News & Current Affairs

August 30, 2008

New giant clam species discovered

New giant clam species discovered

Giant clam (M.Naumann)

The new giant clam species has a deeply folded shell outline

A new species of giant clam has been discovered in the Red Sea.

Fossils suggest that, about 125,000 years ago, the species Tridacna costata accounted for more than 80% of the area’s giant clams.

The species may now be critically endangered, researchers report in Current Biology journal.

The scientists believe their findings may represent one of the earliest examples of the over-exploitation of marine organisms by humans.

T. costatahas “very peculiar characteristics” that set it apart from two other species of giant clam that are also found in the area.

The Latin word costatus means “ribbed” and T. costata has a distinctive, zig-zag outline to its shell.

“The new species are mid-sized clams – up to 40cm long and a couple of kilograms heavy,” explained co-author Dr Claudio Richter, from the Alfred-Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, Germany.

The new species has a distant relative, T. gigas, which can grow up to 1.4m long.

Live specimens of T. costata appear to be restricted to very shallow waters. Other species were also found in deeper reef zones.

The clam has an earlier and shorter breeding season that coincides with the seasonal plankton bloom. Genetic analysis confirmed the status of the new species.

‘Time travel’

“One of the great features of the desert-enclosed Red Sea is that you can literally time-travel from the present, several hundred thousand years into the past,” said Dr Richter.

The research team uncovered well-preserved fossil evidence that suggested stocks of these giant clams plummeted some 125,000 years ago – during an interval between Ice Ages.

They believe this period coincides with the appearance of modern humans in the Red Sea area.

Giant clams were abundant, large in size and easily accessible – making them an attractive food source for hunter-gatherers.

In “pre-human times”, T. costata may have been up to 60cm long. Since then, shell size has also decreased dramatically.

“The overall decline in giant clam stocks – with the striking loss of large specimens – is a smoking gun indicating over-harvesting,” said Dr Richter.

The scientists were not expecting to find a new species in an area as well studied as the Red Sea.

The research highlights how little is known about marine biodiversity in general, the scientists said.

“The coral reefs in particular… may still harbour very large surprises,” said Dr Richter.

August 17, 2008

Fay brings rain, wind to Cuba en route to Florida

Fay brings rain, wind to Cuba en route to Florida

HAVANA, Aug 17 (Reuters) – Tropical Storm Fay brushed Cuba’s southern coast with gusty winds and heavy rains on Sunday and was expected to move ashore overnight before heading toward Florida as a likely hurricane.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said maximum sustained winds were 50 mph (80 kph), but Cuban forecasters said gusts up to 66 miles per hour (110 kph) had been recorded at Cabo Cruz, which juts out into the Caribbean.

In its latest advisory, the hurricane center said Fay was cruising parallel to the coast at 17 miles per hour (27 kph) about 135 miles (215 km) west-southwest of the Cuban city of Camaguey, and 285 miles (460 km) south-southeast of Key West, Florida.

Fay, which killed at least five people when it struck Haiti and the Dominican Republic on Saturday, was crossing over warm waters — 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) — and expected to strengthen before going ashore in Cuba’s central provinces, forecasters said.

The hurricane center predicted Fay, the sixth storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, would move slowly across Cuba overnight before emerging in the Florida Straits or Gulf of Mexico on Monday.

It said Fay could be near hurricane strength before striking Cuba and may be a hurricane, which means winds of at least 74 mph (118 kph), when it reaches Florida’s west coast.

Hurricane watches were posted along much of Cuba’s southern and northern coasts, including Havana, and in southern Florida.

Heavy rains were reported in some Cuban coastal provinces but so far only minor flooding and damage had occurred, officials said.

Rains up to 8 inches (20 cm) were possible, the Cuban Meteorological Institute said.

People in flood-prone areas were being evacuated, as were foreign tourists staying at coastal resorts in the storm’s path, they said.

In Guantanamo, the weather was not bad enough to stop the annual Carnival celebration, said Pedro Alvarez, 35, a resident of the coastal city that neighbors the controversial U.S. military detention center where the Bush administration holds more than 200 accused terrorists.

“Up to now there has been just a very light, off-and-on rainfall, so much so that last night the people continued celebrating Carnival,” he told Reuters.

FLORIDA EVACUATION

In the Florida Keys, 90 miles (144 km) north of Cuba, officials on Sunday initiated a Keys-wide evacuation of visitors. Anyone planning to visit the area in the next few days needs to postpone their trip, they said.

In Florida’s upper Keys, recreational vehicles, trucks hauling boats and other traffic were heading north and leaving the string of islands at the state’s tip, according to police.

“Traffic is reported to be bumper to bumper, but is flowing smoothly, albeit slowly,” the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department said.

At a briefing at the state’s emergency response center in Tallahassee, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican, said the state had geared up for the storm. “Florida is prepared. We are ready. We are vigilant,” he said.

About 500 Florida National Guard troops have been deployed and some schools that were to open on Monday will be closed.

The hurricane center said it expected Fay to eventually hit Florida’s western coast, which is well east of the United States’ oil and natural production in the Gulf of Mexico.

But Shell Oil Co said on Saturday it was pulling 200 workers from offshore platforms as a precaution and on Sunday said it would take another 200 out.

In addition to the hurricane alert in Cuba, tropical storm warnings and watches were in effect for the Cayman Islands and southeastern Florida.

August 5, 2008

US Gulf states prepare for storm

Weather forecasters in the US have warned that a tropical storm could gain near-hurricane strength winds before reaching Texas or Louisiana.

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Tropical Storm Edouard was crossing the Gulf of Mexico and could make landfall by Tuesday morning.

The governor of Louisiana declared a state of emergency as winds reached sustained speeds of 45mph (75 km/h).

Oil workers have left some offshore rigs but no damage has been reported.

Evacuations

A hurricane watch is in place from west of Intracoastal City, in western Louisiana, to Port O’Connor in Texas, south-west of Galveston.

About 6,000 residents of two communities in western Louisiana had been asked to evacuate low-lying coastal areas.

The mayor of Galveston has not ordered an evacuation but has asked residents and visitors to be prepared.

A storm is considered to be a hurricane once its winds reach an average speed of at least 74mph (119 km/h), according to the NHC.

The Louisiana Offshore Oil Port has stopped offloading tankers and two oil firms were evacuating workers from platforms, Reuters news agency said.

Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell said they were removing employees from rigs as a precaution, but both insisted that production had not been affected.

Oil prices dropped below $120 a barrel on Monday for the first time since early May as it appeared unlikely that the storm would significantly affect oil and gas facilities.

The Houston Ship Channel has also closed.

Hurricane Dolly

At 1300 CDT (1900 BST) Edouard was 145 miles (230km) south-southeast of Lafayette, Louisiana and 240 miles (390km) east-southeast of Galveston, Texas, a statement by the NHC said.

“Edouard could be nearing hurricane strength before reaching the coastline,” it added.

Rainfall of 3ins to 5ins (7.6cm to (12.7cm) was predicted in Louisiana, and up to 10 inches (25.4cm) in Texas.

With winds extending outwards from the centre of a tropical storm for 35 miles (56km), residents were braced for the second bout of severe weather to batter the Gulf’s coastline in a month.

On 24 July, a state of disaster was declared in 14 Texas counties when Hurricane Dolly lashed the state’s coast with winds of 100mph (161km/h).

The Gulf of Mexico supplies about 25% of the US’s crude oil.


Are you in Texas or Louisiana? How are you preparing for Tropical Storm Edouard? Send us your comments

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