#MahaloObama from a Grateful Ocean

By | Action today, Events, Featured Post, In the News, Uncategorized, W2O Blog

Photo of Blue Trevally: US Fish and Wildlife Service

Mahalo” (thank you in Hawaiian) to President Obama and many others for Monument designation expansion of the pristine area of Papahānaumokuākea off the coast of Hawaii. It is now the largest protected area (land or sea) in the world! This is big world news this week and hopefully sends a message to everyone of the importance of protecting vital habitat everywhere in our oceans. Protected areas are the basis of climate refuge and, according to Douglas McCauley from UC Santa Barbara in this NPR interview, the area of Papahānaumokuākea is one of the most spectacular places on earth. “You put on a mask, and the mask essentially becomes a time machine. You put your head under water, and you’re looking at what the ocean looked like on reefs thousands of years ago. It’s what Hawaii-the reefs that we see when we go on vacation out there-looked like before we impacted and disturbed this ecosystem,” says McCauley.

Photo: Lee Gillenwater
The Pew Charitable Trust

Marine protected areas have proved to be a hotspot for the study of climate change and have demonstrated that when left alone, without fishing, tourism or reef disturbance, protected areas are able to rebound from damaging human activity. W2O co-founder and Chair of Trustees of the New England Aquarium Donna Hazard is so grateful for the news from Hawaii but also knows that she wants to see more areas protected.  She is particularly concerned about the Atlantic where it might be more difficult to imagine the abundance of diversity under the dark blue cold waters. “It’s so important to protect those biologically diverse habitats.  It would be great if I could just know that during my lifetime I could help secure more marine protected areas for the next generation. We can’t afford to let this opportunity pass by without trying to protect the most worthy scientifically significant marine areas,” Hazard passionately remarked when speaking about the possibility of a monument in the Atlantic.  “I am hopeful that the wonderful press and excitement about the Monument expansion of Papahānaumokuākea will help propel the movement for more marine protected areas,” Hazard added.

 

A Very Nice Man and His Siatka

By | Action today, Featured Post, In the News, Sustainable Living, Uncategorized, W2O Blog

FullSizeRenderA very nice man, Dr. Stan Szyfelbein (pronounced Shi-fell-bine) told me today that when he shops here and in his native Poland, he uses all different sorts of reusable bags. His favorite is what he calls a “siatka.” Siatka is Polish for “anything that has the appearance of a net.” Stan, a wise man of 81, and retired Chief of Anesthesia at Shriners Hospital here in Boston says “Bags need to be functional and fashionable. Every man and woman use to carry a siatka rolled up in their pocket when they went shopping.”

The cotton siatka (or today’s string bag) is durable, washes easily and can be very beautiful too. Here are some wonderful examples of siatkas to add to your repertoire of reusable bags. Nix the plastics! Good for you, good for our oceans.

Pinterest has bags to own and to make!

Pinterest has bags to own and to make!

Ecohip cotton string bag on amazon.com

Ecohip cotton string bag on amazon.com

 

 

 

www.estringbags.com.au

www.estringbags.com.au

FullSizeRender

Sea Level Rise-Why Worry Now?

By | Events, Featured Post, In the News, Sustainable Living, W2O Blog | No Comments
Photo by Noelle Anderson

Photo by Noelle Anderson

Is sea level rise something we need to be concerned about right now? If you look at the data from the Union of Concerned Scientists, it seems far off somehow yet, we are seeing the water rise and cities and towns are talking about mitigation to protect vulnerable property. So what is going on? What action can we take?

Sea level rise, caused by human induced climate change, amplifies the effects of tidal height and storm surge associated with all coastal storms. A storm doesn’t need to be “super” to cause significant damage. Most people remember Hurricane Sandy. The iconic images of the massive storm taken by satellite; the bent and twisted frame of the drowned roller coaster sitting placidly in the surf just off the Jersey Shore; the flooded tunnels of the New York City subway system and lower Manhattan are hard to forget. Similarly, we shudder at the memory of New Orleans residents clinging to their roofs awaiting rescue by helicopters during Hurricane Katrina. Yet, we also tend to dismiss such happenings as anomalies. We call them “super storms “ or “100-year storms” and unless we were directly impacted, go on with our lives.

Because of warming seas from human induced climate change, scientists warn that 100-year storms are becoming more frequent. Coastal flood advisories and flood watches due to “astronomical tides” were in effect recently in locations from Key West to Maine, including Boston, Baltimore, Washington, DC, and other cities in between. In the southern part of Florida, a third night of flooding closed roads, flooded sidewalks and led to some of the most extensive tidal flooding they’d ever witnessed. Charlestown has seen consecutive days with road closure due to flooding and lives were lost due to rising waters. Last month’s king tide saw alligators swimming in flooded streets.

One constant piece of this phenomenon, the monthly ebb & flow of the tide, is just doing what it does, albeit with an extra kick when there is a king tide. With sea level rise, the highest tides are only getting higher, due to the thermal expansion caused by the increasing warm air and water and the flooding they bring is getting more frequent. Regardless of whether you live along the coast or in the nation’s heartland, the impact will be both economic and geographic.

Many of our most populous metropolitan areas are located where the ocean meets the land. In fact more than 100 million people live in coastal counties. These counties produce 42 percent of the US economy’s GDP. Besides being financial, military and government centers, these areas are home to the largest ports in our country. A quick glance at the list of the top five ports in the continental US, illustrates the vulnerabilities. They are located in Louisiana, Texas, New York/New Jersey, and account for billions of metric tons in movement of goods, both exports and imports, annually. In the past decade, each one has been impacted by a significant meteorological event, either Sandy or Katrina, and is located in a low-lying area impacted by tidal flooding and sea level rise.

When storms arrive, airports, cargo ports and financial centers close halting the movement of goods and people, slowing the economy and impacting people’s livelihoods. When land is washed away or homes and businesses are destroyed by floodwater, people’s life savings are threatened; they may be left homeless and jobless. These impacts will be more frequent as sea levels rise and storms become stronger.

What can we as ordinary citizens do to help prepare and protect our family, communities, and our society for sea level rise?

  • Be educated. By learning all that we can about climate change and sea level rise, we can support efforts to stem the tide.
  • Be prepared. Make sure our families are ready for a big storm by having a plan and the necessary items on hand to make sure we stay safe.
  • Be inspired to take action. Support legislation that demands action on climate change and reduce your own carbon footprint. Having a home energy audit is a great place to start!

Join us for Boston Waters Rising on October 29th and learn more!

Today’s blog contributor is W2O board member Dianne Brown

Terms Defined

Storm Surge occurs when the winds from coastal storms push water inland. It occurs at all tide levels, but causes the most damage at high tides and king tides. In other words, the higher the water level at the time of the surge, the more water will be pushed inland, resulting in greater flooding. The greater the flooding, the longer it will last, simply because the water will take longer to drain away. The longer the flooding lasts the more human suffering and economic damage it will inflict.

A King Tide The height of a tide is controlled by the gravitational pull of the moon on the earth, which varies during the month, as the moon waxes and wanes. The tide is highest when we have a full moon or a new moon. A king tide occurs several times during the year when the moon’s elliptical orbit brings it closest to the Earth at the same time the Earth’s elliptical orbit brings it closest to the sun.

Sea Level Rise is an increase in the level of our oceans, relative to the land. It is generally measured in three ways: satellite data, tide gauges, and land benchmarks. Sea level rise is occurring because of two phenomena – the absorption of additional heat in our atmosphere by the ocean and the melting of land ice (glaciers & ice sheets). Although scientific estimates vary about the amount of sea level rise we will experience, due to uncertain rates of land ice melt, climate scientists all agree that globally seas have risen an average of 8 inches since 1880 and that they will continue to rise from their present level.

 

Water Rising: Our Planet; Your Actions

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Photo: George Steinmetz

Photo: George Steinmetz

W2O’s event Water Rising: The Impact on Humanity, was a huge success. The Imax was nearly full; our luncheon sold out. Union of Concerned Scientist Senior Analyst Erika Spanger-Siegfried’s explanation of the science of warming oceans inspired conversations about the affects of sea level rise across the globe. The juxtaposition of what actions rich and poor nations are taking to mitigate and prepare for rising seas was clearly shown in George Steinmetz’s moving photography. But success for W2O is measured by what happens after you leave our events. Are you taking the message home to your family and communities? Educating to inspire action is our mission!

Please take a look at the action card, given to each attendee at our event, and consider how you can help reduce emission that have ramifications close to home and as far away as Kiribati, the island nation and home to our event guest Ambassador Baaro.

Han_W20_Apr9_-10

photo credit: Li Han

Founder and Chair of W2O, Barbara Burgess says, “Now is the time to take action to protect our blue planet.” Join W2O, “like us” on Facebook to make sure that you are up to date on all of our events, and tell a friend about what you are doing today to take action on this important issue. Thank you for joining with us to make our blue planet sustainable!

Are you thinking about Sea Level Rise?

By | Events, Featured Post, In the News, Sustainable Living, Uncategorized, W2O Blog | No Comments
Photo: George Steinmetz

Photo: George Steinmetz

With our upcoming event on April 9th, Rising Waters: The Impact on Humanity, W2O is researching island nations and their struggles for acknowledgment and help regarding their plight of losing their homeland and livelihood as a result of rising seas.  How do we, living so far away from most of these coastal communities, help raise awareness that carbon emissions have directly affected the most vulnerable populations?

The topic of sea level rise is gaining momentum in the press and being discussed across the globe. Cities everywhere are making sea level rise adaptation strategies.  The Guardian has announced that it “is embarking on a major series of articles on the climate crisis and how humanity can solve it. In the first, an extract taken from the introduction to THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING by Naomi Klein, the author argues that if we treat climate change as the crisis it is, we don’t just have the potential to avert disaster but could improve society in the process…”

“We know that if we continue on our current path of allowing emissions to rise year after year, climate change will change everything about our world. Major cities will very likely drown, ancient cultures will be swallowed by the seas, and there is a very high chance that our children will spend a great deal of their lives fleeing and recovering from vicious storms and extreme droughts…There are ways of preventing this grim future, or at least making it a lot less dire. But the catch is that these also involve changing everything. For us high consumers, it involves changing how we live, how our economies function, even the stories we tell about our place on earth. The good news is that many of these changes are distinctly uncatastrophic. Many are downright exciting.”

Over the winter break, W2O was fortunate to have a terrific intern game to learn more about how W2O works and what messages we use to communicate protecting our  oceans. We asked intern Lizzie Savage to choose an island that is in eminent danger from encroaching seas and give us a sense of the challenges that these communities face. With gratitude to Lizzie, we have this profile to share:

The small island nation of Tuvalu, located in the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and Australia, was once known for its white sandy beaches, and expansive coral reefs. However, in the past decade or so, Tuvalu has become more popularly known as one of the many small island countries whose population risks extinction due to sea level rise.  Tuvalu has been recognized as highly “vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change and environmental degradation, including “coastal erosion, flooding and inundation, increasing salinity of fresh ground-water supplies, destruction of primary sources of subsistence, and destruction of personal and community property.”  Each one of these impacts contributes to making life on Tuvalu more difficult and increasingly uninhabitable.

No matter the circumstance, having to leave the life you know and love in your home country for a new and daunting life somewhere else is not easy. Although the living situation in Tuvalu has become increasingly burdensome and unsafe, inhabitants have a hard time bearing the thought of leaving, and for good reason. “We don’t want to leave this place. We don’t want to leave, it’s our land, our God given land, it is our culture, we can’t leave. People won’t leave until the very last minute,” explained Paani Laupepa, the former assistant secretary of Tuvalu’s Ministry of Natural Resources.  Tuvaluans are faced with extreme hardships, such as frequent flooding that reaches to the middle of the island destroying crops and trees, or salt water seeping through holes in the ground creating puddles one to two feet deep which often surround homes and offices. Living a life in Tuvalu is not easy, but for many it is their home, and home is not something you easily give up on. Generations upon generations have built their lives, and endless memories in Tuvalu and have planned to continue doing so for generations to come. The sad truth though, is that if nothing is done to prevent further sea level rise, the island nation of Tuvalu will not be around long enough to be a home for future generations.

As climate change poses threat to the lives of Tuvaluans, some seek a life elsewhere. For most, this elsewhere is New Zealand. “New Zealand has agreed to welcome 75 immigrants (from Tuvalu) annually,” assuming that the they are of good standing, have basic English skills, are in good health, under 45 years old and have a job offer in New Zealand. This gesture, however, will only make a small dent for the nation of Tuvalu, whose population is nearing 10,000 people. “In 2001, the Australian government was asked to consider accepting migrants from Tuvalu. It refused to commit to [the] request.”  In order to ensure the survival of this small nation, and others among it, larger and more powerful countries will have to step up and be open to sharing their communities with those who are being displaced from their own.
New Zealand recently granted residency to a Tuvaluan family who claimed that if they were to return to their lives in Tuvalu they would be putting themselves at risk. The family had been living illegally in New Zealand for many years while simultaneously trying to gain work visas and status as refugees.  Gaining residency in New Zealand is extremely difficult because the International Refugee Convention does not consider those who suffer as a result of climate change to be refugees. The Convention “doesn’t provide an open ticket for people from all the places that are impacted by climate change. It’s still a very stringent test and it requires exceptional circumstances of a humanitarian nature.”  The Tuvaluan family who gained residency in New Zealand was the first to do so on humanitarian grounds.
Although there is only one success story in regards to humanitarian based residency appeals, it represents hope for more similar stories of its kind in the future. As many small island nations continue to suffer as a result of climate change, more and more families and individuals will begin to seek residency elsewhere.  In order for these nations to find safety and a new home, the developed nations of the world must open up both their hearts and their borders to the ever-growing number of climate change refugees.

 

 

 

 

Marine Scientist Paty Matrai and her Tiny Giants

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Dr. Matral:Bigelow

photo: Laura Lubelczyk, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences

 

 

Marine biologist Dr. Paty Matrai is talking about Coccolithophores from her office in Maine’s Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, where she is a lead research scientist. This intimidating word is a type of phytoplankton (remember that from science class?), or a tiny marine plants. Abundant and vital phytoplankton are both the smallest, but most important microorganism in the marine food chain and are key to a healthy ocean and planet. Disturbances to these plants, such as ocean acidification (the increase of  carbon dioxide in the oceans that produces carbonic acid, which reduces the ph of the water) affects the entire marine population. Phytoplankton produces much of the oxygen in the ocean and half the oxygen on land. They are effectively responsible for creating the oxygen in every second breath we take. Turns out, some varieties of this ocean movie star are also stunningly beautiful.

Chain-forming diatoms from the genus Thalassiosira (Bigelow Labs)

Chain-forming diatoms from the genus Thalassiosira (Bigelow Labs)

Dr. Matrai has worked at Bigelow Laboratory in East Boothbay Maine for 20 years. A native of Chile, she came to the United States and studied Biological Oceanography at UCSD’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography. She is particularly interested in how sulfur cycles through the ocean, the biological production and consumption of organic sulfur and halogenated compounds, and the role of phytoplankton as both a source  (through respiration) and sink (taking in for energy) of carbon dioxide.

Over the years, Dr. Matrai’s work has taken her north to the Arctic for stints as long as six weeks sampling and analyzing ice cores and the microscopic creatures of phytoplankton that are hidden within. A job not for the faint of heart with cold temperatures that require lots of trial and error to find just the right gear for keeping warm and dry. While she is working intensively in these conditions, she is also conscious of the beauty that surrounds her.

“I marvel at the shapes, ridges and color of the ice.” Dr. Matrai offered.

“When you visit these places that are hardest to get to and have few inhabitants you feel an urgency to communicate to the rest of the world how delicate these systems are.” she adds.

W2O will help the New England Aquarium host Tiny Giants, a photographic exhibit from Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, of the microscopic creatures that are vital to our very existence. On January 15th please join us to take a closer look at the ocean. Tickets are on sale now!

 

 

You must be in on it-Mayor Menino invites conversations about Sea Level Rise and the Future of Coastal Cities

By | Action today, Featured Post, In the News, Past Events, Sustainable Living | No Comments
Photo credit: Nickolay Lamm and Climate Central

Photo credit: Nickolay Lamm and Climate Central

Though Mayor Menino is surely missed in Boston, his presence was felt strongly at the Sea Level Rise and the Future of Coastal Cities meeting at Boston University last week. Most speakers credited Mayor Menino for bringing them together to engage in the topic of how climate change and the resulting sea level rise will affect cites across the world.

City officials from Helsinki to Melbourne came to collaborate and learn about what cities are doing to increase their resilience to protect their communities with smart design choices involving government, urban planners, developers, the private business sector, academia and scientists. Erika Spanger-Siegfried from the Union of Concerned Scientists explains in a video shown shown at the event that extensive research shows that over the next 30 years, sea levels will increase up to a foot or more in some east coast locations and that when storms occur on top of already typical tidal flooding, higher tides will magnify the risk of severe coastal events.

The conference highlighted the importance of communication between those entities working in different domains, especially from scientist who are learning the language that will be crucial to delivering the message of climate change that causes sea level rise to governments, insurers and the public. “Inherit uncertainties make it harder to make the message clear,” said Bud Ris, past president of the New England Aquarium and a contributor to environmental education and policy around the topic of climate change. But Tony Janetos, director, Fredrick S. Pardee Center for the Studay of the Longer Range Future and co host of the event with the Initiative on Cities, reminded us that “we (scientists) were never trained to communicate this way.” It is an urgent message they are tasked with delivering- one that he says is not that climate change is “50 years out, like we thought” but here faster than we even imagined. “We do not have the luxury to ignore what the science or the experience of others tells us. We must manage the risks while learning more.”

Everyone wants to know, “What will the future hold?” According to Janetos, “it depends on what future we choose.”

*The computer enhanced photo on this page is from a prediction project of the collapse of the Western Antarctic glaciers from Climate Central. Yes, that is the Boston Harbor Hotel. Check out the rest of the photorealistic work depicting iconic places around the globe (and maybe where you live) by photographer Nickolay Lamm.