Guam and Palau Wrap Up: Another Successful Field Course Comes to an End

Originally published at ScientificAmerican.com

By David Ginsburg

Student scientific divers-in-training conducting underwater surveys off Catalina Island with transect tape and dive slates. Image: David Ginsburg

Student scientific divers-in-training conducting underwater surveys off Catalina Island with transect tape and dive slates. Image: David Ginsburg

Recently, the 2013 Guam and Palau course came to a close. This is the fourth year that my co-instructor Jim Haw and I have run the program, which was offered for the first time in 2010. Since then, we have accompanied nearly 100 undergraduate students to Micronesia to investigate marine and coastal ecosystems (see link for details). This year’s cohort (26 students total) was our largest, and, arguably, one of the most accomplished (GPA ≈ 3.7) groups that we have worked with.

While traveling for three weeks to tropical and exotic locations with a group of fantastically bright and motivated undergraduate scientific divers-in-training is not always a guarantee of a successful field course, it certainly is an incentive. Similarly, the academic content and educational experience offered to students cannot be overlooked, and the Guam and Palau program is no exception.

Three essential educational approaches for the 2013 course included: 1) reflective writing, 2) situated learning in the field, and 3) teaching with technology. For several years running, we have had the opportunity to share the first two of these educational approaches with the Scientific American community in the form of student-driven blogs (a feat wholly attributed to Blog Editor Bora Zivkovic who gave us a lot of latitude on content this year – thank you!). The ‘teaching with technology’ component, however, is a new addition to the program in which we’ve geared up with iPads and GoPro cameras so our students can record, analyze, share, and interpret scientific data collected in the field. An outstanding example of this is a video blog by three participants (Justin Pearce, Lauren Stoneburner and Richelle Tanner) from this year’s course.

Volunteer dive instructor Tom Carr administering ear drops to Guam and Palau student scientific divers-in-training during our stay on Catalina Island. Image: Katie Lee

Volunteer dive instructor Tom Carr administering ear drops to Guam and Palau student scientific divers-in-training during our stay on Catalina Island. Image: Katie Lee

As described in Justin, Lauren, and Richelle’s video blog, the first leg of the 2013 Guam and Palau course started at the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island. Each of the 26 student scientific divers-in-training spent an intensive week reviewing and practicing their in-water dive skills, which included advanced navigation techniques, as well as underwater survey and data collection methods. The students also were required to attend a series of daily lectures, which provided an overview of the course objectives, and a crash course in coral reef ecology, natural resource management, and marine governance.

During intensive periods of diving activity (diving multiple days in a row), the propensity for ear and sinus related maladies skyrockets. This year’s course was no exception as our ever-trusty volunteer dive instructor Tom Carr (whose day job includes time spent as a Reserve Deputy Sheriff and USC Hyperbaric Chamber Supervisor) was required to make the one-hour, windy, dusty drive to the Catalina Medical Center in Avalon with sick students at least once. With a little TLC and antibiotics all recovered just fine, though some were unable to dive for the duration of the trip.

The elephant ear sponge Ianthella basta is a common site along Western Shoals, which is located in Guam’s Apra Harbor. Although found in other regions of the Pacific, Ianthella is not known from any other location in Micronesia. Image: David Ginsburg

The elephant ear sponge Ianthella basta is a common site along Western Shoals, which is located in Guam’s Apra Harbor. Although found in other regions of the Pacific, Ianthella is not known from any other location in Micronesia. Image: David Ginsburg

Arriving on Guam, there was a palpable excitement in the air. From the instructors’ standpoint, we were pleased to find all of our luggage and dive gear present and accounted for (nearly 60 pieces of baggage in total), whereas the students were just plain excited to be standing on a genuine tropical island (a US Territory, no less) on the other side of the world. For most of the kids, this was the furthest distance they had ever traveled from home, and for some, it was the first time they had ever left the US mainland. Course objectives on Guam included examining the impacts of overfishing and invasive species, conservation management, as well as the ominous military buildup (especially amongst the extensive coral reef habitats within Apra Harbor: see link for Apra Harbor video blog).

Our first full day on Guam started with an old friend and colleague Brent Tibbatts and his colleagues at the Guam Division of Wildlife and Aquatic Resources in Mangilao. Brent and the GDWAR staff provided our students the opportunity to interact with critically endangered birds (e.g., Guam Rail and Micronesian Kingfisher), mammals (e.g., Micronesian Fruit Bat), and handle a juvenile Brown Tree Snake, an invasive and mildly venomous viper.

Guam and Palau students Michael Young (L) handling an invasive juvenile brown tree snake and Caitlin Martin (R) holding an endemic Guam rail at the Division of Wildlife and Aquatic Resources headquarters on Guam. Images: Tom Carr

Guam and Palau students Michael Young (L) handling an invasive juvenile brown tree snake and Caitlin Martin (R) holding an endemic Guam rail at the Division of Wildlife and Aquatic Resources headquarters on Guam. Images: Tom Carr

It should be noted that students went from holding one of the world’s rarest birds (i.e., endemic Guam rail) to handling the very animal (i.e., invasive brown tree snake) responsible for their demise. Later in the week, Brent took us on a tour of the Masso Reservoir located in the Asan-Piti Watershed where the students learned first-hand about the interplay between terrestrial and coastal resources and the importance of ‘ridge-to-reef’ management.

After four days on Guam, we boarded a plane and made our way to Palau where we arrived just in time to eat a late dinner. If the students were excited to arrive on Guam, they were beyond ecstatic to make it to Palau, as I had been telling them for months about how the diving in this region is amongst the best in the world.

Guam and Palau scientific divers-in-training conducting belt-transect fish surveys on Ngederrak Reef post Typhoon Bopha. Image: David Ginsburg

Guam and Palau scientific divers-in-training conducting belt-transect fish surveys on Ngederrak Reef post Typhoon Bopha. Image: David Ginsburg

One of our primary objectives for this part of the course was to provide course participants with hands-on research experiences involving marine ecology, natural resource management, and policy issues. Faculty and students assisted Koror State Conservation and Law Enforcement officials and the Coral Reef Research Foundation in their ongoing efforts to monitor and survey the ecosystem health of Ngederrak Reef (a highly restricted marine protected area) and other reef sites within the recently established UNESCO Rock Islands Southern Lagoon World Heritage site.

This is a tremendous opportunity for our students who have benefited from working in real-time with local resource managers and scientists in the field. It should be noted that the Koror State Governor’s office and Conservation and Law Enforcement staff went above and beyond to host our group both on land and in the water.

Michele Felberg (L) and Nate Kinsey (R) monitoring Typhoon-ravaged reef located near Ngerchong Island, which is one of the Rock Islands between Koror and Peleliu. Image: David Ginsburg

Michele Felberg (L) and Nate Kinsey (R) monitoring Typhoon-ravaged reef located near Ngerchong Island, which is one of the Rock Islands between Koror and Peleliu. Image: David Ginsburg

This year’s Palau component of the course was by far one of our most productive and successful learning and research experiences in course history. Environmental survey data collected on this recent excursion (combined with 2011 and 2012 baseline surveys) will be instrumental in evaluating the recovery of coral reef resources damaged by Typhoon Bopha.

We hope to continue to assist Koror State in the coming months in the monitoring of physical and biological parameters at each of our study locations. In Summer 2014, we propose adding a “service learning” component to the course in which USC students (in conjunction with Koror State Officials) visit local elementary and secondary schools to discuss marine biology related themes, and Palau’s role as a global leader in marine conservation and sustainability.

By the time we finished our underwater field surveys, the students had clearly earned a “fun” dive or two. Our final dives in Palau included two of my favorite dive locations: Blue Corner and Ulong Channel. Blue Corner features a wedge-shaped reef with vertical wall drop-offs on either edge. The contour ensures an active upwelling on the leading edge relative to any prevailing current, which draws high densities of bumphead parrotfishes, napoleon wrasses, and other reef fishes, as well as a wide diversity of reef sharks. Take my word, there is a reason why Blue Corner is consistently listed as one of the top dive sites in the world; it is a show stopping experience every time! Not to be outdone, Ulong Channel, a world-class drift dive, is equally impressive. As my co-instructor Jim Haw described the experience, “divers are swept through the channel like aircraft flying up a canyon.”

Close encounter with a Manta Ray in German Channel. Image: David Ginsburg

Close encounter with a Manta Ray in German Channel. Image: David Ginsburg

At this time of the year, Ulong is notorious for it’s spawning aggregations of grouper, nesting triggerfish, and the ever present white tip and gray reef sharks that congregate in the mouth of the channel. Perhaps one our best highlights underwater was on our final dive in German Channel (another world-class dive spot) where we spent much of the dive with three very inquisitive Manta Rays!  Special thanks to Sam’s Dive Tours for their patience and support of our in-water diving activities boat needs.

Student divers showing off the USC flag in Ulong Channel. Image: David Ginsburg

Student divers showing off the USC flag in Ulong Channel. Image: David Ginsburg

In summary, this year’s course was a great success. By all accounts, it exceeded expectations (which were already high) on all fronts. Students gained valuable experience working hands-on in the field with local scientists and resource managers. Students often incorporate knowledge better and understand topics more fully by actively being engaged in an activity rather than only reading or writing about a concept. By engaging with local stakeholders involved in integrated ecosystem and conservation management, including fishermen, residents, tourism operators, park rangers, and government policy makers, students gain a better appreciation for the socio-political complexities involved in policy enforcement, and long-term monitoring and evaluation.

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Southern California and Endangered Abalone Populations

Originally published at ScientificAmerican.com

By Megan Herring

Southern California’s beaches, sun, tranquility, and other resources makes it a prime area for people looking for a new place to plant roots and make their fortune. For this reason, California has seen a rapid growth in population and commerce, which has led to a number of positive effects on the California people and economy. With more people living and traveling to the state the economy has seen a huge boom leading to an increase in industry and comforts for those who live in California. Unfortunately, this success hasn’t come without a price; the golden state has begun to experience some of the negative consequences of its economic and social growth. Unsustainable resource extraction and environmental damage have become worrisome topics to many environmentalists as well as business owners who rely on these resources to sustain their livelihoods.

Abalone range in size from 5-12 inches in length and are found in coastal waters. Image: NOAA photo library.

Abalone range in size from 5-12 inches in length and are found in coastal waters. Image: NOAA photo library.

One such consequence of California’s economic and population boom involves the decrease in population of abalone, a type of mollusk, in southern California. There are many different species of abalone including the white, black, red, and green abalone, which can all be found off the coasts of California and Mexico. Using a muscular foot, the marine gastropod is able to hold onto a rocky surface where they scrape off algae from the ocean floor for food.

Abalone were once a common site for divers in the area, especially around Catalina Island, just off the coast of Los Angeles, but they have seen a large decrease in population. Species such as the white and black abalone are now listed as endangered. As abalone have begun to decrease in numbers the health of coastal food webs has deteriorated as well. The abalone help to keep the population of algae low enough so as to decrease the chance for algal blooms in the ocean, which can block sunlight to the ocean floor resulting in a decrease in the amount of oxygen created by photosynthetic organisms, which is essential for other animals. Also, with the decreasing number of abalone, secondary predators such as sea stars and sea lions that rely upon them as a source of food will be forced to find other prey or starve. This could lead to a decrease in both the number of predators and a decrease in other animals that become targeted prey in the absence of the abalone. By taking abalone out of the food chain the oceans are facing serious risks, and many of these risks are, as in many situations, anthropogenic. In addition, due to their slow growth rate and inefficient spawning, abalone in general find it challenging to recover from recent traumas, such as overharvesting and disease, that have damaged populations of the mollusk (Stierhoff et al., 2010).

White abalone are found primarily along the coast of Southern California and Northern Mexico. Red, green, and black abalone are found in this region as well, but can also be found further north. White abalone were the first invertebrates to be listed as endangered under the ESA followed by the black abalone. Image: NOAA photo library.

White abalone are found primarily along the coast of Southern California and Northern Mexico. Red, green, and black abalone are found in this region as well, but can also be found further north. White abalone were the first invertebrates to be listed as endangered under the ESA followed by the black abalone. Image: NOAA photo library.

Abalone are economically important for two major reasons. First, abalone shells are beautiful when polished and are often used for ornaments or jewelry. Second, their muscular foot that is used to attach to substrate is considered a delicacy, making the mollusk popular among consumers. As demand has increased for abalone, though, the abalone has been at risk of being overharvested. Species like the white and black abalone are now endangered, while others such as the green and red abalone are steadily decreasing in number.

These declines have led to a number of laws that strive to protect the small number that remain from being harvested to a point where they cannot recover (Stierhoff et al., 2012). One such law is that abalone may only be harvested via skin diving, or diving under the water on one breath of air, and must be a certain size depending on the area—no SCUBA equipment may be used to harvest abalone. There are also a number of abalone fisheries that have been set up within California to help meet the increasing demand for abalone meat. Fisheries allow for the abalone to be raised and harvested through aquaculture to help mitigate the amount of wild abalone that are harvested each year (California Department of Fish and Wildlife).

That being said, the road to saving the abalone is not an easy one. Abalone are easily overharvested as they take a long time to grow and have low reproductive success. Few abalone can now be found in the two to five inch range, which shows that little significant reproduction has occurred. Off the coast of Northern California the growth rate of the red abalone is so slow that many will not be of legal harvest size for another ten years. Many fishermen poach abalone and in many fishing areas abalone shells can be found that are well below the legal size that fisherman can take, leading to the death of many undersized abalone that have not even reached reproductive age (Daniels and Floren, 1998).

Another major obstacle to abalone recovery that does not involve humans is an infectious disease called withering shell syndrome. This disease is almost impossible to detect in abalone until the mollusk actually dies. Caused by the bacterium Candidatus Xenohaliotis Californiensis, the disease has been studied in a number of laboratories and fisheries. A cure has not been found because the disease is hard to detect until the mass mortalities of abalone begin in certain areas. The disease has been seen mostly in the black abalone populations in Southern California and in the red abalone populations in Northern California. Currently there is a great push for more research into this disease and the possible ways to save the abalone population, which includes establishing more protected habitat, as well as better protecting “non-threatened” abalone species. Over the last decade, white abalone populations have decreased by as much as 80% leading many researchers to label this species as ‘functionally extinct’ along the Southern California coast (Friedman and Finley 2003).

Marine protected areas or MPAs have been created within Southern California in order to try and conserve many endangered species, including the abalone, from overharvesting, allowing for many species to recover from past harm. The goals of MPAs are to sustain the biological community in that area as well as allow for economic resources, such as sought-after fish, to recover from past traumas. There is one MPA located on Catalina Island near Two Harbors where the USC Wrigley Marine Center is located, allowing for better collection of scientific data. There are also two other MPAs on the coast of southern California that were carefully chosen to protect abalone and other vulnerable species while limiting the economic impact to the local community (Stockstad, 2010). Some believe that more research needs to be focused on where to locate MPAs so as to create the best environment to try and stabilize the abalone populations (Rogers-Bennett et al., 2000). Finding suitable locations should be a priority because researchers are now trying to culture wild abalone to foster viable offspring, especially for the endangered white abalone. Unfortunately, unless these juveniles have a protected habitat to settle and grow, such propagation efforts may be futile. Abalone play an important role in subtidal benthic marine ecosystems; without them a crucial part of the marine food web will potentially be lost forever.

Author Bio: Megan Herring, originally from Missoula, Montana, is a freshman at USC Dornsife majoring in Biology and Creative Writing.

Works Cited

California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “California Abalone Information.” Web. 24 May 2013.

Daniels, R., and R. Floren. “Poaching Pressures on Northern California’s Abalone Fishery.” Journal of Shellfish Research. Vol. 17. National Shellfisheries Association, 1998. 859–862. ProQuest. Web. 22 Mar. 2013.

Friedman, Carolyn S., and Carl A. Finley. “Anthropogenic Introduction of the Etiological Agent of Withering Syndrome into Northern California Abalone Populations via Conservation Efforts.” Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 60.11 (2003): 1424–1431.

Rogers-Bennett, L., P. Haaker, and K. Karpov. “Selecting and Evaluating Marine Protected Areas for Abalone in California.” Journal of Shellfish Research. Vol. 19. National Shellfisheries Association, 2000. 530–531. ProQuest. Web. 22 Mar. 2013.

Stierhoff, Kevin L., Melissa Neuman, and John L. Butler. “On the Road to Extinction? Population Declines of the Endangered White Abalone, Haliotis Sorenseni.” Biological Conservation 152 (2012): 46–52. ScienceDirect. Web. 25 Mar. 2013.

Stokstad, Erik. “Science Meets Politics Off California’s Coast.” Science 327.5973 (2010): 1574–1575. www.sciencemag.org.libproxy.usc.edu. Web. 26 May 2013.

Editor’s note: Scientific Research Diving at USC Dornsife is offered as part of an experiential summer program offered to undergraduate students of the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences through the Environmental Studies Program.   This course takes place on location at the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island and throughout Micronesia. Students investigate important environmental issues such as ecologically sustainable development, fisheries management, protected-area planning and assessment, and human health issues. During the course of the program, the student team will dive and collect data to support conservation and management strategies to protect the fragile coral reefs of Guam and Palau in Micronesia.

Instructors for the course include Jim Haw, Director of the Environmental Studies Program in USC Dornsife, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies David Ginsburg, Lecturer Kristen Weiss, SCUBA instructor and volunteer in the USC Scientific Diving Program Tom Carr and USC Dive Safety Officer Gerry Smith of the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies.

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The Historical Collapse of Southern California Fisheries and the Rocky Future of Seafood

Originally published at ScientificAmerican.com

By Katie Lee

Recently, the New York Times Green Blog described how two major Southern California fisheries (kelp and barred sand bass) had collapsed “right under the noses of management agencies.” The management and oversight of these fish stocks had not changed since 1959. This news is perhaps not surprising as there are more examples of marine species collapses off our coastline than possible to list in this blog post.

Though the media tends to focus on the effects of pollution, climate change, or overfishing, outdated systems of management are actually the main cause of the collapse in many cases.

Palos Verdes Peninsula, home to crucial abalone stocks. Source: Tegner

Palos Verdes Peninsula, home to crucial abalone stocks. Source: Tegner

The ups and downs of abalone stocks off of the coast of Southern California provide an example of how poor fishery management resulted in the collapse of a population. Only a few years after the Palos Verdes Peninsula abalone stocks re-opened for commercial fishing in 1943, the stocks began to decline again, as more than 9.3 million pink abalone were collected during the peak decade of the fishery (Taniguchi 2013).

These waters are home to one of the largest kelp forests in the Pacific, and this giant kelp (Macrocystis Pyrifera) is the main food source for abalone, sea urchins, and many other fish and marine mammals. Because of a spike in population growth after World War II, a greater amount of sewage was discharged into the water, leading to the deterioration of kelp forests. This pollution, combined with a warmer water temperature because of the 1957 El Niño event, rendered the kelp forests practically extinct, which meant to loss of abalones’ main food source.

Therefore, because of a lack of food, the abalone either did not reproduce or had badly weakened shells and stunted growth. Even after the kelp gradually grew back and abalone populations increased because of stricter regulations, poaching became a huge problem. Because abalones are found in predictable, accessible locations, and because they have a high unit value, the value of individual animals outweighed any risks or penalties for poaching. Enforcement of the laws was minimal because of California’s small environmental budget—there were only five wardens responsible for monitoring “hunting, fishing, exotic animals, [and] pollution events” for the entire inland Los Angeles County (Tegner 1993).

Example of an Abalone shell. Source: Mynzah.com

Example of an Abalone shell. Source: Mynzah.com

Since 1977, this fishery has been closed to sport and commercial take of abalones along parts of the California coastline. Yet this closure has not led to abalone population recovery because the off-limit areas were not located in areas with existing abalone stocks, so recolonization was not possible. Neither was poaching was not heavily monitored (Tegner 1993). Recent research has also found that opening up abalone reserves to fishing can result in immediate and drastic declines in abalone density, size, and reproductive capacity (Rogers-Bennett 2013). Perhaps only with time and new management strategies will abalone populations have a chance to recover.

The history of the California sardine fishery is another example of failed regulations and drastic overfishing. The fishery began in the late 1800s, developed in response to a demand for food because of World War I. People canned and reduced the fish for food and oil, with small amounts used for live and dead bait. As the fishery grew and expanded, environmentalists and scientists recommended there be a catch limit of 200,000 tons, but since there seemed to be an endless supply of fish, no one listened.

 School of sardines. Source: opb.org

School of sardines. Source: opb.org

From the 1930s to 1940s, the pacific sardine fishery was the largest in North America, but after just a few years, it totally collapsed. From a catch of over 790,000 tons in 1936 to less than 100 tons in the 1970s (Wolf 1992), the sardine fisheries clearly needed better regulations.

In 1967, decades after the fishery had collapsed (Wolf 1992), California passed an emergency bill declaring a two-year moratorium on the harvest of sardines. It was a much-needed acknowledgement that the fishery was no longer viable (Wolf 1992), and gradually the sardine populations began to increase again. The quota limit increased as the fish populations increased, and then would decrease as the populations declined again.

This system of waiting until the fish populations collapse to put in fishery regulations, and then allowing a free-for-all once they recover slightly, will not last in the long term. It is a ‘too little too late’ policy that eventually will result in either extinction or endangerment of animal species.

Though these two fisheries are now managed with the future of the fish populations in mind, and the government and fishermen appear to have learned from the past, there are still countless fisheries off of Southern California that have collapsed, even within the past few years. Many people blame this surprising decline on something called “hyperstability.” It’s a phenomenon where a high catch rate masks a decline in actual population of fish because the fish tend to spawn and congregate in large masses, giving an “illusion of plenty” (UC San Diego 2011). Though the fisheries are now required to tightly monitor the stock of fishes, because the fish congregate in large masses in certain places, their data is always too high a number.

The persistent over-fishing and consistently high catch rates are what lead to the collapse, in addition to the gradual warming of the water since 1980. If we want to preserve the ocean’s beauty and continue to eat sushi, fisheries need to not rely purely on catch rates to determine fish population level, both in Southern California and the rest of the world.

A combination of scientific research and constant monitoring must be incorporated into fisheries management before the fish population collapses. Even with fish populations displaying extraordinary declines and recoveries, human interferences should never cause such drastic changes in marine life, and people need to immediately take a lesson from the past and implement stricter catch quotas worldwide.

The future of seafood and entire marine ecosystems is not at all certain, and based on past mistakes, stricter regulations and more consistent, updated research are the keys to ensuring that these species that we rely on for food, science, and natural beauty never go extinct.

Lee-Bio-Picture1Author Bio: Katie Lee is a freshman at the University of Southern California’s Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences. She lives in Kauai, Hawaii but would reside in the waves if she could. She is currently pursuing a B.S. in Environmental Science and Health with a minor in Business, and hopes to save the oceans in the near future.

References:

Laura Rogers-Bennett, Kristin E. Hubbard, Christina I. Juhasz, Dramatic declines in red abalone populations after opening a “de facto” marine reserve to fishing: Testing temporal reserves, Biological Conservation, Volume 157, January 2013, Pages 423-431.

Taniguchi, Ian K., et al. “Testing translocation as a recovery tool for pink (Haliotis corrugata) and green (Haliotis fulgens) abalone in Southern California.” Journal of Shellfish Research 32.1 (2013): 209+. Academic OneFile. Web. 24 May 2013.

Tegner, M.J.1993. Southern California Abalones: Can Stocks Be Rebuilt Using Marine Harvest Refugial Can. 1. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 50: 2010-201 8.

Wolf, Patricia. “Sardine Recovery and the California Sardine Fishery.” California Department of Fish and Game, Rep., Vol. 33, 1992.

Editor’s note: Scientific Research Diving at USC Dornsife is offered as part of an experiential summer program offered to undergraduate students of the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences through the Environmental Studies Program.   This course takes place on location at the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island and throughout Micronesia. Students investigate important environmental issues such as ecologically sustainable development, fisheries management, protected-area planning and assessment, and human health issues. During the course of the program, the student team will dive and collect data to support conservation and management strategies to protect the fragile coral reefs of Guam and Palau in Micronesia.

Instructors for the course include Jim Haw, Director of the Environmental Studies Program in USC Dornsife, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies David Ginsburg, Lecturer Kristen Weiss, SCUBA instructor and volunteer in the USC Scientific Diving Program Tom Carr and USC Dive Safety Officer Gerry Smith of the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies.

Posted in Guam, Palau, USC | Leave a comment

Hyperbaric Oxygen: A Spectrum of Emerging Treatments

Originally published at ScientificAmerican.com

By Nathalie Sami and Janice Wong

The hyperbaric chamber on Catalina Island at the USC Wrigley Marine Institute.

The hyperbaric chamber on Catalina Island at the USC Wrigley Marine Institute.

Certified scuba divers are familiar with the use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) for decompression sickness treatment. However, in the past 50 years, researchers have revealed HBOT’s broad applications to human physiology and medicine. The outlook for HBOT applications for treating wounds, neurological diseases, and even certain cancers appears promising. What once seemed relevant only for scuba divers has now been discovered to benefit members of the general population.

Background

HBOT involves the administration of pure, 100% oxygen in a compression chamber at pressures above atmospheric levels. The resultant increase of oxygen content in blood yields a broad variety of physiological effects, because increased pressure allows oxygen to saturate more effectively in the body. For scuba divers, this increased oxygen pressure reduces the volume of inert-gas bubbles in blood vessels, reversing air embolism or decompression sickness (Danesh-Sani et al. 2012). Moreover, researchers have described several beneficial influences of HBOT on healing damaged tissues: increased white blood cell activity, reduced swelling, healing time reduction, tissue regeneration, and even synergistic activity with antibiotics (Strużyna et al. 2008). The Undersea Hyperbaric Medicine Society recommends many applications for HBOT that have proven successful (Table 1). Beyond these now standard uses, several novel research areas demonstrate further beneficial HBOT applications. HBOT applications to wounds, cancers, and neurological and vascular diseases will be discussed below.

Table 1

Wounds

Low oxygen content caused by swelling or burns reduces PH and prohibits wound healing. On the other hand, higher oxygen tension improves healing of wounds by stimulating tissue-forming cells (Danesh-Sani et al. 2012). Hyperbaric oxygenation of wounds thus initiates wound-healing events such as tissue and cell generation and resistance to infection (Shah 2010). Furthermore, oxygen helps fight against infections by killing bacteria that cannot tolerate oxygen (Youn 2001). For example, in treating injuries as common as burns, HBOT reduces healing time and number of infections (Strużyna et al. 2008).

Cholesterol Crystal Embolism (CCE)

(A) Physical lesion at presentation; (B) worsening of lesions after 1 month of treatment; and (C) complete resolution of necrotic lesions after 1 month of HBOT (Gurgo et al., 2011).

(A) Physical lesion at presentation; (B) worsening of lesions after 1 month of treatment; and (C) complete resolution of necrotic lesions after 1 month of HBOT (Gurgo et al., 2011).

Such benefits also apply to patients of cholesterol crystal embolism (CCE), a disease with a high mortality rate. In a case study of a 56-year-old man who developed CCE and who had already undergone an unsuccessful standard treatment, HBOT caused rapid improvement. As seen in Fig. 1, after two months, complete recovery was obtained, leading the authors to conclude that HBOT may serve as an effective treatment in CCE (Gurgo et al., 2011).

Bone Healing

Another known application for HBOT is with bone healing, during which HBOT increases white blood cell activity and tissue formation (Danesh-Sani et al. 2012). Also, HBOT may induce the formation of new blood vessels by stimulating an increase of stem cells within the tissues (Shah 2010). An application of bone-healing effects regards the influence of HBOT on bone tissue after the cessation of smoking. Smoking has proven to delay bone healing and impair blood circulation; however, HBOT mitigates the effects of smoking on bone healing, now proving that bone damage caused by smoking may be reversible (Yen et al. 2008).

Surgery

Surgical injuries present yet another opportunity for HBOT intervention. Danesh-Sani and colleagues (2012) asserted that use of HBOT before surgical treatment significantly reduces risk of postoperative infection and accelerates healing, and other studies demonstrate benefits of post-operative HBOT application. In the case of urethral reconstructive operations, which commonly cause decreased erectile function, findings suggest that HBOT stimulates the regeneration of injured nerves and promotes tissue formation to allow erectile function recovery (Yuan et al. 2011).

Cancers

Solid tumors, which are often hypoxic, can increase genetic instability and activate invasive growth to exacerbate certain types of cancer (Moen & Stuhr 2012). By providing oxygenation, HBOT induces excessive oxygenation, which causes rapid degeneration and tumor cell destruction. As a result, HBOT is thought to yield beneficial effects in several types of tumors with minimal invasiveness (Danesh-Sani et al. 2012). As well, HBOT could improve and help overcome chemotherapeutic resistance by increasing cellular sensitivity to radiotherapy (Moen & Stuhr 2012).

Breast and Prostate Cancer

The adjunctive use of HBOT with chemotherapy has shown positive effects on reducing breast cancer. As the most frequently occurring cancer in women, breast cancer provides a worldwide threat, and HBOT has shown a strong effect against different mammary cancer cells. HBOT has also led to less aggressive and restricted growth of large tumor cell colonies (Moen & Stuhr 2012). Successful experiments regarding prostate cancer cells with HBOT have also generated affirming results. Cancer of the prostate is the second leading type of cancer for men, and in vitro experiments have demonstrated the efficacy of HBOT in decreasing the cancer cells’ growth rate and increasing their sensitivity to chemotherapy (Moen & Stuhr 2012).

Neurological Diseases

The success of recent studies regarding the use of HBOT in improving neuromuscular pathologies has merited further investigation to confirm its beneficial uses and mechanisms.

The most evidence-supported neurological application for HBOT lies with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), which is currently diagnosed in 1 in 88 children in the US (CDC 2012). ASD includes neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by restrictive and repetitive behaviors as well as impairments in communication and social interaction. Several experiments involving the effects of HBOT on children with autism have reported clinical improvements, citing decreased inflammation and improved blood circulation to the brain. One study resulted in improvements in overall functioning for 80% of autistic children treated with HBOT, leading to the conclusion that HBOT is a safe treatment for as prevalent a neurological disease as ASD (Rossignol et al. 2009).

Vascular Diseases

HBOT may reduce the symptoms of vascular diseases by improving circulation and oxygenation.

Vascular Dementia

For instance, vascular dementia, caused by decrease blood flow to the brain, is characterized by loss of memory, confusion, problems with speech and understanding, and an increased dependence on others. While no effective treatment has been established, models have demonstrated HBOT’s ability to improve blood supply and promote nerve tissue formation in the brain and enhance learning and memory. One study found that patients receiving HBOT exhibited better cognitive function than patients of the control group after 12 weeks of treatment (Xiao et al. 2012).

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

HBOT is also used to treat carbon monoxide poisoning. Usually, hemoglobin proteins in red blood cells transport oxygen. However, carbon monoxide binds more readily to hemoglobin than oxygen.  As a result, the body is unable to distribute oxygen throughout the body when exposed to carbon monoxide resulting in hypoxia (Mills and Saulsberry, 2011). HBOT is effectively used to reverse this harmful effect.

Arterial gas embolisms and stroke

One of the common uses of HBOT is to treat arterial gas embolisms. An arterial gas embolism is when that gas in the circulatory system goes through arteries or pulmonary veins and blocks blood flow (Muth and Shank, 2000). In non-diving accidents the cause of arterial gas embolisms are caused by medical mistakes such as accidentally injecting air in patients. These escaped bubbles are very dangerous because they block blood flow to certain areas, resulting in hypoxic tissue. In the brain, reduced blood and oxygen flow can cause a stroke and brain damage. Acute stroke results from impairment of blood flow to the brain, which causes neuron cell death. HBOT may increase available oxygen and reduce brain swelling to prevent further neuron damage (Bennett et al. 2010). Stroke is a leading cause of death in the US, so these discoveries may yield huge implications. Hyperbaric medicine is effective in treating these problems because raising the pressure of the chamber causes the size of gas bubbles to decrease (Bell and Gill, 2004). In addition to the reduction in bubble size, oxygen can more easily dissolve to benefit the previously hypoxic environment (Muth and Shank, 2000).

Insulin Sensitivity

Another study proved that HBOT creates a substantial increase in insulin sensitivity. The improvement occurs rapidly (e.g., within three treatments) and is sustained at least until the thirtieth treatment. HBOT may induce insulin sensitivity by oxygenating fat tissue and reducing inflammation (Wilkinson et al. 2012). This discovery could have important implications, because insulin insensitivity is associated with diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and certain types of cancer, which cause the majority of deaths in America (Colberg 2008).

Risks

While HBOT provides many beneficial treatments, there are some associated risks, such as oxygen toxicity. Metabolizing oxygen releases highly reactive byproducts that build up over time and saturate in tissue with increasing pressure. Resulting oxygen toxicity can lead to respiratory issues and seizures, because the toxicity often affects the lungs and central nervous system (Almeling et al. 2000).  Another risk commonly associated with HBOT is barotraumatic lesions, the result of unequal pressure between the outside and inside of an air containing space. For humans, the middle ear most commonly experiences barotrauma, but other areas include lungs, nasal cavities and sinuses, inner ears, and teeth (Almeling et al, 2000). Equalizing during treatment is important, because people who are unable to equalize their ears during HBOT can experience middle ear barotrauma (Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society, 2011). Middle ear barotrauma, the most common side effect of HBOT, occurs when the pressure outside the ear is greater than the pressure of the middle ear.

Conclusion

While there are some risks associated with hyperbaric treatment, careful administration and thorough monitoring can limit the risk of side effects of HBOT. Although HBOT has not yet been adopted as the primary treatment for many of the mentioned conditions, it provides a minimally-invasive opportunity for treatment. The discovery of HBOT’s physiological benefits has demonstrated implications for treating the most prevalent ailments in the US. Thus, the newly-proposed, broadly-reaching benefits of HBOT applications beyond diving injury treatment merit deeper investigations. Indeed, with so many potential treatment functions, HBOT has earned its reputation as “a therapy in search of diseases” (Danesh-Sani et al. 2012).

References:

Almeling M, Busch R, Peters P, Plafki C (2000) Complications and side effects of hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine 71(2): 119-24

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) (2012). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html

Bennett, M. H., Wasiak, J., Schnabel, A., Kranke, P., & French, C. (2010). Hyperbaric oxygen therapy for acute ischemic stroke. Stroke, 41(4), e185-e186. doi: 10.1161/STROKEAHA.109.571380

Colberg, S. (2008). Increasing insulin sensitivity. Retrieved from http://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/articles/exercise/increasing_insulin_sensitivity/all/

Bell CAN, Gill AL (2004) Hyperbaric oxygen: its uses, mechanisms of action and outcome. QJM: An International Journal of Medicine 97(7): 385-395

Danesh-Sani, S. A., Shariati-Sarabi, Z., & Feiz, M. R. (2012). Comprehensive review of hyperbaric oxygen therapy. The Journal of Craniofacial Surgery, 23(5), e483-e491. doi: 10.1097/SCS.0b013e3182668777

Gurgo, A., Volpe, M., Valenti, V., Paneni, F., Passerini, J., Di Vavo, M., . . . Sabani, A. (2011). Hyperbaric oxygen therapy in a case of cholesterol crystal embolization. The American Journal of Emergency Medicine. ( No. 29). doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2010.05.023

Mills R, Saulsberry AJ (2011) Diseases and Conditions. Hyperbaric Link. Retrieved from http://hyperbariclink.com/diseases-and-conditions/diseases-and-conditions.aspx

Moen, I., & Stuhr, L. E. B. (2012). Hyperbaric oxygen therapy and cancer–a review. Targeted Oncology, 7(4), 233-242. doi: 10.1007/s11523-012-0233-x

Muth CM, Shank ES (2000) Gas Embolism. New England Journal of Medicine 342: 476-482

Rossignol, D. A., Grushkin, B., Mumper, E. A., Rossignol, L. W., Smith, S., Schneider, C., . . . Hintz, G. (2009). Hyperbaric treatment for children with autism: A multicenter, randomized, double-blind, controlled trial. BMC Pediatrics, 9(1), 21-21. doi: 10.1186/1471-2431-9-21

Shah, J. (2010). Hyperbaric oxygen therapy. The Journal of the American College of Certified Wound Specialists, 2(1), 9-13. doi: 10.1016/j.jcws.2010.04.001

Wilkinson, D., Chapman, I. M., & Heilbronn, L. K. (2012). Hyperbaric oxygen therapy improves peripheral insulin sensitivity in humans. Diabetic Medicine : A Journal of the British Diabetic Association, 29(8), 986-989. doi: 10.1111/j.1464-5491.2012.03587.x

Xiao, Y., Wang, J., Jiang, S., & Luo, H. (2012). Hyperbaric oxygen therapy for vascular dementia. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (Online). doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD009425.pub2

Yen, C., Tu, Y., Ma, C., Yeh, J., Kao, F., Yu, S., Ueng, S. W. (2008). Measurement of tibial endothelial cell function after cigarette smoking, cessation of smoking and hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Injury, 39, 40-46. doi: 10.1016/j.injury.2008.08.030

Yuan, J., Yang, L., Wang, Y., Ding, T., Chen, T., & Lu, Q. (2011). Hyperbaric oxygen therapy for recovery of erectile function after posterior urethral reconstruction. International Urology and Nephrology, 43(3), 755-761. doi: 10.1007/s11255-010-9870-0

Youn BA (2001) Oxygen and its Role in Wound Healing. Natural Health Information Archive. Retrieved from http://www.info-archive.com/oxywoundhealing.htm

The authors, Nathalie Sami (left) and Janice Wong (right), in front of the Catalina Hyperbaric Chamber on USC Wrigley Marine Institute Campus.

About the authors:

Nathalie Sami is a rising sophomore majoring in Environmental Science and Health in the USC Dana and Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences. Her interests include playing, coaching and watching basketball, learning about sustainable lifestyles, and volunteering at health sites.

Janice Wong is an incoming sophomore majoring in environmental science and health at the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

Editor’s note: Scientific Research Diving at USC Dornsife is offered as part of an experiential summer program offered to undergraduate students of the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences through the Environmental Studies Program.  This course takes place on location at the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island and throughout Micronesia. Students investigate important environmental issues such as ecologically sustainable development, fisheries management, protected-area planning and assessment, and human health issues. During the course of the program, the student team will dive and collect data to support conservation and management strategies to protect the fragile coral reefs of Guam and Palau in Micronesia.

Instructors for the course include Jim Haw, Director of the Environmental Studies Program in USC Dornsife, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies David Ginsburg, Lecturer Kristen Weiss, SCUBA instructor and volunteer in the USC Scientific Diving Program Tom Carr and USC Dive Safety Officer Gerry Smith of the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies

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Challenges Facing Japan’s Marine Fisheries

Originally published at ScientificAmerican.com

By Molly Sullivan

For thousands of years, the sea has served Japan as a cultural and economic resource. The Japanese have made heavy use of the ocean surrounding their island nation, harvesting a host of marine organisms from sea cucumbers to whales.  However, in recent decades the ocean has become a resource at risk, with the onset of climate change, overfishing and other threats. While management plans have been adopted for several fish stocks, species such as the blue fin tuna face collapse. As of 2009, 42 of Japan’s 84 fish stocks were categorized as low by the country’s Ministry of Fishing, Forestry and Agriculture. (Statistical Handbook of Japan 2012).

While fisheries depletion is a global issue, it is especially relevant in Japan where seafood consumption is staggeringly high. 23% of the average Japanese person’s protein intake comes from the ocean, almost 3 times that of the average American.  As a nation, Japan consumes 7.5 million tons of seafood annually (Balfour et. al 2011). Tokyo is home to the world’s largest fish market, where roughly 2300 tons of seafood is sold daily for an average profit of $15.5 million.  The largest marine fisheries in Japan are tuna, bonito, sardines, Alaskan Pollock, crabs and squid (Statistical Handbook of Japan 2012).

The degree of depletion varies from species to species, but the fishing industry has seen a net decline in recruitment and profits in the past two decades.  In 2011, the total catch was 3.8 million tons, considerably less than the 6 million tons caught in 1995. Financially, the industry has also suffered. Reported earnings were 1.5 trillion yen in 2011, down from 1.6 trillion in 2006 (Statistical Handbook of Japan 2012). Overfishing is largely the cause of this decline. The increased use of powered trawlers and other gear innovations paired with a growing demand for seafood has resulted in the overexploitation of marine resources. In addition, development has led to destruction of seagrass beds, crucial habitat for coastal species (Makino 2011).

The fishing industry suffered further blows after an earthquake and tsunami hit Japan in March 2011, followed by the subsequent meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear plant. In the Iwate prefecture alone, the tsunami cost the fishing industry $1.3 billion in damage, wrecking fishing vessels and fish processing plants (Balfour et al 2013). Fearing radiation from the nuclear plant, countries such as China and Korea banned seafood exported from Japan in the weeks following the tsunami. It took a month before fish sales finally recovered. In April 2012, researchers from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute reported that elevated levels of radiation were still present in fish caught off the coast of the Fukushima plant. In October, they announced that 40% of fish from the area still contained unsafe levels of radioactive cesium. In January 2013, a fish was caught that contained 2500 times the legal amount of radiation (Mosbergen 2013).

Even without damage from natural disasters, fish stocks across Japan are still at risk. The species that has garnered the most media attention for its threatened stock and high economic value is the Pacific Bluefin tuna. Japan’s Bluefin fishery has declined dramatically in recent decades, with some scientists estimating that their current stock is only 4% of its original un-fished population (Jolly 2013). As the consumer of 80% of the world’s Bluefin tuna (Foster 2013), Japan is largely responsible for this decline.  Most Bluefin are caught by large purse seining vessels that indiscriminately catch fish of all sizes and ages, including juveniles.

A chef poses with the head of the $1.76 million tuna auctioned off in Tokyo in January (Kimimasa Mayama / EPA 2013).

A chef poses with the head of the $1.76 million tuna auctioned off in Tokyo in January (Kimimasa Mayama / EPA 2013).

The high market value of Bluefin has contributed to its popularity and subsequent decline. In January 2013, a single fish was auctioned off for $1.76 million (Foster 2013). While tighter regulations have been implemented as called by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, they have not been strictly enforced in Japan. Ties between the government and fishing industry, a largely apathetic media and sushi-craving public have not helped the situation. Japanese fishermen see little need to stop fishing the Pacific Bluefin as fishing boats from Taiwan and South Korea take from the same stock (Foster 2013).

While the Bluefin tuna stock faces collapse, Japan has been able to successfully manage several of its smaller, more localized fisheries. At the local level, fisheries are governed by Fishery Cooperative Associations (FCAs), organizations of local fisherman in a given region that establish their own catch limits and no-take areas. While the federal government sets the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for most species, the FCAs decide the quota distribution and access rules, usually based on the recommendations of fisheries scientists (Makino 2011).

The FCA style of management has proven successful in monitoring small-scale fisheries such as that of the snow crab and sea cucumber. After the snow crab stock in Kyoto prefecture declined in the 1970s from overfishing, the Kyoto Bottom Trawlers Union, a subset of the regional FCA, collaborated with researchers from the Kyoto Prefectural Agriculture, Forest and Fisheries Technology Center to set up permanent marine protected areas in mating and spawning grounds and seasonal no-take zones.  Stricter minimum size limits and gear restrictions were also imposed. These measures proved successful and the snow crab fishery was awarded a Marine Stewardship Council certificate in 2008.  The success of the management plan was due to the cooperation of the snow crab fishermen who were heavily invested in reviving the stock. Snow crab is the most lucrative bottom trawler species and is considered a winter delicacy and tourist attraction in Kyoto (Makino 2011).

A similar management success story is the regulation of the sea cucumber fishery in Mutsu Bay. Dried sea cucumber is popular in both Japan and China, with 50% of the stock staying in Japan while the rest is exported to the Hong Kong seafood market. The fisheries is regulated by the Council for Promoting Sea Cucumber Resource Utilization which regulates size and catch limits as well as dredge vessel traffic. They have also worked with fisheries researchers to build artificial reefs made of scallop shells to restore cucumber habitat. The management model has been successful but the sea cucumber fishery still faces the threat of illegal poaching (Makino 2011).

While single species management is the most popular approach to fisheries management in Japan, ecosystem based management is practiced on the coastline of Japan’s Shiretoko peninsula, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2005. It is a highly productive area that supports marine mammals and birds, as well as commercial fisheries such as squid, Pacific cod, Atka mackerel and walleye pollock. An integrated marine management plan was adopted that identified indicator species to monitor. These species include the Walleye pollock, Pacific cod and Stellar sea lion (Makino 2011).

A whale is caught by a Japanese boat (AFP 2012).

A whale is caught by a Japanese boat (AFP 2012).

The Walleye pollock is commercially important and is also the main prey of the Stellar sea lion. Fishermen must record the body length of each catch. In addition, there is a limit on how many fishing vessels are allowed in the area. Territorial disputes with Russia have made it more challenging to monitor the Walleye stock as both Russia and Japan harvest the fish but do not coordinate their catch limits.  Another threat to the World Heritage site as a whole is climate change, which has resulted in the decline in the seasonal sea ice that makes the peninsula so productive.  Scientists are currently developing adaptive management strategies and a climate change monitoring program for the ecologically and economically important area (Makino 2011).

While the management of some Japanese fisheries has garnered international praise, Japan has come under harsh international criticism for continuing to harvest whales. The International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling in the Southern Ocean Whaling Sanctuary in 1994. Japan has found a way around this ban by claiming it harvests whales for research purposes and then sells the by-catch to consumers. However, the IWC science committee found that the “research” conducted by Japan has achieved very little. Meanwhile, an estimated 500 tons of whale meat have been stockpiled as only 5% of the Japanese population still consumes whale meat. Adding to the controversy is the fact that taxpayer money has been spent on whaling. A study conducted by the International Fund for Animal Welfare found that around $400 million in taxes has gone to Japan’s whaling industry in the past 25 years, money in recent years that could have gone to support rebuilding after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami (Ryall 2013).

Japan’s whaling industry continues to face opposition from environmental groups. The Sea Shepherd conservation group has resorted to physically confronting Japan’s whaling fleet at sea. Measures against the whaling ships have included attempts to damage propellers, targeting refueling ships, and using smaller ships to get between harpooning ships and their prey. The battle has become increasingly violent, with whaling ships retaliating with water cannons and concussion grenades. While Sea Shepherd has physically prevented Japan from harpooning whales in a handful of these encounters, nothing has changed on the legal stage. The U.S. Court of Appeals recently ruled that the actions of Sea Shepherd constituted piracy and Japanese whaling is still permitted under international law. Australia is currently working to change that law and recently submitted a case to the International Court of Justice to ban Japanese whaling (Bryan 2013).  It seems unlikely that Japan will stop whaling anytime soon.  The country’s fisheries minister vowed in February that Japan would never stop hunting whales because of its importance to Japanese culture (Willacy 2013). However, public sentiment towards whaling is not what it once was, with 54% of Japanese indifferent to whaling and only 11% supporting its continuation (Ryall 2013).

From overfishing to climate change and natural disasters, the 21st century has brought more than a few challenges to Japan’s declining marine fisheries. Controversies over whaling have not helped the fishing industry’s international image.  In order to stay afloat in the changing global and political climate, the Japanese will have to adopt more sustainable fishing practices before it is too late. Japan has been able to implement management strategies for localized fisheries. However, its cultural history of seafood consumption and the economic value of the fishing industry are major obstacles in saving species such as the Pacific Bluefin tuna. Major policy changes and drastic shifts in public opinion and behavior will be necessary as Japan moves forward.

Author Bio: Originally from Westport, MA, Molly Sullivan is currently a rising junior pursuing a B.S. in Environmental Studies at the University of Southern California. As an avid recreational diver with a passion for marine conservation, Molly is looking forward to gaining her scientific diving certification and learning more about environmental management practices in Guam and Palau.

References:

Balfour, F., Matsuyama, K. , and Biggs, S. (2011). A Grim Future for Japan’s Fisheries. Bloomberg Businessweek. Bloomberg L.P. Web. 7 March 2013.

Foster, M. (2013). Bluefin May Be on Brink of Collapse; Japan’s Appetite Isn’t. Japan Times. Web. 10 March 2013.

Foster, M. (2013). Japan Bluefin Tuna Sells for Record $1.76 Million. The Associated Press. Web.  9 March 2013.

Japan Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication. Statistics Bureau. (2012). Statistical Handbook of Japan, Chapter 5: Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries.

Jolly, D. (2013). Pacific Tuna Stocks Have Plummeted, Scientists Warn The New York Times. 15 March 2013.

Makino, M. (2011). Fisheries Management in Japan: Its Institutional Features and Case Studies. Vol. 34. Netherlands: Springer.

Mosbergen, D. (2013). Fukushima Fish With 2,500 TimesThe Radiation Limit Found Two Years After Nuclear Disaster. The Huffington Post. Web. 15 March 2013.

Ryall, J. (2013). Study Sinks Japan’s ‘scientific Whaling’ Program. Deutsche Welle. Web. 20 March 2013.

Willacy, Mark. (2013). “Japan’s Fisheries Minister Claims Japan Will Never Stop Whale Hunt.” ABC News. Web. 19 March 2013.

Editor’s note: Scientific Research Diving at USC Dornsife is offered as part of an experiential summer program offered to undergraduate students of the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences through the Environmental Studies Program.   This course takes place on location at the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island and throughout Micronesia. Students investigate important environmental issues such as ecologically sustainable development, fisheries management, protected-area planning and assessment, and human health issues. During the course of the program, the student team will dive and collect data to support conservation and management strategies to protect the fragile coral reefs of Guam and Palau in Micronesia.

Instructors for the course include Jim Haw, Director of the Environmental Studies Program in USC Dornsife, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies David Ginsburg, Lecturer Kristen Weiss, SCUBA instructor and volunteer in the USC Scientific Diving Program Tom Carr and USC Dive Safety Officer Gerry Smith of the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies.

Posted in Guam, Japan, Palau, USC | Leave a comment

Military Buildup’s Environmental Takedown

Originally published at ScientificAmerican.com

By: Juliana Duran

Guam, a US territory, is an island that is no stranger to war or military presence. It first came under US control after the Spanish-American war. However, during WWII, after Pearl Harbor was bombed, the Japanese invaded and occupied Guam.  Ultimately, American forces retook the island, and following the war Guam was once again under US control and became a territory. Since then, the US military has been present on the island

(CSIS 2012). The military has been a large part of Guam’s recent history, and it continues to drive much of the decision making in the Guamanian government. Currently the Navy, Army and the Air Force each have forces on the island and all are expected to increase greatly in the next seven years.

Map of Guam, an unincorporated territory of the United States. Green portions of the map represent the military bases. With added military personnel, infrastructure issues will be magnified. Photo Credit: http://www.public.navy.mil/fcc-c10f/nctsguam/PublishingImages/Guam_Map.bmp

Map of Guam, an unincorporated territory of the United States. Green portions of the map represent the military bases. With added military personnel, infrastructure issues will be magnified. Photo Credit: http://www.public.navy.mil/fcc-c10f/nctsguam/PublishingImages/Guam_Map.bmp

In 2006 a policy decision dictated that 8,000 US troops would move from Japan to a new site to decrease the military footprint on Okinawa and Japan. Guam was chosen as one of the sites of relocation with 5,000 troops and 1,300 dependents scheduled to make the move (McAvoy 2010). However, there are those that feel that the small island is ill equipped to handle the influx of new residents. Due to aging infrastructure, the military buildup will greatly effect Guam’s environment and impact its people if nothing is done to mitigate this problem.

In 2010 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reviewed the military’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). They found the DEIS to be unsatisfactory and recommended many changes (EPA 2010).

It is projected that by 2015, approximately 79,000 more people will move to Guam.   Many of these new residents will be construction workers sent to work on military buildup projects. With the population of the island at 180,000 residents, that is an increase of approximately 44% (McAvoy 2010). The large immigration of people will have a huge impact on the island’s water supply, creating an estimated shortage of at least six million gallons per day. Even if the Department of Defense is able to drill 16 new wells to improve the water supply, there may still be a shortage of fresh water. However, because of the lack of funding this increase in new wells seems improbable, and the shortage will most likely reach 13 million gallons per day, which can lead to some serious health and environmental problems for the small island.  The shortage will decrease the water pressure on the island, which can cause sewage and storm water to seep into the drinking water. Drinking water contamination can cause water borne diseases, which will affect the lower income communities the most. Water shortage will also decrease the ability of fire fighters to put out fires, putting the safety of Guam’s residents at risk. In order to ensure the safety of Guam’s residents and the future military personnel, the infrastructure on the island needs to be updated drastically and the Department of Defense must take measures to do so (EPA 2010).

Construction near Apra Harbor, Guam. Construction threatens the diverse marine species that live in the harbor as well as creates more waste that has no place to be treated or disposed of. Photo credit: Laurie Raymundo http://www.wri.org/publication/reefs-at-risk-revisited/stories/guam

Construction near Apra Harbor, Guam. Construction threatens the diverse marine species that live in the harbor as well as creates more waste that has no place to be treated or disposed of. Photo credit: Laurie Raymundo http://www.wri.org/publication/reefs-at-risk-revisited/stories/guam

Wastewater is also a major issue as the infrastructure of Guam continues to deteriorate. The disposal of non-potable water can be an expensive and complex issue in most communities.  In a small space like Guam this problem is compounded by the red tape caused by government bureaucracy.

The EPA states that the Department of Defense (DoD) is directly responsible for the water supply in Guam, and it is responsible for providing the resources and support to address the water shortages. The EPA recommends that the plans for the improvements begin immediately because the influx of people will come as soon as construction begins. However, these recommendations were written three years ago in 2010, and no work to improve the water and sewage systems has been undertaken. Water structures required for an adequate system include wells, storage tanks, treatment facilities, and other facilities none of which have been built. Although the EPA not only commented on the DoD’s DEIS but also gave clear and specific suggestions, the DoD and Congress have failed to implement any of the EPA’s recommendations.

Along with most of the other aging infrastructure in Guam, transportation infrastructure is also in great need of updating. The problem is so apparent that the Department of Defense was forced to add a section in the DEIS specifically addressing off-base road projects. The report, however, is not specific and only includes general descriptions of the projects. The EPA suggests that the DoD better describe the specific construction activities necessary, including the equipment needed and the impact that the building projects will have on the environment. One of the more important suggestions that the EPA gives is to specifically analyze the resource information of each of the 58 sites. It is particularly important to analyze sites close to busy places like schools and hospitals, because the roads in those areas will have higher traffic. Analysis of the sites closer to sensitive biological spots such as wetlands and habitat areas are extremely important because the EPA and other agencies do not want the military construction to have a negative impact on the environment. The EPA also recommends that analysis be done in areas that are not affected by the construction directly but may be affected indirectly such as areas downstream of construction (EPA 2010).

With the additional military construction and presence there will also be additional waste created on Guam, 16,000 lbs. of which would be hazardous. Hazardous waste disposal will be an increasing problem as the island runs out of storage and no longer has an adequate way of handling and storing hazardous waste. The DEIS is not specific regarding the disposal and treatment of hazardous waste and the EPA recommends that the DEIS should include the types and quantity of the waste as well as the plan for the construction of the facilities required for hazardous waste management. One serious type of hazardous material that is already found in buildings in Guam is polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs. Because PCBs were in the paint and caulk used to build some of the buildings in Guam, many of these buildings that are over the limit set by the Toxic Substances Control Act and must be tested and demolished. Although this is a major infrastructure problem that needs addressing the DEIS does not deal with this issue (EPA 2010).

Unfortunately it appears as though congress has no plans to fund these infrastructure updates in the near future even though they are going through with the military relocation. It appears Senator John McCain is taking the lead in opposing the funding.  On March 14, 2013, Senator McCain proposed an amendment to the Consolidated and Continuing Approbations Act, which eliminated $120 million for the Guam civilian infrastructure projects. Unfortunately the amendment was passed by a voice vote much to the dismay of Guam delegate Madeleine Bordallo. She said she was “appalled that Senator McCain continues to use funding for Guam projects as an example of ‘pork barrel’ spending—he dismissed water and wastewater improvements, which are already overburdened by our island’s existing civilian and military populations, as egregious and unnecessary.” Though disappointed, Bordallo plans to continue the struggle to secure this money in the next fiscal year (Losinio 2013).

Senator McCain cited budgetary pressures for the reason to cut the spending even though a Representative from his own state just proposed a bill that would approbate $200 million in the next fiscal year for technology in Arizona, an item that can easily be called “pork barrel” spending. During the proceedings on the Senate floor, McCain brought up the military spending that President Obama cut. He used facts and data to explain just how inadequate the Department of Defense budget would be, including talking about how the so called ‘pork-barrel’ spending would effect each branch of the military. He compares the protectors of our country to the civilians of the territory, stating that money for infrastructure repair is not nearly important as other military projects. McCain says that it is premature to invest in civilian infrastructure for Guam because the operation has not yet been decided (McCain 2013). However, Admiral Samuel Locklear, commander of the US Pacific Command, gave a date for the transfer of troops. 5,000 troops and 1,300 dependents are set to move in 2020, and although McCain believes that we cannot spend money on infrastructure until all the details of the move are known, many environmentalist including the EPA know that is not the best move. They suggest that because basic infrastructure on the island is already outdated, Guam cannot wait until the military overburdens it to build new structures.

In a turn of events, North Korea nullified the armistice that ended the Korean War in 1953. The country has increasingly become more hostile, which has made the United States military in the South Pacific become increasingly more important. The United States believes that this region of the world has become unstable with the abolishment of the armistice, so it is important for the US troops to be prepared. On March 21, 2013 North Korea threatened the US military stations on Japan as well as specifically mentioning the Andersen Air Force Base on Guam (Sang-Hung, Erlinger 2013). The Department of Defense assured Guam that they had missiles to combat anything North Korea would strike with. With this new development in North Korea’s action, the US will likely look to strengthen the forces in Guam and to give more attention to the infrastructure problems.

As the Federal government continues to use an island strategically placed in the Pacific Ocean as a military base and a deterrent to the hostile governments of the region, it does so without consideration for the environmental and sociological impacts on the island and the people that inhabit it.  This seems un-American since these people never invited the United States to use it as a fortress in the first place and they are in fact now American citizens.   If the United States plans to use Guam as it has in the past, it should secure its future by providing appropriate funding and resources to ensure that the infrastructure will be in place to give the people of Guam the quality of life they deserve.  The environmental and human implications are too serious to leave to political in fighting between a candidate that ran for President and lost.  If Senator McCain is in fact the advocate for the military that he claims to be, he should step forward and be the champion for ensuring that Guam can continue to support the presence of the military for many years to come.

AUTHOR BIO: Juliana Duran is a sophomore in the Dornsife College of Arts and Letters majoring in Environmental Studies. She wishes to incorporate environmental science into the business world and ultimately open up a green business. She hopes this course will aid her in understanding other aspects of the environmental field.

Works Cited:

Losinio, Louella. “US Senate Adopts McCain Amendment, Cuts Guam Funding.” Marianas Variety. 17 Mar. 2013. Web. 20 Mar. 2013.

McAvoy, Audrey. “EPA Sharply Criticizes Military’s Guam Plan, Cites Water and Sewage Problems.” Los Angeles Times [Los Angles] 23 Feb. 2010. Print.

McCain, John. “McCain Amendment: How It Went Down on the Senate Floor.” Http://www.pacificnewscenter.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=32391:mccain&catid=45:guam-news&Itemid=156. 15 Mar. 2013. Accessed 20 Mar. 2013.

Sang-Hung, Chloe, and Steven Erlanger. “North Korea Threatens US Military Bases in Pacific.” New York Times. 21 Mar. 2013. Accessed 22 Mar. 2013.

Editor’s note: Scientific Research Diving at USC Dornsife is offered as part of an experiential summer program offered to undergraduate students of the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences through the Environmental Studies Program.   This course takes place on location at the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island and throughout Micronesia. Students investigate important environmental issues such as ecologically sustainable development, fisheries management, protected-area planning and assessment, and human health issues. During the course of the program, the student team will dive and collect data to support conservation and management strategies to protect the fragile coral reefs of Guam and Palau in Micronesia.

Instructors for the course include Jim Haw, Director of the Environmental Studies Program in USC Dornsife, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies David Ginsburg, Lecturer Kristen Weiss, SCUBA instructor and volunteer in the USC Scientific Diving Program Tom Carr and USC Dive Safety Officer Gerry Smith of the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies.

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Offshore Energy Acquisition in the Western Pacific: The Decline of the World’s Most Abundant Fisheries

Originally published at ScientificAmerican.com

By Ryan Gobar

East Asia and the Northwestern Pacific are home to some of the world’s biggest and most productive fisheries, with average yearly yields in the 20-24 million ton range (Ahlenius 2004). The region is home to many coral reefs and these fisheries provide food for a large percentage of the world’s population. The coral reefs are also some of the most important ecological sites in the world, home to thousands of marine species. These biologically diverse marine habitats these reefs continue to add ecological and economical value to the waters off of Eastern Asia through tourism, recreation, and extractable resources.

Offshore energy exploration allows nations to access additional fuel reserves and expand domestic industry, but there are many costs to consider. While large tracts of natural gas and oil occur in the seabed off the coast of East Asia in the Pacific Ocean they vary in degrees of difficulty and the resources needed to locate and extract these fuels. The process can be very lucrative and offshore drilling rigs are a common sight for many residents of coastal areas across the globe, but the hunt for these resources can be highly detrimental to the local ecosystems and other natural economic assets such as fisheries and tourist attractions.

Types of offshore energy extraction include drilling for oil and hydraulic fracking, both of which have large impacts on the environment in which they are done. For example, seismic mapping, the initial assessment and surveying for potential oil deposits, consists of blasting high decibel waves along the seafloor to map deposits and their sizes (CAOE 2010). The noise caused by the waves can injure and impair many different species of fish and marine wildlife. These disruptions, especially in a highly productive environment, could potentially damage populations to the point of impacting fisherman’s daily catches, bringing down local economies and making it more difficult for fishermen to provide for their families.

In addition, drilling also releases many toxic chemicals into the area, similar to the acidic heavy metal runoff created when mining on land. When used in close proximity to valuable ecological assets this concentration of chemicals can harm the reproductive cycles of fish and further exacerbate issues such as ocean acidification, a major factor in the decline in coral reefs (Boesch & Rabalais 2003).

Perhaps the greatest and most publicized impacts of offshore energy exploration are oil spills. Highly detrimental to the environment, a large-scale oil spill like the Exxon Valdez or Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico can cause adverse effects decades into the future. While extensive risk assessment and planning are required before drilling commences, accidents resulting in spills still occur, often due to poor regulation, oversight, or maintenance (Boesch & Rabalais 2003).

Map illustrating the complexities of maritime claims in East Asia. With these overlapping and contested claims, rights to deep sea drilling sites may become debated and inter-country conflict may arise. Photo by TheEnergyReport.com

Map illustrating the complexities of maritime claims in East Asia. With these overlapping and contested claims, rights to deep sea drilling sites may become debated and inter-country conflict may arise. Photo by TheEnergyReport.com

Another challenge that comes with oil spills is the clean up. In a region such as East Asia where many countries have access to the coast, a large-scale oil spill could create issues in determining the responsibility of clean up, and getting countries to act in conjunction to address a multinational problem. This would be further hindered by the large degree of territorial disputes among East Asian nations in terms of rightful ownership of areas with oil and natural gas reserves. Many lay claim to the ownership and rights to harvest these resources, but would each country defend their responsibility for a spill, or would a blame-game erupt and further destabilize the region?

When contemplating the benefits of offshore energy acquisition one must assess the amount of oil discovered and accurately predict how much of that reserve will be economically feasible to extract. Oil fields are not completely drained by a rig. Much of the field is typically too deep or under rock that takes too much cost/effort to recover, and the reported values for sites are often inflated (CAOE 2010). If a five billion barrel deposit is discovered but only two billion barrels are feasible to withdraw, a cost-benefit analysis must be done to see if the economic gain of drilling would outweigh the cost of setting up the site, combined with costs of damages done to the ecosystem. A large debate over the benefits of deep sea drilling versus detrimental effects to the environment has been sparked in many countries. Worldwide opposition to drilling has manifested in several forms including political figures and activism groups.

A major risk of offshore energy acquisition is the potential to disrupt or reduce the productivity of natural fisheries. As a multi-billion dollar a year industry, the Northwest Pacific’s fisheries are constantly at risk from complications induced by offshore energy exploration (Ahlenius 2004). The extraction of fuel resources largely benefits a few multinational corporations, while the negative environmental consequences of extraction are generally felt locally. Conversely, the livelihood of many fishermen depends upon the continued health of local ecosystems and the fish populations that depend on them. A reduction in fish stocks due to an oil spill could not only result in financial hardship for fishermen, but also expose the region to food shortages and increased prices at the market, having widespread socioeconomic impacts.

This image shows amount of fish caught as well as the diversity of catches in different fishing regions across the globe. It is notable to see the largest and most diverse catches occurring in the Northwestern Pacific along the coast of East Asia. Photo by World Fisheries Hotspots

This image shows amount of fish caught as well as the diversity of catches in different fishing regions across the globe. It is notable to see the largest and most diverse catches occurring in the Northwestern Pacific along the coast of East Asia. Photo by World Fisheries Hotspots

While there are many anthropogenic factors impacting the ocean and coastal environments, offshore energy exploration has the potential to be one of the most detrimental. The search and extraction of resources not only has an effect on the aquatic ecosystems, it also includes the infrastructure and habitat destruction that occurs on land where the drilling company deposits and refines collected crude oil.

Waste-heat and other sources of pollution emitted by these onshore facilities can harm local wetlands, a factor that has been found to be decreasing mangrove populations in Eastern Asia (Haeruman 1988). Mangroves are vital to a coastal ecosystem for a variety of reasons – not only are they a buffer for storms making land fall but they also filter and purify water, provide habitats for many species of young fish, and can act as a sustainable source of wood.

With the potential to put billions of dollars of fishery income at risk as well as the health of aquatic environments across the Northwestern Pacific and Eastern Asia, deep sea drilling may not continue to pass a cost-benefit analyses. Paired with ever-dwindling reserves and organized opposition that is gaining strength, deep water drilling will become increasingly more costly and difficult.

In a future where citizens are more aware and environmentally conscious; and renewable energies have begun to become more widespread, perhaps deep sea drilling can be eliminated in the near future. With greater bilateral support for biodiversity conservation and a push for energy innovation, our waters can be made safer through the eradication of using hydrocarbons as fuel and making the switch to sustainable, non-polluting energy sources.

Works Cited:

Ahlenius, H. (n.d.). World fisheries hotspots, 2004 | GRID-Arendal – Maps & Graphics library. GRID-Arendal – Home. Retrieved March 24, 2013, from http://www.grida.no/graphicslib/detail/world-fisheries-hotspots-2004_1537

Boesch, D., & Rabalais, N. (2003, October 4). Long-term Environmental Effects of Offshore Oil and Gas Development – Google Books. Google Books. Retrieved March 23, 2013, from http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=0S7vDujiSDIC&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&dq=environmental+effects+of+offshore+drilling&ots=06Oh7BVZFg&sig=yN4LRSnc2xKHTT06FkPR3h5U10E#v=onepage&q&f=true

Haeruman, H. (1988). Conservation in Indonesia. Ambio. Vol. 17, No. 3, East Asian Seas, pp. 218-222. Retrieved March 24, 2013, from www.jstor.org.libproxy.usc.edu/stable/4313457?seq=1

No Offshore Oil Drilling: Committee Against Oil Exploration (CAOE). (2010, April 3). Culture Change. Retrieved March 23, 2013, from http://www.culturechange.org/cms/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=637&Itemid=1

Foundation. (n.d.). Not the Answer. surfrider.org. Retrieved March 24, 2013, from capefear.surfrider.org//Offshore_Drilling_fact_sheet.pdf

About the Author: Ryan Gobar is a junior in the Environmental Studies Program in the USC Dana and Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. He hails from San Rafael in Marin County, California and is also a scientific and recreational diver.

Editor’s note: Scientific Research Diving at USC Dornsife is offered as part of an experiential summer program offered to undergraduate students of the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences through the Environmental Studies Program. This course takes place on location at the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island and throughout Micronesia. Students investigate important environmental issues such as ecologically sustainable development, fisheries management, protected-area planning and assessment, and human health issues. During the course of the program, the student team will dive and collect data to support conservation and management strategies to protect the fragile coral reefs of Guam and Palau in Micronesia.

Instructors for the course include Jim Haw, Director of the Environmental Studies Program in USC Dornsife, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies David Ginsburg, Lecturer Kristen Weiss, SCUBA instructor and volunteer in the USC Scientific Diving Program Tom Carr and USC Dive Safety Officer Gerry Smith of the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies.

Posted in Guam, Palau, USC | Leave a comment