Dilbit dangerous to young fish, laboratory study shows

Diluted bitumen, also known as dilbit, a mixture of oil sands bitumen and natural gas dilutants can seriously harm fish populations, according to research study at Queen’s University and the Royal Military College of Canada published this week.

At toxic concentrations, effects of dilbit on exposed fish included deformities and clear signs of genetic and physiological stress at hatch, plus abnormal or uninflated swim bladders, an internal gas-filled organ that allows fish to control their buoyancy. Exposure to dilbit reduces their rate of survival by impairing their ability to feed and to avoid predators.

Post-doctoral fellow Barry Madison works with the fish in Valerie Langlois' lab. (Queen's University)
Post-doctoral fellow Barry Madison works with the fish in Valerie Langlois’ lab. (Queen’s University)

Among the other findings from the study were

    • Embryo toxicity of dilbit was comparable to that of conventional oils.
    • Developmental malformations increased with increasing dilbit concentrations.
    • Chemical dispersion broadened the genotoxic effects of dilbit

“This new study provides a clearer perspective on the potential risks to Canada’s aquatic resources of dilbit spills, and a technical basis for decisions on dilbit transportation within Canada,” says Peter Hodson Environment Studies, Biology at Queens. “It reduces some of the uncertainty and unknowns about the hazards of dilbit.”

This study characterized the toxicity and physiological effects of unweathered diluted bitumen (Access Western Blend dilbit; AWB) to a fish used for laboratory studies. Embryos of Japanese medaka (Oryzias latipes) were exposed for 17 days to dilutions of dilbit physically-dispersed by water and chemically-dispersed by dispersants

AWB dilbit exposure was not lethal to medaka, but resulted in a high prevalence of blue sac disease (BSD), impaired development, and abnormal or un-inflated swim bladders. Blue sac is a disease of young trout and other salmonid species; usually caused by unsuitable hatchery water. It turns the yolk sac bluish and is thought to be caused by a lack of oxygen.

The research was funded by Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s National Contaminants Advisory Group and the next stage will determine whether fish species native to Canada will be affected by dilbit exposure. The work also includes the development of genetic markers of exposure to dilbit and toxicity that could be used to assess whether wild fish that survive a spill are still affected.

The research team includes Dr. Valérie Langlois (Environmental Studies, Royal Military College of Canada) and Dr. Barry Madison (Royal Military College of Canada).

Dr. Hodson is also a member of a Queen’s research team tasked to determine whether dilbit spilled into rivers would contaminate bed sediments, specifically areas where fish such as salmon, trout, chars, whitefish and graylings spawn, to the extent that the survival of their embryos would be affected.

The research was published in ScienceDirect and is one of the first studies of dilbit on young fish.

The finding could be significant because both the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline and the proposed Kinder Morgan expansion will cross areas near spawning streams.

Scientists identify “new” species of pine beetle devastating forests in Central America

An international team of scientists have identified a new species now called “the mesoamerican pine beetle” that is causing “catastrophic” damage to forests across Central America.

The new species, Dendroctonus mesoamericanus, works in concert with its cousin, the southern pine beetle,  Dendroctonus Frontalis. Both are responsible for damage to pines, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

The mesocamerican pine beetle. (USDA)
The mesocamerican pine beetle. (USDA)

Bark beetles of the genus Dendroctonus rank high among the most destructive conifer pests. The mountain pine beetle has destroyed forests across British Columbia and is now moving into Alberta.

The USDA says  attacks  “attributed to the southern pine beetle has led to declines in pine forests and multimillion dollar losses in timber, recreation, and other ecosystem services,” in Mexico, Belize and other countries in Central America.

As far back as 2002, scientists suspected, but could not confirm, that the problems in Central America were caused by two different pine beetles. From early 2000 to 2002, 25,000 hectares of mature pine stands in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve of Belize were devastated by an outbreak of what was initially identified as the southern pine beetle. At the time the scientists investigating the outbreak suspected the trees were also infested by a second insect that they then called the “caribbean pine beetle.” However, there was insufficient evidence at the time to warrant scientific publication.

Between 2006 and 2010, Brian Sullivan, an entomologist with the USDA, and his colleagues,  conducted studies on the pheromone and body wax chemistry of the beetle. Those studies provided clear biological evidence that it was a species new to science. Extension and forest health education programs in the Central American region have already begun to include information on the mesoamerican pine beetle.

“We found in research with our cooperators in Mexico and Norway that insects previously identified as southern pine beetles are actually two different species — southern pine beetle and the newly identified mesoamerican pine beetle,” said Sullivan. “The new species is nearly indistinguishable from the southern pine beetle. The two species appear to work in cooperation to kill trees, and outbreaks by both may be more persistent and destructive than those by southern pine beetle alone.”

Southern and mesoamerican pine beetles do differ in several respects. The mesoamerican adults tend to be somewhat larger than the southern pine beetle, and the holes where they enter the tree’s bark exude more resin, producing bigger “pitch tubes.”

Mesoamerican pine beetle
An adult mesoamerican pine beetle is shown removing resin and boring dust from the entrance of its gallery.
(Brian Sullivan/USDA)

Field observations suggest that the new species attacks trees shortly after southern pine beetle, colonizing the lower trunk and branches. The mesoamerican pine beetle also has a distinct pheromone chemistry and does not respond to traps baited with southern pine beetle lures.

Researchers have found mesoamerican pine beetles attacking eight species of native Central American pines and have collected the insect from Belize, southern Mexico, in Oaxaca, and Chiapas states, in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. In these countries, the species has been collected at elevations from 311 to 2600 metres.

“A thorough understanding of this species complex – the southern and mesoamerican pine beetle acting in concert — may prove critical for developing integrated pest management strategies for the Central American region,” said Sullivan. “This discovery also brings to light a potential exotic threat to the U.S. that was not previously known to exist.”

Initial observations may indicate that the mesoamerican pine beetle is not as aggressive as the southern pine beetle, but may take advantage of trees infested by the southern pine beetle, making things worse.

Map showing mesoamerican pine beetle
Map showing areas in Central American where the mesoamerican pine beetle was collected by scientists. (USDA)

Authors of the description paper in Annals of the Entomological Society of America include Dr. Brian Sullivan, research entomologist with the Forest Service Southern Research Station, Francisco Armendariz-Toledano, graduate student with the Instituto Politecnico Nacional (IPN) in Mexico City; Dr. Gerardo Zuniga of IPN, Dr. Lawrence Kirkendall of the University of Bergen, Norway, and Alicia Nino, graduate student at El Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR), Chiapas, Mexico.

Access the full text of the journal article: http://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/pubs/47987

The “wisdom of elders”: Post menopausal matriarchs lead Orca resident pods, study finds

Call it “the wisdom of elders.”

A new study concludes that British Columbia’s southern resident Orca pod is led by “post reproductively aged” females who help it survive during lean years.

According to the study, the older females serve as key leaders, directing younger members of the pod, and especially their own sons, to the best spots for landing tasty meals of salmon, helping their kin to survive. This leadership role takes on special significance in difficult years when salmon are harder to come by.

The researchers say the discovery offers the first evidence that a benefit of prolonged life after reproduction is that post-reproductive individuals act as repositories of ecological knowledge.

There are only three species on Earth where females go through menopause, human beings, killer whales and pilot whales.

Orca feeding chart
Older females lead Orca pods in hard times. (Current Biology)

“Menopause is one of nature’s great mysteries,” says Lauren Brent of the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom. “Our study is the first to demonstrate that the value gained from the wisdom of elders may be one reason female killer whales continue to live long after they have stopped reproducing.”

The scientists say in their paper this also provides insights into why human women continue to live long after they can no longer have children.

The study  is in Current Biology “Ecological Knowledge, Leadership, and the Evolution of Menopause in Killer Whales” by Lauren J.N. Brent, Daniel W. Franks, Emma A. Foster, Kenneth C. Balcomb, Michael A. Cant and Darren P. Croft, says:

Leadership by these females is especially prominent in difficult years when salmon abundance is low.

Female killer whales typically become mothers between the ages of 12 and 40, but they can live for more than 90 years. By comparison, male Orcas rarely make it past 50.

Resident pods feed mostly on Chinook salmon.  Chinook make up than 90 per cent of their diet during the summer.  The abundance of salmon fluctuates due to fishing by humans and weather changes such as El Nino and climate change. The study says that individual killer whales with information on where and when to find salmon provide other group members with considerable benefits.

To find out who were the leaders of the Southern Resident pod, the team analyzed 751 hours of video footage taken over 35 years of as many as 102 Southern resident killer whales in the coastal waters of British Columbia and Washington engaged in directional travel , collected during nine summer salmon migrations. The scientists also used multigenerational demographic records have been recorded for the Southern resident killer whales since 1976, allowing them to know the family relationships of the Orcas.

 

orcas
A killer whale pod swims in tight configuration.
(David Ellifrit, Center for Whale Research)

The study found that in any given year,  adult females were more likely to lead  the  pod’s group movement compared to adult males  They concluded that Orca matriarchs over the age of 35 years “the mean age at last reproduction for Southern resident females that lived past the age of peak adult female mortality” were more likely to lead the pod “compared to reproductively aged females.”

The scientists then compared fisheries data on Chinook salmon abundance to whale behavior. It showed that “post-reproductively aged females were more likely to lead group movement in years when salmon abundance was low.”

The scientists concluded that shows that prolonged life after the reproductive years allows the “individuals act as repositories of ecological knowledge.”

In the case of Orcas, the post menopausal matriarchs “lead group movement in and around salmon foraging grounds, and this is exaggerated when salmon are in low supply and the selective pressure to locate food is at its highest.”

The researchers also found that females are more likely to lead their sons compared to their daughters.

Daniel Franks of the University of York explained: “Killer whale mothers direct more help toward sons than daughters because sons offer greater potential benefits for her to pass on her genes. Sons have higher reproductive potential and they mate outside the group, thus their offspring are born into another group and do not compete for resources within the mother’s matriline. Consistent with this, we find that males follow their mothers more closely than daughters.”

So how does the study of Orca elders apply to human beings?

“In humans, it has been suggested that menopause is simply an artefact of modern medicine and improved living conditions,” said Darren Croft of the University of Exeter. “However, mounting evidence suggests that menopause in humans is adaptive. In hunter-gatherers, one way that menopausal women help their relatives, and thus increase the transmission of their own genes, is by sharing food. Menopausal women may have also shared another key commodity – information.”

Recent studies show that living beyond the age of 60 is much more comon in hunter-gatherer cultures than previsouly believed.

So the study concludes that in humans:

In hunter-gatherers, one way that menopausal women help their relatives, and thus improve their own inclusive fitness, is by sharing food.

Menopausal women may also share another key commodity—information. Humans were preliterate for almost the entirety of our evolutionary history and information was necessarily stored in individuals. The oldest and most experienced individuals were those most likely to know where and when to find food, particularly during dangerous and infrequent conditions such as drought.

As for Orcas:

Wild resident killer whales do not have the benefits of medical care, but, similar to humans, females can live for more than 40 years after they have ceased reproducing.  An individual resident killer whale’s ability to find salmon is crucial to their fitness; in years with low salmon abundance, resident killer whales are more likely to die and less likely to reproduce.

Our finding that postreproductively aged female killer whales are especially likely to lead group movement in years with low salmon abundance suggests that the ecological knowledge of elders helps explain why females of this species live long after they have stopped reproducing. Postreproductive female killer whales may provide other knowledge to their relatives. For example, postreproductive members of this socially complex species may have greater social knowledge that could help kin navigate social interactions.

In some other species, like African elephants, survival is enhanced in the presence of older female relatives, who are more capable of assessing social and predatory threats.

So the study asks “why is menopause restricted to some toothed whales and humans?”

The scientists believe that for evolution, menopause will only evolve when the benefits for the species outweigh the costs of terminating reproduction.

In humans, resident killer whales, and short-finned pilot whales,  when a female  usually stays in the immediate location of her family, that means that  the benefits she can gain through helping her relatives, increases with age.

Among Southern resident Orcas, neither sex leaves the family pod and “females are born into groups with their mothers and older siblings.”

As the female resident Orca ages, her older relatives who die are replaced by “her own nondispersing sons and daughters.” In ancestral humans, resident killer whales and short-finned pilot whales, the benefits of the elders helping therefore increase with age, which is thought to predispose these three species to menopause

The study notes that Orcas have a number of different “ecotypes” or cultures “which differ in their prey specialization, morphology, and behavior, and which in some cases represent genetically distinct populations.” That means “that not all ecotypes are characterized by the same social structure as resident killer whales” where females leave their birth pod. The say more study is needed to find out if menopause occurs in those Orca pods and what the role of older females is in those pods. The study also did not look at the northern residents who frequently visit Douglas Channel.

Intertidal zone–and crabs– at high risk from climate change, study says

Climate change, which will raise ocean temperatures and more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere which will increase the acidification of the oceans will have the greatest affect on the intertidal zones—and a key indicator species, crabs and similar creatures.

A study by San Fransisco State University published today in the Journal of Experimental Biology used the small (usually 15 millimetre) porcelain crab  to simulate the conditions that will come to the intertidal zone and affect other species including the larger dungeness crab. ( According to Wikipedia, porcelain crabs are an example of carcinisation, whereby a non-crab-like animal,in this case a relative of a squat lobster evolves into an animal that resembles a true crab.)

A porcelain crab (Nick Hobgood via Wikipedia)
A porcelain crab (Nick Hobgood via Wikipedia)

Studies have shown that as climate changes, coastal ecosystems will be see “have increased extremes of low tide-associated thermal stress and ocean acidification-associated low pH.”

The study by co-author Jonathan Stillman and his colleagues, is the first to explore intertidal zone organisms’ response to combined variation in temperature and pH, which is expected to intensify in the future due to climate change and ocean acidification.

The current and previous studies have shown that during low tide, air temperatures in the intertidal zone can fluctuate dramatically as much as 20 degrees celcius over short periods of time up to six hours. Temperatures can reach extremes when low tides coincide with hot days. Marine intertidal organisms tolerate these natural temperature fluctuations, yet it is known that they are limited in their scope to tolerate future warming.

In the simulation porcelain crabs  were placed in a specially built aquarium designed to simulate the natural environment, including tidal changes. At low tide, with the crabs exposed to the air, the researchers varied the temperature to mirror day-to-day changes the crabs currently experience — such as cooler air on a cloudy day and warmer air on a sunny day — as well as conditions expected in the future. At high tide, with the crabs submerged, they adjusted pH levels in the same fashion.

As the temperature rose and pH levels dropped — conditions expected in the future due to climate change — the crabs’ ability to withstand heat increased. But at the same time, researchers found, the crabs’ metabolism decreased. In addition, the combined effect of higher temperatures and lower pH levels was greater than the effect of either of those two factors alone.

“When you combine these things together, they slow down metabolism, which means crabs become sluggish and have less overall energy to do things like growth or reproduction,” Stillman said. “If their whole energy budget is a pie, then in the future the size of the pie is going to be smaller, and a larger percentage of it is going to be taken up by survival and maintenance.”

The study says that although porcelain crabs are not particularly important to humans — they are not fishery crabs such as Dungeness — they are an important food source for coastal fish, birds and other crabs.

The results suggest “there is a potential for adverse long-term ecological consequences for intertidal ectotherms”– that is creatures that depend on the external temperatures to regulate body heat– “exposed to increased extremes in pH and temperature due to reduced energy for behavior and reproduction.”

The porcelain crabs can also be seen as a model for scientists to understand the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification on crustaceans in general, Stillman said. Future studies will look at the impact of varying temperature and pH changes on different species of porcelain crabs, juvenile crabs and crab embryos.

Using more wood for construction can slash global reliance on fossil fuels, Yale study says

Using more wood for construction of both buildings and bridges thus reducing the amount of steel and concrete would substantially reduce global carbon dioxide emissions and fossil fuel consumption, according to a Yale University study.

The idea is that using wood would reduces the amount of energy required for steel and concrete and therefore greenhouse gases.

The study says that sustainable management of wood resources would both allow proper management of forsests while also reducing fossil fuel burning.

The results were published in the Journal of Sustainable Forestry.

Scientists from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES) and the University of Washington’s College of the Environment evaluated a range of scenarios, including leaving forests untouched, burning wood for energy, and using various solid wood products for construction.
The researchers calculated that the amount of wood harvested globally each year (3.4 billion cubic meters) is equivalent to only about 20 percent of annual wood growth (17 billion cubic meters), and much of that harvest is burned inefficiently for cooking.

They found that increasing the wood harvest to the equivalent of 34 percent or more of annual wood growth would have profound and positive effects:

Between 14 and 31 percent of global CO2 emissions could be avoided by preventing emissions related to steel and concrete; by storing CO2 in the cellulose and lignin of wood products; and other factors.

About 12 to 19 percent of annual global fossil fuel consumption would be saved including savings achieved because scrap wood and unsellable materials could be burned for energy, replacing fossil fuel consumption.

Wood-based construction consumes much less energy than concrete or steel construction. For example, manufacturing a wood floor beam requires 80 megajoules (mj) of energy per square meter of floor space and emits 4 kilograms (kg) of CO2. By comparison, for the same square meter, a steel beam requires 516 mj and emits 40 kg of CO2, and a concrete slab floor requires 290 mj and emits 27 kg of CO2. Through efficient harvesting and product use, more CO2 is saved through the avoided emissions, materials, and wood energy than is lost from the harvested forest.

“This study shows still another reason to appreciate forests — and another reason to not let them be permanently cleared for agriculture,” said Chadwick Oliver, Pinchot Professor of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Director of the Global Institute of Sustainable Forestry at F&ES and lead author of the new study. “Forest harvest creates a temporary opening that is needed by forest species such as butterflies and some birds and deer before it regrows to large trees. But conversion to agriculture is a permanent loss of all forest biodiversity.”

The manufacture of steel, concrete, and brick accounts for about 16 percent of global fossil fuel consumption. When the transport and assembly of steel, concrete, and brick products is considered, its share of fossil fuel burning is closer to 20 to 30 percent, Oliver said.
Reductions in fossil fuel consumption and carbon emissions from construction will become increasingly critical as demand for new buildings, bridges and other infrastructure is expected to surge worldwide in the coming decades with economic development in Asia, Africa, and South America, according to a previous F&ES study. And innovative construction techniques are now making wood even more effective in bridges and mid-rise apartment buildings.

According to Oliver, carefully managed harvesting also reduces the likelihood of catastrophic wildfires.

And maintaining a mix of forest habitats and densities in non-reserved forests — in addition to keeping some global forests in reserves — would help preserve biodiversity in ecosystems worldwide, Oliver said. About 12.5 percent of the world’s forests are currently located in reserves.

“Forests historically have had a diversity of habitats that different species need,” Oliver said. “This diversity can be maintained by harvesting some of the forest growth. And the harvested wood will save fossil fuel and CO2 and provide jobs — giving local people more reason to keep the forests.”

The article, “Carbon, Fossil Fuel, and Biodiversity Mitigation with Woods and Forests,” was co-authored by Nedal T. Nassar of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and Bruce R. Lippke and James B. McCarter of the University of Washington.

Orcas’ genetic diversity low after Ice Age population “severe reduction”, study finds

Orca
An Orca off Vancouver Island (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

The worldwide population of Orcas probably crashed during the last Ice Age, creating a “bottleneck” in the genetic diversity of the species around the world, a problem that could continue to affect killer whales today, according to a new genetic study published on February 4,2014.

Rus Hoelzel from the School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, at Durham University, in the UK and colleagues used DNA sequencing from archive material from earlier studies, or from museum specimens to track the evolution of the Orcas.

One group of Orcas that lives off South Africa are an exception, with greater genetic diversity than others, the new study has revealed.

“Killer whales have a broad world-wide distribution, rivaling that of humans. At the same time, they have very low levels of genetic diversity,” Hoelzel said.

“Our data suggest that a severe reduction in population size during the coldest period of the last ice age could help explain this low diversity, and that it could have been an event affecting populations around the world.

The Orca population along the Northwest Pacific Coast has the same low genetic diversity as in other areas, the study showed.

The killer whale is as a top predator, feeding on everything from seals to sharks. That means from the top of the food chain, the Orca also serves as a sentinel species for past and future ocean ecosystems and environmental change.

In the study published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, Hoelzel and his colleagues assembled 2.23 gigabytes of Northern Hemisphere killer whale genomic data and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from 616 samples worldwide.

The scientists concluded that killer whales were stable in population size during most of the Pleistocene (2.5 million – 11,000 years ago) followed by a rapid decline and bottleneck during the last great period of the Ice Age (110,000-12,000 years ago).

“Our data supports the idea of a population bottleneck affecting killer whales over a wide geographic range and leading to the loss of diversity,” Hoelzel said. “The South African population stands out as an exception, which may be due to local conditions that were productive and stable over the last million years or so.”

They are pointing to the “Benguela upwelling” ocean system which delivers nutrient rich cold water to the oceans off South Africa. The Benguela system remained stable despite the last glacial period and the nutrient rich water would have been able to sustain the supplies of fish and dolphins that killer whales in this part of the world feed on.

The scientists believe that other major upwelling systems around the world – the California current off North America; Humboldt off South America; and the Canary current off the coast of North Africa – were either disrupted or collapsed altogether during the last glacial or Pleistocene periods. This could potentially have reduced the food supply to killer whales in these areas, leading to the fall in their numbers.

While it was likely that other factors affecting killer whale populations were “overlapping and complex”, the scientists ruled out hunting as an effect on the bottleneck in populations. Hunting by early man could not have happened on a sufficient enough scale to promote the global decline in killer whale numbers.

In an e-mail to Northwest Coast Energy News, Hoelzel said that the team sequenced the DNA from a male killer whale from the Southeast Alaska resident community. “This genome revealed the same pattern of historical population dynamics as we found for a whale from the North Atlantic, suggesting shared history across a very broad geographic range, and a shared population bottleneck around the time of the last glacial maximum,” Hoelzel said.

The scientists say looking at the genetic diversity of the ocean’s other top predators, such as sharks, might potentially suggest a negative impact on their numbers too during the Ice Age.

Canadian scientists propose nine step program to save waterways and fish

 

John Richardson
Tomorrow’s clean water depends on nine guiding principles, says UBC Forestry Prof. John Richardson. (Martin Dee/UBC)

A group of biologists from across Canada have proposed a nine step program to sustain healthy waterways and fisheries not only in this country but around the world.

The key to clean waterways and sustainable fisheries is for the management plan to follow nine guiding principles of ecological water management, according to John Richardson, a professor in the Dept. of Forest and Conservation Sciences at the University of British Columbia, one of 15 freshwater biologists who created the framework to help protect fish and ecosystems into the future.

Fish habitats need waterways that are rich in food with places to hide from predators and lay eggs, according to the framework published on January 31 in the journal Environmental Reviews.
“Fish are strongly impacted when nutrients, sediments or pollutants are added to their habitat. We cannot protect fish without maintaining a healthy freshwater ecosystem,” Richardson,who led the policy section on protecting fish habitats, said in a UBC news release. Other policy sections addressed areas such as climate change and biodiversity.

Read the complete paper on the Environmental Reviews site.

Humans have put key waterways at risk because of land development and the loss of the vegetation along rivers and streams, Richardson said, adding connecting waterways are also critical for healthy ecosystems. “If fish can’t get to breeding or rearing areas because of dams, culverts, water intakes or other changes to their habitats, then the population will not survive,” he said.

With more pressure on Canada’s waterways, Richardson and his colleagues wanted to create a framework of evidence-based principles that managers, policy makers and others could easily use in their work. “It’s a made in Canada solution, but the principles could be applied anywhere in the world,” he said.

The paper says:

Freshwater ecosystems are among the most imperiled on Earth with extinction rates of freshwater fauna higher than for many other ecosystems and vastly exceeding historic background rates/ Freshwater is vital to humans, and clean water is rapidly becoming a limiting resource for many societies. The greatest threat to freshwater ecosystems is the loss or alteration of freshwater habitats through human development yet our societies and economy depend directly on the services provided by healthy freshwater ecosystems.

It also notes:

Most ecosystem services of fishes are supported by a diverse fauna, not by merely the few species directly favoured by humans. Humans live side-by-side with fishes and other aquatic organisms in watersheds, and we derive our quality of life from the health of these ecosystems.

The paper, which was supported in part by federal government financing, only touches on the controversy over the gutting of the environmental protection for Canadian waterways by the Harper government. It goes on to stay that the protests are not enough and more is needed:

Recent changes to Canadian fisheries policies have motivated responses by the public and the scientific community yet a broad contemporary scientific assessment of what is required to manage freshwater fisheries resources is lacking. A template of the core ecological concepts underlying sound fisheries policies, based on the best available science will support policy and management decisions and the design of monitoring programs to evaluate the success of these actions.

With more pressure on Canada’s freshwater ecosystems, Richardson and his colleagues wanted to create a framework of evidence-based principles that managers, policy makers and others could easily use in their work. “It’s a made in Canada solution, but the principles could be applied anywhere in the world,” he says.

Healthy freshwater ecosystems are shrinking and reports suggest that the animals that depend on them are becoming endangered or extinct at higher rates than marine or terrestrial species, says Richardson. Humans also depend on these ecosystems for basic resources like clean drinking water and food as well as economic activity from the natural resource sector, tourism and more.

The components of a successful management plan include:

  • Protect and restore habitats for fisheries
  • Protect biodiversity as it enhances resilience and productivity
  • Identify threats to ecosystem productivity
  • Identify all contributions made by aquatic ecosystems
  • Implement ecosystem based-management of natural resources while acknowledging the impact of humans
  • Adopt a precautionary approach to management as we face uncertainty
  • Embrace adaptive management – environments continue to change so research needs to be ongoing for scientific evidence-based decision making
  • Define metrics that will indicate whether management plans are successful or failing
  • Engage and consult with stakeholders
  • Ensure that decision-makers have the capacity, legislation and authority to implement policies and management plans.

These recommendations are based on nine principles of ecology:

  • Acknowledge the physical and chemical limits of an ecosystem
  • Population dynamics are at work and there needs to be a minimum number of fish for the population to survive
  • Habitat quantity and quality are needed for fish productivity
  • Connecting habitats is essential for movement of fish and their resources
  • The success of freshwater species is influenced by the watershed
  • Biodiversity enhances ecosystem resilience and productivity
  • Global climate change affects local populations of fish
  • Human impacts to the habitat affect future generations of fish
  • Evolution is important to species survival

Canadian Standards Association quietly announces review of pipeline and LNG standards

CSA LogoWith little fanfare, the Canadian Standards Association has announced on its website that it is conducting a review of the standards for pipelines and LNG facilities in this country, including marine terminals.

The CSA is asking for input in updating the standards, with the deadline for Liquefied natural gas (LNG) — Production, storage, and handling (New Edition) starting on January 20 and ending on March 21, 2014. The review of Oil and gas pipeline systems (New Edition) began on Dec.23,2013 with a deadline of Feb. 23, 2014.

There are more details and information on how to contact the CSA on the web pages.

LNG Standards
Draft Scope/Description:
1 Scope
1.1
This Standard applies to the
(a) design;
(b) location;
(c) construction;
(d) operation; and
(e) maintenance
of facilities for the liquefaction of natural gas and facilities for the storage, vaporization, transfer, handling, and truck transport of LNG. It also contains requirements for the training of personnel.

1.2 1
For facilities that load or unload LNG from a marine vessel, this Standard contains requirements for the interconnecting piping between the loading/unloading arm flange and the storage tank(s), and other piping and appurtenances on the pier or jetty itself.
1.3
This Standard applies to all containers for the storage of LNG, including those with insulation systems applying a vacuum.
1.4
This Standard does not apply to frozen ground containers.
1.5
This Standard includes non-mandatory guidelines for
(a) small LNG facilities (see the definition of “small facility” in Clause 3 and see Annex B); and
(b) LNG vehicle fuelling stations employed for fleet and public LNG vehicle fuel dispensing operations (see the definition of “fuelling station” in Clause D.2 and see Annex D).
1.6
This Standard does not apply to the following:
(a) the transportation of refrigerants by any means;
(b) the transportation of LNG by railcar or marine vessel;
(c) the transportation of LNG or regasified LNG by pipeline beyond the facility boundary, except as specified in Clause 1.2; and
(d) facilities designed to allow the use of LNG as a fuel for railroad locomotives, or marine vessels.
1.7
All references to pressure throughout this Standard refer to gauge pressures unless otherwise specified.
1.8
All pipe sizes refer to nominal pipe sizes (NPS).
1.9
The values given in SI units are the units of record for the purposes of this Standard. The values given in parentheses are for information and comparison only.
1.10
In CSA standards, “shall” is used to express a requirement, i.e., a provision that the user is obliged to satisfy in order to comply with the standard; “should” is used to express a recommendation or that which is advised but not required; and “may” is used to express an option or that which is permissible within the limits of the standard.

Notes accompanying clauses do not include requirements or alternative requirements; the purpose of a note accompanying a clause is to separate from the text explanatory or informative material.
Notes to tables and figures are considered part of the table or figure and may be written as requirements.
Annexes are designated normative (mandatory) or informative (nonmandatory) to define their application.

Oil and gas pipeline systems

Draft Scope/Description:
1.1
This Standard covers the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of oil and gas industry pipeline systems that convey
(a) liquid hydrocarbons, including crude oil, multiphase fluids, condensate, liquid petroleum products, natural gas liquids, and liquefied petroleum gas;
(b) oilfield water;
(c) oilfield steam;
(d) liquid or dense phase carbon dioxide; or
(e) gas.

Notes:
(1) Vapour phase carbon dioxide pipeline systems fall under item (e).
(2) Designers are cautioned that the requirements in this Standard might not be appropriate for gases other than natural gas, manufactured gas, or synthetic natural gas.
1.2
The scope of this Standard, as shown in Figures 1.1 and 1.2, includes
(a) for oil industry fluids, piping and equipment in offshore pipelines, onshore pipelines, tank farms, pump stations, pressure-regulating stations, and measuring stations;
(b) oil pump stations, pipeline tank farms, and pipeline terminals;
(c) pipe-type storage vessels;
(d) carbon dioxide pipeline systems;
(e) for gas industry fluids, piping and equipment in offshore pipelines, onshore pipelines, compressor stations, measuring stations, and pressure-regulating stations;
(f) gas compressor stations; and
(g) gas storage lines and pipe-type and bottle-type gas storage vessels.

1.3
This Standard does not apply to
(a) piping with metal temperatures below –70 °C;
(b) piping (except oilfield steam distribution piping) with metal temperatures above 230 °C;
(c) gas piping beyond the operating company’s gas distribution system (covered by CAN/CSA-B149.1);
(d) piping in natural gas liquids extraction plants, gas processing plants (except main gas stream piping in dehydration and all other processing plants installed as part of gas pipeline systems), gas manufacturing plants, industrial plants, and mines;
(e) oil refineries, terminals other than pipeline terminals, and marketing bulk plants;
(f) abandoned piping;
(g) in-plant piping for drinking, make-up, or boiler feed water;
(h) casing, tubing, or pipe in oil or gas wells, wellheads, separators, production tanks, and other production facilities;
(i) vent piping for waste gases of any kind operating at or near atmospheric pressure;
(j) heat exchangers;
(k) liquefied natural gas systems (covered by CSA Z276);
(l) liquid fuel distribution systems;
(m) loading/unloading facilities for tankers or barges;
(n) refuelling facilities; and
(o) hydrocarbon storage in underground formations and associated equipment (covered by CSA Z341 Series).

1.4
This Standard is intended to establish essential requirements and minimum standards for the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of oil and gas industry pipeline systems. This Standard is not a design handbook, and competent engineering judgment should be employed with its use.
Note: For steel pipe of grade higher than Grade 555, requirements in addition to those specified in this Standard might be needed. Matters that should be considered include joining, thermal aging effects during coating application, strain capacity (including cold bending), pressure testing, assessment of imperfections, and repair.
1.5
1.5.1
The requirements of this Standard are applicable to the operation, maintenance, and upgrading of existing installations; however, it is not intended that such requirements be applied retroactively to existing installations insofar as design, materials, construction, and established operating pressures are concerned.
1.5.2
Where class locations change pipelines in such locations shall be subject to the requirements for design factor, location factor, valve spacing, depth of cover and clearance, materials, pressure testing, historical repair methods and repair criteria for the higher class location, or shall be subjected to an engineering assessment to determine the suitability of the pipeline for service in the changed class location (see Clause 10.7.1).
1.6
Unless otherwise stated, to determine conformance with the specified requirements, it is intended that observed or calculated values be rounded to the nearest unit in the last right-hand place of figures used in expressing the limiting value, in accordance with the rounding method of ASTM E29.
1.7
Where any requirements of this Standard are at variance with the requirements of other publications referenced in this Standard, it is intended that the requirements of this Standard govern.
1.8
It is not the intent of this Standard to prevent the development of new equipment or practices, or to prescribe how such innovations are to be handled.
1.9
In CSA standards, “shall” is used to express a requirement, i.e., a provision that the user is obliged to satisfy in order to comply with the standard; “should” is used to express a recommendation or that which is advised but not required; and “may” is used to express an option or that which is permissible within the limits of the standard. Notes accompanying clauses do not include requirements or alternative requirements; the purpose of a note accompanying a clause is to separate from the text explanatory or informative material. Notes to tables and figures are considered part of the table or figure and may be written as requirements. Annexes are designated normative (mandatory) or informative (nonmandatory) to define their application

Gil Island “critical habitat” as humpbacks double at the mouth of Douglas Channel. New study says tanker traffic could threaten key spots

Humpback whale at Bish Cove
A humpback whale, seen here by its small dorsal fin, swims past the Chevron Apache KM LNG site at Bish Cove on Douglas Channel, August 21, 2013. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

 

Updated with comments from Gitga’at First Nation, Nathan Cullen and Shell Canada.

Gil Island is a “critical habitat” for the world’s humpback whales, whose numbers are increasing in Douglas Channel, Wright Sound, Estevan Sound and Camano Sound and nearby waters, according to a study released Wednesday, September 11, 2013. The study also goes on to warn that potential tanker traffic through the “geographic bottleneck” on Douglas Channel to and from Kitimat could threaten that crucial “pit stop” for the humpback whales.

The study, “Abundance and Survival of Pacific Humpback Whales in a Proposed Critical Habitat Area,” by Erin Ashe, of the University of St. Andrews, in Scotland, Janie Wray of Oceans Initiative on Pearse Island, Christopher Picard of the North Coast Caetacian Society in Hartley Bay and Rob Williams of the Gitga’at Nation Lands and Marine Resources Deptartment, is published in the jourrnal PLOS One.

The research team estimated the abundance of Pacific humpback whales by using photo-identification surveillance of adult humpbacks. They found that the number of humpback whales in this region increased each year, and doubled from 2004 to 2011, resulting in a total of 137 identifiable whales in 2011. The survey was conducted year-round. Abundance was estimated only during the summer months of July to September, when the migrating whale population is largest.

The survey focused on summer feeding regions in the northwestern BC coastal fjords that serve as a “pit stop” for whales between migrations. Migrating whales travel to the BC coast from calving grounds as far away as Mexico, Hawaii or Japan. After several months without feeding, the humpbacks arrive in BC, and, the study says, show “strong site fidelity to local feeding grounds” around the entrance to Douglas Channel.

The authors estimated that “survivorship,” the average probability of an adult whale surviving from one year to the next on the northwest coast of British Columbia is among the highest reported anywhere for the species. During “this critical refueling stage in these waters, the whales are more vulnerable to environmental stressors, such as those potentially created by increasing tourism and industrial development in the region.”

The study also says that study area has also been identified as candidate critical habitat for northern resident killer whales and notes the region “has been recolonized by fin whales in recent years.” (With details on the fin whales to come in future studies)

The study estimates there were once about 15,000 humpback whales in the North Pacific when whalers began hunting the animals. That number was down to 1,400 when whale hunting was stopped in Canada in 1966. “It is therefore good news that the segment of the population using our study area is growing and adult survival is near the limit that one would expect for this species. That said, although the population is recovering, there is no evidence that it has yet fully recovered to pre-exploitation levels in BC and we do not wish to become complacent.” the study says.

It goes on to say:

Humpback whales may be facing increasing threats in at least one of their proposed critical habitats in BC. Numerous port facility expansions and new terminal proposals, including numerous crude oil and liquefied natural gas (LNG) export proposals, could substantially increase deep-sea shipping traffic through BC’s north and central coast waters. Such developments could exacerbate oil spill, acoustic disturbance, and ship strike risks to humpbacks. In particular, the Gil Island proposed critical habitat area where our work was conducted, spatially corresponds with all shipping routes leading to Kitimat, BC port facilities that are currently being considered by regulatory agencies for high-volume crude oil and LNG tanker traffic and other increased shipping activities.

The monitoring program showed that “a relatively large fraction of BC’s humpback whales rely on the waters around Gil Island, given the small size of the study area.”

 

Humpback whale in Douglas Channel
The tail fins of a humpback whale are seen in Douglas Channel near Bish Cove, as a fishing boat speeds toward Kitimat harbour in a rain storm on Aug. 21, 2013. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

The study warns:

This high reliance on relatively small fractions of available habitat has important implications for conservation and management. It lends support to the proposal to designate the current study area as part of the population’s critical habitat…

This also suggests that area-based management for cetaceans can effectively target small areas if these areas are chosen carefully. The corollary to this, though, is that a tendency for animals to be concentrated or aggregated in small areas lends them vulnerable to catastrophic events like oil spills and ship strikes. Critical habitats like the Gil Island waters are therefore a mixed blessing when high densities of whales are found in geographic bottlenecks that also funnel and concentrate shipping traffic. Anthropogenic threats to this must be evaluated not only in terms of the proportion of available habitat that this area represents, but also in terms of its critical importance to large numbers of whales for critical life-history processes. The risk and ecological consequences of an oil spill in this region would increase substantially if proposals were approved to ship large volumes of oil and LNG traffic through the Gil Island waters. Studies in Pacific waters similar to our study area suggest that oil spills can have severe and chronic impacts to cetacean populations and it is uncertain whether affected populations can recover from such perturbations.

One reason for the study is that while the humpback is considered an endangered species in the United States, in Canada it is listed as “threatened” under Canada’s Species at Risk Act and the increasing numbers could mean that the humpback is downgraded to “special concern.”

The study was based on what is called “community based science,” a cost-effective partnership between scientists, the Gitga’at Nation and other First Nations, NGOs and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

As part of its Pacific humpback whale recovery strategy, DFO has proposed four areas as candidate critical habitat. One criterion for designating critical habitats within northern BC coast feeding grounds is that inlets are used for specialized ‘‘bubble-net’’ feeding behaviour (where the humpbacks create a fishing net of bubbles to catch their prey).

Map of study areaAt the start of the study, the team had noted that “mainland inlets have been somewhat under-represented in habitat studies” and so they began working on the photo-identification of the humpbacks, using two research groups, the North Coast Cetacean Society and the Gitga’at Lands and Marine Resources Department. Surveys were conducted as weather permitted throughout the year from April to November (with occasional trips in February, March and December), from 2004 to 2011.

The aim of the study was to “collect as many high-quality photographs of individually recognizable humpback whales as possible within the study area [referred to in the study  as ‘Gil Island waters’’] from Estevan Sound in the west to Ursula Channel in the east. One 27 foot and one 18 foot boat were used to conduct the surveys. A total of 374 photo- identification surveys conducted over 47 months resulted in a catalogue of 177 high-quality, unique identifications of individual humpback whales.

Information also came from “an informal sightings network including local fishermen and tourism operators who reported humpback and killer whale sightings over VHF radio;” hydrophones monitored for vocalizing humpback whales; and visual monitoring from the land-based Cetacealab facility on the south end of Gil Island.

When a humpback was sighted, they were identified by the fingerprint like tail flukes and the numbers cataloged.

The study was funded by grants to Cetacealab and Gitga’at First Nation from Julie Walters and Sam Rose, and from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (Cetacean Research Program, Species at Risk Program). There was also support from King Pacific Lodge.

Updates

 

In a news release, the Gitga’at First Nation said:

“The importance of our territorial waters for humpback and other species of whales, should give pause to those who would propose tanker routes through the Douglas Channel,” said Arnold Clifton, Chief Councillor of the Gitga’at First Nation. “The increase in whales in our territory coincides with low shipping traffic, however current proposals would increase shipping traffic to unprecedented levels. We remain resolute in our determination to protect whales and the natural heritage of our territory from tankers and other developments that would put them at risk.”
“Our study shows that while still vulnerable, humpback whales are recovering, and this area plays an important role in supporting their numbers,” said lead author, Erin Ashe, a PhD candidate at the University of St. Andrews and a co-founder of Oceans Initiative. “Identifying and protecting critical habitat is one of the most effective ways to support endangered species recovery.”
The waters around Gil Island are especially rich habitat for humpback whales, due to high abundance of their preferred foods, such as krill and herring and due to the remote nature of the coastal fjords. Humpbacks, which rely on acoustic communication, are sensitive to noise pollution from ship traffic.
“It is Cetacea Lab’s contention that all levels of government must collaborate with the Gitga’at First Nation and others in protecting humpback whales from the risk of increased tanker traffic,” said Janie Wray, whale researcher with Cetacea Lab. “This study represents the best available scientific information about the importance of this area to humpback whales. Over the course of our study, we have observed the population more than double, with mothers returning year after year with their calves, introducing the next generation of juvenile whales to the nutrient-rich feeding grounds of Douglas Channel to Caamano Sound.”

 

In his biweekly conference call with Northwest BC reporters, Skeena Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen said: “I don’t get a sense from the way that the federal government has designed this [referring to Enbridge Northern Gateway] project, that on the marine side, any of these things are important to Mr. Harper. When you start to place down the most important values and certainly for British Columbians and Canadians, protecting a humpback feeding ground would seem like an important value in the Great Bear Rainforest, you start to see where the limits and the restrictions are on any idea of moving oil super tankers through such a narrow place. It’s just another bit of evidence, a bit of science that says this is difficult, if not impossible, and Enbridge’s project has made so many of those arguments more and more clear as we start to bring science to the table.

“It’s so frustrating for people that evidence, our opinions and our values just don’t seem to matter to the federal government. They already said yes to this thing years ago and damn the science, damn anything that comes their way. That’s not going to work, not going to work for us and not going to work for the humpback whales.”

A spokesperson for Shell’s LNG Canada project, noting that the company officials had not yet read the study, said, “It’s early days for the proposed project and the start of a thorough regulatory process. We welcome contributions and thoughts on important matters. We will look at this study. As with any project in Canada we work with local First Nations and local communities to minimize the impact of our activities.”

Neither Enbridge Northern Gateway nor Apache, a partner in the KM LNG project, responded to a request for comment.

Archaeopteryx, original dino-bird, was raven black, scientists discover

The first fossil of a bird, or a bird-dinosaur relative, the archaeopteryx, has fascinated scientists for 150 years since it was first discovered in a quarry in Germany. For all that time there has been a debate, was archaeopteryx, a bird or a dinosaur? Could it fly or were the wings, tipped with claws, helping it climb and glide?

Now scientists at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, have analyzed a single fossil feather from an archaeopteryx, and come to the conclusion that not only is it highly likely that it could fly, but the archaeopteryx, which was the size of a modern raven, was also as black as its distant descendent, the raven at home here in the northwest, sacred to the First Nations of British Columbia and  sacred or honoured in other cultures around the world.

The archaeopteryx feather used in the study was discovered in a limestone deposit in Germany in 1861, a few years after the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.

archaeopetrex fossil
An archaeopteryx fossil, like this one discovered in Germany, placed the dinosaur at the base of the bird evolutionary tree. (Humboldt Museum für Naturkunde Berlin)

For most of that time, as paleontologists studied that feather fossil and other fossil specimens, popular science portrayed the archaeopteryx as the dinosaur at the base of the bird evolutionary tree. The traits that make archaeopteryx an evolutionary intermediate between dinosaurs and birds, scientists say, are the combination of reptilian features (teeth, clawed fingers, and a bony tail) and avian features (feathered wings and a wishbone).

The team examining the fossil feather not only determined that it was raven black but that the wing feathers were rigid and durable, traits that would have helped archaeopteryx fly.

Fit for flight from Brown University on Vimeo.

The fact that archaeopteryx’s feather structure is identical to that of living birds, shows that modern wing feathers had evolved as early as 150 million years ago in the Jurassic period.

“If archaeopteryx was flapping or gliding, the presence of melanosomes [pigment-producing parts of a cell] would have given the feathers additional structural support,” said Ryan Carney, an evolutionary biologist at Brown and the paper’s lead author. “This would have been advantageous during this early evolutionary stage of dinosaur flight.”

Carney, with researchers from Yale University, the University of Akron, used a powerful scanning electron microscope at the Carl Zeiss laboratory in Germany to analyze the feather. They discovered that it is a “covert,” so named because these feathers cover the primary and secondary wing feathers birds use in flight.

They were were looking for melanosomes, the organelle in living organisms that contain melanin, which help determine colour.

Using the high powered electron microscope, the team located patches of hundreds of the structures still encased in the fossilized feather.

“We finally found the keys to unlocking the feather’s original colour, hidden in the rock for the past 150 million years,” said Carney, a graduate student in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, studying with Stephen Gatesy.

Many artists’ conceptions over the years have shown archaeopteryx brightly coloured, often with brilliant blues like a tropical jungle bird today. Others show it with brownish camouflage like plumage.

The team measured the length and width of the sausage-shaped melanosomes, roughly 1 micron long and 250 nanometres wide. To determine the melanosome’s colour, Akron researchers Matthew Shawkey and Liliana D’Alba statistically compared Archaeopteryx’s melanosomes with those found in 87 species of living birds, representing four feather classes: black, gray, brown, and a type found in penguins. “What we found was that the feather was predicted to be black with 95 percent certainty,” Carney said.

archeopterx
Time to change the colour. An image of a blue archaeopteryx, as imagined by the Chicago Academy of Sciences as it appears on the Animal Planet website.

Next, the team sought to better define the melanosomes’ structure. For that, they examined the fossilized barbules — tiny, rib-like appendages that overlap and interlock like zippers to give a feather rigidity and strength. The barbules and the alignment of melanosomes within them, Carney said, are identical to those found in modern birds.

What the pigment was used for is less clear. The black colour of the Archaeopteryx wing feather may have served to regulate body temperature, act as camouflage or be employed for display. But it could have been for flight, too.

“We can’t say it’s proof that Archaeopteryx was a flier. But what we can say is that in modern bird feathers, these melanosomes provide additional strength and resistance to abrasion from flight, which is why wing feathers and their tips are the most likely areas to be pigmented,” Carney said. “With Archaeopteryx, as with birds today, the melanosomes we found would have provided similar structural advantages, regardless of whether the pigmentation initially evolved for another purpose.”

The study, which appears in Nature Communications, was funded by the National Geographic Society and the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research.