Comprehensive data will aid in ocean conservation
Scientists have identified nearly a quarter of a million marine species to date, and 1,400 more are discovered every year. A decade ago, the world’s leading ichthyologists, funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, embarked on a seemingly impossible task: to create a list of all known ocean species, showing where they live and how many of them exist. The Census of Marine Life (CoML) was born.
The project has swelled into a collaboration involving over 2,000 scientists from more than 80 nations that investigates marine inhabitants from the past, present and future, approximates how many of each species exist, where they live and the ocean’s overall biodiversity. CoML will come to fruition on October 4, when the results will be made public at the Royal Institution of Great Britain in London.
CoML scientists have built computer models to predict the future of the oceans’ ecosystems, examining how biodiversity shrinks every year, when species will disappear if current rates of overfishing continue, and when coral reefs might die out as a result of ocean acidification and climate change. Much of the research is done using newer technologies, including powerful sonar that can detect shrimp nearly two miles underwater, satellite tags that show tuna crossing the Pacific Ocean three times in less than a year, and DNA analysis that can rapidly monitor changes in the ocean’s biodiversity.
Scientists will use the findings to guide conservation policy and to help manage fisheries. Although CoML hasn’t sparked any bills in the U.S., it has influenced the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the only legal framework that aims to protect the open ocean and deep sea. Before CoML, these laws were held back because of a lack of hard data, but now the information rolling in from the project is informing global legislative agendas. And it’s working. As a direct result of the census, vast areas of the world’s most vulnerable oceans have been closed to fishing.
New laws that will change our eco-habits
Costly E-Waste Cleanup
Indiana joins 18 other states that have approved e-waste laws putting the bill for the recycling of sometimes-toxic electronics on device manufacturers. Seven of the states start collection this year. Manufacturers will be required to cover the cost of recycling electronics, including TVs and almost anything with a screen that measures at least four inches diagonally. E-waste amounts to three million tons in the U.S. every year. Federal lawmakers won’t take action until the state programs prove how effective they are.
Biodiesel Gets Official
Massachusetts and Pennsylvania will join three other states in requiring all diesel sold to include at least 2 percent biodiesel. Simultaneously, the Environmental Protection Agency’s attempts to expand older laws, like the Renewable Fuel Standard Program, to prevent new cropland from being used for growing oil-producing soybeans (instead of food) is angering those in the biodiesel and ethanol sectors.
Cap and Trade, Finally! (Maybe)
The long-discussed cap-and-trade bill would call for companies to function within set greenhouse-gas emissions limits, with the option of buying and selling rights to exceed those limits. Passed by the House of Representatives last July, the law could come before the Senate early this year but for one major obstruction: “Legislatures in general don’t like to do things that are controversial in election years,” says Amy Ridenour, president of the National Center for Public Policy Research.—Amina Elahi
Environmental activists bring green projects to life
Hazard: Twelve new hydroelectric dams on the Yangtze River will disrupt the habitats of 188 fish species.
Cleanup Committee: The Nature Conservancy and Three Gorges Project Group Corporation will develop a restoration plan for affected wetlands and floodplains to maintain fish habitats.
Potential Stumbling Block: Lack of Chinese governmental approval; possible heavy flooding upstream.
Hazard: The nation’s nearly 21 billion square feet of buildings consume 25 percent of its total energy.
Cleanup Committee: Two buildings slated to open, Beijing Parkview Green and Venke Center, are the country’s first candidates for top LEED green and energy-efficient credentials. The Natural Resources Defense Council helped develop China’s first energy-rating and -labeling standards for buildings.
Potential Stumbling Block: China’s government is reluctant to hire third-party building energy raters to inspect buildings, preferring to rely on government officials, who can be short-handed and sometimes less capable.
Hazard: China is the number-one maker of furniture in the world—it buys one of every two tropical logs felled elsewhere.
Cleanup Committee: The Rainforest Alliance is working with Ikea to determine where the wood for the company’s Chinese-made furniture originates and whether it comes from a legal, sustainable forest.
Potential Stumbling Block: Only a loose system for tracking logs exists within the country. A more effective one has to be built from scratch.
Alternate-energy projects starting up this year
Catching Solar Rays
Who: Stirling Energy Systems and Tessera Solar
Sixty SunCatcher concentrated solar dishes—the most efficient in the world at converting solar energy—will be installed in Arizona early this month, powering 202 homes annually. Larger facilities are scheduled to break ground in California and Texas later in the year.
Trapping Exhaust Heat
Devices made from thermoelectric materials installed in a car’s exhaust system capture waste heat and convert it to electricity, cutting fuel costs up to 8 percent by supplementing the electricity from the alternator. BSST will test the system this year in a BMW 5-series and a Ford Focus.
Harvesting Algae with Fish
Six fish can filter the same amount of algae-filled water per minute as a $250,000 centrifuge. Oil extraction is simple: Cook and press the fish to get algae oil for diesel fuel. Afterward, the fish can be fed to farm animals. The herbivorous fish also take carbon from the atmosphere and can eat algae blooms. LiveFuels hopes to open its first pond-based proof-of-concept facility this year.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.