New study finds microplastics in fruits and vegetables

June 29, 2020 by  
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A recent study published in the journal Environmental Research has revealed that microplastics are absorbed in the fruits and vegetables we consume. According to the study, scientists have discovered that some of the most commonly consumed produce, including apples, carrots, pineapples, kale and cabbage, may be contaminated with high levels of plastic. The study found that apples and carrots are among the most contaminated fruits and vegetables. This new revelation is a cause for concern, considering that these are vital parts of the food chain. Doctors often recommend eating plenty of fruits and vegetables to boost the body’s immune system. However, the abundance of microplastics in such foods could erode their benefits and lead to more health complications. Related: One plastic teabag can release billions of microplastics into your cup The research publication highlighted the daily intake of plastic as being worrying for both children and adults. Although the amount of plastic consumed from fruits was found to be less compared to that in bottled water, there is still cause for concern. According to another study published in the journal Nature Sustainability , microplastics can be absorbed by the roots of lettuce. Once the microplastics are absorbed, they are transported to edible parts of the crops through the internal water and food transport systems. Several lobby groups are calling for more information about microplastics’ affect on the human body. According to Plastic Soup Foundation’s founder Maria Westerbos, the company has been raising concerns about the presence of microplastic in fish and other marine animals . The foundation is now concerned about the presence of plastic in produce and speculates that there could be microplastics in our meat products. “For years we have known about plastic in crustaceans and fish , but this is the first time we have known about plastic getting into vegetables,” Westerbos said. “If it is getting into vegetables, it is getting into everything that eats vegetables as well which means it is in our meat and dairy as well.” Studies are now underway to determine the effects of consuming too many microplastics per day in our bodies. + Environmental Research Images via Hans Braxmeier

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New study finds microplastics in fruits and vegetables

Plastic rain is contaminating protected habitats

June 24, 2020 by  
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The term “pristine” environment is no longer applicable even to the most remote locations on Earth. Recent research has established that plastic rain is now pouring in the most protected areas in the western U.S. The research, which was published in the journal Science , reveals that 11 protected areas in the western U.S. receive rain that is contaminated with plastic microparticles. Over a period of 14 months, the researchers collected rainwater samples across 11 areas that are known to have the most pristine environments. The rainwater in these protected areas was found to be highly contaminated with plastic particles. The researchers revealed that the 11 protected areas receive over 1,000 metric tons of microplastic each year. Related: Record high amount of microplastic found on seafloors Research director and environmental scientist Janice Brahney of Utah University said, “We just did that for the area of protected areas in the West, which is only 6 percent of the total U.S. area.” Brahney’s comments indicate that plastic rain might be a much bigger problem in areas that are not protected. This research confirms a situation that is already spreading around the world. In recent years, several studies have found increasing amounts of microplastics in rainwater, especially in protected habitats, like the French Pyrenees and the Arctic . When microplastics mix with rain, they freely flow into rivers and oceans. Consequently, they affect the natural environment and the lifespan of many species. Scientists are now saying that plastic rain is a much more complex problem than acid rain. In the past few decades, the increase in the amount of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide in the atmosphere resulted in acid rain in many parts of the world. Thankfully, efforts to control the emission of these gases have reduced acid rain significantly. Unfortunately, the microplastic problem is not one that can be solved overnight. We do not have a proper mechanism to trap the microplastics in the atmosphere. Even stopping the production of plastic today will only be half of the solution. To worsen the situation, the world still produces and uses plastics in large amounts. A Consultancy McKinsey publication reports that plastic waste is expected to rise from 260 million tons in 2020 to about 460 million tons in 2030. Although the research on plastic rain was only conducted in a handful of locations, it shows the gravity of the situation. If action is not taken to control the production and use of plastics, we are looking at a future where both water and air will be full of microplastics. + Science Via Wired Image via Dennis Kleine

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Research facility minimizes its carbon footprint to attract international talent

June 16, 2020 by  
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Spain’s coastal city of Badalona has recently welcomed the Centre for Comparative Medicine and Bio-Image, a new research facility designed to meet high standards of energy efficiency and sustainability. Pilar Calderon and Marc Folch of Barcelona-based architecture firm Calderon-Folch Studio teamed up with Pol Sarsanedas and landscape designer Lluís Corbella to create a site-specific building that would offer the highest levels of comfort as a means to attract and retain both local and international talent. Embedded into the landscape, the compact facility was constructed with a prefabricated wooden framework and clad in larch to blend in with the nearby forest. Because the Centre for Comparative Medicine and Bio-Image is located on sloped terrain, the architects placed the portion of the building containing the research floors partly underground to take advantage of thermal mass for stable climatic conditions year-round. Building into the landscape has also allowed the architects to create two access levels: one used as a general entrance for the administrative area, and the other for logistic purposes for the scientific-technical area. The separation of areas by levels optimizes building operations and adheres to the strict requirements of biological containment. Related: Green-roofed Honey Bee Research Centre targets LEED Gold “The new Centre for Comparative Medicine and Bio-Image holds a research center of the first order,” the designers explained in a project statement. “A research facility based on ethical research criteria, technical and functional complexity, and comfort features that have been resolved in an efficient and sustainable way that strongly considers its relationship with the environment.” Natural materials, large glazed openings and naturalized exterior spaces visually tie the research facility to the environment. Eco-friendly considerations were also taken with the use of a modular , lightweight wooden framework with loose-fill cellulose and structural insulated panels that minimize material waste. Moreover, the building follows passive solar principles. The research facility is equipped with high-performance energy and air-flow recycling technologies as well as a 250-square-meter rainwater collection tank for sanitary and irrigation purposes. + Calderon-Folch Studio Photography by José Hevia via Calderon-Folch Studio

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Can companies rely on regenerative agriculture’s carbon removal impact?

May 29, 2020 by  
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Can companies rely on regenerative agriculture’s carbon removal impact? Jim Giles Fri, 05/29/2020 – 01:30 Amid the recent headline-grabbing investments in food ventures, one event went largely unnoticed: FedEx’s involvement in a $200 million raise by Indigo Ag, a company that provides services and data to farmers. Why would a delivery behemoth invest in an outfit that sells seeds? The answer lies in agricultural soils. FedEx wants to offset its carbon footprint, and Indigo knows farmers who can help. Under the deal, Indigo will use FedEx’s money to pay farmers to implement regenerative methods , such as cover crops. These methods will store carbon in soils, earning FedEx carbon offsets. A major corporation is helping farmers earn much-needed revenue by drawing down carbon and increasing soil fertility. It’s likely that other companies will follow. If enough do, we could store hundreds of millions of tons of carbon dioxide in farmland soils. This is welcome news, right? Well, it’s complicated. A few weeks back, I noted that our understanding of how carbon is stored in soil is far from complete . Since then, two new analyses have raised further questions about soil-based offsets. One comes from the World Resources Institute. Ag specialists there are concerned about “additionality,” an issue that has long plagued carbon markets. Soil carbon sequestration markets will grow but are unlikely carbon emissions saviors. Take the case of a farmer spreading manure to build soil carbon. “Because there is a limited supply of manure in the world,” the WRI team noted , “using it in one place almost always means taking it from elsewhere, so no additional carbon is added to the world’s soils overall.” Analysts at Lux Research studied regenerative ag recently and also reached skeptical conclusions . They questioned whether farmers will be able to store as much carbon per acre as some published claims, for instance. “Soil carbon sequestration markets will grow but are unlikely carbon emissions saviors,” the Lux team wrote. These issues are real but not deal-breakers, reply advocates of regenerative ag. What we need, they say, is a transparent and rigorous system that tracks the data we care about, including the duration of carbon storage and the origin of inputs used by farmers. We can then use that system to reward only the farmers that capture additional carbon and store it for the long term. I tend to agree with these advocates, but the debate reminds me of arguments about another kind of offset, and I wonder if there is a cautionary tale here. Forests have huge sequestration potential and are a big part of carbon markets, but for a time forestry offsets were dogged by questions of reliability. Even now, when auditing is much improved and large companies are working to plant a trillion trees , I still encounter skepticism. Lack of transparency is part of the reason why. In the case of forests, at least in the early days, buyers couldn’t be sure that forestry projects in remote regions of the world delivered real carbon benefits. For regenerative ag, the risk is data. Even with rigorous protocols, we need to see soil science data. Lots of it, from multiple ecological regions and with verification by third parties. Because without transparency around soil science data, there’s a double risk: Bad offsets will get funded and the good offsets — the ones that really draw down carbon — will be tainted. This article was adapted from the GreenBiz Food Weekly newsletter. Sign up here  to receive your own free subscription. Pull Quote Soil carbon sequestration markets will grow but are unlikely carbon emissions saviors. Topics Carbon Removal Food & Agriculture Carbon Removal Offsets Featured Column Foodstuff Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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Can companies rely on regenerative agriculture’s carbon removal impact?

Biofueling the Future

May 26, 2020 by  
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The field of energy development has been constantly expanding, improving … The post Biofueling the Future appeared first on Earth911.com.

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US renewables hit milestone in surpassing coal output

May 21, 2020 by  
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The  COVID-19  pandemic has disrupted nationwide  energy  supply-and-demand patterns. Stay-at-home social distancing measures have altered U.S. electricity consumption. Bulk electricity usage by commercial businesses and industrial manufacturing has given way to increased household electricity consumption as the general population isolates at home. In turn, this economic slowdown has shifted electricity generation to rely more on the renewable energy sector. Both the  US Energy Information Administration (EIA)  and the  Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysts (IEEFA)  have revealed that, from March 25th through May 3rd, utility-scale solar, wind and hydropower collectively generated more electricity than coal! This record 40-day timespan has edged over 2019’s run of 38 days when U.S.  renewables  first beat coal last year. Last year marked the first time renewables outpaced coal-fired electricity generation. This led to  IEEFA forecasts  of renewables eclipsing coal by 2021. Unexpectedly, this year’s COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated  renewable energy ‘s first-quarter performance in producing electricity. Hence,  EIA forecasts  expect electric power generated by coal “will fall by 25% in 2020.” Related:  COVID-19 and its effects on the environment Interestingly,  Forbes  notes that “The electric power sector consistently sees its lowest  coal  demand in April,” owing to seasonal temperature adjustments when winter transitions into springtime. Because of the change in season,  natural gas  and coal generators often “schedule routine maintenance for the spring…and many coal plants spen[d] part of April offline for planned, temporary outages.” This illustrates why wind generation is typically relied upon most in springtime. As for  hydropower , snowmelt often feeds rivers, thus accounting for increased electricity generation downstream each spring as well, Forbes explains. Last year’s forecasts showed trends at play within the energy industry. Not only have upgrades expanded  solar , wind and hydro infrastructure capacities, but coal plant closures have likewise been commonplace, hinting at the changing energy landscape. Several factors have quickened the demise of coal reliance. As the  EIA  has shared, both investor-owned and publicly-owned municipal electric utilities began decommissioning coal-fired power plants a decade ago at the behest of local and state government public utilities commissions. Secondly, costs to construct  wind farms  have slid over 40%, whereas solar costs have sunk by over 80%, making both more appealing. Naturally, the decline of coal-fired power plants has positive implications for the environment and  climate , since coal produces excess  greenhouse gas emissions .  But another concern is alleviated, too. Back in 2008, a joint Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy (CIDRAP) and University of Minnesota  research report  raised alarms on critical infrastructure planning. This report warned that pandemics could adversely affect coal supply chains and thereby prompt shortages in generating electricity to the Midwest, a region that relied on coal for 75% of its power generation, as opposed to only 5% on the West Coast. Transitioning away from coal-generated electricity these past 12 years following this report has mitigated the risk of wide swathes of Middle America losing electricity during the 2020 pandemic. + US Energy Information Administration (EIA) + Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysts (IEEFA) Images via Pexels

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The robotic, hybrid-electric future of agriculture

May 12, 2020 by  
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The robotic, hybrid-electric future of agriculture Shane Downing Tue, 05/12/2020 – 00:15 While many around the world, ordered indoors amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, are coming up with innovative ways to plant small victory gardens in, around and on top of their homes, plenty of change is afoot in big ag — much of it driven by new technologies. A recent IDTechEx webcast, “Electric Vehicles and Robotics in Agriculture: $50 Billion Market Soon,” provided a brief overview of a 215-page report , “Electric Vehicles and Robotics in Agriculture 2020-2030,” that the research firm published in February. According to IDTEchEx Chairman Peter Harrop, agriculture’s forthcoming shift to both electrification and robotics is a result of three overarching trends: looming labor shortages; the need for precision farming; and advancements in automation. First, Harrop talked about how labor shortages in places such as the United Kingdom and Japan will require robots to be used to keep up with production demands. “The United Kingdom is seriously moving into more labor shortages and more pressure for automation because of leaving the European Union,” he said. “[That makes] it much easier for high-skilled people to move to Britain and almost impossible for low-skilled people to move to Britain.” Harrop compared that to what’s going on in Japan, where the average age of a farmer is about 70 years old. Young people’s “refusal” to live and farm in rural communities is a “serious problem,” Harrop said, but it’s not unique to Japan. Across the world, farmers are aging. Rather than following in their footsteps to the fields, younger generations are instead choosing to flock to cities. Giants of the agricultural [industry], such as John Deere, are saying that electric power gives far better controllability and opportunities for automation and precision seeding and other things like that. To help address the void being created by demographic trends, Harrop highlighted a number of enabling technologies that will help the agriculture industry continue to feed a growing world population, despite a lack of willing or available human workers. Those technology advancements pertain to powertrains, vectored traction, battery systems, supercapacitors, power electronics, solar body work and transportable zero-emission microgrids. However, one technology looms above the rest: electrification. “Giants of the agricultural [industry], such as John Deere, are saying that electric power gives far better controllability and opportunities for automation and precision seeding and other things like that,” Harrop said. “[Those technologies are] not going to be possible without the precision of electric vehicles.” Whereas the IDTechEx report includes and analyzes dozens of cutting-edge technologies, prototypes and farm vehicles, Harrop touched on these companies during the webcast: Small Robot Company : The England-based technology company is developing three farmbots — Tom, Dick and Harry — that autonomously will plant, feed and weed arable crops. More so, they’ll be controlled and directed by Wilma, the artificial intelligent (AI) “brain” behind the operation that’s capable of recording exact locations of each plant. Kubota : The Japanese company unveiled its so-called “dream tractor” in January. Although it isn’t for sale yet, the fully autonomous X Tractor prototype has four tread-covered wheels individually equipped with in-wheel motors, giving the tractor both an acute turning radius and the ability to travel over various terrains, including rice paddies. eWind : Based in Oregon, eWind has developed an airborne wind energy system (AWES) called Tethered Energy Device (TED). According to the company, TED will produce enough energy to power an entire farming operation (or roughly five American homes) on a device small enough to fit in the back of a pickup truck. The technology is still in the testing stages; however, Harrop said that it’s “a company that’s specializing in the needs of farmers.” (Image: Kubota’s “dream tractor” prototype) Harrop says that smaller electric farm vehicles, including pure electric and plug-in hybrid options, will enter mainstream markets before larger vehicles, because smaller pieces of equipment can more easily achieve parity with existing diesel options. In places such as California that have stricter limitations on diesel emissions, however, electric farm vehicles might replace diesel-burning equipment regardless of price points in order to stay compliant with local environmental and health regulations. Whereas many enabling technologies and agtech vehicles that Harrop covered in his webcast will be put into practice within the next decade, he stressed that the industry’s all-electric, fully automated robotic future remains decades away. Although he said that agtech’s leap to automation will be easier than the commercial car industry’s leap to automation, for example, he said it will still be “very expensive.” “But later,” he continued, “it’s going to come down in price. It really is not going to be widely possible to do full automation, full robotics, until about 2030.” Pull Quote Giants of the agricultural [industry], such as John Deere, are saying that electric power gives far better controllability and opportunities for automation and precision seeding and other things like that. Topics Transportation & Mobility Food & Agriculture Electric Vehicles Robotics Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Small Robot Company is developing three farmbots — Tom, Dick and Harry — that will autonomously plant, feed and weed arable crops. Close Authorship

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The many ways fungi are saving our planet

April 10, 2020 by  
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Fungi are living organisms that support the ecosystem of the entire planet. Most people associate mushrooms with fungi, but in reality, mushrooms merely make up the ‘flower’ portion of some species of fungi. Up to 90% of the fungi associated with the mushroom is underground as part of a web called mycelium . Scientists are continually discovering ways fungi enhance the circle of life. The mushroom and mycelium components of fungi are currently a hot topic in the research world, because there are already over 100,000 identified varieties with thousands more being discovered annually. Together, these fungi species are unlocking solutions for cleaning up the environment, developing greener construction and product materials and contributing significant medicinal benefits. What are fungi? Fungi are basically the digestive tract of the planet. As a carbon-based substance, fungi work in conjunction with all living or decaying things. Whether that is a tree that has fallen in the woods or an animal that dies along the side of the road, mycelium works below-ground to facilitate decomposition. Mycelium is a massive filter that removes toxins from the soil , improving water quality as a result. Related: How fungi made Earth’s atmosphere livable This network also cycles nutrients from one location to another, essentially transporting food and water from one plant to another. It’s also believed they send messages throughout the forest that support the success of other fungi as well as overall plant life. In scientific papers reviewed as recently as two months ago, evidence has come to light indicating fungal fossils may date back at least 715 to 810 million years and possibly even over one billion years ago. Whether that can be proven or not, most scientists accept that fungi have survived on the planet since at least 400 million years ago. Further, researchers give credit to fungi for their critical role in facilitating the continued existence of the planet. Fungi and climate change In addition to supporting the entire plant kingdom, fungi are recognized as a promising weapon in the fight against climate change . While some of these discoveries happen in a lab, others are happening in nature as we go about our daily lives. As outlined in a new documentary, Fantastic Fungi , fungi are indiscriminate in their consumption of organic material. As an example of this cycle, fungi can break down carbon-based diesel oil, growing mushrooms in its wake. Then birds, bees and bugs feed, spread seeds and pollinate as a result, supporting more than just the surrounding area. In fact, many scientists believe mushrooms might be one solution to ending the crisis bees are facing, because mushrooms’ antiviral characteristics may offer protection from damaging chemicals in other plants. Fungi can likely clean up other aspects of the environment, too. According to the State of the World’s Fungi 2018 report , the mushroom Aspergillus tubingensis has the ability to grow directly on the surface of plastic and has properties that actually deteriorate the material. Yes, apparently some mushrooms can eat plastic . Even more amazing is the discovery that fungi were found consuming radiation off the walls of the abandoned Chernobyl plant. In fact, three species were found to be absorbing the radiation and turning it into energy for growth. In essence, they were feeding off radiation. Mushroom waste becomes biofuel Natural waste from mushroom production can also be converted into biofuel . According to research published in Science Advances , the research team revealed that a naturally occurring bacterium called Thermoanaerobacterium thermosaccharolyticum (TG57), isolated from waste generated after harvesting mushrooms, is capable of directly converting cellulose (a plant-based material) to biobutanol, leading to a much cleaner way to produce biofuel and reduce emissions from fossil fuels. Products made from fungi Product manufacturers are also looking toward fungi in material development due to properties that allow them to naturally decompose at the end of their life cycle. Fungi are being used as a substitute for environmental nemesis polystyrene foam , animal leather and chemical-laden building materials. One company, Coeio, has even created a mushroom-infused burial suit, explaining that a human body will break down faster and give back to the Earth sooner while the fungal properties filter out any toxic chemicals the body has acquired while living. Fungi for health Fungi are also in the spotlight for exciting medical advancements, such as treating anxiety and depression with psilocybin . Fungi could also help fight against cognitive decline, according to a recent study . Plus, fungi are already part of our everyday life in ways you may not even recognize. In addition to the mushrooms on your pizza , fungi are important for fermentation, which creates alcohol, leavened bread and much more. The list of possible ways fungi are saving our planet is nearly as long as the list of species themselves. With an increasing interest in research, the possibilities for finding innovative ways to use fungi in the future are exciting and promising. Images via Pixabay

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Sustainable agriculture cleans up rivers in Cuba

February 7, 2020 by  
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New scientific findings reveal that Cuba’s rivers are in better health than the Mississippi River. The research was a joint effort between Cuba and the United States, marking the two countries’ first collaboration in more than 60 years. The work was part of a study on Cuba’s hydrology, focusing on the water quality of the island’s rivers. Despite centuries of cattle and sugarcane farming, research results reveal there hasn’t been much damage to Cuba’s rivers thanks to the country’s other sustainable agriculture methods. Compared to the Mississippi River, Cuba’s 25 rivers surveyed showed lower nutrient concentration of phosphorus and nitrogen pollution. This is likely attributed to Cuba’s shift toward sustainable agriculture , particularly the country’s shunning of imported synthetic chemicals. Related: Dutch company collects plastic pollution from rivers to make parks and products “A lot of stories about the value of Cuba’s shift to conservation agriculture have been based on fuzzy, feel-good evidence,” explained geologist and researcher Paul Bierman. “This study provides hard data that a crucial part of this story is true.” By contrast, the U.S. has more widespread dependence on chemical fertilizers . Hence, dead zones occur where the Mississippi River mouth opens into the Gulf of Mexico, adversely affecting the region’s marine ecosystems with dangerous bacterial and algal blooms caused by elevated nitrogen levels. Another interesting finding is that even though more than 80% of the Cuban river samples had E. coli bacteria, the source was found to be from fecal material by cattle and horses grazing along the riverbanks. The research team believes that this is partly attributed to “Cuba’s intensive use of horses and other draft animals for transportation and farm work.” The researchers concluded that the island country has been committed to promoting more sustainable agriculture to improve both its soil and water. The efforts have led to promising results. The American team was comprised of University of Vermont geologist Paul Bierman and Oberlin College geoscientist Amanda Schmidt. The Cuban team was led by Rita Hernández, representing the Cienfuegos Center for Environmental Studies, an ecological research group. Their joint research, supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation, was recently published in the GSA Today journal of the Geological Society of America. “This research can help the people of Cuba,” Hernández said, “and may give a good example to other people in the Caribbean and all over the world.” + The Geological Society of America Via Phys.org Image via Wikimedia Commons

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New app could save Puget Sound whales from boat strikes

October 4, 2019 by  
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Boat strikes are a major cause of injury and death for whales. This week, Washington State Ferries implemented a whale report alert system ( WRAS ) app that notifies ferry captains of the whereabouts of orcas and other cetaceans in Puget Sound to help prevent collisions. The app, created by Ocean Wise Research in Vancouver , British Columbia, is only for use by commercial maritime operations, including ships, ferries and tugboats. But the app relies on members of the public reporting real-time whale sightings. Once a trusted observer spots a whale, dolphin or porpoise, they submit the siting to the app. The siting is verified, then the app alerts commercial mariners on the water within 10 miles of the siting. Staff at the ops center can also receive an alert and communicate it to nearby vessels. Related: 14 apps to help you live a more sustainable lifestyle Armed with this information, ferry captains will be able to make better decisions about their courses and speed to avoid collisions with marine animals. Mariners can leave feedback in the app, reporting any mitigation actions they took. “Because we operate our 22 ferries on Puget Sound and manage 20 terminals on its shores, we have an obligation to ensure WSF is doing everything we can to protect our environment, including marine life,” said Amy Scarton, assistant secretary for Washington State Ferries . WSF is the country’s largest ferry system, transporting nearly 25 million passengers every year. The ferries run between Anacortes, the San Juan Islands, Port Townsend and other Washington towns. According to NOAA Fisheries , blue, fin, humpback and gray whales are the West Coast’s whale species that are most vulnerable to ship strikes, because shipping traffic is heavy between Los Angeles /Long Beach and Seattle. Whales migrate along the West Coast and often use the coastal area for feeding. In May, a juvenile humpback whale breached three minutes into a ferry run from Seattle to Bainbridge Island. The ferry struck — and presumably killed — the whale. Developers of the WRAS app hope that the alert system can help avoid similar tragedies in the future. + Washington State Ferries Image via C. Emmons / NOAA Fisheries / Oregon State University

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