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Almanac Archive for Dec. 9, 2020

The Conservation Almanac
     Collaboration for Restoration
          E.U. Proposes Microplastics Ban
                Toxic Tires: The Mystery of the Coho Killer 
Collaboration for Restoration

Congratulations to the Chilmark Pond Foundation and Great Pond Foundation for their recently announced partnership to form a science-driven management plan for Chilmark Pond. The pond is suffering from a variety of ecological stressors, including increased nutrient pollution from development (primarily septic systems and fertilizer runoff) and rising temperatures due to climate change. Water quality has deteriorated to the point that the pond is now routinely closed to shellfishing and other recreation, and has experienced blooms of toxic cyanobacteria for the past three years – a sad state of affairs for the largest body of water in one of our most rural towns.

Across the Island, however, the Edgartown Great Pond is a restoration success story. Through careful data collection, and management work informed by it, the GPF have begun to turns things around for their pond, maintaining and even improving water quality in the face of the ongoing threats. (Over-development and climate change are certainly no strangers to Edgartown!) We wish the new partnership success, and look forward to the day when kids may again play safely in the pond.

For more, see the joint press release from GPF and CPF, as well as coverage in the MV Times and Vineyard Gazette.

Above: For a green pond, start with a green lawn. (Aerial photo by David Foster, click for full size)

Community Art Project Update: Shorelines

Thank you to everyone who has contributed so far to “Love it – Protect it – MV,” our first-ever collaborative community art project. The time is now winding down for our first theme, "Shorelines," but it’s not quite over yet. So please keep sending those photos, paintings, poems, and anything else that speaks to your personal sense of connection to the Island’s beaches, wetlands, and ponds and we’ll add it to the collection!

Click here for how to participate, view a sampling of the Shorelines collection, and follow us on facebook and/or Instagram to catch all the amazing contributions as they come in.

Above:  "I can spend endless hours hiking up and down the north shore. Exploring the cliff's edge and the rock-covered shores. In and out of numerous coves where little streams flow into the ocean, I find inspiration for all styles of my paintings. And when I leave I feel full and recharged and extraordinarily grateful for what it gives me."
Rachael Cassiani, describing her painting "North Shore Direction" 

European Union Proposes Microplastics Ban 
     Nearly half of economic cost potentially due to management of artificial turf
The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) today released their first technical report detailing the numbers behind their proposed ban on a variety of products containing microplastics. If adopted by all EU member nations, the measure could prevent 500,000 metric tonnes – over one billion U.S. pounds – of plastic particles from entering the environment over the next 20 years, all at an estimated cost of 10.8 to 19.1 billion Euros.
According to ECHA, the wide range of the cost estimate is due to unresolved questions about how to manage the impact of preexisting artificial turf sports fields, the single largest source of microplastics pollution in the EU (16,000 tonnes annually, out of a total of 42,000). Given the widespread use of microplastics in products ranging from cosmetics to car tires, it may seem surprising that just one source could contribute nearly 40% of the pollution total. However, this starts to become very plausible when one considers the size of a football field, and how it is used: roughly, frequently, and outdoors.

Here on Martha’s Vineyard, a proposal to build an artificial turf field at the High School is currently under review by the MV Commission. Along with many other organizations and individuals, VCS has submitted testimony in opposition, citing among other concerns the impact of microplastics on our environment. The connection to today’s EU news is noteworthy, but we must add that the similarity is in kind, not in degree. It is largely the cushioning pellets of the turf (aka “infill”), made of recycled car tires (aka “crumb rubber”), that is driving the total weight of microplastics described in the ECHA report.
Here however, the artificial turf field proposed for the High School no longer calls for crumb rubber (which, in addition to containing microplastics, is a known carcinogen), following strong public opposition (again, including but not limited to VCS testimony). As currently proposed, the primary contribution of microplastic pollution from the field would now be the gradual breakdown of the plastic grass “blades” themselves, due to regular wear and environmental degradation. (The plastic carpet wears sufficiently quickly as to require complete replacement every 8 – 12 years.) This is certainly an important, and likely large, reduction from the amount of pollution that is caused by the regular loss of crumb rubber pellets to the environment. However reduced the impact, though, it remains unacceptable in light of the Island community’s clearly expressed desire to limit plastic pollution, and efforts so far to effect that change.

Toxic Tires: The Mystery of the Coho Killer

“First they circle. Then they gasp at the surface of the water. Soon they can’t swim. Then they die.”
That morbid lead kicked off a big story in last week’s Seattle Times environment section. For decades, Coho salmon have been dying in large numbers when they return to the urban waters near Seattle – with no clear explanation. Scientists initially (and correctly) suspected road runoff following rainfall was to blame, but experiments revealed that none of the known toxic chemicals commonly found in runoff were causing the extreme fish kills. In 2018, a team from area universities discovered the source was the breakdown of car tires – narrowing the search to a mere 2,000 chemical suspects. Finally, as described in a paper published last week in Science, the culprit was identified: 6PPD-quinone, created when the tire preservative 6PPD naturally reacts with ozone in the environment.

Click over to the Seattle Times to read the story (also see this for the chemistry) which is truly a tale of scientific perseverance, and, with some cooperation from government and industry, could be the beginning of a solution to the troubling salmon kills. However, when it comes to environmental toxicity, it is also a good illustration of the limitations of science to provide clear answers to the questions most important to policy in a timely fashion. Consider that:
  • 6PPD is apparently used in all currently available car tires, so there’s no option here for consumer action, i.e. appealing to people to buy “salmon safe” tires. Industry must make the change, and for that to happen government may need to act.
  • 6PPD serves an important purpose in extending the lifespan of tires. Simply removing it would result in the use and disposal of more tires, yet another environmental harm.
  • Newly developed replacements for chemicals shown to be toxic may be themselves toxic, and industry claims touting their safety should be viewed skeptically (see this previous Almanac story on PFOS, PFOA, and the ongoing effort to develop a non-toxic PFAS)
  • Road runoff contains a variety of other chemicals – e.g. heavy metals and petroleum breakdown products –  known to be toxic to fish. But when the researchers experimentally tested those known suspects, none of them caused the extreme mortality events in this one salmon species. Likewise, follow-up experiments with 6PPD-quinone on other salmon species demonstrated that they are much less sensitive to the Coho killer.
Obviously, when it comes to toxicity, there is a huge gray area between mostly harmless and acute mortality of 40-90%. Let’s call this space, “probably harmful to some individuals in a serious but not immediately fatal way.” How does policy respond to this situation, which is, unfortunately, the most common state of affairs? It’s a challenge with no easy solution.
Photo: Coho salmon, credit Bureau of Land Management
Hiking with the Good Soles 
     Friends connecting with history and nature

Finally, if you missed it over Thanksgiving, the short story by Naina Lassiter Williams for the Vineyard Gazette is a must-read. Dubbing themselves “The Good Soles,” a continually shifting assemblage of friends has been exploring the Island’s abundant walking trails through weekly hiking gatherings. It’s a wonderful story of friendship, and coincidentally the perfect expression of the spirit we hope to evoke through the “love it. protect it. MV” project. Thank you, Naina!
As noted in the story, The Good Soles have been gradually working their way through William Flender’s comprehensive Walking Trails of M.V., which is available for purchase at many Island retailers for $15, or at the VCS website for $20.

Photo: Sheriff's Meadow's Cedar Tree Neck Sanctuary, site of the first Good Soles hike

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