Let’s call this an “interesting” set of articles on how the world’s oceans are being effected by human runoff – plastics, garbage, chemicals and so on. These articles, taken all together are a very long read. I would consider it a personal favour if you would take the time. We are going to have a very interesting next century.
The fireweed began each spring as tufts of hairy growth and spread across the seafloor fast enough to cover a football field in an hour.
When fishermen touched it, their skin broke out in searing welts. Their lips blistered and peeled. Their eyes burned and swelled shut. Water that splashed from their nets spread the inflammation to their legs and torsos.
More after the jump>
ALTERED OCEANS: Sentinels Under Attack
Toxic algae that poison the brain have caused strandings and mass die-offs of marine mammals ”” barometers of the sea’s health.
All Susan Leydon has to do is stick her head outside and take a deep breath of sea air. She can tell if her 10-year-old son is about to get sick. If she coughs or feels a tickle in the back of her throat, she lays down the law: No playing on the beach. No, not even in the yard. Come back inside. Now.
The Leydons thought they found paradise a decade ago when they moved from Massachusetts to this narrow barrier island, reachable only by boat, with gentle surf, no paved roads and balmy air that feels like velvet on the skin.
Now, they fear that the sea has turned on them. The dread takes hold whenever purplish-red algae stain the crystal waters of Florida’s Gulf Coast. The blooms send waves of stinking dead fish ashore and insult every nostril on the island with something worse.
The algae produce an arsenal of toxins carried ashore by the sea breeze.
“I have to pull my shirt up and over my mouth or I’ll be coughing and hacking,” said Leydon, 42, a trim, energetic mother of three who walks the beach every morning.
Her husband, Richard, a 46-year-old building contractor, said the wind off the gulf can make him feel like he’s spent too much time in an overchlorinated pool. His chest tightens and he grows short of breath. His throat feels scratchy, his eyes burn, and his head throbs.
Their symptoms are mild compared with those of their son, also named Richard. He suffers from asthma and recurring sinus infections. When the toxic breeze blows, he keeps himself ”” and his parents ”” up all night, coughing until he vomits.
The albatross chick jumped to its feet, eyes alert and focused. At 5 months, it stood 18 inches tall and was fully feathered except for the fuzz that fringed its head.
All attitude, the chick straightened up and clacked its beak at a visitor, then rocked back and dangled webbed feet in the air to cool them in the afternoon breeze.
The next afternoon, the chick ignored passersby. The bird was flopped on its belly, its legs splayed awkwardly. Its wings drooped in the hot sun. A few hours later, the chick was dead.
John Klavitter, a wildlife biologist, turned the bird over and cut it open with a knife. Probing its innards with a gloved hand, he pulled out a yellowish sac ”” its stomach.
Out tumbled a collection of red, blue and orange bottle caps, a black spray nozzle, part of a green comb, a white golf tee and a clump of tiny dark squid beaks ensnared in a tangle of fishing line.
“This is pretty typical,” said Klavitter, who is stationed at the atoll for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “We often find cigarette lighters, bucket handles, toothbrushes, syringes, toy soldiers ”” anything made out of plastic.”
As she stared down into a wide-mouthed plastic jar aboard the R/V Discoverer, Victoria Fabry peered into the future.
The marine snails she was studying ”” graceful creatures with wing-like feet that help them glide through the water ”” had started to dissolve.
Fabry was taken aback. The button-sized snails, called pteropods, are hardy animals that swirl in dense patches in some of the world’s coldest seas. In 20 years of studying the snails, a vital ingredient in the polar food supply, the marine biologist from Cal State San Marcos had never seen such damage.