Water Defense to the Rescue by Dr. Sarah Oktay, Director, University of Massachusetts Nantucket Field Station
June 28, 2014 | Filed under: Island Science and tagged with: water conservation, water defense, water pollution, water quality
A few months ago I attended a water quality presentation up at the Massachusetts State House at the invitation of my friend and our most excellent Cape and island House Representative Tim Madden and island buddy Bob Patterson. The subject was a new water quality initiative with students at the Cape Cod Community College launched by the non-profit group Water Defense http://waterdefense.org/. Founded by actor, director, and clean water advocate, Mark Ruffalo, Water Defense is a non-profit organization dedicated to clean water. From their website at http://www.waterdefense.org: “Our mission is to use technology and public engagement to keep our waterways and drinking water sources free from contamination and industrial degradation. We believe it is a fundamental human right for people to have access to clean water, as well as to know what’s in it. Water Defense utilizes state of the art Environmental Indicators to measure contamination and the accumulation of contaminants over time, which include but are not limited to oil and related chemicals and organometallic compounds. Our water testing methods are the first line of defense in protecting clean water sources.”
I was pleasantly surprised at how knowledgeable Mr. Ruffalo and the Water Defense team, including Executive Director John Pratt and Chief Scientist Scott Smith, were about water quality issues and source functions, in situ (in place) water testing, and environmental impacts. Their passion and dedication to responding quickly to environmental disasters and their need to get information out to the public quickly impressed me. As a chemical oceanographer with over twenty years of experience (starting at the age of twelve of course) in trace metal, radioisotope, and carbon tracking chemistry in natural systems, I also was naturally curious as to whether their methods were reliable and viable. If CeeLo Green was writing this he’d throw in “undeniable, classifiable, and verifiable” and make this article sound not only cooler but even more scientific. Fortunately, this is a serious group that wants to make a difference by engaging and enabling people to find out what is in their water and helping them remediate or remove these toxins.
Water Defense specifically concentrates on tracking leftover oil and contaminants from oil spills, oil related accidents, and fracking operations around the U.S. Scott Smith started deploying his company’s (http://www.opflex.com/) open cell foam boom material at these sites to see if it could sequester (collect and entrain) oil pollutants. One design uses an artificial eelgrass structure to effectively mimic high surface area materials in nature http://www.opflex.com/index.php/opflex-foam/eelgrass-mops.) This is a type of biomimicry (http://yesterdaysisland.com/biomimicry/). The open cell nature of this foam means that it has tons of sponge-like holes that are formed haphazardly, giving the material a surface area of two square feet for every cubic inch of material. The material is naturally “biophilic” or organic loving and is in effect hydrophobic, which means it attracts organically bound contaminants while releasing or repelling water. It also is relatively inert, and a “green material” with a low carbon footprint and the ability to attract particle reactive materials. Opflex is a petrochemical, like many plastics, so in essence we are fighting fire with fire. OPFLEX materials are much lighter than traditional oil boom material and able to absorb up to 30 times their weight in oil. We are investigating whether they can be used to collect other organic contaminants like pesticides, paints, or construction and cleaning chemicals.
There are two problems that Water Defense and Scott and Mark are trying to address with this new technology. One is that many water sampling groups can only afford to do “snap-shot” type water testing, taking grab samples via trained volunteers at the surface of a pond, lake, bay or river. Often they don’t have the means to do water column testing which requires that special sampling containers called Niskin, Beta, or Van Dorn bottles are used. When researchers want to take a sample of seawater from within the water column they often use a relatively simple device called a Niskin Bottle that can be opened at both ends. The open bottle is lowered into the ocean (or into a pond or bay) on a wire from a boat until it reaches a certain depth and then the bottle is closed by a weighted trigger (called a “messenger”) that is sent down the cable from the surface. My students and I use these in the harbor and in some of our ponds and are able to deploy them from small boats. Although oceanographers and limnologists (those who study freshwater systems) usually take samples from multiple depths and from the sediment too, it is often not possible or affordable for municipalities, civic associations, and citizen science groups who do the lion’s share of water testing in this country to follow suit.
The second issue is that most testing is episodic and only records the instantaneous concentration of pollutant. Fish, shellfish, plants, and other biota spend their whole lives in water and they bioaccumulate toxins, storing them up in either their muscles, brain, fatty tissues or reproductive organs depending on the type of contaminant ( heavy metals, pesticides, PCBs etc. all have different affinities for different parts of the body). Land based creatures drinking water and eating potentially contaminated animals or plants also sequester materials within their bodies, building up higher levels of toxins over time. When I did research on radioactive iodine around the world I used Spanish moss as a biophilic organic atmospheric sampling device that could passively scavenge iodine from the air as it grew, even epiphytes like moss are not immune from natural or manmade elements in the air. Long term cumulative testing is often expensive and involves either 1) using live animals from oysters to marine mammals as reservoirs that must have tissue samples extracted to test for contaminants or 2) installing equipment that sample water bodies frequently over time. As we mentioned above, live animals concentrate metals and chemicals in various parts of the body and keep some things in their tissues while excreting or breaking down other compound. As a result it takes a fair amount of detective work to figure out how they ended up with x amount of y in their bodies. Underwater sampling “robots” and devices are finicky and expensive and they require maintenance and underwater chemical use too that can be a big pain in the gas chromatograph if you get my drift.
This is where materials like Opflex can be helpful in addition to its use as a media for absorbing oil. The Opflex material can be deployed on moorings, docks, in ponds and along shorelines to passively filter water; individual sections can be removed from the eelgrass mops and sampled over time for gas derivatives, organic pollutants such as pesticides and particle reactive molecules like phosphate who can’t pass by a substrate without wanting to join the party. This material could be placed in filters to extract contaminants from the water column. If you have ever run an aquarium, you will recall that you use a lot of different substances for filtration like charcoal for organic matter, cation exchange columns for metals and biological bacteria present on the surface of bioballs to remove hydrophobic stuff.
The Opflex material is relatively innocuous and inert and easy to deploy by untrained personnel. Here on Nantucket at the UMass Boston Nantucket Field Station, we are evaluating the Opflex material in natural systems by deploying it in different water bodies around the island to see if we can measure specific contaminates of concern (CECs). We want to understand what it records in pure water (intrinsic background levels), what its detection limits are and how it holds up in real world environments. We will also be retrieving and testing it throughout the season to evaluate its effectiveness as a time capsule for long term sampling. Evaluating long term chemical burdens can help us understand what scallops or fish or osprey may be dealing with as well as what types of issues (or non issues) humans may encounter. Toxic chemicals can have sudden or acute effects or long term chronic effects. Starting in a controlled environment such as Nantucket with no industry and identifiable sources of contaminants makes it much easier to apply these tools worldwide.
Come see for yourself this Saturday June 28th at 10:00 am at the Nantucket Field Station at 180 Polpis Road. You can meet Mark Ruffalo and the rest of his team, hear about recent Cape and Island testing results, and see a demonstration of how Opflex’s material can be used as a long term water sampler. We will have a short press conference from 10-11 am; feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. I hope you can also catch the Nantucket Film Festival’s Spotlight Film, Begin Again, starring Keira Knightley, Adam Levine and Mark Ruffalo and written and directed by John Carney at the Dreamland’s Main Theatre at 12:45 pm. Come early to hear Mark Ruffalo introduce the film. Go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CwLuDO_Cxfc to see the trailer. Last but not least, please do your part to keep our water clean and our environment healthy.
The Bay Area Tropical Forest Network (BATFN) is an social network in the Bay Area broadly interested in tropical forest conservation and ecology. We gather quarterly, typically for a happy hour beverage in the Peninsula area (usually Palo Alto, San Francisco, or Berkeley). Events are free and we provide snacks and drinks. Think Green Drinks but with a focus on forests.
Our goal is to foster peer-to-peer networking in a relaxed atmosphere where ideas, data, and collaboration flow freely. This is a great opportunity to connect with media, scientists, economists, foundations, activists, artists and many others thinking about these issues. Everyone is welcome! It is a great way to get in touch with other people working on similar interests or to learn more about current issues and initiatives in forest conservation. BATFN gatherings have resulted in grants, internships, academic opportunities, and new friendships
Attendees of BATFN typically include people from a range of fields and locations, including researchers and activists working in Brazil, Indonesia, Peru, Madagascar and other exiting places. If you are interested in exploring any of these areas — professionally, academically, or just out of casual interest – you shouldn’t miss BATFN events.
The next BATFN will take place Thursday, Feb 27, 2014 at the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley (2607 Hearst Ave, Berkeley, CA).
We’re pleased to announce that Van Butsic will give a brief talk about the impact of conflict on forest loss in the Democratic Republic of Congo:
Many tropical countries have experienced violent conflict in recent decades, which may pose an additional, yet poorly understood threat for forests. Conflict may decrease or increase deforestation depending on the relationship between conflict and other causes of land use change, such as mining expansion or protected area establishment. Here we examine the impact of conflict on forest loss in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Using a panel instrumental variables approach we find that: i) conflict increases forest cover loss, ii) mining concessions increase forest cover loss, but in times of conflict this impact is lessened, and iii) protected areas reduce forest cover loss, even if conflict is present. Our results thus suggest that policy interventions designed to reduce violent conflict may have the co-benefit of reducing deforestation and that protected areas can be effective even in times of war.
Doors open at 6pm for networking/conversation and Butsic’s talk will likely begin around 7 pm, followed by discussion. We’ll provide some snacks and drinks, but any food, drink, or other contributions would be appreciated.
If you are interested in attending the event, it would be helpful if you RSVP via this form or the Facebook event page so we know how much food and drink to provide. The event is open to everyone so feel free to forward to your friends.
When: 6 pm-8:30 pm, Thursday, Feb 27, 2014
Where: Goldman School of Public Policy
2607 Hearst Ave, Berkeley, CA
The final BATFN of 2013 took place Sunday, November 17 from 6-8 pm on board Greenpeace’s ship, The Rainbow Warrior, which was docked at Pier 15 on the Embarcadero near the Exploratorium.
The theme for the event was “An Evening Exploring Solutions to Deforestation” and involved a panel of speakers who will talk about one solution that has worked in the past to reduce deforestation. Here is video from the speakers’ portion of the event.
|BATFN Meeting: Solutions to Deforestation from Paul Stoutenburgh on Vimeo.|
- BATFN 1 (Jun 2009): Stanford University.
- BATFN 2 (Jul 2009): Stanford University. Presentation: Tropical forest news highlights for June 2009 (Rhett Butler)
- BATFN 3 (Aug 2009): California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco
- BATFN 4 (Sep 2009): UC Berkeley. Presentation: What we know and what we still need to find out about deforestation in Brazil (Maria Bowman)
- BATFN 5 (Oct 2009): UC Berkeley.
- BATFN 6 (Nov 2009): Stanford University. Presentation: Oil palm plantation expansion in Indonesian Borneo: Tipping points and tradeoffs (Kim Carlson)
- BATFN 7 (Dec 2009): Stanford University. Presentation: How rainforest shamans heal (Chris Herndon)
- BATFN 8 (Jan 2010): UC Berkeley. Presentation: An overview of REDD and what happened in Copenhagen (Rhett Butler)
- BATFN 9 (Feb 2010): RAN-San Francisco. Presentation: Palm oil and plantation forestry in Indonesia (Lafcadio Cortesi)
- BATFN 10 (Mar 2010): Stanford University. Presentation: Global policies as a framework for effective local action to reduce deforestation (Suzi Kerr)
- BATFN 11 (Apr 2010): Stanford University. Film: Owners of the Water – Conflict and Collaboration Over Rivers (Laura Graham)
- BATFN 12 (May 2010): UC Berkeley. The Climate Impacts of Cattle Ranching Intensification in Brazil. (Avery Cohen)
- BATFN 13 (Jun 2010): Stanford University. Presentation: REDD in Colombia (Brodie Ferguson)
- BATFN 14 (Sep 2010): UC Berkeley. Presentation: California Low Carbon Fuel Standard and forests (Michael O’Hare)
- BATFN 15 (Oct 2010): Stanford University.
- BATFN 16 (Nov 2010): San Francisco.
- BATFN 17 (Jan 2011): Berkeley (‘Last Nomads’ film screening).
- BATFN 18 (Feb 2011): Palo Alto.
- BATFN 19 (Mar 2011): RAN-San Francisco. (Lindsey Allen)
- BATFN 20 (Apr 2011): Google – Mountain View. (Greg Asner)
- BATFN 21 (May 2011): Greenpeace-San Francisco. (Rolf Skar)
- BATFN 22 (July 2011): Palo Alto. (Holly Gibbs)
- BATFN 23 (Oct 2011): Stanford University. (Nichol Simpson: Health in Harmony in Borneo)
- BATFN 24 (Nov 2011): UC Berkeley. (Dan Hammer: FORMA, a global real-time remote sensing system)
- BATFN 25 (Dec 2011): UC Berkeley. (Roger Leaky)
- BATFN 26 (Jan 2012): Stanford University. (Andrew Stevenson: an inside-the-Beltway look at REDD finance)
- BATFN 27 (Feb 2012): UC Berkeley. (Eco-Ola)
- BATFN 28 (Mar 2012): Berkeley. (The Borneo Project)
- BATFN 29 (Apr 2012): San Francisco. (Pandora Thomas)
- BATFN 30 (May 2012): Stanford University. (William Laurance)
- BATFN 31 (Jun 2012): California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco
- BATFN 32 (Sept 2012): San Francisco (Leila Salazar-Lopez of Amazon Watch)
- BATFN 33 (Oct 2012): Berkeley (Bayu Wirayudha of the Friends of the National Parks Foundation in Indonesia)
- BATFN 34 (Nov 2012): Stanford University (Jose Fragoso on indigenous spiritual beliefs help protect biodiversity)
- BATFN 35 (Feb 2013): Stanford University (Rhett Butler on APP’s new forest policy)
- BATFN 36 (May 2013): Greenpeace-San Francisco (Amy Moas on palm oil expansion in Central Africa)
- BATFN 37 (Jun 2013): Stanford University (Claudia Stickler on deforestation and rainforest dams)
- BATFN 38 (Nov 2013): San Francisco (Rainbow Warrior: Solutions to Deforestation)The idea for BATFN emerged somewhere between the Stanford campus and nearby walking trails, as Holly Gibbs and Rhett Butler discussed ideas to strengthen the tropical forest community in the Bay Area. Both Rhett and Holly saw a huge potential for community-building around a critical research and communication area.BATFN has been a great success from the start owing to the strong and sociable community surrounding us.
To sign up to the BATFN mailing list go to http://www.tropicalforestnetwork.org.
Each year WCN brings together the world’s best wildlife conservationists to exhibit and speak about issues concerning endangered species around the world. In 2013 Jane Goodall, DBE will once again be the keynote speaker! Other attendees will include Sir Iain Douglas-Hamilton of Save the Elephants, Dr. Laurie Marker of Cheetah Conservation Fund, and the rest of the WCN Partners.
October 12, 2013
10am to 6pm
Mission Bay Conference Center
San Francisco, CA
Washington, Jan 17 – New York Daily News reports fruit bats in Bangladesh are harbouring a new version of Ebola virus, which causes severe hemorrhagic fever, a fatal condition afflicting humans and primates, says a new finding.
The study by EcoHealth Alliance, a non profit organisation that focuses on local conservation and global health issues, extends the range of this lethal disease further than previously suspected to now include mainland Asia. The virus was first detected in Congo.
“Research on filoviruses in Asia is a new frontier of critical importance to human health, and this study has been vital to better understand the wildlife reservoirs and potential transmission of Ebola virus in Bangladesh and the region,” said Kevin Olival, senior research scientist at EcoHealth Alliance, who led the study, the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases reported.
Ebola virus is one of two members of a family of RNA viruses called the Filoviridae.
Filoviruses are zoonotic pathogens (diseases transmitted from animals to humans) that cause lethal hemorrhagic symptoms among humans and non-human primates with fatality rates up to 80 percent, according to a EcoHealth statement.
Natural reservoirs of filoviruses have remained elusive for decades but current literature suggests that bats may be the primary natural hosts of the Ebola virus.
“Bats tend to have a bad reputation and that’s unfortunate since they provide services that are vital for maintaining healthy eco-systems,” said Jonathan Epstein, study co-author and associate vice president at EcoHealth Alliance.
“The next step is to determine whether this Ebola virus is actually causing disease in people, and if so, work to develop strategies that reduce contact with bats to protect human health, without harming bats,” added Epstein.
For more information about bat conservation and health: http://www.ecohealthalliance.org/wildlife/31-bat_conservation_and_health
At the turn of the 20th Century, there were 100,000 elephants in Thailand. Today there are less than 4,000. Where are they going? Who is working to save them and what can you do to help? This film visits the world’s first elephant hospital and meets leading experts to discover why the country’s most revered species is fast disappearing.
Producers: Dr. Donald Tayloe & Michele Mizner
* New York City Premiere at The Third Annual New York Wildlife Conservation Film Festival
** Award Winner for Best Human & Nature Category