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In Brief. > Once a dominant species, cod on the Scotian Shelf has declined in volume by 96 percent since the 1850s, according to research by the Washington, DC-based Census of Marine Life. Applying a mathematical formula to old schooner records, the researchers estimate cod biomass on the Scotian Shelf-which surrounds the Canadian province of Nova Scotia-was 1.26 million metric tons in 1852, compared to less than 50,000 metric tons today. Adult cod represent just 6 percent (3,000 metric tons) of this mass. -Census of Marine Life press release, 1 March. (S.B.) > The International Atomic Energy Agency estimates that by 2020, more than 60 new nuclear reactors woridwide will begin operation, most of them in Asia. 'UN Wire. 14 March. (S.B.) > This March saw the launch of Canada's first community of ENERGY STAR"qualified homes. All 300 homes in the Ottawa neighborhood will be approximately 40 percent more energyefficient than homes built to minimum Ontario building code standards. The community will also employ best practices in enhancing wildlife habitat and conservation lands. -Natural Resources Canada press release, 21 March. (S.B.) > The National Wildlife Federation has elected Jerome Ringo as chairman of its board of directors. Ringo is the first African American to hold such a post In any major U.S. environmental organization. -National Wildlife Federation press release, 2 April. (D.H.)

more they will have invested in larger-

contains some of the highest nutrient

scale cleanup efforts. Lawn services are

concentrations in the oceans and sus-

participating by adopting bay-friendly

tains highly elevated rates of biological

techniques, and area restaurants are

productivity." A natural cycle regularly

helping to advertise. However, not all

brings nitrogen and other nutrients

the restaurants are able to use Chesa-

from the sea floor to the surface water.

peake Bay seafood: "Recent reduced

stimulating rapid reproduction and

harvests have made them look toward

growth of phytoplankton. These natural

outside sources to supplement their

algal blooms benefit life in the gulf by

local seafood supply." says Conner.

generating food for larger organisms.

The crab population took a dramatic

Unfortunately, some phytoplankton

plunge in the 1990s, and soon after, the

species produce harmful blooms (red

harvest was cut in half. Conner hopes

or brown tides) that release toxins into

to continue the campaign next spring

the water. Very large, unnatural blooms

with new messages—like cleaning

can overwhelm a marine ecosystem by

up pet waste and maintaining septic

depleting oxygen in the water, causing

tanks—and new markets—such as the

larger organisms to die from hypoxia.

Baltimore area—to reach out to more

These abnormal blooms can even create

of the bay's six-state watershed.

oxygen-depleted dead zones where no

— http: //w ww.c hesapeakec 1 ub .org.

living creatures can survive. Scientists

accessed 22 March; http://chesapeake

have long suspected that many harmful

bay.net, accessed 22 March; and The

algal blooms are created by fertilizer

Washington Post, 20 March. fD.H.)

runoff from farms, which carries excess

AGRICULTURE A THREAT TO OCEAN LIFE?

into the sea. Before the Stanford study,

A

new study by Stanford University

unknown. To assess the strength of

nitrogen into rivers that eventually flow

researchers finds that oceans may

agricultural runoff's influence on the

be more vulnerable to agricultural run-

gulf, the Stanford scientists looked at

off than previously thought: Fertilizer

the Yaqui River Valley, one of Mexi-

runoff from farms can trigger sudden

co's most productive coastal farming

explosions of marine algae capable

regions. "The Yaqui Valley agricultural

of disrupting ocean ecosystems and

area is 556,000 acres [225.000 hect-

producing "dead zones'' in the sea.

ares] of irrigated wheat." said Pamela

The study is based on satellite imagery

Matson. a study coauthor. "The entire

of Mexico's Gulf of California, also

valley is irrigated and fertilized in very

known as the Sea of Cortez. This area

short windows of time during a six-

is considered particularly productive

month cycle. The excess water from

because it is both a hotsjwt of marine

irrigation runs off through streams and

biodivereity and one of Mexico's most

channels into the estuaries and then

important commercial fishing centers.

out to sea." Matson and her colleagues

"Biological productivity in most of the

tested the hypothesis that each fertiliza-

world's oceans is controlled by the sup-

tion and irrigation event would trigger

ply of nutrients to the surface water." the authors write in the 10 March issue of Nature. "The Gulf of California

ENVIRONMENT

the extent of the impact was largely

a noticeable phytoplankton bloom near the mouth of the Yaqui River, which is located on the mainland side of the

MAV2005


gulf, They used images from a NASA

10 years ago after a liquid sodium

problems." because reactivity occurs

satellite equipped with light-sensitive

coolant leak from its secondary cooling

so much faster than in a conventional

instruments that could detect phyto-

system caught fire. According to The

water-cooled reactor, creating less

plankton floating near the surface of

Japan Times, authorities attempted to

room for error. Despite such concerns,

the water. The lead author of the study,

cover up the accident. Last August, at

fast-breeder technology is attractive

Ph.D. candidate J. Michael Beman.

a reactor in Mihama—just up the road

because it creates more fissile material

analyzed five years of satellite data.

from the Monju facility—five workers

than it consumes, burning uranium-235

"There were roughly four irrigation

were killed when extremely hot steam

and plutonium atoms for energy while

events per year, and right after each

escaped from a pipe that inspectors

converting uranium-238 (which can-

one, you'd see a bloom appear within

had overlooked. Critics in Fukui are

not fuel a reactor) into plutonium. says

a matter of days." Beman says. Each

also uneasy about the Monju reactor

Lochbaum. This characteristic, coupled

bloom was particularly large, covering

because it relies on technology they

with the relative scarcity of resources

from 19 to 223 square miles of the Gulf

say the developed world has largely

in Asia, explains why countries like

of California and lasting several days.

abandoned. "The fast-breeder reactors

—Stanford University press release,

operated in Britain, the U.S., the Soviet

9 March. (M.P.)

Union, Germany, and France were shut dovvn due to operating problems and

A SHUT AND OPEN CASE

unfavorable economics," explains Dave

I

Lochbaum, a nuclear safety expert

n a decision that may breed nearly as much public discontent as fissile

at the Union of Concerned Scientists

material, authorities in Japan's Fukui

based in Washington, DC. Because the

Prefecture are making moves to reopen

designs used sodium, which is explo-

a nuclear reactor that was shut down in

sive when exposed to air or water,

1995. As a signatory of the Kyoto Pro-

they had to develop costly piping sys-

tocol, Japan now faces difficult deci-

tems to avoid such contact, he says.

sions on how to meet the agreement's

In addition, he says, "all of the fast

carbon-reduction stipulations, and low-

breeders presented very serious control

carbon nuclear energy is

India and China—and now Japan—are funding fast-breeder projects. "Once fast-breeder reactors are introduced and a breeding cycle initiated, the securing of a semiperpetual supply of domestic energy is possible," says Tadao Yanase, director of Japan's Nuclear Energy Policy Planning Division of the Natural Resources and Energy Agency. Many Fukui residents hold a more skeptical view, however. According to The Japan Times, more than 200,000 residents of the prefecture—nearly one-third of its adult population—signed a petition stating that they are against starting up any more nuclear reactors in the region.

seen by most officials as an

Some say this distrust stems from

important part of the solu-

the unwillingness of nuclear energy

tion. Fukui, a prefecture that

industry and government officials to

hugs the Sea of Japan just

participate in an open debate. "We'd

north of Kyoto, is Japan's

love to have a public debate with high-

nuclear energy powerhouse:

level government representatives,"

According to its governor,

says Teruyuki Matsushita, a member

Issei Nishikawa, its 13

of the Mihama Municipal Assembly

reactors produce nearly

and an opponent to nuclear power.

one-third of Japan's nuclear

"But they're afraid of addressing our

power. However, accidents

arguments and don't want to answer

in the region over the last

basic questions about the wisdom of

decade have generated

Japan's nuclear policy."

public concerns about

— The Japan Times, 9 March

safety. The facility

and 17 March; Nature, 3 March: and

scheduled to reopen, the

http://www.jnc.go.jp/zmonju/mjweb/,

Monju fast-breeder proto-

accessed 23 March. (D.H.)

type reactor, was shut down ILLUSTRATION BY CHRIS RENAUD

VOLUME 47 NUMBER 4

ENVIRONMENT



Agriculture a Threat to Ocean Life?