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Nightly Reader: Nov. 8, 2012

November 8, 2012

1) Fisheries Fecklessness: The failure of New England fisheries managers to enforce a law requiring that pingers–which alert marine life–be used on gill nets is causing the entanglement and deaths of thousands of porpoises:

Ironically, New England fishermen worked with scientists to develop pingers. Then, fishermen themselves pushed for their use in the 1990s, as an alternative to closing fishing areas. They got what they wanted.

And, when the National Marine Fisheries Service first required New England gill-net fishermen to use pingers in 1998, porpoise deaths indeed plummeted 95 percent, from more than 2,000 in 1994 to under 100 in 2001.

But federal enforcement faded. Many fishermen stopped using pingers. And—they frequently encroached into areas that had been officially closed to protect porpoises.

By 2003, fishermen fished without pingers on almost 75 percent of all nets. And they set their nets in closed areas in another 8 percent.  And these statistics come from fishing trips with federal observers on board!; we’ll never know how many violations went unobserved. Porpoise deaths quickly rose again; more than 1,000 drowned in 2005.

2) Disaster Device: One of the most useful things to have, post-Sandy? A bicycle.

New Yorkers are learning things from this storm, and from the relief efforts that are ongoing even as another weather front sweeps through this afternoon, forcing another round of evacuations. Practical things. They are learning where to go for help, and how to help each other. They are learning how to get around when the transportation system fails, and the importance of redundancy and resiliency in all kinds of infrastructure. They are learning what you really need to have on hand when supply chains are disrupted, and what you can do without. They are learning how to assess the accuracy of information, and how to spread it. They are learning that individual efforts, pooled together, can make a substantial material difference in a crisis.

Bicycles are part of all this. In the early days after the storm, when the trains and buses stopped running, bikes were one of the few reliable ways of moving people, objects, and information around streets choked with debris. They don’t require the gasoline that people are still lining up for hours to get. They don’t need to be charged up – just add some basic food to a human being, and you can power the legs that turn the cranks.

3) Great Barrier Breakdown: Turns out that the human devastation of the world’s most glorious reef began much earlier than you would think:

Several recent studies have shown that snorkelers and climate change kill coral, and one study found that half of the majestic Great Barrier Reef has vanished over the last 30 years.

But Pandolfi’s team wondered whether humans had been altering reef ecology for much longer.

To find out, the team drilled sediment cores, 6.5 to 16.5 feet long, from the seafloor at Pelorus Island, an island fringed by coral reefs off the Queensland coast. When coral dies, new coral sprout on the skeletons of old organisms and ocean sediments gradually bury them in place, Pandolfi told LiveScience.

By dating different layers of that sediment, the team reconstructed the story of the reef.

The fast-growing Acropora coral dominated the reef for a millennium. This massive, three-dimensional coral can grow to 16 feet high and span 65 feet across, forming a labyrinth of nooks and crannies for marine life to hide in, Pandolfi said. [ Image Gallery: Great Barrier Reef Through Time ]

“They’re like the big buildings in the city, they house a lot of the biodiversity” he said.

But somewhere between 1920 and 1955, the Acropora stopped growing altogether and a slow-growing, spindly coral called Pavona took its place.

That spelled trouble for the panoply of animal species that shelter in the reef, and for the nearby coastline, because the native Acropora species provide wave resistance to shelter harbors.

BONUS VIDEO: A (heart)warming wilderness tale.

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