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Kelsey Stone, New England Aquarium

President Obama Names First-Ever Marine Monument in the Atlantic Ocean

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Kelsey Stone, New England Aquarium

Score another one for planet Earth: The president has signed off on the very first Marine National Monument in the Atlantic Ocean. New England’s new Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument will protect chubby octopuses, ancient sharks, and underwater chasms deeper than the Grand Canyon.

Unlike its cerulean cousin the Pacific, the Atlantic Ocean is not known for its beauty or colorful wildlife. But the new monument’s 4913-square-mile area is home to astonishing biological and geological diversity, including three submerged canyons (Oceanographer, Gilbert, and Lydonia) and four extinct underwater volcanoes (Mytilus, Bear, Physalia, and Retriever). Scientific expeditions through the area have spotted creatures great and small, from sperm whales to tiny crabs and jellies.

Dumbo octopus. Image Credit: NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, Our Deepwater Backyard: Exploring Atlantic Canyons and Seamounts 2014


Dandelion siphonophore. Image Credit: NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, Our Deepwater Backyard: Exploring Atlantic Canyons and Seamounts 2014

The area’s protections will extend above the surface to include seabirds like Atlantic puffins. It’s a region of immense natural beauty and value, but it—like the rest of our oceans—is in very real danger.

Project Puffin/Stephen W. Kress


Paramuriceid sea fan. Image Credit: NOAA OKEANOS Explorer Program, 2013 Northeast U.S. Canyons Expedition


Hydromedusa jelly. Image Credit: NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, Our Deepwater Backyard: Exploring Atlantic Canyons and Seamounts 2014

This is why a coalition of 49 different ocean conservation organizations and aquaria wrote a letter this June [PDF] urging the president and his staff to put protections in place for the canyons and seamounts area. “While the area is largely untouched and wild today,” they wrote, “it is highly vulnerable to disturbance and should be protected now from the push to fish, drill, and mine in ever deeper and more remote places. As climate change and ocean acidification continue to affect ocean life, it also becomes more and more urgent to establish blue parks in important and relatively pristine ocean habitats such as this one.”

This week, their wish came true. Speaking at the 2016 Our Ocean Conference in Washington, D.C. on September 15, President Obama announced the monument’s official designation. “One of the reasons I ran for president was to make sure that America does our part to protect our planet for future generations,” he said. The president reminisced about his childhood in Hawaii, where he learned of the ocean’s “magic” and how “if the waves are a little too big and you’ve gone a little too far out, how it inspires fear and a healthy respect.”

President Obama spoke of the future, of our responsibility to keep our planet safe for future generations. “The notion that the ocean I grew up with is not something that I can pass on to my kids and my grandkids is unacceptable,” he said. “So the investment that all of us together make here today is vital for our economy. It's vital for our foreign policy. It’s vital for our national security. But it’s also vital for our spirit. It’s vital to who we are.”

Lee Crockett oversees ocean conservation for the Pew Charitable Trust. “For everyone who recognizes the value of this unique ecosystem and cherishes a healthy, productive ocean, this monument designation is a huge win,” he said in a press statement.

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All That Glitters Is Not Good: Why Glitter Is Bad for You—and the Environment
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If you're worried about the fish, you probably ditched your exfoliating face wash long ago. Microbeads, the little scrubby bits that did the exfoliating, are made of polyethylene plastic that doesn't degrade, meaning that when you flush it down the drain, trillions of those tiny beads end up in your local waterways. In 2015, Congress passed the Microbead-Free Waters Act, banning companies from manufacturing rinse-off cosmetics (like face washes) with them.

Unfortunately, as AlterNet informs us, face washes and other products covered by the law aren't the only problem. There are microplastics in glitter, too. Yes, your eyeshadow and trendy highlighter is killing the environment. And we all know how hard glitter is to get rid of.

Glitter is usually made by bonding some sort of reflective metal like aluminum foil to plastic. When you scrub those teeny pieces of plastic glitter off your skin in the shower, those microplastics end up in rivers, lakes, and oceans, where they pile up—and are eaten by fish and shellfish. (That said, a controversial 2016 study that said that fish prefer microplastics to natural food was retracted in 2017.)

The small fish eat the plastic, the big fish eat the small fish, and we, in turn, eat the big fish. A UN report in January 2017 found that microplastics make it back onto your plate, infiltrating the tissues of the fish you buy at the supermarket. And the plastic itself isn't even the whole problem—when plastic sits in the ocean, it's "a sponge for chemicals already out there," as marine ecologist Chelsea Rochman told NPR in 2013. The toxic chemicals in our waterways make it up the food chain on the backs of those glittery microplastics.

So yes, it's probably time to put away your highlighter and reconsider your New Year's décor. But, as with most environmental problems humans have wrought, that won't make the problem go away, since microplastics also come from [PDF] beach trash that degrades in the sunshine, from industrial sanding products, from tiny pieces of tires and fabrics, and more. But, as a baby step, go ahead and quit with the sparkly stuff.

[h/t AlterNet]

Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Satellite Images Show Mysterious Nan Madol Ruins From a Brand-New Perspective

The ancient complex of Nan Madol on the island of Pohnpei in Micronesia has fascinated visitors for centuries. Now, thanks to satellite technology, researchers have captured the ruins from a perspective that's rarely seen.

As Yahoo 7 reports, the new aerial footage debuted on an episode of the Science Channel series What on Earth? In the recent installment, experts discussed Nan Madol, a chain of intricate, human-made islands that is sometimes called the "Venice of the Pacific" and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name Nan Madol means "spaces between," a reference to the network of canals connecting the ruins.

The 100-odd blocky stone structures were built atop coral reefs in a lagoon off a remote island in the western Pacific Ocean. The walls of the artificial islands can reach up to 25 feet tall and are 17 feet thick in some parts. In total, the rocks that make up the site weigh nearly 827,000 tons. Archaeologists believe that portions of the city have been there for more than 1000 years, and that the site once served as the ceremonial, political, and residential hub for the native Saudeleur people. Little is known about how its builders were able to move such massive amounts of stone without levers, pulleys, or metal. 

Today, the Micronesian island of Pohnpei is home to 36,000 people, and even among locals, the landmark is notorious. Legends of spirits haunting the area have earned it the nickname "Ghost City." The ruins give off such an eerie vibe that H.P. Lovecraft used them as inspiration for the home of Cthulhu in a short story.

[h/t Yahoo 7]


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