Label: Oil Spills

December 8, 2011



Forty-nine penguins rescued from an oil spill off New Zealand have been nursed back to health and were released back into the ocean on Tuesday by wildlife rescuers and local schoolchildren.



Don’t you love this photograph of Little Blue Penguins running back into the ocean? 

They were fitted with microchips, so that researchers can track the progress of their recovery.

The birds released Tuesday are among 343 little blue penguins that have been cleaned of oil since a cargo ship ran aground on a reef off the coast of New Zealand on Oct. 5 and spilled some 400 tons of fuel oil. More than 2,000 sea birds died in the spill. Fortunately, marine life experts from New Zealand, Australia and the United States worked together to save the animals who returned happily to the sea this week.

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(1) Comments  •   Labels: science news, Penguins, Oil Spills, Marine Life   •  Permalink (link to this article)

January 4, 2011


Sea turtles are the last of our world’s ancient reptiles, and have been swimming the seas for more than 200 million years, since back when dinosaurs still roamed the earth. But in just the last few decades, hunting, coastal development, fishing and pollution have reduced their populations to dangerously low levels, to the point that sea turtles are now endangered. That is why many of us, including our young environmental reporter Alana G., were very worried about the fate of the sea turtles when the Deepwater Horizon oil spill happened in the Gulf last year.

The very good news is that the rescue efforts were quite successful. NOAA (the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration), the Gulf states, many nonprofit partners and the Gulf fishermen teamed up to rescue more than 400 sea turtles from oiled waters and take them to aquariums and other facilities for de-oiling and rehabilitation. Marine biologists even moved more than 25,000 sea turtle eggs to Florida’s Atlantic coast, so that the hatchlings would make their way from their sandy nests to clean water. More than 96 percent of the 400 sea turtles brought into rehabilitation have survived, and most of them have already been returned to the wild. This is great news!

Unfortunately, scientists also learned something disturbing from the Gulf oil spill. Most of the dead turtles that turned up on the beaches did not have oil on their bodies and necropsies (that is what you call the autopsy of an animal) showed that they were in good health prior to their death. It appears that the majority of these 600 turtles died from drowning, after being trapped in fishing gear.

So now a new effort begins, to make fishing equipment more "turtle proof" in the Gulf, where five of the world’s seven species of marine turtles live. In order to protect this species and get them off the endangered list, NOAA is considering establishing a rule requiring fishermen to use TEDs (Turtle Excluder Devices). These escape hatches allow sea turtles to swim out of the shrimp skimmers so they don’t drown. As NOAA and the states continue to assess the natural resources damaged by the spill, we are gaining a much clearer picture of what we need to do long-term to protect these glorious, ancient creatures. 

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(0) Comments  •   Labels: science news, Animals, Oceans, Oil Spills, Sea Turtles   •  Permalink (link to this article)

July 24, 2010

A reader named Mary Ludwick wrote today to introduce us to a fabulous resource for anyone interested in birds and birdwatching -

According to the information on the website, is a real-time, online checklist program… (that) has revolutionized the way that the birding community reports and accesses information about birds. Launched in 2002 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, eBird provides rich data sources for basic information on bird abundance and distribution at a variety of spatial and temporal scales.

Although it is designed specifically as a place for birdwatchers to report their sightings, this is also a rich source for educators and families to use with kids because it enables you to find out which birds to look for in which months of the year. If you combine this resource with the bird identification aids at, you will soon be seeing and identifying birds that you never even knew were residents of your neighborhood! Kids who are excited by birdwatching can report their observations and help build scientific knowledge about the bird population in their communities. Check out this story about eBird’s June "Birder of the Month," a young father who juggles home, work and time with his three-year-old son, and integrates all these activities with his passion for bird watching.

In the Gulf Coastal area, bird watchers are using the site to help NOAA track sightings of birds injured by the oil spill. They are building this body of information in order to help to steer beach protection and clean-up efforts to the sites with the greatest concentrations of birds and most important habitats. So many citizens wonder what they can do in the face of the massive environmental crisis - here is a valuable way to contribute if you live in that area of the country.

Thanks, Mary Ludwick, for building our bird knowledge on!




Posted by: Liz Nealon

(0) Comments  •   Labels: birds, Summer Vacation Science, Oil Spills   •  Permalink (link to this article)

June 16, 2010

OIL ON THE WATER: THE PHYSICS OF OIL SPILLS is a can’t miss interactive unit published by this week. Using data from NOAA (the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration), they have created a series of graphic illustrations which explain "the physical and chemical processes, collectively known as weathering, that change oil’s properties and behavior after it is spilled into the ocean."

This is truly a "must see" article if you really want to understand the why of what is happening, and the complexity of the ongoing containment and cleanup efforts.

Applause for and the producers/writers/researchers who put this together. It breaks a complex topic down into (tragically) simple, comprehensible pieces.

Posted by: Liz Nealon

(0) Comments  •   Labels: Oceans, Oil Spills   •  Permalink (link to this article)

June 14, 2010

We are very pleased to announce that we are going to have an Environmental Reporter on the Seymour Science blog this summer. Her name is Alana G, and she is a ten-year-old, soon-to-be fifth grader from Southern California. 

Readers of this blog are already familiar with Alana - I recently published her touching letter about her distress at the effect the Gulf Oil Spill is having on the region’s wildlife. In my response to her letter I urged her to become an environmental activist in her daily life by talking about it to your friends, reading about it in books and on the web, and remaining committed to the idea that it’s OUR planet and we need to protect it from being abused.

Powerful words to a born activist, which Alana clearly is. In the three days after  we wrote this letter and then asked her to consider reporting for my blog, Alana a) recruited a large group of kids from her school to form a group called KIDS TODAY FOR A BETTER TOMORROW, b) set up a Facebook page {with her mother's permission and guidance} to promote the activities of her group, and c) spontaneously went to her local city council meeting and spoke to them, asking for their support for her environmental group! She is not only a very good writer for a ten-year-old, she is clearly a powerful community organizer in the making.


In the next week or so we will have a first post from Alana, and she will tell you herself what she is planning to do over the summer. In the meantime, share her story with other young people in your own communities - maybe we can start a movement!

                                                                                            —- Seymour


Posted by: Seymour Simon

(2) Comments  •   Labels: Summer Vacation Science, Environment, Oil Spills   •  Permalink (link to this article)

June 5, 2010

The brown pelican has become the "poster bird" of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Disaster in the Gulf.  29 oil-covered pelicans were airlifted from Queen Bess Island to a bird rehabilitation center in Fort Jackson on Thursday. This rookery was designed as a protected home where pelicans could live and breed, but it’s now surrounded by oil-soaked booms.

The tragedy is that the brown pelican, once so common on the Louisiana coastline that they are on the Louisiana State flag, has been threatened once before. In fact, the long-billed birds nearly became extinct in the 1960s due to widespread use of pesticides like DDT. The ingestion of these pesticides caused the shells of pelican eggs to become paper thin, so brittle that the eggs cracked when the adult pelican sat on them. Fortunately, the use of these pesticides was banned nationwide in 1972, and a successful program to save the brown pelican from extinction was launched. The pelicans were reintroduced in three locations, including Queen Bess Island, off the Louisiana coast, and were living proof that a species brought to the edge of extinction could come back and thrive. Now their very survival is threatened once again.

 For readers who live in Louisiana and want to get involved in helping to save the wetlands and the wildlife, a good source to contact is the Barataria Terrebonne National Estatuary Program (BTNEP).  They are front line defenders of Louisiana’s precious wetlands from the potential impacts of the massive oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, and they are looking for volunteers.

 Photo Credit: Win McNamee / Getty Images


Posted by: Liz Nealon

(4) Comments  •   Labels: Environment, Oil Spills   •  Permalink (link to this article)

June 5, 2010

The NOAA  (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association) website is a good source for tracking the spill with your students. The site is full of valuable information, particularly satellite photos of the scene.

Still, explaining vast numbers and distances to kids can be difficult. The bigger the numbers, the less they mean. That’s why I often use analogies (e.g. if Earth is the size of a basketball then the Sun would be the size of an entire basketball court) to explain outsized concepts to kids.

There is a great source online to help kids understand the size of the ever-expanding oil spill in the Gulf. If It Was My Home is a simple site that uses Google Maps to place the footprint of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill over a map of your own city or town. It is sobering, and definitely helped me to understand the magnitude of the slick.

Type in your own zip code and try it for yourself. It really brings the sickening sense of urgency to life.




Posted by: Seymour Simon

(0) Comments  •   Labels: Environment, Oil Spills   •  Permalink (link to this article)

June 1, 2010

A fourth-grader wrote asking what she can do about the Gulf oil spill.

My name is Alana and I am a 4th grade student. We are currently reading the story you wrote "Wildfires." I think it is a great story. It helped us understand the positive effects that controlled wildfires can have.Although I greatly enjoyed the story,  unfortunately that is not the main reason I am writing to you today. I just read your posting on the Gulf Oil Spill. My mom and I have been following the updates. It breaks my heart that this has happened. The sea turtles are one of my very favorite animals on the planet, but I love all marine life. I was even looking into becoming a Marine Biologist when I grow up. I love science and enjoy working with animals.  I can’t believe what is going to happen the Gulf’s ecosystem. I know that I am very far away and that I am only 9 years old (almost 10) smile but do you have any suggestions of what I can do to help the situation? It makes me so angry but also sad that this has happened and the only thing that will help me feel a little better is to know that I am doing whatever I can to help save the animals that are still left. Do you think that the sea turtles will survive this disaster? So many have already died. : (  I know you are very busy. Thank you for taking the time to read posting.

Alana G.
"Science Rules" 

Alana, thank you so much for writing and for caring so much about the sea turtles. Like you, I have always considered sea turtles to be one of my favorite animals on our planet. They travel long distances during their lives and return to the same place they were born, where the females lay their eggs for a new generation of turtles. It is so sad that the turtles are being killed by the terrible oil spill in the Gulf. The turtles are only one of the many animals that are being affected and no one seems to know how to put a quick stop to the oil pouring out into the sea. I wish I could tell you what to do to help the situation. More than that I wish I could tell you that someone knows what to do. It seems as if the oil spill will continue for weeks and months and I just hope that the company that caused the spill and the goverrnment can control it by the end of the summer. Perhaps the best thing you and everyone else can do is to try to make sure that it never happens again. There are many conservation groups, such as The Nature Conservancy and The Natural Resources Defense Council that are working to make oil drilling safer in a variety of ways.

The peoples of this country and of other countries all share the same planet. The more people who feel the way you and I do about this terrible situation, the more likely it is that the countries of the world will put rules in place to prevent it from ever happening again.Think environmentally all your life, no matter what you decide to do as an adult. Talk about it to your friends. Read about it in books and on the web. Remain committed to the idea that...

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Posted by: Seymour Simon

(0) Comments  •   Labels: Oceans, Environment, Oil Spills, Sea Turtles   •  Permalink (link to this article)

May 7, 2010

The oil spill in the Gulf off the coast of Louisiana threatens one of America’s treasured environments as well as the livelihood of many families in the region. The area has a huge abundance of living things, both above and below the surface waters of the Gulf. The bays and wetlands are nurseries for fish and birds. This photograph, taken by Alex Brandon of the Associated Press, shows volunteers caring for one of the tens of thousands of birds who nest on Breton Island National Refuge in this season. The oil is reaching there now.

Sea turtles in the Gulf are migrating or nesting on the shores in the pathway of the oil slick. Many Gulf families depend upon fishing or shelling for their livelihoods.

The NY Times has been publishing a map daily, with each day’s outline reflecting the most current estimate by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the extent of the oil slick on that day. Here is where we are today:

For those who are interested in following this more closely, NOAA publishes daily forecasts of how the currents are moving the oil (including the potential of carrying it out of the Gulf  and into the Atlantic Ocean) at

This huge oil spill is an ecological and economic disaster and the effects will be felt not just in the Gulf region but all over the country.






Posted by: Seymour Simon

(1) Comments  •   Labels: science news, Conservation, Oil Spills   •  Permalink (link to this article)

April 29, 2010

The news from the Gulf of Mexico this morning is not good. British Petroleum (BP), the owner of the ruptured oil line, is finally confirming what NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)  and the Coast Guard have been saying for several days now. This spill is MUCH larger than previously reported - 5 times as large - and is currently spilling 5,000 barrels per day into the Gulf.


There is great urgency around attempts to contain the spill and/or disperse the oil before it reaches land, where it would have a major impact on wildlife, marine life, sensitive habitats and shorelines in four states (Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida).

I’ve been reading everything I can about whether or not the proposed burning of oil is an environmentally sound strategy. From what I’ve found, it sounds like it is our best option.


Source: NASA Earth Observatory



Here is what biologist Andrew C. Revkin, who teaches environmental science at Pace University and writes the DOT EARTH environmental blog for the New York Times, is reporting today:

One of the biggest such tests was undertaken off Newfoundland in 1993. Called the Newfoundland Offshore Burn Experiment, the joint Canadian and American project concluded that combustion consumed most of the more problematic compounds and the levels of harmful compounds in smoke were below danger thresholds outside 150 yards of so of the fire zone. The water beneath the burn area showed no detectable levels of harmful compounds.

I photographed an offshore oil rig when I took a boat trip in the Santa Barbara (California) channel last month.


 These are massive structures, and there is as much below the water as there is above - the water here was nearly 200 feet deep, and the rig is anchored to the ocean floor. As the captain of our boat noted, from ocean floor to the top of the rig is as tall as a skyscraper.

Do we really need to construct more of these oil rigs along our coasts? What is the risk-reward ratio of offshore drilling? As an environmentalist, I’m terribly afraid that the possible damage to wildlife and our coastlines are not worth the risk of building more oil rigs that produce only a tiny fraction of the oil our nation uses. If most of us changed the incandescent light bulbs in our homes to more energy-efficient light bulb source, we would not only be making up for the oil that off-shore rigs produce but saving our own money in the bargain.




Posted by: Seymour Simon

(5) Comments  •   Labels: science news, Oceans, Conservation, Oil Spills   •  Permalink (link to this article)