pollution

Trapping seawater contaminants in calcareous deposits

Electrochemical technique can trap up to 24% of nickel in metal-rich seawater, in just seven days.

The same process that causes crusty limescale to build up on the inside of your kettle could help to clean up nickel pollution in seawater, according to new research from the South Pacific island of New Caledonia. Read more in Chemistry World.

The Ghosts of Fishers Past

Photo by Brian Owens

Photo by Brian Owens

Lost fishing gear keeps on doing the job it was designed for long after its owners are gone.

Lacuna is like most other humpback whales in the Atlantic Ocean. He overwinters in warm Caribbean waters—where humpbacks breed and give birth—and heads north in spring, toward colder waters to feast on the abundance of krill, copepods, and other tiny marine life.

For nearly two decades, Lacuna, recognizable by the unique pattern of black and white marks on the underside of his tail fluke, has beaten the same watery path from the southern Atlantic to the Bay of Fundy in eastern Canada without incident, managing to avoid the dangers an animal his size might encounter. But last July when whale watchers spotted him in the bay, he was entangled in ropes—he had run afoul of fishing gear.

Although it was impossible to tell the origin of the gear Lacuna was hauling around, the whale’s plight highlighted a growing threat worldwide, abandoned or lost fishing gear that endangers marine life—ghost gear. Ghost gear does the job it was designed for: to catch marine animals. The problem is that it continues to catch fish, turtles, birds, and whales, for as long as the gear exists. Even worse, as animals die in lost traps or nets, they act as bait to attract other marine life and the cycle continues for years or even centuries.

Around 640,000 tonnes of fishing gear is lost or abandoned worldwide each year, accounting for around 10 percent of all marine litter. Ghost gear entangles and kills an estimated 136,000 whales, seals, and other marine mammals annually, and likely millions more animals with lower profiles: fish, crustaceans, turtles, and birds. Read more in Hakai.

Pharmaceuticals in the environment: a growing problem

Drugs taken by humans and animals find their way into rivers, lakes and even drinking water, and can have devastating effects on the environment.

When Rebecca Klaper searched for signs of pharmaceuticals in Lake Michigan, she got a surprise. The most common drug she found was one she hadn’t even considered looking for — metformin, a diabetes drug.

“It wasn’t even on our radar,” says Klaper, a freshwater scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the United States. “We only found it because the Environmental Protection Agency just happened to add it to the detection assay we used.”

Perhaps even more surprising was how far the drug had spread from the point it entered the lake via treated sewage. “Lake Michigan is huge, so we expected a big dilution effect, but we were still finding drugs, including metformin, three miles from the sewage treatment plants,” she says. Read more in The Pharmaceutical Journal.

Seafood diet killing Arctic foxes on Russian island

PLOS ONE

PLOS ONE

Mercury pollution in marine animals may be behind a population crash.

An isolated population of Arctic foxes that dines only on marine animals seems to be slowly succumbing to mercury poisoning.

The foxes on Mednyi Island — one of Russia’s Commander Islands in the Bering Sea — are a subspecies of Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus) that may have remained isolated for thousands of years. They were once numerous enough to support a small yet thriving group of fur hunters. After humans abandoned the settlement in the 1970s, the fox population began to crash, falling from more than 1,000 animals to fewer than 100 individuals today. Read more in Nature.