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Bio Watch.

Seals of approval Southampton College seal surveyors estimate that over 6,000 seats live in the waters of New York's Long Island, the highest local total in two decades. The survey covered Long Island Sound, the island's eastern bays, Peconic Estuary, and the waterways from Montauk to New York City. Nearly 2,000 seals were seen on a single day on Great Gull Island. The survey established Long Island as one of the largest seal haulout sites on the US East Coast.

Duck! North American waterways are swimming with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, including some -- Escherichia coli and Salmonella among them -- that sicken people, according to new studies in waters from the upper Mississippi to the Rio Grande.

Ronald J. Ash of Kansas' Washburn University found ampicillin-resistant germs in the Ohio, Colorado, and 13 other rivers. (None of the microbes were human pathogens, but these bacteria can easily swap genes for resistance to antibiotics with other species of bacteria.) Keith Sternes of Texas' Sul Ross State University found vancomycin-resistant enterococci in the Rio Grande, in widespread but unpredictable sites from its headwaters to Presidio, Texas. Vancomycin is a last-resort antibiotic used against infections that resist penicillin-family drugs. John Bennett of Iowa's Clarke College found tetracycline resistance in stream bacteria in rural Dubuque County. And Monica L. Tischler of Illinois' Benedictine University isolated 179 types of bacteria, many of them showing strong resistance to streptomycin, erythromycin, vancomycin, tetracycline, and penicillin drugs, in the feces of geese living year-round in the suburbs of Chicago. Feeding antibiotics to livestock is the usual suspect in antibiotic resistance, which reduces the usefulness of sometimes-lifesaving drugs in emergencies.

Blasted ballast Invasive organisms imported in ballast water, like the Chinese mitten crab in San Francisco Bay and the zebra mussel in the Great lakes, are attracting the attention of regulators, which in turn has alarmed commerce mavens. The Journal of Commerce repeated an estimate that 21 billion gallons a year -- 2 million gallons an hour -- of foreign ballast water is pumped into US waters. An Invasive Species Council newly established by the US government and headed by the Secretary of the Interior has been ordered to produce an invasive species management plan by October 2000; California state and environmental organizations have asked the EPA to regulate ballast as a pollutant, and the state legislature is considering a legistative ban on all ballast discharge by 2003. The prospect of liability for environmental damage understandably scares some merchants.

Bee gone Werner Muehlen of the Westphalia-Lippe Agricultural Office in Germany blames fastidious farmers and gardeners for the steep decline of bee populations in Central Europe. He asked that "at least a strip of weeds and wildflowers" be left as bee refuges around overgroomed fields and gardens.

Frog gone Researchers from the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve in Costa Rica and the University of Miami in the US believe that atmospheric warming is probably responsible for the extinction of the golden toad and the disappearance of 20 species of frogs and toads from the Costa Rican highland forests. Alan Pounds, Michael P.I. Fogden, and John H. Campbell said in Nature that changes in bird, reptile, and amphibian communities correlate with a "dramatic" decline in the frequency of dry-season mist in the forests since the `70s, which in turn correlates with warmer ocean temperatures recorded in the Pacific.

Catch, count, and release The seventh annual Great American Fish Count took place July 1 through 14 in six marine sanctuaries off California, Florida, Texas, Washington, Georgia, North Carolina, Oregon, and British Columbia, with "outreach surveys" off Belize. Volunteer divers and snorkelers received identification training, and have been encouraged to keep counting throughout the year. The information is useful to researchers and policymakers, as fish populations are "barometers of environmental pressures," said Ted Danson, president of the American Oceans Campaign. For more info, see <www.fishcount, org> or phone (800) "8-ocean-0."

Poison gonads Researchers from the University of Tokyo and the Japanese National Institute for the Environment have found dioxin in human ovaries. The toxin had already been discovered in human blood and breast milk, but this is the first time dioxin has been recorded in human reproductive organs. Quantities were minute -- an average of 0.011 picograms per sample of secretions -- but effects of dioxin in animal experiments have included miscarriage and deformities. Other interesting Japanese findings include suspected environmental estrogen mimics bisphenol-A and nonylphenol in human umbilical cords.

Prostate-preserving plant imperiled An African tree, Prunus africana, faces extinction due to demand for a medicinal extract produced from its bark. The tree is used by pharmaceutical companies to make a drug used in treating prostate problems.

The tree once grew from Ethiopia to South Africa and from the west coast to the island of Madagascar. All that remains are a few wild populations, mainly in Kenya, Uganda and the Congo. In Cameroon and Madagascar, the tree is nearly extinct.

The bark brings as much as $30 per pound, but the aging of the West's population has led pharmaceutical companies to speculate that the market -- and the price -- may skyrocket. A few years ago, Prunus africana was appended to the Appendix II list of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which allows only licensed trade of products from the tree.

No ozone in Canal Zone Panamanian scientists report the ozone layer over their Central American country is thinning, the first such report from the New World tropics.

Researchers at the University of Panama's Faculty of Exact Sciences and a meteorologist from the Canal Administration Commission found higher-than-usual levels of ultraviolet radiation on 43 days from December 1998 through April 1999. Thinning of the ozone layer may promote skin cancer, cataracts, and immune system damage.

Mickey/Minnie Kesterson Wildlife Refuge in California's Central Valley, made notorious in 1985 by a plague of deformities among resident birds, is back in the news. Wildlife censusers have found a puzzling rash of hermaphroditic rodents in the refuge. A third of the mice and votes trapped during the US Bureau of Reclamation's annual biological monitoring study at the Merced County refuge had both apparent male and female genitalia. The earlier deformities in birds were linked to selenium poisoning caused by the refuge's use as a sump for agricultural runoff. Agricultural wastewater no longer flows into Kesterson, and selenium levels have dropped, so researchers are a bit perplexed as to the cause of the rodential gender confusion. But, as Gary Santolo of the Sacramento consulting firm of C2HMHill, who headed the Kesterson field study, told the San Francisco Examiner, "If the intersex abnormality was seen across four species, it is unlikely that it is the result of a genetic mutation, and it is probably the result of environmental influences."

Tiagra? Japan still allows the sate of tiger parts and products which are deemed "not readily recognizable." Tiger bones, penises and other parts are readily available for open purchase in every city in Japan. This trade in tiger parts is the number one reason for the poachers of Asia continuing the slaughter of the few remaining wild tigers.

Trade in tiger products is banned under CITES, to which Japan has been a signatory since 1980. Despite this and recent CITES resolutions requesting all parties to protect tigers and prohibit domestic trade in tiger parts, Japan has refused to ban the internal sale of tiger products which are not "readily recognizable." Tiger bones, penises and other parts are deemed "not recognizable."

The Environmental Investigation Agency visited 26 traditional Chinese pharmacies in Tokyo and Yokohama in late 1998, and found that 54 percent of them -- including a department store in the center of Tokyo -- were selling products that contained, or claimed to contain, tiger. Three "viritity product shops" were also visited. All were setting products labeled as containing tiger parts. A catalog offered powdered tiger penis. EIA investigators also found bear gall bladder, rhino horn, snake, lizard, a monkey head and hand, deer antler, sea horse, seat penis, wolf penis, turtles, insects, and a whale fetus in the course of their survey in Japan. TRAFFIC investigators carried out a survey of 54 dispensaries and pharmacies, as welt as a telephone survey of restaurants and food stores, throughout Japan between October 1998 and January 1999. The Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) has documented 25 cases of tigers killed by poachers to date in 1999.

`Bye, land The BBC reports that two South Pacific islands have disappeared, as global climate change raises sea levels. The missing islands are Tebua Tarawa and Abanuea in the island state of Kiribati. Neither island was inhabited, though Tebua Tarawa was used by fishermen.

Meanwhile, most of the coastline of the 29 atolls of the Marshall Islands is suffering erosion. The beaches of a third of the 200 inhabited islands of the Maldives are being swept away. Other islands have suffered severe flooding due to storms and high tides, and livelihoods are being damaged as salt poisons the soil. The Sunday Independent (London) points out that to build a temporary sea wall for one Marshall Island atoll would cost $100 million, more than twice what the country produces annually. Conservative estimates hold that sea levels will rise by two or three feet over the next century.

Weeds in hot water Carrboro, North Carolina, is killing weeds with steam instead of toxic chemicals. The town is using a machine that superheats water and dispenses it in a carefully controlled stream to kill weeds without using chemical herbicides. The equipment, which is made in New Zealand, is in use in several other countries. Carrboro is testing the equipment to implement the town's least-toxic Integrated Pest Management policy, adopted in March. The policy calls for phasing out use of conventional pesticides, including herbicides, on town property.

Meanwhile, more than 250 scientists from 24 countries met in Bozeman, Montana in July to discuss the state of the art of using natural enemies to curb invasive weeds.

"If a plant is not native to a particular country or region, it may not have natural insects and diseases to keep it in check. This can lead to widespread destruction of natural habitats, and introducing the weeds' natural enemies is often the only feasible long-term approach," said Ernest S. Delfosse, national program leader for weed science at USDA's Agricultural Research Service in Beltsville, Maryland.

At the tenth International Symposium on Biological Control of Weeds, held July 4-9 at Montana State University, Delfosse led a discussion of safety issues regarding introduction of natural enemies. Occasionally, a deliberate introduction meant to keep an invasive exotic in check can cause problems of its own.

"Safety has tong been the key issue for biological control ecologists, and a Lot of work has gone into improving the systems used," says Delfosse. In the US, weed biological control agents are released only after years of safety testing and a strict regulatory process. ARS has implemented additional precautions including long-term monitoring of the weeds and nearby desirable species. Other presentations covered international successes in biological control, lessons learned from unsuccessful projects, and integrating techniques such as molecular biology. More information can be found at <>.

Big critters Escalating development in 20 Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming counties is threatening potential key grizzly bear habitat in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem, according to a new report by the Sierra Club Grizzly Bear Ecosystems Project. Much of this development is in critical bear habitat -- notably river corridors. Sprawl is bad news for the grizzly bear, which requires large blocks of unbroken wilderness to survive. At present there are fewer than 1,000 grizzly bears left in the Lower 48 states and the animal is Listed as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act.

Meanwhile, the Bow Valley wolf pack, near Jasper National Park in Banff, Canada, is facing extermination. The matriarch of the Bow Valley pack was struck by a train near Banff National Park in April. "The recent death of the pack's breeding female brings the pack one step closer to total collapse," said Carolyn Callaghan, co-director of the Central Rockies Wolf Project.

"The dead wolf's mate waited for her to return to the den for almost two weeks before leaving the area. Now there is nothing to tie him to the Bow Valley: no mate, and no pups to care for," said Callaghan. "This pack has not had a surviving pup since 1995." Wolf numbers in the Bow Valley have declined from twenty-five in 1991 to two at present. Highways and railways combined have been the cause of 81 percent of wolf deaths in the Bow Valley.
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Publication:Earth Island Journal
Geographic Code:00WOR
Date:Sep 22, 1999
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