The End of Coral Reefs ?

Coral reefs are remarkable ecosystems, home to over 25% of the world’s known marine species, providing valuable tourism income, and even more crucially, vital food to remote fishing communities around the world – coral reef fisheries support around 275 million people, many with few alternative sources of food.

But coral reefs across the world are dying – being destroyed by a combination of local and global impacts.

Overfishing, pollution and rising ocean temperatures and increasing levels of dissolved carbon dioxide are progressively causing coral bleaching and subsequent death.

Several authorities suggest that very few healthy reefs will be left by 2030, and virtually none by 2050, unless the world manages to control both local and global threats to these valuable, but vulnerable ecosystems.


Photo from USFWS, via Flickr

Mountaintop Removal

All forms of mining give rise to a variety of environmental concerns, but so-called mountain top removal coal mining in the American Appalachian Mountains is more damaging than most. The practice involves explosive removal of entire mountain tops in order to expose the coal, the resulting rock being placed in nearby valleys, often blocking streams. After the coal has been removed the spoil is then typically replaced to form a ‘new’ mountain.

The practice has generated a lot of criticism and protest from local people and environmental groups, with widespread allegations of pollution, habitat destruction, loss of amenity, and few benefits for the local communities affected.


Photo by iLoveMountains via Flickr

RELATED ARTICLES – FF – The Aral Sea, FF – Gas Flares in the Niger Delta, FF – The World’s Dirtiest River

The Aral Sea

Before the 1980s the world’s fourth largest inland lake was the Aral Sea, on the border of  Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. At around 68,000 square kilometres, it was nearly the same size as Ireland, complete with thousands of islands, thriving fishing communities and the lakeside cities of Muynak and Aral’sk.

Buy the late 1960s huge amounts of water were being diverted from the Aral sea for the irrigation of Soviet cotton fields, which also continued in the post-Soviet era. By 2008 the Aral sea had largely disappeared, with less than 10% remaining, compared to its original size.

The rusting hulks of former fishing vessels now sit in the desert, miles from the nearest water.

Salinity in the water that remains has massively increased, and much of the surrounding area is badly affected by pollution from former agriculture and industry, with large dust storms also now common.

But since 2005 a limited recovery has been underway for the northern Sea area, following the construction of a new dam, with funding from the World Bank. Unfortunately no similar improvement is taking place in the south.


 Photo by Staecker, via Wikicommons

Should I Open the Window ?

Guest post by Gareth Hooper – Environmental Scientist.

If I open the window, do I improve the air in my home ?

For most of us, our modern lifestyles mean indoor air is something we breathe far more of than outdoor air. But if you search for ‘air quality’ on the internet, you’ll have to scroll quite far down to find any information on the air quality indoors.

For those of use living in cooler climes, double glazing helps keep us warm, and along with keeping out draughts, lowers our heating bills. If we were to open all our windows we’d be colder, poorer and might perilously be encouraging climate change !

Additionally many of us live in homes close to busy areas, roads, aircraft flight paths or industry and keeping our windows closed keeps out noise and air pollution.

But we are also locking-in our own indoor air pollution !

Which is worse ?

This is a familiar dilemma – take red wine, which has been linked both with giving us longer lifespans . . . and shorter ones. Or jogging, which makes us fitter, but makes our joints sore. Everything in moderation…..until we tell you otherwise ?

So how about leaving the bedroom window slightly ajar. Does it do more harm than good ?

Hopefully you’ve not been holding your breath waiting for me to get to the answer – because it’s not that simple.

Outdoor air pollution has many sources, but one is dominant.

In the UK we don’t have ‘pea-souper’ smogs of the 1940’s and 1950’s anymore, when we all burned coke and coal (and almost anything else for that matter) in our fireplaces, but in it’s place came traffic pollution from our cars. Like any new technology, air pollution particles have become smaller, and we can’t often see air pollution these days. Of course, a bus or a lorry kicks out a plume of pollution when it pulls noisily away from traffic lights, but our bodys are pretty good at keeping those large, visible particles out. It’s the pollution we can’t see that is more harmful to us.

This particularly applies inside our cars !

A report by International Center for Technology Assessment  in the USA says:

‘… the air inside of cars typically contains more carbon monoxide, benzene, toluene, fine particulate matter, and nitrogen oxides than ambient air at nearby monitoring stations used to calculate government air-quality statistics. In-car pollution is often even worse than pollution in the air at the side of the road.’

Even the much sought after ‘new car smell’ is a collection of chemicals that we don’t particularly need !

The good news is that in much of the developed world, the levels of these pollutants are slowly diminishing, as engine and fuel technology improve, and legal emissions standards increase, but walking to your destination would be better for both your and everyone else’s air quality.

Whenever we do travel by car, we could try opening  the windows when we can and draw some of that outside air in – improving the air inside. Probably best to also avoid air fresheners, and to vacuum the seats every now and then – not to mention the occasional spot of dusting.

Outdoor air quality is the responsibility of the authorities, but indoor air quality within our own home, is largely down to us.

There are a number of straightforward things we can all do to improve the quality of the air within our homes:

• Remove asthma triggers such as mould and dust, in which mites can live

• Keep all areas clean and dry. Clean-up any mould and get rid of excess water or moisture

• Be sure to ventilate bathrooms and kitchens well, as these rooms give rise to the most warm, damp air

• Don’t let people smoke indoors

• Try to select lower odour or volatile cleaning products and paints

• Always ventilate when using products that can release pollutants into the air

• Tightly close the lids of stored products (such as paint, cleaning products etc)

• Inspect fuel-burning appliances regularly for leaks, and make repairs when necessary

• Have a number of indoor plants, which may help improve indoor air quality

• Consider installing a carbon monoxide alarm

So there’s no easy answer to the original question – it depends on the degree of pollution in the air outside, compared to the air inside your home – but it’s probably true that for most of us opening a window will probably be of benefit.

We’re responsible for the quality of the air in our own homes, and should probably give it more attention.

We might also want to contact our authorities responsible for the quality of the air outside, including our local Councils, to discuss it with them, and encourage them to do all they can.

Photo by Bio Friendly via Flickr

Gas Flares in the Niger Delta

The image shows north Africa at night from space. Most of Africa is dark, compared to lights of southern Europe. Below the Sahara only the Niger Delta is illuminated, as a result of the flaring of ‘waste’ gas, found alongside the oil in Nigeria’s oilfields, but that the oil companies have not sought to exploit, and simply burn.

The flaring of waste gas in Nigeria releases toxic chemicals into the local environment and wastes approximately the same amount of energy every year as 25% of the UK’s entire natural gas consumption – emitting carbon dioxide equivalent to 18 million cars.

Oil exploration of the Niger Delta has caused many significant environmental problems, but the oil money has been of limited benefit to the poor communities in the Delta. A powerful series of photos showing many of the issues of the Delta was recently published on The Atlantic website,

Photo NASA 2003