Life on Fire

Monday, January 7, 2013
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Doomsday Volcanoes

Monday, December 31, 2012
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Why Deep Sea Volcanoes Matter

By Heather Goldstone   |   Friday, November 30, 2012
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Lobster: Cheaper than Bologna

By Toni Waterman   |   Tuesday, July 17, 2012
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July 17, 2012

Listen: Toni Waterman reports and WGBH science editor Heather Goldstone adds her perspective.

SOUTH BOSTON, Mass. — If you’re the type of person who associates lobster with big, celebratory events, then you’re in luck. With prices lower than they’ve been in decades, something as simple as — well, a Tuesday night can be reason to celebrate.
It’s 6 a.m. at Medeiros Dock in South Boston. The sun is just coming up as lobsterman Steven Holler gets his boat, the November Gale, ready for a day at sea. He steps into his bright orange bib pants, slips on his galoshes and then effortlessly glides his boat to the bait dock.
He loads $700 worth of fish on to the deck. And by 6:15, Holler and his crew of one set off to haul lobster traps in the waters off Boston’s Harbor Islands.
Lobsters, lobsters everywhere
In 35 years in the business, Holler says he’s never seen a lobster season quite like this one. It all started this spring.
“We came out to haul that gear expecting to get 30 or 40 pounds and what we saw was just totally off the charts. Something we’ve never seen before. There were just lobsters everywhere,” he says.
Plentiful catches came early, flooding the lobster market up the East Coast. And since it was May, there weren’t enough tourists to eat them up.
And if there’s one thing we all learned in economics class: Surpluses make prices plummet.
Lobstermen in the Boston area are getting $3 - $3.50 a pound right now. Retail prices are a bit higher at around $5, which means that the price is running pretty equal to a bologna sandwich.
“I looked at a slip from last year and it was anywhere between $4.50 - $4.75 per pound,” says Holler. "The price we’re getting is something like you’d get in the '80s — mid-'80s. And we’re paying 2012 fuel prices, bait prices and labor prices.”
The problem in a nut lobster shell
Lobster is even cheaper further north: The Wall Street Journal reports that some lobstermen in Maine are getting as low as $1.25 a pound. And it doesn’t seem to be going up anytime soon, because now there’s another factor dragging prices down: soft-shells. Those are lobsters that have just shed their shells and are growing into new, bigger ones.
The shedding process usually doesn’t start until mid-July, but lobstermen this year have been catching soft-shells since May.
“A soft-shell lobster is veal in the lobster world,” says Holler. “It is tender. It is sweet.”
Sweet, but fragile — too fragile to ship long distances, which puts even more lobsters in the Northeast supply chain.
A solution: Eat up
“The public has to know: there’s a lot of lobsters out there,” says Holler. “So the more lobster people buy, hopefully it will be better for the industry and hopefully that trickles down to the fisherman.”
There’s one more big factor playing in this perfect storm: Canadian processing plants, which usually buy up any extra lobsters, aren’t. They had strong catches this season too and already have their own backlog of lobsters.
Still, Holler says he will keep setting his traps, even if it means catching too much of a good thing.

Bill Adler of the Massachusetts Lobstermen's Association talks about the problem on Greater Boston.

The Cape Cod Shark: Good for Business and Science

By WGBH News   |   Tuesday, July 10, 2012
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July 10, 2012

Listen to the complete conversation from Boston Public Radio
Shark sightings: reason to smile? (@ChathamShark/Facebook)

BOSTON — Maybe you've seen the photo or video: a kayaker just 100 feet off the shore of Orleans, Mass. … followed by a fin. And yet the recent shark sighting appears to be triggering more excitement than fear. We asked some experts to explain the phenomenon.
The business perspective
Paul Pronovost, editor-in-chief of The Cape Cod Times, said the tourism industry was doing its best to capitalize on the interest.

"A lot of merchants have T-shirts and hats and books and little souvenirs — all shark-related because that's what people are coming in and looking for," he said. "It's been fascinating, people coming down to the shorelines, some even brave enough to put their toe in the water, some putting even more than their toes in the water, and really being into this phenomenon — it's created quite a buzz on the Cape."
He didn't see any unusual rise in Cape tourism due to the fascination with sharks but he did think vacationers already there were heading to beaches where sightings have occurred.
The science perspective
While the shark sightings are fascinating to beach bums, they're even more exciting for marine scientists. Technology like acoustic and satellite tags are helping scientists track sharks and better understand the animals' behavior.
"Historically, all we really knew about white sharks was based on sightings," said John Mandelman, a researcher at the New England Aquarium. "But now with this new technology we're starting to learn a lot more about where these sharks are going … and that's very exciting, because [for] the Atlantic there's been an absence of information on white sharks, whereas other areas around the world have been able to gain a lot of information about their population."
Does climate change have anything to do with sharks swimming close to our shore?
"Theoretically, climate change will have an effect on various levels, not just on the sharks … I think in this case, though, sharks are still coming up here based on water temperature," Mandelman said. "I don't think anything is going to happen in a 4- or 5-year period that could be attributable to climate change."
Marine scientists think the warmer water temperature is why we have more seals appearing on our beaches and it's those seals … not kayakers … that are attracting the hungry sharks looking for their next meal.
The shark's perspective
We've heard what the experts say. But what does the shark think? What drove him to pursue that particular kayak? Well, the shark — and June's Massachusetts celebrity animal, the black bear — has taken to social media to explain what he's all about ... without the intermediaries. Here's a rundown.

Smelly Seaweed Shocks Sunbathers and Sponges

By Toni Waterman   |   Tuesday, July 3, 2012
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July 5, 2012

BOSTON — If you've been spending early summer at the beach, you might have noticed something in the air. An invasive and quite ... pungent ... species of seaweed has made its way to the East Coast from Asia. Judy Pederson of MIT’s Sea Grant Program said the seaweed, which favors rocky shorelines and coves, could be squeezing out native species.
"We’re finding that over time these non-native species come in early, they grow faster or sooner than our native species and then they begin to displace them," she said. "And the native species they might displace are things like mussels, barnacles, sponges — things that are typically what we think of as our major New England species."
The seaweed has also become a hassle to state workers, who say they have no place to dispose of it — or the money and resources necessary to do so.

About the Authors
Heather Goldstone Heather Goldstone
Heather Goldstone is the science editor at WCAI, the Cape and Islands NPR Station. She holds a Ph.D. in ocean science from M.I.T. and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and spent a decade as an active researcher before leaving the lab to become a writer. In her nine years with the Cape and Islands NPR Station, Goldstone has reported on Woods Hole’s unique scientific community and key environmental issues on Cape Cod. Her reporting has appeared in venues ranging from NPR and PBS News Hour, to Cape Cod Times and Commercial Fishery News. Most recently, Goldstone hosted the blog Climatide – an exploration of how climate change is impacting coastal life in the region. 
The WGBH News team comprises the WGBH radio newsroom, The Callie Crossley Show, The Emily Rooney Show and WGBH Channel 2 reporters and producers from Greater Boston and Basic Black. 


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