Category Archives: Birds and Wildlife

Rarity and Ocean Conservation: Endangered Sawfish, Final Listing on ESA

On 8th Grade “Career Day,” my classmates and I were asked what we wanted to be when we grew up. I remember looking at a giant phonebook-sized directory of “careers” with code-keys for filling out a handout in class. I chose “marine biologist,” “oceanographer,” and asked my teacher, “where’s the code for “Ichthyologist?” Admittedly, I also wanted to write down on my sheet that I

Rachel Carson, marine biologist, author of The Edge of the Sea, Under the Sea Wind, and Silent Spring. Alfred Eisenstaedt photo, Time Life Picture

Rachel Carson, marine biologist, author of The Edge of the Sea, Under the Sea Wind, and Silent Spring. Alfred Eisenstaedt photo, Time Life Picture

considered “mime” and “poet” to be future, possible careers, but only one of those was true. Poetry remains a constant passion for me, and so does ocean conservation. I grew up reading poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay and essays by Rachel Carson, including her book, A Sense of Wonder and later in high school, The Edge of the Sea, which remains one of my favorite books of all time. In 9th grade, I bought a text book on marine biology with babysitting money and studied it outside of school, over the summer, while I studied biology at Gould Academy. Years later, at College of the Atlantic (COA), I studied conservation biology, island ecology and environmental sciences as an undergraduate student. During a summer field course, my COA classmates and I explored over 30 Maine islands and visited Gran Manan, where we saw a 30-foot basking shark in the Bay of Fundy. Studying at COA, usually in a salt-sprayed hammock overlooking the ocean, definitely helped to shape my early passion for islands, oceans and wetlands into a career in conservation.

Sharks, rays and sawfish have always been fascinating to me. (Ocean conservation nerd alert: I even have a notepad from the American Elasmobranch Society on my desk.) I’ve spent some significant time on wetlands in my career, but I’ve also followed ocean conservation with great interest, never leaning too far away from my coastal roots. One area of ocean conservation that has kept my interest over the last two decades has been rare and endangered marine species, such as sawfish, which is the first sea fish to be listed on the U.S. Endangered Species list.  In recent years, there’s been some hope for sawfish populations in South Florida (see this video). Yet, rules published by the National Marine Fisheries Service listed five species of sawfish as endangered this past month in its final ruling.

Smalltooth sawfish. NOAA image

Smalltooth sawfish. NOAA image

“The final rule contains the Service’s determination that the narrow sawfish (Anoxypristis cuspidate), dwarf sawfish (Pristis clavata), largetooth sawfish (collectively, Pristis pristis), green sawfish (Pristis zijsron) and the non-U.S. distinct population segment (DPS) of smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata) are endangered species under the ESA.” (Miller, December 2014)  (See info on the rule in the Federal Register here.)

What makes a thing like the sawfish rare?

Rarity is driven by scale—how many, how much, how big an area. Rarity means that something occurs infrequently, either in the form of endemism, being restricted to a certain place, or by the smallness of a population. In conservation biology the proportion or percentage of habitable sites or areas in which a particular species is present determines the rarity of a species.[1] In addition to the areas in which a particular species is present, the number of individuals found in that area also determines its rarity. There are different types of rarity which can be based on three factors: 1) geographical range – the species may occur in sufficient numbers but only live in a particular place, for example, an island; 2) the habitat specificity – if the species is a “specialist,” meaning it might be confined to a certain type of habitat, it could be found all over the world but only in that specific habitat, for example, tropical rainforests; 3) the population size – a small or declining population might cause rarity. [2] Generally a species can be locally very common but globally very uncommon, thereby making it rare and furthermore, valuable. A species can also be the opposite, globally common but spread out few and far between so that individuals have a hard time sustaining their populations through reproduction and dispersal.

But usually when a person thinks of rarity, they are probably thinking about a species that occurs in very low numbers and lives in only one place, as in many of the endemic creatures on the Galapagos Islands. It is this latter-most perception of rarity that plays a critical role in conservation work. People value rarity because it makes a living thing special—even if it had intrinsic value before it became rare, if it ever lived in greater numbers or more widespread populations.

Sawfish illustration by NOAA

Sawfish illustration by NOAA

Sawfish are a rare, unique—and critically endangered group of elasmobranches—sharks, skates and rays, that are most known for their toothed rostrum. Once common inhabitants of coastal, estuarine areas and rivers throughout the tropics, sawfish populations have been decimated by decades of fishing and survive—barely—in isolated habitats, according to the Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida. Seven recognized species of sawfish, including the smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata), are listed as critically endangered by the World Conservation Union. In addition to the extensive gillnetting and trawling, sawfish are threatened by habitat degradation from coastal development. Sawfish prefer mangroves and other estuarine wetlands. Currently the sawfish population is believed to be restricted to remote areas of southwest Florida, particularly in the Everglades and the Keys. Sawfish are primarily a freshwater-loving creature but they occasionally go out to sea. Lobbyists proposed to add sawfish to Appendix 1 of CITES in 1994 (as part of the first Shark Resolution) to stop the trade in saws but the proposal was defeated in 1997 because it could not demonstrate that stopping trade would provide the necessary protection in wild populations. [See Petition to List North American Populations of Sawfish, 1999, here.] Subsequent proposals in 2007 and 2013 were successful, according to Shark Advocates International. According to the Mote Marine Laboratory conservation biologists, “even if effective conservation plans can be implemented it will take sawfish populations decades, or possibly even centuries, to recover to post-decline levels.” This is the fundamental crux of rarity in conservation biology: even if we do perfect conservation work, once a species is rare and critically endangered, it can take much longer for a species to recover than the time it took to reach the brink of extinction.  In November 2014, all sawfish species were listed on Appendix I & II of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS).

Sonja Fordham of Shark Advocates explains to me:  The listing of smalltooth sawfish is therefore the most relevant; it has resulted in critical habitat designation, a comprehensive recovery plan, cutting edge research, and encouraging signs of population stabilization and growth.

See this NOAA Fisheries video on smalltooth sawfish conservation.

Several different organizations, in addition to federal and state agencies, are working to protect and conserve sawfish habitat and the endangered species. Here are some links to a few of these organizations and their fact sheets on sawfish:

Save the Sawfish

Sawfish Conservation Society

Shark Advocates, Fact Sheet on Smalltooth Sawfish

Florida Museum of Natural History, Sawfish Conservation

Save our Seas, Conservation of Sawfish Project

Fact sheet for the 11th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP11) to the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) on Sawfish (5 species)

IUCN Global Sawfish Conservation Strategy 

[1] Begon, Michael, John L. Harper, Colin Townsend. Ecology: Individuals, Populations, and Communities. Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford, London, et. al. 1990. Glossary pp. 859..

[2] Pullin, Andrew. Conservation Biology. Cambridge University Press, 2002. pp.199-201.

Strange Wetlands: Preventing a Lesser Known Tick-Borne Illness, Anaplasmosis

My trusty dog, Sophie-Bea, a dachshund-pointer, and I frequently walk through wetlands. First, my land is rich in wetlands: a black ash seep, which I call “Fern Gully,” a vernal pool with wood frogs and sallies, and a perennial stream that flows into Raymond Pond. We like to walk along a pine-needled path from my woods down to the pond and back. Lately, a thick mustard yellow froth of pollen coats the surface of the pond. If I had let the dog wade in the water, she would have come out looking more like a yellow lab, albeit a weirdly shaped one. (She’s black and white.) At the edge of the pond, she sniffed the water and it turned her pointy black nose into a clownish canary blotch.  IMG_0295

This time of year, we’re more mindful of ticks. In addition to treating her with Frontline, I pat her down with a natural bug repellant called Skeeter Skedaddle™ – the kind that’s dog-friendly. I love how it smells. I wear it, too, and slathered it on that day, like any other day. I made the mistake of wearing sandals though and by the time I got home, I unstrapped the sandals to find a fat tick stuck to the top of my foot. It glowed red in its belly. I pulled it off and noticed two bite marks. After disposing of the tick, which is unwise to flush into the toilet I’ve learned, but to burn the tick with a match (carefully in the sink), I applied witch hazel and hydrogen peroxide onto the bites, along with a dab of antibacterial ointment. It doesn’t itch. It did worry me.

A year ago this month, I came down with a terrible flu-like illness called Anaplasmosis. It’s a tick-borne illness caused by a tick bite from a tick infected with the germ called Anaplasma phagocytophilum. Last summer, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention sent out an alert about Anaplasmosis. The alert explained that cases of Anaplasmosis are on the rise in Maine. Previously, it was rare for someone to contract this illness from a tick bite in the Pine Tree State. Even in summer 2012, hospitals misdiagnosed people with “the flu,” when in some cases, it was actually this Anaplasmosis. In my case, it was most likely Anaplasmosis, since I walk through the woods often and come into contact with areas known to inhabit ticks. I occasionally find ticks in my home.

Symptoms of Anaplasmosis include fever, headache, malaise, severe body aches, cough, joint pain, stiff neck and confusion.  In June 2012, I thought I’d eaten a bad avocado, or been exposed to the bad kind of an algae bloom while swimming in the lake. (I wrote about the algae bloom in my Adventures of Fen Fatale series.) At the time, I was working for ASWM and I started to feel sick on a Monday–sweaty, coming down with a fever, nausea. Images of globs of algae clung to me as I suffered through a fever of 102 degrees for two days. On Tuesday night, I called 911 and the EMTs came to my house, since I was convinced I was dying of some kind of poison,  tetanus or some other ill fate. It felt like my organs had seized up and everything hurt.  Chills all over. The body aches were so severe that I had to crawl down the stairs to let the EMTs into my house (rather than let them bust in the door). The EMTs found me delirious from the fever. Even after the fever came down on Wednesday, I couldn’t walk for a few days; my relatives came to take care of me, since I was bedridden. (This is highly unusual for me, since I have an almost superhuman immune system.) It was frightening, too.

See fact sheets, prevention info and notices to Maine residents from the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention here. 

Since then, I’ve done some research on how to prevent this from happening again. The reality is that Anaplasmosis is treated differently than that of Lyme Disease. When a person suspects that a tick bite has left that tell-tale sign, a bull’s eye shaped bite, that person has an option of getting an anti-biotic to prevent the onset of Lyme Disease. The same is not true for those who might have contracted Anaplasmosis. The main “prevention” is to reduce exposure to ticks by wearing appropriate clothing and checking clothes and skin for ticks. Apparently, in cases of people contracting Anaplasmosis, they often don’t remember getting a tick bite, and there is no tell-tale bull’s eye mark. For specific prevention and treatment information, visit http://www.cdc.gov/anaplasmosis/ . If you do get a tick bite, pay attention to symptoms if they occur. If you get a fever, and think you might have come into contact with a tick, contact your doctor or a health professional. Treatment is important. Anaplasmosis can be serious, or fatal, in babies, toddlers, elderly people and those with a compromised immune system. For others, it can mean a week of severe body aches, fever, malaise, etc. It certainly knocked the wind out of my sails.

Read these related blog posts:

Mosquitoes, ticks and bees are summer hazards, as are sunshine and poison ivy – Washington Post Blog – June 17, 2013

Drs. Oz and Roisen: Tick, tick, tick  – June 2013

Tick-borne disease is on the rise in Maine and Anaplasmosis in particular – May 2013

Healthy Waters Coalition – What’s on Our Minds, In Our Hearts

At my Healthy Waters Coalition meeting tonight, where we discussed the value of accurate, balanced information about oil spill prevention, I accidentally spilled pink lemonade across the agenda.  (From now on, the incident will be remembered as the “pink spill,” and it can be added to a long list of funny things I have done while leading coalition meetings.) I began to think about what’s really motivating our efforts to inform and educate Sebago Lakes Region citizens and local businesses about watershed issues.

We are a water-based economy here in this part of southern Maine. Boat rentals and recreation-based businesses, real estate and restaurants, florists and landscaping contractors, summer camps for children and accommodations (think: Inn by the Pond), not to mention waterfront property in towns–and property taxes paid to Towns–all bring in millions of dollars in annual revenue for the Sebago Lakes Region. The State of Maine tracks the annual revenue for freshwater fishing and accommodations for several Lakes Region towns. Wetlands are valued for their ecological services, too, and that translates to dollars. Real dollars. Wetlands attenuate flooding and aid in filtering waters to provide good water quality in our groundwater, which produces the drinking water for those who have private wells.  All of the headwater streams (94-100% of streams) in the region are located in Source Water Protection Areas (SPAs), meaning that they directly feed into a public drinking water system. In our region, that system is Sebago Lake, which is so clean, it’s exempt from the federal filtration requirement, an expensive option if ever it were to become necessary for the Portland Water District to put in place.

I want to reach out to other groups engaged in an open dialogue about the possible transportation of oil sands through New England and the importance of protecting our local watersheds, local economy–as the two are interconnected.  While the HWC already has members in 8 Lakes Region towns, representatives from local government boards and committees, watershed organizations, local businesses and other interests, such as Saint Joseph’s College, and we have partnered with some fantastic environmental and conservation-oriented nonprofit organizations already, I’d like to connect the Healthy Waters Coalition with a broader network.  I’m interested in connecting with folks at ConservAmerica, town and city revitalization committees, regional Chambers of Commerce, and the business community. We have so much invested in our waters. While pondering this, I scribbled some thoughts and turned it into this info-graphic (below). I like how it came out. Let me know what you think.

HWC_wordle3

Afflicted Bats Need Avengers; Bat Counters Needed

Lots of people are talking about “Batman.” Why did the “dark knight” choose bats as a symbol for his vigilantism?  In the comics, Bruce Wayne creates his ‘Batman’ identity when he conquered his childhood fear of bats. He created the illusion of having the speed, agility and nocturnal instincts of the only mammal able to sustain flight: the bat.

Although some people readily see the value of bats—including wetlandkeepers—other people are afraid of bats. Myths about bats, such as that bats carry rabies, are unfounded. Less than 1% of bats carry rabies. An individual is more likely to come across a skunk or domestic dog with rabies, than to encounter a bat with rabies. However, it is likely nowadays to find a bat infected with another disease. That is, if you can find a bat at all. Bats are sending up their own “bat-signal” of distress and need our help.

Currently bats in the U.S. are suffering the plight of white nose syndrome, a deadly fungus infection affecting a growing number of bat populations in North America. It started in New York in a bat colony in 2006. The fungus, Geomyces destructans, is considered an invasive species (Lanwig, Frick, et. al. Ecology Letters, 2012). Five years later, the disease has spread to 19 different states.  The death toll of North American bats succumbing to white nose syndrome was 5.5 million as of January 2012.

Myth: Bats will (not) entangle in your hair. Fact: Bats are natural pest control for crops. Myth: Bats suck blood. Fact: You’d have to leave the United States to find a vampire bat. The most common bats in the United States eat insects. Those of us in mosquito-stricken areas of the country, like Maine, are aware of bats’ ability to consume thousands of mosquitoes in a single night. Bats like to swoop through wetlands and riparian areas, and in turn, bat guano fertilizes vegetation. What most people don’t know is that “bat guano is big business” outside the U.S. as a source of fertilizer.  Also see: Effects of wetland network distribution on bat activity.

The most recent studies show that the more “social” the bats are, the tighter the cluster of bats in a colony, the more likely the disease is to spread. The grim reality is that the fungus has wiped out bat populations by the hundreds of thousands throughout the country. It’s in Delaware. It’s in Missouri. It’s in Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.  White nose syndrome has been confirmed in Wyoming and Maine, too. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a protocol for treatment and reduction of spreading the white nose syndrome in June 2012. For instance, if you handle a bat with white nose syndrome while wearing gloves, be sure to wash the gloves in hot water afterwards.

What’s strange is that not every bat infected with the fungus is dying. Sometimes a bat infected with white nose syndrome can live for a full year or longer after infection. In other cases, such as the big brown bat, scientists don’t know how the bats are avoiding the white nose syndrome; it might have to do with migrating south as opposed to huddling together in the infected caves, where the fungus is present. The endangered Indiana bat has not been hit as hard as biologists feared (their population is down about 70%).  One of the most common bats in the Northeast, the little brown bat, has taken a nosedive –its population plummeting by 90% due to white nose syndrome. SeeNortheastern Bat Update and Bats on the Brink.  There has been some hope in Vermont, New York and New Hampshire:  some of the little brown bat colonies are surviving and having pups, based on reports from state Fish and Game agencies. State agencies are calling for citizens to count bats and help promote awareness about them. In addition to research in the U.S., this year happens to be ‘Year of the Bat’ for international research and awareness about bats across the globe.

For the FWS’ blog on White Nose Syndrome, visit:http://whitenosebats.wordpress.com/
For information on Vermont’s Bat Program, click here.
For information on New Hampshire’s Bat Program, click here. 
For National Park Service (KY)’s Bat Program, visit:http://www.nps.gov/maca/whitenose.htm
Also see related blog post, White-nose syndrome confirmed in endangered gray bats

Restoring Lost Ecological Connections: Fish Ladders and Dam Removal

Growing up in midcoast Maine I was accustomed to celebrating the return of the alewives, an anadromous, or sea-run fish, each spring. Recently a project to restore the fish ladder for the alewives has neared completion in a stream at Damariscotta Mills. The Maine state legislature called for a fish passage in 1741, which led to the town finally building the fish ladder in 1807 to allow the alewives to return to Maine’s streams, ponds and lakes to spawn. The project to rebuild the old fish ladder began 200 years later in 2007 and has entered a final phase in 2012. One challenge for the restoration crew has been to make sure that the fish ladder was functional for the alewives each season. The running of the alewives just occurred in late May/early June.

Meanwhile, another river in Maine supports the run of alewives, salmon, sturgeon and other sea-run fish: the Penobscot, Maine’s largest river. A major component of a restoration project to restore critical habitat in Maine’s largest watershed is underway this week along the Penobscot River. The Great Works Dam on the lower part of the river is being removed this week. See a video of this dam removal (June 11, 2012). This is the culmination of a lot of planning over the past eight years on the part of federal, state and tribal governments, along with nonprofit and for-profit parties.  These have included the State of Maine, The Nature Conservancy, National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, Penobscot Nation, Maine Audubon, Natural Resources Council of Maine, Trout Unlimited, American Rivers, Atlantic Salmon Federation and other partners. Together they form the Penobscot River Restoration Trust. This project began in 1999, but an essential agreement formed in 2004 laid the groundwork for the collaborative restoration efforts. This unprecedented agreement set out to accomplish these things:

  1. Restore self-sustaining populations of native sea-run fish, such as the endangered Atlantic salmon;
  2. Renew opportunities for the Penobscot Nation to exercise sustenance fishing rights;
  3. Create new opportunities for tourism, businesses and communities;
  4. Resolve long-standing disputes and avoid future uncertainties over the regulation of the river.

The agreement further laid out a plan to remove two dams on the lower part of the river, including the Great Works Dam removed this week, and to construct fish bypasses by a third dam and to improve fish passage at four other dams. In 2007, the Penobscot River Restoration Trust and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the project, and added that it would have far-ranging benefits on the Gulf of Maine, protecting endangered species, migratory birds, as well as riverine and estuarine wetlands. It would also enhance recreational activities, such as paddling and fishing and watching wildlife.  The riverine habitat is home to osprey, kingfishers, otters and bald eagles. The project has been widely known as one of the most innovative river restoration projects in the nation.

Some members of the Penobscot River Restoration Trust have made comparisons to the 1999 dam removal on the Kennebec, which was among notable dam removal projects that set a trend throughout the country. The two rivers share some of the same ecological communities. Those involved with monitoring the Kennebec since 1999, have noted a return of more birds, namely osprey and bald eagles, due to the increased number of alewives present, a food source for the birds of prey. “It’s restoring some of the lost ecological connections in the river. First, we’ve seen the rebuilding of the herring run. And now we’ve seen the building of the eagle and osprey populations,” according toAndrew Goode of the Atlantic Salmon Federation.

The Penobscot River and its tributaries flow through the Maine North Woods to Penobscot Bay, in midcoast Maine. Scientists began collecting baseline data for monitoring wetlands, rare plants, invasive species, geomorphology, water quality, smolt telemetry (tagging and monitoring the actively migrating young salmon), tracking fish movements and fish communities, including sturgeon, salmon and other species, in 2009. See monitoring poster. For more information about the monitoring work with sturgeon,click here.

Dam removal, fish passage and river restoration projects are happening in other parts of the country, too. Trout Unlimited has recently blogged about the legacy of “Making rivers whole again” and what’s considered the largest dam removal project in the country is underway in the Olympic wilderness of Washington state. The Elwha Dam removal project began last fall to restore the Elwha River and ecosystem. It’s managed by theNational Park Service. A recent look at case-studies on dam removal and legislation in the U.S. from an energy perspective was provided in “Exploring the Reasons behind Dam Removal.” In addition, the Connecticut River has become the first National Blueway thanks to the efforts of over 40 local, state and federal government agency and nonprofit and for-profit coalition members. The designation will improve recreational opportunities for boating, canoeing, trail-building and conservation along the river in four states: CT, NH, MA and VT. The idea originated out of President Obama’s “America’s Great Outdoors” initiative. For a snapshot of other ideas in the Great Outdoors initiative, click here.

Updated: April 4, 2013: Blocked Migration: Fish Ladders On U.S. Dams Are Not Effective

The State of the Gulf Coast Wetlands—Two Years After the B.P. Oil Spill

Since the Deepwater Horizon spill of 2010, dolphin strandings have occurred at an unprecedented high level—over 500 stranded dolphins—one indicator that there is still a major problem in the Gulf (NOAA). Another strong indicator is the accelerated rate of coastal wetland loss in the Gulf as direct result from the impacts of the spill. Prior to the 2010 spill, the state of Louisiana already faced significant coastal wetland loss—about the area equivalent to a football field’s worth of wetlands every hour. Over 1,000 miles of coastal wetlands were contaminated by the oil spill, and despite restoration efforts, the rate of coastal wetland loss is now made more complex by the spill and clean-up process. Efforts to clean up the oil in the marshes, in some areas, depending on the extent of the contamination, have caused further damage to the wetlands. (NWF) A recent report by the National Wildlife Federation, “A Degraded Gulf of Mexico: Wildlife and Wetlands—Two Years into the Gulf OilDisaster” assesses the impacts to sea turtles, dolphins, pelicans, other wildlife and coastal wetlands affected by the B.P. oil spill.

NOAA announced this month that eight Gulf coast restoration projects will begin this year with $60 million earmarked for the work to create marshes, improve coastal dune habitat, restore oyster beds and reefs, and other projects related to the boat industry.  The first phase of the projects will take place in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida. There is more information about these restoration projects atwww.gulfspillrestoration.noaa.gov and www.doi.gov/deepwaterhorizon

Specific project fact sheets on each restoration project involved in this first phase of the Gulf Coast Restoration, called “Early Restoration,” an effort to get the natural resources back to the state prior to the spill, are available on NOAA’s website.  To learn more about the Gulf Coast Early Restoration efforts underway, go to:http://www.gulfspill
restoration.noaa.gov/
restoration/early-restoration/

As part of the response to the spill two years ago, a number of organizations and agencies have worked hard to address the critical needs of wildlife that depended on the coastal wetlands that were contaminated or destroyed by the spill. For example, a shorebird habitat enhancement project provided alternative habitat in Mississippi for waterfowl. A sea turtle project improved nesting and hatching on the Texas coast.

The Gulf coast’s diverse shoreline includes mangroves, cypress swamps, fresh and saltwater marshes and mudflats. What’s really at stake here? More than half of the coastal wetlands in the lower 48 states are located on the Gulf coast, which is also where the majority of coastal wetland loss has been occurring.  About 40% of these are in Louisiana. (NOAA) There is an important link between the healthy coastal marshes, their ecological role in serving as a nursery for invertebrates and small fish, and the larger fisheries and their health—which in turn, have a big impact on both the economy and well-being of people along the Gulf coast. In a healthy coastal marsh, the wetland soils and vegetation protect the land from storm surge, reduce flooding and improve water quality in the surrounding watershed. In a coastal marsh that has been contaminated by oil, the vegetation dies and the soil no longer has the ability to hold its position; it becomes more likely to erode during storms and even day-to-day tidal activity. Coastal wetlands are disappearing at an alarming rate, becoming open ocean.

One would think that cleaning up the oil during the response to the disaster would have solved the problem of contaminated marshes. But it doesn’t work that way. The vulnerable wetlands were threatened by the clean-up response methods intended to save them. The tools used to prevent oil from contaminating shorelands, including booms, got stuck in the wetlands.  Other techniques used to remove the oil disturbed and killed vegetation and other living things. Oily mats smothered mudflats and sand removal disturbed the beach habitat. These unintended impacts have been monitored and a number of contaminated marsh studies will help the response teams to evaluate these impacts and clean-up methods. For more information, see this Status Update: Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NOAA, April 2012).

Related blogs:

Gulf Restoration Network (includes photo slide show): Bird’s Eye View: An Earth Day Reflection In Photos Of The Last 2 Years Of The BP Drilling Disaster

Huffington Post blogs and videos of Gulf Oil Spill

Response & Restoration (NOAA) blog

8 Gulf coast restoration projects announced

Environmental Defense Fund blog: ASFPM Agrees: Some Gulf oil spill fines should go to Gulf restoration (Feb. 2012)

For background information on the impact of the oil spill on wetlands and related media over the past two years, visit ASWM’s Gulf Oil Spill Impact on Wetlands page I put together.

Climate Change Films: Sea Level Rise in the Lens

Since Strange Wetlands’ post on wetland videos anddocumentaries a few years ago, climate change adaptation and wetlands, including sea level rise and water conservation—have taken center stage in recent films. Some films address climate change adaptation, water resources, sea level rise and/or other impacts of climate change affecting wetlands. Others deal with the stressors on wildlife and natural resources, including wetland habitats. The IMAX documentary film, “To the Arctic,” about a family of polar bears and the issues facing wildlife in the Arctic, narrated by Meryl Streep, premiers this spring (2012). Another award-winning film, “The Island President,” illuminates the threat of sea level rise to the Maldives, a developing nation of 2000 islands off the coast of India.

The American Museum of Natural History posted a short video on arctic ecosystems in the face of climate change called “The Ecology of Climate Change” earlier this month. The film presents some research on boreal forests from Woods Hole Research Center and University of Florida. Like other recent films, it turns the attention to natural resources and adaptation as opposed to a focus on reducing carbon emissions, which was a more common theme in media a few years ago.

NOAA Climate Services and its Digital Coast webpages have a lot to offer for videos and visual presentations, including a short general video called “Climate Change: Impacts, Solutions and Perceptions” and a number of other climate change videos.

A simple search for “sea level rise” on Youtube lists over 5000 videos, including this USGS video: “Sea level rise, subsidence and wetland loss.” A number of videos look at the planning and analysis that went into coastal adaptation management plans in states like Florida such as this 2012 video: Adapting Coastal Communities to Sea-Level Rise: Why Isn’t Anybody Doing Anything? And this New York City (Wall Street Journalvideo on sea level rise. Some of the Youtube sea level rise videos explore the topic in other areas of the world, such as islands, internationally. For example, a series of short videos look at climate change adaptation in Tanzania.

States working on climate change adaptation plans have presented their analyses in short films to help educate citizens. For example, a Wisconsin’s Changing Climate video was produced by the WICCI Climate Working Group, looking at climate impacts in the state of Wisconsin projected to 2055. There are a number of other similar educational videos if you look for them state-by-state, or visit state universities’ websites to search for current research projects, which often have videos or short documentaries about the work. Student-made films can be very good, too. A creative example is the Beneath the Waves Film Fest Student Film Winner: “Tropic Cascades” (2012). A Brown University student made a film on Cape Cod salt marsh ecology.

The U.S. Forest Service has compiled a good list of climate change videos and presentations that pertain to impacts to natural resources, including water and fish, forests and carbon and adaptation.  For example, a presentation on “Challenges for Conserving and Managing Headwater Aquatic Ecosystems Under a Changing Climate” is available on its website.

ASWM’s Climate Change—and specifically the Sea Level Rise Tools webpages—have a number of resources, including USGS’s video on “Effects of Sea-Level Rise on Coastal Wetlands in the Mississippi Delta” and this video, “Converging Currents in Climate: Relevant Conservation: Water, Infrastructure and Institutions” by Conservation International (2011). Communicating to the public about climate change is often difficult when the language is constantly changing. See NOAA’s video on Communication & Climate Change (2012). Other short films illustrate the dynamics of coastal wetlands protection in the climate change context such as this one on mangrove forests by Wetlands International (2011). The Sea Level Rise Tools section of ASWM’s website also points to Coastal Climate Learning Tools (includes videos, wikis, webinars, training, etc.) and a video presentation on “Sea Change: Researchers Use Computer Modeling to Understand Rising Seas and Coastal Risks.”

Earlier this winter, Strange Wetlands looked at the link between Red Cross, extreme weather events and climate change. The Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre has a webpage with a number of short films and videos presenting topics ranging from hurricanes and climate change to preparing for climate change and adaptation.

If there are other good (and recent) videos, films or documentaries that I missed on this short list, please leave a comment below with the title and link. Thank you!

Update: November 2012: Chasing Ice, a film capturing the faster-than expected melting of glaciers http://www.chasingice.com/ is a breathtaking documentary and award-winning film. Watch the trailer here: http://www.chasingice.com/

Gone Ice Fishin’ – Ice, Ice Maybe?

It’s been 25 years since I last went ice fishing. I remember that the ice was so thick that Mainiacs drove their brand new Buicks across the ice, and even raced cars across frozen lakes in northern Maine.  But conditions are different nowadays, the ice isn’t as thick this year and people are more fearful of driving a car onto the ice. This has been called the ‘strangest Maine winter’ in 25 years. There have been several deaths this past month due to people falling through the ice in New England. Ice conditions change from year to year. My friend’sbrother, Caleb Lane, told me about ice fishing on East Musquash Pond in Maine about 10 years ago, and having to build a bridge using logs with his friends to access their gear, after the temperature unexpectedly rose from the teens to 50°F from one day to the next. This story, in particular, illustrates how a rise in temperature can dramatically alter the day’s events.

Caleb described it best: “The pond was so inundated by the rainwater that the ice had melted around the rim of the pond and there were about 10 feet of open water between the shore and the ice. This posed a major problem on how to get our gear that was left out on the ice. Fortunately we had driven the snowmobiles and 4-wheelers off the ice the night before. But we still had pack baskets and bait buckets and traps out on the ice. We found some lumber under the camps and made a bridge from shore to ice. We then ran around trying to find all our gear. The water on the ice was calf-deep most places and some were up to knee-deep. Each ice hole that we had drilled throughout the weekend was functioning as a large drain for that water. It was quite a sight to look out and see 200 holes with whirlpools going down them. And they were strong. Some that still had traps in them were going round and round very fast, while the holes got bigger and bigger…about a 10 foot radius, about 4 times the original size. And the traps had long since been dragged under the ice. …Fortunately no one went through the ice.”

This month a local ice fishing derby in southern Maine was postponed until February 25th because the ice on Crystal Lake was too thin. Normally in January, it’s about three-feet thick. An ice fishing derby isn’t necessarily a fast race. It might last a day or a weekend or the terms of a tournament might challenge the participants to “catch the most fish between January 1st-March 31st, 2012.” Plus, derbies often include related competitions, including ice shanty decorations.

Saturday I strapped ice cleats over my sheepskin-lined boots, and regretted my choice in footwear, as a slush of puddles coated Crystal Lake. There was no way I was going to “blend in” among the ice fishermen, since I wore a hot pink vest and not camouflage hunting clothes. I joined a group of a dozen excavators, and quickly learned a few things about their traditions. The first two things I learned about ice fishing—“you can never have enough beer” and trout was “the prized fish.” I asked about togus and pike, invasive fish that show up in Sebago Lake. The ice fishermen told me that Crystal Lake is a small pond with coldwater and warmwater fish, only about 59 feet deep and no known invasive species. But if they were ice fishing on Sebago Lake, then they would have a different strategy. On Crystal Lake, the guys baited their gear with shiners to attract trout, weighing the line so that the hook reached the bottom. They taught me how to set the gear, sometimes using homemade equipment, other times using hi-tech ice fishing tackle.  A spring-like action, similar to a mouse-trap, triggered a wire with an orange flag if a fish nibbled the hook. In the few hours I was on the ice, none of the 10 or so flags moved. At night, the men planned to sleep inside the shacks, and used a trap-door in the floor with gear set for overnight fishing. The fish are more active at night, I learned. (Of course, I was not spending the night out there! So I had to take their word for it.)

Barely a foot of ice held up their four-wheeled ATVs and shacks, fully decked with woodstoves, camping gear, coolers full of beer and food, and extra boots. A barbecue grill sat directly on the ice between two shacks (“the heat rises,” they assured me). Few people walked across the pond, like I did, except for one man, who accidentally stepped right down into a hole, which had been left unmarked, and he waddled back with his leg wet up to the knee. He held up his beer and said, “It’s okay, I’ve got heat in a can!” They all laughed. These guys seemed a hardy bunch. They were disappointed that the local derby had been postponed until late February, but remarked that it had to do with the slushy conditions and safety issues. In other parts of the country, ice conditions are a concern as well.

MI: Fish report: Ice iffy because of temperature changes, DNR says

WI: Greater Emphasis on safety at Weekend Fishing Tournaments

MI: With video: Weathering the warmer winter

NH/CT: For plenty of reliable ice, go north to CT lakes

MN: Lake Elmo Lions Ice Fishing Contest Cancelled Due to Thin-Ice Conditions

MI: Ice anglers in southern MI need to be careful because of fluctuating temperatures

MA: Accidents stir warnings over dangers of thin ice

CAN: Fishing season thin ice (Ontario)

Legends of the Snapping Turtle (Part 2)

There are many old myths about the snapping turtle. Folks warn, “If a snapping turtle bites you, it won’t let go until it thunders,”and in places like Alabama, snappers are nicknamed “thunder turtles.” One colorful story about a New York fisherman was published in the New York Times, July 1885 –“Fighting a Snapping Turtle” http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=
F20C16FC3B5D10738DDDAF0894DF405B8584F0D3
 It’s interesting how the farmer’s wife manages to leap from the lakeshore into the man’s boat, which was presumably at a distance while he was fishing, to save him from the “pesky critter.”

Some of the legends are partly true. For example, snappers sniff out carrion and rotting flesh—so police have (occasionally) benefited from following snapping turtles, which have led law enforcement to human remains.http://www.strangecosmos.com/content/item/141325.html But usually if a snapping turtle shows up on a police log, it is because someone called the Animal Control Officer, as happened last month in Boston: http://www.boston.com/yourtown/
news/norwood/2011/06/the_police_log_stolen_tires_an.html

It is also commonly believed that snapping turtles are fearless and aggressive to the point of attacking swimmers. Having swum among snapping turtles in a lake for many years as a curious child, who probably got too close on many occasions, I can say that I have never been attacked by a snapping turtle (nor was my brother ever bitten). Snappers aren’t fond of deep water, so it would be rare to come across one while swimming in deep freshwater. But there are probably rogues or circumstances that lead a turtle to bite a human. Here is a video of a researcher rescuing a snapping turtle from a net, in which the turtle is prompted to bite the scientist, who has just explained that snappers are usually safe to swim around (Some expletives are edited out): http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=a81_1273383345&comments=1 One take-away message: do not attempt to save/rescue a snapping turtle that’s been caught in a net unless you are a professional with pliers on hand in case of a bite.

Amidst snapping turtle lore, there is often confusion in associating the alligator snapping turtle with the common snapping turtle but they are not closely related. The alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) is a large freshwater turtle that lives primarily in southern U.S. waters. It looks like a plated dinosaur and is the sole living member of the Macrochelys genus. Very quickly, it can be identified as an alligator snapping turtle by the three rows of spikes on its carapace, which the common snapper does not have, instead having a smooth carapace. The alligator snapping turtle is endangered, in part due to fishing and the exotic pet trade.

One snapping turtle truism is surrounded in a fog of foul musky odor, which a snapper releases if it is threatened, or about to defend itself, e.g. bite. All turtles in the musk family, most famously—the Stinkpot—give off a foul odor, released from musk glands, when bothered. However, it is a misconception that the safest way to pick up a snapping turtle is by the tail—this can injure the snapper! For a fascinating video that sets the record straight on how to safely move a snapping turtle, see this expert pick up a snapper (“Easy, fella”): “How to Move a Snapping Turtle off the Road” July 2011 (The young man making the film says of snapping turtles, “They’re kind of like shotguns. If you don’t have experience with them, you probably shouldn’t play with them.”)http://neveryetmelted.com/2011/07/16/how-to-move-a-snapping-turtle-off-the-road/And for a funny video of a PA-based “Turtle Derby” see:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hrhfhfbZtT4&feature=player_embedded

 

Sleuthing Out the Truth About Snapping Turtles (Part 1)

As a kid spending summers on Little Sebago Lake in southern Maine, I was used to seeing snapping turtles. My brother, Tad, and I liked to hang out under the dock,—and we stared down the snapping turtles. Their trapezoidal heads poked up out of the water, nostrils flaring. When the snappers, or mud turtles, weren’t swimming in the lake, they hid in the marshy grove beside our camp. Neither my brother nor I were ever bitten by a snapper, but the possibility was there, under the dock—a thrill that propelled us a little faster through the water some days. Until this summer, I had not seen a snapping turtle at the lake since the early 1990s. One snapping turtle is back in our cove this summer, making a home near Fish Rock. We recognized its dark brown shell and distinctive-shaped head and hooked beak-like snout, used for capturing prey and self-defense, as it periodically inspected the surface, hiding beneath a mat of weedy reeds.  Since the arrival of the snapper, the ducks and their babies have not made their usual pass through our cove.

So far, the snapper is alone, which makes sense since snapping turtles are not social creatures.  She or he has made a home along a reef beside a peninsula that points to the Sand Bar, a favorite destination of boaters in the three-basin lake. Little Sebago is on the state’s top ten list for “most threatened by development,” and there has been a milfoil problem due to increased boat traffic after the town’s approval for a public boat launch. A number of local nonprofit organizations, such as Lakes Environmental Association and the Little Sebago Lake Association, have led projects to improve water quality and educational efforts about algae and wildlife habitat in the lakes region of southern Maine.

But common snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina) are not unique to Maine; in fact, Maine falls within the northeast part of their range, including Nova Scotia. Snappers are found in the Gulf of Mexico—in Florida (along with a different species, the Florida snapping turtle) and the Texas coast, all along the Atlantic/east coast, and as far west as the Rocky Mountains. These turtles have been paddling in and out of North American wetlands for 80 million years. Adult snapping turtles prefer marshes, swamps, muddy still water, shallow lakes and ponds, while the hatchlings and juveniles live in small streams. Juveniles have small toothy ridges on their carapace called keels. When snapping turtles are young, they are easy prey for predators, including herons, bullfrogs, snakes, alligators and fish like bass or pike. Once a snapper is an adult, nothing messes with it, besides a human. The mobility of the turtle’s neck, which never fully retreats into its shell, allows it to reach out and snap—surprisingly fast.

Because they are poor swimmers, snappers do not like deep water, and can drown if they can’t reach the surface, or get to land easily. They need a combination of wetland habitat types to thrive, but can be found in both urban and rural areas. Oddly enough, they can gowithout water for a couple of weeks and even swim in the ocean while they are migrating from a stream or river to a pond or marsh. Large males are territorial and choose a fixed spot for their home but females tend to move around, possibly going back and forth between “homes” along the shoreline of lakes, ponds and marshes or swamps. For some amazing photos of snapping turtles in Virginia wetlands, visit:http://www.fcps.edu/islandcreekes/ecology/
common_snapping_turtle.htm

When wetland habitat dries up and there is less water, a snapping turtle will be forced to move to another location to live. Sometimes this involves crossing roads, which explains why we sometimes see a crushed turtle on the side of the road, and wonder, “why did the turtle cross the road?

Despite their intimidating reputation, snappers are omnivorous, eating mostly aquatic vegetation. If ducklings are readily available, a snapping turtle might take one, but it’s incidental. Snappers may eat frogs and other amphibians, small mammals (like a mouse), mollusks and other invertebrates, and rarely—small birds. Snapping turtles may be poor swimmers but they are clever.  When a wetland is matted with algae, snapping turtles use the cover to hide beneath and grab shorebirds by the feet. The turtles’ effect on game fish and shorebirds populations is minimal. For more information about their interactions with waterfowl, visit:http://www.tortoisetrust.org/articles/
snappers.htm

Next week, I will uncover the Legends of Snapping Turtles.

Further reading on blogs about common snapping turtles:

“Detroit Wildlife: Common Snapping Turtle” by Laura Sternberg, July 2011
http://detroit.about.com/b/2011/07/12/detroit-wildlife-common-snapping-turtle.htm

“Snapping Turtle Expresses Displeasure at Being Plucked from Pond” by Mark Frauenfelder, July 2011 http://www.boingboing.net/2011/07/12/man-grabs-angry-snap.html

“The Secret Life of Snapping Turtles” by John Marshall, January 2009
http://www.grit.com/Animals/The-Secret-Life-of-Snapping-Turtles.aspx

“The Snapping Turtle” by Ted Levin, Vermont Public Radio, October 2008:http://www.vpr.net/episode/44552/

To read Part 2: Legends of the Snapping Turtle, click here.