The Energy 202: Uruguay’s clam die-off is a vivid sign of global warming’s ripple effects


Clams, with their hard shells, are tough creatures. And the fact they are dying off in droves as waters warm off the coast of Uruguay is one of the most vivid displays of the impacts of climate change. 

Over the past century, a mysterious blob of warm water extending from the Uruguayan coast far into the South Atlantic has heated extremely rapidly — by more than 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, as The Post’s Chris Mooney and John Muyskens write in a must-read report.

The blob, warming at double the global average, is having serious impacts for Uruguay, a tiny South American country of fewer than 4 million people whose economy depends on the ocean to draw in tourists. The hot zone has “driven mass die-offs of clams, dangerous ocean heat waves and algal blooms, and wide-ranging shifts in Uruguay’s fish catch,” Mooney and Muyskens write in the latest installment of The Post’s series places that have warmed more than 2 degrees over preindustrial levels across the globe. 

The “2C” regions include many already hot places, such as the Middle East, as well as large swaths of frigid Siberia and Canada. 

But in the ocean off of Uruguay, the decline of yellow clams is causing upheaval for clammers who have worked the beaches there for generations. 

“Mass mortalities destroyed the populations of yellow clam” over the past 10 years or so, according to marine biologist Omar Defeo, a professor at the University of the Republic in Uruguay. 

That has made it harder for clammers such as Jose Rocha, whose family has harvested clams for four generations, to find many anymore. 

“We are in a time — I do not know what’s happening — where the climate is not the same,” Rocha said one April day after he and four of his family members shoveled up only four pounds of clams along the beaches at Barra del Chuy in the southeastern corner of the country.

Rocha is not alone in observing this trend. The world’s top climate scientists, who sit on the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said in a recent report that bivalve species — clams, oysters, mussels and their relatives — face “very high risks” of population decline if not extinction as average temperatures climb above 1.8 degrees Celsius or so of warming.

But in Uruguay, it is not all bad news — at least economically. The rarer clams are selling for nearly double what they were just six years ago.

That’s because restaurants catering to tourists have begun marketing the mollusks as an authentic, high-end delicacy.

“People have discovered this,” restaurateur Eduardo Marfetán said. “And they are addicted.” 

Still, experts warn clammers not to go overboard in their harvesting. 

“The resource is in a delicate situation,” Defeo said. “The stock has not been recovered, and we need to monitor the fishery constantly just to provide early warnings.”

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— Congressional Democrats grill Trump officials over BLM relocation: House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) cast the the agency’s controversial decision to move its Washington headquarters to Grand Junction, Colo. as an effort to hamstring government work. “Given the lack of transparency, analysis and consultation, this appears to be nothing more than a poorly veiled attempt to dismantle a federal agency,” Grijalva said.

The response: The acting director of the Bureau of Land Management defended the agency’s decision. William Perry Pendley, the bureau’s deputy director for policy and programs, argued the move will “better serve the American people” by shifting BLM leadership to be closer to the land that they manage.” “Nearly every Western state will realize significant benefits from this reorganization,” he said.

Grijalva also asked Pendley whether the agency had looked into how many staff would quit because of the move. He responded it had not.

There’s also the issue of cost: “The costly space in Washington is $50 per square foot, compared to $32.35 in Grand Junction,” The Post’s Joe Davidson writes in a column on the reorganization. “There also would be lower travel expenses and personnel costs.”

Republican members of the committee also backed Pendley’s remarks: Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) said he and other Republican members of the panel “have long contended that the best land management decisions are made by those who live, work and raise families closest to the areas impacted. I believe this move of the Bureau of Land Management headquarters out West is long overdue and will yield tremendous results for land management.”

Pendley also grilled on past remarks about Native Americans: Rep. Deb. Haaland (D-N.M.) also questioned Pendley about a 2009 event at which Pendley was “quoted mocking American Indian religious practitioners’ increasing insistence that federal lands and private property be off-limits because it’s holy to them, using air quotes to punctuate ‘holy.’ ” Pendley responded: “I was not speaking as a member of the BLM, I was speaking as a private attorney representing private clients.”

— EPA calls for significantly reducing animal testing: The Environmental Protection Agency announced a directive to reduce animal testing, decreasing requests and funding of mammal studies by the agency by 30 percent by 2025 and after 2035, requiring that such tests get the administrator’s approval. The agency also said it would pledge $4.25 million in grants to five universities that will develop alternative experiments in the effort to reduce and ultimately eliminate animal testing, The Post’s Karin Brulliard reports.

The reaction: Animal welfare groups applauded the directive, though some environmental and public health groups say animal testing is still key in determining the risk of chemicals. The Natural Resources Defense Council, for example, called the move an “irresponsible plan” that will depend on testing methods that “may not be sufficient for testing all chemicals.”

Wheeler said the issue had personal significance: In 1987, he wrote a column for his college newspaper calling for the reduction of animal testing.

— Ex-FEMA official accused of accepting bribes in Hurricane Maria recovery: A former top official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency was arrested and accused of taking bribes from the head of a company that secured $1.8 billion in federal contracts to work on repairing Puerto Rico’s hurricane-ravaged electrical grid. The pair had a “close personal relationship,” the New York Times reports, citing prosecutors, and gifts were doled out in exchange for the FEMA official’s influence to give the company an advantage. “Federal authorities arrested Ahsha Tribble, FEMA’s former deputy administrator for the region that includes Puerto Rico, and Donald Keith Ellison, the former president of Cobra Acquisitions, prosecutors in Puerto Rico announced,” per the Times. “They were accused of conspiring to defraud the federal government, among other charges. A second FEMA employee, Jovanda R. Patterson, who worked as a deputy chief of staff in Puerto Rico under Ms. Tribble and was later hired by Cobra, was also arrested.”

— AGs from 10 states oppose Trump administration’s proposed rule on furnaces and heaters: A group of 10 attorneys general led by New York’s Letitia James submitted comments in opposition to a proposed Energy Department rule that would roll back Obama-era efficiency standards for residential gas furnaces and commercial gas water heaters. In the comments, the AGs point to the department’s estimates that the 2016 standards would “save commercial consumers up to $6.8 billion, and reduce CO2 emissions by 98 million metric tons over 30 years of sales.” “If DOE grants the petition, the resulting delay in adopting updated standards will create missed opportunities for consumers, businesses and governments to conserve energy and reduce the economic and environmental costs of energy production and use,” the comments read.

— GOP governor bans offshore drilling: New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu signed a ban on oil and gas drilling off the state’s coast, the latest governor to do so in a push against the Trump administration’s moves to expand offshore oil drilling. “New Hampshire has a long and proud tradition of environmental stewardship, and today’s action to ban oil and gas drilling off of our pristine coastline is another step in the right direction,” Sununu said in a statement. “While Republican Gov. Chris Sununu said the Trump administration has assured him that drilling would not occur off New Hampshire’s 18-mile-long (30-kilometer-long) coast, he said the legislation was important to protect the waters for future generations,” per the Associated Press.



  • The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds a nomination hearing.
  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy holds a hearing on various legislation.
  • The House Financial Services Subcommittee on National Security, International Development and Monetary Policy holds a hearing on the economic impacts of climate change. 


— “It’s highly unlikely this was an accident”: A sea turtle named Splinter was saved after he was discovered off the coast of Key Largo, Fla. impaled with a 3-foot metal rod, The Post’s Kayla Epstein reports.

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