Pollution & toxins
Comparative Analysis of Three Brevetoxin-Associated Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) Mortality Events in the Florida Panhandle Region (USA)
A retrospective investigation of pathologic findings in Pacific Harbor seals (Phoca vitulina richardsi) Stranded in San Juan County, Washington
Scientist Who Helped Eliminate Toxic Chemical Flows Into Salish Sea Honored
October 27, 2011
BC Scientist John Elliott, who helped eliminate dioxin and furan discharge into the Salish Sea, is honored with the SeaDoc Society’s prestigious Salish Sea Science Award.
Dioxins and furans are highly toxic persistent organic pollutants that once were dumped into the Salish Sea in pulp mill effluent. They are counted among the twelve most poisonous “dirty dozen” toxins in the world, and once were concentrated in fish and fish-eating birds in British Columbia, causing fishery closures and waterfowl consumption advisories. Thanks to mandated changes in bleaching processes and restrictions on usage of the parent compounds for these toxic chemicals at pulp mills, discharge of dioxins and furans into the Salish Sea has been eliminated.
Today a toxicologist from Environment Canada, Dr. John Elliott, was awarded the prestigious Salish Sea Science Prize in recognition of his research documenting the presence and effects of these chemicals on wildlife and his work with regulators to translate his science into policy that eliminated the release of these chemicals into the ocean.
Dr. Elliot began his work in the mid-1980s with research on great blue herons, to better understand the possible effects of persistent organic pollutants on these aquatic birds. As part of a team that included population biologists, chemists and biochemists, Elliot documented for the first time the exposure of wild birds to the forest industry derived pollutants, dioxins and furans. As well, he documented high concentrations of these chemicals in bald eagles living near pulp mill sites, and went on to determine the deleterious effects of these toxins on eagles breeding near contaminated areas. His initial studies led to further research demonstrating the effects of these chemicals on embryonic development of both herons and cormorants at colonies near pulp mills and other forest industry sites in the Salish Sea.
In countless meetings and presentations, Elliot worked with industry and regulators to communicate this science and in so doing, influenced subsequent national and international regulations that halted the use of molecular chlorine bleaching, and restricted the use of chlorophenolic wood preservatives and anti-sap stains. This was no small accomplishment, as during that time, the forest industry was the economic mainstay of many of the communities around the Salish Sea.
For this work, Elliot was selected as the winner of the SeaDoc Society's 2011 Salish Sea Science Prize. This prestigious $2,000 no-strings-attached prize is the only award of its kind. It is bestowed biennially by the SeaDoc Society to recognize a scientist whose work has resulted in the demonstrated improved health of fish and wildlife populations in the Salish Sea. It is given in recognition of, and to honor the spirit of, the late Stephanie Wagner, who loved the region and its wildlife.
While awarding the prize today at the 2011 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference in Vancouver, BC, Dr. Joe Gaydos, Chief Scientist and Regional Scientist for the SeaDoc Society, said that Elliott’s work “served as an example to the world for how science can make a positive difference and is a crucial foundation for designing healthy ecosystems.”
This past week (June 28 & 29, 2011) SeaDoc co-hosted a Rockfish Recovery Workshop in Seattle with the State Department of Wildlife and NOAA Fisheries.
Nearly 100 scientists, fisheries managers, fishers and SCUBA divers attended the 2-day workshop to discuss the current state of knowledge on rockfish and to identify future needs related to recovering depleted rockfish populations in the Salish Sea.
There are 28 species of rockfish in the Salish Sea. Thirteen (13) are listed as species of concern and recently 3 species were listed under the US Endangered Species Act.
In addition to helping organize the workshop, SeaDoc also helped bring in Canadians to share their perspective on what has and has not worked with rockfish recovery on the other side of the border.
A lot of the research SeaDoc funded over the last 10 years was presented and plans were laid for moving rockfish recovery forward. The meeting proceedings will be published soon and will be available here on the SeaDoc website.
In the meantime, here's a recap:
(Please note that this summary is taken from my notes and if there are errors or misstatements they are mine, not the researchers/presenters! -Joe T.)
Historical Context Session
Wayne Palsson spoke on the biology and assessment of rockfishes in Puget Sound. Rockfishes are a diverse group of species with different life histories. They require various habitat during different life stages. They are adapted for slow growth, long survival, late maturity, low natural mortality rates, and high habitat fidelity. These are all factors that make recovery tough. There's a lack of long-term data that makes it hard to create conventional age-structure population models and biomass dynamic models.
Chris Harvey reviewed the ecological history of rockfish exploitation in Puget Sound. Rockfish bones have been found in middens dating back 1,500 years. Much of the fishing pressure on rockfish began after the Boldt decision in 1974, which required that harvests in Puget Sound be coequally managed by the State government and the Treaty Tribes of Washington. It's also been influenced by demographic trends and by the promotion of the fishery by State government. (Unfortunately, as covered in Wayne Palsson's talk, it wasn't until 1982 that scientists learned that rockfish were generally 2 to 3 times longer lived than they'd thought, which meant the existing population models were not accurate.) By the time management efforts were deemed necessary, the greatest harvests had already occurred.
Anne Beaudreau discussed her work to reconstruct historical trends in rockfish abundance. The lack of data on historical populations of rockfish is a major barrier to developing sustainable fisheries. Beaudreau and colleagues interviewed 101 individuals ranging in age from 24 to 90 years to try to derive trends in the abundance of rockfish from 1940 to the present. Of particular interest was the evidence of "shifting baselines." To a statistically significant degree, each age group of respondents interpreted the conditions at the beginning of their awareness as "abundant" and saw declines from there, but what was "declining" to an older person was "abundant" to a younger person.
Benthic Habitat Surveys/Rockfish Abundance Estimates Session
Gary Greene presented the Salish Sea sea floor mapping project, which has produced bathymetric and habitat maps of the San Juan Islands area. Rockfish prefer particular habitat types, and the multibeam echosounders used by Greene and his colleagues allows these potential habitat areas to be identified. (Other participants were very interested in having these maps for other areas in the Salish Sea.
Bob Pacunski spoke on work to use non-lethal methods to survey rockfish populations. Traditional trawl or long-line sampling results in fish mortality, but using a small remotely-operated vehicle has been shown to be effective at providing population surveys.
Joan Drinkwin of the Northwest Straits Foundation spoke on the threat posed to rockfish by derelict fishing gear, including both nets and traps. The Northwest Straits Initiative has removed 3,860 nets from Puget Sound, all at less than 105 feet deep. There are 950 shallow-water nets still in the water, and at least 70 in deeper water. Based on studies of net mortality by the SeaDoc Society, approximately 1,600 rockfish per year are captured and killed in derelict nets each year in the United States portion of the Salish Sea.
...More coming soon...
Lead fishing sinkers that get lost have been demonstrated to kill loons nesting on many freshwater lakes in Washington State.
Loons winter on the Salish Sea and summer and breed on inland freshwater lakes.
On December 6th the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission announced a restriction on the use of lead fishing tackle at the 13 common loon nesting lakes in Washington.
SeaDoc provided scientific information, including the Wildlife Society's position statement on lead toxicity and wildlife, to the Fish and Wildlife Commission regarding this issue.
This ban should decrease loon deaths due to lead poisoning and is good news!
From the WDFW press release:
The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission approved restrictions on the use of lead fishing tackle at 13 lakes with nesting common loons during its Dec. 2-4 meeting in Olympia.
The commission, a nine-member citizen panel appointed by the governor to set policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), adopted a proposal that prohibits the use of lead weights and jigs that measure 1 ½ inches or less along the longest axis at 12 lakes.
Those 12 lakes include Ferry and Swan lakes in Ferry County; Calligan and Hancock lakes in King County; Bonaparte, Blue and Lost lakes in Okanogan County; Big Meadow, South Skookum and Yocum lakes in Pend Oreille County; Pierre Lake in Stevens County; and Hozomeen Lake in Whatcom County.
In addition, the commission banned the use of flies containing lead at Long Lake in Ferry County.
The restrictions, which take effect May 1, are designed to protect loons from being poisoned by ingesting small lead fishing gear lost by anglers.
As the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history unfolds in the Gulf of Mexico, it's tempting to rest comfortably on our success avoiding a similar calamity here in Puget Sound. Please click on the link to read an opinion piece co-authored by Kevin Ranker, one of the founding Board Members of SeaDoc Society.
SeaDoc's sister organization at the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center, the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, is participating in the wildlife response activities for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
OWCN's director, veterinarian Mike Ziccardi, is on site in Louisiana. He's blogging about his experiences at http://owcnblog.wordpress.com/.
More details about OWCN's involvement are at http://owcn.org.
There's a Facebook page for general information about the Deepwater Horizon Response at http://www.facebook.com/DeepwaterHorizonResponse
The Seattle Times reports that a gray whale that died after stranding on a beach in West Seattle had quite a bit of garbage in its stomach. Biologists with the Cascadia Research Collective surveyed the contents of the stomach and found sweatpants, a golf ball, more than 20 plastic bags, surgical gloves, and duct tape.
Read the full article, published 4/19/2010, at http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2011649749_whale20.html