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In the spring of 2016, Puget Sound juvenile salmon and sculpin were found to be on drugs - that is, the flesh of these fish was found to be contaminated with 81 different types of drugs and personal care chemicals. The list included Prozac, Advil, Benadryl, Lipitor and cocaine. The discovery was alarming and led to a slew of investigative reports on the reason behind the fish contamination. Several different possible explanations for the fish contamination were presented - was there a failure in wastewater treatment plants? Were septic tanks leaking? 

It was found that about 97,000 pounds of chemicals are introduced to Puget Sound every year, and not all these chemicals are monitored in wastewater treatment. Even more concerning is that fact that the toxicity of many of the detected chemicals are poorly understood. Scientists in the region were most concerned with the environmental and ecological impacts of the contamination. Impacts on people were a minimal concern because juvenile salmon and sculpin are not typically eaten as food. However, studies have shown that fish migrating through Puget Sound’s contaminated water die at twice the rate of fish migrating through uncontaminated water. This could be because of the effects of chemicals on fish growth, immune function and antibiotic resistance. 

It is important to note that Puget Sound is home to 106 public wastewater treatment plants, all of which discharge to the Sound. Reports show that effluent from different wastewater treatment displays regional differences in the chemicals present. This could be due to varied drug usage throughout the Sound, but even fish in the Nisqually Estuary, selected as a pristine control area, were observed to have contaminated flesh. This suggests that wastewater treatments plants throughout the region are likely are not effective at removing all chemicals from wastewater. 

This regional contamination of salmon serves as a reality check that our chemical inputs to the environment have real effects on ecology. The incident was isolated to one year in one region, but the drugs found in the salmon are not regularly tested in water quality sampling. This means similar situations could be developing in other places into the
future, but without testing and sampling, we will not know.

Find more information in the links below:
Thank you to OCEAN Researcher Rae Taylor-Burns

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OCEAN 36  shares an intriguing collection of environmental topics: A nation's changeover to longer lasting currency hits a speed bump when bills are rejected by a Vegetarian cafe; A good idea for recycling used water from oil companies to farmers has unintended results; We finally have edible bags and in the UK, which we consider the Canary in the Climate Change coal mine, they once again experience flooding of historic proportions. The success of this e newsletter would not be possible without our readers, who share it with their friends. Thank you, Gordon Peabody, Editor

OCEAN 36 shares an intriguing collection of environmental topics: A nation's
changeover to longer lasting currency hits a speed bump when bills are rejected by a Vegetarian
cafe; A good idea for recycling used water from oil companies to farmers has unintended
results; We finally have edible bags and in the UK, which we consider the Canary in the
Climate Change coal mine, they once again experience flooding of historic proportions. The
success of this e newsletter would not be possible without our readers, who share it with their
friends. Thank you, Gordon Peabody, Editor

Download OCEAN 36


OCEAN 35 shares some intriguing environmental concepts: People in Maine are starting to eat invasive crabs; NYC is experimenting with old toilets to grow oysters; someone developed a thermal powered piston for controlling greenhouse ventilation and why has it taken so long to come up with edible six pack rings? You will also find breaking updates on previous articles: Bees; Hand Sanitizers and Plastic Microbeads. And we also took a closer look at the 1,000 year rainfall event in Louisiana. OCEAN is the environmental education publication of Safe Harbor Environmental Services. This newsletter is intended

for you, our readers and you have our permission to share it wherever you feel it may be useful. Gordon Peabody, Editor of OCEAN 


Walruses on a barrier island


In September of 2013 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration observed thousands of walruses hauling out on a barrier island off of Alaska.  On September 12th an estimated 1,500 to 4,000 individuals present and by September 27th there were approximately 10,000.  While similar events have been reported, scientists say it is a recent phenomenon. Walruses generally use floating ice in the Chukchi Sea to rest while feeding at sea but due to recent climate change and melting sea ice, it is more difficult for them—and other species, such as polar bears—to find resting areas.

According to Physics Today sea ice has reached its lowest area measurements since it began being measured in 1979-with a 55% decrease (7.5 million square kilometers to 3.4 million square kilometers). While sea ice has previously been very thick, containing multiple years of accumulation, the current sea ice is much thinner, containing just ice from one season.  The more transparent ice is much quicker to melt (Martin).

The effects on the individual walruses is varied and widespread.  They will be exposed to more stress, depleted food levels, more energy will need to be expended to find prey, trampling caused by stampedes of spooked walruses and increased predation (Knowles).  Disease also spreads much faster in populations that are overcrowded. There is evidence that certain mollusks, crabs and fish are moving northward and the shift in the food base is of a negative consequence for bottom feeders such as walrus and seal that prey on these species (Martin).  The walrus is currently listed as a “Threatened” species and the increase of stressors they face may push it over the edge to “Endangered.”

Thank You to OCEAN Researcher Nicole Smith

For more information regarding the 2013 haul out, as well as previous ones visit NOAA at http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/newsreleases/2013/walrushaulout093013.htm.

Martin, Jeffries, et al. "The Arctic shifts to a new normal." Physics Today. American Institute of Physics. Web. 21 Jan 2014.

Unusual Mortality Event: California Sea Lions  


This 2013 Pacific sea lion pupping season has been a dramatic one. Rehabilitation centers have been inundated with over a thousand emaciated and dehydrated pups since the beginning of 2013, making it a record year for rescuers. NOAA has declared this an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) and this is the 6th overall UME for California Sea Lions.  According to NOAA, The Working Group on Marine Mammal UMEs lists 7 criteria to qualify something as a UME and an event has to meet one or more of these criteria to qualify as unusual:

  1. Marked increase in the magnitude or change in the nature of morbidity, mortality or strandings when compared to prior records.
  2. A temporal change in morbidity, mortality or strandings is occurring.
  3. A special change in morbidity, mortality or strandings is occurring.
  4. The species, age or sex composition of the affected animals is different than that of animals usually affected.
  5. Affected animals exhibit similar or unusual pathologic findings, behavior patterns, clinical signs, or general physical condition (e.g., blubber thickness).
  6. Potentially significant morbidity, mortality or stranding is observed in species, stocks or populations that are particularly vulnerable (e.g., listed as depleted, threatened or endangered or declining). For example, stranding of three or four right whales may be cause for great concern whereas stranding of a similar number of fin whales may not.
  7. Morbidity is observed concurrent with or as part of an unexplained continual decline of a marine mammal population, stock, or species.

This event most closely matches with item 1. above, however it likely qualifies under other criteria as well.

While the cause is currently undetermined, there are a few theories as to what is causing this mortality. The most publicized hypothesis is that due to less prey availability for these pinnipeds that the mothers are travelling further and for longer in search of food, making pups more likely to wander in search of their own sustenance. This is not only alarming for the health of the sea lion population but for the fisheries as well. Where did these fish go? What happened to cause such a drastic drop in population size? Answers to these questions are currently being sought out by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and two other organizations have already gained preliminary results to the driving force behind this mystery.

Researchers from Australian Antarctic Division and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) provide some insight to this conundrum whilst studying climate change in Antarctica. With global temperatures rising, there have been substantial changes to phytoplankton abundance, which is an integral source of food to fish and krill. They suggest that the trophic level have been and will be affected soonest, causing a chain reaction up the food chain from microorganisms to large cetaceans. This would be in agreement with what is being witnessed in California with less fish present for the sea lion population.

Thank You to OCEAN Researcher Nicole Smith


For more information on California Sea Lions and other UMEs visit this link:


"2013 California Sea Lion Unusual Mortality Event in California." NOAA Fisheries. NOAA, 30 May 2013. Web. 4 Oct 2013. http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/health/mmume/californiasealions2013.htm

Barlass, Tim. “Polar melt shakes up food chain.” The Sydney Morning Herald 7 April 2013. Web. 7 April 2013. http://www.smh.com.au/environment/climate-change/polar-melt-shakes-up-food-chain-20130406-2hdlx.html

Hillard, Gloria. “Starving Baby Sea Lions Flood Southern California Shores.” Npr.org 9 April 2013. Web. 9 April 2013. http://www.npr.org/2013/04/09/176586940/starving-baby-sea-lions-flood-southern-california-shores?ft=1&f=1001&sc=tw&utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter


Acidification and Oyster Mortality


Acidification and Oyster Mortality

Image courtesy of Martha's Vineyard Shellfish Group

Image courtesy of Martha's Vineyard Shellfish Group

Rising pH Levels Linked to Increased Spat Mortality. Economic, Ecological and Social Impacts on West Coast Oyster Industry

Ocean acidification is a present and future threat to a variety of ecosystems and biological processes (detailed in the OCEAN 30 issue by Safe Harbor), and one of the more recent and publicized victims of global warming is the oyster industry of the United States’ West Coast.

The oceans act like carbon sinks, and anthropogenic fossil fuel emissions have caused seawater to be 30% more acidic than pre-industrial times on a logarithmic scale. The eastern Pacific of the United States is particularly vulnerable to this decrease in pH because it already experiences deep upwelling and therefore inherently encounters more extreme acidic conditions more often. The driving force for the oyster farm failures along this shoreline is the inability for young oysters (known as spat) to develop successfully. The oysters are most vulnerable when young and just forming their calcium carbonate shells. This failure to thrive is due to a combination of extra energy required to form a shell (due to lack of necessary ions in the water now bound by acidic molecules) and possibly even dissipation of the fragile shells themselves.

Seed production in the Pacific Northwest plummeted 80% between 2005- 2009, with majority of the larvae dying within merely 2 days. To put into perspective how problematic this is the shellfish industry in this region contribute more than $250 million dollars to the economy annually and provides jobs for over 3,000 individuals. Parallel studies have started on the East Coast comparing conditions and bracing for future ocean acidification catastrophes. New Bedford, Massachusetts, is a major American port with shellfishing making up over 70% of its productivity, so job losses and community demographics would irreparably change for the worse if it is subjected to the consequences of ocean acidification like the Northwest Pacific has.

There has been much active research studying the mechanisms of spat failures and possible ways to rectify this problem both short and long term.  One example is Bodega Bay Marine Lab of UC-Davis working with Hog Island Oyster Company based in Tomales Bay, California. Hog Island raises their oyster spat in different water conditions in order to see the effects of various water quality scenarios, including excessive rain, water run-off, on the seed. The seawater of these tanks can be modified in real time if shell degradation is observed and documented for future hatcheries. Bodega Bay Marine Lab in turn records these fine scale aquatic changes in real time. It models how projected increased acidity will affect oysters and other shellfish in 10, 50 and 100 years in the future, and also how possible adaptations to counteract these caustic circumstances could help or hurt the oyster harvests.

Many of these susceptible oyster farms in the Pacific Northwest are multi-generational, family run companies who have to quickly troubleshoot this regional (and imminently global) disaster by changing techniques, importing spat, and monitoring water chemistry in order to adapt. One family, the Taylors of Shelton, Washington, have a separate oyster hatchery prior to planting in the Puget Sound. Hatcheries have been forced to incessantly monitor the incoming seawater acidity and either shut down flow is the water is too corrosive or add seagrass or sodium carbonate to help neutralize it more. This is a drastic change of how these companies have done things historically, but these alterations are a necessity in order to adapt to the changing seawater.

This, however, is just a stop gap. Models predict that corrosive water will be more prevalent at the sea surface and ubiquitous, up to 150% more, by the end of the century. The oyster harvest in the Northwest Pacific could increase by 25% over the next 50 years. This area is the canary in the coal mine- it is the first to show effects of increased acidification and gives insight on the dynamics of how these sensitive ecosystems will react. There are many short and long term strategies being constructed in attempts to rectify the situation, especially because of potential devastating consequences rippling up the entire food web. This research alone, costs from tens to hundreds of million dollars to complete. It is not cheap researching this evolving problem due to fossil fuel emissions; however, losing any of these shellfishing stocks would be detrimental on a much larger scale and immeasurable effects to local economies.

Thank you to OCEAN Researcher Brigid McKenna

More information in the link below:








Marine Fisheries Impacted in the Gulf of Maine


There is evidence that the fisheries industry in the Gulf of Maine is changing which has become a challenge to the livelihood of fisherman. According to the Gulf of Maine Research institute the water temperatures in the area have increased by 0.26°C every year since 2004.  As waters warm species travel north from their typical range to find preferential water temperatures.

The focus has generally been on cod, but this applies to all groundfish such as haddock, pollock and flounder which are typically managed together.  It is believed that the cod are going to deeper offshore waters, but according to scientist John Annala, it is a bit of a mystery as to where they have gone as they aren’t showing up in surveys, including ones done in Canada.  Fish from the Mid-Atlantic region have started moving north into the Gulf of Maine.  The species that are being found most often include butterfish, long fin squid, black sea bass and summer flounder.

While it seems that the fisheries industry would be alright as they could just switch to fishing different species, it is more complicated than that.  Different types of fish require different types of equipment to catch, which can be very costly.  Also, management practices are not in place for species that have not typically been found in the area.  There has also been an increase in lobster to the area, which would seem beneficial, but there has been an increase in lobsters that are shedding which sell for much less than the hard shell version.

Ecological issues can arise when new species move into an unusual territory.  The new species may compete with the historical species for food and habitat and there may be a lack of predators in the new range to keep the new species in check.  While some species may change their range, it is possible that they begin to change their habits to account for the change in temperature.  Examples include feeding at different times of day or shifting diets to account for loss of previous diet staples. It is possible that the whole food web of an area is altered and if equilibrium isn’t reached the ecosystem could crash.  Shell fishermen have also noticed an invasive green crab that has moved north with the warming waters and has become an unchecked predator. Phytoplankton are also affected by temperature.  In the ‘90s there was an influx of cold water that caused the phytoplankton to thrive, leading to increased numbers of zooplankton and herring (Jacobson).As the water warms, phytoplankton, the base level of the food web, could be disrupted causing instability in subsequent levels.  As the stability of the ecosystem decreases due to changing climate and species composition, it becomes more likely that it will not recover in the face of rapid change (Jacobson).

Thank You to OCEAN Researcher Nicole Smith

For more information on climate change in Maine and how it will disrupt not only the marine fisheries, but biodiversity and economics throughout the entire state go to http://climatechange.umaine.edu/files/Maines_Climate_Future.pdf and read the University of Maine document “Maine’s Climate Future: An Initial Assessment.”