Australian corals rapidly dying

93% of Australia's Great Barrier Reef suffering from coral bleaching

Australia's Great Barrier Reef is suffering its worst coral bleaching in recorded history with 93 percent of the World Heritage site affected, scientists said Wednesday, as they revealed the phenomenon is also hitting the other side of the country. 

After extensive aerial and underwater surveys, researchers at James Cook University said only 7 percent of the huge reef had escaped the whitening triggered by warmer water temperatures. 

"We've never seen anything like this scale of bleaching before," said Terry Hughes, convenor of the National Coral Bleaching Task Force. 

The damage ranges from minor in the southern areas — which are expected to recover soon — to very severe in the northern and most pristine reaches of the 2,300-km-long (1,430-mile-long) site off the east coast. 

                                            Australia's Great Barrier Reef can be seen from the satellite

Hughes said of the 911 individual reefs surveyed, only 68 (or 7 percent) had escaped the massive bleaching event which has also spread south to Sydney Harbor for the first time and across to the west. 

Researcher Verena Schoepf, from the University of Western Australia, said coral is already dying at a site she had recently visited off the state's far north coast. 

"Some of the sites that I work at had really very severe bleaching, up to 80 to 90 percent of the coral bleached," she said. "So it's pretty bad out there."

Australian Environment Minister Greg Hunt said it is "absolutely clear that there is a severe coral bleaching event occurring not just in the Great Barrier Reef but throughout many parts of the Pacific."

Hughes said the bleaching began in Hawaii late last year and has already affected several Pacific islands.

"Right now, New Caledonia, the Coral Sea, the northern half of the Barrier Reef and New South Wales are bleaching severely, and Western Australia is quickly catching up," he said.

Bleaching occurs when abnormal environmental conditions, such as warmer sea temperatures, cause corals to expel tiny photosynthetic algae, draining them of their color.

Corals can recover if the water temperature drops and the algae are able to recolonize them, but scientists warned last year that the warming effects of an El Nino weather pattern could result in a mass global bleaching event.

Hughes said while bleaching has been linked to El Ninos, which generally occur every four to six years, "it wasn't until 1998 that one finally caused a bleaching event to happen" on the Great Barrier Reef.

"So the issue is global warming," Hughes said, saying the link between water temperature and the severity of the bleaching is clear.

Hughes said the impact on the Great Barrier Reef would have been even worse had not a tropical cyclone which smashed into the Pacific island of Fiji in February brought rain and cooler weather to parts of Queensland.

"If you think about it, being rescued by the vagaries of a cyclone is a fairly precarious place to be," he added.

Andrew Baird, from James Cook University's center for coral reef studies, said he had been surprised by the scale and severity of the event on the major tourist draw card, which is teeming with marine life.

"We've been expecting a really big event for a while I suppose and here it is," he said.

Baird said because the bleaching is far less serious in the southern reaches "lots of the reef will still be in good shape."

"But the reef that's been badly affected — which is a third to a half of it — is going to take a while to recover," he said.

"And again the big question is how many of these events can it handle? And I think the answer is not many more."

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Monsanto - poison for us

   New Evidence About the Dangers of Monsanto’s Roundup

John Sanders worked in the orange and grapefruit groves in Redlands, California, for more than 30 years. First as a ranch hand, then as a farm worker, he was responsible for keeping the weeds around the citrus trees in check. Roundup, the Monsanto weed killer, was his weapon of choice, and he sprayed it on the plants from a hand-held atomizer year-round.

Frank Tanner, who owned a landscaping business, is also a Californian and former Roundup user. Tanner relied on the herbicide starting in 1974, and between 2000 and 2006 sprayed between 50 and 70 gallons of it a year, sometimes from a backpack, other times from a 200-gallon drum that he rolled on a cart next to him.

The two men have other things in common, too: After being regularly exposed to Roundup, both developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a blood cancer that starts in the lymph cells. And, as of April, both are plaintiffs in a suit filed against Monsanto that marks a turning point in the pitched battle over the most widely used agricultural chemical in history.

Until recently, the fight over Roundup has mostly focused on its active ingredient, glyphosate. But mounting evidence, including one study published in February, shows it’s not only glyphosate that’s dangerous, but also chemicals listed as “inert ingredients” in some formulations of Roundup and other glyphosate-based weed killers. Though they have been in herbicides — and our environment — for decades, these chemicals have evaded scientific scrutiny and regulation in large part because the companies that make and use them have concealed their identity as trade secrets.

Now, as environmental scientists have begun to puzzle out the mysterious chemicals sold along with glyphosate, evidence that these so-called inert ingredients are harmful has begun to hit U.S. courts. In addition to Sanders and Tanner, at least four people who developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma after using Roundup have sued Monsanto in recent months, citing the dangers of both glyphosate and the co-formulants sold with it. As Tanner and Sanders’s complaint puts it: Monsanto “knew or should have known that Roundup is more toxic than glyphosate alone and that safety studies of Roundup, Roundup’s adjuvants and ‘inert’ ingredients” were necessary.

Research on these chemicals seems to have played a role in the stark disagreement over glyphosate’s safety that has played out on the international stage over the last year. In March 2015, using research on both glyphosate alone and the complete formulations of Roundup and other herbicides, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) declared glyphosate a probable human carcinogen. The IARC report noted an association between non-Hodgkin lymphoma and glyphosate, significant evidence that the chemical caused cancer in lab animals, and strong evidence that it damaged human DNA.

Meanwhile, in November the European Food Safety Authority issued a report concluding that the active ingredient in Roundup was “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans.” The discrepancy might be explained by the fact that the EFSA report included only studies looking at the effects of glyphosate alone. Another reason the agencies may have differed, according to 94 environmental health experts from around the world, is that IARC considered only independent studies, while the EFSA report included data from unpublished industry-submitted studies, which were cited with redacted footnotes.

On Friday, April 29, the Environmental Protection Agency weighed in — briefly — when it posted a long-awaited report on the reregistration of glyphosate concluding that the herbicide is “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.” But the agency removed the report and 13 related documents from its website the following Monday, saying the publication had been an error. The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology is looking into the EPA’s “ apparent mishandling ” of the glyphosate report, and the EPA said it will release the reregistration materials by the end of this year.

In response to queries from The Intercept, a spokesperson for the EPA wrote that “the safety of all inert ingredients are considered” during the pesticide registration process, though an 87-page "Cancer Assessment Document", which was among the documents accidentally released, contains no references to research conducted on the co-formulants.

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Florida Nuclear Power Plant Is Leaking Radiation Into the Ocean

Turkey Point Nuclear Plant Is Pumping Polluted Water Into Biscayne Bay

As Florida Power & Light finalized plans to expand its nuclear reactors at Turkey Point three years ago, critics were aghast. The nuclear plant already stands on environmentally fragile land, and upping the power production would seriously threaten the ecosystem, they argued.

Turns out they may have been right. This morning, the county released the results of a study into whether Turkey Point has been leaking dangerous wastewater into Biscayne Bay. County water monitors found more than 200 times the normal levels of tritium a radioactive isotope linked to nuclear power production, in the bay water, a finding environmentalists say justifies their concerns.

"This is one of several things we were very worried about," says South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard, who is also a biological sciences professor at Florida International University. "You would have to work hard to find a worse place to put a nuclear plant, right between two national parks and subject to hurricanes and storm surge."

       Turkey Point's cooling canals are leaking radiation into Biscayne Bay, a new study confirms.

The study is just the latest blow to FPL, which lost a state court ruling last month when a judge found the utility had failed to prevent hundreds of thousands of gallons of wastewater from seeping into the bay.

County commissioners and other local politicians are scrambling this morning to get answers about how threatened Biscayne Bay is by the leakage.

"I was shocked to read this," says Commissioner Xavier Suarez, who in a letter demanded answers from FPL "by the end of the day." County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, meanwhile, says the county has "aggressively enforced its regulations" and would demand that the state force FPL to fix the problem.

Adds State Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez: “For years our state regulators have failed to take seriously the threat to our public safety, to our drinking water and to our environment posed by FP&L’s actions at Turkey Point. Evidence revealed this week of radioactive material in Biscayne Bay is the last straw and I join those calling on the US EPA to step in and do what our state regulators have so far refused to do - protect the public.”

At the heart of the troubling issue revealed in the new report is a system of canals surrounding the nuclear plant in southeast Miami-Dade. Nuclear cores must be constantly cooled to avoid meltdowns. The canals circulate water through the plant to leach heat off the reactors.

As FPL prepared to expand the plant's reactors in 2013, critics such as Stoddard warned that relying on the canals was a mistake. For one thing, environmentalists argued, the hot, salty canal water would inevitably leak back into Biscayne Bay and the Everglades.

"They argued the canals were a closed system, but that's not how water works in South Florida," Stoddard says.

In the two years since, environmentalists have pointed to a growing litany of concerns, including spiking heat levels in the canals and saltwater plumes exploding from the power plant into nearby groundwater systems. Stoddard says salty water has intruded as far as four miles inland through groundwater.

But FPL resisted new monitoring, Stoddard says, and deflected blame. "FPL has argued and argued and denied and denied there was any connection to their canals," he says. "They've tried to prevent monitoring. They were successful until the county commission finally demanded this study."

FPL hasn't returned New Times' phone calls for comment on the study. The county's numbers are cited in another report released today, which was conducted by University of Miami scientist Dr. David Chin, who analyzed how an influx of new water could affect the cooling canals.

As for those elevated tritium levels, it's not clear whether the isotope itself is dangerous to people or wildlife at that concentration; that's one topic on which the commission will demand answers from FPL, Suarez says.

But the hot, salty water is certainly a problem for the delicate ecosystems in Biscayne National Park and the Everglades. Stoddard — who argues the new study might point to violations of the federal Clean Water Act — says he believes only two solutions are viable: building new cooling towers to replace the canals, or shutting down the plant.

"There's a certain validation to critics in seeing this result in the study," he says. "But more important, it's now crossed the threshold of federal law here."

Update 12 p.m.: While FPL says it needs to review the new county data on tritium levels in Biscayne Bay, the utility strongly defended its work to protect Biscayne Bay. Cruz, the FPL spokeswoman, points out the agency reached an accord with the county last October. In the agreement, FPL promises to clean up its act by pumping wastewater into a deep aquifer, among other steps.

"We'll continue to comply with regulatory agreement we reached with the county in October," Cruz says.

Cruz also emphasized that FPL has collected its own data on impacts to Biscayne Bay and has seen no indication of a larger pollution problem.

"We've collected this data for many years, and this data has reviewed by independent scientists," Cruz says. "We're going to continue to work closely with regulatory agencies."

Cruz also criticized Stoddard for slamming the agency over the latest report. "He's selecting portions of the data to further his anti-FPL campaign," she says.

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