Banning the Shark Fin Trade in Rhode Island

Photo via upload.wikimedia.org

BRISTOL, R.I.__ The act of shark finning is nothing new to the world, especially in China where shark fin soup is still extremely popular. Rhode Island isn’t quite known for their shark finning, however, the state still contributes to the trade of shark fins, but what’s the big deal, right? Who cares if shark fins are being traded here in the United States, more specifically Rhode Island?

The big deal is that shark finning has caused a drastic decrease in the shark population. Fishermen specifically fish for sharks and when they are caught they then cut off the fins of the sharks often while the animal is still alive. The demand for shark fin soup, drives up the need to hunt for more sharks. If Rhode Island continues to allow shark fins to be traded in the state, they contribute to the demand, which contributes to the problem.

Sharks are apex predators. This means that they are at the top of the food chain, they’re not only fearsome animals, but they help keep our oceans healthy and populations in check. Without apex predators the population of prey species would explode, disrupting marine life.

Sharks are also some of the oldest animals on the planet, in fact, they have outlived the dinosaurs for millions of years. They have survived four mass extinctions, but now they are the ones that are under attack. The shark fin trade has become a million dollar industry and with the demand for shark fin soup, everyone wants in on the money. However, what many people don’t understand is that sharks are actually more valuable alive than dead.

A study done by researchers at the University of British Columbia in Canada found that shark ecotourism can bring in about $314 million annually worldwide and that number is expected to double to over $700 million within the next 20 years. The market value of shark fins stood at about $630 million, however, that number has already declined and continues to do so.

The loss of sharks would be detrimental to our oceanic ecosystem, which is why it is so important that Rhode Island help put an end to the shark fin trade. Currently, there is a house bill to ban the sale, trade, and possession of shark fins in Rhode Island. If you would like to help support the end of the shark fin trade, copy this petition and send it to your representative.

Under Attack: New Worries About Sea Stars and Urchins

Photo via upload.wikimedia.org

BRISTOL, R.I.__ The ocean floor along the coast of California has taken on a new look, but not in a good way. The sea urchins that are usually hidden in the cracks and crevices now they carpet the ocean floor, however, just a few miles away the ocean floor is bare.

In the Pacific Ocean there has been a recent outbreak of sea star wasting syndrome. According to the University of California Santa Cruz, sea star wasting syndrome is a general description of a set of symptoms found in sea stars. Lesions will appear on the animal, which is then followed by the decay of tissue surrounding the lesions, this all leads to the fragmentation of the body and then death. Sea urchins are close relatives to the sea star, which is why there are concerns that the urchins could be the next victims to the epidemic.

The death of the sea star die-off already has had a great impact on the flow of life beneath the surface. According to National Geographic, sea star die-offs has altered the prey and predator relationships of urchins, sea otters, kelp, and human anglers. Urchin die-offs have already been observed and documented at four sties along the coast of California.

The problem of sea star wasting syndrome, may seem like an ocean away, but it should still Rhode Islanders. Massive die-offs like the ones in California disrupt the flow of life in the ocean. Populations of prey grow at unprecedented rates as the population of predators decrease. The threat that they same thing could happen around the Rhode Island close is very real and terrifying.

There are recent reports, however, that new baby sea stars in the West Coast have offered new hope in the time of a great outbreak.

How safe is the seawater in Rhode Island?

Bristol, R.I.__ As the weather begins to warm up, residents and tourists alike are running to the many beaches that line the state. The beaches in Rhode Island are not only a great place to take in the salty sea air, catch some rays, and take a dip, but it’s also a place to pick up some unwelcome hitchhikers.

The ocean is filled with diverse marine life, much of which is unknown. What beach goers may also be unaware of is the amount of bacteria that they take with them each time they go for a swim in the ocean. According to the Rhode Island Department of Health, between 2000 and 2013 several beaches along Rhode Island’s coast were closed more than 40 times. These beaches were closed due to the fact that they exceeded the Beach Action Value (BAV).  BAV is a beach screening level implemented by the Environmental Protection Agency. When the water has a levels higher and the BAV, it means that the water has an excessive amount of bacteria.

So where is this bacteria coming from? Bacteria thrives in warm conditions, especially in warm seawater. As the world’s temperature begins to rise more and more as a result of climate change, so does the amount of bacteria in the water. One of the most feared among the bacteria family is “the flesh-eating” Vibrio vulnificus

Search Google for “bacteria in ocean water” and you will be stuck by the amount of articles on the “flesh-eating bacteria.” In the summer of 2014, there was a string of reports of such a “flesh-eating bacteria” in Florida that took the lives of three people. Vibrio vulnificus is often found in raw shellfish such as oysters or clams. It can also find it’s way into open wounds. That is when an infection can occur. Vibrio vulnificus is found naturally in warm seawater, however, the levels of this bacteria still need to be kept in check.

You may be thinking of taking a trip to the beach this summer, but you’ll want to check what the water quality is because you plan your day. The above map pinpoints the beaches in Rhode Island and provides information on how many times it was closed, the last time the water was tested, and the amount that the levels exceeded the BAV. Some of these beaches don’t have all of this information due to the small samples that were taken.

To keep our ocean water safe, we must start to make some changes; use less pesticides and fertilizers, which create agricultural runoff, find new ways to dispose of waste, which often run into the ocean, and always be conscious of how our actions have a great impact on our oceans.

Threat of Ocean Acidification in Rhode Island

BRISTOL, R.I.__ The Ocean State so far has been able to side-step ocean acidification. The state, however, is still vulnerable. Rhode Island is known for its seafood thanks to miles of coastline. The demand for seafood, drives up the need to catch and harvest it. According to Rhode Island Public Radio, the heavy harvesting of species such as scallops, quahogs, and oysters is what makes the state vulnerable to ocean acidification.

Rhode Island ranks seventh in economic dependence on shelled mollusks in the United States. According to the National Resources Defense Council, the state has brought in an average of $14 million annually over the past 10 years. Ocean acidification presents real threats to this industry as the survival rate of the shellfish begins to decline.

It is not just the oysters that are under attack, lobsters have also seen a sharp decline in their growth. According to Providence Business News, a study done at the University of Rhode Island has found that lobsters in carbon dioxide rich environments only grew 19 percent in length and 71 percent in weight compared to the 23 percent in length and 86 percent in weight in normal conditions. The biggest concern for lobsters as their growing rate decreases is their vulnerability to predation, which results in fewer adult lobsters available for harvest.

Ocean acidification is not only a threat to marine life, but also to Rhode Island’s economy. If things don’t turn around now, the state could see huge losses in marine life diversity and in jobs.

What is Ocean Acidification?

BRISTOL, R.I.__ Ocean acidification is a big scary word that few people understand. Across the globe our oceans are threatened by this big scary word. The world has seen a sharp decline in some species of marine life because of ocean acidification.

In the simplest terms, ocean acidification is a fundamental chemical change in the earth’s oceans. As carbon dioxide (CO2) is released into the atmosphere some of it is also absorbed by seawater. When CO2  is absorbed by the ocean, a chemical reaction occurs. This chemical reaction reduces the ocean’s pH. The lower the pH level, the more acidic the ocean becomes.

This high acidity creates problems for marine life with calcium based shells. Seawater is typically supersaturated with calcium carbonate minerals. Species like oysters and clams use this abundant mineral as the building blocks for their shells and skeletons. Ocean acidification, however, is causes the ocean to become unsaturated with these minerals, which makes it difficult for these species to produce and maintain their shells.  If the pH continues to lower, we could see mass casualties in all calcium based lifeforms in the oceans.

On the west coast of the United States, we are already seeing the effects of ocean acidification. Rhode Island has yet to see any real issues, but ocean acidification still lurks. In order to reduce the acidity in the ocean, we must take action. The Natural Resources Defense Council offers several ways that people can reduce their carbon footprint such as “find a transportation alternative, choose an efficient vehicle, waste less food” and more.

If we continue to pump the same levels of CO2  into our oceans, scientist predict that by the end of this century the surface waters of the ocean could be nearly 150 percent more acidic. It may seem hopeless, but it is not too late to make changes. If we learn to live greener, we can start to see marine life and our environment begin to flourish.

The Self-sustaining Shellfish Industry in Rhode Island

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Photo by Rachel Diep

Bristol, R.I.__ Rhode Island’s oyster farm industry has helped the state’s economy flourish in recent years. According to the Rhode Island Shellfish Management Plan the 2013 farm gate value, (net value of the oysters when they leave the farm, after marketing costs have been subtracted)  was over $4.2 million, which was a significant increase from 2012 when the total value was only at $2.8 million. Oysters farms not only assist in rebuilding the oyster population, but help provide jobs and food to local restaurants. Many restaurants actually have their own oyster farms.

Matunuck Oyster Bar in South Kingstown, Rhode Island, is known for their fresh seafood, mainly their oysters.  The restaurant strives to serve their patrons the freshest, locally grown food in Rhode Island. The concept of the restaurant, according to their website, “is ‘simple food fairly priced, fresh products, and making sure everybody leaves happy’.” In 2014, the Matunuck Oyster Bar was listed as one of the best oyster bar in the country by The Huffington Post. 

Access to fresh oysters will make any foodie weak in the knees, but there are some dangers that lurk inside the shells. Raw oysters can be contaminated with Vibrio vulnificus, a bacterium in the same family as those that cause cholera and Vibrio parahaemolyticus. Vibrio vulnificus can be life threatening and in some cases, fatal when eaten by someone with liver disease, diabetes, or a weakened immune system. The bacterium typically lives in warmer seawater.

Rhode Island had its last report of Vibrio vulnificus in 2006 and it was not from consuming raw oysters. Restaurants also are required to warn their patrons of the dangers of consuming raw food. They also take precautions to ensure that their costumers don’t get sick from their food, which is often bad for business. As this blog begins to wrap up the end of the semester, there will be one last look into oysters in the restaurant business, the impact on Rhode Island’s economy, and taking precaution in consuming raw oysters.

Earth Day at Roger William University

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Students at Roger Williams University enjoy fresh oysters at Earth Fest.

BRISTOL, R.I.__ The Roger Williams University Eco-Reps and Bon Appetit hosted its annual Earth Fest on Wednesday. Each year the school brings in local vendors and farmers to give students an education in where their food comes from and how to shop locally. This year, students were able to enjoy fresh oysters harvested right on campus.

The abundance of fresh and local food was the main attraction at Earth Fest, however, there was a much bigger purpose behind the event. The fresh oysters were to bring awareness to the threat of over-harvesting and overfishing has on the population. It also educated students on the efforts to help rebuild to oyster population on campus. The Eco-Reps offered students a chance to make a pledge to use less hot water and to cut out bottled water. Each of the tables at Earth Fest helped educate the community about how to live green and help the environment.