By Terrell Johnson
Scientists who study climate change and skeptics of human-caused global warming can agree on at least this: Global temperatures haven't risen nearly as much this century as model projections say they should have.
At least, that's the way it looks today. But according to a recently published study in the scientific journal Earth's Future, the greenhouse gas-fueled heating of the planet hasn't stopped at all during the global warming pause or "hiatus" widely touted in recent years.
"Global warming is continuing, it just gets manifested in different ways," says Dr. Kevin Trenberth, a scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research who co-authored the study with NCAR's Dr. John Fasullo.
Since the 1970s, when scientists first began to detect the signal of a rapidly warming Earth against the background noise of natural variability, global temperatures spiked until about 1998. After that, warming began slowing down in big way, a trend that continues today:
Though warming didn't stop completely – global temperatures have risen by an average of about 0.05°C per decade since then, a far cry from the 0.15°C to 0.3°C per decade once projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – the slowdown has prompted climate change skeptics to claim we're actually in a period of global "cooling."
If you watched CNBC's Lawrence Kudlow show this week, you even heard commentators like Steven Hayward, a visiting scholar at the University of Colorado-Boulder, say things like this:
This has been a thorny question for climate scientists to answer, because humans have continued to pump ever-increasing amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. (Some studies have proposed that this is due to a lack of historical temperature data – more on that here.)
Trenberth acknowledged this – noting in an interview with weather.com, “the question is, where does that energy go, and how is it manifested?" – but added he and Fasullo found reasons to think global warming could begin to accelerate again soon:
1) Global averages hide a LOT of variation.Most of the surface temperature slowdown has occurred only within a narrow band of time during the year, and only in certain parts of the world.
As this graph shows, the period from December through February has seen the sharpest slowdown, thanks in part to some big outbreaks of cold, wintry weather over the past few years in North America and Europe:
Plus, most of Earth's warming over the past 15 years has spared the subtropics and middle latitudes – which spans most of the U.S. and Mexico, as well as much of Eurasia – while areas like the Arctic have warmed dramatically, evidenced by the rapid shrinking of its late summer sea ice since the 1970s.
"There are these other signs of a warming planet," Trenberth notes, pointing out that melting has accelerated on Greenland's ice sheet and glaciers around the world. "One doesn’t just have to use the global mean surface temperature."
And as NCAR communications officer Bob Henson notes, "these two factors imply that what's been seen as a global pause in warming isn't really a worldwide phenomenon."
2) Human-produced greenhouse gases and natural variability work together.The graph below couldn't be clearer: when El Niño is in effect, global temperatures tend to go up; when its close cousin La Niña dominates, it has a dampening effect on warming.
This is a key insight, because often skeptics claim that we can't blame global warming on human causes. Rather, they say, climate change should be chalked up largely – or only – to natural variability in weather and climate patterns.
Instead, Trenberth says the two can't really be separated. “There’s a tremendous amount of natural variability that goes on," he said.
“When human-induced climate change is influencing things in the same direction that the weather, or the natural variability, is already going – that’s when we break records," he added. "That’s when we really see the effects standing out."
3) The 1997-98 El Niño may have triggered the current warming pause.The El Niño that appeared from 1997 to 1998 was one of the strongest of the 20th century, and captured the public's imagination in a way few weather phenomena (outside hurricanes and tornadoes) ever have. It was even the subject of a Saturday Night Live skit with Chris Farley:
When El Niño is in effect, it usually lasts only a year or two. But other ocean patterns, like the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, can last for periods of 20 or 30 years.
The PDO can have a big influence on El Niño and La Niña, Trenberth says, a fact that likely means it's largely responsible for the current warming pause. "There was a major phase change [in the PDO] in 1976, and from 1976 to 1998, the planet warmed," he said.
After the big 1997-98 El Niño, the oscillation changed from a warm to a cool phase.
"So that may have actually triggered the change," Trenberth added. “Since then, we’ve had more La Niña events, the cold events in the tropical Pacific ... under this negative phase, it tends to bury more heat deeper in the ocean, and so [warming] is not manifested as much at the surface."
That change in phase from positive (warmer) to negative (cooler) parallels the speed-up and slowdown in warming we've seen in recent decades:
4) The pause 'can't keep going on forever' – and perhaps not much longer.No matter what phase it's currently in, sooner or later the PDO corrects itself and changes back. And there are signs that this may be about to happen soon, Trenberth says.
Globally, sea levels have risen about 2 1/2 inches since 1992. But in parts of the western Pacific like the Philippines – slammed by record-breaking Typhoon Haiyan last November – sea levels have risen over 8 inches, as PDO-influenced winds have driven a "piling up" of water there.
"At the same time, sea level has gone up less in the eastern Pacific," said Trenberth. “This can’t keep going on forever."
"It can’t continue to build up the sea level and the heat in one part of the ocean at the expense of another," Trenberth said. "At some point all of that water wants to slop back to the east – and so we start to go into this other phase."
That means there’s a slope in the global ocean across the Pacific that’s building up over time, he added. "And that’s what actually causes the end of these kinds of oscillations."
This year or later, it's possible that El Niño will occur again in the Pacific. Will that trigger another change in the PDO, that in turn could trigger a resurgence in global surface temperature warming? Only time will tell, Trenberth explained.
It all hinges on how long the imbalance in sea levels between the western and eastern Pacific can be sustained. "My suspicion is that it can’t go for that much longer," Trenberth said.
Each spring on Costa Rica’s desolate Caribbean coast, endangered leatherback sea turtles come ashore at night to lay and hide their eggs. Poachers steal them for cash, and as Matthew Power reports, they’re willing to kill anyone who gets in their way.
By: Matthew Power
T WAS ONLY eight o'clock on the evening of May 30, 2013, but the beach was completely dark. The moon hadn't yet risen above Playa Moín, a 15-mile-long strand of mangrove and palm on Costa Rica's Caribbean coast. A two-door Suzuki 4x4 bumped along a rough track behind the beach. The port lights of Limón, the largest town on the coast, glowed six miles away on the horizon. There was no sound except the low roar of surf and the whine of the engine straining through drifts of sand.Riding shotgun was Jairo Mora Sandoval, a 26-year-old Costa Rican conservationist. With a flop of black hair and a scraggly beard, he wore dark clothes and a headlamp, which he used to spot leatherback sea turtle nests on the beach. Mora's friend Almudena, a 26-year-old veterinarian from Spain, was behind the wheel. The other passengers were U.S. citizens: Rachel, Katherine, and Grace, college students who had come to work at the Costa Rica Wildlife Sanctuary, a nonprofit animal-rescue center. Almudena was the resident vet, and the Americans were volunteers. By day they cared for the sanctuary's menagerie of sloths, monkeys, and birds. Working with Mora, though, meant taking the graveyard shift. He ran the sanctuary's program rescuing endangered leatherbacks, which haul their 700-plus-pound bodies onto Playa Moín each spring to lay eggs at night.
The beach's isolation made it both ideal and perilous as a nesting spot. The same blackness that attracted the turtles, which are disoriented by artificial light, provided cover for less savory human activity. In recent years, the thinly populated Caribbean coast has become a haven for everything from petty theft to trafficking of Colombian cocaine and Jamaican marijuana. For decades, Playa Moín has been a destination for hueveros—literally, "egg men"—small-time poachers who plunder sea turtle nests and sell the eggs for a dollar each as an aphrodisiac. But as crime along the Caribbean coast has risen, so has organized egg poaching, which has helped decimate the leatherback population. By most estimates, fewer than 34,000 nesting females remain worldwide.
Since 2010, Mora had been living at the sanctuary and patrolling the beach for a nonprofit organization called the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network, or Widecast. His strategy was to beat the hueveros to the punch by gathering eggs from freshly laid nests and spiriting them to a hatchery on the sanctuary grounds. This was dangerous work. Every poacher on Moín knew Mora, and confrontations were frequent—he once jumped out of a moving truck to tackle a huevero.
Rachel, Grace, and Almudena had accompanied Mora on foot patrols several times over the previous weeks. (Out of concern for their safety, all four women requested that their last names not be used.) They had encountered no trouble while moving slowly on foot, but they also hadn't found many unmolested nests. On this night, Mora had convinced Almudena to take her rental car. She was worried about the poachers, but she hadn't yet seen a leatherback, and Mora was persuasive. His passion was infectious, and a romance between the two had blossomed. Almudena was attracted by his boundless energy and commitment. Something about this beach gets in you, he told her.
The sand was too deep for the Suzuki, so Mora got out and walked toward the beach, disappearing in the night. Moín's primal darkness is essential to sea turtles. After hatching at night, the baby turtles navigate toward the brightest thing around: the whiteness of the breaking waves. Males spend their lives at sea, but females, guided by natal homing instincts, come ashore every two or three years to lay eggs, often to the same beaches where they hatched.
Around 10:30, Almudena got a call—Mora had found a leatherback. The women rushed to the beach, where they saw a huge female baula backfilling a nesting hole with its hind flippers. Mora stood nearby alongside several hueveros. One was instantly recognizable, a 36-year-old man named Maximiliano Gutierrez. With his beard and long reddish-brown dreadlocks, "Guti" was a familiar presence on Moín.
Mora had forged a reluctant arrangement with Guti and a few other regular poachers: if they arrived at a nest simultaneously, they'd split the eggs. After measuring the turtle—it was nearly six feet long—Mora and Rachel took half the nest, about 40 cue-ball-size eggs, and put them into a plastic bag. Then Guti wandered off, and the turtle pulled itself back toward the surf.
When they returned to the road, a police patrol pulled up. The cops warned Mora that they had run into some rough characters earlier that night, then drove off as Mora and the women headed south, toward the sanctuary, just six miles away. Soon they came upon a palm trunk laid across the narrow track—a trick the hueveros often played to mess with police patrols. Mora hopped out, hefting the log out of the way as Almudena drove past. Just as Mora put the log back, five men stepped out of the darkness. Bandannas covered their faces. They shouted at everyone to put their hands up and their heads down. Then they grabbed Mora.
"Dude, I'm from Moín!" he protested, but the men threw him to the ground.
Masked faces crowded into Almudena's window. The men demanded money, jewelry, phones, car keys. They pulled Almudena out and frisked her, and the Americans stayed in the car as the men rifled through it, snatching everything of value, including the turtle eggs. Almudena saw two of the men stuffing a limp Mora into the tiny cargo area. The four women were jammed into the backseat with a masked man sprawled on top of them. As the driver turned the Suzuki around, Almudena reached behind the seat and felt Mora slip his palm into hers. He squeezed hard.
The driver pulled off next to a shack in the jungle, and the men, claiming to be looking for cell phones, told the girls to lift their shirts and drop their pants. Mosquitoes swarmed them. After being frisked, Almudena caught a glimpse of two of the men driving off in the Suzuki. Mora was still in the trunk.
The four young women sat on logs behind the hut with two of their captors. The guys seemed young, not more than 20, and were oddly talkative for criminals. They said they understood what the conservationists were trying to do, but they needed to feed their families. One said that Mora "didn't respect the rules of the beach."
The men announced that they were going to get some coconuts, walked away, and never came back. After an hour, the women decided to make a break for it. Huddled close together, they walked down to the beach and headed south toward the sanctuary. They were terrified and stunned, barely speaking and moving on autopilot. Two hours later they finally reached the gate but found no sign of Mora. Almudena started to sob. A caretaker called the police in Limón, and soon a line of vehicles raced north along the beach track. At 6:30 a.m. the police radio crackled. They had found Almudena's car, buried up to its axles in sand. There was a body beside it.
MORA WAS FOUND naked and facedown on the beach, his hands bound behind him and a large gash on the back of his head. The official cause of death was asphyxiation—he'd aspirated sand deep into his lungs.
The news spread quickly. A chorus of tweets cast Mora as an environmental martyr akin to Chico Mendes, the Brazilian rain forest activist who was assassinated in 1988. The BBC, The New York Times, and The Washington Post picked up the story. An online petition started by the nonprofit Sea Turtle Restoration Project called on Costa Rican president Laura Chinchilla for justice and gathered 120,000 signatures. Paul Watson, the founder of the Sea Shepherd Society and the star of Whale Wars, offered $30,000 to anyone who could identify the killers. "Jairo is no longer simply a murder statistic," Watson wrote. "He is now an icon."
There was a sense, too, that this killing would be bad for business. Long the self-styled ecotourism capital of the world, Costa Rica relies on international travelers for 10 percent of its GDP. "What would have happened if the young female North American volunteers were murdered?" wrote one hotel owner in an open e-mail to the country's ecotourism community. "Costa Rica would have a huge, long-lasting P.R. problem." Not long after, President Chinchilla took to Twitter to vow that there would be "no impunity" and that the killers would be caught.
That task fell to detectives from the Office of Judicial Investigation (OIJ), Costa Rica's equivalent of the FBI, and Limón's police department. The OIJ attempted to trace the victims' stolen cell phones, but the devices appeared to have been switched off and their SIM cards removed. Almudena, Grace, Katherine, and Rachel gave depositions before leaving the country, but it was clear that finding other witnesses would be a challenge.
Moín is backed by a scattering of run-down houses behind high walls. It's the kind of place where neighbors know one another's business but don't talk about it, especially to cops. The hueveros met OIJ investigators with silence. When detectives interviewed Guti, he was so drunk he could barely speak.
Not everyone kept quiet, though. Following the murder, Vanessa Lizano, the founder of the Costa Rica Wildlife Sanctuary, dedicated herself to fighting for her fallen colleague's legacy. I e-mailed her and asked if I could come visit, and she welcomed me.
I flew to San José two weeks after the killing, arriving at the sanctuary after dusk. Lizano, 36, unlocked a high gate adorned with a brightly painted butterfly. "Welcome to Moín," she said in a theatrical voice, her auburn hair pulled back in a ponytail. The property covered about a dozen acres of rainforest and was dotted with animal pens. Paintings of Costa Rica's fauna adorned every surface. Lizano opened a pen and picked up a baby howler monkey, which wrapped its tail around her neck like a boa. "I keep expecting Jairo to just show up," she said. "I guess I haven't realized it yet."
Lizano had been running a modeling agency in San José in 2005 when she and her parents decided to open a butterfly farm near the beach. She leased a small piece of land and moved to Moín with her infant son, Federico, or "Fedé," her parents, and a three-toed sloth named Buda. They gradually transformed the farm into a sanctuary, acquiring rescued sloths and monkeys, a one-winged owl, and a pair of scarlet macaws seized from an imprisoned narcotrafficker. Fedé pulled baby armadillos around in his Tonka trucks and shared his bed with Buda.
Lizano operated the sanctuary with her mother, Marielos, and a rotation of international volunteers, who paid $100 a week for room and board—a common model for small-scale ecotourism in Costa Rica. The sanctuary was never a moneymaker, but Lizano loved working with the animals.
Then, one day in 2009, she discovered several dead leatherbacks on the beach that had been gutted for their egg sacs. "I went crazy," she says. She attended a sea turtle conservation training program in Gandoca, run by Widecast, a nonprofit that operates in 43 countries. There she met Mora, who'd been working with Widecast since he was 15. Lizano arranged for the organization to operate a turtle program out of her sanctuary, and in 2010 Mora moved to Moín to help run it.
They soon developed something like a sibling rivalry. They'd psych themselves up by watching Whale Wars, then compete to see who could gather more nests. Normally a goofball and unabashed flirt, Mora turned gravely serious when on patrol. He loved the turtles deeply, but he seemed to love the fight for them even more. Lizano worried that his stubbornness may have made things worse on the night he was killed.
"Jairo wouldn't have gone without a fight," she said. "He was a very, very tough guy."
Lizano told me that her mission was now to realize Mora's vision of preserving Playa Moín as a national park. She had been advocating for the preserve to anyone who would listen—law enforcement, the government, the media. It was a frustrating campaign. The turtle program had been shut down in the wake of the killing, and poaching had continued. Meanwhile, Lizano seemed certain that people around Moín knew who the killers were, but she had little faith in the police. On the night of the murder, when Erick Calderón, Limón's chief of police, called to inform her that Mora had been killed, she screamed at him. Since 2010, Calderón had intermittently provided police escorts for the sanctuary's patrollers, and by 2013 he'd suspended them because of limited resources. Prior to the killings, Lizano and Mora had asked repeatedly for protection, to no avail. The murder, Lizano said, was Calderón's fault.
But there was plenty of recrimination to go around. The ecotourism community blamed Lizano and Widecast for putting volunteers at risk. The family of one of the Americans, Grace, had demanded that Widecast reimburse her for her stolen camera, phone, and sneakers. Lizano told me the accusations were unfair. "The volunteers knew what they were getting into," she said. "We would say, 'It's up to you if you want to go out.' "
Still, she was overwhelmed with guilt. "I know Jairo was scared, because I used to tease him," she said. "We'd make fun of each other for being afraid. We'd always kidaround that we would die on the beach." She'd tell him that she wanted her ashes carried into the surf by a sea turtle. Mora was less sentimental. "He always said, 'You can do whatever, I really don't care. Just drink a lot. Throw a party.' "
We sat in the open-air kitchen, and Lizano held her head in her hands. "If you've got to blame somebody, blame me," she said. "I was the one who took Jairo and showed him the beach, and he fell in love."
MORA WAS BORN in Gandoca, a tiny Caribbean town near the Panama border. He caught the wildlife bug early, from his grandfather, Jerónimo Matute, an environmentalist who helped found the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, a sea turtle nesting area. Jairo began releasing hatchlings at age six. Once
he became a full-time Widecast employee, he sent much of his salary home every month to his mother, Fernanda, and completed high school through a correspondence program.
By 2010, Mora had moved to Moín, living in a tiny room over the sanctuary's kitchen. Some days, Mora and the volunteers—college students, mainly, from all over the world—counted poached nests or monitored the sanctuary's hatchery; some nights they'd go on patrol. Mora was clear about the risks involved, and some chose not to go, but others joined eagerly. It didn't seem that dangerous, especially in the early days, when the Limón police accompanied the patrols.
Still, there were tensions from the beginning. During nesting season, the hueveros squatted in shacks in the jungle. Most were desperately poor, many were addicts, and all considered Lizano and Mora competition. Lizano had no qualms about reporting poachers to the police.
A leatherback typically lays 80 fertilized eggs and covers them with about 30 yolkless ones. Poachers consider the yolkless eggs worthless and usually toss them aside. Lizano and Mora often placed those eggs on top of broken glass, causing a poacher to cut himself while digging for the good ones. Lizano even set volunteers to work smashing glass to carry in buckets to the beach. She sometimes found obscene notes scrawled in the sand. She'd write back: Fuck You.
Lizano got caught in shootouts between police and poachers at the beach four times, once having to duck for cover behind a leatherback. In April 2011, she was driving alone at night on Moín when she came across a tree blocking the road. Two men with machetes jumped out of the forest and ran toward her truck. She floored it in reverse down the dirt road, watching as the men with the machetes chased, their eyes full of hate.
In the spring of 2012, Calderón suspended the police escorts. Limón had the highest crime rate in Costa Rica, and the police chief was spread too thin trying to protect the city's human population, never mind the turtles. Mora and Lizano shifted to more conciliatory tactics. They hired ten hueveros and paid each of them a salary of $300 per month, using money from the volunteers' fees. In return, the men would give up poaching and work on conservation. Guti was one of the first to sign on. The hueveros walked the beach with the volunteers, gathering nests and bringing them to the hatchery. It was a steep pay cut—an industrious huevero can make as much as $200 a night—so Lizano pushed the idea that the poachers could eventually work in the more viable long game of ecotourism, guiding tourists to nesting sites. But the money for the project quickly ran out, and Lizano wasn't surprised when poaching increased soon after.
Around the same time, a menacing poaching gang showed up on Playa Moín. They seemed far more organized than the typical booze-addled hueveros. The group dropped men along the beach by van, using cell phones to warn each other of approaching police. They were led by a Nicaraguan named Felipe "Renco" Arauz, now 38, who had a long criminal history, including drug trafficking and kidnapping.
In April 2012, a group of men armed with AK-47's broke into the hatchery, tied up five volunteers, and beat a cousin of Mora's with their rifle butts. Then they stole all 1,500 of the eggs that had been collected that season. Mora, out patrolling the beach, returned to find the volunteers tied up. He went ballistic, punching the walls. Then he exacted vengeance, going on a frenzy of egg gathering, accompanied once again by armed police protection. Mora collected 19 nests in three nights, completely replacing the eggs that had been stolen. But a few weeks later, Calderón once again suspended escorts, and no arrests were made.
A month after the hatchery raid, in May 2012, the dangers became too much even for Lizano. She was at a restaurant in downtown Limón when she spotted a man taking Fedé's photo with his cell phone. She recognized him as a huevero and confronted him angrily: "It's me you want. Leave the kid out of it." The man laughed at her. That was the final straw. She moved with Fedé back to San José, returning to Moín alone on weekends.
Mora remained, however, and when the 2013 season began in March, he returned to his patrols—mostly alone, but occasionally with volunteers. By this point, the volunteer program was entirely Mora's operation. The Americans, who arrived in April, knew there were risks. But according to Rachel, Mora never told her about the raid on the hatchery the year before. She entrusted her safety to him completely. "I had gone out numerous times with Jairo and never really felt in danger," she told me. "I knew he was there and wouldn't let anything happen to me."
But just a few weeks before his death, Mora told a newspaper reporter that threats were increasing and the police were ignoring Widecast's pleas for help. He called his mother, Fernanda, every night before he went on patrol, asking for her blessing. When Lizano saw Fernanda at Mora's funeral, she asked for her forgiveness.
"Sweetie," Fernanda replied, "Jairo wanted to be there. It was his thing."
The cop next to me, young and jumpy in the darkness, pulled his M4's slide back, racking a cartridge. As I crouched down, I saw two green dots floating—the glow-in-the-dark sights of a drawn 9mm. About 100 yards off, the police had spotted a couple of shadowy figures. Hueveros.
I was on patrol. Following Mora's killing, the sea turtle volunteer program had been suspended, but two of Mora's young protégés, Roger Sanchez and his girlfriend, Marjorie Balfodano, still walked the beach every night with police at their side. Sanchez, 18, and Balfodano, 20, were both diminutive students, standing in bare feet with headlamps on. They weren't much to intimidate a poacher, but Sanchez was fearless. Before we set out, he told me with earnest bravado that he planned to patrol Moín for the rest of his life. When we saw the hueveros, we'd been walking for three hours alongside an escort of five officers from Limón's Fuerza Pública, kitted out with bulletproof vests, sidearms, and M4 carbines. Perhaps it was just a publicity stunt by Calderón, but it was a comforting one. We had encountered a dozen plundered nests, each one a shallow pit littered with broken shells. The hueveros, it had seemed, were just steps ahead of us.
Then the cop on my right noticed two figures and pulled his gun. Three of the police told us to wait and confronted the two men. After several minutes we approached. The cops shone their flashlights on the poachers and made them turn out their pockets. One wore a knit cap, and the other had long reddish dreadlocks—Guti. They were both slurry with drink, and the cops seemed to be making a show of frisking them. The men had no contraband, so the cops let them stumble off along the beach.
After a while the radio crackled. Another police truck had found two nesting leatherbacks. We rushed to the spot. In the darkness, a hump the size of an overturned kiddie pool slowly shifted in the sand. The baula's great watery eyes looked sidelong toward the sea as it excavated a nest in the beach with back flippers as dexterous as socked hands. With each labored effort, it delicately lifted a tiny scoop of sand and cupped it to the edge of the hole. Sanchez held a plastic bag in anticipation, ready for her to drop her clutch.
Then Guti's drunken companion stumbled up to us, knelt beside Sanchez, and offered a boozy disquisition on sea turtle biology. The cops ignored him, and the spooked animal heaved forward, dragging her bulk away without laying any eggs. A few more heaves and the foaming waves broke over the turtle's ridged carapace.
The night wasn't a complete loss, though. A short distance away, the second leatherback had laid its nest. Soon a second patrol truck pulled up and handed Sanchez a bag of 60 eggs. We hitched a ride back to the sanctuary and a wooden shed packed with styrofoam coolers. Sanchez opened one, sifted beach sand into the bottom, then began placing the eggs inside. I noticed that a pen had been stuck into one of the coolers. Next to it, a set of stylized initials was scratched into the styrofoam: JMS. Altogether, there were perhaps 1,000 eggs in the coolers. Almost all of them had been gathered by Mora.
A COUPLE OF DAYS later, I went to see Erick Calderón at the police headquarters in Limón. With his small build and boyish face, he seemed an unlikely enforcer, and he'd clearly been affected by the pressure the killing had brought on his department. Since the murder, Calderón said, the police had patrolled Moín every night. "I want to make the beach a safer place, control poaching of eggs, and educate the population so the demand isn't there," he said. But it was unclear how long he could sustain the effort. He said that only a dedicated ecological police force would make a lasting impact. They'd need a permanent outpost on Moín, a dozen officers supplied with 4x4s and night-vision goggles.
Then Calderón insisted that Mora's murder was an anomaly and that Costa Rica was "not a violent society"—an assertion belied by the fact that the previous afternoon, a shootout between rival gangs had happened just a few blocks from the station. He seemed ashamed that the murder had happened on his watch, that Lizano had screamed at him. "I know Jairo was a good guy," he told me.
That afternoon I met up with Lizano's father, Bernie. His means of processing his sorrow had been to turn himself into a pro bono private investigator. A former tuna fisherman, Bernie was 65, with a full head of white hair and a pronounced limp from an old boating accident. As we drove around Limón, he seemed to know everyone's racket, from the drug kingpins behind razor-wire-topped fences to a guy on a corner selling drinks from a cooler. "He keeps the turtle eggs in his truck," Bernie whispered conspiratorially. At one house he stopped to chat with a shirtless, heavily tattooed man. The guy offered his condolences, then said, "Let me know if you need any maintenance work done." As Bernie pulled away he chuckled: "Maintenance. That guy's a hit man."
We drove to a squat concrete building with dark-tinted windows on the edge of town—the office of the OIJ. After Bernie and I passed through a metal detector, one of the case's detectives, tall and athletic, with a 9mm holstered in his jeans, agreed to speak with me anonymously. He said that OIJ investigators in Limón were the busiest in the country due to drug-related crime. I asked whether he thought the killers were traffickers, and he shook his head wearily. "If they were narcos, it would have been a disaster," he said. "Every one of them would have been killed."
Like Calderón, he promised that Mora would not be a mere statistic. He insisted that they were closing in on serious leads. Walking out, Bernie told me he had spoken in private with the detective, to whom he'd been feeding every scrap of information he'd gotten. "He told me, 'We are very close to getting them, but we don't want them to know because they'll get away.' "
Bernie's PI trail led back to Moín, where he had tracked down a potential witness—a man who lived near the beach. The man had been the first to find Mora early on the morning of May 31. He walked Bernie to the spot where he'd found the body. As he described it, there were signs of a struggle from the footprints around the car. It looked to him like Mora had escaped his captors and dashed down the beach. Another set of tracks seemed to show a body being dragged back to the vehicle.
Bernie had begged the man for some clue, mentioning Paul Watson's reward, which had now swelled to $56,000. "He said, 'No, no, I don't need the money. It's not that I don't need it, it's just that they did something very bad.' " If he talked, he was sure that he and his family would be killed.
ON JULY 31, the OIJ conducted a predawn raid, called Operation Baula, at several houses around Limón. Dozens of armed agents arrested six men, including Felipe Arauz, the 38-year-old Nicaraguan immigrant suspected of being the ringleader of the violent hueveros. A seventh man was caught ten days later. The suspects were Darwin and Donald Salmón Meléndez, William Delgado Loaiza, Héctor Cash Lopez, Enrique Centeno Rivas, and Bryan Quesada Cubillo. While Lizano knew of the alleged killers, she was relieved that she hadn't worked with them. "Thank God none were my poachers," she said.
Detectives from the OIJ had been talking to informants and quietly tracking Mora's stolen cell phone. According to court documents, one of the suspects, Quesada, 20, had continued to use it, sending incriminating texts. One read: "We dragged him on the beach behind Felipe's car and you know it."
To Lizano, the motive was clearly revenge, but the authorities cast the crime as "a simple robbery and assault." They also laid blame on Mora and Lizano's failed attempt to hire poachers for conservation. An OIJ spokesman claimed that the program had bred resentment among hueveros. The accusation infuriated Lizano. "They're just looking for a scapegoat," she said.
Lizano thought that the authorities were deflecting blame. It turned out that on the night of the murder, a police patrol had encountered several of the suspects—they were the same men the cops had warned Mora about. A few hours later the gang lay in wait. Whether or not they intended to kill Mora will be argued at the trial later this spring.
Even so, the arrests haven't brought much closure to those closest to Mora. Almudena, back in Madrid, was deeply depressed when I reached her. "Jairo is dead," she said. "For me there is no justice." The only positive outcome, as she saw it, would be for a preserved beach. "In ten years, there have to be turtles at Moín," she said. "If not, this has happened for nothing."
Lizano, meanwhile, redoubled her efforts to protect Moín. Any legislative change to preserve the beach is far off, and the turtles now face an additional threat—a massive container-port development project that a Dutch conglomerate hopes to build nearby. Still, Lizano told me, "I really believe it has to continue. I can't stop and let the poachers win. For me it's not an option."
In July, Lizano brought Fedé back to Moín. She woke him up one morning before sunrise, and together with a group of volunteers they walked to the beach. The night before, at the sanctuary, the first turtle hatchlings had broken up through the sand in their styrofoam-cooler nests. Lizano showed Fedé how to lift the tiny flapping things out and set them gently on the sand. The people stood back and watched as the turtles inched down the beach, making their way toward the breaking waves and an uncertain future.
Reporter Ari Daniel
There’s no shortage of lovely places in Palau, but perhaps none as remarkable as Nikko Bay. It’s a patch of turquoise water tucked inside a ring of tropical jungle in this tiny Western Pacific island nation. And it’s where Anne Cohen, a scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the US, gets to do her fieldwork — with a snorkel on.
“This is the easiest snorkeling you’ve ever done,” Cohen says as she slips on her mask and fins.
And some of the most rewarding. There’s coral everywhere.The bottom is carpeted with fan corals, big boulder-shaped corals, long green tendril-y corals, even squishy corals, all jockeying for position.
There are bright, colorful fish too. It’s a parade of life.
But here’s the thing — Cohen says this raucous coral ecosystem shouldn’t even exist. The water is way too acidic.
“We started taking water samples,” she says, casting back to an earlier visit here. “We analyzed them, and we couldn’t believe it. Of the 17 coral reef systems (around the world) that we’ve been monitoring, this is the most acidic site that we’ve found.”
The higher acidity of the water here is natural, but it defies all expectations. Conventional wisdom is that corals don’t like acidic water, and the water in Nikko Bay is acidic enough that it should dissolve the animals’ calcium carbonate skeletons.
Even weirder, Cohen says, is that the acidity goes up as you move from the barrier reefs offshore into Palau’s island bays, and that as that happens, the coral cover and the coral diversity increase as well.
From everything we know about corals, Cohen says, this just shouldn’t happen.“There’s something different about Palau.”
That’s what Cohen's team is trying to figure out — what is it that allows these corals to thrive in such acidic waters?
It’s an interesting scientific challenge, not to mention a nice excuse to spend time basking in this tropical playground. But it’s hardly just an academic question, because humans are altering the acidity of the oceans around the world, a consequence of the same process that’s causing climate change.
It’s a distressingly simple process, says oceanographer Katie Shamberger, a member of Cohen’s team: “As we put more and more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, we end up with more carbon dioxide mixing into the ocean.”
More carbon dioxide in the sea makes the water slightly more acidic. It’s a small increase, Shamberger says, “but it still changes the chemistry of the ocean, and marine organisms are very sensitive to the water surrounding them.”
Organisms like corals. Some scientists have predicted that the growing global acidity could wipe out all the corals on the planet by the end of the century. Here in Nikko Bay, the water is already as acidic as the entire western Pacific could be by the year 2100. So the team here wants to know whether these reefs might just be the corals of the future — corals that can survive ocean acidification.
This expedition is the researchers’ sixth in Palau. On their dives they collect water in small bottles along with coral samples that they take with a hollow underwater drill that pushes into the corals’ skeletons like a straw pushing into a snow ball. The team corks each hole with a concrete plug, which Cohen says eventually gets covered in new coral tissue.
Cohen’s team examines the cores for growth rates and any signs of strain from the higher acidity. They also search for other clues about what allows these corals to thrive — things like genetic adaptations or unique characteristics of the local environment.
Whatever the reason or reasons might turn out to be, Cohen says these reefs should move to the top of the global coral conservation list.
They are the ones that are going to survive climate change, she says, so they need every bit of help they can get.
They’re also very important locally. Not only are Palau’s coral reefs a big tourist draw, but like healthy corals around the world, Palau’s provide vital habitat for fish and other sea life, and help protect the shoreline from storms and erosion.
The day before Cohen leaves Palau, she and her team visit a spot on a barrier reef several miles from shore.
It’s high tide, and the water’s rushing across the reef crest. As she looks back toward land, across water that gets more and more acidic, Cohen says it’s like looking into the future, to a more and more acidic global sea. It’s a sobering reminder of what’s at stake here, she says.
“Climate change is really happening. You come to Palau, we go into these areas where we’re seeing conditions of the future, right there. And yet, we have these communities that appear to have figured it out. That’s like the biggest diamond in the desert.”
Cohen says there’s no certainty that what’s learned from these corals will help others survive the changes ahead. Still, she says, they offer hope that at least some corals will be around to keep us company in the future.
This report was supported by the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems.
The government tries to preserve a fecund part of the coral triangle
ALILA TIMUR, ALOR ISLANDS
HE LEARNED to fish the turquoise-coloured seas of the Alor archipelago in eastern Indonesia from his father. But it is not a vocation Samsul Osman wants for his own four children. He says that these days traditional fishermen like himself must paddle their outrigger canoes far out to sea for a catch of skipjack tuna that sells for about 60,000 rupiah (about $5). Sometimes his family goes hungry. The other fishermen sitting cross-legged on the white sand at Alila Timur, where traders come to buy tuna to sell at the markets of Kalabahi, the islands’ sleepy capital, nod their heads. Fish stocks are dwindling.
Alor is at the centre of the “coral triangle”, 6m square kilometres of the most biodiverse oceans on earth. These waters contain two-thirds of the world’s coral species, and twice the number of species of reef fish found anywhere else (more than 3,000). New species are still being discovered by scientists in Indonesia, such as, recently, Hemiscyllium Halmahera, a “walking” shark. But climate change and warming oceans, overfishing and destructive fishing practices, along with pollution from coastal communities and industries, threaten the fragile ecosystems that support underwater life, as well as millions of traditional
fishermen like Mr Osman.
Yet, besides the huge intrinsic value of the oceans to the planet, there is a compelling economic case for conserving them. Indonesia’s seas are vitally important for its own food security, and for the livelihoods of the 60m people that live close to its 95,000km (59,000-mile) coastline. Indonesia’s fisheries ministry wants to boost fish production to 20m tonnes in 2014, an increase of 14% over 2013. Fisheries exports, mostly to America, Asia and Europe, are a growing source of foreign exchange, worth $3.9 billion in 2012.
Such commercial pressures mean that simply telling governments to restrict fishing does not work. According to Lida Pet-Soede of the WWF, a conservation NGO, governments are more susceptible to the economic case for conservation: that fisheries will be sustainable only if big parts of the ocean are protected. And some do seem to be listening. In 2007 Indonesia’s president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, asked the leaders of the five other coral-triangle countries (Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, the Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste) to join a regional conservation initiative. Two years later they agreed on an “action plan” to manage their resources by, among other things, establishing marine protected areas (MPAs). The initiative has financial support from the American and Australian governments and from multilateral donors, such as the Asian Development Bank
So far Indonesia itself has established MPAs covering some 16m hectares (see map). By 2020 it plans to increase protected areas to 20m hectares, or about 10% of its total waters, covering a range of coastal and marine ecosystems, from deep waters and coral reefs to the mangroves and seagrasses where fish spawn. This is only a small step towards the 30% of the world’s oceans that scientists say must be protected to forestall a collapse in fisheries. But the protection of even 10% of Indonesia’s waters would be a big achievement.
The trouble is that Indonesia’s MPAs often seem to exist only on paper. A recent study by the World Resources Institute, a think-tank in Washington, rated only three of Indonesia’s 170-odd MPAs as “effective”. Sometimes the designs are flawed, with too few restrictions on fisheries. But more often the rules are flouted.
Moreover, the problems with Indonesia’s MPAs frequently originate far inland. Widespread deforestation of watersheds, for example, has increased the run-off of sediments and nutrients that impede coral growth by suffocating reefs or making them overgrown with algae. Sickly, stunted reefs are more vulnerable to ocean acidification and coral “bleaching” linked to carbon emissions and global warming.
Alor unto itself
Simeon Thobias Pally, Alor’s elected leader, approved a 400,083-hectare MPA in 2009. Sites are set aside as “no-take” zones so that fish can reproduce and their numbers recover. But frequent changes in personnel and turf wars between the national and local governments, as well as between the fisheries and forestry ministries, have all hampered implementation. Rahmin Amahala, the head of fisheries in Alor, hopes that the formal launch of the MPA, which has long been stalled, will mean more resources, which are sorely needed. At present the coastal police force has only two speedboats—and one of them is broken. Without patrols, it is impossible to catch the fishermen who are responsible for the illegal blast-fishing that has razed many of the islands’ coral reefs, let alone to enforce rules on sea zoning and fishing gear.
As the traders at Alila Timur cart off buckets brimming with freshly caught tuna, Mr Osman and his fellow fishermen are venting their frustration. They say they are grateful for the fish here, and understand that fish must reproduce so that stocks are replenished. But it is becoming harder to make a living as more boats arrive from already denuded waters to the west. “We cannot hide our anger any longer,” says one.
Who could forget, back in 2009, the launch of the "Best Job in the World"?
The campaign by Tourism Queensland generated global interest in the Sunshine State and the role of park ranger and "caretaker" of Hamilton Island in the Great Barrier Reef. Ben Southall was the inaugural winner, a Brit by birth and native of Hampshire, he beat 35,000 applicants for the coveted role.
Ben spent a year promoting the wonders of Queensland. In the first four days, he visited the pristine Whitehaven Beach, stopped for lunch at Hayman Island, went on a tour of the Coral Sea and Daydream Island and ended up at the Seaworld adventure park and a game of Aussie Rules (Richmond vs Adelaide - Go Crows!).
Four days into his year-long stint in the Best Job in the World, Ben said: "My stay on the Gold Coast has been nothing short of spectacular; there really is something for everybody."
Unfortunately, soon a massively destructive coal port will be built just 50 km north of the magnificent Whitsunday Islands. The port expansion was approved by the Abbott Liberal National government on Wednesday 11 December, and it will become one of the world's largest coal ports.
The coal export facility is ironically located on Abbot Point. The construction of this port will involve dredging 3 million cubic metres of seabed. The dredge spoil will be dumped into the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.
To give you an idea of the scale of this dredging, if all of the spoil was put into dump trucks, there would be 150,000 of them lined up bumper to bumper from Brisbane to Melbourne.
This expansion is further proof that the Abbott government is hell-bent on turning Australia into a reckless charco-state that solely represents the interests of fossil fuel and coal companies.
Just around the corner from the port is a beach that is the nesting place for endangered green and flat back turtles. Fun facts about the flat back turtle: they're officially classified as "vulnerable" by the Australian Government, and nest only in northern Australia. They have the smallest migratory range of any marine turtle, so when their home in Queensland is destroyed, they've really got nowhere else to go.
Also in the spoil-dumping area are sea-grass beds, which are the home to dugongs. The "sea cows" may not be the sexiest of marine animals, but they are at risk of extinction, and most of the world's remaining population lives in the Great Barrier Reef. This is one of the reasons that the Reef has World Heritage listing.
An independent government report from August this year found that dredging sediment travelled a lot further than previously thought. The risks include sediment being disturbed by severe weather. Even a cursory look at Queensland's weather patterns near the Reef over the past decade would show that severe weather, including tropical cyclones and flooding, is a regular occurrence, even if you disregard massively destructive events like Cyclone Yasi.
The Great Barrier Reef generated around 69,000 full-time equivalent jobs, and boosted our economy by 5.68 billion in 2011/12, according to recent research. Most of this is through tourism and reef-dependent industries like fishing.
Environment Minister Greg Hunt has mischievously claimed that "Some of the strictest conditions in Australian history have been placed on these projects". This is mischievous because, obviously, massively increasing coal exports at this time will do irreparable damage to our climate.
Worryingly, Greg Hunt's briefing and decision, released on the 11th of December, is based on the assurance of the North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation, the state-owned corporation that owns the project, that "the project area (dredging area) is not a notable or significant biodiversity site in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area" and "the potential impact area in the dumping ground (which is within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park) is considerably small". The brief also says that the "habitats were recorded to recover from similar events".
You are obviously free to come to your own views about Hunt's strange cognitive dissonance, where on the one hand there are the "strictest conditions" on the dredging, but on the other hand the "dredging area is not a notable... site" in the Reef. Perhaps someone could leave a comment that explains why Hunt has required strict conditions if the area is not a significant site.
Unless of course, Hunt is simply trying to pull the wool over our eyes. You be the judge.
The very real problems are not just the vast and untold damage that dredging will do to the Great Barrier Reef, or the risk of damage to the reef by the substantial increase in shipping through the World Heritage Area.
The Abbot Point development has been green-lit to funnel vast amounts of coal out of Australia. The coal ports currently proposed, including Abbot Point and new coal terminals proposed at Wiggins Island, Raglan Creek, Balaclava Island, Dudgeon Point, and Cape York, would increase total coal tonnage by more than six-fold, from 156 Mt in 2011 to a capacity of 944 Mt by the end of the decade.
Australia's coal is one of the globe's fourteen carbon bombs. Our coal export industry is the largest in the world, and results in 760m tonnes of CO2 emissions annually. The urgent goal of Tony Abbott's government, and his environment minister Greg Hunt is to ship as much climate-devastating coal as possible, as quickly as possible.
Every day, this Liberal-National government, led by Tony Abbott, provides new examples of its nastiness, its short-sightedness, and its willingness to destroy livelihoods, communities and the environment to enrich coal barons.
Por Agencia EFE
Bogotá - El Gobierno colombiano declaró como reserva natural una zona de 26,232 hectáreas de playas caribeñas que tiene el departamento del Chocó (noroeste) con el objetivo de proteger a dos especies de tortugas gigantes en vía de extinción, informó hoy el Ministerio de Ambiente y Desarrollo Sostenible.
Al área protegida pertenecen los sectores de santuario de fauna en Acandí, Playón y Playona, en Chocó, donde desovan las tortugas de las especies Carey y Caná (tinglar), esta última considerada como la más grande tortugas marinas del mundo y ambas en vía de extinción.
Según el Ministerio, "el santuario se constituye en un área estratégica de conectividad para el ciclo de vida" de esos quelonios.
Además, el área marina protegida permitirá la consolidación de la pesca artesanal, toda vez que en la zona hay más de 80 especies de peces y varias de camarón.
Igualmente, la medida restringe la pesca industrial en 26,000 hectáreas de mar, incluidos los 12 kilómetros de Playona y dos que conforman Playón.
Las autoridades también pretenden disminuir la tala de bosque nativo, refugio natural de monos aulladores, titíes, algunas especies de lagartos y varios tipos de aves, detalló el ministerio.
Las Carey y las Caná (tinglar) son tortugas migratorias y los esfuerzos de conservación en Chocó tendrán repercusión en todo el Caribe, si se tiene en cuenta que estudios de marcaje y recaptura demuestran que algunas de las hembras encontradas en Colombia pasan parte de su tiempo en Costa Rica y México.
Las comunidades de la zona han encontrado en esas tortugas un símbolo de la región y las han convertido en patrimonio cultural, turístico y ecológico, según las autoridades.
Desde 1993 se han llevado a cabo jornadas de protección de esa especie, sobre todo en Semana Santa, pues los huevos y la carne de las tortugas eran consumidas a gran escala.
Con la declaración del Gobierno colombiano, el Sistema Parques Nacionales Naturales aumentó su superficie total a 14.2 millones de hectáreas, 1.3 millones de las cuales corresponden a zonas costeras (10 áreas protegidas, 1.4% del país), mientras que 12.8 millones de hectáreas están en territorio continental (48 áreas protegidas, el 11.2% del país).
Las autoridades de Colombia dijeron estar contribuyendo con los compromisos adquiridos en el Convenio de Diversidad Biológica, que prevé que para 2020 al menos el 17% de las zonas terrestres y de aguas continentales y el 12% de las zonas marinas y costeras se conserven.
The health of coral reefs offshore depend on the protection of forests near the sea, according to a new study by the Wildlife Conservation Society that outlines the importance of terrestrial protected areas to coastal biodiversity.
In a study conducted by WCS and the University of Queensland evaluating the effects of terrestrial protected area designs on Fiji's coral reefs, it turns out that what's best for land ecosystems is also best for coastal corals.
The study appears in the online edition of Marine Policy. The authors are: Carissa Klein of the University of Queensland; Stacy Jupiter of the Wildlife Conservation Society; and Matthew Watts and Hugh Possingham of the University of Queensland.
"When designing terrestrial protected areas, the key is to consider not only how much they benefit terrestrial biodiversity but also how much they benefit coral reef ecosystems," said lead author Dr. Carissa Klein. "Thinking about the connections between the land and sea is rarely done when designing protected areas – Fiji is leading the way globally."
Most managers realize how downstream ecosystems such as coral reefs can be negatively affected by land-based activities that cause increases in runoff and associated sediments, nutrients, and chemicals. Yet, there have been very few on-the-ground cases where protected area networks have been designed using truly integrated planning to minimize such external threats.
This matters in small island developing states like Fiji, where selection of the locations of terrestrial protected areas have been mostly ad hoc, and based more on the cultural or timber value of forests than on any desire to protect biodiversity. Fiji's current terrestrial protected areas, which cover less than 3 percent of land area in the country, neither adequately protect Fiji's sensitive island habitats and species nor contribute much to minimize runoff to adjacent coral reefs.
In 2008, a national Protected Area Committee was created by the Fiji government, in part to achieve the goals of protecting 20 percent of the country's land and 30 percent of its coastal waters by the year 2020. Looking to support the committee's efforts to land-sea planning initiative, the study authors systematically analyzed six scenarios for expanding Fiji's network of terrestrial protected area networks, with the aim to uncover how well each approach did to protect different forest types and minimize land-based runoff to downstream coral reefs. One scenario evaluated included all of the priority forests for conservation identified by the committee based on field data and rules of thumb.
"We're pleased that the results of our study confirm that the forests that the committee was considering for protection can offer significant downstream benefits to coral reefs," said Dr. Stacy Jupiter, Fiji Country Program Director and co-author on the study. "However, we were surprised to find that these priority places for management actually did not include a lot of the key threatened forest vegetation types. We therefore recommended to the committee to add some additional forests to their national register of priority places for protection."
This advice was taken by the committee, and additional forest areas were added to the final register of priority places for management endorsed by the Fiji government National
Long-lived deep-sea corals preserve evidence of a major shift in the open Pacific Ocean ecosystem since around 1850, according to a study by researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz. The findings, published December 15 in Nature, indicate that changes at the base of the marine food web observed in recent decades in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre may have begun more than 150 years ago at the end of the Little Ice Age.
Deep-sea corals are colonial organisms that can live for thousands of years, feeding on organic matter that rains down from the upper levels of the ocean. The corals' branching, tree-like skeletons are composed of a hard protein material that incorporates chemical signatures from their food sources. As a result, changes in the composition of the growth layers in deep-sea corals reflect changes in the organisms that lived in the surface waters at the time each layer formed.
"They're like living sediment traps, recording long-term changes in the open ocean that we can't see any other way," said coauthor Matthew McCarthy, professor of ocean sciences at UC Santa Cruz.
Scientists can study sediment cores taken from the ocean floor for clues to past conditions in the oceans, but that approach is not very useful for the most recent millennia. In the open ocean of the North Pacific, sediment accumulates so slowly that the entire Holocene epoch (the past 12,000 years or so) is represented by less than 10 centimeters (4 inches) of sediment that has been stirred up by organisms living on the seafloor. "Even if there were good sediment records, we would never get the level of detail we can get from the corals," McCarthy said.
To analyze the coral skeletons, the UCSC researchers combined carbon dating with a novel technique for analyzing nitrogen isotopes in proteins. They were able to reconstruct records over the past 1,000 years indicating that a shift occurred around 1850 in the source of nitrogen feeding the surface waters of the open ocean. As a result of decreasing nitrogen inputs from subsurface water, the phytoplankton community at the base of the food web became increasingly dominated by nitrogen-fixing cyanobacteria, which are able to use the nitrogen gas absorbed by surface waters from the atmosphere.
"In the marine environment, the two major sources of nitrogen are dissolved nitrate, which is more concentrated in the subsurface and deep water and is brought to the surface by upwelling, and nitrogen fixation by specialized microorganisms that are like the legumes of the sea," explained first author Owen Sherwood, who worked on the study as a postdoctoral researcher at UCSC and is now at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
The shift revealed in the coral record--from an ecosystem supported by nitrate coming up from deeper waters to one supported more by nitrogen-fixing organisms--may be a result of the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre expanding and becoming warmer, with more stable layering of warm surface water over cooler subsurface water. This increased "stratification" limits the amount of nutrients delivered to the surface in nutrient-rich subsurface water.
Scientists have observed warming and expansion of the major mid-ocean subtropical gyres in the past few decades and have attributed this trend to global warming. The new study puts these observations in the context of a longer-term trend. "It seems that the change in nitrogen sources, and therefore possibly large-scale shifts in ocean conditions, switched on at the end of the Little Ice Age and it is still continuing today," McCarthy said.
A key innovation in nitrogen isotope analysis was crucial to this study. Nitrogen-15 is a minor stable isotope of nitrogen, and the ratio of nitrogen-15 to nitrogen-14 is widely used to trace different sources of nitrogen. The nitrogen fixed by cyanobacteria in surface water, for example, has a different isotope ratio from the nitrates in deep ocean water. The isotope ratio also changes as organisms eat each other and nitrogen moves through the food web, with organisms at the base of the web having lower ratios than organisms at higher "trophic levels."
Thus, two independent factors--the trophic level and the original source of the nitrogen--determine the nitrogen isotope ratio in an organism. McCarthy's lab developed a technique that can separate these two factors by analyzing individual amino acids--the building blocks of proteins. It turns out that the isotope ratios of some amino acids remain unchanged as they move up the food web, while other amino acids become enriched in nitrogen-15 with each trophic transfer.
"Amino acid analysis decouples the two effects so we can see their relative magnitudes," McCarthy said. "What we're seeing in the central Pacific is a major shift at the base of the food web."
The extent of the change is dramatic: a 17 to 27 percent increase in nitrogen-fixation since about 1850, after almost a millennium of relatively minor fluctuations. "In comparison to other transitions in the paleoceanographic record, it's gigantic," Sherwood said. "It's comparable to the change observed at the transition between the Pleistocene and Holocene Epochs, except that it happens an order of magnitude faster."
These and other recent results are changing scientists' notions about the stability of open ocean gyres such as the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, which is the largest contiguous ecosystem on the planet. These open ocean gyres were once considered relatively static, nutrient-deprived "deserts." In the 1980s, however, scientists began regularly monitoring oceanographic conditions at deep-water station ALOHA near Hawaii, revealing a surprising amount of variability.
"Instead of relatively constant ocean deserts, time-series data has shown dynamic decadal-scale changes," McCarthy said. "Our new records from deep-sea corals now show that the decadal-scale changes are really only small oscillations superimposed on a dramatic long-term shift at the base of the Pacific ecosystem. This long-term perspective may help us better predict the effects of global warming on open ocean regions."
The new findings also suggest a new interpretation of data from other researchers showing changes in nitrogen isotopes in the bones of seabirds. A recent study of Hawaiian petrel bones using bulk nitrogen isotope data attributed the change to shifts in the length of open ocean food chains, possibly induced by overfishing (forcing petrels to feed lower on the food chain). In fact, the compound-specific data strongly imply that isotopic changes on all trophic levels are more likely due to the long-term shift in nitrogen sources at the base of the food web, McCarthy said.
Coauthor Tom Guilderson, who is affiliated with UCSC and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, has been collecting deep-sea corals for more than a decade to study them for clues to past oceanographic and environmental conditions. He teamed up with McCarthy to initiate this project. In addition to McCarthy, Guilderson, and Sherwood, the coauthors of the paper include UCSC graduate students Fabian Batista and John Schiff.
Coral samples were collected by the Hawaiian Undersea Research Lab's Pisces V submersible, with funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Geographic Society. The bulk of this research was funded by the National Science Foundation.
KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Governor Neil Abercrombie ended months of anticipation today during a political event held at the Kona International Airport, signing into law a new set of rule changes governing the West Hawaii Regional Fishery Management Area.
The new rules will affect 147 miles of Kona-side coast on the Big Island of Hawaii, from South Point to Upolo Point. The new law prohibits SCUBA spearfishing – a controversial part of the rules – and also regulates the take of certain marine species for aquariums, creates a “no-take” list for other marine species of importance, and closes a 1,500 foot section of Ka’ohe Bay to aquarium collecting.
The rules were passed by the Board of Land and Natural Resources but seemed to stall at the governor’s desk. Some who were involved in the creation of the rules feared Abercrombie would reject them. But on Saturday, the governor surprised the crowd that had gathered to recognize Kona’s outgoing State Representative Denny Coffman with the signing. The governor said he had been looking for the right time to sign the law, and it seemed as if the Kona gathering in honor of Coffman, who advocated for the new rules, would be appropriate.
The crowd of active Democrats cheered the announcement, and stood behind the governor as he enacted the new rules. He gave the pen that he used to sign to Denny Coffman.
El Programa del Estuario de la Bahía de San Juan (PEBSJ) presentó hoy la nueva Reserva Estuarina de la Laguna del Condado, primera reserva estuarina reconocida por el gobierno local y una de las pocas en su clase en el corazón de una capital del Caribe.
Designada por la Ley 112 de 2013, la reserva estuarina permite la restauración y la conservación de la Laguna, en armonía con su potencial turístico y recreativo apoyada por un proceso participativo.
Esos objetivos se deben lograr por medio de una Comisión de co-manejo, con la colaboración de nuestra entidad sin fines de lucro (el PEBSJ), la empresa privada (hoteles y restaurantes aledaños), vecinos de Alto del Cabro, Condado, Miramar y Santurce, el Departamento de Recursos Naturales y Ambientales y el Municipio de San Juan.
La presentación de la reserva se llevó a cabo en una conferencia de prensa en el hotel Condado Plaza, con la participación de la secretaria del DRNA, Carmen Guerrero; los senadores José Nadal Power y Ramón Luis Nieves; y la presidenta de la Junta de Calidad Ambiental, Laura Vélez.
“Por primera vez contamos con una ley que respalda nuestros esfuerzos de conservar la Laguna del Condado, con un Plan de Manejo democrático y participativo multisectorial”, dijo el doctor Laureano, director ejecutivo del PEBSJ. “Nuestra organización sin fines de lucro estará trabajando en la Reserva para que su protección se implemente de forma inclusiva”.
La reserva estuarina conlleva un nuevo escenario en la Laguna del Condado:
· Puesta en marcha de una Comisión de Co-manejo participativo, entre organizaciones de Gobierno, sin fines de lucro, vecinos y empresas privadas.
· Creación de un Plan de Manejo para su restauración y protección, en armonía con su potencial turístico y recreativo.
· Prohibición de embarcaciones de motor
· Prohibición de pesca y de captura de especies
· Iniciativas educativas sobre la conservación del manatí antillano
· Iniciativas para prevenir la contaminación con escorrentías pluviales
La Laguna del Condado, con un área de 101.85 cuerdas, es el cuerpo de agua con mayor diversidad de flora y fauna del estuario. Todos los ecosistemas tropicales están representados allí: manglares, praderas de yerbas marinas, playas arenosas y arrecifes de coral. Cuenta con especies amenazadas y en peligro de extinción como el manatí antillano.
Entre sus desafíos se encuentra el corte de árboles en sus márgenes, la entrada ilegal de embarcaciones de motor y las descargas de contaminantes por escorrentías. La designación de la Reserva Estuarina es una buena noticia, en la medida en que crea la herramienta legal con la cual se coordinan todos los esfuerzos para lidiar con los desafíos de uno de los principales atractivos turísticos y recreativos de Puerto Rico.