Apr 182013

What a great quote… I found it while researching the idea of using invasive species as food for humans. I had seen a segment on ABC’s Shark Tank where two entrepreneurs were pitching their idea of selling Lionfish as seafood to restaurants.  (Click on the picture to watch the segment at 14:36)

Traditional Fisheries owners, Dave Johnson and Gary Groomes

Traditional Fisheries owners, Dave Johnson and Gary Groomes

The pitch wasn’t so great, but I was intrigued by both the idea and the reaction from the investors, who had clearly never heard of the Lionfish. According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Lionfish was “accidentally introduced to the eastern Seaboard and Caribbean in the 1990s” – most likely by people discarding their aquarium Lionfish into the water – and quickly took hold. This animation from the Reef Environmental Education Foundation shows the progression of the Lionfish population growth.

Source: REEF.org

Source: REEF.org


Photo by and (C) 2007 Derek Ramsey (Ram-Man)

Photo by and (C) 2007 Derek Ramsey (Ram-Man)

The Lionfish has no known predators, eats ecologically important species and is considered a serious threat to the marine ecosystem in the Atlantic and the coral reefs of the Caribbean.

The idea to eat Lionfish as a way of controlling the population has been around since 2009, this paper details taste tests and nutrition values for the fish (it’s very good for you.) What I found so interesting about the reaction from the investors on “Shark Tank” was their reluctance to imagine establishing a market for the fish. According to IBIS World research, the seafood industry brings in $2b a year in revenue.  I don’t think establishing a market for a new, exotic kind of fish would be that difficult.  One of them also questioned whether people would be willing to “choose their dinner based on ecological factors.” Now, maybe it’s where I live or the people I hang around with, but I see plenty of people choosing their dinners based on ecological factors.  Isn’t that the basis for farmers markets and eating locally?  If history is any indicator, then the demand for seafood cannot be underestimated.  Overfished species like the Atlantic Cod, Swordfish, Chilean Seabass (also known as the Patagonian toothfish) are a testament to that.  In fact, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has a whole list of species that are on the brink thanks to industrial fishing to satisfy a growing market demand for fish.  The Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program offers this handy guide to help us figure out which ones to eat and which ones to avoid.

Now, back to that quote.  It comes from Jackson Landers in a Popular Mechanics story about eating Lionfish. Landers writes a blog called “The Locavore Hunter” and wrote a book about hunting and eating invasive species called, “Eating Aliens.”  Landers argues that the only way to deal with invasive species is to eradicate them. He also referenced this post from The Nature Conservancy’s Matt Miller who discussed the debate among conservationists about the potential repercussions of creating a market for invasive species. Miller says the benefits outweigh the risks and advocates for recognizing these species as a “sustainable and abundant food source.”

Considering humanity’s record in the past, I believe we could kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. By turning to invasive species as sources of food, we can clean up at least part of the mess we’ve made, while potentially helping other ocean species recover. I’m all for giving it a try, maybe at one of these fine, and ecologically responsible, dining establishments.

Mar 132013

Here we are.

Infographic from Pew Charitable Trust

Infographic from Pew Charitable Trust

The March 1st deadline has passed and no deal.  From all accounts it now looks like we are about to enter the age of sequestration.  Starting at the end of this month and running through 2021, $1.2 trillion will be cut from the federal budget in discretionary and defense spending.  The Congressional Budget Office sums it up here.

The infographic to the left is from the Pew Charitable Trust.  It shows the percentages of the budgets for each program area that are subject to the cuts.  Among the programs with the most to lose, behind education, community and regional development, employment and training and “other” is the energy, environment and natural resources.  In January, the Senate Appropriations Committee asked each department in the federal government to send in letters detailing how the cuts would affect them.  If you like watching committee hearings, here’s the webcast.

As a graduate student just beginning my education in environmental studies, I decided to take a closer look at the EPA’s 7-page letter. It details the potential impacts to everything under the agency’s jurisdiction.  From air monitoring stations, which feed daily air quality data to this handy site, AirNow, to green infrastructure projects like these that help cities and towns manage storm water runoff using natural features like vegetation and soil.  Also at risk, funding for communities to repair and upgrade water treatment facilities hit by Superstorm Sandy.  According to the New York Times, damaged treatment plants sent “hundreds of millions of gallons of raw and partly raw sewage” into New York and New Jersey’s waterways for weeks after the storm.

This made me curious about what EPA programs are at risk in my own backyard.  Luckily, the EPA provides this widgetYou put in your zipcode and up pops a map with a ton of data on your neighborhood.

I learned a lot about where I live… from air quality (good) to the condition of nearby waterways (impaired) to my risk of developing cancer from toxic air pollutants (98 per million.) I also got to check in on some of my industrial neighbors and see who is releasing potential hazardous waste and toxic materials to the land.  I live in Brooklyn, fairly close to two designated Superfund sites, the Gowanus Canal  and the Newtown Creek.  According to the EPA, not only would funding for 3-5 new Superfund cleanup projects be cut, work at ongoing sites might have to be stopped (see page 6.)  And this, just as the Park Slope Patch recently reported that plans for a real estate boom along the “Lavender Lake,” as the Gowanus is known, were given the green light.

Granted, the EPA’s (along with the other federal agencies) list was the widest possible and President Obama has dialed down his previous dire predictions for life after the cuts, saying on March 1st, it would “not be the apocalypse.”  Still, reading through the letter does make you realize just what is at risk here from an environmental perspective: everything from disaster preparedness and recovery, inspections and enforcement, research on environmental health risks to children, even the EnergyStar appliance program, to name a few.  Read through the entire thing and see for yourself.  After years of improvement, these cuts could mean we’re looking at a dirtier couple of decades.


Feb 062013

The photos of the smog choking Beijing are astonishing. To drive the point home, NASA posted this side-by-side comparison of two days in January:

Screen Shot 2013-02-05 at 11.14.23 PM

Now, the Beijing government says its ready to do something about it. A New York Times article from January 30th quotes Xinhua, the state news agency reporting the Mayor of Beijing, Wang Anshun,

“… told the legislature on Jan. 22 that the Beijing government was aiming to cut the density of major air pollutants by 2 percent this year. To that end, officials are ordering 180,000 older vehicles off the roads, promoting the use of “clean energy” for government vehicles and heating systems, and growing trees over 250 square miles of land in the next five years, Xinhua reported.”

But will these changes make a difference? They could. In the weeks before Beijing hosted the 2008 Olympics, the city ordered some factories shut and imposed strict rules on traffic. At that time, 300,000 high-emission cars – twice the number Mr. Wang is proposing – were taken off the roads and that was for a short period of time. Still, it did have a big impact.

And think of what five years can do… In 2007, New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg unveiled PlaNYC to improve the sustainability and quality of life in New York.  Since its implementation, the city has seen a marked improvement in air quality. New York’s Million Trees program reached the halfway mark in 2012 and the city reports all those leafy greens removed about 2,200 tons of air pollution per year.  In an effort to reach its goal of 9% reduction in PM 2.5 emissions by 2015, New York City added 70 electric vehicles last year to its growing fleet of clean and alternative-fuel municipal vehicles.

If Beijing had kept up with its clean up efforts after the medals were handed out, perhaps we’d be looking at a different city today.

China Foto Press

China Foto Press


 February 6, 2013  Air Pollution Tagged with: , , ,