Group Seeks Federal Protection For New England's Undersea Paradise

And now, for some good news: The waters off the coasts of Connecticut and Rhode Island are home to a beautiful and thriving aquatic Eden. To ensure that it stays that way, conservation organizations have petitioned the White House to designate the New England Coral Canyons and Seamounts area the first National Marine Monument in the Atlantic. 

The area’s five enormous canyons and four seamounts support an astonishing diversity and quantity of marine habitats, from the East Coast’s largest kelp forest to thousand-year-old corals. Research expeditions to the area have found vibrant populations of not only corals, anemones, and sea turtles, but also seabirds, dolphins, and whales, as well as apex predators like tuna, cod, and sharks. You can see some of them in the above video, put together by the NRDC using footage from the NOAA's Okeanos Explorer

To date, the area has remained remarkably healthy, in part because there has been little fishing activity and no undersea mining or drilling. But that all could change unless the area is protected. 

That's what Protect New England's Ocean Treasures Coalition is after. The coalition, comprised of 12 different science and conservation organizations, aims to secure government protection for the site in the form of a National Marine Monument designation.

Why a monument? Because unlike marine sanctuaries and other types of protected spaces, national monuments are totally off-limits for fishing, mining, and drilling.

The members of the coalition aren’t the only ones hoping to protect the canyons and seamounts. A June 2016 poll [PDF] of 403 Rhode Island and 400 Massachusetts residents found that 80 percent supported the protection of marine areas, even when that meant a ban on fishing, mining, or drilling. 

Lisa Dropkin works for Edge Research, the market research firm that conducted the survey. “We often see strong support in polls for ocean conservation, and these results are among the most positive I have seen,” she said in a press statement.

Header image from YouTube //  NRDC

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Everyday Household Items Made From Black Plastic Can Be Harmful to Human Health
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It would be difficult to get through an entire day without coming into contact with plastic, but too much exposure to certain kinds of the material could pose a health risk, according to new research. A study by the University of Plymouth in England has revealed "significant and widespread contamination" of everyday items containing black plastic, such as thermos cups, toys, coat hangers, and Christmas decorations, Co.Design reports.

Black plastic isn't widely recycled because its dark pigment makes it hard for many plastic sorting facilities to detect it via infrared radiation. Nevertheless, the plastic parts of old electronic devices like laptops and music players are often repurposed into common household items. Researchers used X-ray fluorescence spectrometers to examine 600 black plastic items and found the presence of additives that can be harmful to human health, such as bromine, antimony, and lead. Historically, bromine has been used in electronic devices to prevent them from catching fire, but they’re not suitable for food containers or other items (like children's toys) that can come into contact with one's mouth. Their findings were published in Environment International.

"Black plastic may be aesthetically pleasing, but this study confirms that the recycling of plastic from electronic waste is introducing harmful chemicals into consumer products," the study's author, Andrew Turner, said in a statement released by the university. "That is something the public would obviously not expect, or wish, to see and there has previously been very little research exploring this."

As Co. Design points out, the greatest concern is cooking utensils, especially food containers. In the UK, some businesses have vowed to stop using black plastic, including supermarket chains Waitrose and Tesco. In Toronto, some businesses are considering swapping out their black plastics (like coffee cup lids) for materials that can be recycled more easily.

Another University of Plymouth study from January found toxic elements in second-hand children's toys, including bromine, lead, and other substances that can be toxic over time. Beyond the risk to human health, black plastic also harms the environment and introduces contaminants to beaches, the researchers found.

[h/t Co.Design]

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Climate Change Is Making It Hard for Bears to Hibernate Through the Winter
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What was once a rare sight—a bear wandering outside its den before springtime—has become increasingly common, thanks to climate change. As The New York Times reports, warming temperatures are waking American black bears from hibernation earlier than ever, and in some cases, preventing them from settling down for the winter in the first place.

Hibernation is a vital part of the black bear's life cycle. When awake, a bear must consume at least 11 to 18 pounds of food per day to maintain a healthy body weight. Withdrawing for the winter allows it to survive the food scarcity that comes with the colder months.

But as climate change promotes certain extreme weather patterns in the western U.S., the region's black bear population has begun to act differently. Last year the Pine Nut Mountains in Nevada saw unusually high levels of snowfall, and the excess moisture produced an abundant pine nut crop. This past winter, snowfall in the area hit near-record lows, leaving the pine nuts exposed on the ground for a longer period. The prolonged access to food in the area meant some bears started hibernating later or just never got around to it.

Many of the bears that did eventually crawl into their dens were woken up ahead of schedule this year. According to a 2017 study, for every 1°C that minimum winter temperatures rise, bears hibernate six days fewer. In January 2018, temperatures in the Pine Nut Mountains reached 5.4°C above the 20th-century average for the region.

Some years bears emerge from hibernation during droughts, which are exacerbated by climate change, and food is hard to come by. When that's the case, bears may end up on private property, raiding people's trash cans and bird feeders and sometimes breaking into their homes. Fatal bear attacks on humans aren't common: The more likely scenario is that the so-called problem bear will be euthanized. Bear management groups will often try other strategies, like capture and release and aversive conditioning, before resorting to this option. Nonetheless, dozens of bears are euthanized by states each year.

Black bears aren't the only ursine species being forced to adapt to global warming. In the Arctic, polar bears are losing the sea ice they need to hunt marine mammals, and many of them are moving onto land in search of prey. Climate change is pushing both species of bears toward human-populated territory, which means conflicts between the bears and people will only increase from here.

[h/t The New York Times]

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