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Taras Oceanographic Foundation

In the Eyes of the Dolphin

Cetaceans have extraordinary eyesight.

Dolphins can use their sonar to detect complex shapes and identify them visually. Captive animals have been known to throw frisbees and catch fish without using their sonar. And at any oceanarium it is common to witness dolphins demonstrating their amazing ability to leap out of the water and touch a small target many feet above the surface. These same dolphins repeatedly sail over tightropes and through hoops without touching them, often times in unison. All demonstrating that cetaceans are capable of seeing, not only underwater, but also in air and from water to air. The combination of their visual acuity and sonar abilities makes dolphins well equipped to evaluate any and all objects in their environment.

When the ancestors of the modern dolphin re-entered the water, so many eons ago, their eyes and eyesight went through some major transformations.

On land, eyesight is primarily challenged by dust and the threat of physical harm. These problems are counteracted by hairy eyebrows and lashes and eyeballs that are located in deep sockets of the skull for protection. Tears help wash away dust and clean the eyes. In the sea, the challenges to the eye are more associated with salt and particles in the water, as well as the massive pressure associated with deep dives. Cetacean eyes are encapsulated to protect the shape and integrity of the orb from pressure during dives. There are no dolphin tears, instead special glands secrete oil that continuously wash the surface of the eye to prevent irritation from salinity.

Land animals depend on detection of movement, position, color, detail and sharpness as visual cues. Dolphin vision is more dependent on brightness. The cetacean eye is adapted to perform at depths where light is minimal. At thirty feet, as much as 90% of sunlight is lost and color disappears. The dolphin pupil is capable of opening enormously wide to enhance brightness. The eyes are also lined with a highly reflective substance that concentrates light, similar to the silver of an old traditional headlight. The eyeball has an oval shape, and the lens is positioned to prevent even the weakest ray of light from escaping the retina.

On the other hand, dolphins must see not only at lightless depths, but also at or just below the surface, where it is the brightest. Due to water movement and its effect on sunlight, it can be more than seven times brighter just below the surface than it is above the water. The eye is equipped with a flap like structure that closes over the restricted pupil. It can look as if the dolphin has two tiny pupils at times. Even so, the ability of the dolphin to go from near complete darkness to extreme brightness is one of the miracles of the dolphin eye.

The position of the dolphin eye on each side of the head not only provides additional protection from the onslaught of ocean particles as the dolphin swims forward through the water, but also allows for a nearly complete field of vision. This position of the eye provides some stereo vision directly below them, but also creates a blind spot directly in front of the dolphin. This is one of the places where the sonar comes in handy as they can virtually “see” anything in this blind spot… with sound.

Dolphins don’t just use their eyesight to locate food. The structure of dolphin societies suggests a strong use of visual cues in communication. It makes perfect sense that in an environment where danger can come from any and all directions, silent communication is important. Body posture and subtle swimming techniques can effectively give the others a warning. They can also express irritation, initiate romance and/or provide comfort. An S-shaped body posture by an individual is thought to represent some degree of annoyance, an inverted swim under a female by a male suggests courtship, and companions often swim side by side, eye to eye and rub pectoral fins, possibly during new or unique situations.

Since the dolphin body has adapted to be optimum in the aquatic world, they have lost the ability for facial expression common in terrestrial mammals. They cannot smile with satisfaction, nor grimace in pain. Therefore there must be a lot to be seen in the eye of the dolphin. As many of us here at the Palm Beach Dolphin Project can attest, dolphins are not only capable but sometimes insistent on making eye contact. Not only with each other but with us as well. Here’s looking at you kid!

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We all depend on a healthy ocean; a healthy ocean depends on us. Let us be the change we would like to see in the world.  Our new Ocean Sentinels Club is proof that conservation can be fun, rewarding and effective.  The Club unites and empowers citizens to advocate for the conservation of dolphins and the marine environment across Palm Beach County, and beyond. Join us. The time is now. It begins with you.

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Florida’s Wild Dolphins Reveal Unique Social Feeding Behavior

For the last decade, the Taras Oceanographic Foundation, under a general authority of the National Marine Fisheries Service, has been conducting dolphin surveys in Palm Beach County. We position or boat within three miles from shore, and travel at slow speed, until we see dolphins. We will then follow the dolphins long enough to photograph each dolphin and document their behavior. And although we have studied wild dolphins for decades, we still find new and different behaviors that are remarkable.

There are days when bait fish seem to fall fro m the sky. On those special days, when the seas are flat, we watch all kin ds of fish jumping out of the water; some high in the air in a single arc, others low and repeatedly as they travel some distance. Flying fish routinely glide, with ease, for several meters. Ballyhoo and Bonita will jump to avoid being eaten. Every once in a while, a clever dolphin will take advantage of these jumping fish; a clever dolphin like Odyssey, and her offspring.
Odyssey was conducting a master class in the art of catching fish. And when I say ‘catching fish’ I mean CATCHING fish. She was throwing a fish into the air, and artfully catching with in her mouth. She demonstrated the process a few times for her calf, and then did something remarkable.

She bit off the head of the fish, before throwing the body in the air, for her calf to catch. We could not help but make the comparison of a mother cutting the crust off a sandwich, before serving it to her child. But it is more than that; she was keeping her calf safe.
For the significance of this simple act, we need to first ex­ amine the basic anatomy of a fish. Fish use gills to acquire oxygen from the water. These gills are located just at the base of the head. When a fish breathes, it draws in a mouthful of water and pulls the sides of its throat together, forcing the water through the gill openings, which expand away from the body.

Dolphins do not chew their food. It is imperative, therefore, for a dolphin to swallow their prey, head first. If a fish were eaten tail first, it might expand its gills while passing through the throat of the dolphin and become wedged. In all the necropsies I performed, I once found one dolphin with a fish caught in its throat. The fish was swallow ed tail first, and the res ult was deadly. Back to Odyssey and her calf.
She was biting the heads off the fish, so her calf would not catch the fish backwards and choke to death. She threw the fish body high in the air, and her calf made repeated attempts to make the catch. More likely motivated by the game than the food, the small dolphin was still nursing and probably not too hungry. Over the next few months, as this calf grows, Odyssey will insist it hunt down its own food. The catching strategies learned now, will be all the more important in the future.

But even the best strategies and the most prepared youngster will not grow to be an adult unless there continues to be the abundance and variety of fish to eat. We are currently living through the sixth mass extinction event this planet has experienced. ln the past, these epic occurrences were the result of volcanic eruptions or asteroids striking the earth, but this time they are our own doing.

Why is it important to study dolphins? Sure they are cute and all, but why should anyone support such endeavors? Because in many ways, we are alike. Dolphins eat the fish we eat. They raise their kids to be better citizens and work every day to make a living and support their families. They are the masters of the ocean environment; a subject about which we are remarkably naive. And the ocean is vital to the survival of us both.

Although we continue to harvest the resources the oceans provide, at unsustainable rates, we could learn from the marine mammals how to find areas of highest productivity and hunt selectively. As we increase the noise in the ocean with our recreational watercraft, commercial ships and military exercises, we learn from the dolphins that in the deep ocean, it is by listening and hearing we can have the best vision. Marine mammals are the ocean canaries, warning us about the disastrous effects of pollution and habitat destruction, and they can be our guides to find answers, to questions we have not yet thought to ask about the ocean realm.

It is through the long- term studies like the one we have been carrying out in Palm Beach waters, that dolphins teach us about the ocean, the world and ourselves. We just have to keep going to school.

 

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We all depend on a healthy ocean; a healthy ocean depends on us. Let us be the change we would like to see in the world. Our new Ocean Sentinels Club is proof that conservation can be fun, rewarding and effective. The Club unites and empowers citizens to advocate for the conservation of dolphins and the marine environment across Palm Beach County, and beyond. Join us. The time is now. It begins with you.

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Quo Tendimus

The scope of the problems we are currently facing can be illustrated with catchwords such as global warming, sea level rise, soil degradation, potable water shortages, and the loss of species and biotope diversity. It is obvious that an ecologically focused structural change is needed. The adaptive capacity of the economic and social systems, and the confined possibilities of using the environment, must be considered.

Too many people still believe that the future will be much like the past, with the task of avoiding disaster falling to markets and technologies. But think about this: the earth is stable; it does not grow. The input of the sun likewise remains constant. Much of the wealth, derived from that input and stored over tens of millions of years in fossil fuels, has already been consumed in less than two centuries. No technology in the world can alter this equation.

Obviously, our activities, especially all-harvesting of natural resources, has tremendous impact on the ecosystem. But there is also a widespread consensus that non-sustainable harvesting, and causing the extinction of species, is ethically unacceptable and unjustifiable. And we all need nature; for food, health and scientific innovation, the prevention of floods, droughts and epidemics, and of course we need wild places, animals and plants for recreation, renewal, and inspiration.

Our steadily narrowing spectrum of consumed products from agriculture, forestry and fisheries, and the concentration on a few economically valuable species, has resulted in a specialization of land and marine food harvesting systems. Combined with the conversion of habitats, these are prime causes of species loss within any particular ecosystem. The greatest problem may be the illusion that subtle changes in course direction could guide us towards a good life that will include both a ‘conserved’ nature and cozy shopping malls.

It may be useful to realize that we are dealing with the conservation of Man in nature, which requires us take Man’s cultural identity into consideration as well. If people are denied their culture, nature and the environment will also suffer. Cultural diversity must be considered part of biodiversity, and like other aspects of biodiversity, cultural diversity helps people adapt to changing conditions.

I believe, given the complexity of the challenges, only a cross-disciplinary approach with a very close and intense collaboration between science, business and all other stakeholders promises to fulfill our hopes for a better, common future. Corporations, being the dominant institutions on the planet, must squarely address the social and environmental problems that affect mankind. Science must provide the information needed to make sensible choices and decisions. Together they must rewrite economics texts and fine-tune the notion of sustainability, as only then can they create an enduring society with a system of commerce and production where each and every act is inherently sustainable and restorative.  Where economics, biology, and human systems are integrated and profitable, and expandable companies created that do not destroy, directly or indirectly, the world around them.

A scientist is primarily concerned with understanding the world. That commitment must, in turn, lead to the scrutiny of some aspects of nature in great empirical detail. The reward comes at the split second of time when something new has been learned.  The results need then to be communicated in a timely and comprehensible fashion, so that knowledge is expanded, and trust and confidence prevail.

            A corporate leader is primarily concerned with quarterly earnings and shareholder equity, often forsaking the curiosity for new things and foresight of a long-term time line.  As Dow Chemical manager Fussler said in an interview many years ago, corporate leaders have to re-direct their thinking, away from short-term costs arguments, into new directions, including the invention of products that are completely different from what we know today. In fact, we need to re-discover a horizon, one that goes beyond a single generation, one that ensures that our actions are based on knowledge and not on public opinion, polls or junk science. And we need to subordinate the present-day advantage under the long-term necessity of the future.  In the words of Charles F. Kettering, ‘We should all be interested in the future because we will have to spend the rest of our lives there’.

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We all depend on a healthy ocean; a healthy ocean depends on us. Let us be the change we would like to see in the world.  Our new Ocean Sentinels Club is proof that conservation can be fun, rewarding and effective.  The Club unites and empowers citizens to advocate for the conservation of dolphins and the marine environment across Palm Beach County, and beyond. Join us. The time is now. It begins with you.

 

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The Objectives of Marine Mammal Research

The aim of marine mammal research is to develop progressive knowledge and understanding of their biology, adaptations, behavior and ecology, which will lead to better protection of species and their habitats, contributing to biodiversity in such a way that a sustainable use of the sea becomes possible.  Furthermore, such research strives to understand how we affect their lives and how we can gain from them, e.g. through tourism.

If you understand dolphin echolocation and how it works, then you have the tools to apply that knowledge.  If you are a conservationist and are concerned about dolphin entanglement in nets, the knowledge allows you to build better fishing nets that will not harm them.  The application of the knowledge depends on what you value: for an academic, to further knowledge and understanding; for an applied researcher, to be able to provide information to managers on the implications of a range of management options, for a conservation biologist: to find ways of ensuring the health of populations.

In the end, all this will contribute to a better understanding of the impact we have on our planet.  You can’t have seven billion people growing and running around on a planet without having some major impacts.  Right now we are making choices we don’t even understand; better to make an informed choice don’t you think?

There are various tools that can be used to achieve this goal, including expanding the knowledge base through biological inventories, research, monitoring, training of professionals, planning (environmental impact assessment), action plans and integrated area management, regulating threats to marine species and ecosystems, establishing protected areas, and ensuring active involvement of citizens in government decision making.  Public education is very important in all conservation efforts.

 

Most of science consists of answering very small questions.  Each one may not have much value in and of itself, but when the whole picture is to be seen, each of the many small pixels of knowledge will be required.  So in the long term, we can expect to truly understand some of the things that are affecting cetaceans and their behavior.  In the short term, however, one cannot expect too much.  Important results in this field are usually gained through long-term research, which will then constitute the wisdom and the power to make the best possible decisions about the future.  Research aimed only at solving a specific, well-understood short-term problem is not going to provide us with the answers we need ten or twenty years from now.  We need to commit some fraction of our resources, our dollars, to basic science, understanding that it is a risk-taking investment; not all science hunches pay off, but when they pay off, they pay off big.  And this investment of resources should not be done because it is `en vogue’ to be concerned about the animals, the oceans and the planet, but because it is intellectually and morally the correct thing to do.  By better understanding one group of marine creatures, with which we compete for resources – prey and habitat -, we may be able to better manage our affairs on this planet.

In sum, excellent research provides several results: Firstly, it leads to a deeper understanding of the world and its basic mechanisms of function, or in other words, an increased appreciation of the world in which we live.  Secondly, it provides a baseline of data against which we can measure changes and information that can be put to practical use, thus reducing our impact on these animals and their environment.  And third, the advancement of knowledge usually entrains an increase in public awareness and then support from the general public, which is a crucial determinant for maintaining biodiversity, the survival of the variety of species and their habitats and a wise resource use by man.

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We all depend on a healthy ocean; a healthy ocean depends on us. Let us be the change we would like to see in the world.  Our new Ocean Sentinels Club is proof that conservation can be fun, rewarding and effective.  The Club unites and empowers citizens to advocate for the conservation of dolphins and the marine environment across Palm Beach County, and beyond. Join us. The time is now. It begins with you.

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Why Oceans Are Important To Us

In his charming and insightful book called ‘The Immense Journey’, biologist-author Loren Eiseley said:

“We have many ways to quench our thirst, but no way to overcome our need for water…its substance reaches everywhere; it touches the past and prepares the future; it moves under the poles and wanders thinly in the heights of the air…If there is magic on the planet, it is contained in water.”

There are about 326 million cubic miles (=525 cubic kilometers) of water on this planet. The largest percentage, 97.4% is found in the oceans.  2.6% is on land and most of this is locked in the great polar ice caps. All the life-sustainable fresh water found in the worlds lakes, creeks, streams, and rivers and in the groundwater or aquifers, represents less than 0.01 percent of the total. Water is virtually and intrinsically important!

The world’s oceans cover 71% of the Earth’s surface. Life probably originated in the seas, and life still depends largely on their well-functioning. Most of the solar heat that hits this planet is stored there, most of the conversion of sunlight to food energy by plants takes place in water, most of the world’s fresh supplies of oxygen are produced by microscopic plant-like organisms floating near the surface of the oceans, the global climate is regulated, and a lot of our food protein comes from the sea. The Ocean is also one of the most important traffic routes and a sink for a large portion of our wastes. It provides natural resources and, to an increasing extent, raw materials for the pharmaceutical industry.

In addition to these primarily material aspects, the ocean has acquired significant value as a recreational area. More and more people seek recreation and relaxation in, or near the water. Marine tourism is one of the most rapidly growing branches of industry.  Proximity to the sea has great value, reflected in incredibly high real estate prices for seashore property. Roughly 70% of the world population lives within 200 km of the coast, and two third of all metropolises, having a population of more than 2.5 million, are situated on the coast. Between 100 and 200 million people live in coastal zones below storm tidal level.  Ignoring these fragile and vital eco-systems can only spell disaster.

From the earliest days of human settlements, up to the industrial revolution, waterways have been a major means of transport. Cities and industrial plants, even after the industrial revolution, have been located on these waterways, because many of them require water for manufacturing and/or shipping to coastal ports. With very few exceptions, all streams and rivers flow into other rivers or into lakes, which, in turn, have outlets to wetlands, bays, estuaries, seas and oceans.

The aggregation of wastes flowing into our streams and estuaries, and ultimately into the oceans, is a biochemical soup carrying thousands of different chemicals. Rainwater and snow melt, that run off from congested urban areas, collect street oil and chemicals as well as many metals. Runoff into streams and rivers adjacent to farmlands carry tons of suspended particles of soil. This is not only damaging to fish but can also choke-out submerged oxygen-giving grasses in coastal woodlands, bays or estuaries. Runoff from timber harvesting activities, especially clear cutting, deprives the exposed land of thousands of tons of soil and has caused the pollution of some of the most valuable spawning grounds for trout and salmon in the Pacific Northwest.

Runoff of the nitrogen and phosphorus components of fertilizers leads to an oxygen depletion in the water. This depletion has caused massive fish die-offs and can wipe out whole areas of marine habitat necessary to maintain the life cycles of myriads of species of aquatic life. Other chemicals, such as DDT can accumulate in the tissues of marine animals to toxic levels, even if they live their entire lives in remote parts of the globe (Antarctic penguins and seal species for example).

The incredibly rapid petrochemical revolution, which forms the basis for this modern age of plastic, has spawned a nearly exponential increase in major sources of pollution affecting our stratosphere, atmosphere, lands and waters. We build this material to last and now, after years of dumping it into the sea, it has come back to haunt us, killing and maiming marine life. Plastic is believed to be the most far-reaching man-made threat facing many marine species, annually killing or maiming tens of thousands of seabirds, seals, sea lions and sea otters, as well as hundreds of whales, dolphins, porpoises and turtles.

We know that the deadly flows we are adding to our oceans do not just disappear.  Many of them do not even decay. In all, this mixture can kill plant and marine life, contaminate food supplies and endanger people and entire coastal communities. With over 50% of the US population now living within 100 miles of our coastlines, it is no accident that the highest chemical contamination can be found in waters of the largest of the cities on these coasts – Boston, New York, New Orleans, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle.

What long-term effects and future afflictions are in store for our “water planet” is beyond our present knowledge, but there is doubt that global environmental changes will have serious effects on the oceans will pose great problems for many countries, and the very existence of some island states may even be threatened. Given the different functions oceans and coastal areas have for human society, conflicts between different interests, such as utilization and protection, will arise.

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We all depend on a healthy ocean; a healthy ocean depends on us. Let us be the change we would like to see in the world.  Our new Ocean Sentinels Club is proof that conservation can be fun, rewarding and effective.  The Club unites and empowers citizens to advocate for the conservation of dolphins and the marine environment across Palm Beach County, and beyond. Join us. The time is now. It begins with you.

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Sustainable Development and Biodiversity

Today, the internationally acknowledged basis for agreements on environmental protection, resource management, and conservation, consists of the principles of sustainable development and the maintenance of biodiversity. The concept of sustainable development is based on the realization that the conditions for economic activities will continue to deteriorate in the future, if the natural resources underlying these activities continue to be destroyed at the present rate.

By exploiting non-renewable raw materials, we consume resources as if making withdrawals from a limited saving account, without making deposits. At the same time, our species is using renewable resources above and beyond their regeneration capacity.  The earth’s limited absorption capacity is overtaxed by emissions and waste volumes, leading to consequential ecological costs, which can no longer be ignored. A discussion about the fundamental rules involved in our economies is tantamount to a renaissance of nature as a factor in the production-function concept.

The supplies of resources, and the absorption of residuals, both prerequisites for economic activities, are to be seen as irreplaceable functions of nature. The preservation of the capital stock (= natural resources) is a key element of sustainable development. Unlike current approaches, this capital stock should at least be kept at a constant level to prevent future generations from suffering from shortages of natural resources or a deterioration of environmental quality. First and foremost, sustainable development means preserving the vital functions of the environment, including the potential for change, evolution and self-regulation.

Biodiversity is meant to be all-inclusive; it is the genetic-based variation of living organisms at all levels. It includes the world’s millions of species and the ecological systems they live in, ranging from Polar Regions with relatively few species, to the tropics with their great abundance of different life forms. Conserving biodiversity provides us with at least three domains of benefit:

  1. Maintenance of our ecosystems in healthy condition
  2. Source of new pharmaceuticals, crops, fibers etc., all holding economic value
  3. ‘Biophilia’, which is a term used by E.O. Wilson to describe the natural affiliation humans have for the natural environment

In the words of paleontologist Niles Eldredge, it is our failure to recognize our connection with the global ecosystem that lies behind the biodiversity crisis facing our planet. We have to recognize that biological diversity is part of our heritage and is incomparably older and more complex than anything else.

Our own single species, out of the 5-30 million species that exist today, consumes nearly half of the total produce from land-based ecosystems, and 25% of all plant energy from the land and sea combined. Today there are less than 1 million elephants, but 100 million cattle on earth.  These numbers do not reflect intrinsic worthiness, but rather developed usefulness. And yet, we must confront the demographic realities honestly, if we hope to preserve biodiversity, achieve a sustainable development, and to prevent a massive Sixth Extinction.

Although it may be impossible to determine the exact rate of extinction, estimates are that about 27,000 species are lost each year, which means that three species are lost forever every hour. It is also commonly accepted that there is a relationship between habitat loss and species numbers. Reducing a habitat’s original size by 10% is expected to eventually lead to the numbers of species inhabiting that area dropping by half. Every species that disappears is a loss of evolutionary potential.  Human-caused extinction is up between a thousand and ten thousand times over what it was before humans came to Earth. This is far in excess of the rate at which new species are being created.  So again, we are quickly running out of the capital that took many millions of years to create.

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We all depend on a healthy ocean; a healthy ocean depends on us. Let us be the change we would like to see in the world.  Our new Ocean Sentinels Club is proof that conservation can be fun, rewarding and effective.  The Club unites and empowers citizens to advocate for the conservation of dolphins and the marine environment across Palm Beach County, and beyond. Join us. The time is now. It begins with you.

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Marine Litter

People create a lot of waste and even though it can be processed, recycled and properly disposed of a significant amount of it escapes into the environment. When we talk of marine debris, also known as marine litter, then we refer to human-created solid waste that deliberately or accidentally was released in a lake, river, waterway, sea or the ocean. By broad estimates, 10% of what will become marine litter is thrown away by people directly on the beach, but that 80% actually comes from inland sources, from it is transported by wind, rain and rivers into the oceans of the world.

Marine debris comes in all sizes: from wrecked vessels, large cargo containers and fishing nets, to plastic bags and soda bottles, cloth fibers and plastic beads. Similarly, the materials and substances vary across a broad spectrum: Glass, metal, cardboard, paper and textile make up about 25%, while 75% of all marine litter is composed of various forms of plastic polymers. The most common are plastic bags, beverage and food containers and the very tiny so-called mermaid spheres, which are very small plastic pellets that are used to manufacture all sorts of different plastics and shipped around the world in huge quantities. By all accounts, billions of them have found their way into the environment.

Most people are still wondering about why they should be concerned. After all, the ocean is vast, and it is hard to imagine any human activities could significantly disturb it. So let me point out some of the reasons why we should be concerned.

First, ocean litter negatively impact marine life and marine biodiversity and resilience. Litter moves with ocean currents, winds and tides. As a result what we find on our beaches constitutes only a tiny fraction while most of it stays at sea where in some areas we already find six times more micro plastics than plankton. Furthermore, the plastic accumulated through the food chain and poses significant health risk to many species who are unable to distinguish between plastic and their regular diet. As a consequence hundreds of thousands of marine animals, from sea birds, to sea turtles, dolphins and whales die every year, and when we study their stomach content, we find anything from tooth brushes and golf balls, to fishing nets. Some of these animals, such as fish, sea turtles and dolphins, get trapped by ghost nets, abandoned fishing gear that drift across the oceans. Other marine debris end of sinking to the sea floor where they can prevent the exchange between water and sediment, eventually suffocating the deep-sea environment and the life that depends on it. And if that was not bad enough, it turns out that marine litter is also a vector disease and invasive species. Algae or mollusks can attach themselves to floating pieces of plastic and then disrupt ecosystems in places far away from their geographical origin.

Secondly, marine litter impacts our economic activities, including fisheries, tourism, shipping and recreation. Data published by the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) suggests that the costs associated with marine litter (fisheries, aquaculture, marine tourism and cleanups) amount to about 8 billion dollars a year.

Thirdly, we ought to be concerned because the situation will likely get worse in the coming decades. The worldwide, annual plastic production in the 1950s was about 1.5 million tolls. That figure climbed to 300 million tons by 2014 and is expected to reach 33 billion tons by the year 2050. Unless we drastically reduce the mismanagement and losses, hundreds of millions of tons of waste can be expected to escape into the oceans.

Dealing effectively with the marine litter problem requires a multi-pronged approach. Raising awareness and education people is something we have been doing all along but there is not a lot of data that suggests that these efforts have been successful, i.e. produced tangible outcomes.

Beach Clean-ups, while commendable, are not helping much to resolve the problem. For once, only about 10% of all the ocean litter is found on our beaches, and then it clearly does not tackle the actual source of the problem: our constant overconsumption and generation of waste. The idea that recycling and re-use will solve the marine litter issues is nothing more than illusion. It may buy us some time, but what is really needed is a change to our consumption habits.

In order to have clean seas, we need to make a difference on land. All of us.

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We all depend on a healthy ocean; a healthy ocean depends on us. Let us be the change we would like to see in the world.  Our new Ocean Sentinels Club is proof that conservation can be fun, rewarding and effective.  The Club unites and empowers citizens to advocate for the conservation of dolphins and the marine environment across Palm Beach County, and beyond. Join us. The time is now. It begins with you.

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Spatial Dependency

One of the concepts that helps us better understand the relationship between natural and man-made systems is Spatial Dependency; the idea that ‘everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related than distant things’ (Waldo Tobler). For instance, if beach erosion is found in one area then it is very likely that places close to this spot are also subject to erosion. If a coastal dune is destroyed, the impact is not only limited to the built or natural environment no longer being protected from storm surges, erosion and sea level rise, but it also compromises the water balance (dunes store fresh water), habitat and resources for animals and plants, possibly nearby coastal mangroves and coral reefs, and the ability for people to enjoy the coastal jewels.

But spatial dependency is not just about natural resources. It can also be applied to understanding many other issues, including the intrinsic, or indispensable properties of a place, without which it loses its identity. These attributes may include natural resources, existing land uses, people and their communities, and cultural heritage such as architecture, cuisine, music and arts. Analyzing, understanding and then articulating the essence of a particular place is critical no matter what we wish to preserve, restore and develop a particular site or area.

It is paramount to apply scientific site analysis methods to address environmental and natural resources issues. And it is equally important to analyze social, cultural, political, and economic conditions, and take into account the needs, wants and dreams of people.

If the results of recent studies are any indication, people are becoming increasingly interested in protecting the environment and respecting local culture. They want local government and developers to care for the future of the planet, all living things, and its people. There is an awakening to the need for organizations that protect the environment and our social well-being. The risks associated with a failure to meet the expectations of an increasingly conscientious and demanding public cannot be underestimated. Hence, it is important to work towards a better understanding of how everything is related and interconnected and create strategies and mechanism that allow us formulate solutions that advance resilience, sustainability and the human condition.

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We all depend on a healthy ocean; a healthy ocean depends on us. Let us be the change we would like to see in the world.  Our new Ocean Sentinels Club is proof that conservation can be fun, rewarding and effective.  The Club unites and empowers citizens to advocate for the conservation of dolphins and the marine environment across Palm Beach County, and beyond. Join us. The time is now. It begins with you.

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Dolphins as Sentinels for Oceans and Human Health

Over the past 50 years, a great number of previously un-known human diseases emerged, while other well-known maladies, including cholera and tuberculosis, have seen a significant resurgence. Not surprisingly, dolphins and other marine mammals experience a similar trend, with various papillomaviruses, dolphin poxvirus, lobomycosis, various neoplastic diseases, and algal bloom bio-intoxication being among the better-understood disease agents or diseases. Our experience in human medicine should cause all of us to be concerned about the deterioration of aquatic eco-systems, coastal freshwater or marine, especially since they support more than half of the population in the U.S. alone.

Monitoring the overall health status of dolphins provides an excellent avenue to evaluate the wellbeing of entire aquatic systems, and identify possible environmental trends. Dolphins are the ocean canaries, warning us about existing and emerging threats not only to the aquatic eco-systems, but also to human health. But dolphins are also charismatic and instill the desire to be part of a solution in many people who otherwise may not care. No doubt, it is in our own best interest to closely observe any patterns that could affect us.

Let’s focus here on the most talked about water-related issue in the past two months in south Florida has been the catastrophic, harmful algae bloom that descended onto the Port St. Lucie River lagoon and associated waterways all the ay to the coastline. Algae blooms have become a regular occurrence in this area for years, but this year’s outbreak was larger by order of several magnitudes.

While some people may think that such algae blooms represent little, if any dangers, it is well established that such blooms produce neurotoxins that can kill dolphins and other marine life, as well as biotoxins that affect human health. Among those threats to our own wellbeing are brevetoxins and saxitoxins that cause poisoning, and okadaic acid, which causes diarrhea.

Some recent disease outbreaks (epizootics) among bottlenose dolphin populations in southeast Florida serve as prime examples of how studying dolphins can help us manage health risks. Several of these outbreaks were associated with brevetoxins, produced by a dinoflagellate called Karenia brevis. That is the same species causing the so-called red tides. Brevetoxins are known to kill and/or contaminate fish and shellfish. Once we consume those, or simply inhale toxic aerosols, we will fall ill. It is noteworthy to emphasize that the actual exposure may be delayed, meaning that the risk to human health continues long after, or far away, from the original dinoflagellate bloom.

In sum, any increase in toxins, whether due to natural or anthropogenic cause, in our coastal habitats must be of great concern to us. While we may not yet fully understand how these toxins are absorbed and travel through the entire food chain, there is no doubt that dolphins can serve as the sentinels for ocean and human health.

We all depend on a healthy ocean; a healthy ocean depends on us. Let us be the change we would like to see in the world.  Our new Ocean Sentinels Club is proof that conservation can be fun, rewarding and effective.  The Club unites and empowers citizens to advocate for the conservation of dolphins and the marine environment across Palm Beach County, and beyond. Join us. The time is now. It begins with you.

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Sustainable Coastal Development

Coastlines are where the sea meets land. While they always played an important role in human history, they have increasingly become one of the most desirable living places on the planet. People chose to live near the water for various reasons: a fairly moderate climate influenced by coastal winds, and year-round access to leisure, fishing, and ports for navigation and transportation of goods. For many, the deciding factor evolves around the lifestyle coastal environments provide. In recent decades, affluent urbanites and retirees have begun to move to small existing coastal towns or newly created communities in their search for beautiful, natural surroundings. Recent research, suggesting that people who live closer to the coast are in better health, has only strengthened its appeal.

Sustainability and resilience are becoming increasingly relevant in coastal development. While the concept of sustainability has been around since the 1990s, resilience is a relatively new concept: it represents a holistic, anticipatory and proactive approach that values adaptability to change.

Change is constant and inevitable, and we are witnessing the beginnings of some dramatic changes related to temperature and sea level rise. In fact, we can observe the effects already, including an increase in daily temperatures, change in rainfall patterns and extreme weather events, sea level rise, increase in sea surface temperature, changes in hydrology, and loss of biodiversity. The associated impacts will be felt sooner than originally anticipated and will affect the return on the investments made in the coming years. Sea-level rise threatens low-lying shores, especially those in storm paths, but even rugged coasts may experience significant changes in weather patterns. Resulting economic costs and damages to resorts, airports, local tourism, etc. in the Caribbean alone are estimated to exceed 20 billion dollars (US) per year. By contrast, proactive adaptation is far less expensive, with $1 in adaptation preventing $4 in economic losses.

Adaptation means to create coastal built environments that can withstand higher seas and stronger storm surges through sensible choices in terms of siting, setbacks and elevations. With regard to infrastructure such as energy, water, and wastewater treatment, it appears advantageous to employ more decentralized, smaller and flexible systems that can be repeatedly adapted over time to the changing physical conditions of coastal environments. Research and education are useful tools to develop adaption measures related to land use, changes in hydrology, exposure to tropical vector diseases, seal level rise, extreme weather events, biodiversity and ecosystems (just to name a few) that will result in sustainable and resilient costal developments.

The development of coastal areas will continue to be a desirable undertaking simply by virtue of location, but it is imperative for the future of the planet and our own sake as people to create coastal environments that are resilient, sustainable and economically viable.

And remember:

We all depend on a healthy ocean; a healthy ocean depends on us. Let us be the change we would like to see in the world.  Our new Ocean Sentinels Club is proof that conservation can be fun, rewarding and effective.  The Club unites and empowers citizens to advocate for the conservation of dolphins and the marine environment across Palm Beach County, and beyond. Join us. The time is now. It begins with you.

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Without Music, Life would be a Mistake

These words of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, uttered more than 100 years ago, expressed an intuitive understanding of the importance of music for the human existence. While many people may have had a general sense of this to be true, it has been only in recent years that researchers have been able to provide evidence as to the power and influence of music.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) revealed that music it is the only human activity that involves each and every region of our brains. Listening to music, in a nutshell, can make you smarter, but play an instrument and you are on your way to being remarkable. No doubt, music enriches people’s lives on the molecular, intellectual, and emotional levels.

Music training and learning an instrument can significantly improve our motor and reasoning skills. Music also helps us exercise. More than 90 years ago, American researcher Leonard Ayres found that cyclists pedaled faster when listening to music than without it. The reason being, music can override the signals of fatigue our body is sending to our brain and so instead of stopping exercising, we continue on. Not only can we push through the pain to exercise longer and harder when we listen to music, but it can actually help us to use our energy more efficiently. Some studies have shown that cyclists who listened to music required 7% less oxygen to do the same work as those who cycled in silence. It is interesting to note that this is mostly beneficial for low- and moderate-intensity exercise. The same is true for ambient noise, which at moderate levels, has shown to promote abstract processing, leading to higher creativity.

But maybe you just like to listen to music and give in to the emotions that come with it.  But be aware that the music we listen to influence how we perceive the world around us. For instance, the way we interpret a neutral expression as happy or sad, matches the tone of the music we just heard. And being able to distinguish between perceived emotions and felt emotions, i.e. allowing us to understand the emotions of a piece of music without actually feeling them, is the reason why we can enjoy listening to sad music, rather than feeling depressed.

No doubt music is not only enjoyable, it is also good for you. It is part of humanity and represents some of the greatest accomplishments of our species. Without it, life would indeed be a mistake.

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We all depend on a healthy ocean; a healthy ocean depends on us. Let us be the change we would like to see in the world.  Our new Ocean Sentinels Club is proof that conservation can be fun, rewarding and effective.  The Club unites and empowers citizens to advocate for the conservation of dolphins and the marine environment across Palm Beach County, and beyond. Join us. The time is now. It begins with you.

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The Waste Crisis

According to the EPA, Americans generated about 254 million tons of trash, of which 87 million tons, or about 34%, was recycled and composted. Waste generation has increased to about 4.4 pounds a day per person with 1.5 pounds being composted or recycled. Most of that waste ends up in a landfill, in essence a relatively inexpensive, earth moving operation. The downside of using landfills is that they remove valuable lands from other uses for generations to come, and because decomposition generates explosive methane gas, and waste settles over time, it is impossible to build any structure over landfills once they are closed. The situation is exacerbated since most landfills are located close to urban centers where development pressure is greatest.

But let’s have a look what happens inside a landfill. As it turns out, the waste is not as dormant as it may appear, but has a life of its own instead. Deep inside microbes are feeding on organic materials and produce chemical changes. Settlement takes place as the lower parts of the landfill are compressed by the weight above.

Infiltrating rainwater leaches heavy metals, PCBs, lead, solvents, dioxin, DDT, benzene, CFCs, furans from the myriad of products and substances dumped in the landfill, forming a contaminated liquid that sooner or later percolates downward and – unless we install some barriers – pollutes the underlying ground water. Today, around 45,000 different chemicals are produced and about 1,000 new ones are added each year.  Unfortunately, many of these substances are toxic and can damage parts of the complex and fragile environmental web. And equally disconcerting, many of chemicals find their way into our landfills. Even modern landfills with liners and leachate collection systems are a problem.  If they are not leaking now, they will probably start leaking within a few decades of their closure.  The use of modern technology simply postpones the inevitable.

In addition to the leachate, landfills also cause atmospheric pollution. The decomposition processes release gases such as methane, carbon, dioxide, vinyl chloride and hydrogen sulphide, which slowly seep into the air around the landfill. This impairs air quality in the immediate vicinity and, on a larger scale, contributes to greenhouse effect and global warming.

The production of consumer goods and their distribution to the customer make full use of the latest technological development, while the disposal of the remains is still carried out on stone-age-level. Landfills do not only represent an unproductive land use but also fail to meet the sustainability principle.

In the production and consumption of the myriad of products few seem to care what happens at the end of their utility range. Never before and by no previous society have comparable large amounts of products and such dangerous substances been converted in such a short time into waste. In order to avoid a total waste crisis, the engineering in production must be complemented by an efficient and non-polluting waste management, which aims to minimize waste at the source, in the production process, and transforms the inevitable remaining wastes into relatively harmless substances that can be safely absorbed in soil, water and air.

When considering the costs, decision makers more often than not, focus on the short-term cost of landfills when compared to incineration or waste-to-energy conversion plants. What is frequently omitted is the fact that landfills are effectively permanent facilities, which, unlike incineration or conversion plants, can not be easily after 30-50 years to make room for more advanced technologies or entirely different uses. In fact, while the land used for an incinerator/conversion plant could be sold and used for other purposes, landfills will need to be monitored and maintained for centuries after they close.

The most crucial factor is however, that the costs of damage to the environment, the value of Earth’s natural ecosystems and the services they provide are not fully captured in commercial markets in the way economic services and manufactured commodities are valued. To properly reflect the value of Earth’s ecosystems, additional cost factors should be included in the financial analysis of waste management facilities. For example, landfill costs should be increased to account for the permanent loss of land resources, the exposure of groundwater to leachate, and the atmospheric pollution caused by gas emissions.

Many of the processes and technologies needed to create a circular economy are available today or within reach. What’s lacking is our resolve and determination to change course.

 

We all depend on a healthy ocean; a healthy ocean depends on us. Let us be the change we would like to see in the world.  Our new Ocean Sentinels Club is proof that conservation can be fun, rewarding and effective.  The Club unites and empowers citizens to advocate for the conservation of dolphins and the marine environment across Palm Beach County, and beyond. Join us. The time is now. It begins with you.

Read more