Oceans, Rivers and Estuaries Anthology













Supporting our Watersheds


    From whale slaughter to industrial fishing, coral bleaching to pollution, our oceans are in crisis.  Throughout the seven seas, there are many industries committing crimes against nature, but no one is holding them accountable.  It’s time to shine a spotlight on their dirty little secrets, and expose the world to the destruction of an underwater realm few would otherwise see.

Antarctica and Southern Ocean Biodiversity

Greenpeace, August 26, 2003

    The ocean surrounding Antarctica is one of the last true marine wildernesses on the planet. The ice coverage in Antarctica makes up 90 percent of the world’s ice, with an average thickness of about 2,300 meters.  Approximately 95 percent of the landmass is covered by permanent ice or snow.  The landmass and surrounding waters provide essential nutrients to the rest of the world’s oceans, supporting ecosystems thousands of kilometers away from the South Pole.

    The Antarctic marine ecosystem is biologically rich and diverse.  Microscopic plankton are at the base of the food chain and are, in turn, eaten by vast shoals of small crustacea, such as shrimps (krill), and a wide range of fish.  Krill are food for penguins and other birds, seals and sea lions, and even for many of the great whales.

Fish of the Southern Ocean

    Of the 20,000 known species of fish in the world, only 120 live in the Southern Ocean. Throughout the past 40 million years they have adapted to the freezing conditions by developing a special ‘anti-freeze’ component in their body fluids. Antarctic fish are especially vulnerable to overfishing because most species take a long time to become sexually mature and are long-lived.

    The Patagonian toothfish is found on seamounts and continental shelves around most sub-Antarctic islands, and it lives in waters from 300 to 3500 meters deep.  Like many deep-sea species, little is known about the Patagonian toothfish.  The toothfish can grow to more than two meters long and live for 50 years, and it does not breed until it is at least 10 years old.

Birds of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean

    While the bird species from this region are highly adapted to a marine existence, they come ashore to breed and raise their young.  During the breeding season, millions of adelie (Pygoscelis adeliae) and emperor (Aptenodytes forster) penguins form noisy rookeries on beaches and sheltered inland sites.

Bird life includes a number of petrels – a diverse group of birds characterized by tube-like nostrils on the upper beak.  Giant petrels (Macronectes giganteus) are mainly carrion feeders, removing dead chicks from penguin rookeries, or feeding on casualties at seal nurseries.  Other species, such as the Antarctic petrel (Thalassoica antarctica) and Wilson’s storm petrel (Oceanites oceanicus) feed mainly on plankton, small fish and krill.

The largest bird species, the Wandering albatross (Diomedea exulans) has a wingspan up to 3.5 meters.  They spend much of the year aloft riding the ocean’s warm air currents, returning to land only to breed.  These great ocean wanderers fly thousand of kilometers in search of food.  Once they have left the nest, they spend between five and eight years at sea, feeding in key commercial fishing grounds. Of the world’s 24 albatross species, 20 live in the Southern Ocean and all 20 are under threat. Two species are critically endangered.  Since December 1997, 18 species of albatross have been listed on the Australian Endangered Species Protection Act.

    Longline fishing has driven the decline of the albatross.  Because albatross are long- lived creatures that mate for life and do not reach breeding age until they are at least ten years of age, populations are slow to recover.  Depending on the species, only one chick is produced every one to three years and is tended by both parents for at least nine months. Adult survival rates must be high to ensure chick survival and stable populations.  If one of the adults dies, it is more than likely that the chick will perish as well.

Marine Mammals

    The productive Antarctic marine environment also sustains a wide range of marine mammals – including seals and whales – at far greater levels than are found in the Arctic region.  The population of the crabeater seals (Lobodon carcinophagus) alone accounts for about half of the world’s seals, with an estimated population of 12 million.  Other fish-eating species include the Weddell seal, Ross seal (Ommatophoca rossii), Antarctic fur seal (Arctocephalus gazella) and the largest species of all, the southern elephant seal (Mirounga leonina), which can weigh up to 2,200 kilograms.  The predatory leopard seal (Hydrurga leptonyx) feeds on penguins and young seals, but may also eat fish and krill.

    The great whales, the monarchs of the southern oceans, are now formally protected from commercial whaling, but their numbers remain considerably depressed compared to years past.  Many of the largest species, including blue (Balaenoptera musculus), fin (B. physalus) and humpback (Megaptera novaengliae) whales, feed by filtering plankton from the surface waters using specialized horny plates (baleen) which hang from their upper jaws.  Other species, such as the sperm whale (Physeter catodon), feed primarily on squid while the much smaller killer whales (Orcinus orca) frequently prey on seals and penguins.


A River Doesn’t Run Through It

Greenpeace, October 18, 2005

    The Amazon is a global treasure, and is often called, “the lungs of the planet.”  It is home to the greatest variety of life on Earth.  For decades, deforestation has plagued the Amazon, and now global warming is delivering another lethal blow.  The Amazon is experiencing the worst drought in more than 40 years, and experts believe that global warming and massive deforestation are to blame.

    An average 5,800 square miles of the Amazon rainforest – the size of the state of Connecticut – is clearcut or burned every year, but a new satellite study has revealed the damage is far worse than once believed.  That’s because satellite imagery is able to reveal the impact of selective logging, where valuable trees such as mahogany are illegally harvested within otherwise pristine forest.  According to the study, selective logging has doubled the rate of deforestation within the Amazon.

    But this troubling discovery is not the only disturbing news for the Amazon.  The drought threatens the long-term survival of the rainforest.

    The Amazon River, the largest river in the Western hemisphere, is being reduced to a trickle in places, grinding the entire region to a halt.  The people of the Amazon rely on the river and its many tributaries for everything from food to transportation.  Massive fish kills now line what used to be river banks, and area residents are driving cars down dried river beds.

    The Amazon basin is home to more than 2,500 species of fish, more than the entire Atlantic Ocean.  Today, many of those fish are drying in river beds, the future of their species unknown.  Already, manatees and river dolphins have been killed, and the situation threatens to worsen.

    The rainforest, already devastated by last year’s heavy logging – the second highest on record – is now subjected to wildfires. The rains that ordinarily create this lush landscape have evaporated, and along with them, the chances of survival for this biological wonderland.  If the situation is prolonged, the forest may give way to savannah in a rapid change of the environment.

    According to Kert Davies, Greenpeace Research Director, “Adding insult to injury, the bare ground heats up in the tropical sun and creates more hot dry air, amplifying the drought.  Once a drought like this gets going, it’s hard to snap out of it, its roots grow deeper and deeper.”

    In a devastating cycle, if the rainforest turns to desert, the impacts of global warming will only intensify.  Rather than creating 20% of the world’s oxygen, the remnants of the forest would actually contribute to the release of carbon dioxide that is causing global warming.  In fact, billions of tons of carbon is stored in the Amazon, and if it is released into the atmosphere, it would cause more global warming pollution than all of the world’s industries combined.

    This year has seen terrible new evidence of global warming, from strengthened hurricanes to arctic melting.  The Amazon drought is only the latest disturbing impact in a growing trend.  What more will it take for Bush to recognize the signs and take action?

    A rainforest usually gets, well, a lot of rain. In the Amazon, more than 7 feet per year. But in a terrible twist of irony, the world’s greatest rainforest is suffering a severe drought.

Greenpeace Posts Signs in Calcasieu, Louisiana,

Estuary to Warn Community of Toxic Contamination

Greenpeace, June 29, 1999

    Lake Charles, LA, United States — Greenpeace posts permanent signs in the bayous of the Calcasieu Estuary warning residents not to fish or swim in the highly contaminated waters.

    The brightly colored, 6 foot by 4 foot signs-which read “WARNING! Louisiana, Global Toxic Hot Spot” urge concerned citizens to call Governor Foster at the governor’s mansion — were installed in an area where a sediment sample tested nearly 1,000 times above the average reading for dioxin in North American sediments.  One of the signs was placed near an area where PPG has, in the past, dumped 120,000 tons of dioxin-contaminated waste directly into the bayou.

    “PPG has dumped enough dioxin in the bayou to poison every woman, man and child in the U.S. 30 times over,” said Charles Cray, Greenpeace toxic campaigner.  “The signs we posted today are but a small contribution to the health and safety of the people of this area-a contribution, I might add, conspicuously not made by Governor Foster or the chemical manufacturers in this community that have known about the horrendous contamination for decades.  Sadly, our action today is not a remedy-the cure is in the hands of the wealthy and distant owners of PPG and the other chemical facilities.”

    The sign installation came one day after Greenpeace released its four page report Lake Charles:  A Global Dioxin Hot Spot at a press conference and Mossville community rally in front of Condea/Vista, one of the area’s worst polluters.  The report underscored the need to post signs to warn residents about the toxicity of their environment:  “The (U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry) collected blood samples from 28 residents of the community and analyzed them for dioxins, furans and co-planar PCBs.  ‘These limited studies support the conclusion that blood dioxin levels in residents in Mossville are elevated compared to other populations, and that the elevated levels are not due to age alone,’ the ATSDR reported.  ATSDR concluded, ‘it would be prudent public health policy to identify sources of dioxin exposure in Mossville residents and to implement actions to minimize further exposures.'”

    On Wednesday, Greenpeace wraps up its week-and-a half long “Toxic-Free Future” bus tour of some of the worst polluting facilities in Louisiana.  The tour was promoted and supported by several community groups which helped post public information signs reading “Pollution does not stop at this fence” on the front gates of the facilities visited.  The Greenpeace tour was designed to focus on Louisiana as a global toxic hotspot and to answer a call for support by concerned citizens in the state fighting to stop pollution in their communities. Louisiana is home to many toxics-emitting industries, including a number of vinyl plants. These plants generate contaminants, such as dioxin, that travel long distances by air currents and pollute the global environment.