The “Heartbreaking” Effect of Algal Blooms – Heart disease and the Southern Sea Otter

Our favorite hand-holding marine mammals, sea otters, are threatened by environmental toxins. Chemicals produced by algae blooms move up the food chain and cause a multitude of diseases in top predators. A new study documented how algae blooms cause heart disease in sea otters, what this means for our own seafood consumption, and proposes solutions to our pollution.

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Red, White, and Blue-Green Algae: Harmful Algal Blooms Block Summer Plans, and Could Become More Common Without Action

Recent harmful algal blooms in the Northeast US have thwarted holiday plans for many lake-goers, and climate change might make such blooms more common. If we could have tighter control on the nutrients flowing into the lake, we may have a chance at preventing blooms in the future.

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Possible link between oil spill clean ups and harmful algal blooms

Oil spills are damaging the marine environment. One method for cleanup is applying dispersants to break up oil slicks on the water surface, making oil easier to decompose. Unfortunately, researchers started to observe harmful algal blooms after the application of these dispersants. The scientists in this study wanted to understand what was causing these blooms.

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Are Harmful Algal Blooms a New Concern For Coral Reefs?

Coral reefs are marine invertebrates that create a diverse ecosystem that supports sea life, fish communities, and humans. Corals have a symbiotic relationship with the algae that grows inside their shell, providing coral food through photosynthesis, and allowing the coral to expand its reef. However, coral reefs are already under pressure from a changing ocean climate, human pollution, overfishing, and development, all which can stress the coral and their algae counterparts. Harmful algal blooms (HABs), a consequence of human derived nutrient pollution, were investigated to determine their impact to coral reef or fish communities. Reef and fish communities at two sites in the Gulf of Oman were surveyed before and after a HAB in 2008. One site saw coral reef abundance reduced from 53% before the bloom, to 6% after, and both sites had a significant decrease in total fish biomass. These results demonstrate that HABs have a negative impact on both coral and fish communities. HABs cloud surface waters, preventing the coral’s algae from photosynthesizing and providing food for corals. Once the HAB dies, it decays and depletes the oxygen along the seafloor, suffocating corals. These changes to corals impact fish, as a struggling coral reef cannot provide food and shelter to attract sea life and fish communities. These impacts are felt by the nearly 30 million people that depend on coral reefs for their livelihood. Nutrient pollution to coastal waters resulting in HABs, along with other stressors, need to be addressed to safeguard coral reef ecosystems for the future.

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Joining forces: The role of the natural and social sciences in addressing the Global Nitrogen Problem

A wealth of scientific knowledge exists on the role of nitrogen in the natural and agricultural world, with research dating back over a century. Nitrogen sustains life and has enabled modern food production to keep up with the demands of the growing human population. However, we have reached a critical state where the use of synthetic nitrogen needs to be regulated due to the multitude of environmental impacts. The problem is that the effect nitrogen has on the planet is rarely discussed outside of scientific circles. With the recent development of international campaigns to address the global nitrogen problem, it’s time to put nitrogen research into practice with the help of social science.

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As Oceans Change, HABs Invade

Global ocean temperatures are currently rising and have been for decades. Scientists are working to discover how this changing climate affects species around the world, from the very large to the very small. This includes phytoplankton, the microscopic marine algae that live in most bodies of water around the globe and produce half the world’s oxygen. But some of these species are toxic, and can cause harm to human and wildlife alike if they are able to grow out of control. Though a number of studies have been undertaken to try and understand more about these harmful algal blooms, much is still unknown about their growth. A group of scientists were interested in how changing ocean temperatures affected the geographic ranges of harmful algal blooms over time in order to better predict blooms in the future.

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Double trouble: how floods after bushfire affect the health of our rivers

Between Christmas 2019 and the  2020 New Year, forested mountain ranges across drought-stricken areas in Eastern Australia came alight, with fires ravaging 11 million hectares of bush (Eucalyptus woodlands and rainforests) – a size comparable to England’s land area. These megafires threw the states of New South Wales and Victoria into a state of emergency. The bushfire crisis took a sudden turn when heavy rainfall flooded the scorched land in the span of just two weeks. Unfortunately, while rainfall might appear to be a blessing in light of the megafires, the resulting floods were ultimately not sweet relief for rivers. 

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Mayfly swarms are visible on weather radar. Their declines spell bad news for ecosystem health

Mayfly swarms used to be so large that snowplows had to take to the streets to clear the road of their carcasses. However, recent evidence demonstrates that mayfly populations are decreasing dramatically. This is bad news for surrounding ecosystems, especially for fish and birds that depend on these insects for food.

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