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Shepherdstown, WV, United States

Robards M.D.,Wildlife Conservation Society | Silber G.K.,National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration | Adams J.D.,National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration | Arroyo J.,United States Coast Guard Academy | And 3 more authors.
Bulletin of Marine Science | Year: 2016

The continued development of maritime transportation around the world, and increased recognition of the direct and indirect impacts of vessel activities to marine resources, has prompted interest in better understanding vessel operations and their effects on the environment. Such an understanding has been facilitated by Automatic Identification Systems (AIS), a mandatory vessel communication and navigational safety system that was adopted by the International Maritime Organization in 2000 for use in collision avoidance, coastal surveillance, and traffic management. AIS is an effective tool for accomplishing navigational safety goals, and by doing so, can provide critical pre-emptive maritime safety benefits, but also provides a data opportunity with which to understand and help mitigate the impacts of maritime traffic on the marine environment and wildlife. However, AIS was not designed with research or conservation planning in mind, leading to significant challenges in fully benefiting from use of the data for these purposes. We review present experiences using AIS data for strategic conservation applications, and then focus on efforts to ensure archived and real-time AIS data for key variables reflect the best available science (of known limitations and biases). We finish with a suite of recommendations for users of the data and for policy makers. © 2016 Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science of the University of Miami.

Wickham J.,Us Environmental Protection Agencys Office Of Research And Development | Wood P.B.,West Virginia University | Nicholson M.C.,U.S. Environmental Protection Agency | Jenkins W.,U.S. Environmental Protection Agency | And 6 more authors.
BioScience | Year: 2013

Ecological research on mountaintop mining has been focused on aquatic impacts because the overburden (i.e., the mountaintop) is disposed of in nearby valleys, which leads to a wide range of water-quality impacts on streams. There are also numerous impacts on the terrestrial environment from mountaintop mining that have been largely overlooked, even though they are no less wide ranging, severe, and multifaceted. We review the impacts of mountaintop mining on the terrestrial environment by exploring six broad themes: (1) the loss of topographic complexity, (2) forest loss and fragmentation, (3) forest succession and soil loss, (4) forest loss and carbon sequestration, (5) biodiversity, and (6) human health and well-being. © 2013 by American Institute of Biological Sciences. All rights reserved.

Bernhardt E.S.,Duke University | Lutz B.D.,Duke University | King R.S.,Baylor University | Fay J.P.,Duke University | And 4 more authors.
Environmental Science and Technology | Year: 2012

Surface coal mining is the dominant form of land cover change in Central Appalachia, yet the extent to which surface coal mine runoff is polluting regional rivers is currently unknown. We mapped surface mining from 1976 to 2005 for a 19,581 km2 area of southern West Virginia and linked these maps with water quality and biological data for 223 streams. The extent of surface mining within catchments is highly correlated with the ionic strength and sulfate concentrations of receiving streams. Generalized additive models were used to estimate the amount of watershed mining, stream ionic strength, or sulfate concentrations beyond which biological impairment (based on state biocriteria) is likely. We find this threshold is reached once surface coal mines occupy >5.4% of their contributing watershed area, ionic strength exceeds 308 μS cm-1, or sulfate concentrations exceed 50 mg L -1. Significant losses of many intolerant macroinvertebrate taxa occur when as little as 2.2% of contributing catchments are mined. As of 2005, 5% of the land area of southern WV was converted to surface mines, 6% of regional streams were buried in valley fills, and 22% of the regional stream network length drained watersheds with >5.4% of their surface area converted to mines. © 2012 American Chemical Society.

News Article | March 10, 2016
Site: motherboard.vice.com

Over the last century, ocean biodiversity has been obliterated by overfishing and industrialization, resulting in a looming mass extinction event in the seas. Though several enormous marine protected areas (MPAs) have been established, poachers are still slipping through the cracks, undermining crucial attempts to stop the ecological freefall occurring in marine environments. Fortunately, a team led by UC Santa Barbara ecologist Douglas McCauley has suggested an innovative solution to this problem that merges Big Data, citizen science, and conservation. In a paper published today in the journal Science, McCauley and his co-authors argue that using automatic identification systems (AIS), which are navigational aids that use satellite tracking to prevent ship collisions, could be the key to keeping fishing vessels honest. “Every 16-year-old in the US that wants to drive a car gets assigned a number,” McCauley told me via email. “It troubles me that we don't care to apply the same standards to an industry that will control the fate of ocean biodiversity, food security, public health, and billion dollar coastal economies.” Indeed, despite the widespread use of these AIS trackers, McCauley’s team points out that in 2014, only 3.5 percent of self-identified fishing vessels reported a valid identification code—called an International Maritime Organization (IMO) number—via AIS, demonstrating a shocking lack of accountability at sea. Fishing activity in the global oceans has reached such high densities that tracks of fishermen map out the world in reverse. This map displays fishing vessel data from 2015 alone. Image: Douglas McCauley The problem is not so much that fishing crews are nefarious opportunists angling to exploit marine preserves, but rather that there is simply no real incentive for them to broadcast their IMO numbers—or even to register them in the first place. “The IMO allows large fishing vessels to voluntarily sign up for an IMO number,” McCauley said. “Nobody I know voluntary signs up for an ID number.” “Vessels may be required by local law to carry AIS,” he added, “but nobody checks whether they register the system properly and fill out all the optional data fields. Who among us fills in those boxes in online forms unless they are required? We need to change policy that requires an IMO ID be attached to these AIS feeds.” In other words, the global maritime community has barely even begun to harness the broader potential of AIS as a powerful conservation tool, as well as a means to collect enormous amounts of data about ongoing activity in our oceans. What’s more, because AIS data is broadcast publicly, it can be accessed by anyone with an internet connection. Projects like Global Fishing Watch, an interactive fishing tracking service spearheaded by Google, SkyTruth, and Oceana, aim to increase the role of the average citizen in ocean advocacy by providing them with the tools to monitor fishing vessels. “This democratization of ocean observation is key,” McCauley told me. “People often talk about ocean health being wrecked by the tragedy of the commons (i.e. if you don't catch that last fish, someone else will). I think if we can empower people to watch this tragedy unfold on their phones, we can break this cycle.” “I'm a fisherman,” he continued. “I believe in the importance of fishing. I think 99.9 percent of the fishermen out there are doing the right thing because they want to be able to turn their wheelhouses over to their kids. I think the small number of bad actors out there will behave more responsibly if they know NGOs, soccer dads, surfers, and politicians are watching their behavior.” Beyond illegal fishing, broader AIS compliance would also lend more accountability to the underwater industrial revolution, which includes disruptive activities like seabed mining. It also has the potential to reduce collisions between ships and whales, and to inform scientists about the optimal routes ships should take in order to avoid interfering with the ocean’s most vulnerable ecosystems. At this point, the main argument against the adoption of large scale AIS tracking is that it would infringe on the privacy of industries that harvest ocean resources. But for McCauley and his colleagues, commercial privacy concerns are dramatically outweighed by the alarming collapse of marine biodiversity, and all the ominous consequences that will have for the future of our own species. “In Moby Dick, Melville writes about ships leaving part and being swallowed up by the anonymity of the sea,” McCauley said. “That no longer seems very romantic when the price of protecting privacy at sea means that food and money is stolen via illegal fishing from poor countries, that the future of amazing animals like sharks and sea turtles is put at risk, and that we can't stop all kinds of social injustice that happens at sea.”

Daneshgar Asl S.,Florida State University | Amos J.,SkyTruth | Woods P.,SkyTruth | Garcia-Pineda O.,WaterMapping | MacDonald I.R.,Florida State University
Deep-Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography | Year: 2015

Satellite-borne Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) was used to obtain more precise estimates of the magnitude of the chronic hydrocarbon discharges described in qualitative pollution reports associated with the production and transportation network of the U.S. coast of the Gulf of Mexico. The National Response Center (NRCen) oil pollution reports were collected and filtered for the period of 2001 to 2012 to determine which of the reports coincided with archived SAR images. Some of the images covered multiple reports and some of the oil discharges described in one report could be observed in more than one image. In all, 177 reports could be investigated from 137 SAR images collected on or near the corresponding report dates. Further analysis found that oil slicks observed in 66 of these SAR images could be attributed to 67 of the reported incidents. Objective measurements indicated that the area of these transient oil slicks visible in SAR images was, on average, significantly larger than what was reported to the NRCen. The only recurring point source for oil slicks was the former site of the Taylor offshore platform. Here chronic, oil slicks were observed that were consistently much larger than other anthropogenic discharges. The SAR images of floating oil discharged from the Taylor site were verified by visual inspection from a boat and aerial photography. For some of the oil slicks discharged from the Taylor site, the accuracy of SAR images for detecting oil slick areas was validated by comparing SAR results to Landsat 7 Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus (ETM+) and Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) images. These results show that surveillance by SAR would improve accuracy for estimates of chronic anthropogenic oil pollution, particularly where continuous discharges are on-going. © 2015.

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