestation of our actions. Perhaps the hurricanes & floods are but a means of chemotherapy. Why, then, do we wage this war against ourselves? What are we really fighting for?

References

  • National Geographic,. (2014). Protecting the Ocean -- National Geographic. Retrieved 28 October 2014, from http://ocean.nationalgeographic.com/ocean/protect/
  • National Geographic,. (2014). 10 Things You Can Do to Save the Ocean -- National Geographic. Retrieved 28 October 2014, from http://ocean.nationalgeographic.com/ocean/take-action/10-things-you-can-do-to-save-the-ocean/
  • Nparks.gov.sg,. (2014). National Parks Board. Retrieved 28 October 2014, from http://www.nparks.gov.sg/cms/index.php?option=com_visitorsguide&task=parks
  • Un.org,. (2014). United Nations Global Issues. Retrieved 28 October 2014, from http://www.un.org/en/globalissues/oceans/
  • Hall, M. A., Alverson, D. L., & Metuzals, K. I. (2000). By-catch: problems and solutions. Marine Pollution Bulletin41(1), 204-219.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Pardon your Pollution


This afternoon, we shall continue with POLLUTION: One of the most pertinent issues faced by oceans. Pollutions come in all forms, everywhere!

We have large scale pollutions like the infamous British Petroleum (BP) oil spill (also known as the Deep Water Horizon oil spill), which spread over 68000 square miles of ocean, or phenomenons such as ocean acidification, where the rising carbon dioxide content in oceans (as a result of climate change) has led to rising acidity of the oceans. We also have small scale pollutions like fertilizers & pesticides from subsistence or commercial farming or sewage. Pollutants also come in various sizes. They may be as small as nanoparticles, with dimensions under 100 nanometers, to plastic resins, that are broken down from larger plastics that do no biodegrade, to large tyres or abandoned cars.

Fertilisers containing nitrogen and phosphorous that seep into water bodies, via surface run-off or groundwater flow, from farmlands encourage a phenomenon called algal bloom. This is a result of eutrophication where the excess nutrients in water bodies lead to rapid growth of plants, or more specifically, algae. This simple occurrence of rapidly growing plants leads to pretty serious implications. For starters, this leads to a decrease in concentration of dissolved oxygen in oceans (creating anoxic conditions) that lead to large scale fish kills, affecting the marine food chain system. This also prevents sunlight from reaching entering the water, limiting photosynthetic processes of plants and micro-organisms that are dependent on it. This alteration of the chemical & biological systems has extensive implications on our oceans.

Algal bloom in Lake Erie in 2004

The recent uptake of nanotechnology in markets have also led to the prevalence of nanoparticles in our environment. Nanotechnology refers to the manipulation of atoms and molecules under 100 nanometer, The minute nature of such particles make them very light & highly mobile, as such, most of them can be airborne or waterborne. Although it has yet to be confirmed, these particles can be taken up by plants & consumed by animals, leading to the bioaccumulation of toxic (sometimes mutagenic or carcinogenic) substances in top predatory animals. What's more pressing is the fact that the removal of such minute particles in environments is an issue that has yet to be covered by many (or in fact most) States. It should be noted that even though the effects of nanotechnology have yet to be confirmed (as it is still relatively new), their impacts on living things & environments are likely to be harmful & deleterious, to the extent that States have been debating if the Precautionary Princple should be imposed on it.

Even though I have only covered 2 forms of pollutants in this post, it is important to note how severe the impact of pollutants have on oceans, in terms of its extent and magnitude. Oceans are an asset we should fiercely guard. The inter-connectivity of the marine system to organisms & other habitats mean that the goodness & benefits of a healthy ocean can spread & benefit its periphery, & vice versa. Moreover, the accumulated impact of the plethora of pollutants on oceans will definitely lead to a deteriorating global ocean habitat. What degree of ocean degradation will make us realise the fatality of our actions? & even if that time should come, how shall we face the irreversible impacts we exerted on our oceans?

Sometimes I think of the hopelessness of the world. Its hopelessness begun in us. What on earth were we thinking, really..


References:
  • Gudmundsson, Bohgard & Dawidowicz. (2010). Airborne nanoparticles are a health risk – Sustainability. [ONLINE] Available at: http://sustainability.formas.se/en/Issues/Issue-1-February-2010/Content/Focus-articles/Airborne-nanopartiles-are-a-health-risk/. [Accessed 15 October 2014]
  • Hester & Harrison, R.E.H., R.M.H., (2007). Nanotechnology: Consequences for Human Health and the Environment. 1st ed. Cambridge, UK: The Royal Society of Chemistry.
  • World Wildlife Fund Global. 2013. WWF - Threats to oceans and coasts. [ONLINE] Available at:http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/blue_planet/problems/. [Accessed 15 October 14].
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 2004. Harmful Algal Blooms. [ONLINE] Available at:http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/hazards/hab/. [Accessed 24 October 14].
  • IUPUI. 2013. What causes algal blooms? | Center for Earth and Environmental Science. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.cees.iupui.edu/research/algal-toxicology/bloomfactors. [Accessed 24 October 14].
  • National Geographic. 2014. Marine Pollution -- National Geographic. [ONLINE] Available at:http://ocean.nationalgeographic.com/ocean/critical-issues-marine-pollution/. [Accessed 24 October 14]

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Her beautiful darkness, Our ugly truth

The sea holds a beautiful darkness, with an ugly truth, so blatant, it hides right before you. Today, we uncover the disturbing truth of our oceans & the disturbing possibility of our future.

The sea is vast, the sea is home, the sea is everywhere, the sea is close. This very fact makes the sea an easy target for our ignorant & greedy hearts.


Let us begin with overfishing. Overfishing is an act against the concept of sustainable development. Sustainable development refers to the 'development that meets the needs of present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs'. So what exactly happens when we overfish? We, in very simple words, mess up the natural order of the established food chain system in the ocean. As a result of this? We suffer & the marine biota suffer. A simple example would be that of the Mekong River. The past decade of subsistence & illegal fishing was so prevalent that the once common Giant Mekong Catfish has now become endangered. Catfish catch in the Mekong has also reduced in quantity & size in recent years. The staple that once fed families & provided them with an income has been exploited, leaving families to feel the direct repercussions of their ignorant actions. This is especially the case given that the Mekong stretches over 6 nations; you can only imagine what a dwindling catfish population has on a large group of individuals, who were once heavily dependent on it. You see, overfishing doesn't just harm the fish or its predators, it harms the entire ecosystem - the same ecosystem that we, humans, live in!


Next up, tourism & development. Now, you might be saying, 'Oh, please! How does MY travelling affect the oceans?' Well, I bet it didn't occur to you that  80% of all tourism takes place in coastal areas, with beaches & coral reefs amongst the most popular destinations & that coastal areas are one of the most densely populated areas worldwide. (Ahh! Perhaps things are becoming a little more clear to you now...). Every habitat or environment has a carrying capacity. This refers to the number of living things a region can support without resulting in environmental degradation. To tackle this problem without having to relocate massive numbers of people (which is really taxing on a State's finances), coastal regions have opted to develop & expand. Oh, yes! This allows more people to visit the beach, get a tan, surf some waves, or even enhances tourism income of a country. But unknowing to many, this also puts a strain on the environment - the coastal regions & their associated oceans. So if we're really looking at the long-term viability of tourism in a country, perhaps we should be looking at eco-tourism (but of course, once again, eco-tourism has it flaws as well). A case here would be that of the Mediterranean. With over 100 million tourists flocking to the beach annually, more than half of its 46000km long coastline has been developed, resulting in a large-scale deterioration of a habitat. It takes tens to thousands of years for a habitat to develop, for even a tree to grow, but it only takes a minute for us to destroy all of it. Are our actions truly justified? Is such development truly worth it?

What a mess we've made, no? But if you still want to see Sally selling her seashells by the seashore, I'd suggest you take a step back, be aware of what's happening to our oceans & start taking action (yes, I shall cover this soon)!


Do stay tune for more depressing factors that hurt our oceans.



References:

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Under the sea!

Now that we're all done with Mangroves, we move on to the vast OCEANS of the world.


A simple picture of the globe would be able to depict how vast our oceans are (140 million square miles to be exact)! As of today, we have 6 different oceans that surround the Earth - Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, Antarctic & Arctic Oceans.

In terms of its depth, oceans are generally divided into the pelagic & benthic zones.
The pelagic zone refers to the zone of the ocean outside the coastal areas. It can be further broken down into the epipelagic (ocean surface-200m), mesopelagic (200-1000m), bathypelagic (1000-4000m), abyssopelagic (4000-6000m) & hadopelagic (> 6000m) zones.

Pelagic Zone
Now here's the exciting part! The type of marine life that can be found in the Pelagic Zone tend to get a lotttt more different as you go further deeper down, toward the Hadalpelagic Zone (some of which look pretty out of this world!!!)

Black Dragonfish of the Idiacanthus genus
Fangtooth Fish
Basket Stars that have arm span of over 25cm
Hatchetfish
Vampire Squid

Is it me or do these creatures look like they came out from a horror film? Then again, it is insanely amazing what the oceans hold; the great space & darkness & water that flows all around our land hold so much life & diversity & richness & mysteries that are, really, waiting to be discovered!

References:

  • BiomesDuff, (2014), ocean-layers-diagram [ONLINE]. Available at:http://biomesduff.wikispaces.com/file/view/ocean-layers-diagram.jpg/312424424/483x330/ocean-layers-diagram.jpg [Accessed 12 October 14].
  • HRW WORLD ATLAS, (2006), Oceans [ONLINE]. Available at: https://images-blogger-opensocial.googleusercontent.com/gadgets/proxy?url=http%3A%2F%2Facademic.evergreen.edu%2Fg%2Fgrossmaz%2Fspringle%2Fworld-oceans-map.gif&container=blogger&gadget=a&rewriteMime=image%2F* [Accessed 12 October 14].
  • Jennifer Kennedy. 2012. Facts About the Ocean As a Marine Life Habitat. [ONLINE] Available at:http://marinelife.about.com/od/habitatprofiles/p/The-Ocean.htm. [Accessed 12 October 14].
  • MARINEBIO. 2014. The Open Ocean - MarineBio.org. [ONLINE] Available at:http://marinebio.org/oceans/open-ocean/. [Accessed 12 October 14].
  • National Geographic. 2011. Deep-Sea Creature Photos -- National Geographic. [ONLINE] Available at:http://ocean.nationalgeographic.com/ocean/photos/deep-sea-creatures/#/deep-sea01-frill-shark_18161_600x450.jpg. [Accessed 12 October 14].

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Thoughts on Conservation

Before the rain
(Photo taken by Joeline Lim. March 2014)


Before the rain comes & pours its sorrow to you
Before you grow old & walk away from Her
Before She becomes too distant a memory; Her scent, all too foreign; Her place, one forgotten
Before the future walks ahead of you & laughs at your follies
We do what we can - 
For what we can do, 
Is the best we can do
For Her.

Monday, 15 September 2014

& I will fix you...

"The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking." - Albert Einstein
When it comes to conservation, a little part of me dies inside. The future seems pretty (very, extremely) bleak. Some people try their hardest, while others simply cannot be bothered. It's tough. But I suppose, we do what we can.

Legislation, to some, may seem like a means of putting blind words into action; action that never truly addresses the root cause of issues. But the fact is, legislation makes things happen! With over 39% of mangrove shield lost between the period of 1973 & 1996, the Mangrove Trimming & Preservation Act was enacted by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) in 1996. It regulated the alteration of mangroves through permits & banned the use of certain chemicals on mangroves. It is predicted by FDEP that 'within 15-30 years, mangrove habitats can once again become well-established if conditions are suitable.' Although the success of such initiatives tend to be uncertain, I'd reckon it beats idly watching the depletion of mangroves & awaiting its extinction.

I'm so proud to proclaim that efforts have also been made here in Singapore as well. Organised by volunteers of the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity of the National University of Singapore (NUS), the International Coastal Clean-up Singapore (ICCS) has been mobilising thousands of individuals & groups (private organisations, government bodies & institutions) across the island for clean-ups at beaches & mangroves. In fact, just last week, students from the Bachelor of Environmental Studies (BES), in NUS, had their annual mangrove clean-up, under the ICCS, at Lim Chu Kang. Such activities enable individuals to understand the reality & extent of mangrove pollution, & physically reduce the stress faced by mangroves (although their physical presence in the mudflats probably have some detrimental impact on the mangrove as well). I find it encouraging to know that awareness is being raised & action is being taken to ensure the conservation of mangroves in Singapore.

Perhaps, all is not loss. Perhaps, the accumulation of our individual & communal efforts to conserve mangroves will, one day, yield fruits & I shall look forward to the coming of that day! But for now, we shall do what we can!

References:

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Mad Mangroves: Death by Disaster

Yes, mangroves are beautiful places.
Yes, I love mangroves. 
Yes, they are in danger. Very much, indeed.


DEATH BY DISASTER:
The anthropogenic threats faced by mangroves today
I spy with my little eyes...
(Photo taken by Joeline Lim. March 2014)
We are a species driven by self-interest, living in a massive bubble of what some people call 'The Unknown', or what I call 'Our Ignorance'. Oh, what great abilities we possess, but what narrow minds we have! 

With approximately 35% of global mangroves being lost in a mere span of 20 years, mangroves have been one of the most neglected & threatened biomes in the world. Why are they loss? How have they been loss?

The predicted relative rise in sea levels has been said to be the greatest threat to existing mangroves (Gilman et. al 2008) & mangroves are likely to be completely loss in the next 100 years, should current situations persist (Duke et. al 2007). Historically, mangroves have been able to keep pace with changes in sea levels & maintain their relative position in the tidal frame. However, the recent rate of increase of sea levels has been far greater than the rate at which mangroves can adapt to it, putting them at the vulnerable risk of inundation. How then is the rise in sea levels even related to us? Climate change, of course! The 5th Assessment Report released by the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) indicated that anthropogenic causes have increased land surface albedo & the production of greenhouse gases - factors that exacerbate & enhance the rate & extent of climate change.

Together with growing developmental pressures (i.e. urbanisation & industrialisation) & competition for land, many mangroves now face a situation termed 'Coastal Squeeze', where the seaward margin of a mangrove retreats upslope while its landward margin is constrained by a fixed barrier (which could be in the form of concrete pavements, roads or buildings). It is, thus, not difficult to foresee the possible bleak or non-existent future of mangroves with these 2 anthropogenic factors coming in play.

As much as I'd love to claim that such losses have nothing much (or nothing at all) to do with us, I'm afraid that would be too big a lie to tell. Dear you, I don't really want to know what other disasters you are capable of creating. I'm interested to know how you're going to fix the ones you have created. 

References:

  • -, D.A. Friess, J. Phelps, R.C. Leong, W.K. Lee, A.K.S Wee, Sivasothi N., R.R.Y. Oh, E.L. Webb, 2012. Mandai Mangrove, Singapore: Lessons for the Controversy of South-east Asia's Mangroves. The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology, -, 55- 63.
  • -, S. Sandilyan, K. Kathiresan, 2012 Mangrove Conservation: A Global Perspective. Biodiversity Conservation , 21, 3523- 3542.
  • INTERGOVERNMENTAL PANEL ON CLIMATE CHANGE. (2014) Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis (New York Cambridge University Press)