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Monday, November 11, 2019

Floating plastics pervade Pacific fish populations, larval fish are eating our trash

 Researchers from Hawai‘i Pacific University, NOAA, and other agencies release study that includes evidence ‘fish are dominated by plastics’

A new study on the Pacific Ocean’s floating trash indicates not only a significant accumulation of microplastics in the Hawaiian Islands, but that larval fish are eating the debris. 

The research, conducted in partnership with Hawaiʻi Pacific University’s Center for Marine Debris Research (CMDR), centered on waters off the Kona coastline of Hawaiʻi Island. The area is found to accumulate microplastic pollution at a rate higher than the North Pacific Garbage Patch itself, and the larval fish living in this nursery habitat are eating the trash that surrounds them.

The findings are published in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) sampled surface waters near West Hawaiʻi using plankton tows with the intention of learning about the larval fish community in that nursery habitat.  It was no surprise that the researchers found young fish of many different types, including species that are gathered for commercial or recreational fisheries and that also play vital roles in ecosystems, such as Hawaiian coral reefs. 

“But we were shocked to find that so many of our samples were dominated by plastics,” said Jonathan Whitney, a marine ecologist for NOAA and co-lead of the study.  Within the slicks—small-scale convergence zones that look like ribbons of smooth water—plastic particles outnumbered larval fish seven to one. The concentration of plastic per square kilometer in the surface water slicks off of West Hawai‘i was eight times greater than in the North Pacific Garbage Patch. 

“The North Pacific Garbage Patch is known as one of the most plastic-polluted marine waters on earth. It is deeply concerning that concentrations in these hotspots in Hawai‘i exceed those in the Garbage Patch,” said Jennifer Lynch, research biologist with the National Institute of Standards and Technology and co-director of the HPU CMDR.

HPU’s CMDR determined the chemical composition of the plastic found in the tows, outside of the fish, to be mostly polyethylene and polypropylene. Next, the researchers dissected the digestive tracts of the tiny fish under a microscope.

 “We found tiny plastic pieces in the stomachs of commercially targeted pelagic species, including swordfish and mahi-mahi, as well as in coral reef species like triggerfish,” said Whitney.  Most of the particles were microfibers.

Lynch identified the chemical composition of the fibers to prove that they were man-made.  Two different types of chemical spectroscopy, Fourier-transform infrared and Raman, revealed that some were polyester, nylon, or rayon, and most were dyed cellulose, which could come from cotton fabric.

 “The fact that larval fish are surrounded by and ingesting non-nutritious toxin-laden plastics, at their most vulnerable life-history stage, is cause for alarm,” explained Jamison Gove, a research oceanographer for NOAA and co-lead of the study.

“The multiple, disturbing discoveries in this study spotlight the negative impact humans are having on our planet.  We can make changes to reduce our impact, and these changes are needed now,” said Lynch. 

The CMDR’s goal is to help eliminate plastic waste from the ocean, and the team is deeply committed to diving into this issue, right here in Hawaiʻi. The Center continues to strive to move conversations forward about creating a trash-free ocean environment while investigating the impacts of marine debris and distributing the knowledge of clean ocean awareness initiatives and stewardship.

The publication is titled “Prey-size plastics are invading larval fish nurseries” and is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Pennsylvania DEP Announces Statewide Surveillance of Ticks

Five-year study to assess risk of tickborne illnesses in Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced that it is conducting a five-year environmental surveillance of ticks to assess the risk of tickborne illnesses across Pennsylvania. Funding for this project is being provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Health. 
The survey, which started in July 2018 in coordination with county governments, is part of the Pennsylvania Lyme Disease Task Force recommendations for combatting the growing incidence of Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. It is funded annually through the state budget.
“Lyme disease affects thousands of Pennsylvanians every year, but ticks are also known to carry other pathogens that could infect humans. This survey will provide important data that will help us better understand these arachnids in our environment and inform Pennsylvanians on how, when and where to avoid getting bitten by a disease-carrying tick,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “We want everyone to enjoy the outdoors and take the proper precautions to avoid contact with ticks, and we are proud to support the Lyme Disease Task Force’s efforts to protect Pennsylvanians.”
“Lyme disease is a major public health concern in Pennsylvania,” Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said. “Many people believe that Lyme disease, and the ticks that carry the disease, can only be found in wooded areas. However, I know personally, as do many others, that ticks can be found in your backyard, where you walk your dog, or the local park. These surveillance efforts will help us to share with all Pennsylvanians the importance of taking steps to protect yourself.” 
The survey is taking place in every county in Pennsylvania to track ticks’ habitats, life stages and peak activity levels and to test them for human pathogenic diseases. Additionally, 38 counties are conducting a specific survey of nymphal blacklegged (Ixodes scapularis) ticks, which can transmit Lyme Disease to humans.
Ticks are collected using white felt drags that sample low-lying ground cover and understory vegetation for questing ticks.
Fall and winter surveillance focused on analyzing adult blacklegged ticks for emerging and changing disease burdens in public use habitats across Pennsylvania, such as parks, playgrounds or recreational fields.
The spring and summer surveillance will focus on collecting three tick species: the blacklegged tick in its immature nymphal stage, when it most often infects humans with Lyme disease, as well as human babesiosis and human granulocytic anaplasmosis; the adult American dog (Dermacentor variabilis) tick, which transmits Rocky Mounted Spotted Fever and Tulameria; and adult lone star (Amblyomma americanum) tick, which transmits Ehrlichiosis and Tularmeria.
The nymphal stage of the blacklegged tick causes the most tickborne illness in Pennsylvania due to its size and activity period. It is significantly smaller — about the size of a poppy seed — than the adult and therefore less likely to be discovered on the human body. 
“The nymphal stage of the blacklegged tick’s lifespan overlaps with people enjoying the outdoors in the spring and summer,” McDonnell said. “Tracking and testing them at this stage is extremely important because it will allow us to more accurately pinpoint when and where risk of human illness is most prevalent and help prevent cases of Lyme disease in the future.”
Since July 1, 2018, DEP collected 3,663 adult black-legged ticks for testing.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019


The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) is recruiting the 22nd class of Waterways Conservation Officer (WCO) Trainees at its H.R. Stackhouse School of Fishery Conservation and Watercraft Safety.

The State Civil Service Commission (SCSC) will begin accepting applications January 30 until February 19, 2019.

The class of up to 20 trainees is expected to report for training in the summer of 2019 and graduate in the summer of 2020. The most recent previous academy was held in 2015-2016.

Trainees will undergo an extensive 52-week training program encompassing all aspects of conservation law enforcement. Following civil service testing and selection, trainees will first complete a 22-week Municipal Police Officers Basic Training conducted by Pennsylvania State Police at its Northwest Training Center in Meadville, Crawford County. An additional 30 weeks of training is conducted at the Stackhouse school located in Bellefonte, Centre County and includes field training alongside seasoned WCOs. Trainees will assist with investigations, patrol regions, participate in public outreach events and stock waterways.

Applicants must meet the following basic criteria:

     • Pennsylvania residency
     • Possess a valid driver’s license
     • Be at least 21 years of age
     • High School Graduate or GED
     • Pass a criminal history background check

For more information on the position, visit the recruitment page on www.fishandboat.com.
Applications will only be accepted online. To view the announcement and apply, please visit the SCSC website on or after January 30, 2019 at: www.employment.pa.gov.