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Deaths of Baby Dolphins and the Health of the Gulf

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011
By Christa

Since the start of 2011, twenty-four dolphin calves have been found dead on shores of Alabama and Mississippi – about ten times what’s normal. Scientists, as you might imagine, aren’t happy about what that number says about the health of the Gulf of Mexico. No one’s shouting BP! BP!, but the folks investigating the circumstances behind the dolphin deaths aren’t ruling out after-effects of the oil spill as a potential cause. Make of that what you will, since the jury is still out.

The IMMS said it has been able to perform full necropsies on a third of the 24 calves. The majority of the calves were too decomposed for a full examination, but the institute has taken tissue samples for analysis.

“In a world when we wouldn’t be dealing with oil-spill protocols, we’d typically get results in about three weeks to a month,” [Blair Mase of NOAA] said. “We aren’t going to see results as quickly as we’d like to. We will be making sure these samples are collected, taken back and analyzed, but it could take several months.”

While none of the 30 dolphins were found with any oil on them, Mase said the agency is not ruling anything in or out on the cause of death.

There are plenty of possibilities. Six of the bodies were found intact enough for dissection, and were found to be a mix of stillborn, premature, and full-term calves that died shortly after birth. Marine mammals like dolphins are particularly sensitive to algae blooms, diseases that spread through pods, temperature and environmental changes, and of course, human impact. Which means that it could be anything.

But when we’re seeing 10 times the normal number of dead dolphins washing up on shore over in an area large enough to indicate multiple pods may be involved and scientists are calling the numbers “unprecedented,” something weird is probably going on. Right?

Oyster Reefs In Decline, Gourmands Everywhere Weeping

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011
By Christa

I may be a vegetarian now, but I wasn’t always. And back when you could find meat, fish, and fowl on my plate, I loved me some raw oysters. (So much so that thinking about eating them makes me miss my time as a devil-may-care carnivore, actually. *sniff*) Maybe you love oysters, too? In which case, consider nibbling on the wild caught variety now while you can still afford it because a survey of oyster habitats around the world has found that the tasty mollusks are disappearing at an alarming rate. In fact, 85% of their reefs have been lost due to disease and over-harvesting.

That’s worldwide, not just in my or your backyard.

In fact, if you want to talk about backyards, it’s mine that’s the least affected by pollution, overfishing, and the introduction of non-native invasive species. Seventy-five percent of wild oyster beds can be found in just five locations in North America, according to a study published in BioScience, the journal of the American Institute of Biological Sciences.

“Oyster reefs are at less than 10 percent of their prior abundance in most bays (70 percent) and ecoregions (63 percent),” said the study. “They are functionally extinct — in that they lack any significant ecosystem role and remain at less than one percent of prior abundances in many bays (37 percent) and ecoregions (28 percent) — particularly in North America, Australia and Europe.”

But of course it’s not just about making sure there are plenty of tasty halfshell platters to go around – particularly from my perspective as someone who doesn’t get to slurp them down anymore – oysters are important to the ocean ecosystem because they filter impurities from seawater. If you’ve heard of declining oyster reefs in your area, do these mollusks in decline a favor and ask your local politician to look into a harvesting hiatus until the oysters have had a chance to rebuild their numbers.

P.S. – Check out today’s post over at Manolo for the Home – Karl Zahn has created a beautiful way to recycle shipping pallets. Too bad all that recycling is so pricey!

Impact Cage Match: Leather vs. Faux Leather

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011
By Christa

It’s confession time: I live in a vegetarian household, which means not only do I not eat meat, I also don’t wear clothes made out of fur or leather or anything else that was worn by an animal first. Most of the time. We have relaxed rules ’round here – secondhand leather is not a problem. I guess I could do secondhand fur, if I wanted to, but it’s not my thing. Sometimes, though, like-new secondhand this or that is just not available, and I have to go looking for an animal friendly substitute. And when I do, I’m often left wondering whether I am doing the green thing or the animal-friendly thing or both by buying a faux leather satchel or knee-high boots.

As it turns out, as much as I’d like to see leather and faux-leather duke it out in the enviro-ring, it’s not as easy as ‘two textiles enter, one textile leaves’ because faux leather is not just one textile.

Sometimes, faux leather is PVC, which does not biodegrade, leaches toxic nastiness in landfills, and emits dioxins when burned. Phthalates are what make PVC feel more like a leather bag and less like a plumber’s pipe. Lisa Finaldi, a Greenpeace Toxics Campaign Coordinator, has called PVC the most damaging plastic on the planet.

On the other hand, sometimes faux leather is made of polyurethane, which is apparently somewhat more environmentally-friendly to produce – no solvents are required to make it feel soft – and will apparently biodegrade because it’s designed to deteriorate after usage. It’s also hardier, with many PUs leather-tested for durability.

If asked, most people (I think) would say that real leather is always going to be greener than faux leather, but that’s not necessarily the case. To turn a hide into a nice soft material for jackets and bags requires a chemically-laden process that uses heavy metals and cyanide-based sollutions, as well as other unpleasant stuff. Industrial tanning, from what I’ve read, can be exceptionally harmful to the environment and the people who oversee the tanning process.

Then there’s factory farming – the US Environmental Protection Agency has stated that livestock pollution is the most damaging threat to American waterways.

But still, PU is a petroleum product, and there are recycled leather products and leathers that are tanned with enzymes instead of the usual chemicals. Unfortunately, an environmentally-friendly shopping spree will usually require the shopper to make certain trade-offs. If the choice is between leather and faux leather, it depends on the faux leather and it depends on the leather. How often are labels (or store employees) going to fully disclose what it is and where it came from? My guess is that unless you’re shopping somewhere rather high-end, not often.

Do you consider the source of your leather or the composition of your faux leather when buying a pair of shoes or an office chair?

Leaf and Light: A Nightlight That Even Looks Good In the Daytime

Thursday, January 20th, 2011
By Christa

How sweet are these leaf night lights from VivaTerra? And how cool, they’re not just made to look like a leaves – they are leaves! They preserve a perfect specimen of a tree’s above ground organ (woo woo!) using a mineral dip, and the result is a shimmering night light that lets gentle illumination through its network of veins.

There’s a sugar maple leaf in copper, a maple leaf in silver, and a sugar maple leaf in brass – and on all three, the details that make them look so pretty lit up can still be seen in the daylight. While $33 might seem a little steep for a night light, I think it would make a great gift for the new parent who *will* need a night light at some point and would rather not have a cartoon character hanging from the outlet.

Composting Leaves – It’s Easier Than You Think

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010
By Christa

Still have leaves on your lawn? Me, too, though that’s because we have an excess of trees, not because I’ve been lazy about raking. I rake not because I care about how those pretty autumn leaves look – I actually think they look really pretty – but because most of the lawns where I live are made of grass that has a growing period in the fall, pretty fall leaves can eventually get mildewy and gross, and I’d just end up doing it in the springtime.

But what to do with all those leaves, especially if you’re like me and have a ton of trees? I have two easy, green options for you: composting and/or mulching.

Composting leaves is awesome and easier than bagging them up for the city to take away, especially when you consider that the city uses those leaves to make free compost and mulch. No compost bin (or no space for one)? No problem! Now you can get reusable compost bags that can sit anywhere in your yard. For best results, shred your leaves first – some mowers do this – but don’t worry too much if you can’t.

Mulching leaves is also awesome. In natural settings, leaves form a natural carpet over the soil surface which conserves moisture, modifies temperatures and prevents soil erosion and crusting. Shredded leaves can be used as mulch in garden beds, veggie patches, and anywhere else you’d use mulch purchases at the garden center. Whole leaves can be used at the base of trees and shrubs where you’d rather not see anything at all growing. If you still see weeds coming up, a thick layer of newspaper right on the soil under a foot of leaves (that will mat down soon enough) will knock out pretty much everything.

How do you deal with your yard waste?

New England’s Extended Autumn? Lovely to Look At, But Maybe a Little Scary

Saturday, November 6th, 2010
By Christa

Ah, autumn. Here in New England when the weather starts to change signaling the imminent arrival of an unending skin biting winter, there are two things that make the chill bearable. First, new boots and coats! For chilly weather sans snow, I like toasty warm organic and partially recycled cable knit ankle boots from Simple paired with an organic cotton trench from Vicarious by Nature.

And second, the beautiful New England foliage. While I’m not exactly a tree hugger when it comes time to rake… again… I do love the look of the fall foliage. Around here, it tends to blow up in an explosion of deep reds and purples, bright oranges, sharp yellows, and the growing hint of brown that reminds you to grab a good look while you still can.

Except this year? The colors are apparently sticking around a little longer than usual, and one suspected culprit is climate change.

Foliage is affected by soil moisture and declining temperatures, said Richard Primack, a biology professor at Boston University. Because the summer didn’t see much rainfall, colors started changing earlier. And with a killing frost yet to hit Boston the colorful leaves are lasting longer, he said. While one year’s events cannot be definitively linked to climate change, some scientists’ project first frosts will take place later in the fall season over time because of the release of heat-trapping gases from cars, power plants and factories.

Eek! Don’t you just hate that? The fall foliage is supposed to be pretty, not scary, but the notion of lovely leaves caused by climate change is just as worrisome as striking sunsets caused by air pollution. Personally, I’d much rather the colors be fleeting and the sunsets a tiny bit less beautiful in return for an atmosphere that’s a little healthier.

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