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Tellurium Partners launched by Great Ecology and EnviroFinance Group

Partnership Results in New Ecological Mitigation Banking Company Tellurium Partners launched by Great Ecology and EnviroFinance Group

DENVER, CO (August 19, 2016) – Tellurium Partners is an ecological resource conservation and mitigation firm that specializes in developing strategic mitigation banking opportunities by leveraging our broad experience in ecology and real estate.

Tellurium Partners’ mission is to restore and conserve wetlands and natural habitats, while providing public agencies and private parties a method for complying with governmental requirements for the disturbance of ecological resources.

Tellurium Partners is a Public Benefit Corporation, and as such has within its primary mission the creation of positive social and environmental impacts. “By creating ecological mitigation banks and selling compensatory mitigation credits, Tellurium Partners can achieve its mission of conserving and developing the nation’s ecological resources,” says co-founder and Managing Partner Eric Williams.

Tellurium Partners is the product of a partnership between Great Ecology, an ecological restoration firm, and EnviroFinance Group, a land reuse and redevelopment firm. Both companies opened in 2001.

“The companies’ histories of effective natural resource conservation, mitigation, and redevelopment allows us to hit the ground running,” says co-founder and Managing Partner Dr. Mark Laska.

Visit www.TelluriumParnters.com or contact Founders Eric Williams (Eric@TelluriumPartners.com; 303.521.5805) or Dr. Mark Laska (Mark@TelluriumPartners.com; 858.750.3201).

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Finding Inspiration in a Bee Highway

By Liz Clift

What if a pot of honey cost $182,000?

We’d probably consume a lot less of it. This is, perhaps, because a single bee produces only a single spoonful of honey. It is that statistic that allowed an accountant at a Norwegian accounting firm to calculate the rough cost of producing a single pot honey if “we did [bees’] job, paid at minimum wage.”

The same accounting firm recently added two hives and several flowering plants on its terrace. The hives will support around 45,000 worker bees, and are part of a “bee highway” that is being developed in Oslo, Norway. The goal is to create urban corridors of “feeding stations” filled with nectar-producing flowers. An additional layer to this project is the creation of, and care for, hives.

There’s a website devoted to the project, which allows participants (including companies, governmental agencies, and individuals) to write about, and photograph, where they are planting flowers or locating hives or other bee nesting spots.

One-third, approximately 66 different species, of Norway’s wild bees are endangered. In the US, we have 4,000 species of native bees—and they are at risk. According to a report published in Science, in 2013, some 50 percent of Midwestern native bee species have disappeared from their historic ranges since 1900. Four species of bumblebee have declined by 96% since 1990, and the ranges of those bees contracted by 23 to 87 percent in the same time period.

In other words, our bees are in trouble—and it is not just the (European) honeybee.

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A European honey bee collects nectar

I’ve written before about the potential connection between bee populations and mycelium. But perhaps we can take something from Norway’s bee highway as well. What would it look like if we made concerted efforts—especially in our urban areas—to plant bee-friendly plants and practice bee-friendly gardening?

In my own garden, this year I planted wild bergamot (bee balm), and as a result, I seem to have more bees than ever visiting my garden. In my neighborhood, I walk past Datura plants as they are opening up for the evening, and see four, five, six bees burrowing themselves into each blossom. In my neighborhood, there are plenty of nectar-bearing plants for bees to source from—and even more if people practice careful management of their flowering plants that can produce blossoms all season (roses, zinnias, and marigolds come to mind as common garden plants that can be managed to produce flowers through the majority of the growing season).

But we can expand this into our cities in the same way Oslo is beginning to—by creating green roofs and terraces with flowering plants; by introducing hives and nesting spots into our urban centers; by tracking our bee-friendly initiatives.

The makings for this are already there.

The Wildlife Habitat Council offers project guidance for pollinator habitats—as well guidances specific to grasslands and landscapes, both of which can include a diversity of plants that provide nectar over the course of a season—and at Great Ecology we have helped companies earn their Pollinator Certification through this program. Pollinator Partnership works with farmers and garden-creators through an online certification program charmingly called BFF (no, not like your BFF. It stands for Bee-Friendly Farming). Other certifications—and ways of tracking these certifications—also exist, and you may already have some in your area.

On a purely selfish level, we should want to take efforts to protect and support native bees because their existence is critical for our food production. Consciously creating bee-friendly areas—including not only plantings, but providing sources of water and nesting, as well as connectivity to other bee friendly areas—could help curb their decline.

But beyond that, restoration efforts are reliant upon a diverse and vibrant source of pollinators—and pollinators are dependent on a healthy and diverse plant community. In other words, as art created street artists Louis Masai and Jim Vision states [from the perspective of bees]: When we go we’re taking you all with us.

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Welcome Randy Mandel to the Great Ecology Team

“Events have been set in motion whose echo will be heard a thousand or more generations from now.” – J. Valor, Salome

Great Ecology is pleased to announce Randy Mandel, who has more than 32 years of experience as a restoration ecologist and applied plant scientist, has joined our team. His passion for ecological restoration was inspired by a love of the outdoors and a deep desire to be part of the solution.

Randy’s expertise includes wetland, riparian, rangeland, desert, and forest ecologies; plant taxonomy and synonymy; restoration/reclamation project design, layout, and implementation; site assessment and monitoring; site-specific seed collection; native plant propagation and cultivation; wetland delineation; wetland mitigation banking; threatened and endangered species surveys; and the integration of native species into traditional and modern landscape design. His work has been featured on Aspen Public Radio.

Randy says he was attracted to Great Ecology because of the “presence of kindred individuals on-staff who, together, would be wonderful to help create projects of lasting value, benefit, and that further collective knowledge.”

Randy’s recent publications include Searchable River Revegetation Guide for Colorado and Living Streambanks: A Manual of Bioengineering Treatments for Colorado Streams, available from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, Colorado Water Conservation Board.

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In addition to his work as a restoration ecologist and applied plant scientist, Randy also keeps an orchard, which includes apricots, pears, and plums, among other fruit-bearing trees, and he has a passion for native bees. His passion for native bees is derived from:

  • Seeking, and working to foster, ecological resiliency from a healthy ecological matrix that incorporates diverse species and habitats;
  • The knowledge that successful restoration is dependent upon a diverse and sustainable population of pollinators—and that sustainable pollinator populations are dependent on vigorous and diverse native plant communities; and
  • A desire to increase the fecundity of ecological functions and services for the totality of biota and their abiotic surroundings.

We are thrilled for the chance to share in his knowledge and passion, and proudly welcome Randy to the Great Ecology team.

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The Frontier of Urban Wilderness

Liz Clift

Wil·der·ness (n): an uncultivated, uninhabited, and inhospitable region; a neglected or abandoned area of a garden or town

Wild·ness (n): a quality of being wild or untamed

I know a lot of people who like to “get away” to the mountains on the weekends. The mountains, if you listen to these folks, is where nature happens. Mountains—along with the upper reaches of the United States—are places we’ve been culturally led to believe are relatively untouched by people, and we idealize this.

Of course, to say this is to erase the ways people have been sculpting the landscape for generations upon generations. It is to ignore that the wild spaces in our built environments are not so different from idealized “wilderness,” something environmental historian William Cronon addresses in his essay “The Trouble with Wilderness.”

The reality is this: we can find wildness, and wonder, within our urban centers. We can find red-tailed hawks and peregrine falcons in most major cities. Coyotes, raccoons, and foxes prowl cemeteries and stream beds. Depending on what part of the country we’re in, we might find narrow-leafed yucca and roadrunners in our yards, or see bryophytes growing in the cracks of sidewalks alongside dandelions. Maybe we take children to a large city park to catch crawfish that are similar to the ones we caught growing up in the same city, or somewhere more rural.

I did this last one a few summers ago, while teaching freshwater ecology to youth in 1st through 6th grade. We, for the most part, stayed in our city. We caught frogs and tadpoles on the banks of a reservoir. We waded in a creek at one of the most popular parks in the city, hunting crawfish. We scooped baby catfish out of a nutrient-impaired lake in the neighborhood most of those youth live in. We looked at sand and silt and algae under microscopes.

In other words, we looked for wildness—and by extension, wonder—in the places that we saw every day. And we managed to find it.

There are a lot of critiques that can be offered up to this argument that we can find urban wildernesses. Certainly, the way we live our lives directly impacts environments; perhaps more so because we don’t take the time to see the wildness in our built space. We don’t always act as stewards of the land in cities and towns the way we do when we take a trek into some place remote. We don’t apply Leave No Trace to the places we actually live.

Shelley McEuen, of Yes! magazine addressed the idea of investing in the places we live earlier this month in “Celebrate the Urban Wilderness Right Where You Live,” by writing: ““As long as wilderness is an ideal that exists someplace else, residents may feel absolved of responsibility to steward the wild spaces within their own communities.”

A variety of municipalities, including some Great Ecology works with, are making efforts to restore or enhance urban wilderness along waterways, canyons, parks, urban trails, and other public spaces. In part, this can be attributed to re-vitalization efforts and to prepare for more extreme weather. These changes can come as part of a transit plan or a tourism plan or superfund restoration plan. They can make very real differences in the ways we—and the next generation—look at the places we live.

This is an exciting time, because we are on the frontier of efforts to create and enhance urban wilderness.

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Go Deep Sea Exploring, From Your Computer

Liz Clift

“There’s nothing wrong with enjoying look at the surface of the ocean itself, except that when you finally see what goes on underwater, you realize that you’ve been missing the whole point of the ocean.” –Dave Barry, writer

How many of us, as children, wanted to be explorers? To map uncharted territory? To discover new lands (or animals)? For me—and, I’d argue, so many in my generation and the one that followed—this was part of the appeal of The Magic School Bus series: Ms. Frizzle – a teacher who didn’t believe that limits should be set on what we explore took her students on all sorts of adventures. They were scientists. They were wanderers and wonderers, students of the world and themselves.

Sometimes, I think, we let ourselves believe there is nothing more to explore. That there is nothing else we should hold in wonder. And, I think when we do this, we are wrong.

In January 2009, President Obama established the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument (MTMNM), through Presidential Proclamation 8335. He assigned management responsibility to Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Commerce. The Secretary of the Interior placed MTMNM within the National Wildlife Refuge System, and delegated management to the Fish and Wildlife Service. The Secretary of Commerce, through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is primarily responsible for fishery-management within these waters. The Marianas Trench Monument Advisory Council provides advice and recommendations on the development of management plans and includes three officials from the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Island (CNMI) government, as well as a representative from both the Department of Defense and the US Coast Guard.

But it’s hard to create a management plan for an area we know very little about.

NOAA, in conjunction with a variety of partners, has been conducting a three-cruise expedition on the NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer to collect and analyze baseline information about unknown and poorly known areas of the MTMNM and the CNMI. The information from the 2016 Deep Water Exploration of the Marianas will be used to support management needs of the area, and to better understand the diversity, ecology, geology, and distribution of deep sea habitats in the area. It will also provide foundational information for follow-up exploration and research.

2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas

The remotely operated vehicle Deep Discoverer surveying the 14-meter hydrothermal chimney. Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas.

The third cruise in this series of expeditions began June 17th, and will conclude July 10th. It will be focused on mapping the northern part of the CNMI and the MTMNM using a remotely-operated vehicle. Highlight videos from this type of project, focused on the southern half of the CNMI and the MTMNM, (from the first leg of the cruise April 20-May 11) show a small octopus, a dandelion siphonophore, an aggregation of basket stars, and an extinct hydrothermal chimney, among other things. These videos include a combination of post-production music and the real-time-filming reactions of the scientists on Okeanos Explorer.

NOAA’s goal is to make mapping data from these cruises available within three months, and regular updates about the project are available on the NOAA website. Additionally, the Okeanos Explorer uses telepresence to engage the on-shore science team, who can engage with the ship through a teleconference line and online collaborative tools. This allows scientists and students to contribute expertise in real time, and extends the reach of ocean exploration to many more people. You can access the live stream (minus additional collaborative tools) here!

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A small octopus made an appearance on the dive. You can see how small it is compared to the crinoid stalks it is next to. Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas.

Part of what makes this project especially important, from a conservation and restoration perspective, is that when we better understand not only the ecology of these deep sea habitats, we can develop more effective management practices—and we have a baseline to monitor changes in these habitats. Already, this exploration has demonstrated that biota not previously known to live in MTMNM and CNMI do venture to—or in fact live in—this area.

Additionally, characterizing the biology and geology of the MTMNM and CNMI is crucial because it is an area that may one day be of interest for deep sea mining, due to the presence of metals in the Prime Crust Zone (PCZ) including manganese, nickel, cobalt, and iron in the substrate crust. A better understanding of the biology and geology of the area will allow us to better understand not only how to manage the area—but how to offset impacts to these habitats.

2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas

A beautiful stalked crinoid, likely Proisocrinus ruberrimus. Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas.

Of course, when talking about impacts to deep sea habitats, it is important to note that these areas are already showing human impact: the exploration also shows trash, even at just over 3 miles (5,000 meters) below the surface of the water.

This expedition, along with expeditions that preceded it, will allow us to continue to monitor these and other pollution impacts. It also provides data on the impacts of on-going volcanic activity, which can result in lava flows that alter the geomorphology of the landscape and in large amounts of both gaseous and liquid carbon dioxide being released into the deep sea environment, which results in locally acidified environments.

The management plan, which is still under development, will provide public education programs, traditional access by indigenous persons who rely on the trench for fishing, and scientific exploration and research. Several draft plans, impacting various portions of the monument have been made available for review.

Now that you know all of this, what do you do with it? The answer to this question, naturally, depends on what you want to do with it. Below are a few ideas of what you might do with this information—but we’d love to know why you’re interested in this exploration. Please leave us a message on Facebook www.facebook.com/greatecology.

Educators:

  • Share some of the videos from the expedition with your students, because the footage provides opportunities to see species and geology many of us will never see in real life—and that have never been seen before;
  • Incorporate details about deep sea life into live science theater; or
  • Assign some of the background essays—which could be used in high school or college classes focused on fisheries management, geology, ethnohistory, or mining.

STEM Fields:

  • Better understand the potential of telepresence for the future of scientific exploration and collaboration. Telepresence changes the way that scientific exploration is disseminated not only to scientists, but to the rest of us;
  • Explore opportunities to work on creating remotely-operated vehicles that can explore even deeper areas of the ocean or which are equipped with more bio-sensing monitors that can provide more or enhanced feedback to scientists about the conditions of deep sea life; or
  • Develop improved analytics for ocean monitoring.

Social & Political Scientists:

  • Follow developments of the management plan in regards to fishery management and indigenous fishing rights;
  • Develop and refine environmental sociological models focused on current and historic use of natural resources in and near the trench;
  • Monitor or draft changes in regulatory policy; or
  • Develop economic models for the management plan.

Restoration Ecologists and Marine Biologists:

  • Follow the development of the management plan to better understand how fishing rights could impact the MTMNM and CNMI fisheries;
  • Understand the potential implications of PCZ and mineral mining on future restoration or mitigation efforts;
  • Use the data to develop mitigation plans for human impacts to these habitats; or
  • Study the changes in biota after a volcanic event on the seafloor.

Regardless of why you’re interested in this work, I hope you’ll take some time to watch the live stream of the final expedition—and perhaps find a few moments of wonder in seeing a portion of life in the deep sea you never imagined existed.

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Dr. Laska Joins the San Diego Coastkeeper’s Board of Directors

Great Ecology is pleased to announce that its President and Founder, Mark S. Laska, PhD has joined the Board of Directors for San Diego Coastkeeper. San Diego Coastkeeper’s mission is to protect and restore fishable, swimmable, and drinkable waters in San Diego County.

The organization aims to do this through innovative and collaborative partnerships with community members and businesses in San Diego. They address root issues impacting water systems, base their decisions on best available information, and provide the public with the rationale for their decision and actions in a straightforward way that works to increase the level of public discourse about important water issues.

Dr. Laska says about Coastkeeper: “I am impressed by what they can accomplish with very limited funding. It is admirable that this organization is working so hard to hold all our feet to the fire so that we can maintain clean water, suitable habitat, and healthy ecosystems thriving in San Diego and beyond.”

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Could Mushrooms Help Save the Honeybee?

Liz Clift

“Bees are attracted to rotting logs specifically for their immunological benefit. It’s part of their host defense of their immunity…and allow them to be better pollinators.” – Paul Stamets

Fungi range from deadly to delicious and some, like yeast, have for centuries played a critical role in our cuisine.  Only in recent decades however have we begun to understand the ecological role that mushrooms and other fungi play and to use these species as tools for environmental stewardship.  Mycoremediation is the practice of using fungi to remove contaminants from the environment, which is closely related to mycofiltration, which uses mycelium mats as biological filters. Mycorestoration is the idea that fungi can help improve the health of the environment by filtering water, helping plants grow, and controlling insect pests.

These terms were coined by a mycologist named Paul Stamets – and now he’s working on this question: What if mushrooms could save the honeybee (Apis mellifera)?

The basis of this question comes from his observations of the natural world. Several years ago, he observed a bear scratch on a tree. He knew that would be an entry point for polypore mushrooms – and when he returned two years later, a red belted polypore (Fomitopsis pinicola) was growing from the scratch. Red belted polypores are especially active in breaking down a variety of toxins, including pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides.

bee on dandelion2

But how does this connect to bees? First, many polypores grow on birch trees. Bees go to scratched trees of willows, birch, and firs – to sip on sap and collect resins. That isn’t all: Stamets also remembers cultivating the King Stropharia in his garden decades ago, in a mycelium patch that was a foot thick (for mycofiltration to control E. coli in the water outflow of his property). While working in his garden one morning, he saw his bees had moved aside woodchips and were drinking the nectar exuded from the exposed mycelium.

It’s not as simple as bees simply seeking nectar where they can find it – although for those of us not well-versed in bee health, it may seem that way. It’s important to know that healthy honey and bee bread (pollen that has been packed into empty comb, mixed with nectar and digestive fluids, and then sealed with a smidge of honey) contain a polyphenol called p-coumaric acid.

Humans are fortunate in that p-coumaric acid is found in many edible plants, including peanuts, navy beans, tomatoes, carrots, and garlic, as well as wines and vinegar. Bees have more limited resources for getting p-coumaric acid. P-coumaric acid from pollen and fungal compounds is a component of honey and activates an important enzyme used by all animals for detoxification, cytochrome P450.

Honeybees have about 47 genes that control cytochrome P450 enzymes, which is many fewer than most insects, and research suggests that the low number of these, and similar, detoxifying genes may limit their ability to metabolize multiple toxins simultaneously.

But what if, as Stamets has posited, compounds from polypores (and other mushrooms) could be used to manage bee populations as a means of regulating immunity and detoxification pathways? That’s what his most recent experiments seek to find out.

He partnered with an entomologist at Washington State University, Dr. Steve Sheppard, and together they formed a research initiative, the goal of which is to reverse the declines in global bee population. In experiments last year, the pair placed Host Defense® mushroom extracts in the feed water of 300 sets of bees. They found that bees who consumed this water demonstrated a 75% reduction in their viral load. Results of other mushroom extracts showed a significant reduction in instances of Deformed Wing Virus, and increased honeybee longevity. Field tests will take place beginning this summer and are currently slated to last through summer 2017.

Stamets and Sheppard aren’t the only ones noticing the connection between bees and fungi. Last year, Cristiano Menezes, of the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation, published a paper on his observations of the Brazilian stingless bee (Scaptotrigona depilis) “farming” a fungus in the genus Monascus. Larvae eat this fungus and it is integral to their survival –those who don’t have access to it survive only 8% of the time. When bees leave their current hive to create a new one, they take some of the building material from the old hive with them – and by extension, take some of this fungus.

In 2012, researchers noted that a strain of Metarhizium anisopliae caused a high rate of morality in varroa mites (connected to Colony Collapse Disorder) with a relatively low rate of mortality for bees. Stamets and Sheppard are using this research on Metarhisium anisopliae in several experiments to determine the efficacy of building a beehive from fungus as a way of fighting off the varroa mite.

In one of these experiments, they have constructed a beehive with panels made of compressed sawdust that has been mixed with the mycelium of the Metarhizium anisopliae fungus. The bees, doing their bee thing, will naturally spread the spores throughout the hive. In another experiment, the two are placing pieces of cardboard impregnated with the mycelium into standard bee boxes. The thought is that the bees, who dislike clutter, will tear the cardboard apart to get rid of it – and in the process will dust bees and mites with the spores.

This research could have major implications for reversing the decline of the honeybee – and for the way that we interact with fungi – including, perhaps, the intentional cultivation of a variety of fungi and the trees that support polypores – going forward. To learn more, watch Paul Stamet’s 2014 TED talk and look for more blogs about pollinators coming soon!

June 20-26, 2016 is National Pollinator Week. National Pollinator Week began nine years ago, after the US Senate approved and designated a week in June to be focused on pollinator awareness. This marked an important acknowledgement of declining pollinator populations. It is part of the National Strategy to Support the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators.

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EPA’s Environmental Justice Strategic Plan

In May, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its draft EJ 2020 Action Agenda: Environmental Justice Strategic Plan 2016-2020. The plan is available for review and public comment until July 7, 2016.

By 2020, the EPA envisions itself to be an agency that integrates environmental justice into all of its actions, while cultivating strong partnerships with a variety of stakeholders, and charting the course for achieving decreased disparities in the nation’s overburdened communities. The EPA plans to achieve this through three goals:

  1. Deepening environmental justice practice within agency programs to improve the health and environment of overburdened communities;
  2. Developing and maintaining partnerships to expand the agency’s positive impact within overburdened communities; and
  3. Demonstrating progress on known environmental justice challenges, with a specific focus on lead disparities, drinking water quality, air quality, and hazardous waste sites.

Achieving these goals relies on a multi-faceted team approach that includes working with multiple stakeholders, including, but not limited to, state and local government partners; community-based organizations and tribal leadership; and working groups focused on specific issues (such as the presence of heavy metals in drinking water).

In addition to this draft strategic plan, the EPA is working toward environmental justice through its Environmental Justice Academy, launched by EPA Region 4. The purpose of the academy is to “better equip community leaders to address health and environmental challenges.” The academy provides nine months of in-depth leadership programming, and encourages participants to develop skills that will help them identify and address environmental challenges in their communities. Program such as the Environmental Justice Academy is a step in helping the EPA achieve the second goal of its 2020 strategic plan. The environmental justice academy’s first class completed the program this May.

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Rigs to Reefs: An Unexpected Relationship between Offshore Energy and our Oceans.

Emily Callahan

1_Caine Delacy
Photo by: Caine Delacy

All over the globe, mankind has impacted our oceans in every way imaginable, and in most cases, to a devastating biological end. Despite this, something strange is developing in the most unexpected of places, beneath towering steel lattice work structures, some of the world’s most productive ecosystems have been thriving, on offshore oil platforms.

Enter the Rigs-to-Reefs (R2R) program, an alternative to complete platform removal whereby an oil company may choose to modify a platform so that it may continue to support marine life as an artificial reef rather than completely removing the structure, as is often required by state and federal leases. Through this decommissioning process, the oil well is capped and the upper 85 feet of the platform is towed to an alternative ‘reefing’ location or toppled in place. Since the program’s inception in the late 1980’s, the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) has reefed more than 450 of its nearly 3,000 platforms. Despite this, the rest of the world has been slow to catch on. Oil platforms can be found in almost every ocean, but only a handful of countries have implemented a R2R law, and even fewer have actually reefed their platforms.

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Photo by: Blue Latitudes

The ecosystems thriving on offshore oil platforms represent a unique silver lining to the realities of our history of insatiable offshore energy development. Protected from nearshore impacts such as run-off, and offshore threats such commercial trawling, these platforms have developed into incredibly robust and diverse microcosms of life. However, the opposition would like to see these oil platforms and their ecosystems completely removed, and the seafloor returned to its original state.

To understand why, one must delve deeper into the complexities of the program. In California, the U.S. government has estimated that within five to twenty years, all 27 offshore oil and gas platforms will stop producing quantities adequate to be considered economically viable, the cost of their removal will be exorbitant. Experts have estimated the cost of completely decommissioning all 27 platforms to be over one billion dollars. Partial removal, or ‘reefing’ the platform, can drastically reduce decommissioning costs.  States with R2R programs generate revenue by receiving half of the avoided decommissioning costs, while the other half of the cost savings goes back to oil company stakeholders. The cost savings add up, in Louisiana the state averages $270,000 per reefing and has completed more than 330.

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Photo by: Blue Latitudes

I believe the opposition primarily stems from a lack of public understanding of the goals of the program, and the science that backs it up. Some
anti-reefing activists believe platforms do not produce fish rather that they merely attract them, while others advocate that abandoned structures rob natural reefs of fish, and prevent trawling and other commercial fishing activities. Greenpeace has conceded that some reefed platforms, if non-toxic may increase marine life, however, they should still be banned as they save oil firms money.

As the world’s ‘natural reefs’ become overexploited and polluted, permitting these platforms to remain in place may be the best decision for the future of our oceans. It’s time to think creatively about the resources we have, and proceed forward boldly with radical new tactics for ocean management.  There are offshore platforms found in almost every ocean around the world. Each is home to a unique and incredibly robust ecosystem flourishing quietly below the surface. As offshore production slows to a halt, the fate of the world’s platforms stands at an important policy crossroads and we must decide whether converting a rig to a reef, serves ecological and economic goals better than the current status quo of complete removal.

4_Blue Latitudes
Photo by: Blue Latitudes 

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Citizen Science and Penguins

Liz Clift

Peep on Penguins. For Science.

Have you heard of backyard bird counts? If so, that’s because of an initiative by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society. The Great Backyard Bird Count was launched in 1998, and was the first online citizen-science project to collect data on wild birds.

Citizen-science is scientific research that is conducted partially or completely by amateur and non-professional scientists–and there are many ways to get involved.

Researchers seek help from citizen-scientists for research endeavors. To this point, citizen-scientists can contribute in a variety of ways–including monitoring a species, a newly restored habitat, or helping create a “map” of where certain species exist. Monitoring is a crucial, and often overlooked, part of the process of conservation and preservation. Utilizing citizen-scientists can be a great way for a company, corporation, or university to decrease monitoring costs while contributing to environmental and science education.

The possibilities for citizen-scientists to get involved are wide ranging.  They can participate in research on the monarch butterfly or the impact of sunflowers on pollinator gardens. Citizen-scientists can observe mushrooms or get out on a boat and photograph humpback whales. They can wander Michigan and upload sightings of amphibians and reptiles using an app, or count backyard birds. They can even count critters in the Australian outback or Antarctic penguins.

That’s right. Penguins.

A group of scientists is conducting research around Antarctic penguins. Penguins are top predators in their food chain, and changes to penguin population can represent larger changes to the Antarctic system. The scientists set up 50 cameras in hard-to-reach areas or in settings where human activity could disturb wildlife and disrupt their behavior. They hope that in addition to providing a way to monitor the penguin population, these cameras may also capture penguin behavior we haven’t seen before.

The goals of Penguin Watch are to:

  • Monitor changes in the timing of breeding populations over time, including arrival and departure dates, hatching, incubation, guard and post guard periods).
  • Compare survival of offspring between populations and analyze whether low nest survival is linked to anthropogenic or ecological factors.
  • Determine frequency of predation on chicks, the main predators and scavengers, peak timing of predation, and any large-scale predation occurrences.
  • Observe whether particular colonies spend the winter at their breeding site, and if that behavior is influenced by certain types of sea ice.

Each camera takes between 8 and 96 photos a day, each day of the year. That means that every year, there are somewhere between 2,290 and 4,800 photos to look through. The researchers currently have three years of data stored.

The pictures may contain penguins or anything else that happens to show up in the frame, including blue-eyed cormorants, boats, and researchers. Citizen-scientists count adult penguins, chicks, eggs, and “other” (any living thing, or boat, that is not a penguin).

All it takes is an internet connection and the desire to look at penguins.

And really, who doesn’t want to look at penguins?

Some pictures have no animals. Others have a bunch of penguins or other animals that live in Antarctica. Either extreme and everything in between provides useful information for researchers.

What’s it like to monitor penguins through Penguin Watch? It’s really straight forward, and when a citizen-scientist visits the site, they are presented with a very short introductory lesson that takes less than a minute to complete. After that they can start marking, or annotating, penguins. Each image includes a time and date stamp, so citizen-scientist can start observing the different behaviors (and numbers) of penguins based on the time of year. The site also includes a helpful graphic about the breeding cycle of penguins.

In a few minutes of being a citizen-scientist, I looked at one picture with no penguins, several with fewer than 30, and one picture that had easily 150 penguins. For this last one, I quickly annotated about 100 of them, using the built-in tools, which are conveniently color-coded to help you (and the researchers) quickly determine the composition of the population in the photo.

Sound intimidating? It’s really not. A citizen-scientist can stop counting when they want. When they click the button to say that they are finished counting, they are prompted to confirm whether they counted all the penguins in the picture or if there were too many to count.

Could this be more user friendly? Yes, actually, and it’s already built in! After a citizen-scientist reaches 30 individuals of any category (say, adults), the site issues a prompt that reminds the citizen-scientist they can move on to a new picture—although they can certainly keep annotating the image they are working on.

Any given citizen-scientist won’t be the only person looking at the image, so if they don’t get every penguin, that’s okay. This type of redundancy also helps validate the information provided. Additionally, after a citizen-scientist has reviewed a picture, they have the option to discuss it with other citizen-scientists (if they’re signed in, that is). This provides a valuable collaboration and learning opportunity for participants and may provide researchers with more insights as well. Citizen-scientists can also visit the FAQ page to learn more about the project, and the penguins – and participate in the FAQ section as well, if they register with the site (registration is not necessary to participate in penguin counting).

This project is also working with innovative technology. The researchers are collaborating with the Computer Vision laboratory at the University of Oxford to develop a recognition tool that will allow computers to automatically count each penguin. Each annotation made by a citizen-scientist helps train the program to recognize individual penguins (or, eventually, other species).

If you’ve participated in a citizen-science project, or if you’ve worked with citizen-scientists, we want to hear from you! Leave a comment about the experience on our Facebook page or Tweet us.

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