Tuesday, January 25, 2011

French plan nuclear power plants on the seafloor

In the world of interesting ideas, here's one we hadn't thought of: Put nuclear power plants in the nearshore ocean.

Leave it to the French, who produce 75% of their electricity from nuclear power, to advance this idea.

(Image: A representation of the Flexblue power plant, from the DCNS website, http://en.dcnsgroup.com.)

One presumes that the nukes they're discussing would be placed in the relatively calm waters of the Mediterranean. In Hawaiian waters, recent hurricanes have been shown to scour the ocean floor as much as 60 feet down, and cause significant impacts even deeper.

The French plan is for these plants to be tethered "a few kilometers from shore" in water 60 to 100 meters (2-300 feet, roughly) deep.

France is calling the new proposal Flexblue. The developer is the French firm DCNS, which builds nuclear submarines for the French Navy. It is working with nuclear power plant builder AREVA, French electric utility firm EDF and French government research firm CEA.

Their plan is to design a movable nuclear plant—in essence a giant, tethered, propellorless nuclear submarine—that delivers power to shore via cable. It could be lifted with air bags to the surface for maintenance. It would produce 50 to 250 megawatts.

The plant's hull would be 300 feet long, about 40 feet around and shaped like a giant oxygen bottle. It would be movable, but would not have its own propulsion. A special ship would be used to transport it. Here is the DCNS website outline of the project: .

For this concept to ever be considered for Hawai'i, developers would require an unprecedented level of community approval. That's because of this line in the Hawai'i State Constitution: No nuclear fission power plant shall be constructed or radioactive material disposed of in the State without the prior approval by a two-thirds vote in each house of the legislature.”

© Jan TenBruggencate 2011

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Golden gooney chick pix

The short-tailed albatross pair at Midway Atoll have produced the first chick of their species born outside Japan territory in recorded history.

The event is considered monumental by biologists, as the species, whose head and neck color gives them the nickname "golden gooney," is seriously endangered. More on the birds at our previous posts here and here.

The new chick was well protected by its parents from the recent rainstorms and wind, and appeared to be thriving, Fish and Wildlife Service biologists said.

Humans are being kept away from the area. The images were taken using long lenses and by two service biologists operating from cover, so the birds would not be bothered.

In each of these images the chick's head and beak are barely visible between or next to the parent's leg. The body is obscured within the shallow depression that forms the nest.

More images are available at:

The sex of the baby golden is not yet known. Those other birds in the images are mainly Laysan albatrosses. Laysan and black-footed albatrosses are the dominant members of their genus in the Hawaiian Island chain.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2011

Friday, January 14, 2011

Golden gooney egg at Midway hatches: a first

The golden gooney egg at Midway has hatched.

This story links to our previous post here. No pix yet of the chick. Image at right is an adult short-tailed albatross (aka golden gooney). Credit: USFWS John Klavitter.

No time to compose a complete post today, so here's the press release on the event from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Everything in italics is from the press release.

An important– and hopeful– milestone in the conservation of the endangered short-tailed albatross was recorded today at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. A short-tailed albatross hatched on Eastern Island, one of three small flat coral islands that comprise Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge about 1,200 miles northwest of Honolulu. This marks the first confirmed hatching of a short-tailed albatross outside of Japan in recorded history.

“We are all as excited as new parents,” said Daniel Clark, acting Refuge Manager. “The chick hatched during a major storm but the parent is doing an excellent job of protecting it and we are guardedly optimistic about its chances for survival.”

Establishing a new nesting colony is one of several important steps needed to continue the rare bird’s recovery because volcanic activity regularly threatens the short-tailed albatross’ main nesting grounds on Torishima Island. The species’ recovery also depends on reducing the threats of contaminants, especially oil contamination at sea and plastic ingestion; reducing bycatch of these seabirds from commercial fisheries; and addressing invasive species and other competitive species at nesting colonies.

A pair of short-tailed albatross first “met” at Midway Atoll Refuge during the breeding season four years ago (2007-08). During that season, they were observed spending only a little time together. During the second season (2008-09), their time together increased. By the third season (2009-10), they arrived at the Eastern Island breeding colony together and built a nest. This breeding season, on November 16, 2010, an adult short-tailed albatross was observed incubating a freshly laid egg. The pair have been under remote observation since.

The short-tailed albatross, listed as endangered since 1970, is the largest seabird in the North Pacific with a wing span of 7 to 7.5 feet. It is known for the golden, yellow cast on its head and nape; for its large, pink bill with blue tip and black border around the base; and for its pale bluish feet and legs. Its life span is 12 to 45 years. Pairs begin breeding at about seven or eight years of age, and mate for life.

Once thought to be the most abundant albatross species in the North Pacific with a population of more than 5 million adults, short-tailed albatross were hunted for feathers, and harmed in other ways, to near extinction.

By the 20th century, only two colonies remained on remote Japanese islands – Torishima Island in the Philippine Sea and Minami-kojima Island near Taiwan in the East China Sea. In 1939, the short-tailed albatross’ main breeding grounds on Torishima were buried under 30 to 90 feet of lava after a volcanic eruption. Population numbers plummeted to 10 nesting pairs. Since then, conservation efforts have helped increase the population to approximately 2,400 birds, which forage widely across the temperate/subarctic North Pacific and can be seen in the Gulf of Alaska, along the Aleutian Islands and in the Bering Sea.

Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge
– since 2006 part of the Papahânaumokuâkea Marine National Monument – has actively planned to host a nesting colony for more than a decade, and this conservation effort seems to be paying off. Short-tailed albatross were rarely seen on Midway Atoll before the effort began. This season marks the pair’s first known mating and nesting attempt. Refuge staff and volunteers will continue to monitor the nest daily with the use of a remote video camera.

Barry Stieglitz, Project Leader for the Hawaiian and Pacific Islands National Wildlife Refuge Complex of which Midway Atoll is a part, said of the hatching: “This hatching – significant in and of itself – is really part of two stories. The first is about what the dedicated staff of the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge were able to accomplish on a shoestring over many, many patient years; slowly drawing these magnificent birds to Eastern Island with recorded calls and decoys. The second story started in 1903 when President Teddy Roosevelt sent the United States Navy to protect the albatross, sea turtles, and monk seals at Midway from poachers. These initial efforts grew into a larger vision to preserve and restore the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands ecosystem. We may not see this story finished in our lifetimes – it will be written over the decades to come, building on the work accomplished in the decades of the past.”

© Jan TenBruggencate 2011

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Imacts of warming on Hawaiian environment: new report

It's not news that Hawai'i has more threatened and endangered species than any place as small as we are, but we're getting some new global publicity for it.

A new initiative calls the Islands one of the 10 places in the country that needs critically to be protected in the ongoing changing climate.

The Endangered Species Coalition and its partners have issued a new report: “It's Getting Hot Out There: The 10 Places to Save for Endangered Species in a Warming World.”

“The Hawaiian Islands are ground zero for climate change,” said Marjorie Ziegler, executive director of the Conservation Council for Hawai‘i.

The report says this about the global warming threats for Hawaiian species:

“Warming temperatures from global climate change assault the ecosystem on multiple fronts. First, as the sea levels rise with the increased melting of the arctic, low-elevation atolls will be inundated.

“Second, as oceans become more acidic, corals will bleach and die off more quickly, which will reduce sand production for coastal beach ecosystems and healthy reef ecosystems essential for fish and seabirds.

“Third, as temperatures rise, introduced mosquitoes carrying avian malaria and avian pox will breed at higher elevations, putting bird populations at increased risk of extinction. Because mosquitoes survive at specific temperature ranges, the cooler temperatures of the higher elevations have thus far protected some bird populations from the mosquitoes.”

It's not clear whether this is a ranked list, or just a compilation of the top 10, but here's now the Endangered Species Coalition set up the decem, using the language of a press release issued by the Conservation Council for Hawai'i.

1. The Arctic Sea Ice, home to the polar bear, Pacific walrus and at least 6 species of seal.
2. Shallow Water Coral Reefs, home to the critically endangered elkhorn and staghorn coral.
3. The Hawaiian Islands, home to more than a dozen imperiled birds, and 319 threatened and endangered plants.
4. Southwest Deserts, home to numerous imperiled plants, fish, and mammals.
5. The San Francisco Bay-Delta, home to the imperiled Pacific salmon, Swainson’s hawk, tiger salamander and Delta smelt.
6. California Sierra Mountains, home to 30 native species of amphibian, including the Yellow-legged frog.
7. The Snake River Basin, home to four imperiled runs of salmon and steelhead.
8. Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, home to the imperiled Whitebark pine, an important food source for animals, including the threatened Grizzly bear.
9. The Gulf Coast’s flatlands and wetlands, home to the Piping and Snowy plovers, Mississippi sandhill crane, and numerous species of sea turtles.
10. The Greater Everglades, home to 67 threatened and endangered species, including the manatee and the red cockcaded woodpecker.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2011