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Gulf of Mexico Could Experience Record-Breaking “Dead Zone”

The Gulf of Mexico could experience one of its largest “dead zones” this summer. Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association  forecast the dead zone ,  an area of low to zero oxygen, in the Gulf of Mexico to be the equivalent of nearly the size of Massachusetts or roughly 7,829 miles.

Dead zones can disrupt the marine ecosystem, as the low oxygen levels, otherwise known as hypoxia, harm existing marine life. The primary cause of dead zones is nutrient pollution from human activities; the nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorous) used in fertilizers and found in sewage are washed into the ocean by spring rains and eventually accumulate on the top of the ocean.

As these chemicals collect on the ocean’s surface, oxygen is prevented from reaching the water column and can lead to an overgrowth of algae, which consumes more oxygen as it decomposes, leading to the further depletion of the essential element. This accumulation of nutrients that leads to dangerously low oxygen is also referred to as eutrophication.

Nutrient pollution in the Gulf of Mexico

In a TED conference, ocean expert, Nancy Rabalais reported, “The nitrogen that is put in fertilizers and the phosphorous goes on the land and drains off into the Mississippi river and ends up in the Gulf of Mexico. There’s three times more nitrogen in the water in the Mississippi now than there was in the 1950s”

She emphasized resolving these agriculture issues by promoting the use of less fertilizers, precision fertilizing and trying sustainable agricultural alternatives, for example perennial wheatgrass. In contrast to corn plants, perennial wheatgrass has far longer roots and can therefore trap the nitrogen in the soil and keep the soil from running off.

Rabalais challenged her audience to make “less consumptive decisions” and highlighted the everyday, subtle choices that can be introduced to minimise our reliance on nitrogen. The changes to reduce our “nitrogen footprint” and its devastating damage on marine life can be as simple as cutting down on our consumption of corn oil, consuming less meat and using a car dependent on non-ethanol gas.

The world’s largest dead zone

The Gulf of Mexico is not the only body of water at risk. The world’s largest dead zone is in fact the Baltic Sea, which has experienced a 10-fold hypoxic increase. Climate change is a large factor in the sea’s large dead zone; however, the predominant cause for the growth is nutrient pollution.

Formed 10,000 to 15,000 years ago after the latest ice age, the Baltic Sea is the world’s youngest sea and is surrounded by nine coastal states: Finland, Russia, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Poland, Latvia and Lithuania. The distinguishing feature of the Baltic Sea is its brackish water, a combination of salty seawater and fresh water. The salty sea water constitutes the Baltic Sea’s deeper water layer, while the water layer on the sea’s surface is diluted by rainwater and more than 250 rivers and streams with the major rivers draining into Baltic Sea being the Neva, Vistula, Neman and Kemijoki.

In response to this environmental disaster, certain chemicals are now banned, such as DDT, a pesticide used to additionally control the spread diseases during World War Two and PCBs, man-made chemicals implemented in electrical equipment, have been replaced by accumulating nutrient pollution.

Subsequently, the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan has been established as part of an initiative to restore the Baltic Sea’s ecosystem to its previous condition by 2021. The ambitious plan aims to incorporate up to date scientific knowledge and different management approaches to create assertive environmental policies around the Baltic Sea. The main objectives of the programme are to create a Baltic Sea that is unaffected by eutrophication, undisturbed by hazardous components, encourage biodiversity and sustainable, eco-friendly maritime activities.

Ultimately, the main challenge to dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico and the Baltic Sea will be eutrophication, the spread of nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorous) from the land into sea and the cause of oxygen deprivation in the water body. Nonetheless, programme initiatives such as the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan and encouraging subtle, small steps to cut down on our nitrogen footprint can help restores dead zones to their original, thriving ecosystems.

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It’s World Bee Day and We’re A-Buzz

World Bee Day came into effect through a proposal to the UN from Slovenia, that May the 20th should be observed as World Bee Day to maximize awareness about the importance of both bees and beekeeping. After three years, the proposal was accepted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2017. May 20 also coincides with the birthday of Slovenian beekeeping pioneer Anton Janša and honors his endless efforts to raise awareness about beekeeping, otherwise known as apiculture.

Why bee friendly?

Hummingbird, wasps, moths, beetles and butterflies are all vital for the process of pollination; however, bees rank as the most important pollinator of them all. The bee experts at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations report a third of the world’s food production to be entirely reliant on bees. Bees are thus essential to ensuring our food security via pollination. Pollinations occurs as bees nestle on the flower of plant to collect pollen and nectar for their colony, and as they do this, pollen becomes attached to their hairs on their body and thereafter, fertilising the next plant they settle on.

According to the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum, a multitude of foods depend on bee pollination. These include fruits such as blackberries, blueberries, cantaloupe, gooseberries, grapes, cranberries and watermelon. Vegetables that are pollinated by bees include of beans, beets, brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes and pumpkins. Moreover, even the cotton you’re wearing or the morning coffee you down before class depends on bee pollination, as the plants these materials are sourced from rely on bees to pollinate them.

Correspondingly, the United Nations categorize bees as fundamental to the second of their seventeen sustainable development goals, Zero Hunger. With food inequity causing malnourishment, our increasing world population size, climate change and pollution, bees offer a sustainable means to supporting our growing population, encouraging biodiversity and fructifying our ecosystem. Concurrently, bees are paramount to securing the livelihood of agricultural workers, as they are necessary for generating a strong crop yield.

Establishing the risks to bees

There are various factors placing bees and other pollinators at risk, yet the main variables threatening the extinction of pollinators consist of pollution, increased use of pesticides in agriculture and climate change. Air pollution has a particular, adverse effect on bees by mixing with the scent molecules of plants and consequently, causing the bees to be slower at finding food for their colony and at pollinating.

UN Environment biodiversity specialist, Marieta Sakalian stated, “Governments need to take the lead…Increasing crop and regional farm diversity as well as targeted habitat conservation, management or restoration is one way of combatting climate change and promoting biodiversity.”

World Bee Day drives home an initiative to help save bees not only to government, but also to citizens across the globe. You can play an active role in preserving our bee population by planting more nectar bearing plants, eliminating the use of harmful pesticides in your garden and raising awareness at your college or community center.

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Celebrating Arbor Day

Today on Friday the 26th of April, it is Arbor Day and if you’re a native to Nebraska you may already know what Arbor Day is and the history behind it. Although, for those who have yet to come across Arbor Day, we’ll be going through the historical significance of Arbor Day and why it is still conspicuously necessary today.

Arbor Day derives itself from the Latin word for tree, ‘Arbor’. In the year 1872, J.Sterling Morton from Nebraska City founded Arbor Day in response to the absence of trees in Nebraska and the first Arbor Day celebrated that year saw the plantation of approximately one million trees in Nebraska.

The yearly plantation of tress in Nebraska amassed attention throughout the United States and thus became a globally and nationally celebrated day in America for over a century. The importance of Arbor Day is paramount in today’s age of exceeding levels of pollution and concerning, global warming crisis. Our health is consequently at risk of respiratory conditions from asthma to cases of lung cancer in non-smokers, in there thousands. The International Agency of Research on Cancer (IARC) reported in 2010, that 230,000 deaths from lung cancer globally were the result of air pollution, with evidence to suggest pollution simultaneously increased the risk of bladder cancer.

Go green: how trees eradicate pollution

Trees ensure our air is clean and that we can breathe freely, via absorbing the rocketing levels of carbon dioxide emitted by our vehicles and other toxic pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide and ammonia. It takes four trees to remove the amount of pollution created from a 5000-mile drive, which for some is the just half of the mileage covered in a year.

According to a 2011 report by the US Forest Service, urban forests in Los Angeles comprising of trees and shrub canopies, which cover a quarter of the city were found to have reduced 1,976 tons of air pollution in the city. The benefits don’t stop there, as Los Angeles’ trees demonstrated cuts to annual residential energy costs by $10.2 million per year.

The costs saved in Los Angeles to our health and in our homes, is just a small taste of what we can achieve by continuing onwards the celebration of Arbor Day and planting more trees!

The ‘Time For Trees’ initiative

In order to counteract the global decline in our mental and physical health, due to air pollution, the Arbor Day Foundation has established a ‘Time For Trees’ campaign initiative. The impetus behind their campaign calls upon the plantation of trees; subsequently, they aspire to plant 100 million tress and work to inspire five million tree planters around the globe to fulfil their campaign’s mission.

The positive, global outcomes of the campaign are endless; listed in depth on the Time for Trees campaign page , the plantation benefits of 100 million trees include:

  • Absorbing 8 million tons of carbon – the equivalent of taking 6.2 million cars off the road for one year.
  • Filtering 7.1 billion cubic meters of water runoff, enough water to fill the water bottle of every person on Earth every day for five years.
  • Filtering 15,850 tons of microscopic airborne particulate matter out of the air, which could fill up nine Olympic-sized swimming pools.
  • Removing 578,000 tons of chemical air pollution from our atmosphere, enough gaseous pollution to fill 70,000 Goodyear®
  • Providing $32.9 Billion in total environmental benefits – the equivalent of the operating budget of Chicago for about 10 years.

Source: timefortrees.org/impact.cfm

In support of Arbor Day and every human’s fundamental right and existential necessity of being able to breathe safely in air free of toxins, donate today towards the Time for Trees initiative.

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