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Amelia Urry's Posts

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for whom the label tolls

Can we have our sustainable seafood and eat it too?

fish
Tyler Parker

You know the feeling: You're standing in front of the seafood counter, running down the list of evils you might be supporting when you buy one of those gleaming filets. There’s overfishing, but also pollution from fish farming, not to mention bycatch, marine habitat destruction, illegal fishing … and that's before getting to the problem of seafood fraud, and the fact that 1 in 3 seafood samples in a massive study by Oceana was served under pseudonym.

Programs like Monterey Bay’s Seafood Watch and the Safina Center’s Seafood Guide are helpful when it comes to sorting seafood’s angels from its demons, but only if you can be sure the red snapper you’re looking at is actually red snapper (hint: It probably isn't).

Meanwhile, third-party certification outfits -- the ones that slap their seal of approval on seafood that’s harvested responsibly -- are not without their flaws. In fact, the current demand for certified “sustainable” seafood is so high that it’s driving, you guessed it, overfishing. Someone get Poseidon in here because that, my friends, is what the Greeks called a "tragic flaw."

Still, these third-party groups may offer the best hope for ocean-loving fish eaters like myself, so it’s worth paying attention to how they operate. And while these certification programs are very much a work in progress, they’re getting better.

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Bank your turns

Bike lanes save lives AND money

cyclists in bike lane
Shutterstock

Next time you hop on your bike, give yourself a pat on the back for being such a model citizen. Not only are you about to get some fresh air and exercise, you are going to save your city some serious dough.

According to a study from Environmental Health Perspectives, cycling infrastructure is a smart investment for penny-pinching city planners. Taking the city of Auckland in New Zealand as a test case, the researchers looked at simulations of different biking scenarios: a shared-road bike lane network, separated arteries of bike lanes on all main roads, something called "self-explaining roads" with car-slowing design elements, as well as a sweet-spot combination of those separated lanes and self-explaining elements.

In every scenario, between $6 and $24 were saved for every dollar spent, compared to a business-as-usual baseline. How, you ask? In addition to the pollution, traffic congestion, and sedentary-lifestyle health problems associated with cars, society bears the brunt of our automobile addiction in the form of medical and emergency services. That car crash is, yes, tragic, but it is also expensive.

Read more: Cities, Living

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frond memories

Forget potato salad — fund this science project and help cure the climate

azolla fern crop
David Midgley

Azolla, otherwise known as duckweed, is a tiny aquatic fern with a secret superpower: It can turn nitrogen from the air into plant food.

Actually, azolla can't do this on its own. It relies on symbiotic bacteria tenants who do the real work of 'fixing' the atmospheric nitrogen into a more plant-accessible form. As a result of this tasty talent, azolla can also double its biomass every few days, sequestering large amounts of carbon all the while.

So no wonder a group of researchers at Duke University want you to pitch in to help them sequence the fern's genome, as well as the genomes of all the little microbes who give the plant its edge. Understanding the mechanics behind azolla's magic power may help farmers move away from artificial fertilizers and the pollution associated with them -- Asian rice farmers were planting the stuff alongside their crops 1,500 years ago.

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This fake LEGO ad shows the Arctic drowning in an oil spill

I don't know who thought it was a good idea to get their kids a Shell-themed LEGO set, but apparently someone did, or Greenpeace would not have had to make this depressing video protesting the advertising partnership between the world's largest toy company and a global fossil fuel conglomerate. (I mean, child-me would definitely have coveted those polar bear and husky minifigs, but a flaming oil rig?)

In fact, LEGO and Shell go way back, to the 1960s when the popular build-it-yourself toy company started selling Shell-branded toys to future engineers. But now, with Shell making persistent yet tentative moves in the warming Arctic, Greenpeace is calling out the companies' 2012 contract, which they claim is worth $116 million to Shell's PR department. The run of logo-bedecked toys are sold at gas stations in 26 countries, and have supposedly been accompanied by a 7.5 percent increase in Shell sales.

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Hubble brag

Smile! Satellites can see your illegal fishing from space

fish-satellite
Hallie Bateman

If a fish falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it … wait, is that not how it goes? Let’s put it this way: If a fishing boat illegally scoops up a load of fish in the middle of the ocean and no one is there to see it, it’s still illegal -- but until now there has not been much anyone could do about it.

It turns out that satellites a few hundred miles above earth are a lot better at surveying the high seas than, say, a lone Coast Guard boat with a spyglass, especially in the most remote waters where fishermen may be used to acting with impunity -- ignoring quotas, transferring fish from ship to ship, dumping bycatch, even changing the vessel's name between ports like a Shakespearian youth slipping casually into drag. Thanks to new projects in high-powered satellite surveillance, it may be possible to put an end to pirate fishing once and for all.

This is good news for, let me see, about a billion people.

Illegal fishing takes as much as 26 million metric tons of fish from the sea every year, or about 1 in 5 fish sold, for a grand theft of $23.5 billion total (or, to put it yet another way, almost 16 times the GDP of Belize or a mere seventh of the market value of Facebook). That's money that doesn't go to the fishermen who play by the rules, while lawbreakers put pressure on already overfished stocks like tuna and swordfish. And while illegal fishing has been getting a lot of press -- notably, President Obama issued a memo on the subject last month -- it's hard to make a real dent in it without some serious international cooperation. Ships need to be traceable as they travel from one country's maritime oversight into another's, and enforcement needs to be stern enough that the risks of fishing illegally outweigh the rewards.

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This timelapse serves up some deforestation with your World Cup

Manaus Amazonas stadium
Gabriel Smith

We all know that this World Cup, however magnificent the saves, comes with its fair share of fouls. But it's one thing to know that Brazil built a stadium in the capital city of Amazonas, and another thing entirely to SEE 30 years of satellite images in which a little patch of mostly green is slowly and almost completely colonized by concrete.

(To be fair, FIFA can only take the blame for the stuff that happens after 2007, when Brazil was named this year's tournament host ... in fact, most of the deforestation was already fait accompli by then, but you didn't click on this for quibbles, you clicked on this because you wanted to watch a depressing timelapse.)

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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Just one catch

Why the locavore movement’s next big step is seafood

oyster lemon crop
Jeremy Keith

When conscientious omnivores swept the U.S. food scene with their locavore antics, the focus was largely on the land. But if local beets and beef are key for our farming system, surely our neighborhood oysters can do as much or more for our coasts, health, and appetites. That is, if we can learn to love them: While putting away more than 100 pounds of red meat and poultry a year, the average American only manages to swallow about 15 pounds of seafood. It wasn't always this way, says writer and proficient pescavore Paul Greenberg. Greenberg is the author of the acclaimed Four Fish, a look at four key food fish -- tuna, salmon, cod, and seabass -- as well as a new book, American Catch, out this week from Penguin Press.

“A lot of people have had really bad fish experiences -- and if you have a bad fish experience, chances are you’re not going to eat fish again,” Greenberg told Grist. In American Catch, Greenberg sets out to wake Americans up to the incredible wealth of local seafood that we export, undervalue, undermine, pollute, or otherwise ignore, while chowing down on tasteless tilapia or all-you-can-eat shrimp from farms in Asia. Something like 86 percent of America’s seafood intake is imported (most of that is farmed), while we send away most of our own wild-caught fish. For a country with 94,000 miles of coast, that’s literally crazy.

Greenberg builds his argument around a trio of American seafoods -- New York’s bygone oysters, Louisiana’s at-risk shrimp, and Alaska’s pristine sockeye salmon -- as the ghosts of seafood past, present, and future come to reckon with us seafood Scrooges. Who knows? Maybe tomorrow we'll all feast snout-to-tail on red snapper.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food

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Sport fishing

This fishy World Cup bracket ranks countries by their ocean goals

Pallet surgeon fish, symbolising Japan's national soccer team's "Blue Samurai", swim around a ball beside a goal at the Sea Paradise aquarium in Hakkeijima, west of Tokyo June 8, 2006.
Reuters/Toshiyuki Aizawa

With the World Cup rolling into its second week, you are probably already tired of the endless internet commentary but ... TOO BAD. Some of us are into it, and we've only got two more weeks to view the whole world through a football/soccer/spending-the-day-at-the-pub lens.

Since we've seen so much good news on the oceans this week, it seems only appropriate to match up the disparate but burgeoning American interests of marine health and European team sports (feel free to match this one up with a cool beverage, too).

Click to embiggen.
Upwell
Click to embiggen.

Read more: Food, Living

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to bee or not to bee

This is what your dairy aisle would look like if all the bees died off

Remember the last time we freaked out about what would happen if the world's pollinators suddenly perished? Someone get me a paper bag, because I'm starting to hyperventilate again.

To raise awareness about colony collapse disorder, a mysterious disease that started taking out entire beehives in 2006, Whole Foods brought the fight to suburban grocery aisle by showing us what our supermarkets would look like without any food that had been helped along by a bee. That's right: Your greek yogurt, butter, cream cheese, organic milk, and -- gasp -- ice cream, are in peril.

Whole Foods Market/PRNewsFoto  Huffington Post

Read more: Food, Living

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Obama to create largest marine protected area ever, because bigger is better

ocean
Shutterstock

Say what you will about the U.S., when we do something, we do it supersized.

So when Obama decides to make a marine reserve, he doesn't just put your average patch of ocean off-limits to commercial fishing, energy exploration, and other shenanigans. No. It's a massive portion of the Pacific that more than doubles the total amount of protected ocean. In the world. From The Washington Post:

[T]he Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument would be expanded from almost 87,000 square miles to nearly 782,000 square miles — all of it adjacent to seven islands and atolls controlled by the United States. The designation would include waters up to 200 nautical miles offshore from the territories.

“It’s the closest thing I’ve seen to the pristine ocean,” said Enric Sala, a National Geographic explorer-in-residence who has researched the area’s reefs and atolls since 2005.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food