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An international team led by researchers from the University of Liège used underwater audio recordings for understanding fish diversity in the Mediterranean Sea. The research team included a MSCA-COFUND postdoctoral fellow (Dr. Marta Bolgan) based in the European leading laboratory in the field of functional morphology of fish sound production mechanisms (MORFONCT; Prof. Eric Parmentier) and a long list of international collaborators. This MSCA COFUND fellowship was called BEIPD, which means “BE an International PostDoc” and the fellow had surely taken this literally; she has travelled all around Europe for collecting her data, proving that international collaborations are the lifeblood of a successful (and joyful) research career.
Oceans have been long assumed to be quiet, as shown by the title of Jacques Cousteau’s 1956 movie “The Silent World”. Nothing but a silent world, oceans are actually filled with numerous sound sources: abiotic sources generate geophonies, sounds emitted by living organisms generate biophonies and man-made noise generates anthrophonies. All together, these sounds form the acoustic environment (soundscape). Each aquatic habitat is characterised by a unique, localised soundscape, where sonic sources may consistently change over relatively short periods and geographical scales [2-4]. Each localised soundscape conveys a complex sonic narrative loaded with critical information for the survival of any sentient animal which inhabits it[5-7].
Many species of fish produce sounds (alone or in chorus) under a variety of conditions, such as when engaging in reproductive activities, defending territory or offspring, competing for food, responding to threats, synchronising mating, calling for conspecifics or as a by-product of their activities (see sound libraries of both MORFONCT and CHORUS) Fish have evolved the largest diversity of sound-generating mechanisms among vertebrates. This in its turns results in a wide diversity of sounds emitted by different species, which features are species-specific in most cases. In other words, we should be able to recognise different fish species only on the basis of their calls, exactly as many naturalists identify birds by listening to their songs. Listening to fish calls, we can achieve information about which species is present in a specific environment and where and when it prefers to aggregate.
Passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) involves the use of hydrophones to receive and record all the components of underwater soundscapes, including fish calls. PAM represents a non-invasive way to assess temporal and spatial patterns of distribution of calling individuals. Several studies used PAM to investigate different aspects of vocal fish populations, such as presence, distribution, relative abundance, diel, lunar and seasonal cycle of activity as well as for delimitating spawning areas and for studying wild fish spawning behaviour [11-21]. Since sound emission is associated with reproduction in many species, this method became especially useful for monitoring spawning sites at both temporal and geographical scales, and is now considered a powerful tool for conservation studies[15-16][22-23]. The knowledge that can be gathered using PAM is indeed of fundamental importance for monitoring vulnerable or commercially important fish species, for determining appropriated fishing periods as well as for informing effective conservation plans, by protecting the animals during their reproductive season. Furthermore, PAM can provide critical information for understanding the impact of human activities on fish populations, such as how anthropogenic activities (fishing, pilling, wind farm, etc) influence fish vocal behaviour, displacement and activities [24-26] or how climate change impacts on biodiversity. Natural sounds collected using PAM, especially those from vocal animals, can be used as proxies to learn about the diversity of species, habitat quality and the phenology of biological events.
The BEIPD fellowship “Sonata for Teleosts: fish sounds as proxies to learn about the diversity of species” aimed to address three work packages:
- Work package 1: SOUNDS CATALOGUE of FISH INHABITING the CALVI BAY (Corsica, France);
- Work package 2: SEASONAL and GEOGRAPHICAL VARIATION OF CALVI SOUNDSCAPE;
- Work package 3: CAPTIVITY RECORDINGS: SPECIES IDENTITY.
Work package 1: Audition of recordings previously collected by MORFONCT included recordings collected at -40 m in sandy habitats in front of STARESO research station (Calvi Bay, Corsica, France). This analysis, which was carried out during the initial phases of the BEIPD, was aimed to catalogue fish sound types and to test recent, commonly applied automated procedures for the analysis of large acoustic datasets. This work resulted in two international peer-reviewed publications; the first describes the fish vocal community at -40 m (July) in sandy habitats of the Calvi Bay and tests the performance of the Acoustic Complexity Index to provide information about fish vocal dynamics .
The second publication was carried out thanks to international collaboration and data sharing. In particular, MORFONCT had previously characterised in details the sound types, the vocal dynamics as well as the morphology of the sound producing apparatus of the cryptic fish species Ophidion rochei [28-32]. A sub-set of O. rochei sounds recorded by MORFONCT was used for comparison with previously collected recordings of Dr. Marta Picciulin in the Trieste Gulf (Italy). This comparison allowed to identify the presence of O. rochei thanks to its calls in the Marine Protected Area of Miramare (Italy), an area in which visual census of the fish fauna has been carried out for decades but the presence of O. rochei has always gone unnoticed . We cannot see it….but we can hear it!
During the BEIPD, new acoustic data have been collected in the Calvi Bay, specifically at -20 m in Posidonia oceanica meadows and at -140 m, at the head of a submarine canyon. This latter dataset was added to that collected at similar depths in different seasons by the Research Institute CHORUS; analysis is now concluded and a manuscript is almost ready for submission. To the best of our knowledge, this represents the first description of potential fish sounds recorded in Mediterranean waters below 100 m depth. Altogether, these studies will soon allow to produce a catalogue of fish sounds recorded in different environments of the Calvi Bay.
Work package 2: Although initial aims were restricted to the Calvi Bay (Corsica, France), the geographical scale of the investigation has been enlarged, focusing on one of the least described Mediterranean vocal fish community, i.e. the one inhabiting the endemic environment of Neptune seagrass (Posidonia oceanica) meadows. In particular, this work will shed light on how different vocal fish species share the same acoustic space. During 3 months of consecutive fieldwork, Dr. Bolgan used a combination of vessel-based Passive Acoustic Monitoring (PAM) and Static Acoustic Monitoring in the Tyrrenian (Calvi, Corsica), Balearic (Mallorca, Spain) and Aegean Sea (Crete, Greece). A true acoustic Odyssey! The underlying hypothesis were; i) the vocal community of P. oceanica is composed of different sound types which shows frequency and temporal partition; ii) some sound types are present along the entire Mediterranean axis, where their sound features variation is related to environmental conditions and taxonomic diversity; iii) some other sound types are present in one site only (“acoustic endemism”); 4) the highest number of acoustic endemisms may be found in Crete, potentially highlighting Lessepsian migrations. Analysis of these recordings is ongoing and it is carried out in collaboration with CHORUS Research Institute. A manuscript will be soon ready for submission.
Work package 3: PAM is dependent on the evidence that sounds recorded in the wild actually belong to a specific species. Evidence for the identity of the species that produces a particular sound is often obtained by comparing the remotely recorded PAM sounds with known sounds recorded either in captivity, or, preferably whenever possible, in the field with in situ methodologies. Furthermore, if a precise relationship between sound characteristics and spawning can be found in specific species, this could greatly contribute to the conservation of these species, as we could be able to locate and to protect their spawning areas thanks to a completely not invasive methodology such as PAM. In this context, three investigations have been carried out;
- Together with a Master student, Miss. Justine Soulard, the identity of the unknown species emitting the most abundant fish sound in Neptune seagrass meadows, (the so-called “Kwa”) has been investigated by using an inter-disciplinary and multi-approach. A publication is almost ready for submission.
- Together with another Master student, Miss. Aurora Crucianelli, the potential of Mediterranean fish sounds to provide information about fish status, readiness to spawn and reproductive success has been investigated in fish species of high commercial value (Sciaenidae spp). This investigation was carried out thanks to data previously collected by MORFONCT and in collaboration with HCMR (Crete). In particular, two Mediterranean Sciaenidae species (Argyrosomous regius and Umbrina cirrosa) are housed at HCMR Crete where breeding is induced and monitored. A publication is envisaged by early 2019.
- MORFONCT has long-term experience in the recording and characterization ofsound production mechanisms in Ophidiiformes. However, sounds recordings and morphological investigations are currently lacking for one Mediterranean species, Parophidion vassalli. During the BEIPD, some specimens of Parophidion vassalli have been recorded in captivity at MORFONCT and morphological examinations will be soon carried out. Furthermore, Passive Acoustic Monitoring has been carried out where these specimens were fished; the hypothesis is that Parophidion vassalli can be located in the wild thanks to the sounds recorded at ULiege. The analysis is ongoing.
In synthesis, many questions have been and are still tackled during “Sonata for teleosts”. The supervisor Prof. Parmentier has provided Dr. Marta Bolgan with the perfect intellectual environment for deepening her knowledge of fish sound production (from mechanisms to diversity) and for expanding her range of skills in Passive Acoustic Monitoring (from coastal to deep waters). During the BEIPD, Dr Marta Bolgan had the possibility of strengthening previous international collaborations and to initiate new ones. International, collaborative scientific networks permit to avoid to replicate results between research groups and allow for a more effective questioning- answering around biological questions, which is the core of biology research. As in nature, everything is connected to everything, and the most diverse environments are the most resilient and productive, so researchers in different field of biology gain amazing benefits by working in collaborative networks and by sharing their knowledge.
Concluding, it has to be considered that the analysis of acoustic datasets is an extremely time-consuming task, and therefore some of the most exciting findings of this BEIPD will be published in the next years. Stay tuned 😀
In recent years, human movements linked to changes in the environment or as a result of fleeing from poverty or war, have grown rapidly and have gained increasing visibility among scientists and policy makers. At the radio, on social media, on television, we often hear of a “migration crisis” when referring to the hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees who, every year, seek prosperity in Europe coming from Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. Migration is often depicted as a threat, as a maladaptive strategy, and its reach as an unnatural phenomenon. But migration in one of those human patterns that can be seen from the start of human experience to present. Migration, which is the relatively long-distance movement of individuals in search of better conditions, is a phenomenon commonly found in nature. Birds do it. Fish do it. Mammals, insects and reptiles do it. Migration, what’s more natural than that?
Animal migration is surely one of nature most visible and widespread phenomena. Every minute of every day, somewhere, some place, animals are on the move. Migrations are undertaken by all major animal groups; the migrants span the animal kingdom, from birds to mammals, from fish to reptiles and amphibians, to insects and crustaceans. Even sponges and jellyfish larvae make use of this defining animal trait, which is migration, to adapt to imperfect habitats. So why do animal move? Migration is driven by a simple fact: the resources on Earth fluctuate. Warm summer months may be followed by inhospitable cold seasons. Plants – or other meals – may be abundant, but only for a short time. The best place to give birth or hatch young may not be a good place to find food. Thus, animals migrate in search of better resources: these can be warmer temperatures, more and better quality food and the availability of suitable places for reproduction. Often, animals migrate in a group and the social context can be very important when it comes to take a migratory decision.
How far can animal travel?
Migratory birds undertake some of the most extraordinary journeys of any animal and the human-kind has long been fascinated by these long migrations: the first records of bird migration were written as much as 3,000 years ago by Ancient Greek authors such as Homer and Aristotle. The timing of birds’ migration seems to be controlled primarily by changes in day length. Migrating birds navigate using the sky, in particular the sun and the stars, and by sensing the Earth’s magnetic field. But which is the longest distance that birds can cover? The Arctic tern holds the record for the longest-distance migration. This bird travels between the Artic and the Antarctic each single year; it has been calculated that the Arctic tern covers the distance to the Moon and back three times during its lifetime!
Between mammals, humpback whales move for very long distances. Each winter, humpback whales travel from the Antarctic to the tropics to find warmer waters in which to raise their young, as researchers have shown since 2007. In particular, a study published in 2007 by a group of American scientists followed a humpback whale mum and her calf using satellite data. They made a trip of 8300 kilometres in 161 days: it’s really a long way to go for a warm bath! The migration of the humpbacks was considered the longest of any mammal species, at least until 2015. In 2015, indeed, scientists recorded the record (at least so far) of mammal migrations. The record was set by a Gray whale, named Varvara by the scientists who made the discovery. Varvara travelled for almost 22000 km, swimming from Russian waters to Mexico and back!
Between insects, a notable mention goes to dragonflies. Some species travel between Southern India and Southern Africa every year, stopping in Maldives and skirting the East African coast along the way. This migration, which covers between 4,000 and 6000 km, is maybe the longest undertaken by any insect. In insects, migration can involve many generations. The migration of the Monarch butterfly takes four generations to complete, on a 9000 km journey. Starting in Central Mexico and California, the first generation flies to Texas and Oklahoma where it lays its eggs and dies. The next generation takes off further north. The third generation reaches America’s Great Lakes and succumbs before the fourth generation flies all the way back south -up to 5000 km- to lay its eggs.
Can animal mass migrations be driven by social factors?
Migration can be driven by social factors, as in the cases of anadromous fishes. Anadromous fishes are fishes which spend all their adult life in the ocean but that reproduce in freshwaters. In animal documentaries, have you ever seen some images of big fishes swimming and jumping against water flow in streams and rivers? If yes, these fishes definitively belong to the Salmon family. The Salmon family is a family of fish which include, among others, the well-known and highly commercialised Atlantic salmon, the Arctic charr and the Sockeye salmon. These fishes are born in streams and lakes of North America and Europe. Still very young, they migrate to the ocean to feed on small crustacean and other little inhabitants of the rich, oceanic waters. Here they increase tremendously in size and weight, they become holder and sexually mature. Once they reach sexual maturation, salmons return to the same river or lake where they were born. Here they reproduce, and then they die.
But how do they know when it’s time to move back to the rivers? Which type of signals in the environment (i.e. triggers) are used by these animals to start their travel? A study published in 2017 in the peer-review journal Animal Behaviour by a group of American scientists and based on over 20 years of data, aimed to shed lights on these questions. The researchers found that, in absence of any obvious environmental trigger, such as changes in temperature or light, is actually the social dynamics that induce fish to migrate. In particular, the researchers found that salmons synchronise their travel, by moving back to the rivers altogether. When a fish see the others migrate, is likely to follow them and to migrate itself. This study demonstrates the social component of migration; until now, most research on fish migration viewed the process of moving as an individual process. This study shows that the social context in which animals live matters when it comes to take a migratory decision. So why do salmon migrate all together? There are multiple reasons for which salmons migrate in mass. First, moving as a coordinated group helps them to reduce the risk of being predated. In particular, a mass migration reduces the possibility of being predated by bears, which are waiting for the salmons jumping upriver. Also, travelling together likely increase the possibility of encountering receptive partners once arrived at the spawning site. Once fishes arrive at the spawning site, indeed, females start the nest preparation, which involves creating a depression in the gravel bed of the river by literally piling gravel stones using their tales (see supplementary material). Once the nest is ready, females complete spawning within a few more days. Thus, females are only available to spawn for a very short period and thus the males who arrive together with them have more chance to reproduce. Arriving later and alone, in this case, means that there won’t be any female left to court and to mate with!
Also between the crustaceans, there are some cases of mass migrations. The spiny lobster in the northern Bahamas, for example, migrates in mass during autumn. Large numbers of lobsters move from the shallow waters near the coast to reach deeper, oceanic waters where they reproduce. This mass migration usually takes place at night, and it goes on for several weeks. Lobster starts to become hyperactive when the summer storms cause the coastal waters to become cooler. When this happens, lobsters start to literally queue: one by one, one following the other, they move to deeper waters. Scientists have proven that a lobster which becomes active induce others to queue up and to follow. Which benefits do lobster gain by moving together in a queue? Scientists have shown that, by queuing, lobsters reduce the risk of being dragged away by the fast and strong currents which are common in the Caribbean. Being together reduce indeed the hydrodynamic drag on each individual!
Are there any benefits arising from migration?
There are ecological benefits connected to animal migrations. Several studies have investigated the ecological importance of animal migrations. The migrations of flying insects, birds and bats mean that a large number of living organisms move from the north to the south of the world. Because many migrant species, especially insects, are extremely abundant, seasonal migrations profoundly affect natural communities, scientists have shown. The effects that animal migrations have on the Earth ecosystems include changes in both predation and competition dynamics, but they are not limited to these. Moving animals simply transfer an enormous quantity of energy and nutrients between regions.
Let’s take a closer look to this, by focusing again on the salmons. By migrating upstream, spawning, and dying, salmon transfer nutrients from the ocean to the rivers. A portion of the nutrients is delivered in the form of faeces, sperm, and eggs from the living fish; much more comes from the decaying carcases of the adults. Phosphorus and nitrogen from salmon carcases enhance the growth of the small, microscopic, planktonic communities of rivers and lakes, which provide food for smaller fish, including young salmon. Thus, young salmon are literally sustained by their parents.
Is animal migration an endangered phenomenon?
Around the world, many of the most spectacular migrations have either disappeared due to human activities or are in alarming decline. Birdwatchers in Europe, for example, complain that fewer songbirds are returning each spring from their winter quarters in Africa. Indeed, a recent continent-wide analysis of European breeding birds concluded that long-distance migrants (i.e., those species that breed in Europe but winter in sub-Saharan Africa) have suffered severe population declines, more than related nonmigratory species.
And what about the salmons? Prior to European settlement, 160–226 million kilogrammes of salmon migrated each year up to the rivers of Washington, Idaho, Oregon, and California. Today, after decades of dam construction, overfishing, water withdrawals for irrigation, logging, and streamside grazing by livestock, salmon populations have crashed. The total biomass of spawning salmon in the Pacific Northwest is now estimated to be only 12–14 million kilogrammes. Scientists have calculated that the rivers of the Northwest receive just 6% of the marine-derived nitrogen and phosphorus they once received from the abundant salmon population. How this may be affecting the ecology of the region’s rivers or adjacent farmlands is largely unknown. The causes of all these declines vary depending on the species and the locale, but in general, the threats to migrant animals fall into four categories: habitat destruction, the creation of obstacles and barriers such as dams and fences, overexploitation, and climate change.
Protecting the abundance of animal migrants is the key for protecting the ecological importance of migration. As the number of migrants declines, so do many of the most important ecological properties and services associated with them. Increasing attention is given by the scientific community and policy makers to protect animal migrations. The challenges—scientific, economic, and social—associated with protecting animal migratory species are enormous. But so too are the payoffs. We can preserve phenomena that have sustained us since the dawn of humanity. We can protect ecological processes that are integral to many of the planet’s ecosystems from which our own survival depends of.
If we are successful, it will be because governments and individuals have learned to act proactively and cooperatively and because we have created an international network that is capable of sustaining much of the planet’s natural diversity. Two questions remain open: will we be able to do so? Shouldn’t we use a similar type of international, cooperative approach when it comes to human migrations as well? So far, these questions remain unanswered. A good starting point could be to begin to consider human migrations as a resource and not as a threat: after all…migrations, what’s more natural than that?
Aquatic habitats are no “silent world” as Jacques Cousteau has written. They are filled by several, different sound sources. Waves and water turbulences are just some example of physical sources of sounds, but physical sources are not the only ones. An immense variety of aquatic animals depends on sounds for activities that are crucial for their survival, and their vocalisations are called by scientists “biophony” (the symphony of life). Marine mammals are the ocean’s most famous singers, but fish vocalise too. More than 800 species of fish depend on sounds to survive and reproduce. Fish sound production is especially conspicuous during the reproductive season and is typically related to agonistic interactions and mating activities.
In the last fifty years, human activities have radically changed aquatic environments by adding incredibly numerous sources of noise. Small boats, commercial boats, seismic exploration, military activities, windfarms, pile driving…anything but a “silent world”, we are actually creating an ocean of noise. The most common man-made source of noise is shipping. The rumble of engines, propellers, and other commercial shipping noise can be heard in virtually every corner of the ocean. In a world in which 80% of global trading takes place at the sea, the number of merchant ships has tripled in the last 75 years and the number of recreational boats keeps increasing as well. Vessels noise in coastal area has become a form of chronic, constant pollution.
Anthropogenic noise is now recognised as a significant pollutant in the marine environment, and the potential consequences for animal survival are of international concern. Some species may acclimatise to noise after chronic exposure, others may struggle to develop and survive. Considering the global extent and the wide range of effects of noise pollution on aquatic life, man-made noise has been identified as a target for the monitoring of a good quality coastal environment in both Europe and USA (e.g. inclusion in the US National Environment Policy Act and in the European Commission Marine Strategy Framework Directive).
But which type of effects can noise have on aquatic life? If they can, animals try to escape from noise, possibly giving up to other important activities, such as feeding and reproduction. For example, avoidance reactions to vessel noise have been noticed in several fish species such as herring, cod, rudd and roach. And if they can’t escape, physiological effects can be expected. Exposure to noise causes stress to several fish species: their heart bits quicker, they move more and their stress hormones increases. Anthropogenic noise can also have other physiological effects. The brown shrimp, for example, grows less, reproduce less and its mortality rate increases; other fish species grow less and produce less viable eggs.
When the situation gets louder, an immediate physiological response has been noticed in several species: a temporary threshold shift. Is basically what happens to us after spending a night out in a really loud place, like a nightclub. For a short period of time, we do not hear very well: this happens because our hearing threshold has shifted a little bit up, meaning that the exposure to noise has temporarily compromised our hearing capabilities. Of course, if the noise is too loud or the time of exposure is prolonged, aquatic animals suffer of a permanent hearing damage: in other words, their hearing ability is permanently impaired. Sometimes, with very loud sounds like the one used in military activities and in seismic surveys, this damage can be so severe to make animals literally deaf or, worst, death. The continuous and increasing level of anthropogenic noise can also make impossible for animals to hear important signals, like predator noises or mate calls. As it happens to us when we try to speak in a noisy place, animals in a noisy environment simply do not hear each other and the communication is difficult, if not impossible. And if the communication was oriented to finding a mate…this could not lead to an unhappy ending…
Raising our awareness to the problem of underwater noise pollution can help us lower man-made volume, in the oceans and in freshwaters. Aquatic animals would surely thank us for it!
Want to learn more?
Check the video we produced, give a look to the reference lists below and…help us spreading the voice!
Nature and its ecosystems provide a range of services to humans, many of which are of fundamental importance for our well-being, health, livelihoods and survival. The services that nature provides are called by scientists “ecosystem services”.
Ecosystems services include, among others:
- Provisioning services: food, water, air, raw material, genetic resources, medicinal resources, ornamental resources
- Regulating services: air quality regulation, climate regulation, water flow regulation, waste treatment, erosion prevention, soil fertility maintenance, pollination and biological control
- Cultural services: aesthetics information, recreation, inspiration for culture and art, spiritual experience and cognitive development.
Nature and Health
Nature affects human health in numerous ways. For example, trees and forests, but also the ocean and its inhabitants, help to preserve people’s health by maintaining air quality.
Did you know that there is a bit of ocean in every breath you take? In the oceans, tiny ocean organisms – called phytoplankton – live near to the water surface and drift with currents. Like trees and forests, these tiny, incredibly numerous oceanic organisms photosynthesize. The photosynthesis is the process by which living organisms such as plants and seaweeds use sunlight and carbon dioxide to make carbohydrates….to make food. A by-product of the photosynthesis is oxygen. Scientists believe that phytoplankton contributes between 50 to 85 percent of the oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere. So yes, most likely you’re a breathing oxygen coming from the ocean right now, no matter where you are.
But nature also affects health in ways that have to do with people’s behaviour and experience. Scientific research focusing on the health benefits of nature experience has a relatively short history, however, the idea that the experience of nature is beneficial has deep roots. The text written in 1865 by the landscape architect Olmsted has been described as the philosophic basis for the creation of national parks.
It is a scientific fact that the occasional contemplation of natural scenes of an impressive character, particularly if this contemplation occurs in connection with relief from ordinary cares, change of air and change of habits, is favourable to the health and vigour of men and especially to the health and vigour of their intellect beyond any other condition which can be offered them, that it not only gives pleasure for the time being but increases the subsequent capacity for happiness and the means of securing happiness. —Olmsted
The exposure to nature can help maintain and restore focus and concentration when this capacity is overused and you feel fatigued. The ability to direct attention is the capability of focus and concentrate on one task by inhibiting and blocking competing stimuli or distraction. Intense or prolonged demands for directed attention can lead to attentional fatigue. Attentional fatigue is the decreased capacity of blocking distractions and it often results in a reduced effectiveness in daily life.
In 1995, two researchers conducted a study in a large USA University to understand if the simple action of watching at nature can help restore attention. The researchers decided to conduct this study on ca. 70 University students, because these are a group of people which is likely to be at increased risk of attentional fatigue. The researchers found that the students who had a window in their dormitory watching over a natural landscape were better able to focus and concentrate on their daily tasks than those who didn’t have access to a view of the natural world.
And what about our workplaces? In another study published in 1998, researchers have found that even just the sunlight penetration in an office has significant effects on job satisfaction, intention to quit, and general well-being. The view of natural elements through the office window was found to buffer negative impacts of job stress and have a similar effect on general well-being.
So, an action as simple as looking at nature through a window can help you restore your attention in a period in which you feel particularly fatigated, and can increase your own well-being.
On a wider angle, scientists have collected evidence of the psychological benefits of nature. In an article published by Kaplan in 1995 in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, the author suggests that natural environments are particularly important for their restorative effects on people. Nature is well-endowed with fascinating objects, as well as it offers many processes that people find engrossing. Ever enjoyed a nice sunset on a desert beach? Well, this is what we are speaking about.
Also, by quoting the author “it is as if there is a special resonance between the natural setting and human inclinations. For many people, functioning in the natural setting seems to require less effort than functioning in more ‘civilized’ settings, even though the latter are much more familiar”.
It’s not a case that natural settings are often the preferred destinations for extended restorative opportunities. The seaside, the mountains, lakes, streams, forests, and meadows are all idyllic places for ‘getting away’. In this perspective, natural environments that are easily accessible offer a very important resource for people who needs to recover their attention and energy after a period of increased fatigue.
Do you feel stressed? Speaking in general, one is “stressed out” when he feels tired, pressured, anxious, exasperated. The role that natural environments play is a powerful one. Experience in natural environments can not only help mitigate stress; it can also prevent it, scientists say.
So get your walking shoes and…get out there! Getting out in the wild might be one of your best strategies for functioning correctly in your busy, frantic work life.
Is nature a legal person? Does nature have a monetary value?
If humans have rights, what about non-humans? Does nature have legal rights? What does it mean to declare nature as a legal person?
A “rights-based approach to environmental protection” is the most recent of various approaches that have been used by laws to protect nature and the ecological processes on which life depends. The rights-based approach to environmental protection can be interpreted as each human’s right to a certain quality of environment. Alternatively, the approach can be interpreted as it’s the environment itself that must be maintained in a healthy and ecologically balanced state. At present, no official international legal instrument takes this approach, however the World Charter for Nature (UN general assembly) has proclaimed the intrinsic value of nature in 1982 (A/RES/37/7).
Nature and its ecosystems are also capital assets. Despite international commitments (through, among others, the Convention on Biological Diversity, 2010), global biodiversity continues to decline at an unprecedented rate. Ecosystem degradation and the loss of biodiversity undermine ecosystem functioning and resilience. At the last instance, ecosystems degradation and the loss of biodiversity threaten the ability of ecosystems to supply the flow of ecosystem services we all depend on.
We have to consider that scientists expect ecosystem degradation and biodiversity loss to increase as results of climate change and of the ever-increasing human consumption of resources.
For this reason, many scientists agree that biodiversity and its associated ecosystem services can no longer be treated as inexhaustible and free ‘goods’ and their true value to society (as well as the costs of their loss and degradation) need to be properly accounted for. In a study published in the Ecosystem Service Journal in 2012, several scientists presented the results of the analysis of the monetary values of ecosystem services provided by 10 main environments (Open oceans, Coral reefs, Coastal systems, Coastal wetlands, Inland wetlands, Lakes, Tropical forests, Temperate forests, Woodlands, and Grasslands). This important study is based on local case studies across the world. In total, approximately 320 scientific publications were screened and more than 1350 data points were collected.
The analysis shows that the total value of ecosystem services is considerable, monetarily speaking. Ecosystem values were found to range between 490 $ per year provided by an ‘average’ hectare of open ocean to almost 350,000 $ per year provided by an ‘average’ hectare of coral reefs.
More importantly, the results of this study show that most of this value is outside the market and best considered as non-tradable public benefits. The continued over-exploitation of ecosystems thus comes at the expense of the livelihood of the poor and of the future generations. Scientists, therefore conclude that a better accounting for the public goods and services provided by nature is of crucial importance.
Indigenous people view both themselves and nature as part of an extended ecological family that shares ancestry and origins. It is an awareness that life in any environment is viable; this type of awareness is possible only when humans view the life surrounding them as kin. All the natural elements of the ecosystem in which you are living in become your kin, your relatives. The interactions that result from this “kin-centric ecology” naturally enhance and preserve the ecosystem itself. After all, don’t you protect your family? Don’t you do your best every single day to enhance your family life?
Nature as a legal entity, nature as a capital asset, nature as a whole, nature as kin: maybe, the key message here is that we all should start to watch at nature as a part of ourselves rather than as something outside of us. Maybe we all should watch at nature as something that belongs to us, and not as something to exploit. Maybe then, its protection will become a natural act.
DOM of Andreja Veluscek, “La Galeria Balaguer” (Barcelona, Spain) 20 January- 31 March 2017.
On Friday 20th of January, 2017, from 7pm to 10pm at “La Galeria Balaguer” (Barcelona, Spain) there will be the inauguration of the first photographic showcase of one of the two founders of the Artemis Eyes Project, Andreja Veluscek. It will then be possible to visit the showcase “DOM” at “La Galeria Balaguer” until March 31st. The pictures you have admired in this post are just a small selection of the beauty that Andreja has caught through her lens, and which constitute the “DOM” showcase. Quoting Andreja:
If asked to describe happiness, I don’t think of one particular moment. Instead, I think of the different spaces that, for me, are home. They are places that I can find again and again, almost anywhere. They aren’t places on a map, they are simply places that I am able to make mine and in which I can see part of myself. It’s the feeling of home without being physically there. With this in mind, my intention is not to depict the physical space. Instead, the intention is for the viewers to find something in these pictures that reminds them of home. Personally, the mountains are a place which help me to explain many things about myself. They are a connection to home, where the meaning of home is the pure feeling of happiness, tranquillity and contentment — Andreja Veluscek
With this article, I would like to invite you to visit DOM, if you are any close to Barcelona. I am sure you will find a little piece of yourself there.
More in general, this article is an invitation for all of us to get more in contact with nature.
I would like to close with a final quotation:
I did not want to think about people. I wanted the trees, the scents and colours, the shifting shadows of the wood, which spoke a language I understood. I wished I could simply disappear in it, live like a bird or a fox through the winter, and leave the things I had glimpsed to resolve themselves without me. — Patricia A. McKillip.
Microplastics (<5 mm in their longer dimension) have become ubiquitous within our aquatic environments and are understood to be the most abundant type of plastic in the ocean. Microplastics have been found almost everywhere scientists have sampled; from near-shore environments to the open ocean, within sediments of estuaries and deep sea waters and in freshwater or intertidal/coastal ecosystems. Microplastics have been studied globally and the most recent oceanographic modelling predictions estimate that 5.25 trillion plastic pieces, the majority microplastics, are floating in the world’s oceans.
The consequences of microplastic pollution for marine fauna are only just emerging. Microplastics represent a threat to marine life because their small size makes them bioavailable to organisms throughout the food webs. Marine invertebrates, fish, seabirds, and mammals have all been shown to ingest microplastics, often with negative health consequences. Microplastic ingestion can reduce feeding, deplete energy reserves, and decrease ecophysiological function as a result of physical injury, physiological stress, and false satiation. Furthermore, microplastics are susceptible to contamination by waterborne organic pollutants and to the leaching of potentially toxic plastic additives known as ‘‘plasticizers’’. If consumed, microplastics can thereby introduce toxins into the food chain, which can biomagnify to higher trophic levels.
Where do microplastics come from? Once released into the environment, plastics items breakdown though mechanical processes facilitated by sunlight. In addition to the plastic particulates that comes from the breakdown of larger plastics items, microplastics can be released directly into the environment as a direct consequences of our cleaning and beauty routines. From facial and body scrubs to toothpastes, soaps to sprays, you might be surprised to learn that the gritty polishers and sparkly glitters used in a plethora of bathroom products are actually tiny pieces of plastic. Commonly known as microbeads, these tiny pieces of plastic (or microplastics) are designed to wash straight down the drain and invariably flow out to sea because they are too small to be filtered out during sewage treatment.
A recent scientific study has estimated the amount of microplastics which is washed out to the ocean with a single use of facial scrubs containing microbeads and the numbers are….truly alarming. During this study, polyethylene microbeads were extracted from several cosmetics products, and were shown to have a wide size range (mean diameters between 164 and 327 µm). Scientists estimated that between 4594 and 94,500 microbeads can be released in a single use. Yes, you read properly: between 4594 and 94,500 microbeads are released into the ocean every single time you use a scrub containing microbeads!! Once they reach the sea, microbeads are impossible to clean up and add to the growing volume of plastic in the world’s oceans.
There is no valid reason for keep using cosmetic products which contains microplastics; microbeads are a pointless source of plastic pollution, which we should all stop right now. In 2012, Unilever announced it would phase out the use of microbeads in all of its products by 2015. The Body Shop, Johnson & Johnson and Beiersdorf have also agreed to starting phasing plastic out but no end dates have been set. Although the US announced a ban on microbeads in January of this year, and campaigns to do the same are building momentum all around the world, the choices you make today can help to reduce the amount of microplastics which is wash down the drains to our oceans.
As a consumer, you have a great deal of power. By choosing products that are free of microplastics, you will not only help stem the tide of microbeads into our oceans, but you will also be voting with your wallet – sending a clear message to manufacturers that you want to see an end to this pointless pollution.
You should always check the ingredients list of your cosmetic products and avoid by all means all those which contain plastics. You should watch out for (and avoid): all products which contains Polyethylene and Polypropylene. Polyethylene and Polypropylene are the main type of plastic microbeads used in exfoliators. To be on the safe side, also check the product is free from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) and nylon and you’re good to go.
For your beauty routine, you can resort to alternatives; for example, you can make an organic and very effective homemade scrub using materials which surely you already have in your home. Not only you will protect the environment, but you will also use a natural product which will benefit your skin and, last but not least, will help you saving money.
You can find countless receipts online, but here we suggest you the one we have already tried, which takes less than 5 minutes to make and works…..brilliantly (give it a try if you do not believe us :D).
Lemon sugar scrub receipt
- 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup coconut oil (almond oil will also work)
- 1 lemon or lemon natural oils
- 1 little glass jar
- Put sugar in a large bowl and set aside.
- Measure out 1/4 cup of coconut oil and place it in a microwave safe bowl. Heat the coconut oil in the microwave for about 30 seconds, or until the oil is melted.
- Pour the melted coconut oil over the sugar and mix to combine.
- Using a zester or small grater, zest the rind of 1 lemon and add it to the sugar- coconut oil mixture. Stir well.
- Then, cut the same lemon you just zested in half and, by using a juicer, juice the lemon. Remove any seeds from the lemon juice and add the juice to the sugar mixture. Stir to combine.
- If the sugar scrub is still too “wet”, add up to 1/2 cup more sugar until desired consistency is reached.
- Then grab a little jar of some sort and pour your new lemon sugar scrub into the jar. All done!
- A small trick for your scrub to look fancy and colourful. Once you have your scrub done, divide it into two equal parts in two separate containers. Then add some colour to one of the containers. You can use a little bit of food colouring for this, just a couple of drops will do. Stir well. Now, make a large funnel out of a piece of paper and add a small amount of the not coloured scrub into the jar. Press the scrub lightly down so it is leveled. Then add a colour layer so that they are about the same height and flatten it. Continue back and forth with as many layers and as thick or thin a layer you would like. Pretty, isn’t it?
What each and every one of us does in our daily life will make the difference. Take responsibility and spread the voice!!
Covering nearly three-quarters of the Earth, the ocean is an extraordinary resource. We depend on our ocean for the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe. The ocean sustains nearly half of the global primary production and it is home for a multitude of marine organisms. It supports fishing industries and coastal economies, as well as providing recreational opportunities. Land and sea, no matter where we are, are connected. For too long, we have used the ocean as a receptacle for our trash; marine litter has become one of the most pervasive pollution problems facing the world’s oceans.
Marine litter is any persistent, solid material that is manufacturer or processed, and that is directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally discarded, disposed or abandoned in marine and coastal environments. Marine litter includes objects that typically do not naturally occur in the marine environment. The most common materials are: plastic, glass, paper, metal, rubber wood and cloth. These materials can enter the environment in two ways: directly through human action or indirectly when blown or washed out to sea via rivers, streams, and storm drains.
Once marine litter enters into the ocean, how long it will remain depends upon the material by which they are made of: plastic and synthetic rubber are the most persistent between marine debris.
Over 80 % of marine debris is plastic.
Look around you. Everywhere we look we will find plastic: in the clothes we wear, in the houses we live in, in our cars, bicycles, planes and trains we travel with. We use plastic for cleaning ourselves, we use plastic for packaging our food, we use plastic for fun in our toys and games, we use plastic in almost every single aspect of our life. Plastic is made of a wide variety of artificial chemical compounds and it can be manufactured in many different shapes, sizes and colours. Plastics are inexpensive, lightweight, strong, durable, corrosion resistant and have with high thermal and electrical insulation properties.
World plastics production has kept growing for more than half a century, rising from approximately 1.9 tons in 1950 to 300 million tons in 2013. In Europe alone, the plastics industry has a turnover in excess of 300 million euros and employs 1.6 million people.
Even though some plastic waste is recycled, up to 10 % of plastics produced is estimated to end up in the oceans.
Researchers estimates that out of a total of 192 countries with coastlines, just 20 countries are responsible for 83% of the plastic debris put into the world’s oceans. These 192 countries produce some 275 million metric tons of plastic waste each year. Of that volume, about 5–13 million metric tons of mismanaged plastic waste is thought to have entered the ocean in 2010. Without improvements to waste management infrastructure, this volume of plastic debris could more than double by 2025.
Plastic enter the oceans from land based sources, when items that are not thrown away correctly, or when they are blown or washed into waterways from landfills and recycling plants. Plastic can also enter the environment from ocean based sources including fishing and cargo vessels, as well as recreational boaters and oil and gas drilling platforms.
Irrespective of how plastics enter the marine environment, they never, truly disappear.
Over time, it will break down to small, microscopic pieces and persist in the environment: plastic never truly goes away, it just becomes smaller and smaller…
Plastics in fact do not biodegrade. Instead, it breakdown into small pieces due to oxidation or to the physical action of waves, currents, and the grazing activities of fish and birds. Plastic can also break down when exposed to sunlight, a process called photodegradation. Unlike natural material that will break down and be utilised by living organisms, plastic never truly goes away, it just becomes smaller and smaller and smaller….When it breaks into pieces smaller than 5 or 1 mm in diameter, it is known as microplastics.
Microplastics are the most abundant type of plastic in the ocean, and they have been found in every corner of the ocean sampled by scientists to date, from near-shore environments to the open ocean, including remote pacific islands and the Arctic.
Most small microplastics fragments results from the breakdown of larger plastic items but the breakdown of larger pieces of plastic is not the only way in which microplastics end up in the ocean. The plastic pellets used as a feedstock for producing plastic goods can spill from ships or land-based sources, and “microbeads” used as scrubbing agents in personal care products such as skin cleansers, toothpastes, and shampoos, can escape through water treatment facilities and pass into watersheds with treated water. Eventually, once in the marine environment, microplastic can be transported between all compartments of the water column from surface waters to deep sea sediment. High concentrations accumulate in convergence zones and along exposed coastlines, and in areas with limited water circulation or those surrounded by densely populated urban areas.
Recent scientific researches estimate that 5.25 trillion of plastic pieces, the majority microplastics, are floating in the world’s oceans and meet with phyto and zooplankton, crustaceans, molluscs, fish, turtles, seabirds and marine mammals every single day.
Scientists have found that plastic affects at least 267 species worldwide, including 86% of all sea turtle species, 44% of all seabird species, and 43% of all marine mammal species. It is quite scary to think that this numbers may be highly underestimated as most victims are likely to go undiscovered by scientists, as many sink or are eaten by predators.
Plastics harms wildlife in both a direct and indirect ways. The direct effects of plastic include plastic ingestion and entanglement.
Entanglement in plastic debris, especially in discarded fishing gear, is a very serious threat to marine animals. It can cause wounds that can lead to infections or loss of limbs; can impair an animal’s ability to swim, which may lead to drowning, or make it difficult for the animal to move, find food, and escape from predators, or can cause strangulation, choking, or suffocation. More than 100,000 marine mammals die every year from entanglement or ingestion of marine debris.
Fishing nets, fishing line, ropes, plastic sheeting and packing straps can be a major problems for animals that interact with fisheries, such as dolphins. Fish and crustaceans are frequently entangled in lost or discarded fishing items, a phenomenon known as ghost fishing. Thousands of seabirds are thought to die from entanglement or ingestion each year. When birds prey upon entangled fish, they can become entangled themselves.
Wildlife eat plastics. Some have the ability to remove it from their mouths, but ingestion occurs when an animal swallows the plastic item. Ingestion can be accidental, but animals may ingest debris because it actually looks like food.
Once ingested, plastic can cause the blockage of the secretion of gastric enzyme, can diminish the feeding stimulus, can lower the levels of steroid hormone or even delay ovulation and cause reproductive failure.
Many types of birds have been found to feed on plastic pieces, most likely because they mistake them for food. Plastic eaten by adult birds can be regurgitated as food for hatchlings, potentially generating a population problem, especially when the offspring are never fed real food. Also loggerhead sea turtles have been found to feed on plastic and at least 26 species of cetaceans have been documented to ingest plastic debris. A number of benthic invertebrates including lugworms, amphipods and blue mussels can feed directly on microplastics. Microplastics are ingested by commercially important invertebrate species, including crustaceans and bivalves. Also microplastic ingestion by wild caught fish species is not an uncommon observation. For example, commercially caught fish and mesopelagic fish from the English Channel and the North Pacific had microplastics in their digestive tracts.
The indirect effects of plastic may include chemical leaking. Plastic debris contains chemicals that are added to the polymers in the production phase in order to give to the material the required characteristics of colour, texture and flexibility. But they also absorb environmental contaminants from the water. Plastic acts in fact as a sort of sponge, accumulating pollutants such as PCBs from seawater. These chemicals could have negative effects on animals that ingest contaminated plastics.
Another indirect effect of plastic pollution is the introduction of alien species. Plastics floating at sea may be colonised by various encrusting organisms such as bacteria, diatoms, algae, barnacles, hydroids and tunicates. Drift plastics can introduce species into an environment where they were previously absent. The arrival of unwanted and aggressive alien species could be detrimental to littoral and shoreline ecosystems.
Land and sea, no matter where we are, are connected.
Any trash that is disposed of improperly can potentially enter the ocean or other waterways, and anyone who disposes of trash improperly can be a source of marine debris! Yes, even you!
Marine debris is one of the greatest threats our ocean faces, but luckily it is an issue with which we can all play a part in the solution.
We all should be aware that plastics and plastic chemicals are ubiquitous, and we truly can’t eliminate all risks associated with plastics. But we can reduce them, and we can chose to support businesses and institutions that are attempting to do the same.
Plastic pollution can be reduced by using less plastics products and switching to alternatives.
Among the existing solutions recycling is one of the most convenient and easiest ways. As consumers, the recycling only requires one easy step of putting plastic wastes in right bins for disposal.
To be effective our actions should embrace the so called five R’s: ‘reduce, reuse, recycle, recover and redesign’.
There are some very simple actions which everyone of us can take to reduce our plastic footprint:
- Try to avoid using or buying items that used an unnecessary amount of plastic.
- Avoid plastic bottled water (carry around with you your own flask, fill it when you are thirsty)
- At home, drink tap water. If you do not like the taste, add a few slice of fruit or filter the water thanks to in-expensive filter jugs. Tap water is better than bottled water because it isn’t stored in plastic and has much higher regulation standards
- Don’t buy beverages bottles made of plastic
- Bring your own cloth bags when shopping. Remember that between 500 billion and a trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year. Less than 1% of bags are recycled. Plastic bags are used for an average of 12 minutes, but a single plastic bag has a life expectancy of up to 1,000 years!!!
- Cosmetic choice: avoid all scrubbing products containing plastic. Did you know that the best scrub ever is done with inexpensive and completely biodegradable products, such as honey and brown sugar? Give it a try!
- Carry your own reusable steel or ceramic beverage container.
- Store all your food in glass containers instead of plastic containers.
- Don’t buy convenience foods packages in plastic, avoid fruit wrapped in plastic and prefer fresh eggs in reusable paper containers.
- Prefer natural fabrics
- Say no to plastic straws. You can buy stainless steel and glass straws to carry with you
- Do not release balloons: you may have fun, but the animal that is ultimately going to encounter it won’t be of the same opinion!
- Recycle your six-pack holders wherever is possible. If you can’t recycle, you can always cut or tear the rings to prevent marine animals entanglement.
- Smokers: Use matches instead of plastic encased lighters and use portable ashtray to prevent the loss of plastic filters (cigarette butts) into the environment
WHAT EACH AND EVERY ONE OF US DOES IN OUR DAILY LIFE WILL MAKE THE DIFFERENCE. TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR OWN WASTE: SPREAD THE VOICE!!
Currently, we are living in the geological epoch of Holocene. The Holocene started 12,000 years ago, at the end of the last Ice Age, and it was characterised by a period of stable climate during which all human civilisation developed. However, since the mid-20th century, the Earth has witness a dramatic acceleration of carbon dioxide emissions and of sea level rise, a global mass extinction of species, and an extensive land transformation induced by human activities. These human induced changes could mark the end of that slice of stable climate known as Holocene, and give way to the ‘Anthropocene’.
The ‘Anthropocene’ is a term coined in 2000 by the Nobel Prize-winning chemist Paul Crutzen, together with Eugene F. Stoermer, to denote the present time interval, in which many geologically significant conditions and processes are profoundly altered by human activities. Since then, the term has been widely used (and discussed) by many Earth/ environmental scientists.
Why ‘Anthropocene’? The rationale behind this name is the recognition of the wide-ranging effects that humankind presence and activities are having on the Earth. These human-induced effects include changes in every aspect of the planet, from the atmosphere (air) to the geosphere (soil), passing through the biosphere (living organisms) and to the oceans and waterbodies.
In particular, these human-induced effects include changes in:
- erosion and sediment transportation, which are associated to a variety of anthropogenic processes, including colonisation, agriculture and urbanisation;
- the chemical composition of both atmosphere, oceans and soils. For example, the level of CO2 in the atmosphere has now reached 400 part per million, while it was at 280 ppm just before the industrial revolution. And it is still, currently, rising. In the soils, both nitrogen and phosphorous levels have doubled during the past century due to fertiliser use. This is likely to be the largest impact on the nitrogen cycle in 2.5 billion years. These significant anthropogenic perturbations of the cycles of elements generate associated environmental conditions. Just to quote the most well-known: global warming and ocean acidification.
- the biosphere both on land and in the oceans. Humans have triggered a wave of extinction, threat, and local population declines that is comparable in both rate and magnitude with the five previous mass extinctions of Earth’s history. The effects of this “sixth extinction wave” means that we are likely losing ~11,000 to 58,000 living species every single year (out of estimated total of 5 to 9 million species). And note that this is a conservative count. Across vertebrates, 16 to 33% of all species are estimated to be globally threatened or endangered. Among these, the most threatened are amphibians (41% of all species are globally threatened or endangered), followed by birds (17%), with mammals and reptiles experiencing intermediate threat levels. Loss of invertebrate biodiversity has received much less attention, and data are extremely limited. However, of the species assessed, ~40% are considered threatened. If current trends continue, the Earth is on course to see 75% of species become extinct as a result of habitat loss, predation, species invasions and the physical and chemical changes noted above.
The evidence of the mankind impacts on the planet Earth are truly overwhelming, but these changes are very recent in geological terms. In the Geological Time Scale, an epoch usually spans tens of millions of years, while the ‘Anthropocene’ might have started just around the 1950 (the starting date of the ‘Anthropocene’ is currently widely debated). Furthermore, stratigraphic scientists consider the Geological Time Scale as the very backbone of geology and changes to it are not amended lightly. Today, in fact, the ‘Anthropocene’ is not a formally defined geological unit within the Geological Time Scale. Not yet, at least.
In 2008 an assessment by the Stratigraphy Commission of the Geological Society of London made a case for formally incorporating the term into the Geological Time Scale. Recently, an official expert group called ‘the Anthropocene Working Group” (WGA), which activity started in 2009, has reunited at the prestigious International Geological Congress (held in Cape Town at the end of August 2016) to examine the status, hierarchical level and definition of the ‘Anthropocene’ as a potential new formal division of the Geological Time Scale. Following the discussion, WGA members will spend the next years determining which signals and location show the strongest and sharpest evidence of the start of the Anthropocene, to then make a formal recommendation to declare the ‘Anthropocene’ to the International Commission on Stratigraphy.
Changing the very backbone of geology to include the ‘Anthropocene’ within the Geological Time Scale would be a truly historic decision, which would clearly recognize the responsibility of the human kind in changing the planet Earth atmosphere, geosphere and biosphere.
A number of different starting dates for the ‘Anthropocene’ have been proposed, reflecting different disciplinary approaches and criteria regarding when human societies first began to play a significant role in shaping the Earth’s ecosystems. Two pre-industrial events have occasionally been proposed as markers of the ‘Anthropocene’ beginning; the wave of extinctions of the Pleistocene megafauna and the advent of agriculture (the so-called Neolithic Revolution). Some others proposed the advent of the Industrial Revolution (occurred around 1800) as the a logical start date for the ‘Anthropocene’. Even if it’s probably around this date that human impacts on the Earth’s atmosphere and geosphere became substantial, it’s actually around the 1950 that the human-induced changes have reached what some scientists called the “Great Acceleration”. The “Great Acceleration” has been identified by taking in consideration several different indicators of the development of human enterprise, from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution to the beginning of the new millennium. Such indicators included, between others: human population, damming of rivers, fertilizer consumption, water use, the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane, ozone depletion, Northern Hemisphere surface temperature and the loss of global biodiversity. Each and every of these indicators underwent a sharp increase in rate around 1950. For example, the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration grew from 311ppm in 1950 to 369ppm in 2000. From the perspective of the “Great Acceleration”, the mid-90s appear as good candidate to mark the start of the ‘Anthropocene’.
It has to be considered that a stratigraphic evidence is needed in order to formally define a geological epoch in the Geological Time Scale. In this sense, the WGA suggests the 1945 as the GSSA (Global Standard Stratigraphic Age) for the ‘Anthropocene’. On 16 July 1945, the first nuclear bomb was detonated by the United States Army at Alamogordo, New Mexico. The radioactive elements from nuclear bomb tests blowed into the stratosphere before settling down and being deposited to Earth. However, there would be so many other signals. Other candidates include aluminium and concrete particles, and high levels of nitrogen and phosphate in soils, derived from artificial fertilisers.
Another candidate would be plastic pollution. Humans are putting so much plastic in our waterways and oceans that microplastic particles are now almost virtually ubiquitous, and plastics will likely leave identifiable fossil records for future generations to discover.
About biological signs, the domestic chicken is a serious contender to be a fossil that defines the ‘Anthropocene’ for future geologists. The domestic chicken is a much bigger bird and with a different skeleton than its pre-war ancestor. Since the mid-20th century, it has become the world’s most common bird, being fossilised in thousands of landfill sites and on street corners around the world. The debate around the starting date and the signals that define the beginning of the ‘Anthropocene’ is still ongoing.
On the other hand, some scientists argue that the drive to officially recognize the ‘Anthropocene’ is political rather than scientific. These authors point out that, in contrast to all other units of the Geological Time Scale, the concept of the Anthropocene did not derive from the stratigraphic record. The concept of the ‘Anthropocene’ was formulated first, and stratigraphic evidences are searched as a consequence of this formulation. Furthermore, the ‘Anthropocene’ stratigraphic record is negligible, especially with a boundary set at 1945. Finally, these authors highlight that most of the stratigraphic records mentioned are potential records that might appear in the future.
Others claims that sufficient evidence has emerged of stratigraphically significant changes (both elapsed and imminent) for recognition of the ‘Anthropocene’ . The base of the ‘Anthropocene’ may be defined by a GSSP in sediments or ice core, such as the appearance of manufactured materials in sediments, including aluminium, plastics, and concrete, coinciding with global spikes in fallout radionuclides and particulates from fossil fuel combustion.
So, is the drive to officially recognize the ‘Anthropocene’ political or scientific?
It has to be noted that even in the very first paper in which the term ‘Anthropocene’ was used, the authors themselves declare that he ‘Anthropocene’ epoch initiative as primarily intended to draw attention to the serious ongoing challenge that faces mankind:
“To develop a worldwide accepted strategy leading to sustainability of ecosystems against human induced stresses will be one of the great future tasks of mankind, requiring intensive research efforts and wise application of the knowledge thus acquired in the noösphere, better known as knowledge or information society. An exciting, but also difficult and daunting task lies ahead of the global research and engineering community to guide mankind towards global, sustainable, environmental management” Crutzen & Stoermer, 2000.
Also the reception of the concept of ‘Anthropocene’ had shown a political interpretation:
“Official recognition of the concept would invite cross-disciplinary science. And it would encourage a mindset that will be important not only to fully understand the transformation now occurring but to take action to control it. … Humans may yet ensure that these early years of the Anthropocene are a geological glitch and not just a prelude to a far more severe disruption. But the first step is to recognize, as the term Anthropocene invites us to do, that we are in the driver’s seat. (Nature, 2011, p. 254)”
The debate around the ‘Anthropocene’ formalization is ongoing, scientists are currently researching around this topic to define if the ‘Anthropocene’ can be officially defined as a geological era with scientifically acceptable criteria. A political drive is probably not completely avoidable around this topic, as the concept of the ‘Anthropocene’ has the capacity to become the most politicized unit, by far, of the Geological Time Scales.
While it will be science to tell if we can truly consider the ‘Anthropocene’ as a geological era, the power of this concept shouldn’t be underestimated. The Anthropocene represents a new phase in the history of both humankind and of the Earth, when natural forces and human forces became intertwined, so that the fate of one determines the fate of the other.
If even just the debate around this topic can be used to create awareness around these important environmental issues, or as an encouragement to slow carbon emissions and biodiversity loss, or as an evidence in legislation on conservation measures, well, this is a debate that by all means, as humankind, we have the responsibility and the duty to face.
In collaboration with Nicolo’ Ongaro (@Llumblava), Artemis Eyes just published a new video on its channel, called Plastic Wave.
Plastic Wave wants to tell you about plastic pollution in our oceans, by interviewing renowned scientists researching on this issue, by summarizing some of the knowledge achieved by scientists to date and by taking you for a dive underwater.
For too long, the vastness of the ocean has prompted people to overestimate its ability to safely absorb our wastes. Marine litter has become one of the most pervasive pollution problems facing the world’s oceans and waterways. Marine litter is defined as any persistent, solid material that is manufacturer or processed, and that is directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally discarded, disposed or abandoned in the marine and coastal environment.
Plastic and synthetic rubber are the most persistent between marine debris. Plastics are different from all the other marine debris. Plastics indeed do not biodegrade. Instead, they breakdown into small pieces due to oxidation or due to the physical action of waves, currents, and the grazing activities of fish and birds. Plastic can also break down when exposed to sunlight, a process called photodegradation, but it never truly goes away!
While there is still relatively little information on the impact of plastic pollution on the ocean’s ecosystems, there is an increasing knowledge about its deleterious impacts on marine life.
Any trash that is disposed of improperly can potentially enter the ocean or other waterways, and anyone who disposes of trash improperly can be a source of marine debris! Yes, even you!
Marine debris is one of the greatest threats our ocean faces, but luckily it is an issue with which we can all play a part in the solution.
We all should be aware that plastics and plastic chemicals are ubiquitous, and we truly can’t eliminate all risks associated with plastics. But we can reduce them, and we can chose to support businesses and institutions that are attempting to do the same.
Plastic pollution can be reduced by using less plastics products and switching to alternatives. Among the existing solutions recycling is one of the most convenient and easiest ways. As consumers, the recycling only requires one easy step of putting plastic wastes in right bins for disposal. Separating the plastic waste from other waste will prevent plastics to be land filled and will allow it to be recycled with other plastics of the same kind. Source reduction (Reduce and Reuse) can occur by altering the design, manufacture, or use of plastic products and materials.
To be effective our actions should embrace the so called five R’s: ‘reduce, reuse, recycle, recover and redesign’.
Stay tuned for more contents and tips about how to reduce your plastic footprint!