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Do Migratory Birds Connect our World: Analyzing from the Perspective of Collective Legal Response

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Authors: Prakash Sharma and Partha Pratim Mitra

On May 09, the world celebrated the World Migratory Bird Day in order to raise awareness of migratory birds and the importance of international cooperation to conserve them. For the year 2020 the theme is “Birds Connect our World”. It is organized by a collaborative partnership among two United Nations treaties i.e. the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA), and the Colorado based non-profit organization, Environment for the Americas (EFTA).

Importance

Migratory Birds play an important role by conserving and restoring the ecological connectivity and integrity of ecosystems that support the natural cycles that are essential for the survival and well-being of migratory birds. Over the years, migratory birds are facing severe existential threat. Factors like loss of habitat, climate change, poisoning, power lines, and illegal killing have contributed immensely to the threat. It is realized that individual State effort wouldn’t bring desired results, however, sincere collective actions from all nation-states, across the world, has the potential to better protect migratory birds and the habitats they need to survive and thrive.

In this regard, CMS brings together the nation-states through which migratory animals pass, the Range States, and lays the legal foundation for internationally coordinated conservation measures throughout a migratory range. Migratory species threatened with extinction are listed on Appendix-Iand those migratory species that need or would significantly benefit from international co-operation are listed in Appendix-II of the Convention. Listing generally leads to concerted actions in different national jurisdictions in which a species range. Actions may include cooperation among range countries, harmonization in policies etc. through regional agreements. CMS has working groups specializing in various fauna families, and a scientific council that advises research-based solutions for conservation.

Endangered and Threatened Bird Species

At least 1,317 bird species have been recorded in India against around 10,000 species found worldwide. Of the 1,317 species recorded in India, 72 are endemic to the country. According to an assessment of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) 2018, a total of 100 species of Indian birds are classified as ‘threatened’. Of these, 17 are categorized as ‘critically endangered’, 20 as ‘endangered’, and 63 as ‘vulnerable’.Besides these threatened species, there are several other species that are marked by sparse population size and restricted range and are generally considered rare by conservationists.

COP-13, India: Relevance

The conservation of wildlife and habitats has long been part of the cultural ethos of India.In February 2020the 13thsession of the Conference of the Partiesto the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals(COP-13) was held in Gandhinagar, India. The COP-13 had the theme titled “Migratory species connect the planet and together we welcome them home”. The COP-13resulted in the adoption of seven new species including migratory birds like Great Indian Bustard, Bengal Florican, Little Bustard, Antipodean Albatross to Appendix-I of the CMS. In this regard, the Government of India also issued a special stamp edition featuring the Great Indian Bustard as the mascot of COP-13.

COP-13 was the largest ever in the history of the Convention, with 2,550 people attending including 263 delegates representing 82 Parties, 11 delegates from 5 non-Party countries, 50 representatives from United Nations agencies, 70 representatives of international NGOs, 127 representatives of national NGOs and over 100 members of both national and international media.COP13 adopted the Gandhinagar Declaration, which calls for integration of migratory species and the concept of ‘ecological connectivity’ in the new framework (to be adopted at the United Nations Biodiversity Conference in October).Interestingly, COP-13 is perhaps the first COP ever inaugurated by the Head of Government of the host-country.

Convention on Migratory Species and its Agreements and MoUs

The CMS was initially signed by 21 nation-states in Bonn, Germany on 1979 and came into force in November, 1983. Presently, CMS has 130 nation-states as its Party while several other nation-states, although not Party to the CMS are Party to one or more of the agreements and/or have signed one or more of the Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs). The CMS was mainly drafted by Francoise Burhenne-Guilmin who later became head of IUCN’s Environmental Law Commission. CMS is species specific and covers terrestrial, marine and avian migratory species. According to Philippe Sands and Jacqueline Peel migratory species can be classified into four general categories; (1) Marine species which breed on the shores of coastal states but migrate to sea during adult life, e.g. seals, sea turtles, anadromous fish; (2) Highly migratory marine species which travel between exclusive economic zones and high seas e.g. tuna or whales; (3) Territorial species with a well-established migration pattern e.g. birds; and (4) Territorial or marine species which live in border areas and regularly cross jurisdiction boundaries e.g. gorillas or elephants.

Interestingly, however, the CMS itself does not apply any direct measures, but directs the “range states” to make ancillary agreements. So far six regional agreements and seven non-binding MoUs have been convened on various migratory species, like AEWA, 1995whichis an intergovernmental treaty dedicated to the conservation of migratory water birds including 255 species of birds ecologically dependent on wetlands for at least part of their annual cycle and their habitats across Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, Greenland and the Canadian Archipelago. Likewise, the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP), 2001 was made to recognize the need for international cooperation for marine migratory species like Albatrosses and Petrels.

Similarly, the MoU concerning conservation measures for the Siberian Crane, 1993 was entered to protect Siberian Cranes. The MoU concerning conservation measures for the Slender-Billed Curlew, 1994 was formed with an aim to safeguard the Slender-Billed Curlew. The MoU on the conservation and management of the Great Bustard, 2001 was also made to correct the continuous decline of the Great Bustard and degradation or fragmentation of suitable habitats and hunting pressure in Middle-European States etc

Migratory Bird Treaties:From 1916 onwards

Prior to the multilateral international conventions, migratory bird treaties (MBTs) were main instruments for bird protection. The United States of America(USA) is pioneer in entering into the treaty regime of ‘nation-state conservation policy’. Perhaps, the thought was to successfully strengthen the domestic laws and thereafter facilitate the international cooperation for avian conservation. The 1916,The United States signs a treaty with Great Britain (acting on behalf of Canada, then part of the British Empire)to stop all hunting of insectivorous birds and to establish specific hunting seasons for game birds. In order to implement the treaty, the USA Congress passed the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, 1918 and replaced the Weeks-McLean Act, 1913.The said treaty is known to be one of the oldest sources of international environmental law.Later, USA signed a treaty similar to the one entered between Great Britain with Mexico in 1936 for the protection (through laws and regulations) of migratory birds in their movements across the two signatory nation-states.USA signed treaty with Japan in 1972 for protection of migratory birds except if an open season has been established. Likewise, USA entered treaty with Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1976 to improve cooperation between the contracting parties as the conservation of migratory birds passing between their territories.

The success of MBTs to facilitate, encourage, and justify expensive and often low-priority bird conservation and research facilities rubbed onto other nation-states. For instance, Japan in 1973 signed a treaty with USSR to promote cooperation in the conservation of birds migrating between the contracting parties’ territories and of endangered species of birds. In 1974, Australia signed an identical treaty (the one entered between Japan and USSR) with Japan. In 1981, Japan entered an agreement with Peoples Republic of China (PRC) for the prohibition of the taking of birds listed in an appendix to the treaty, establishment of bird sanctuaries, and for the exchange of research results. This bilateral migratory bird agreement has been instrumental in building research capacity in PRC for the study of migratory birds.

There are certain little known yet significant MBTs, for example, the 1984 agreement between India and USSR, which is applicable to species of birds for which there is a positive evidence of migration between the two countries and also to species or sub-species common to both countries and listed in the appendix attached with the agreement. Both nations agreed to promote joint research programs and establish bird sanctuaries and endeavour to preserve and improve the natural environment of migratory birds. Another, treaty entered between Republic of Korea and the Russian Federation in 1994 (is the only bilateral treaty entered in 1990s)was on mutual cooperation for taking measures for the management and protection of migratory birds and their habitat and the prevention of the extinction of certain birds. It recognized that many species of birds migrate between and seasonally live in both countries and that certain species of birds are in danger of extinction.

Though, the merits of MBTs are mostly limited to migratory bird species and is limited between the nation-states party to such treaties. Nevertheless, from the perusal of above-discussed MBTs, it is argued that MBTs are still a beneficial tool since multinational treaties tend to be inflexible, cumbersome, and politically driven. They act as a useful tool for international wildlife conservation (even after the emergence of multinational treaties like CMS). At the same time, it would be much too simplistic to conclude that any one category or model of MBT is better than any other, In fact MBTs have starting to form a network of international conservation efforts.

Concluding remarks

The last flocks of passenger pigeons were reported in 1888, the last confirmed sighting occurred in 1900, and the last passenger pigeon died in captivity in 1914 in Cincinnati zoo.In 1850 Alexander Wilson, an ornithol­ogist,watched migrating flock of passenger pigeons and wrote that their passing had darkened the sky for more than 30 minutes(containing 2 billion birds spread over 384 km long and 1.6 km wide, in the sky). Both passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) and Dodo (Raphus cucullatus) were most dramatic bird extinction ever recorded. Both were the victim of human consumption. Even thereafter, the human desire did not stop, birds which were frequently around 10 years ago, have become rare and in certain cases extinct. In the times, when most of the world’s population is under some form of restricted movement due to the COVID-19, this theme “Birds Connect Our World” carries a particular relevance and poignance. The need of hour is multiple efforts, for instance, during recently concluded COP-13, the Indian Prime Minister pledged to focus on the conservation of migratory birds along the Central Asian Flyway, announced the establishment of an institutional research facility for the conservation of migratory birds and marine turtles, and confirmed efforts to reduce pollution from micro-plastic and single-use plastic etc. It is desired that human-beings collectively act to prevent the destruction of birds. This would demand adherence of stringent domestic laws, and measures that conserve and protect their habitats and their flyways.

* Partha Pratim Mitra has written a book titled, Birds, Wetlands and the Law: Indian and International Perspectives (Thomson Reuters, 2019).

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The global plastic problem

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Global plastic pollution is becoming increasingly severe. According to a report by the German weekly magazine ‘Focus‘, plastic particles have recently been found in samples collected all over the world, : from the Arctic to rivers and even deep seas.

Even Mount Everest, the top of the world, has been found to contain plastic particles. The United States has long accused developing countries of being the main responsible for plastic pollution. The waste approach has overshadowed the U.S. “major contribution” to the plastic pollution crisis. If we also consider the export of plastic waste and the latest statistics on illegal dumping and littering, the United States is one of the most severe sources of plastic pollution in the global coastal and marine environment, ranking third in the world.

The research report published by Science Advances clearly states that the United States blames Asian countries for the plastic waste pollution problem, although it is the world’s largest producer of plastic waste. The report was written in collaboration with scholars from the American Association for Marine Education, the University of Georgia and the National Geographic Association.

The Comprehensive Assessment Study on Global Plastic Waste Issues, published in 2015, stated that the top five countries producing most of the plastic waste are China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand.

The latest report, however, finds that the 2015 study ignored any mismanagement of waste after it had been exported to another country for recycling.

The research report also revised the 2015 claim that China is the world’s largest emitter of marine plastic waste.

The latest research report published by Science Advances calculated the total amount of plastic waste generated by countries around the world in 2016, based on waste generation and characteristic data from 217 countries and regions reported by the World Bank.

Global plastic production in 2016 was 422 million tonnes, with a 26% increase as against 2010. The share of plastics in solid waste rose from 10% to 12% in 2010. In 2016, global plastic waste generation reached 242 million tonnes.

The report clearly states that in 2016 the United States was the country that produced the largest amount of plastic waste (42 million tonnes). It also ranked first in terms of annual per capita production of plastic waste (130 kilograms).

The 28 EU Member States ranking second produce 54.56 kilograms of plastic waste per capita per year, which is only half of the United States’ plastic waste, while India ranks third. In 2016 China ranked fourth in terms of plastic waste production (21.6 million tonnes), equivalent to half the U.S. amount, but its annual plastic waste production per capita was only 15.67 kilograms, equivalent to only 12% of the amount produced by the United States.

Nick Mallos, senior director of the Marine Conservation Organisation’s Garbage-Free Ocean Program, stated: “The plastic waste generated in the United States is the largest amount of any country, but we have been ignoring the problem, outsourcing it to developing countries. And we are making a heavy contribution to the plastic crisis in the oceans”.

In terms of rubbish, illegal dumping, littering and other improperly managed waste products on the coast, the United States ranks third among coastal countries and is the main cause of pollution in the world’s coastal areas.

The study also said that the United States collected 3.91 million tonnes of plastics in 2016, more than half of which was shipped overseas, and exported 1.99 million tonnes of plastic waste to 89 trading partners. “Over 88% of plastic waste is exported to countries that cannot properly manage and dispose of it due to insufficient resources.” Much of this exported plastic waste cannot be reused, which will eventually pollute the local environment.

One of the authors of the research report, oceanography professor Cara Lavender Law, stated: “For several years, many of the plastic products we throw in the rubbish can be exported to countries where it is already difficult to manage their own waste for recycling. Not to mention the large amount of plastics shipped from the United States. Considering the large amount of our plastic waste that is actually non-recyclable because it is of low value, contaminated or difficult to dispose of, it is not surprising that a lot of plastics will end up polluting the environment”.

Relevant data show that 5% of plastic waste generated in the United States is discarded or dumped illegally due to “improper handling and management” or cannot be disposed of properly after being transported to other countries.

The report underlines that it seems that only 5%is “improperly managed” but, considering the total amount of plastic waste, this figure cannot be ignored.

It should also be stated that eight million tonnes of plastics enter the oceans every year, which is equivalent to a plastic load being spilled into the sea every minute.

These plastic products have undertaken a long and destructive journey from the moment they have reached the sea. Winnie Liu, a senior official with The Pew Charitable Trust’s Marine Plastics Prevention Project, said: “Plastics reaching the seas will be carried far away by ocean currents. They are found all over the world, even on the edge of Antarctica and the deepest place on earth. Plastics can be found in the Mariana Trench. As they drift with currents, theywill penetrate the ecosystem and cause immeasurable damage to marine life”.

Despite the severity of this problem, global plastic production continues and is posing increasing threats to the seas. What makes the oceans so vulnerable to plastic pollution? How can we control the plastics entering the ocean? What is wrong with plastics?

In our daily lives we can hardly avoid plastics. From food packaging to toiletries, clothes, furniture, computers and cars, plastics is everywhere. Plastics durability makes it difficult to biodegrade them. In a way, it can be compared to long nuclear decay.

Depending on their type, some plastics can take decades or even millions of years to decompose in landfills. Therefore, unless plastics are incinerated (a process which, in turn, causes pollution), virtually all the plastics we have produced so far still exist in the world and, once entered the ocean, their impact will last for hundreds of years.

Where does waste come from? The world produces over 300 million tonnes of plastic waste every year, and this amount is still growing. Only 9% of this plastic waste is recycled. The rest is incinerated or discarded. Most of the discarded plastic waste is landfilled. The reason for this is that half of the plastics we produce is disposable plastics, i.e. plastic products such as straws, plastic bags and water bottles that are thrown away after they have been used.

It is precisely because disposable plastics are easy to produce and discard, and lead to a continuous increase in the amount of waste landfilled, that they inevitably increase the amount of plastic waste polluting the environment.

Why is the impact of plastics on the oceans so severe? The vast and deep oceans are like a retention tank for pollutants, which collects toxic material from all over the world. Besides the load dropped from ships, plastic fishing nets and longlines (known as ‘ghost fishing gear’) are also a major source of plastic waste in the oceans, accounting for about 10%. In addition, expanded polystyrene used in aquaculture to make cages is also a source of marine plastic pollution.

The vast majority of marine debris, however, comes from the land. Extreme weather conditions and strong winds sweep waste along the coast, which is quickly picked up by the tide. Oceans are also the final destination of thousands of rivers, carrying large amounts of waste from landfills, and eventually sinking it into the sea.

Once plastic waste enters the ocean, it is broken down into particles with a diameter of less than 5 mm, called microplastics. This happens because of the harsh conditions and endless ocean movements.

This form of plastics will spread ever deeper into the ocean. It will invade more biological habitats and cannot actually be recycled at all. What will happen to us if also thousands of marine animals get caught in plastic waste every year, especially ‘ghost fishing gear’? Furthermore, the harm to marine life from ingesting plastics is less evident: seabirds, sea turtles, fish and whales often mistake plastic waste for food because its colour and shape are similar to their preys. We end up eating them. Once we ingest these toxic particles, our organs will be damaged, thus making us more liable to diseases. Our fertility will also change, with great risks of genetic mutations.

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Climate politics and the future of carbon emissions

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Climate change is no longer a far-off problem, it is happening here, it is happening now and if it is happening now then efforts to curb it should be done right now rather to wait for tomorrow when tightening nature grip made us regret even more than now. To talk specifically about carbon emission, it is a single issue, a “world issue” that is demanding serious world efforts, not mere words to highlight the problems which we all know quite well. It is the right time we stand up, we fight together to save our existing and the future. Yet, like any path having its troubles, one major hurdle on the way to reduce carbon emission is the climate politics in the form of the North-South divide. The divide which has been existing ever since not only in areas of hard politics but also in areas of soft politics i.e climate change, and imposing a challenge to all future efforts and on those been done already including the Kyoto protocol, Rio+20 agreement, the Paris climate agreement, etc.

Issue here is that both the North (Developed) and the South (Developing) give their sides of the argument yet no one is ready to take the responsibility or at least willing to find a collective solution. Thus making the environment suffer and the carbon emission constantly increasing.

Looking at the North, it claims that climate change is a worldwide danger jeopardizing the biological system and is to a great extent the aftereffect of CO2 outflow by both North and the South. Thus it is a collective responsibility of both to reduce emission and to ensure carbon cut not just the North. However, in response to this the South argues, yes climate change is an issue that is raising world temperature and major emitters are in both North and South, but the North is ignoring the fact that it has been emitting gases for centuries. For instance, Europe, United States, Canada are polluting the environment since the 19th century while the developing countries have begun in 1980’s. Furthermore, what the developed world ignores is that the development of the North has already got peaked while of the developing world has just started. So based on this the North should go for the carbon cuts and use alternative sources of energy i.e hydro, wind, green energy, etc. As the South at this stage cannot afford carbon cuts which will affect its development process. Also, it does not even have enough carbon-free resources at present to ensure carbon reduction.

Hence, this N-S divide has ruined the success of so far twenty-five Conference of Parties (COP) related to climate change held each year in Nov and Dec mostly in Bonn, Germany. Taking a gander at them individually to explore how the divide has not let any single agreement on carbon emission to effectively achieve its set target.

Starting with the Kyoto protocol that came into effect in 2005 with 192 parties determining to reduce emission according to the allotted carbon quota. An important aspect of this protocol was “common but differentiated responsibility” by which the North was held largely responsible for the current high levels of GHG emissions in the atmosphere. However, if we analyze it deeply then from the very start commitment to the agreement had flaws. As the United States being the world hegemon should’ve lead the agreement from the front but sadly it even didn’t ratify the agreement as the then-President George W. Bush stated “Senate’s vote, 95–0, shows there is a clear consensus that the Kyoto Protocol is an unfair and ineffective means of addressing global climate change concerns. Signing protocol will cause potential damage to USA economy”. Thus a clear depiction of the USA preferring its economic development over the environmental concerns.

Then the first commitment period (2008-2012) of this agreement failed to achieve its targets with emission further increased by 32%.Moreover, Canada withdrew from the protocol in 2012 with its then environment minister, Peter Kent stated “the Kyoto protocol doesn’t cover world two largest emitters USA and China, therefore it cannot work” and as “Canada didn’t meet target so it wants to avoid $14 billion in penalties”. Seeing this response by the developed world, in the second commitment round (2012 onwards) only 37 countries had binding targets, and Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan withdrew. Not just this, but Russia, Japan, New Zealand though participated in the 1stcommitment round but refused to go for the 2ndcommitment. So, it’s clear how the N-S divide affected the commitment to reduce carbon emission with the developed world especially the largest emitters like the USA and China not even ratifying it and even those like Canada who did ratify but withdrew later. The same is with the developing south because if the developed North is unwilling then the south’s one-sided efforts are meaningless.

Now, looking at the Copenhagen agreement (2009) which aims to limit the global temperature no more than 2 °C (above pre-industrial level). It was believed to be the largest and the first-ever true agreement that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and can ensure environmental stability because it was initiated by the USA along with the four other largest emitters’ china, India, Indonesia, and Brazil. Nevertheless, the Copenhagen agreement just like the Kyoto protocol had flaws and most importantly the N-S divide has again tumbledown its progress. This is because it doesn’t contain any legally binding commitments to reduce CO2 emissions as the then PM of Great Britain, Gordon Brown, stated “We have made a start” but that the agreement needs to become legally binding quickly.” Then Brazil’s climate change ambassador called the agreement “disappointing”.

This is the response of North, now looking at South. The Bolivian president, Evo Morales said, “The meeting has failed. It’s unfortunate for the planet”. Most importantly Lumumba Aping, a Sudanese diplomat who was the chief negotiator for the G77 group of developing nations at the UNFCC conference in 2009 criticized the agreement by stating “It’s an incredibly imbalanced text intended to subvert two years of negotiations. It does not recognize the proposals and the voice of developing countries. Thus we have been asked to sign a suicide pact”. Consequently, this conflict of opinion between the North and the South has again led to the failure of the Copenhagen agreement in reducing carbon emission and the world temperature.

Moving to the Rio+20 convention on biological diversity, it shows no difference from the rest. As the United States was among those four countries that have signed but not ratified the agreement. Then key world leaders including G20 members, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, UK Prime Minister David Cameron have not attended the conference showing that they don’t even prioritize sustainability issues. Not just this but the developing countries too showed resentment when the USA, EU, and Switzerland rejected the G77 plan to frame the context of green economy explicitly. 

Likewise, COP-19 held in Warsaw, Poland to reduce greenhouse gases emission saw the same divide as G77 and china proposal for a new funding mechanism ($100 million every year) to help the vulnerable South deal with “loss and damage” caused by climate change was opposed by developed countries leading to 132 poor countries and major environment activist like Oxfam, Greenpeace, Action Aid, etc. walkout from the conference.

Lastly, the Paris climate agreement in 2015 which showed diversion from the rest considering it was binding on all 197 countries, and committed to achieve zero-emissionwith both developing and developed states agreed on a carbon cuts.  The agreement was achieved under the leadership of Obama as he stated “President Xi and I intend to continue working together in the months ahead to make sure our countries lead on climate”. For the first time, the two largest emitters, China and the USA, worked on common grounds. However, Donald Trump during his presidency calls it a “job-killing” and a “total disaster”as said“Obama pledges to cut emission has hurt the competitiveness of USA” and withdrew the USA on 4th-Nov, 2020. Yet, in response to this Joe Biden tweeted “Today, the Trump Administration officially left the Paris Climate Agreement. And in exactly 77 days, Biden Administration will rejoin it.” This is exactly what happened as President Joe Biden’s very first act in the Oval Office was his signing an executive order to have the United States rejoin the Paris climate agreement.

To sum up, the North-South divide is at the core of global environmental politics and is a debate that prevails on the grounds of unanswered questions as to who should bear the responsibility of the environmental damages. When the North shows willingness for change then it’s the South that creates hurdles, similarly when the South steps forward then the North shows aversion. If this will continue then the future of carbon emissions is intimidating. Therefore, need is to build a global consensus to free the environment from this blame game and to move towards sustainable development based on equitable contribution and accountability. It is now high time to put an end to all the differences existing now and in the past, as being humans our survival is at great risk. The need of the day is to work together to devise a common solution to our common problem and to ensure a healthy world for our existing and future generations.

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When Sea Levels Rise And Coastal Waters Darken…

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image source: University of Oldenburg (Foto: Zielinski)

Authors: Dr. Arshad M. Khan and Meena Miriam Yust

The coastal waters by Wilmington, Delaware, the president’s home base, have risen a record 3 mm in the past year.  Worse, the rate of increase is itself increasing portending a foot or more in the next century.  It means a rebuilding of docks plus barriers to prevent serious tidal flooding.

The Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences (VIMS), affiliated with the College of William and Mary, has been collecting data on sea levels for the past 52 years.  It released its latest annual report recently, noting sea level rising by historic amounts — as in the case of Wilmington — as well as the accelerating rate of increase.

There are 32 tide gauges placed along the US coasts all the way to Alaska.  Maintained by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), these measure levels every six minutes.  Researchers at VIMS take a monthly average to avoid a skewed analysis due to unusual weather patterns like storms.

The Institute’s report presents sea level changes, assesses future trends, and tries to explain the increases or even decreases at particular localities.  Sea level changes are relative to the adjoining land.  For example, the rates are actually falling in Alaska but that is caused by shifting tectonic plates raising land and off-setting the sea level rise.

Researchers describe the persistent sea level rise as a “slow emergency” — not a storm that will be hitting tomorrow but trouble ahead and the report cards can help local authorities plan for the future.

Wetlands Watch works to preserve wetlands in Virginia’s coastal areas.  Rising sea level is a particular concern because it is expected to affect most of the state’s coastal wetlands.  Therefore in addition to policy advocacy, Wetlands Watch has developed Sea Rising Solutions, which helps in mapping out where flooding is likely.

Spreading the word about sea level rise and its consequences engages the whole community and motivates legislators and developers to adapt to the new norm and prepare ahead for a changing environment. 

There is another problem with coastal areas:  a gradual darkening of the sea water.  It is serious for such a change in color and clarity poses a significant threat to marine life.  The Coastal Ocean Darkening Project at the University of Oldenburg in Germany simulated the effects by filling huge metal vats with water and phytoplankton and hanging lamps above them to simulate sunlight.  They then darkened the water using low, medium and high concentrations of a brown liquid extracted from peat to simulate decaying organic matter.  The phytoplankton were all negatively affected but particularly in the vats with medium and high concentrations which blocked off more light.  Also some phytoplankton were affected more than others.  

The adverse consequences to the elemental base of the ocean’s food threatens marine species up the chain, and especially those relying on the phytoplankton types most affected.  Moreover, reduced vision hinders those species, like fish, relying on vision to hunt, while not affecting those that do not, like jellyfish.  

Why is the water darkening?  One hint might be that environmental regulation of fertilizer use goes along with improvements in the Mediterranean, the North Sea and parts of the North American coast.  And of course reducing global warming would decrease ice melt and subsequent sea level rise.

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