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Thames Water says it is taking ‘radical’ action but turnaround will take time

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Tuesday, December 5, 2023

The ailing utilities firm Thames Water has said it is taking “immediate and radical” action to turn around the business, days after it emerged its auditors had warned it could run out of money by April.The debt-laden water supplier said it was working on a three-year turnaround to overhaul its environmental, operational and financial performance, as profits more than halved to £246m in the six months to 30 September, largely due to changing valuations of its assets.The company, which supplies 16 million customers, said its revenues rose 11% to £1.2bn over the period.Thames Water’s three-year plan focuses on six areas: health and safety, customer complaints, water quality, leakage, supply interruptions and pollution.The company’s interim co-Cchief executives, Cathryn Ross and Alastair Cochran, said in a statement that, while it was in line with industry averages in “many areas” that “in some other areas our performance needs to improve, including some areas of operational and environmental performance that matter most to our customers and communities. Our financial performance also needs to improve. It is clear that immediate and radical action is required.”They added: “Turning around Thames will take time. We simply cannot do everything that our customers and stakeholders wish to see at a pace and for a price that everyone would like. We will continue to make the tough choices required to deliver what matters most to our customers and the environment.”But Thames admitted its record on releasing pollution into Britain’s waterways had “deteriorated”.Thames said that the “overall performance [on pollution] deteriorated in the first half, with category 1-3 pollutions increasing year-on-year from 217 to 257”. The company said it had managed to reduce blockages, a big factor leading to sewage releases, by 5%.Thames’ auditors, PricewaterhouseCoopers, have said there was “material uncertainty” about whether the main company behind the water supplier can continue as a going concern without a cash injection by shareholders in accounts for Thames’ ultimate parent company, Kemble Water Holdings, for 2022-23, signed off in July and filed at Companies House last week.Thames’ shareholders put in £500m in 2023, and have agreed to invest a further £750 “across AMP7” – the water industry asset management plan period running from 2020 to 2025. It has indicated that a further £2.5bn would be needed to cover the five years to 2030.On Tuesday, the water firm said receiving the £750m was contingent on certain conditions, including agreeing a business plan with regulators that “underpins a more focused turnaround that delivers targeted performance improvements for customers, the environment and other stakeholders over the next three years”.The finances of Britain’s biggest water supplier have been the subject of scrutiny since it emerged that the government was drawing up contingency plans for a temporary nationalisation during the summer amid fears over its huge debt pile. It emerged shortly after the abrupt resignation of its former chief executive, Sarah Bentley.skip past newsletter promotionSign up to Business TodayGet set for the working day – we'll point you to all the business news and analysis you need every morningPrivacy Notice: Newsletters may contain info about charities, online ads, and content funded by outside parties. For more information see our Privacy Policy. We use Google reCaptcha to protect our website and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.after newsletter promotionThames, which has a £14bn debt pile, said it had paid a dividend that ultimately reached Kemble, which will use it to service group debt obligations. The group did not pay a dividend to external shareholders.Thames said it had total liquidity of £3.5bn, as well as further funding resources, and added that its shareholders supported its investment plans.The company said it had reduced a backlog of customer complaints by 49%, but work to clear that backlog had “increased volume of second stage complaints, which has contributed to the overall inflow increasing by 13% year on year to 38,872”.Concerns over Thames’s debts come against the backdrop of a water industry in the crosshairs of MPs and the public over sewage dumping, leaking pipes, executive bonuses and under-investment in UK infrastructure.In October, Thames said its customers would face a rise in bills from £436 to £611 a year in the five years from 2025. The company plans to make £18.7bn of investment over that period, including £4.7bn to improve service quality.Thames said the number of leaks in its network had fallen by 6% in the first half of its financial year.

Company announces plunge in profits after being told by auditors it could run out of money by AprilThe ailing utilities firm Thames Water has said it is taking “immediate and radical” action to turn around the business, days after it emerged its auditors had warned it could run out of money by April.The debt-laden water supplier said it was working on a three-year turnaround to overhaul its environmental, operational and financial performance, as profits more than halved to £246m in the six months to 30 September, largely due to changing valuations of its assets. Continue reading...

The ailing utilities firm Thames Water has said it is taking “immediate and radical” action to turn around the business, days after it emerged its auditors had warned it could run out of money by April.

The debt-laden water supplier said it was working on a three-year turnaround to overhaul its environmental, operational and financial performance, as profits more than halved to £246m in the six months to 30 September, largely due to changing valuations of its assets.

The company, which supplies 16 million customers, said its revenues rose 11% to £1.2bn over the period.

Thames Water’s three-year plan focuses on six areas: health and safety, customer complaints, water quality, leakage, supply interruptions and pollution.

The company’s interim co-Cchief executives, Cathryn Ross and Alastair Cochran, said in a statement that, while it was in line with industry averages in “many areas” that “in some other areas our performance needs to improve, including some areas of operational and environmental performance that matter most to our customers and communities. Our financial performance also needs to improve. It is clear that immediate and radical action is required.”

They added: “Turning around Thames will take time. We simply cannot do everything that our customers and stakeholders wish to see at a pace and for a price that everyone would like. We will continue to make the tough choices required to deliver what matters most to our customers and the environment.”

But Thames admitted its record on releasing pollution into Britain’s waterways had “deteriorated”.

Thames said that the “overall performance [on pollution] deteriorated in the first half, with category 1-3 pollutions increasing year-on-year from 217 to 257”. The company said it had managed to reduce blockages, a big factor leading to sewage releases, by 5%.

Thames’ auditors, PricewaterhouseCoopers, have said there was “material uncertainty” about whether the main company behind the water supplier can continue as a going concern without a cash injection by shareholders in accounts for Thames’ ultimate parent company, Kemble Water Holdings, for 2022-23, signed off in July and filed at Companies House last week.

Thames’ shareholders put in £500m in 2023, and have agreed to invest a further £750 “across AMP7” – the water industry asset management plan period running from 2020 to 2025. It has indicated that a further £2.5bn would be needed to cover the five years to 2030.

On Tuesday, the water firm said receiving the £750m was contingent on certain conditions, including agreeing a business plan with regulators that “underpins a more focused turnaround that delivers targeted performance improvements for customers, the environment and other stakeholders over the next three years”.

The finances of Britain’s biggest water supplier have been the subject of scrutiny since it emerged that the government was drawing up contingency plans for a temporary nationalisation during the summer amid fears over its huge debt pile. It emerged shortly after the abrupt resignation of its former chief executive, Sarah Bentley.

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Thames, which has a £14bn debt pile, said it had paid a dividend that ultimately reached Kemble, which will use it to service group debt obligations. The group did not pay a dividend to external shareholders.

Thames said it had total liquidity of £3.5bn, as well as further funding resources, and added that its shareholders supported its investment plans.

The company said it had reduced a backlog of customer complaints by 49%, but work to clear that backlog had “increased volume of second stage complaints, which has contributed to the overall inflow increasing by 13% year on year to 38,872”.

Concerns over Thames’s debts come against the backdrop of a water industry in the crosshairs of MPs and the public over sewage dumping, leaking pipes, executive bonuses and under-investment in UK infrastructure.

In October, Thames said its customers would face a rise in bills from £436 to £611 a year in the five years from 2025. The company plans to make £18.7bn of investment over that period, including £4.7bn to improve service quality.

Thames said the number of leaks in its network had fallen by 6% in the first half of its financial year.

Read the full story here.
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New Mexico community faces crisis with contaminated well water

Residents of La Cieneguilla, New Mexico, are grappling with the discovery of PFAS contamination in their well water, raising serious health concerns.Ed Williams reports for Searchlight New Mexico.In short:PFAS contamination in La Cieneguilla's wells was linked to nearby military activities, affecting local residents' health.The community, unaware of the risks, had been using the contaminated water for years.Efforts to address the contamination are underway, but solutions are complex and slow.Key quote:“Now I got this PFAS, this firefighting foam, in my sangre, in my blood. I have a right to be upset, right?”— Jose Villegas, resident of La CieneguillaWhy this matters:This situation highlights the broader issue of environmental justice and the impact of industrial and military activities on local communities. It underscores the need for more stringent regulations and quicker responses to prevent and address such health hazards.PFAS testing needed for people with elevated exposures, US science advisors say.

Residents of La Cieneguilla, New Mexico, are grappling with the discovery of PFAS contamination in their well water, raising serious health concerns.Ed Williams reports for Searchlight New Mexico.In short:PFAS contamination in La Cieneguilla's wells was linked to nearby military activities, affecting local residents' health.The community, unaware of the risks, had been using the contaminated water for years.Efforts to address the contamination are underway, but solutions are complex and slow.Key quote:“Now I got this PFAS, this firefighting foam, in my sangre, in my blood. I have a right to be upset, right?”— Jose Villegas, resident of La CieneguillaWhy this matters:This situation highlights the broader issue of environmental justice and the impact of industrial and military activities on local communities. It underscores the need for more stringent regulations and quicker responses to prevent and address such health hazards.PFAS testing needed for people with elevated exposures, US science advisors say.

Montana judge halts development over water concerns

In a landmark decision, a Montana judge has blocked a new housing development, citing inadequate groundwater protection.Christopher Flavelle reports for The New York Times.In short:A Montana court ruled against a new housing development due to concerns over declining groundwater resources.The case highlights the tension between housing demand and environmental sustainability in water-stressed areas.The ruling could set a precedent, potentially impacting future developments across Montana.Key quote:“The pendulum for the longest time was largely swinging in support of development at any cost."— Guy Alsentzer, executive director of Upper Missouri WaterkeeperWhy this matters:This ruling is a significant moment for public policy, balancing the need for housing against the imperative of sustainable water use, which is crucial for both ecological health and human well-being.Be sure to read: Tainted water imperils health, traditions for Montana tribe.

In a landmark decision, a Montana judge has blocked a new housing development, citing inadequate groundwater protection.Christopher Flavelle reports for The New York Times.In short:A Montana court ruled against a new housing development due to concerns over declining groundwater resources.The case highlights the tension between housing demand and environmental sustainability in water-stressed areas.The ruling could set a precedent, potentially impacting future developments across Montana.Key quote:“The pendulum for the longest time was largely swinging in support of development at any cost."— Guy Alsentzer, executive director of Upper Missouri WaterkeeperWhy this matters:This ruling is a significant moment for public policy, balancing the need for housing against the imperative of sustainable water use, which is crucial for both ecological health and human well-being.Be sure to read: Tainted water imperils health, traditions for Montana tribe.

In $100 million Colorado River deal, water and power collide

The Colorado River District plans to buy the water rights that flow through Colorado's Shoshone hydropower plant. The acquisition is seen as pivotal for a wide swath of the state, and has been co-signed by farmers, environmental groups, and local governments.

This story was originally published by KUNC. Colorado’s Glenwood Canyon is as busy as it is majestic. At the base of its snowy, near-vertical walls, the narrow chasm hums with life. On one side, the Colorado River tumbles through whitewater rapids. On the other, cars and trucks whoosh by on a busy interstate. Pinched in the middle of it all is the Shoshone Generating Station. “It is a nondescript brown building off of I-70 that most people don’t notice when they’re driving,” said Amy Moyer, director of strategic partnerships at the Colorado River District. “But if you are in the water world, it holds the key for one of the most interesting and important water rights on the Colorado River.” Beneath a noisy highway overpass, Moyer looked at the hydropower plant through a chain-link fence. Her group, a taxpayer-funded agency founded to keep water flowing to the cities and farms of Western Colorado, is poised to spend nearly $100 million on rights to the water that flows through the Shoshone facility. The purchase represents the culmination of a decades-long effort to keep Shoshone’s water on the west side of Colorado’s mountains, settling the region’s long-held anxieties over competition with the water needs of the Front Range, where fast-growing cities and suburbs around Denver need more water to keep pace with development. Even though the Shoshone water rights carry an eight-figure price tag, the new owners will leave the river virtually unchanged. The river district will buy access to Shoshone’s water from the plant operator, Xcel Energy, and lease it back as long as Xcel wants to keep producing hydropower. The Shoshone Hydroelectric Facility sits beneath a busy stretch of Interstate 70 on Jan. 26, 2024. The Colorado River District is poised to spend $98.5 million on rights to its water in an effort to keep the Colorado River flowing for farms and cities in Western Colorado. Alex Hager / KUNC The water right is considered “non-consumptive,” meaning every drop that enters the power plant is returned to the river. The river district wants to keep it that way as long as they can and ensure the water that flows into the hydroelectric plant also flows downstream to farmers, fish, and homes. The river district is rallying the $98.5 million sum from local, state, and federal agencies. The district has secured $40 million already, with deals in the works for the remainder. It’s rare for a big-money water deal to find this kind of broad approval from a diverse group of water users. But the acquisition is seen as pivotal for a wide swath of Colorado, and has been co-signed by farmers, environmental groups, and local governments. “It’s so much more than, ‘We’re going to spend $100 million to do nothing,’” Moyer said. “We’re keeping native flows in the river for so many benefits on the West Slope.” Why Shoshone? To understand why this unassuming power plant wields so much clout, you have to take a look at its history. About 40 million people across seven Western states rely on the Colorado River. It supplies big cities like Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Denver. It supports a multi-billion dollar agriculture industry. But it’s governed by a century-old legal document and a management system that has proven frustratingly difficult to adapt for today’s policymakers. Core to that management system is the concept of “prior appropriation,” which means that those who were first to use water will be the last to have their water curtailed in times of shortage. It often ignores Indigenous people who were using the river’s water before white settlers ever arrived. But under the rules white settlers drew up and modern governments still use today, it means older water rights are more powerful. Pedestrians walk across a bridge spanning the Colorado River in Grand Junction, Colorado on Jan. 25, 2024. The Colorado River District says buying the Shoshone water right will bring more predictable flows to the river’s ’15 mile reach.’ Alex Hager / KUNC Shoshone’s water right is one of the oldest and biggest in the state, giving it preemptive power over many other rights in Colorado. Even in dry times, when cities and farms in other parts of the state feel the sting of water shortages, the Shoshone Hydroelectric Plant can send water through its turbines. And when that water exits the turbines and re-enters the Colorado River, it keeps flowing for myriad users downstream. The hydro plant itself produces relatively little energy. Its 15 megawatt capacity is only a small fraction of Xcel Energy’s total Colorado output of 13,100 megawatts. Shoshone’s capacity is enough to serve about 15,000 customers, which is less than a quarter of the population of Garfield County, where the plant is located. But the power plant has held legal access to water from the Colorado River since 1902, and can claim seniority over the vast majority of other water owners in the state. That kind of seniority means power and certainty for whoever owns it. And that has raised the hackles of Western Colorado water users, who worry that water users in other parts of Colorado might be interested in buying Shoshone’s water right. Colorado’s Front Range — functionally the metro area from Fort Collins to Pueblo — only exists in its current capacity because of a complex network of canals, pipes, and tunnels cut through the mountains, carrying water against gravity to the places where it’s needed. About 80 percent of the state’s water falls on the west side of the mountains, but 80 percent of its people live on the east side. Cities on the Front Range have been able to grow significantly over the past century, despite often having access to a finite supply of water. Their Western Colorado counterparts worry that future growth could lead those cities to spend big on more water from the West Slope and say securing Shoshone’s water blocks Eastern Colorado water users from the chance to snatch it up themselves. Fish and farms The Colorado River District’s plans to buy Shoshone’s water have rallied widespread support, largely because of the transfer’s widespread benefits. Perhaps no constituency will benefit from the move as much as the one that lives in the river itself. “Anything that results in more water in the river is good for fish,” said Dale Ryden, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Fish biologist Dale Ryden holds a razorback sucker on Jan. 26, 2024. The endangered fish species lives in the Colorado River, and proponents of the Shoshone water right transfer say the fish will benefit from increased flows to a portion of its habitat. Alex Hager / KUNC Standing on the banks of the Colorado River in Grand Junction, Ryden looked out over a murky, meandering stretch of water. It’s part of the “15 mile reach,” a critical section of the river about 80 miles west of the Shoshone plant. The reach is filled partly by water exiting Shoshone’s turbines. Ryden explained that this section of river is home to a variety of species, some of which are endangered, and some which are found nowhere else on earth besides the upper portions of the Colorado River. Those species — with funky names like the flannelmouth sucker and the humpback chub — rely on this stretch of river for virtually every aspect of life. “Back in the day, before there were people here and there was a lot of water and snowpack, the ’15 mile reach’ was kind of the place to be if you were an endangered Colorado pikeminnow or a razorback sucker,” Ryden said. “The adults live here, they spawn here, they feed here. It’s just a really highly-used and good section of river for the adult endangered fish.” Because the fish are protected by the federal Endangered Species Act, people who use water from this section of the Colorado River are legally required to leave enough behind for fish. That means dry conditions and water shortages would force farmers and ranchers in the nearby Grand Valley to play a tricky balancing game between their own water needs and the legal protections afforded to endangered fish. “We can’t have farming without taking care of those fish,” said Tina Bergonzini, manager of the Grand Valley Water Users Association, one of a handful of agricultural irrigation districts near Grand Junction. “They go hand in hand.” Mesa County, which contains the Grand Valley, has an annual agricultural output of about $94 million. It’s the state’s top producer of fruits and berries, including the regionally-famous peaches from Palisade. Bergonzini says the farmers and ranchers who contribute to that total will be able to depend on a steady water supply year after year once Shoshone’s water is guaranteed to keep flowing their way. “I think peace of mind is the number one most important thing that it’s going to be able to bring to the Grand Valley,” she said. The Grand Valley Water Users Association was among 21 groups that co-signed the river district’s plan to buy the Shoshone water right. Other potential suitors The river district describes the deal as ‘protecting’ the Shoshone water right, but hasn’t detailed who exactly they’re protecting it from. History provides more than a few examples of Front Range cities and agriculture looking West for new water supplies, but it’s unclear which diverters, exactly, would have wanted to buy Shoshone. This 1968 photo shows two large tubes, known as penstocks, which carry Colorado River water into the Shoshone hydropower facility from pipes within the canyon wall. Historic American Engineering Record / Library Of Congress Denver Water, the state’s largest water utility, would have been a potential candidate to buy access to Shoshone’s water, but forfeited that opportunity in 2013 when the agency inked the “Colorado River Cooperative Agreement” along with the Colorado River District. In fact, Denver Water agreed to support the acquisition of the Shoshone water right by a West Slope entity. Representatives from Denver Water, Aurora Water, and Northern Water — which serves eight counties north and east of the Denver metro — declined to comment on the transfer of Shoshone’s water rights. A spokeswoman for Colorado Springs Utilities said the agency was “aware of the Colorado River District’s efforts to acquire the Shoshone water rights and would not oppose the transfer of those rights.” Mark Hermundstad, a retired water lawyer who helped craft the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, said he was not aware of any particular water agency that was poised to buy the Shoshone right but that threats may have still existed. He even floated the idea that an East Coast hedge fund could theoretically attempt to buy Shoshone’s water. “There’s always been a possibility that someone with a lot of money could come in and buy it and try to do something with it,” he said. Following the funds, and what comes next Almost all of the $98.5 million for the river district’s acquisition of Shoshone’s water will derive from public funds. The vast majority of that money, about $49 million, is set to come from the federal government. The river district plans to request a chunk of money from a $4 billion pool given to the Department of the Interior in 2022 for Colorado River projects. The extraordinary infusion of federal money has so far been used to fund a number of incentive programs designed to pay water users — mostly farmers and ranchers — in exchange for reduced water use. Cattle graze in the Grand Valley on Jan. 25, 2024. Alex Hager / KUNC Twenty million dollars will come from the river district’s own coffers. The agency is funded by taxes from 15 counties in Western Colorado. In 2020, voters in those counties overwhelmingly approved a rate hike for payments to the river district, designed to bring in an extra $5 million each year. Another $20 million will come from the state of Colorado. The state’s water management arm, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, recently voted to approve that spending from its annual “water projects bill,” bringing the river district one step closer to its fundraising goals. Besides wrangling the formidable sum, the main hurdles left for the river district concern permitting, regulation, and a court hearing. Both the river district and state officials say they are optimistic that all the necessary paperwork will get stamped without issue. “I don’t expect that there’s going to be entities or individuals that come out of the woodwork vocalizing any strong opposition to us moving forward in this way,” Lauren Ris, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said. Only one aspect of the transfer appears to present a potential wrinkle: the river district’s ability to own an “instream flow.” That designation refers to water that is owned but not used, in the traditional sense. Instead, it’s left in rivers and streams to “preserve the natural environment.” The state is usually the only entity allowed to own that type of water right. In a recent Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) meeting, Phil Weiser, the state’s attorney general, pointed out that it would be unusual for the river district — rather than the state board itself — to own Shoshone’s water and keep it as an instream flow. In an interview with KUNC, Ris pointed to a short list of other times the board made exceptions to its usual policy about instream flow ownership. Ris said the Colorado River District’s takeover of Shoshone is big and important enough that it makes sense to “think creatively” and consider adding Shoshone’s water to that list. “The easiest way to have an instream flow water, right, is for the CWCB to outright own it and operate it,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean that it’s the only way, and this is such an outlier unique situation.” ‘Long-term, permanent solutions’ The past few decades have seen the Colorado River governed by a patchwork of short-term agreements. The region’s top water policymakers have appeared reluctant to agree on more permanent measures to significantly correct a growing imbalance between supply and demand. Instead, they’ve put together temporary deals designed to stave off catastrophe at the nation’s largest reservoirs. While the Shoshone water right transfer likely won’t change much for tense negotiations about water management between states that use the Colorado River, it’s a rare moment of durability and stability for at least one area that uses the river’s water. “Now more than ever, there is a desire to look for long-term permanent solutions on the Colorado River,” said the Colorado River District’s Amy Moyer. “This is one that exists for Colorado.” Read Next Groundwater levels are falling worldwide — but there are solutions Jake Bittle Across the Colorado River Basin, that imbalance and the growing harm of climate change have also compelled environmental groups to raise alarm about potential damage to ecosystems for plants and animals. Management decisions about the river’s water tend to prioritize cities and agriculture over the natural world. Proponents of the Shoshone water right transfer say it will help push back on the harms of water shortages, at least on one stretch of the Colorado River. “Being able to stabilize or make permanent existing rights is very helpful as we look at addressing and dealing with climate change and its impact on streams,” said Bart Miller, healthy rivers director at the conservation group Western Resource Advocates. Miller’s group receives funding from the Walton Family Foundation, which also supports KUNC’s Colorado River coverage. Policymakers are struggling to make significant reductions to the amount of water used by cities and farms, and climate change means less water will enter the river system in the future. Environmental advocates say the Colorado River District’s ownership of the Shoshone water provides some insurance against those realities by adding predictability and protection to a stretch of the Colorado River. This story is part of ongoing coverage of the Colorado River, produced by KUNC and supported by the Walton Family Foundation. It was produced in partnership with The Water Desk, an independent initiative of the University of Colorado Boulder’s Center for Environmental Journalism.  This story was originally published by Grist with the headline In $100 million Colorado River deal, water and power collide on Feb 17, 2024.

Hot Seawater Killed Most of Cultivated Coral in Florida Keys in Setback for Restoration Effort

Researchers are finding that record hot seawater killed more than three-quarters of human-cultivated coral that scientists had placed in the Florida Keys in recent years

Record hot seawater killed more than three-quarters of human-cultivated coral that scientists had placed in the Florida Keys in recent years in an effort to prop up a threatened species that’s highly vulnerable to climate change, researchers discovered.Researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration this week returned to five reefs where they planted staghorn and elkhorn coral, both classified as threatened in the endangered species list, to see how the repopulated critters had survived prolonged water temperatures in the 90s (30s Celsius) last summer and fall. Most of them didn't. They saw widespread death in both repopulated and wild coral on five Florida Keys reefs.Only 22% of the 1,500 repopulated staghorn coral that they surveyed was still alive, NOAA said. Only about 5% of 1,000 replanted elkhorn corals were alive. At Looe Key, the southernmost of the reefs they looked at, “we did not find any live elkhorn or staghorn coral, not wild, not planted,” said coral biologist Katey Lesneski, research and monitoring coordinator for NOAA's Mission: Iconic Reefs.“It's really horrible to witness,” Lesneski said in an interview just two days after the dives finished. “Besides thinking about the economic and the ecological benefits reefs and these corals provide, there's the loss of intrinsic beauty that many people come to the Keys to see and experience. And just to take in the loss of that is also very upsetting.”“There's still a lot of data to be collected to really understand the full impact,” Lesneski said. “But we certainly have not seen something like this in recorded human history.”Normally these are corals with robust red, orange, tan and brown colors. But what Lesneski and other researchers saw when they dove were dead coral with brownish green algae settled on the lifeless skeleton to make it look “quite drab,” she said.Not only are staghorn and elkhorn populations dwindling so much that they are on the endangered list, but they are crucial to the vast community of different types of coral because they are framework builders that provide the “structural framework” for coral habitat, Lesneski said.Even though the researchers were diving to check up on the human-planted coral at Horseshoe Reef, the second northernmost reef they looked at, an area Lesneski gazed at was once a wild colony of elkhorn coral that was more than 100 years old.“I saw them in June and they were alive. In July, they were starting to die because of the heat stress,” Lesneski said. “And at this point we have not even found a patch of living tissue on any of those wild colonies at Horseshoe Reef. So that was very hard to see.”In the five reefs the team visited, they did see some wild coral alive and well, Lesneski said. Brain or boulder coral seemed to do better, but still had large amounts of death, she said.The joint federal-private project plans to spend at least $97 million to place coral species grown on land or in ocean nurseries across seven sites. Some of the species are the same as what was already in the water and had been badly hurt by warmer seas, but some had been crossbred to be heartier, Lesneski said. It's too early to tell whether the heartier coral survived more, she said.NOAA measured days of water temperature at the planting sites hitting 93 degrees (34 degrees Celsius) with it reaching 94 degrees at another location, Lesneski said. She and others said that's just too hot.“What happened in 2023 was absolutely devastating,” said retired NOAA coral monitoring chief Mark Eakin, who now is corresponding secretary for the International Coral Reef Society. “They were actually seeing temperatures that they didn't think were possible.”While the Caribbean coral reefs were devastated during the record high water temperatures last year, “2023 wasn't as bad as we feared in the rest of the world,” Eakin said.Eakin and the University of Victoria coral biologist Julia Baum both said this raises legitimate concerns about trying to repopulate coral reefs by putting the coral back in water that is just getting too warm.“Coral restoration is almost certainly doomed to fail under climate change,” Baum said in an email. “Attempting coral restoration in today's hot oceans is like trying to refurnish a house while it's still on fire.”“Our oceans are now dangerously hot for corals and continuing to heat up because of climate change,” Baum said.Lesneski said she understands that concern and researchers are looking to see what they could do to breed more heat-resistant coral.“It's not a silver bullet,” Lesneski said. “There has to be global reductions in fossil fuel derived emissions, major policy changes. But for now, if we want to have any of the economic or ecological benefits of reefs, we do have to do our best to conserve, be good stewards and restore to the degree we can."The Associated Press’ climate and environmental coverage receives financial support from multiple private foundations. AP is solely responsible for all content. Find AP’s standards for working with philanthropies, a list of supporters and funded coverage areas at AP.org.Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Oil Spill Fouls Tobago Beaches As Officials Try To Find Owner Of Mystery Vessel

The slick is drifting toward Grenada and entered the island nation's territorial waters this week.

An oil spill off the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago has fouled local beaches and is now drifting toward Grenada and Venezuela, officials said Thursday.The spill, discovered on Feb. 7, was at first a mystery. Trinidad and Tobago’s Coast Guard saw oil in the water and traced it to a capsized barge with no crew or indication of where the vessel came from. The slick quickly covered nearby beaches along Tobago’s southwestern coastline as the ship continued to leak fuel.Authorities later said the barge was being tugged from Panama to nearby Guyana before some sort of accident took place. It’s unclear who owns the vessel or if anyone was aboard or injured when it sank.It’s also unclear how much oil has already leaked or how much more the barge contains.Tobago’s chief secretary, Farley Augustine, told Reuters this week the slick had entered Grenada’s waters. Tobago has attempted to address the leak but has been unable to do so as the vessel is dangerously bobbing in the water.Workers from the state-owned Heritage Petroleum Oil and Gas Co. clean up a spill that reached Rockly Bay beach in southwestern Tobago on Feb. 11.Akash Boodan/Associated Press“We are unable to plug the leak, and unless we have information on how much fuel is in the barge or what exactly it contains we cannot move forward, except containment and skimming,” Augustine said.Authorities have installed a 40-foot perimeter around the site to control the oil slick, but cleanup crews have been working to clear beaches.“We have a lot of questions, and now is the best time to have those questions answered,” Augustine later told reporters. “We need to know the quantity and the material you were transporting, so we know what we have been dealing with, what we have been walking in, what we have been swimming in, what we have been trying to clean up from our shores.”The Caribbean nation declared a national emergency earlier this week as the oil fouled coastal areas. Officials said cleanup costs were likely to be an “extraordinary expense” for Tobago but declared the effort a national priority. View of the oil spill on Feb. 10 at Rockly Bay on Tobago.CLEMENT WILLIAMS/AFP via Getty ImagesEnvironmental groups said the spill underscored the need for President Joe Biden to permanently ban offshore drilling in U.S. waters, calling such exploration “reckless — period.”“Oil and oceans don’t mix, and this disastrous oil spill from an overturned vessel off Trinidad and Tobago is the latest destructive example,” Alexcia Best, a campaign associate for Oceania, said in a statement. “As a Trinidad and Tobago national, I am personally hurt by this sudden crisis. The natural beauty of Tobago is a significant attraction for tourism, and this oil spill is a direct threat to that beauty.”The Washington Post notes that Trinidad and Tobago is the largest oil producer in the Caribbean, and the industry accounts for more than a third of its gross domestic product.Support HuffPostOur 2024 Coverage Needs YouAt HuffPost, we believe that everyone needs high-quality journalism, but we understand that not everyone can afford to pay for expensive news subscriptions. That is why we are committed to providing deeply reported, carefully fact-checked news that is freely accessible to everyone.Whether you come to HuffPost for updates on the 2024 presidential race, hard-hitting investigations into critical issues facing our country today, or trending stories that make you laugh, we appreciate you. The truth is, news costs money to produce, and we are proud that we have never put our stories behind an expensive paywall.Would you join us to help keep our stories free for all? Your contribution of as little as $2 will go a long way.As Americans head to the polls in 2024, the very future of our country is at stake. At HuffPost, we believe that a free press is critical to having well-informed voters. That's why our journalism is free for everyone, even though other newsrooms retreat behind expensive paywalls.We cannot do this without your help. Support our newsroom by contributing as little as $2 to keep our news free for all.As Americans head to the polls in 2024, the very future of our country is at stake. At HuffPost, we believe that a free press is critical to creating well-informed voters. That's why our journalism is free for everyone, even though other newsrooms retreat behind expensive paywalls.Our journalists will continue to cover the twists and turns during this historic presidential election. With your help, we'll bring you hard-hitting investigations, well-researched analysis and timely takes you can't find elsewhere. Reporting in this current political climate is a responsibility we do not take lightly, and we thank you for your support.Contribute as little as $2 to keep our news free for all.

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