Defending the Roseate Terns of Ram Island
By Micah Fink
Near the eastern edge of the Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, about half a mile off shore, lies Ram Island, a tiny two-acre speck of rock and sand that serves as a spring nursery for roseate terns, one of the most elegant and endangered seabirds in the Eastern United States.
The island's highest point rises just nine feet above the salty waves, and as Carolyn Mostello, a veteran seabird biologist with MassWildlife, approaches in a small motor boat, a swirling cacophony of roseate and common terns, small white birds with black caps and forked tails, rises up to defend their shared nesting ground.
“Ram Island has about 1,100 pairs of roseate terns that nest on it each year,” says Mostello, who leads the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife’s Buzzard Bay Tern Restoration Project. "This represents about 25 to 30 percent of the total breeding population in the United States," Mostello explains, as she puts on a weathered guano-stained floppy blue hat with a foot-long stick taped to the top before landing on the island.
"The theory is that the terns will peck at the stick, instead of your head, hands and face," she says, "but it doesn’t always work."
Mostello has been visiting the island for most of the last two decades, and has come to appreciate the fierce intensity of these small birds. “Even though they are pretty aggressive and sometimes you are not always happy with them, you have to admire parents that are so tenacious and go to such lengths to protect their young.”
The island’s small size, she says, and the absence of trees or houses where predators can perch, combined with close proximity to waters rich with American Sand Lance, a small fish favored by the terns, makes it an idea nesting site for both roseate and common terns, which tend to nest alongside each other.
While the two species look similar, the roseates have longer tails, sport at light pink coloring on their breasts during the summer season, and their beaks are mostly black during the breeding season, while the common terns are slightly larger and sport an orange bill with a black tip.
“Terns, like most seabirds, nest directly on the ground,” Mostello says, pointing out speckled two small sand colored speckled eggs blending into island's rocky ground. Common terns tend to nest in the open, while roseate terns prefer to nest under vegetation or simple wooden shelters provided by their human caretakers, which is why unescorted visitors are not allowed on the island during breeding season.
“The terns are only visitors here,” Mostello explains. They usually arrive in Buzzards Bay in April to breed, and then, after the chicks are hatched and fledged, they migrate in the fall to South America, with a brief stop in the Caribbean. “Some of the roseate terns go down as far as southern Brazil, while the common terns winter as far south as northern Argentina.”
A Species at Risk
Roseate terns were a popular source of hat feathers in the 19th and early 20th centuries, which caused the population to declined very sharply. The commercial trade in their feathers was eventually banned and the population rebounded. Their numbers declined again in the 1970s as gulls began to expanded their range northward, taking over many of the terns coastal nesting sites. By 1978, only 2,500 breeding pairs remained.
Today, as a result of intensive management of the species and nesting grounds by scientists like Carolyn Mostello, the roseate tern has increased to nearly 4,000 breeding pairs.
“These aren’t populations that are self-sustaining," she explains. “If we weren’t out here working every summer and didn’t intensively manage the island, you would again see the population decline very quickly."
The problem, she says, is there are only three breeding colonies left in North America, and all are located on small low-lying islands along the North Eastern coastline.
This makes these breeding grounds vulnerable to long list of potential threats, including careless human visitors, dogs, rising sea levels as a result of climate change, destructive storms, and oil spilled into the water, either intentionally by commercial vessels looking to dispose of used oil and oily waste, or as a result of industrial accidents, both of which happen far more frequently than you might imagine.
An Oiled Island
Buzzards Bay is about 8 miles wide, 28 miles long, and is a popular destination for fishing, boating, and tourism. It also serves as a major transit route for tankers and barges transporting oil and gasoline to Boston and northern New England, with nearly 2 billion gallons of oil passing through Buzzard’s Bay in 2017.
More than a dozen major marine oil spills have occurred over the last sixty years, including one that took place on Sunday, April 27, 2003, just as the terns were arriving on Ram Island to mate and nest. That’s when the Bouchard 120, a squat red oil tanker passed on the wrong side of a navigational marker and hit an underwater shoal, ripping a 12-foot long tear in its hull, spilling 98,000 gallons of No. 6 bunker fuel into the bay.
“The captain didn’t realize the damage right away and the oil was dragged nearly 10 miles up the bay," recalls Mostello. "A few sites were heavily hit, including Ram Island. The birds had just begun arriving in North America, and were just beginning to nest and mate, so the timing couldn’t have been much worse.”
The thick fuel oil arrived silently in the night, she recalls, leaving a black band around the high tide line. And the following morning the bodies of oiled sea birds, including roseate terns, were found scattered along the island.
“It was very sad,” she says.
Nearly 100 miles of shoreline in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island were eventually coated with oil, forcing the closure of beaches and shellfish beds along the Bay.
“The problem with oil, even in small amounts,” says Mostello, “is that it can compromise the waterproofing of the seabird’s feathers, leaving them vulnerable to death from hypothermia.”
Seabirds spend a lot of time coating their feathers with a thick, waxy substance produced by a gland at the base of their tail, which protects their skin from direct contact with water. Oil can damage or destroy this layer of waterproofing with often lethal results.
Mostello was faced with a singular challenge.
How could she keep the nesting birds from further contact with the deadly oil?
The following weeks were a nightmare of frenzied activity for Mostello, who helped organize the clean up of the island.
About 2,000 terns were already roosting on Ram Island, and she feared that extended contact with the thick sticky oil could decimate the entire nesting population.
There was only one solution. They had to convince the birds to leave and delay their nesting until the island could be completely cleared of oil.
“Hazing is something we would never, under normal circumstances, never do,” Mostello says. But this situation was far from normal.
She set up a battery of sound cannons on the island to scare the sensitive birds away during the day, and “at night we would go out with flashlight and shine lights on them,” she recalls. “The terns are very skittish at night. That would keep them off the island at night. But they would come back during the day and some of them actually nested next to the cannons while they were still firing, so it wasn’t 100 percent effective."
Eventually, many of the terns moved to two other small islands in Buzzards Bay to nest.
"This is why it’s so important to have multiple islands available for nesting in case of a catastrophe," which is now part of the long term conservation strategy for Buzzards Bay.
“It wasn’t easy to do,” she says. “Terns can live to their mid-twenties, and the older birds are quite determined to roost at their traditional nesting sites, and it was quite hard to deter them.”
The clean up was originally estimated to take one week, but it took a 40 person crew nearly four weeks to clear all the oil from the island.
“The shore line is very rocky,” says Mostello, “and each and every rock was power washed and scrubbed, then flipped over and scrubbed again, because we were so concerned that the oil would continue to leach into the environment and impact our terns.”
The stress of the clean up, and the removal of all the oiled seaweed, plants and marsh grasses, damaged the islands ecosystem, Mostello says, and a salt marsh at the north end of the island never fully recovered.
On May 30, 2013, nearly a month after the spill, the terns were allowed to return.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service later estimated that at least three adult roseate terns were killed by the oil and 350 chicks were lost because of the delayed nesting, which cut the annual production of chicks by roughly ten percent.
“In the short term, we definitely had reduced productivity of the birds here due to the oil,” says Mostello. “Those reduced numbers continued into the following year. Certainly, there was a harm in the year of the spill and for a few years after that.”
Assessing Oil Spill Impacts
The official clean up, recovery, assessment and compensation for the environmental damages caused by the 2003 spill is still unfolding today.
In the weeks after the spill, volunteers and clean up crews found the bodies of 315 birds from 34 different species, including common and roseate terns, cormorants, willets, dunlin, great yellow legs, mute swans, common loons, and piping plovers along nearly 100 miles of coastline reaching from Massachusetts to Rhode Island. Migrating birds were also exposed to the oil, and two oiled loons were found in New Hampshire.
Estimating the total effect on the roseate terns is complicated, Mostello says. “There is definitely an impact on the next generation, there are fewer birds in the next generation, and those birds killed during the spill are not able to available to produce chicks into the future."
“So you have to compensate for lost productivity when you are trying to assess how much an impact an oil spill has on birds. Birds that are actually killed, birds delayed in nesting, birds that have reduced productivity because of oil effects, all of that has to be wrapped together to assess the total injury to the population. All those things are taken into account.”
The spill also impacted a variety of salt marshes, rocky shorelines, recreational beaches, and local shellfish beds, some of which would remain closed to the public for more than a decade.
Bouchard, the company which owned and operated the barge, agreed in 2004 to pay a $10 million dollar fine for violating the Clean Water Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The company also settled a class action lawsuit for $11.45 million filed by 700 private property owners on Buzzards Bay.
The company was also liable for the costs of the cleanup and restoration of natural resources in accordance with the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, and paid out $6 million for injuries to shoreline and aquatic resources in 2010, and an additional $13 million to compensate for additional injuries to loons, sea ducks and other migratory birds and their habitat in 2017.
Some of these funds, once the settlement is approved by the courts, may be used to help defend the low-lying nesting grounds on Ram Island from flooding and erosion taking place because of rising sea levels, which represents the newest threat to the species long term survival.
“We just completed a big project to raise the altitude of Bird Island, another roseate tern nesting site a few miles up the Bay, to counteract the effect of sea level rise related to climate change,” says Mostello.
“We have plans to do a similar project here on Ram Island to get ahead of that as much as we can. It’s expensive, but it has to be done. Climate change is here.”
By mid-June, the breeding season is already well advanced. “We got a range of chick ages on the island now,” Mostello says while lifting up the roof of a small plywood breeding box, revealing two plump young roseate tern chicks about a week-and-a-half old.
“Once they hatch it takes about three weeks for the chicks to fledge, Mostello explains. “So for the next few weeks we’ll still have chicks out here that are growing and being fed by adults, before they are ready to take off and start migration.” Once the young chicks are able to fly, they will move north in small family groups to the tip of Cape Cod to feed and prepare themselves to migrate to their winter feeding grounds in South America.
The number of roseate terns in Buzzards Bay has increased by thirty-seven percent over the last eight years and Mostello is hopeful this trend will continue.
“We've still got plenty of eggs that haven’t hatched but this seems to be a pretty good year for chicks,” she says, while weighing and banding a series of fluffy young birds.
“Sometimes there are two chicks in the nest, and the older chick almost always does quite well. It’s the younger chick that are kind of iffy, but this year seems like a good year so far for the younger chicks and we are really pleased about that.”
The US National Climate Change Assessment is now on-line and it isn't pulling any punches.
"Earth’s climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization, primarily as a result of human activities."
The news for Mariners is deeply concerning.
Did you know that the Oceans have absorbed 93% of the excess heat caused by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere?
This is causing the world's ocean waters to warm, become increasingly acidic, while decreasing the amount of oxygen available in the world's waters. These three changes in the ocean's chemistry are already producing a variety of devastating impacts, including widespread coral bleaching in tropical regions, disruption of traditional fisheries and marine ecosystems around the world, and the loss of sea-ice based ecosystems in the polar regions.
The report also notes that we can expect to experience larger, more powerful hurricanes fueled by the warming atmosphere, and that warmer, higher seas, will pose growing challenges for island-based economies in the US Caribbean, Hawaii, and communities living along coastal shoreline in the US and around the world.
While this report focuses on specific impacts being felt in the United States -- it is clear that similar changes are unfolding across the entire planet.
"Climate-related risks will continue to grow without additional action," warns the authors, "and decisions made today will determine the degree of risk faced by both current and future generations."
Climate change are now upon us, the report concludes, and not enough is being done to avoid the worst case scenarios now looming before us.
"Neither global efforts to mitigate the causes of climate change nor regional efforts to adapt to the impacts currently approach the scales needed to avoid substantial damage to the U.S. economy, environment, and human health and well-being over the coming decades."
Maritime polluters beware!
A new global initiative launched by the United Nations is working to coordinate the fight against oil and other forms of marine pollution around the world.
Codenamed "30 Days at Sea," the joint UN and INTERPOL led mission involved 276 law enforcement and environmental agencies, 122 national coordinators, and police, customs and environmental officers in 58 countries. The coordinated sweeps resulted in 5,200 inspections, and uncovered more than 500 marine offenses, including illegal discharges of oil and garbage from vessels, breaches of ship emissions regulations, and pollution on rivers and land-based runoff to the sea.
“Criminals believe marine pollution is a low-risk crime with no real victims,” explains Jürgen Stock, the According Secretary General of INTERPOL. “This is a mistake and one which INTERPOL and our partners are addressing as demonstrated by this operation. Marine pollution creates health hazards worldwide which undermine sustainable development and requires a multi-agency, multi-sector cooperative response within a solid global security architecture.”
Erik Solheim, the head of UN Environment, who spearheaded the effort, said that the issue of illegal marine pollution is one that global communities may well be able to tackle successfully in the next decade. “But we need the help of our law enforcement partners to make sure that there is no impunity for the perpetrators of marine pollution crime."
From Germany to Ghana, 30 Days at Sea proved that concentrated effort by enforcement agencies is an effective way to catch criminals and prevent further disaster. In Albania the operation successfully prevented 500 liters of oil from being spilled from a sinking vessel. The operation also made use of satellite imagery, aerial surveillance, drones, and night vision cameras to detect criminal acts.
This global effort followed the globally coordinated effort called "30 Days of Action," led by INTERPOL in June 2017, which took on the illegal disposal of hazardous waste in 43 countries around the world. This effort resulted in 483 individuals and 264 companies being charged with illegal dumping and environmental violations, involving more than 1.5 million tons of illicit waste.
30 Days at Sea expands this global enforcement model to the world's oceans and reflects a growing awareness that harm to the marine environment is a crime that impacts everyone on earth. We’re excited to see what comes next!
Six years ago, scientists studying the long-term effects of the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill began noticing something very odd. They found enormous rainbow oil slicks on the surface of the water off the coast of Louisiana – which, curiously, were many miles away from the area where the Deep Water Horizon spill had taken place.
What these scientists discovered was on-going leakage from the Taylor Oil Spill, which has been quietly releasing between 300 and 700 barrels of oil per day into the Gulf Coast over the last 14 years. The spill began in 2004, when Hurricane Ivan's 145 mph winds and 70 foot waves toppled an oil production platform owned by Taylor Energy.
Because the shattered wells that fed the platform were buried under a mud slide and never capped, the site has quietly leaked vast quantities of oil into the gulf, and is now threatening to overtake the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster as the largest marine oil spill in American history.
The Washington Post recently broke the story in an article by Darryl Fears, which explains how it took scientists six years to catch on to reality of the enormous spill, which federal officials estimate could continue through this century.
"The Taylor Energy spill is largely unknown outside Louisiana because of the company’s effort to keep it secret in the hopes of protecting its reputation and proprietary information about its operations," writes Fears, and the extent of the spill was only discovered when a lawsuit filed by environmental watchdog groups eventually forced the company to reveal its cleanup plan.
After the spill was discovered, initial estimates by the NRC put the amount of oil leaking into the water at 1 to 55 barrels of oil per day. However more recent data shows that the truth is closer to 1 to 700 barrels of oil per day.
"The Interior Department is now fighting an effort by Taylor Energy to walk away from the disaster," reports Fears. "The company sued Interior in federal court, seeking the return of about $450 million left in a trust it established with the government to fund its work to recover part of the wreckage and locate wells buried under 100 feet of muck."
While scientists are just beginning to assess the environmental damage caused over the past fourteen years, there is growing potential for similar spills take place. The article notes that the Trump administration has proposed to expand drilling leases to the entire out continental shelf, including along the Atlantic coast, where hurricanes are twice as frequent as they are in the Gulf.
The risks associated with these new developments are greatly increased by the growing intensity of storms, fueled by waters warmed by climate change, and environmental groups worry that officials have not learned from the mistakes of the Taylor spill.
To learn more about the background of the spill, and how Taylor Energy kept it so quiet for all these years, be sure to check out Fears’ original article!
The Department of Justice has fined another polluter for intentionally discharging oil from its vessels, this time off the shores of Massachusetts!
Two New Bedford fishing companies, Challenge Fisheries and Quinn Fisheries, have agreed to pay $414,000 and perform compliance measures and fleet wide improvements.
The penalties were in response to a complaint filed by the US Coast Guard alleging that the companies released approximately 4,200 gallons of oil into the waters of New Bedford Harbor, when the fishing vessel Challenge sank on Aug. 16, 2017.
The Coast Guard complaint alleges the ship's owners had emptied diesel fuel into the harbor after returning from a fishing trip, but failed to turn off the bilge pump, which caused the ship to sink after a valve failed. At least 17 ducks were oiled and five died, the complaint noted.
Before the Challenge sank, according to the complaint, the defendants routinely “on a daily or near-daily basis” pumped oily mixtures out of the engine room bilge and into New Bedford Harbor and other U.S. waters.
The companies also violated the Clean Water Act by failing to provide sufficient capacity to retain all oily bilge water onboard the vessel. The complaint alleges that the defendants discharged engine room bilge, which contains a mixture of fuel, lubricating oils, water, and other wastes, into the ocean and New Bedford Harbor rather than retain the waste onboard in order to extend the duration of their fishing trips while harvesting scallops at sea.
“Today’s action sends a clear message to the commercial fishing fleet that Clean Water Act compliance must be a non-negotiable part of operations," said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood, for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. "We appreciate our partners at the U.S. Coast Guard for their diligent investigation and referral of these violations.”
“This enforcement action will help protect people and the environment in and around New Bedford Harbor from the effects of oil pollution, and other fishing vessel owners and operators should take note,” said Andrew E. Lelling, U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts.
So often when we write about these crimes, we describe them as being far out at sea, and extremely difficult to enforce. This case in New Bedford Harbor goes to show that intentional oil pollution can happen close to home, right on top of Massachusetts' marine food sources and valuable ecosystems.
To learn more about the case, read the Justice Department’s press release regarding the settlement.
What do the loons of Minnesota have to do with the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico? While it may seem like a "loony" question because the two places are so far apart, there is potential for some of an $18 billion fund that was created in the wake of the spill to be used for the protection of loon habitat in Minnesota.
The connection between the iconic black and white birds and the gulf oil spill is that some 85% of Minnesota's loons migrate to the gulf each year. When the spill happened in 2010, it killed hundreds of loons immediately, and exposure to chemicals may have impacted many more over the following months. Given this connection, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has applied for some of the fund to be used for the loons.
The funds requested by the state of Minnesota would total about $7.5 million, and would be used to improve and grow loon habitat. They would also create a media campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of lead fishing tackle, which is one of the greatest causes of death among the birds. The money would be spent over the course of 15 years, and much of it would go toward preserving shoreline habitat where the loons breed. When development comes too close to loon nesting grounds, research has shown that they simply stop breeding.
The project in Minnesota is one of three that is being recommended for funding by the governmental committee that oversees the BP fund. The other projects include one spanning North and South Dakota for the restoration of black tern habitat, and a proposal to restore sturgeon habitat in the Gulf Coast.
The argument is that the impact of the spill, even after eight years, continues to echo through the ecosystem -- and it goes to show that just because oil is no longer visible to the human eye, that it continues to have extremely long-lasting effects.
If you’d like to learn more about the loon restoration project, it’s open for public comment on the National Park Service website.
Climate change and oil pollution are two enormous threats to the marine environment, but are rarely thought of as linked.
An editorial by Mark Hartl, Associate Professor of Marine Biology and Director of Centre for Marine Biodiversity and Biotechnology at Heriot-Watt University, persuasively argues that researchers need to begin exploring the connections between these two phenomena.
Major accidental spills, while often dramatic, are not the most insidious oil pollution in the waters. The most impactful spills, Harlt writes, are often the accumulation from small amounts of chronic oil pollution, such as runoff from land or oil intentionally dumped by ships.
While "organisms might look and behave perfectly normal," following these events, he writes, "it is only over time does the chronic exposure to low-level pollution take its toll." By the time the damage becomes obvious, he continues, it is "often it is too late to do anything to save a particular population, whose decline might have knock-on effects on the surrounding environment, often with socio-economic consequences."
One way scientists can track the impacts of these smaller spills is by studying a series of biomarkers which appear at the cellular level when an organism is exposed to oil. These markers can take several forms, Hartl writes, "some can be purely biochemical, manifesting themselves as damages to DNA, alterations to the activity of enzymes involved in metabolism, structural damage to cells and their subsequent ability to perform properly, as well as more obvious pathological, reproductive or behavioural disorders."
Dr. John Stegeman, a senior research scientist at Woods Hole Center for Oceans and Human Health in Massachusetts, for example, has been studying a biomarker called Cytrochrome P4501A (CYP1A), a protein that appears when deep sea fish have been exposed to the toxins in oil.
What happens is that when a fish comes into contact with oil, some of the most toxic parts of oil (known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs) enter the bloodstream after being inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Once these PAHs are inside of the fish, they set off its cellular defenses, which produce CYP1A in an attempt to render the PAHs harmless.
CYP1A, explains Dr. Stegeman, acts as a biological fingerprint that indicates if an organism has been exposed to the PAH's in oil. (You can learn more about that right here!)
So what do biomarkers like CYP1A have to do with climate change?
Hartl is concerned that rapid changes in the ocean, brought about by the impacts of climate change, may make it much harder for scientists to search for and find these subtle indications that damage is being done to the marine environment.
He cites the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on climate change which confirms that the upper 75 meters of the world’s oceans have been warming at a rate of 0.11°C per decade since at least 1971 and the uptake of CO2 caused by human pollution has depressed pH (acidity level) by -0.0014 to -0.0024 per year, and that these impacts are predicted to continue.
Hartl argues that as waters warm and becoming increasingly acidic the traditional approach to studying biomarkers may no longer be effective for analyzing how oil pollution affects marine life. Changes in the water may cause species to respond differently to pollutants, which in turn will affect the data that scientists can gather on oil or other chemical toxins in the water.
The takeaway? Climate change is impact many facets of life on both the land and sea -- and marine scientits need to be alert to its impact on the study of marine pollution.
"By the time [the effects of oil pollution] becomes obvious," warns Hartl, "it is often too late to do anything to save a particular population, whose decline might have knock-on effects on the surrounding environment, often with socio-economic consequences. So there is not only a moral responsibility to look after the environment, but also a strong financial incentive, because many jobs and livelihoods depend on a healthy environment and its ecosystems."
Learn more about Hartl’s thoughts about fine-tuning the study of biomarkers to account for climate change at The Conversation.
When faced with the facts and figures of marine debris and specifically the pacific garbage patch, it’s easy to feel helpless. While creative programs already exist to combat marine debris, the scope of the issue can feel unsolvable.
Now thanks to new technology developed by Ocean Cleanup, a large-scale solution may be floating on the horizon.
Boyan Slat was just eighteen when he founded Ocean Cleanup from his hometown of Delft in The Netherlands. His idea was to create a floating boom system to capture plastic ocean debris, which could later be recycled. Just five years later, with support from backers like billionaire Marc Benioff, his novel system is undergoing ocean testing.
On September 18, 2018, Slat's team deployed its first floating boom system into San Francisco Bay for a trial run. Slat hopes that this is just the first of many booms that will eventually work together to trap 150,000 pounds of plastic each year between California and the Hawaiian islands.
The idea is that the booms, once deployed, can create an artificial “coastline” where the plastics will "land" and be collected. Since the booms are driven by the wind and waves, they will move faster than the plastic carried by the currents beneath the water, enabling vast amounts of debris to be collected by the system. Slat's goal is to clean up half of the Pacific garbage patch by 2023!
We’ll be eagerly watching for updates from Ocean Clean up, and glad to see creative ideas being brought to defend our marine environment!
Learn more about the project from Forbes, or visit the Ocean Cleanup website for yourself!
A new study by researchers at the University of Connecticut, funded by the Morris Animal Foundation, has found that the dispersant used to clean up the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill has toxic effects on oysters.
In 2010 during the wake of Deepwater Horizon, roughly 2 million gallons of the Corexit® 9500 dispersant was used to break up the spilled oil, the largest use of such chemicals in US history. Dispersants do not make oil disappear, rather they help to break it down into tiny particles that are easier for microbes to ingest.
While scientists were aware that there were risks in using these chemicals at the time, this new study examines exactly how oysters are affected by the dispersant. The team compared oysters in a controlled environment that contained only oil, with environments that contained the dispersant, and a mix of oil and the dispersant -- and then measured the effects on the oysters immune function and ability to feed.
The dispersant alone was most toxic to the oysters’ immune systems, followed by the mixture, and then the oil alone. For feeding rates, the mixture of oil and dispersant was most disruptive, followed by the oil, and then the dispersant.
Dr. Kelly Diehl, Morris Animal Foundation Interim Vice President of Scientific Programs, said of the study, “Knowing the effects dispersants and oil have on oysters can help us make better mitigation recommendations the next time an environmental and ecological crisis like this happens. Species are interconnected, and what harms oysters will likely cascade through their ecosystem to the detriment of all.”
Keeping as much oil out of the water as possible is obviously the best choice for marine life, but the more we know about the impact of the tools in our oil spill-fighting arsenal, the better we can deploy them in the future.
Another marine oil polluter caught and punished!
Hai Soon Ship Management, a shipping company based in Singapore, was sentenced to pay a $1 million fine for failing to maintain an accurate oil record book. The company also pled guilty of making false statements regarding illegal dumping of oily bilge water into waters around the Hawaiian islands.
The ship caught polluting was called the Hai Soon 39, a 3,878-ton oil tanker, which provided refueling services to vessels at sea. The chief engineer, along with other members of the engine room, were found to have constructed a hose (often called a "magic pipe" in the industry) that bypassed the ship’s oily water separator -- and allowed the crew to dump untreated oily bilge water directly into the water. The chief engineer also falsified the ship’s oil record book to hide the illegal discharge. The failure to maintain an accurate oil record book is a crime under the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS).
The Coast Guard investigated the Hai Soon 39, and assistant U.S. attorneys Ken Sorenson and Amalia Fenton prosecuted the case. The $1 million fine, along with a two year probation and a new environmental compliance plan for the company's entire fleet of ships that come to the US, was handed down by U.S. District Court Judge Helen Gillmor on July 12th, 2018.
“The marine environment that surrounds the Hawaiian islands is unique, and part of the islands’ natural beauty," says US Attorney Kenji M. Price in a US DOJ press release about the case. "This Office will continue to work with the U.S. Coast Guard and use every tool at its disposal to bring to justice those who violate the law by polluting the sea.”
The case against Hai Soon Ship Management is a vivid reminder that intentional marine oil pollution is not yet a thing of the past. Now more than ever we need brave mariners willing to take a stand and report environmental crimes at sea.
Read more about the case at the Honolulu Star Advertiser and the US DOJ"s press release about the case.