Monday, January 25, 2016

Update on Fishing Fleet at MH370 Search Site

I would like to provide an update on our post from earlier this month on the Fu Yuan Yu Fleet appearing near the search site for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. We were puzzled to see a large number of fishing vessels at this remote location. Since our post we have received information indicating that these vessels are licensed Chinese fishing vessels targeting small pelagic species.

The Fu Yuan Yu fleet now appears just south of the area being surveyed by MH370 search vessels Fugro Equator and Fugro Discovery. The Liao Chang Yu Yun 88 can be seen headed north after spending two weeks with the fleet. This Chinese flagged vessel is likely a fish carrier.

If as reported the Fu Yuan Yu vessels 070, 071, 072, 073, 075, 076 are targeting small pelagic species (not tuna) then they would not need to be licensed by an RFMO (Regional Fishery Management Organization) in the Indian Ocean. However we are still curious about the fishing methods of this fleet, described as lightning purse seiners. The lightning presumably refers to use of light attraction in their fishing operation. 

Each parent vessel appears to be associated with a string of 5 or 6 AIS beacons attached to some type of gear. The vessel and gear can be drifting and strung out in a 30 mile string as seen in the recent screenshots below. Or at other times each parent vessel and set of associated gear is in the same location. This pattern made us think of setting and retrieving a longline but these vessels have now been reported as purse seiners so the fishing operation is puzzling. 

Below you will see track for one of the fishing vessels, Fu Yuan Yu 070, as well as what we assume is a piece of associated fishing gear (070 04). The two tracks can be seen to overlay closely. We are looking for further information to clarify the fishing operation taking place.

The track of the Fu Yuan Yu 070 (black dashed line) over three days. Other vessels of the Fu Yuan Yu Fleet also appear to the south each with string of what is assumed to be associated fishing gear extending southeast about 30 km. All vessels have been described as lighting purse seiners.

Here is shown the three day track of one of presumed pieces of fishing gear associated with the Fu Yuan Yu 070. The track has fewer broadcast AIS positions but it can be seen to closely follow that of the parent vessel. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Will Taylor Energy Response Offer Any New Answers?


Undated photo of Taylor Energy Platform #23051 before it was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. Image Credit – Taylor Energy
Today, Jan. 20, Taylor Energy will host a public forum in Baton Rouge, La., to explain what efforts they have taken to respond to the ongoing oil spill in Mississippi Canyon Block 20 (MC-20) – the former site of Taylor Energy Platform #23051. Over eleven years ago Hurricane Ivan triggered a subsea landslide which destroyed the platform and buried 28 wells under a hundred or more feet of mud and sediment. The spill first came to public attention during the 2010 BP/Deepwater Horizon disaster, when GMC charter member SkyTruth observed the leak on satellite imagery and began investigating with GMC assets in the air and on the surface.


Above: Landsat 8 image from June 2014; one many satellite observations SkyTruth has catalogued over the past eleven years. 

Oil still leaks from the site to this day, eleven miles off the coast of Louisiana, while the now-idled company’s efforts to stop the leak have remained a carefully guarded secret. In early 2015, an AP investigation pressed the U.S. Coast Guard to increase their estimated spill rate to an amount 20x higher than Taylor had ever acknowledged. In Sept. 2015, GMC partners, including the Waterkeeper Alliance, settled a law suit over the company’s lack of transparency about efforts to fix the leak. This forum was a condition of that settlement.

The Gulf Monitoring Consortium has the following questions for Taylor Energy, which, in one presentation posted in advance to the forum’s website called the events surrounding Hurricane Ivan, an “Act of God“.

1) What is the plan to stop this leak? 
2) If the plan is to just let it go for the next 100 years, what research has been done to determine that the environmental harm would be minimal and acceptable? Why wasn’t the public involved in that decision making?
3) What lessons were learned and are they being applied to new permitting and drilling in the Gulf?
  • What do we know about slope stability and the risk of slope failure throughout the Gulf, especially in deepwater; and is that risk being incorporated into engineering and permitting? 

  • What is the plan if a similar fate befalls a deepwater platform with 20 high-pressure producing oil wells? 

  • What systems are in place to successfully shut in those wells in the event of a slope failure? 
4) What is the estimated cost to the public of the lost oil and gas revenue if the decision is made to let the reservoir bleed out? 
5) What were the various interventions that were deployed on the seafloor to try to capture the leaking oil and gas? How much oil and gas did they capture, and during what time periods? What was done with the captured oil and gas?
To attend, the public is asked to register.
LOCATION:Louisiana State University
Pennington Biomedical Research Center
Building “G”
6400 Perkins Rd
Baton Rouge, LA 70808 
DATE & TIME:9:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
January 20, 2016

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Unusual Vessel Behavior in the MH370 Search Area

Over the past month we’ve been watching an unusual Chinese fleet in a remote area of the Southern Indian Ocean. These vessels identify themselves as fishing but were not found in any public fishing registry and appear almost 500 miles distant from the nearest known fishing vessels.


This self-identified fishing fleet is currently operating in very close proximity to vessels searching for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 (MH370). This fleet, with vessels broadcasting the name Fu Yuan Yu, has been in the general search area over the past month but today appears within several miles of the MH370 search vessel Havila Harmony.


We’ve shared vessel tracks of the Fu Yuan Yu fleet with members of several regional fisheries management organizations but so far no one has been able to confirm the activity of the fleet though all agree that the location is unusual for fishing vessels. We’d be very interested to hear from anyone who can confirm the identity of these vessels (Fu Yuan Yu 70, 71, 72, 73, 75, 76) and explain their activity in this unusual location.


Fu Yuan Yu Indian Ocean map background labeled 1-5.jpg
The three MH370 search vessels (small circles) are shown near to the Chinese Fu Yuan Yu Fleet. Vessels of the Fu Yuan Yu fleet identify themselves as fishing but this remote location is not a known fishing area. The nearest confirmed fishing vessels (light blue) are about 500 miles to the the north and to the west.


Havila Harmony 1-5 scale labeled.jpg
The MH370 search vessel Havila Harmony, flagged to Malaysia, currently appears surrounded by a Chinese fleet whose activity in the area is unclear. Fu Yuan Yu vessels identify themselves as fishing though this could not be confirmed by registry or port records. Each vessel appear to be trailed by a string of five or six points (red triangles), probably some sort of gear associated with the parent vessel.

Fu Yuan Yu vessels appear to make up a major global fishing fleet with over 120 vessels broadcasting with that name. Three Fu Yuan Yu vessels (numbers 013, 997,998) are currently authorized by the IOTC (Indian Ocean Tuna Commission) to target tuna in the Indian Ocean. Since the Fu Yuan Yu vessels we are observing here are not registered with the IOTC they could not target tuna but it's not clear that there is another likely target species. Normally vessel registry records, like those issued by the IOTC and other regional fisheries management organizations, would allow us to confirm a fishing vessel’s identity and get details on the vessel’s operation, such as the fishing gear they employ. However no such information has been found for the Fu Yuan Yu vessels appearing in the MH370 search area.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

From the Bird's Foot to the Dogsleg: 2015 in Review

Our most recent trip around the sun was filled with growth and major (positive!) impact for the environment, so we're inviting you to share in our success. Of course, SkyTruth is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit, so your tax-deductible donation before midnight tomorrow will reduce your 2015 tax bill and help us keep a sharp eye on the world in 2016.


Offshore Energy: For eleven years oil has leaked into the Gulf of Mexico from a point eleven miles off the Mississippi River Delta (aka the Bird's Foot Delta). Our dogged reporting of this slow-motion oil spill finally caught the attention of the Associated Press. Their investigation ultimately pushed the U.S. Coast Guard to acknowledge a spill rate 20x higher than Taylor Energy had ever admitted. Then in September, Taylor Energy settled a lawsuit brought by the Waterkeeper Alliance and several of our other Gulf Coast partners over lack of transparency about what the company had done to stop the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.


In recognition of the five-year anniversary of the BP/Deepwater Horizon disaster, we mapped the nearly 10,000 reported oil and chemical spills that have occurred in the Gulf since the oil stopped gushing from the Macondo well in 2010. Once it became apparent that a Coast Guard database we relied on for daily pollution reports would be offline for the indefinite future, our programming team engineered a way to convert their weekly data dumps back into the SkyTruth Alerts you know and love. 

Fracking: We've continued our work to map the footprint of drilling and fracking in the mid-Atlantic using aerial imagery and geospatial data. On one very seasonally-themed map we mapped the spooky spread of drilling in Ohio's Utica Shale, while below we animated a visualization of the drilling boom in western Pennsylvania using your FrackFinder results.


Also of note, the oil and gas industry finally gave in this year on a transparency issue we've pursued since 2012. In May, FracFocus.org unlocked access to tens of thousands of fracking chemical records regarding drilling operations across the US. Industry proudly proclaims that they did this voluntarily, but judge for yourself if you think they would have unlocked this data without our persistence over the past three years

Coal and Metal Mining: This summer in Colorado contractors for the EPA accidentally triggered a spill of polluted water from an inactive gold mine, turning the Animas River orange for miles. To provide some context on the problem of abandoned mine lands in the US, we compiled a couple of interactive maps to help visualize at least some of the abandoned coal mines and inactive metal mines in the US.


Later this year a dam at an iron mine in Brazil collapsed, destroying an entire town, killing 17 people, and displacing hundreds more. We used satellite imagery to investigate the impacts of the disaster, and published imagery showing the developments leading up to the catastrophe. Unfortunately, as we wrote this month, this kind of spill from mine waste impoundments is all too common around the world.

Fishing/Marine Conservation: While our programming team is hard at work developing the Global Fishing Watch platform to help tackle the ecological crisis of overfishing, we've also come across some major cases of maritime malfeasance.

In January we stayed up late to help the government of Palau catch the Shin Jyi Chyuu 33, a Taiwanese-flagged fishing vessel caught in their waters, and according to official reports had shark fins and illegally caught tuna in her holds. A few months later, after monitoring the movements of a Thai-flagged cargo vessel suspected of "transshipping" with vessels crewed by slave labor, we helped the Associated Press acquire this satellite image. The image (above) shows the Silver Sea 2 tied up with two unidentified fishing vessels in the "Dogsleg" region of Papua New Guinea's territorial waters

This summer a film crew for National Geographic came to the office to learn more about what we are doing for marine conservation and how fishing transparency can encourage more sustainable fisheries management:



Over the course of 2015, the New York Times launched a now six-part series on the "Outlaw Ocean", kicking it off with a globe-trotting investigation of the Dona Liberta. If you recall,the Dona Liberta (now known as the Sea Pearl) is a scofflaw cargo ship first spotted by SkyTruth back in 2012 off the coast of Angola at the end of an oily-slick approx. 90 miles long.  
Technology Won't Save the Planet. You Will.

In 2015 we welcomed three new full-time members to our team, as well as two part-time programmers. Our staff traveled from Chile to Lisbon to talk about Global Fishing Watch, shared our big ideas for conservation at the Aspen Ideas Festival, and convened with mapping and remote sensing experts at Google's GeoForGood and CartoDB's State of the Map conference in NYC. Your tax-deductible contribution will help us continue to keep an eagle-eye on the planet and continue to share our vision for a better world. 


As John said last month at the WWF Fuller Symposium at National Geographic, "The answer to the question, 'Will technology save the planet?' is clearly 'no' -- people will save the planet, but technology will give them the inspiration and the tools..."

Now it's your turn. Subscribe to Alerts, sign up to be a volunteer for FrackFinder WV coming in early 2016, or donate. Thank you!


https://www.paypal.com/us/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_flow&SESSION=8taffK7swj6JGeY0QMWBsppApDWwn_1r6SHzGrQnKS4BZM-64SJ_TYT44WK&dispatch=5885d80a13c0db1f8e263663d3faee8d64ad11bbf4d2a5a1a0d303a50933f9b2

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Déjà Vu All Over Again: Tailings Dam Failures at Metal Mines Around the World

Catastrophic mine spills have been in the news frequently enough that we are devoting a few articles to cover some of the problems plaguing existing mines and posing serious concerns for new and proposed mines like Pebble in Alaska, Red Chris in British Columbia, and NorthMet in Minnesota. In this post we're only covering impoundment failures from metal mines and ore processing facilities (we'll get to coal slurry and coal ash later, and we've already written about abandoned and inactive mines).

The litany of mine impoundment disasters around the world is a grim one. This year saw the Fundão tailings dam failure that killed at least 13 downstream of the Samarco iron mine in Minas Gerais, Brazil. 


Above: The village of Bento Rodrigues after the Fundao dam burst at the Samarco Mine. Image Credit: Douglas Magno/AFP/Getty Images

In August 2014 it was a 24,400,000 cubic meter spill from the Mt. Polley gold mine in British Columbia, Canada into the headwaters of the Fraser River (below) only a few weeks before a run of salmon would make their way upstream. However, on Dec.17, 2015, the provincial government announced there would be no criminal charges or fines assessed against Imperial Metals for the disaster. Al Hoffman, British Columbia's chief inspector of mines stated, "Although there were poor practices, there were no non-compliances we could find."


Above: Mine waste and debris enter Quesnel Lake five miles downstream of the failed impoundment at Imperial Metal's Mt. Polley gold/copper mine. Image Credit: Jonathan Hayward, The Canadian Press 

If a mine can discharge 10 million cubic meters of polluted water and toxic mine waste into the environment, turning a quiet stream into a moonscape, and yet not have broken any rules, one must wonder if the rules and/or regulators are up to the task.  

Looking further back to 2010, a tailings dam failed at an alumina plant in Hungary, killing 10, injuring 150, and turning the "blue" Danube River a sickly, toxic red. A slight silver-lining, however, is that the downstream town of Devecser has risen from the sludge to become a model of green living and sustainable energy.


An aerial photo taken Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2010 shows the ruptured wall of a red sludge reservoir of the Ajkai Timfoldgyar plant in Kolontar, 160 km (100 mi) southwest of Budapest, Hungary. Note the excavators at bottom to give a sense of scale. Image Credit: AP Photos/MTI, Gyoergy Varga


Unfortunately, this list only recounts some of the more notorious disasters that reached the international press. For a more complete record of significant mine tailings dam failures, the World Information Service on Energy has complied a list of over 80 major non-coal spills since the 1960's.   

Yet every time a new mine is proposed, even when the dam would be taller than the Washington Monument, we are reassured that this time we have the technology right, this time the dam won't fail, and this time the environment will be left just as it was before we mined it. There are techniques, such "dry-stacking", which are safer than conventional wet-tailings impoundments, but they are also more expensive. 

So unless the public and regulators demand that mines employ better practices, it seems we will have to keep reliving this story, year after year.


Stay tuned for the next part of this series, impoundment failures from coal mines in Appalachia.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Message From Elliott



My friend and one of SkyTruth's original board members, Dr. Elliott Norse, is stepping off our Board of Directors after 14 years of tirelessly enthusiastic service.  An internationally acclaimed forest ecologist and marine biologist who founded and ran the Marine Conservation Institute, Elliott has more accomplishments than I can list, but among them: he was an early proponent of the concept of biodiversity and shaped the field of marine conservation biology in its formative years; and he coined the name SkyTruth. So, in a very literal way, we owe our identity to him.  

And in a era where ecopragmatism is on the upswing, and tactical compromises and tradeoffs are redefining environmentalism, Elliott has always been an ardent ecospiritualist:  a guiding star to keep us inspired to work on behalf of conservation, not just because it's something that benefits humankind, but because it's the right thing, the moral thing, to do.

We've benefited greatly from his wit and wisdom, his generosity and leadership.  I know Elliott is still just a phone call away, and we'll be able to drop in and get his thoughts when we're wrestling with decisions large and small, and in need of some perspective.  I can't complain: we've had a good run with Elliott, and because of Elliott, and for that I am deeply grateful.

Thank you Elliott, from your friend, admirer and colleague,

John Amos
President
--
With Elliott's permission, I'd like to share his message to our Board: 
--
Dear SkyTruth boardies,

There are 2 kinds of actors: those who don’t know when to get off the stage and those who do.

Timing is everything.  Now that SkyTruth is rapidly ascending and I see how smart and devoted our boardies are to John’s vision, SkyTruth’s methods and our crucial conservation mission, it is my sad but heartfelt pleasure to tell you that I am resigning from SkyTruth’s Board of Directors effective 12/31/15, when I am also resigning my day job at Marine Conservation Institute.

I’ve had the pleasure and honor of knowing John since 1985 or so.  30 years.  And I’ve seen how he’s used his talent—which in the for-profit world would have made him rich—to make our world a better place.

John has great vision, a great heart, a great presence as a speaker and very good luck when it comes to choosing the people around him.  You make him even better at what he does so brilliantly.

As you all know, how humans relate to our planet is absolutely key to the complex systems of business, society, politics and ecology.  It’s not easy to understand the behavior of complex systems because we don’t see all that they do until they do it.  But one thing we know about complex systems is that they tend to resist change until they pass an inflection point (or tipping point, as people now see it, thanks to Malcolm Gladwell), the moment when systems reorganize.  Nonlinearity is a defining characteristic of complex systems.  And my sense is that SkyTruth is positioned to become a much more important part of the most important of global conversations: the one about what to do to our blue, white, green and brown planet, on which we and all our progeny live.

I’ve devoted years to seeing SkyTruth succeed, and I now want to watch it ascend to a new level of influence over what people are doing to the Earth and one another.  SkyTruth is about seeing and depicting the environmental truths—local, regional, national and global—on land, freshwaters and the sea.  By taking a satellite’s view (backing off to take in the greater context), SkyTruth provides the iconic views and analyses of big things that are happening on our planet, from the structural failure of coal ash dams and the regulatory failure of mine reclamation to the hemorrhaging of oil leaks and the metastasis of illegal fishing far out at sea.  And with more than a billion people armed with phones that can photograph time-stamped geolocated human activities, SkyTruth has the gravitas and technological savvy to interpret these iconic images for a worldwide network of individual citizens, advocacy organizations and government agencies.  The stars are aligning for SkyTruth’s ascent into a higher orbit, as they are for Marine Conservation Institute.  These outstanding nonprofits deserve to have younger, fresher minds to help our staffs do great things for this truly unique real estate we inhabit.  After working on small, not-so-small and really big things for well over a decade, SkyTruth has shown special capacity to see and understand how things happen and affect nature and people.

John, Paul and their team have done a brilliant job.  Their successes are not one-offs; SkyTruth has all the elements needed to reach a higher orbit.

I think our board needs a few scientists who have exceptional vision, strong pro-Earth ethics and the ability to integrate nature and people.  I think we need more contacts in both the nonprofit environmental advocacy community and the for-profit world of business (the government people who see your products will be compelled to flock to you).  And SkyTruth needs lots more money to succeed, as we all want it to.  So this is the time for SkyTruth’s strategic revisioning and rebooting, keeping our other boardies but also upgrading the geographical ecology position(s) and adding formal economics and social marketing savvy, giving us both substantive credibility and the ability to move lots more people now, while there’s still a brief window of time to succeed.

Worry not for me.  I’ve spent more than 37 years fighting to save the Earth I love.  Now I’m ready to take better care of my health and my loved ones, to grow my vegies, to watch my amazing backyard birds, to read, to think and do whatever life brings me.  If I’ve done good things for this organization and Marine Conservation Institute, I feel it’s the right time to quit while I still have some relevance, not to wait until I’m no longer good enough to play a game this important.  I’m exiting my way, and it feels really good.

Knowing that our baby is in very good hands allows me to leave the stage now.  I’m not going to disappear, so if John, Paul or any of you needs to talk, I’ll still be at this email and phone number.  If I don’t answer, please know it’s not because I’m hunting for funding or meeting with the most powerful people who’ll give me an audience; it’s because I’m working out, watching hummingbirds feed from flowers I’ve planted specifically for them, caring for my beautiful grandchildren (they don’t have any of my genes!), traveling with my wonderful wife of 23 years, reading a novel or doing something else that’s physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually rewarding.  Don’t worry about me.  Just do really good things for SkyTruth and I’ll watch your progress and celebrate.

Thank you all for the great privilege of working with you.

Peace and love for you and for the Earth,

Elliott
--


Monday, December 21, 2015

Oil Slicks Significantly Diminished at SOCAR #10

SkyTruth has been tracking a fire and oil spill in the Caspian Sea from an aging platform operated by SOCAR, the Azerbaijani state-owned oil company. However, an image collected yesterday (Dec. 20) by Sentinel 1A, a radar satellite operated by the European Space Agency (ESA) shows that the 357 square kilometer oil slick observed on Dec. 13 has mostly dissipated.




At this point, the slick observed coming from the damaged platform is 6-8 kilometers long, but without substantial width. This is a significant decrease from the slick observed on the 13th, which according to our calculations amounted to more than 90,000 gallons of oil. However, the area is not completely in the clear as oil spills are business as usual from aging infrastructure like Neft Daşları, a mega-platform built by Soviet Engineers in 1949.

Nevertheless, the fire was still burning today, as evidenced by the heat signature visible on the 7-2-1 band combination from MODIS. The imagery from Dec. 21 is cloud-obscured, but the image from Dec. 19 offers a clearer view (below).