Gruesome Virus attacks Sea Turtles in Florida

by Pushan Hinduja

Climate change and pollution around the world are causing marine mammals to see an increase in illness and disease. More specifically, Lorraine Chow, discusses a rising number of sea turtles affected by fibropapillomatosis (FP), a disease similar to herpes, in the waters around Florida. Chow believes that the possible culprits for the observed rise in affected turtles are increased pollution and the warming of the waters. Between 2012 and 2014, the Turtle Hospital rescue and rehab facility based in the Florida-Keys has seen an increase in the number of turtles admitted, from 56 to almost 100. FP is a virus that primarily causes tumors to grow on the exterior of a turtle’s body. In some cases, however, FP can cause tumors so large that they prevent a turtle from being able to swim, see, or avoid predators. The hospital tries its best to find turtles and cut off the tumor growths with a carbon dioxide laser, however the process and sheer volume they are dealing with doesn’t make it easy. Although the survival rate after the surgery is almost 90 percent, some surgeries can take almost “half a year,” given the huge number of tumors some turtles can have; additionally, because many turtles are already sick, only one in five actually gets to return to the wild after the surgical procedure. Continue reading

Plastic Ingestion in Mediterranean Sperm Whale

by Chloe Mayne

Marine debris has become an extensive problem in the oceans today. Plastics and other debris affect over 250 species of marine organisms by entanglement and ingestion. Current studies have shown large marine mammals to be affected by entanglement, but few studies exist on the affects of ingestion of plastic debris. There have been three recorded standings of sperm whales with large amounts of plastic and marine debris in their stomachs. In the Mediterranean Sea, the population of sperm whales is considered to be a separate species and has had a decline in population over the past 20 years. This decline has been attributed mostly to boat strikes and entanglement, with no knowledge of the affects of plastic ingestion. Stephanis et al. (2013) examined a stranded sperm whale in the Mediterranean Sea that had ingested a large amount of marine debris. They discuss the results in terms of the spatial distribution of sperm whales and the anthropogenic activities in the area. In the Mediterranean Sea, the species is found near Almería and the Strait of Gibraltar. This study found that the whales feed in an area with lots of debris from the greenhouse industry. In the sperm whale examined, the cause of death was determined to be gastric rupture from the build up of debris. Continue reading

Plastic Pollution and Associated Microorganisms in the North Pacific Gyre

by Chloe Mayne

Anthropogenic plastic pollution in the ocean has become extremely harmful to marine organisms and their environment. These problems include ingestion, entanglement, leaching of chemicals and adsorption of organic pollutants. The most common marine debris are small plastic fragments, which often are larger items that have been degraded. Microorganisms likely interfere with the degradation process as a result of biofilm formation on plastic surfaces. They may block plastic from UV radiation and photo-catalysis, which would increase plastic longevity. Inversely, microorganisms may accelerate degradation. Fouling microorganisms are extremely important to understanding the problems with plastic pollution, yet they have not been adequately studied. In this experiment, Carson et al. (2013) examine the abundance and diversity of microorganisms on plastics in the North Pacific Gyre. Continue reading

Plastic Debris in Predatory Pelagic Fishes of the North Pacific

by Chloe Mayne

The North Pacific subtropical gyre contains large patches of marine debris and plastic. Recently, there have been reports of marine debris ingestion by sea birds, marine mammals, and fishes. Plastic debris is harmful to marine life, resulting in entanglement and decreased mobility, decreased nutrition or suffocation. Plastic also allows harmful organic contaminants to enter the marine environment, but there have been few experiments conducted on plastic ingestion in large marine fishes. Choy and Drazen (2013) studied 7 species of large pelagic fish for evidence of anthropogenic debris ingestion. Nineteen percent of the specimen had marine debris, primarily plastic or fishing line. A large majority of these species are thought to be mesopelagic fish that don’t come close to surface waters where marine debris is usually found. Plastic in pelagic fish shows the possibility of plastic pollution making it’s way through the food webs. These results are key in understanding the widespread nature of debris and plastic pollution in the ocean. Continue reading

Elevated Temperatures Increase Toxicity of Copper but Decrease that of Oxytetracycline in a Marine Protozoan

by Emil Morhardt

One aspect of increased ocean temperatures is that they may alter the resistance of marine organisms to pollutants. In a paper just published, such was found to be case for the marine protozoan, Euplotes crassus, that lives on the ocean floor where particulate pollutants get deposited. The protozoans were exposed to two common pollutants—the organic antibiotic oxytetracycline, and the potentially toxic metal, copper—over a range of temperatures. The scientists looked at their effects on survival rate, replication rate, feeding rate (endocytosis) and general of toxic stress (measured as lysosomal membrane stability) all interrelated. Increasing the concentrations of both these toxicants decreased all four measures of protozoan well-being, but in almost all cases Continue reading

Micro-Plastic Pollution in the Great Lakes


by Emil Morhardt

Here’s a follow-on to our August 21 post on plastic pollution in the Pacific Ocean. I know that this is unrelated to climate change, but the Climate Vulture is also interested in other environmental issues. Eriksen et al. (all associated with 5 Gyres Institute in Los Angeles in addition, in some cases, to their day jobs), are intent on tracking plastic pollution globally. This paper looks at the American Great Lakes, and consisted of a survey cruise across lakes Erie, Huron, and Superior in July 2012, towing a net for an hour at each of 21 sites. All but one sample were contaminated with micro-plastic debris, but with more than 90% of the plastic collected in Lake Erie off Buffalo and Cleveland. The average abundance was over 43,000 plastic particles per square kilometer (the densest samples had ten times this much), plus a lot of coal and fly ash particles, presumably from the many coal-fired power plants surrounding the lakes. Much of the debris consisted of multi-colored spherical micro-beads on the order of a third of a millimeter in diameter. Many of the potential sources such as sandblasting media were ruled out because Continue reading

Garbage Patch in the South Pacific Subtropical Gyre

by Chloe Mayne

The marine environment contains a large amount of anthropogenic plastic pollution. While the Northern Hemisphere subtropical gyres (NHSG) have been found to contain plastics, there have been no data to suggest the existence of plastic pollution in the Southern Hemisphere subtropical gyres (SHSG). Recently, a large amount of plastic pollution has been found in the Southern Pacific Ocean and along the coastal shores. It has began to negatively impact fishing, tourism and navigation. In addition to the South Pacific, large amounts of plastic have also been found in the Southern Ocean and near Antarctica. In order to look at the presence of microplastics in the South Pacific subtropical gyre, Eriksen et al. (2013) surveyed a transect that crossed directly through the gyre and took 48 samples.  This transect was based on an accumulation zone created by currents and wind. The study found a greater amount of surface plastic pollution near the center of the transect than on the edges. These data prove… Continue reading