Thursday, April 10, 2003
Guess What Flows Downstream?
The city of Monterey and local environmentalists got all hot and bothered about sewage spewing out of cruise ships recently--but locals seem to do a pretty good job of polluting all on their own.
In the middle of a driving downpour last fall, volunteers for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary fanned out around the bay to capture the storm runoff that flows from our streets and sewers into the ocean. The collection effort is an annual event called First Flush. Sample-takers went to 19 spots from Santa Cruz to Pacific Grove armed with buckets and vials. According to a recently released report, what they came back with was some dirty water, or, officially, "high concentrations of pollutants."
Laboratory tests of the flushed-out rainwater found concentrations of "copper, lead and zinc" as well as "bacteria and total suspended solids." The metals are believed to come from "brake pads, copper piping, building materials, and pressure-treated wood."
High levels of copper were found from samples taken at Asilomar in Pacific Grove. Very high levels of phosphates found in detergents were found in samples taken from Steinbeck Plaza in Monterey and Lovers Point in Pacific Grove.
The Sanctuary is home to hundreds of species of marine mammals, birds, fish and marine organisms. According to the Sanctuary, "Storm water runoff in coastal urban areas has been known to produce significant toxicity to early life stages of aquatic organisms due to the presence of trace metals. Effects include reduced reproduction, developmental deformities and mortality."
Detergent and copper roofing aren't the only pollutants hurting marine life. A recent study by the University of California at Davis and California Department of Fish & Game blames a parasite in domestic cat feces for infecting the brains of sea otters. The parasite eggs get into the ecosystem much like pollutants found in First Flush, through municipal runoff. Once nearly extinct because of the fur trade, sea otters are now categorized as threatened on the list of endangered species.
Students Set Glowstick Record
CSUMB students set the first world's record for largest glowstick design on Friday, April 4. The event, inspired by a winter power outage, was organized by second-year students Adrian Kerrihard and Cristina Merritt. More than 180 students, each holding two glowsticks above their heads, formed a 9,000-square-foot star on the main quad in hopes of being recognized by the Guinness Book of Word's Records.
The idea to create the giant glowstick design came to Kerrihard and Merritt when they were bored sitting in their dorm room during an all-campus power outage.
"We're a totally computer-oriented campus and suddenly everything was shut down," Merritt said.
"It was so dark, we could hardly find our way to the door," Kerrihard said.
The two students started playing with glowsticks they'd bought earlier that day.
"We started arranging them into different designs and thought, 'hey, we could make the biggest design in history,'" Kerrihard said.
When the power returned, Kerrihard sent an email to the Guinness World's Records. Six weeks later he received a reply encouraging the students.
"I was really surprised by how supportive the school was with our idea," Merritt said.
Despite cold weather, an energetic crowd took part in Friday's event.
"Everyone was really enthusiastic," Kerrihard said. "It was such a ridiculous thing, but everyone came together to make it happen. It was pretty special."
Kerrihard and Merritt are putting the final touches on their submission for a world record.
"Now we just have to cross our fingers and hope Guinness is impressed enough to put us in the book."
Mystery Sea Mountain Explored
Having succeeded in mapping much of the Monterey Canyon, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) is now using new technology to travel further from shore and dive deeper to explore a little-known formation called the Davidson Seamount.
MBARI's Dr. George Matsumoto recently gave a presentation on the seamount to the Monterey Bay Cetacean Society, a group dedicated to expanding scientific knowledge of whales, dolphins, and porpoises. "After the two expeditions that we've had, the one thing we do know is that we have more questions than we do answers," Matsumoto said of the seamount, located 75 miles southwest of Monterey. "We haven't even touched the surface of what's out there."
The Davidson Seamount is an underwater mountain rising 7,900 feet from the ocean floor. The seamount formed 12 million years ago and is one of the largest known sea mountains in US waters.
The term "seamount" was first used in 1933 to describe this very formation, named after surveyor George Davidson. While the Davidson Seamount was first mapped in the 1930s, its great depth, 4,100 feet below sea level at its highest peak, has kept it unvisited until recently.
Matsumoto was part of a research expedition in May of 2002 that used an underwater robot to carry out the first ever biological survey of the seamount.
"The biology on the seamount is stunning," Matsumoto said. "Every peak had something different on it. It really is phenomenal to us that you have that kind of diversity."
Matsumoto and a team of MBARI researchers were aided in their explorations by their newest remotely operated vehicle, Tiburon. Built by MBARI engineers, Tiburon is one of the deepest-diving oceanic exploration vehicles in the world.
Since its launch in 1997, Tiburon has aided in biological and geological discoveries in the deep sea off Baja to British Columbia and in waters off Hawaii.
Probing the ridges of the Davidson Seamount in May of 2002, Tiburon brought back samples of old-growth coral forests and video footage of fish species never seen live before.
Matsumoto noted that nothing yet has been published on the biology of the seamount.
"We are just still so flabbergasted by what we have found down there," Matsumoto said.
Matsumoto noted that the seamount is currently outside the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary but called for its protection due to its tremendous biodiversity. The inclusion of the seamount is currently under review as part of the Sanctuary's ongoing revision process.
Tiburon and MBARI will be returning to the seamount in October for a non-research filming expedition in conjunction with BBC. The cetacean society will also charter a boat in October to view marine life in the nutrient-rich waters above the seamount.
--Andrew Scutro, Phil McKenna