East Coast of Vancouver Island

East Coast of Vancouver Island
Natural Beauty is Worth Preserving

Friday, 17 April 2015

Rio rotten fish float in Olympic lagoon


B. McPherson


Rio de Janeiro in Brazil will be hosting the 2016 Summer Olympics. They have the honour of being the first South American country to host them. The Games were awarded to Rio amid much hoopla and celebration. It is now likely that some of the Olympic Committee are having second thoughts.
There is no debate about the stunning setting that Rio has with a combination of ocean, lagoons and mountains. Over six million people call it home. And many hold their nose while doing so.

You can imagine the garbage and sewage that six million people produce daily. Now imagine the mess if two thirds of the people have no garbage pickup and two thirds of the sewage is not treated, but is allowed to drain into waterways and canals. It is not just those unfortunate to live in the slums that dump untreated sewage directly into nearby waterways. This weekend past, hundreds of people demonstrated their anger over a modern condominium block contributing to the city’s stench.

Yesterday thousands of fish were found floating on the surface of the lagoon that serves as the backdrop to the Olympic Park. Officially, the cause of the mass die-off is a drop in water temperature.

The canal that residents were protesting drains into the lagoon that surrounds the Olympic Park. Water quality checks already show that antibiotic resistant bacteria thrive in the polluted lagoon. Previously, the venue for rowing and canoeing, Guanabara Bay, made headlines for its filthy condition. A new sport has been added – kiteboarding will also likely be held on the bay which has been described as a latrine.

While some effort has been made to filter out large pieces of garbage like sofas, no effective means have been taken to remove the bacteria laden sewage dumping.

It may be that some Olympic athletes will be taking home more than medals in August of 2016.
Sources:
Al Jazeera                       
Rio Olympics 2016 Athletes Set to Dodge Poop and OtherFloaties                            
Olympics. Org                 

Business Insider                             

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Vancouver oil spill shows weak response by feds


B. McPherson

Update: The Canadian Coast Guard is reporting that all the recoverable oil has been removed from the water. What does that really mean? You know that means that besides that oil that is now polluting Vancouver beaches is also in the water. While our Coast Guard personnel do the best job possible in the circumstances, you and I know that taking six hours to contain what is a tiny spill is not good enough. Let's remember that the Feds closed the Vancouver Harbour Coast Guard station and plan to remove even more disaster protection from one of the country's biggest ports.
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An oil spill Wednesday in Vancouver, BC, showed the residents how an oil spill would likely play out. The oil was spotted in that part of the harbour known as English Bay and reported by a sailor.

At 5pm the oil slick was reported. Three hours later a crew showed up to try to contain the spill of heavy bunker oil. It took until 2 am Thursday morning for crews to put a containment boom around a freighter believed to be the source of the spill. The oil was believed to be from a refueling incident. City officials were not notified of the spill until another four hours had passed – 6 am on Thursday.
It may be an exaggeration to say that the city people set their hair on fire over this lapse in sensible emergency response, but it is close. They quickly despatched personnel trained in emergency response as well as wildlife experts who could assess the damage.

The toxic oil spill was minor from an industrial point of view, probably caused by careless handling of refuelling lines. Only about 2,800 litres made it into the water. Only about 1,400 were recovered. This event happened in very sheltered waters on a sunny spring day with hours of daylight, calm waters and close-by people.

The weather was fine enough that some people were swimming at the sandy beaches that line English Bay. Other people were jogging, throwing sticks into the water for their dogs and generally enjoying the beautiful scenery that Vancouver is known for. That is until sticky black globules started landing on the sand. There is no death count so far on the number of shore birds and harbour seals that got hit with this poison.

Many people in BC have been speaking up and opposing increased oil tanker ships in the coastal waters. There is a proposal by the American Kinder Morgan to double or triple oil capacity to the harbour. An increase of hundreds of mega-tankers to Vancouver harbour would result if approved.
Also proposed is a scheme by the consortium known as Enbridge to force a heavy oil pipeline to the Central Coast of BC which would attract hundreds more supertankers each year. The coastal area is sparsely populated and has wild weather as the norm. I leave it to you to guess the consequences of one tanker disgorging its cargo into those pristine waters.

Sources:
Vancouver Sun                 

Radio station CKNW

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Antarctic summer brings more bad news


B. McPherson
It will take a few hundred years for it all to go, but go it will

Antarctica is entering its winter season, but the summer has seen accelerated melting of the vast ice sheets. In 2014 we found that the Western Ice Sheet was flowing rapidly into the ocean and melting. Research conducted this summer on the eastern part of that continent has found that that side of the continent is also spilling its hoard of ice into the Austral Ocean.

Warmer ocean temperatures have infiltrated under the Western Ice Sheet and accelerated the flow and melt rate. If the whole ice sheet were to melt, it would raise the ocean levels and average of 10 feet(3 metres). This summer scientists found a previously unknown ocean trough that can allow warm, for the Antarctic, water to seep under the Totten Glacier on the east coast. The Totten Glacier acts as a brake or plug to keep the interior ice from flowing to the ocean. Like the ice shelf in the west, the Glacier’s seaward edge is now found to be floating on ocean water. Previously it was assumed that it was grounded on solid land.

“Now we know the ocean is melting ice in an area of the glacier that we thought was totally cut off before,” 

Glaciers build up when more precipitation falls and freezes than melts. Over time ice-sheets can reach depths that sequester so much water that it affects ocean levels. When more ice melts than is replaced ocean levels rise.

In the Northern Hemisphere, the Arctic Sea Ice has been thinning and melting. Greenland is seeing land that has not been bare of ice since settlement by humans. This is contributing to a creeping rise in sea level. The further one moves towards the poles, the greater the sea level change.

Sources:
Washington Post                           
Nature Geoscience                         
NASA Jet Propulsion Lab             

Jackson School of Geoscience                  

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Horse dung may save your life


B. McPherson
Copper metal kills bacteria. Copper plated push plates on doors cut infections.
Horse poop has long been known as great for gardens, but save your life? Mushroom growers know that horse manure is ideal for producing those delectable morsels. A mushroom of a different kind – the inky cap(Coprinus comatus) has researchers hot on the trail of a new antibiotic.

The promising new compound is copsin, a protein substance that interferes with cell wall formation. Bacteria have cell walls. Scientists are reproducing the substance via genetically modified yeast. It is a long way from growing yeast in small scale batches to industrial production and clinical trials.

Medical researchers have been sounding the alarm about multi-resistant bacterial infections. Gradually, as an antibiotic comes into widespread use, it loses its ability to kill bacteria. When penicillin was first produced it could wipe out nearly any infection, revolutionizing modern medicine. 
Other fungal based bacteria killers also came on line to help fight disease. But over time, bacteria have evolved resistance to the compounds.

The situation has not been helped with careless prescribing of antibiotics for people. But 85% of antibiotic use in N. America is used in the agriculture industry. From feeding animals to produce faster weight gain to spraying on fruit crops to keep the spots off, by far the greatest use of antibiotics is in agriculture.

Other names for inky cap:  lawyers wig, shaggy mane

Shaggy mane mushrooms are also nematode killers. They are able to kill and digest small round worms. Organisms in the Fungus Kingdom exhibit characteristics like plants at times, and at other times exhibit animal like characteristics.
Sources:
CBC News                          
Wikipedia                           
Journal of Biological Chemistry                  

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Golden Rice fails its test


B. McPherson
Making children unknowing guinea pigs undermines trust in official pronouncements
The genetically altered grain known as Golden Rice has been touted as the answer to Vitamin A deficiency in many countries around the world. The premise is that a gene inserted into the DNA of rice would produce beta-carotene, a precursor to Vitamin A.

This would be the first GM organism that would be aimed at improved nutrition rather than having commercial traits inserted into the genome.

While those who fully support the growing of GM field crops are still supporting the Golden Rice and castigating those who would criticize tinkering with the genes of one of the world’s most important foods, Golden Rice has been field tested and found wanting.

The International Rice Research Institute(IRRI), located in the Philippines, is a non-profit organization that is overseeing various research projects that seek to improve the nutrients in rice. Both traditional selection and hybridization methods are being used as well as high tech methods that select a rice gene carrying a desirable trait and inserting it into another rice plant. They are also the principal testing organization for Golden Rice which uses maize genes.

The IRRI looks for a new rice to meet three criteria: thrives in the field trials and produces an adequate crop, is safe to eat, produces enough carotene(in the case of Golden Rice) to be effective in producing enough carotene to spur Vitamin A production. To date the field testing has proved disappointing and the variety will be worked on further.

Vitamin A deficiency affects over 200 million people around the world, most in Africa, Asia and the Indian sub-continent. The lack of Vitamin A can be devastating. Night vision loss is a common symptom but blindness, immune system deficiencies and higher rates of death especially for women and children.

Sources:
GM Watch           
Wikipedia           

Friday, 27 February 2015

Yeast may be the answer to replacing palm oil


B. McPherson


Palm oil is used in a myriad of places around the world. From face creams to biodiesel, palm oil is everywhere in today’s modern world. Why? Because it’s a cheap(relatively), versatile substance that remains soft but solid at room temperature, is non-toxic and edible and can be produced by trees and sunlight.

It sounds like an all around winner but as the palm oil industry has grown along with massive tropical plantations of the oil palm major environmental damage is becoming evident. About 87% of the world’s palm oil is produced from plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia. The ripping up of rain forests has far reaching deleterious effects on the people and animals that were living there.

Now the insatiable appetite for palm oil is industrializing tracts of land in Africa with Nigeria leading the way in leasing out land for palm oil plantations.

Researchers at the University of Bath may have come up with an alternative to digging up the tropical forests and evicting the people and animals living there. Dr. Chris Chuck working with the university’s Centre for Sustainable Technology has worked with his team to develop an algae that produces oil that can mimic the qualities of palm oil. The name of the organism, Metschnikowia pulcherrima, is a mouthful but its needs are humble. The researchers are currently growing it in vats and feeding it a variety of foodstocks. It does not seem picky, happily digesting straw and waste food.

It is early days in their research. It is estimated that it will take about five years before industrial production of the oily yeast is in full swing. The humble requirements of the yeast will also bring into line the cost for the finished product making it competitive with the palm oil industry.

This useful little organism is widely used in the winemaking industry and is being investigated for its antimicrobial properties.



Sources:
Treehugger                       
The Guardian                   

University of Bath           

Monday, 16 February 2015

Mad cow disease shows up in Alberta


B. McPherson
Mad cow disease can cause this CJv in humans
An animal destined for the beef market was found in Alberta to carry mad cow disease. This is the first case of mad cow since an isolated case in 2011. The public has been assured that the sick animal never made it to the slaughter house. During the initial outbreak of mad cow in 2003 in Canada the beef industry in Canada took a huge economic hit. This is not expected to be the case with this incident.

While it is early days in this investigation, there is speculation that cattle feed pre-dating tighter restrictions was fed to the animal in its first year. In 1997 the Canadian government mandated that feed formulas be changed to exclude the processed remains of ruminant animals. Protein is a valuable commodity in the agricultural industry and it was routine to feed cattle processed “waste” from slaughtered carcasses of cattle and sheep.

Mad cow disease is known by other names: bovine spongiform encephalitis, BSE, transmissible spongiform encephalitis and TSE. It is the transmissible part that is what makes it so dangerous. As the disease progresses in the cow or the person who develops it, the brain develops holes and begins to resemble a sponge-like appearance. There is no treatment to avoid disability and death.

BSE first shows up in the UK in the 1980’s. The cause of the disease was unknown at the time but eventually it was shown to be prions or misshapen proteins that could cross the species barrier. Its emergence was coincidental with a change in feed processing that eliminated the dangerous chemical carbon tetrachloride(CCl4) from the process. CCl4 will denature the rogue proteins where heating and other treatments will not.

Spongiform diseases caused by prions show up in several species around the world. Humans have exhibited a disease known as Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease(CJD) a slowly developing wasting disease. A rapidly developing variant,  vCJD, is blamed on consuming beef that has been infected with the aberrant prion.

Some other animals exhibiting prion diseases
·         Domestic sheep and goats
·         Deer and elk
·         Mink
·         Felines
·         Various ruminants

Sources:
CBC                       
Edmonton Journal                          
CFIA                    

CDC