Notes from Garden & Afield in Jersey Midlands

July 3, 2017

By  Joseph Sapia – NWNL Guest Blogger, from a Pine Barren outlier region in New Jersey’s Raritan River Basin  All content and photos © Joseph Sapia.  His email is Snufftin@aol.com.

“From the Raritan River to the Mullica River,

From the Delaware River to the Atlantic Ocean.”

2017:  
Sunday,  June 25, to Saturday July 1

Note:  The yard references are to my house in the section of Monroe between Helmetta and Jamesburg in South Middlesex County. My yard is in a Pine Barrens outlier on the Inner Coastal Plain, the soil is loamy, and my neighborhood is on the boundary of Gardening Zones 6b (cooler) and 7a (warmer). Afield references are to the Pine Barrens around Helmetta, unless otherwise noted. Notes and photographs are for the period covered, unless otherwise noted.

clip_image002Pickerel weed flowering in Helmetta Pond.

     PINE BARRENS AROUND HELMETTA:  Continuing flowering at Helmetta Pond were pickerel weed, “Pontederia cordata,” and fragrant water lilies, “Nymphaea odorata” Heads up on chiggers, family “Trombiculidae.” It may sound early, but I was scratching a little above my ankle and it felt like the beginning of a season of itchy chigger bites. Then, a local woodsman told me chiggers are indeed out. Avoid chigger bites by staying out of low brush. Another pest this time of year is the pine fly, genus “genus “Chrysops.”

clip_image004Sunset at Helmetta Pond.

     TURTLES:  I am still hearing a lot of talk about people coming across turtles, including misidentifying box turtles, “Terrapene carolina Carolina,” as water turtles. While a box turtle will go into water, it is generally a land turtle. So, if it is necessary to move a turtle for its safety, simply move it in the direction it is traveling. In recent days, Garden and Afield reader Bill McGovern came across two box turtles in his yard in Brick, Ocean County, and he reported, “Of course, I didn’t disturb the moment!” But he did supply a photograph of the mating turtles.

clip_image006Mating box turtles in Bill McGovern’s front yard in Brick, Ocean County. An easy way to identify the gender of box turtles is by their plastrons, or underside. A female’s is flat. A male’s is concave, so he can ride the female in mating, as shown in the photo.

     BLUEBERRIES:  Sophie Majka, a long-time neighbor of my family in the Pine Barrens around Helmetta, told me a little bit of local lore: Blueberries are ready to pick on St. John’s Day.

     Saturday, June 24, was St. John the Baptist Day. So, a few days later, I did a quick check of the woods and found a few berries — actually, probably black huckleberry, “Gaylussacia baccata.” A few ripened blue, most still green. Based on reports I have been seeing from the main Pine Barrens to the south, they have been ripe there for several days. The berries will be around for the upcoming weeks.

     Black huckleberry — along with low-shrub blueberries of the genus “Vaccinium” — are found on the uplands as the shrub understory of the forest. In the fall, these low-shrub berry plants are easy to identify because they turn flame red with the changing of “fall foliage” colors.

     For those more daring, head to the swamps for taller blueberry bushes of the genus “Vaccinium.”

     Just a note: Wild blueberries are not commercially cultivated berries, so they are smaller.

     A few years ago, Mrs. Majka and I spent some time up Jamesburg Park, picking the low-shrub blueberries. Mrs. Majka died at 92-years-old in March. This week, in the area where she and I picked, berries were ripening, providing a nice memory of Mrs. Majka.

clip_image008“Blueberries,” probably black huckleberries, at Jamesburg Park.

     IN THE GARDEN:  I am harvesting carrots, but not to the extent I thought I would. Lettuce has taken on a bitter taste, so I stopped harvesting that. Cantaloupe and zinnia plants are flowering. Also watching tomato, cucumber, and sweet corn grow. Aside from harvesting carrots, I am back to the three Ws:  Weed, Water, and Wait.

clip_image010Zinnia, with which I hope to attract pollinators for the food plants, beginning to bloom in the garden.

     GARDENING KNOW-HOW:  I use various sources to learn about my food gardening:  my colleagues at the Rutgers University Cooperative Extension/Middlesex County Master Gardening program, other gardeners, farmers, farm-garden shows and articles. In her column this week in the Philadelpehia Inquirer newspaper, Sally McCabe talked about gardening deadlines associated with the Fourth of July, including it being the last time of the season to plant tomatoes. I had already planted tomato by seed and plant, but with the early lettuce done, I had gardening space to spare. After Sally’s column, I happened to be near one of my favorite gardening centers, Tony’s Farm and Garden Center in Windsor, Mercer County. At Tony’s, I picked up 12 plants in six varieties of Chef Jeff’s tomatoes. And following grandson Tony Ciaccio’s advice, I got them in the ground immediately.

clip_image012A last planting of tomatoes – various Chef Jeff’s brand – in the garden.

     WATERING THE GARDEN:  I water the garden daily, giving it a good soaking before 10 a.m. I either use hose-and-sprinkler, tapping house water, or I use a sprinkling can, using mostly rain, recycled cellar dehumidifier water, or recycled water from my sprinkling. When I use the hose-sprinkler system, I aim for 20 minutes; When I use the sprinkling can, I probably would use about 30 gallons to cover my entire garden of approximately 315 row-feet, or about 950 square feet. But, now, I am re-thinking this – Perhaps, I should go to a more soaking sprinkling, but fewer times a week. Thoughts?

     AROUND THE YARD:  Knock Out roses are starting to bloom for a second time this season.

clip_image014Rain clinging to a pitch pine, “Pinus rigida,” in my backyard.

     FEEDING BIRDS IN THE YARD:  This summer, I am trying something different – essentially not feeding birds, except with the finch feeder. I am keeping the finch feeder because I love the colorful males of the state bird, the eastern goldfinch, “Spinus tristis.” The idea of not feeding this summer is to let the birds enjoy my yard, with the three birdbaths I keep filled, and help me by eating insects. Birds, nature’s pesticide! Of course, not buying expensive bird seed saves money. However, I still have seed in a garbage pail in the garage. When I am home, I usually have the garage door open and, of course, the squirrels, “Sciurus carolinensis,” have discovered the garbage pail. Clang! That is the sound of the squirrels knocking something down as they open the garbage pail.

clip_image016A birdseed thief trying to hide in the garage.

     PEDDIE LAKE:  Peddie Lake, created by the damming of Rocky Brook, is approximately 15 acres in Hightstown, Mercer County. Rocky Brook is a tributary of the Millstone River, part of the Raritan River-Bay watershed.

clip_image018Peddie Lake

     SUNRISE/SUNSET:  For July 2, Sunday, to July 8, Saturday, the sun will rise at about 5:35 a.m. and set about 8:30 p.m.

     WEATHER:  The National Weather Service forecasting station for the area is at http://www.weather.gov/phi/.

     Joe Sapia, 60, is a lifelong Monroe resident. He is a Pine Barrens naturalist and an organic vegetable-fruit gardener.  He gardens the same backyard plot as did his Italian-American father, Joe Sr., and his Polish-immigrant, maternal grandmother, Annie Poznanski Onda. Both are inspirations for his food gardening. Joe is active with the Rutgers University Master Gardeners/Middlesex County program.
He draws inspiration on the Pine Barrens around Helmetta from his mother, Sophie Onda Sapia, who lived her whole life in these Pines, and his Grandma Annie.  Joe’s work also is at @JosephSapia on Twitter.com, along with Facebook.com on the Jersey Midlands page.


On Combating Drought and Desertification

June 16, 2017

Today is “World Day for Combating Drought and Desertification.”  Ironically, today I am on a NWNL expedition in Nebraska atop the northeastern edge of the Ogallala Aquifer, which spans and supplies water to 8 states, all the way down to Texas.  The farmers I’ve talked to here are all aware of this observance.  After all, Nebraska was one of six of those same states so heavily impacted by the severe Dustbowl drought in the “Dirty Thirties.”  While these “black blizzards” caused terrible casualties and human displacement, much was learned about the importance of dry-land and no-till farming, planting windbreaks and the value of deep-rooted prairie grasses – all of which prevent wind erosion of these sandy “loess” soils.  During the Dustbowl, more than 3/4 of the topsoil was blown away in some regions.  Thanks to indomitable “Great Plains” human spirit, there has been recovery, albeit at the expense of large population declines, and continuing slim profit margins, provoking yearly concern.  The lesson still to be considered today is how we can mitigate extreme weather patterns.  Several means come to mind: irrigation and farming technologies, drought-tolerant crops, reduced consumption, reduction of fossil fuels that contribute to climate change, and paying attention to the lessons of history.

THE ROLE OF WATER IN HUMAN HISTORY:

For how long have our species worried about water availability?   For eons, civilizations settled on the planet’s great rivers and have flourished. I think of the Nile and its pyramids; the Tiber and its Roman Forum; and the Ganges and its Taj Mahal. There were also great civilizations that are believed to have literally dried up. I think of the Mississippian, Anasazi, and Incan cultures. Their power was decimated by their wanton consumption of natural resources, which intertwined with intense droughts and resulting food scarcity.
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Taj Mahal next to the Yamuna River, India. Photo by Alison M. Jones. NM-CCK-210A os.tif

Anasazi ruin ‘Chetro Ketl’ in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. Photo by Alison M. Jones.

THE ROLE OF WATER IN THE US WEST

Recently, David Beillo reviewed David Owen’s Where the Water Goes: Life and Death Along the Colorado River. He began his article by saying, “The waterways of the [U.S.] west now exist as monuments to an ambitious desert civilization. Across this vast region of America, few, if any, rivers flow without hosting one or more dams, concrete channels, diversions or other human-made ‘improvements’ that allow people and farming to flourish in this dry country.”

Nevada: Boulder City, Hoover Dam,

Hoover Dam, Boulder City, Nevada. Photo by Alison M. Jones.

Owen’s book follows a stream of well-known authors who’ve analyzed the issue of water availability in the desert – from Wallace Stegner’s many books to Marc Reisner’s Cadillac Desert (where did my well-worn copy of that classic go??) to John Fleck’s recent book on the Colorado River, Water is for Fighting Over. In describing the changing American West, Stegner muses on John Muir’s approach: “Instead of thinking what men did to the mountains, he kept his mind on what the mountains did to men.” A riverine parallel could be: consider what men have done to rivers in order to address what lack of rivers could do to men. Stegner succinctly states: “The West’s ultimate unity: aridity.”

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Parker Dam, hydrodam across the Colorado River that siphons water from Colorado Aqueduct to Los Angeles. Photo by Alison M. Jones.

In The Sound of Mountain Water: The Changing American West, Stegner describes the Cowboy Country – much of which supplies critical bounties of food and livestock – as a “land of little rain and big consequences.” The U.S. West is an extravagantly endowed region, but has one critical deficiency – water. Without water, watersheds, timber and crops are all vulnerable. Stegner mused, “There have been man-made deserts before this in the world’s history. The West could be one of those.” NWNL undertook five “Spotlight” expeditions to document the just-ended, six-year California Drought, including ten August days in the Mohave Desert when nights never cooled down below 108 degrees. Experiencing such extreme heat seemed to be possible preparation for what might be the norm in the future for larger areas than the deserts we now know, given climate change predictions.

Jones_140322_CA_3790California Aquaduct, seen from levee road, in San Joaquin River Valley, California. Photo by Alison M. Jones. 

Rising populations are using many straws to pull from that finite source of water called the Colorado River. It was named the Red River because of the color of the soil it carries, but perhaps we should also consider its color being derived from the blood of dying ecosystems and water-dependent livelihoods and communities. The death toll that many fear is exacerbated by the increasing droughts seemingly induced by climate change.

DESERTIFICATION IN AFRICA

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Aerial view of deforestation of Mau Forest, Kenya. Photo by Alison M. Jones.

Africa is also haunted by the specter of drought and desertification. The late Wangari Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to stem deforestation and resulting desertification by gathering legions of women to plant saplings across Kenya. No forests, no water, no life, no peace – as Ms. Maathai told NWNL after an appearance at NYC’s Cooper Union. But forests continue to disappear across Africa to be replaced by fields of maize to feed a growing number of mouths. Politics also interferes with efforts to protect Africa’s precious water towers, like Mt Kenya’s slopes and the Mara River’s Mau Forest headwaters.

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Indigenous cedar stump. Deforestation of Mau Forest, Kenya. Photo by Alison M. Jones.Jones_120124_K_5375

Truck full of cut logs. Deforestation of Mau Forest, Kenya. Photo by Alison M. Jones. 

THE FUTURE

In the face of today’s increasing droughts and deforestation, change is needed and is possible. But, given the human species’ tendency to short-termism, is it probable? Counter that tendency, our species also has often risen to crises — whether they were created by uncontrollable forces or by ourselves. Our inventiveness can overcome our inertia with leadership from grassroots and legislative actions. We certainly possess the ability to fight the specter of water scarcity.

We just need the will to change behavior and habits in order to stop deforestation, desertification and droughts. We need the will to reduce unnecessary consumption. We need the will to invest in research and technology. We need the will to respect nature’s needs and consider the long-term impacts of our human footprint.

 

 

 


It’s Not Easy Being a Horseshoe Crab in New York Harbor

May 31, 2017

Blog by Joe Reynolds, Coastal Naturalist

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Photo by Joe Reynolds.

Intro by Alison M. Jones, NWNL Director: To honor last week’s Endangered Species Day, we’re posting Joe’s blog on horseshoe crabs which are “Near-Threatened” per Endangered Species International.

My children grew up on Long Island Sound mesmerized by the spring tide of these prehistoric, armored invertebrates. Since they’re now rarely seen on those shores, I couldn’t resist a bit of further research and adding some Editorial Notes!

Author and coastal naturalist Joe Reynolds is also an activist — and he can count. NWNL applauds his monitoring of these “upside-down skillets with tails.” I look forward to joining his next full-moon count in Raritan Bay! Check Joe’s blog with pictures, video and stories of wildlife from Sandy Hook Bay, Raritan Bay and Lower New York Bay: http://www.nyharbornature.com

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“Selfie” provided by Joe Reynolds.

WHAT’S HAPPENING UNDERFOOT?

Watch where you step this spring! Horseshoe crabs (Limulus polyphemus) are beginning to crawl ashore on beaches around Sandy Hook Bay, Raritan Bay, Jamaica Bay, and other shallow estuarine sites around New York Harbor. They mate on full and new moon evenings in May and June.

Yet another spawning season for horseshoe crabs has commenced, an annual rite of spring that goes back 450 million years. For Jurassic Park movie fans, that’s 230 million years before the first dinosaur! [Ed note: They even survived the Permian extinctions when 95% of all marine species disappeared.)

Known as “living fossils,” horseshoe crabs are harmless, ancient creatures effectively unchanged through time. Horseshoe crabs are more closely related to spiders and scorpions than to crabs. However, as marine arthropods, they are really a prehistoric family of animals unto themselves.

In late April, horseshoe crabs begin to migrate from deeper ocean waters into estuaries to breed. First on the beach are often males, waiting for available females. What follows is like a primitive singles bar, minus a colorful tiki bar. But alcohol isn’t needed here.

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Photo by Joe Reynolds.

When a single female crab crawls out of the surf, she releases chemical cues called “pheromones” that help attract a breeding male. He then grasps her from behind with special appendages shaped like tiny boxing gloves on the end of his front walking legs. With her male in tow, she moves through the intertidal zone – a beach area that is above water at low tide and under water at high tide. There they deposit and fertilize 60,000 to 120,000 lime-green eggs in batches in wet sand.

In 2 to 4 weeks the eggs hatch. The size of a human fingernail, the young are a near–replica of an adult, though tail-less. The small crabs head straight to the water where they will grow in sandy shallow areas of the estuary. It takes 8 to 12 years for a crab to sexually mature and migrate back to bay beaches to breed.

 

THE VALUE OF HORSESHOE CRABS

Who would guess horseshoe crabs are critical to migratory shorebirds? But, yes, the fatty eggs of horseshoe crabs provide an important food source for many migratory shorebirds, including red knots (Calidris canutus), ruddy turnstones (Arenaria interpres), and sanderlings (Calidris alba), as they pause in their northward journeys to breed in the Arctic.

[ED Note: The red knot (part of the sandpiper family) makes one of the longest migrations of any bird: 15,000 km (9,300 mi) from Tierra del Fuego in S. America to the Arctic. On their mid-Atlantic stop, they re-energize and fatten up by feasting on what was a superabundant supply of horseshoe crab eggs. Red knots were numerous in N. America until masses were shot in the 1880’s. With further declines since the 1960’s, they are a “threatened species,” per the Endangered Species Act. So healthy horseshoe crab populations are critical to red knot survival. (Citation: http://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/red-knot)]

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Red knot. Photo by Dick Daniels, in Creative Commons.

STEWARDS STUDYING THEIR DECLINE

Although the world’s largest spawning horseshoe crab populations are in Delaware Bay, the busy New York Harbor has crabs too. Few people welcome them; but those that do, know when and where to find them by the dozens, hundreds, or even thousands along the shore.

Our Bayshore Regional Watershed Council is an environmental group dedicated to improving water quality and restoring the wildlife habitat of Raritan Bay and Sandy Hook Bay. Since 2009, our volunteers have counted horseshoe crab populations along the southern shore of NY Harbor in Monmouth County, NJ. Our goal is to note their spawning population and ascertain if it is stable, increasing or decreasing.

 
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Volunteers tagging a horseshoe crab to monitor its New York Harbor location. Photo provided by Joe Reynolds.

So far our study shows a horseshoe crab population that is less than robust. There’s been a steady decline in adult females. In 2009, the Watershed Council counted 495 female crabs (singles and mating) across 1,000 feet of beach at five sites in Raritan and Sandy Hook Bays. Yet, in 2016 only 217 female crabs were counted at the same sites. (Ed: minus 50% in 7 years). The single female population decreased from 96 to 15 during this time period. (Ed: minus 85%)

Surprisingly, male populations are growing. In 2009, there were 679 male crabs at monitoring locations (single and mating) in Raritan and Sandy Hook Bays. This increased in 2016 to 1,016 (Ed: plus about 75%). The single males also increased: from 251 to 769 (Ed: plus 300%)

This great inequality between sexes affects their spawning. It takes two to make a baby! Swimming pairs (crabs seeking a place to lay eggs) decreased from 265 in 2009 to 130 in 2016 (Ed: minus 50% in 7 years). Burrowed pairs (crabs in the process of laying eggs) decreased from 276 to only 50 pairs in 2016. (Ed: minus 80%)

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Lemon Creek Park, Staten Island, NY, on the Raritan Bay. Photo by Alison M. Jones.

HUMAN OVER-HARVEST of HORSESHOE CRABS

What could cause such a dire decline in females? Humans and money, of course. Increased harvesting of horseshoe crabs in NY waters threatens their population. NY is the only state on the U.S. Atlantic Coast without a horseshoe-crab harvest moratorium during their breeding period.

Females are repeatedly harvested more than males since they are about 30% bigger and thus have more meat. Adult females also often carry eggs, which will make better bait.

Since 2009, NY State’s commercial quota for horseshoe crabs has been around 150,000 crabs. Some come from NJ’s Raritan Bay and the south shore of Long Island. But an undetermined amount of crabs in NY Harbor are being harvested illegally.

In 2013, two men from Brooklyn were arrested for stealing 200 horseshoe crabs from an island locally known as the Ruffle Bar in Jamaica Bay, Queens. They were charged with taking wildlife without a permit and disturbing wildlife breeding practices in a National Park.

On April 30, 2017, a woman was arrested in Jamaica Bay for illegally harvesting 7 horseshoe crabs. She told U.S. Park Police she was harvesting crabs for her business. The body parts of horseshoe crabs command a high price in some parts of the world since they are considered an aphrodisiac for men.

Horseshoe crabs are also used as bait for the American eel and channel whelk (aka conch) which are highly valued by Asians and Europeans. U.S. harvesters use body parts of female horseshoe crabs as bait for eel and whelk. Thus female horseshoe crabs are supplying global seafood needs. In 20 years, the price for 1 horseshoe crab has jumped from 25 cents to over $5.

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Photo by Joe Reynolds.

Horseshoe crabs are also harvested by the medical industry for their copper-based blood which turns blue when exposed to air. Horseshoe crab blood has remarkable antibacterial properties that insure no impurities exist in medicines. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires all intravenous drugs, vaccines and medical devices that come in contact with the human body (i.e., replacement hips, hearts, knees or pacemakers) to be tested by crab’s blood for bacterial toxins associated with toxic shock syndrome, meningitis and typhoid. Millions in the US survive each year due to the clotting characteristics of horseshoe crabs’ blue blood.

Unfortunately medical benefits for humans don’t benefit the crabs. Horseshoe crabs are to be caught; bled with about 30% of their blood taken; and then returned to waters where they were found. But according to author Alexis Madrigal, “Between 10 and 30 percent of the bled animals, according to varying estimates, actually die.” In addition, “bleeding a female horseshoe crab may make it less likely to mate, even if it doesn’t kill it.” (The Blood Harvest, The Atlantic, Feb 26, 2014)

Environmental scientists John Tanacredi and Sixto Portilla say many crabs taken from NY waters to be bled are often not returned to NY. Research on horseshoe crabs from Brooklyn to Montauk from 2003 to 2014 showed that numerous crabs harvested in NY and taken to MA to be bled were often released in local Cape Cod waters, not NY as required by permits. “Many of those animals are re-harvested for bait and sold back to NY fishermen at an average cost of $5/crab.” (Horseshoe Crab Biology, Conservation and Management, 2015)

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South Beach on Raritan Bay Estuary, Staten Island, New York. Photo by Alison M. Jones.

IMPACTS OF HARVESTING HORSESHOE CRABS

It’s not an easy life in New York Harbor. The legal and illegal harvesting of horseshoe crabs, especially females, has limited their distribution and breeding, resulting in localized population declines. Horseshoe crabs could disappear locally if nothing is done to safeguard them in NY waters.

NJ instituted a moratorium on harvesting horseshoe crabs in 2007, but not NY where people can still harvest crabs. This puts the crab population under severe threat in the Lower New York, Raritan and Sandy Hook Bays.

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Tagged horseshoe crab. Photo by Joe Reynolds.

YOU CAN HELP!  

Please email both Governor Cuomo (click here) and the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (click here) to ask for greater protection of horseshoe crabs. NY State must restrict harvests in local waters, especially of female crabs. We need Albany to protect these prehistoric animals — before it’s too late.

Also, please share the plight of horseshoe crabs with friends and family. The more who are aware of the threat to horseshoe crabs, the more likely we can ensure their survival in the Raritan, Sandy Hook and Jamaica Bays.

If greater awareness and public support is coupled with greater conservation efforts, then these Ancient Mariners of New York Harbor can fill the beaches for many spring seasons to come. Let’s make sure they endure for another 450 million years!

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Fisherman at confluence of eastern shore of Cheesequake Creek Inlet with Raritan Bay, Raritan River Basin, New Jersey. Photo by Alison M. Jones. 

NWNL Recommended Reading:

 Safina, Carl. The View from Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2011. One hundred miles east of NY’s Manhattan, the author found a beach house that let him “see the whole world in the view from Lazy Point” – or at least the whole beauty and connected magic of the natural world in which we live. In this renowned conservationist’s observations and pleas for us to adopt a “sea ethos,” he tells of spawning, antedeluvian horseshoe crabs, bluefish, sea ducks and menhaden. He also weaves in tales from afar of brown bears and coral reefs to further deepen our appreciation of nature.

Sargent. Bill. Crab Wars: A Tale of Horseshoe Crabs, Bioterrorism and Human Health. Lebanon NH: University Press of New England, 2006. Social justice and ethics are raised by human medical needs for the blood of these crabs that evolved 300 million years ago. This is a tale of the conflicts between scientific progress and our dwindling natural resources.

For children, Grades 1-4: Crenson, Victoria. Horseshoe Crabs and Shorebirds: The Story of a Foodweb. New York City: Two Lions, 2014. With charming watercolor illustrations, this book shares nature’s amazing connections between a small red-chested bird from the southern tip of S. America with the salty eggs of large, armored crabs on mid-North Atlantic beaches.

Joe Reynolds Recommended Reading:

Fredricks, Anthony D. Horseshoe Crab: Biography of a Survivor. Washington, DC: Ruka Press, 2012.

Cramer, Deborah. The Narrow Edge: A Tiny Bird, An Ancient Crab & An Epic Journey. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015.

McCully, Betsy. City at the Water’s Edge: A Natural History of New York. New Haven, CT: Rivergate Press, 2006.

Waldman, John. Heartbeats in the Much. Guilford, CT: The Lyons Press, 2000.

MacKenzie, Clyde L. The Fisheries of Raritan Bay. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1992. 


Transboundary Ecological Impacts of a Border Wall

April 26, 2017

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Current Border Wall, Lukeville AZ.  Photo by Alison M. Jones

By Christina Belasco and Alison M. Jones

For all the recent talk about a U. S.-Mexico border wall, most rhetoric has ignored its significant environmental impacts.  Funding efforts for this massive, concrete wall are temporarily shelved; yet No Water No Life wants to promote discussion of the important watershed threats this wall poses, as the proposal is likely to reappear.

Those who think the almost-2,000-mile borderline from Texas to Tijuana would not have environmental impacts don’t understand that this corridor is more than an empty, arid space.  There are tenuous desert ecosystems within critical and vulnerable watersheds.  The health and very existence of local flora and fauna would be threatened.  Resultant flooding would increase.  Meanwhile, many argue that little – if anything – would be gained from constructing a border wall.

Cost of Wall – According to the Washington Post, the Wall will take over 3 years to construct at an estimated cost of $21.6 billion using taxpayer dollars.  This does not even include the $10 million/year for repairs that is currently spent .

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Saguaro Cactus in the transboundary Sonora Desert, near Aho AZ.  Photo by Alison M. Jones

Wildlife – The desert is home to bison, saguaro cactus, desert tortoise, prairie dogs, blackbirds, foxes, hawks and countless other species. Added wall construction would impact more than 100 endangered species, 108 migratory bird species, 4 wildlife refuges and critical wetlands.  More than 30 environmental and cultural laws have already been waived in the name of “national security” for just the present border-wall sections.

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Migratory cranes just north of the  Mexican border, Bosque del Apache NWR, NM  Photo by Alison M. Jones

Migration Corridors – One of the most devastating qualities of the border wall would be the abrupt blockage of migration corridors.  The wall wouldn’t just keep out unwanted people.  It would prevent species from moving freely to habitat crucial to their survival and to lands they have used for thousands and thousands of years.

Flash Floods – Most of the year, the desert is a very dry place to be; but when it rains, torrents come down ferociously.  Flash floods dump more than 1,000 cubic feet of water per second into the ecosystem, which carry debris downstream with it. A concrete border wall would further exacerbate severe erosion, chaos and destruction in nearby border towns above and beyond the flooding already caused by existing border-wall sections.

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Rio Grande in Albuquerque, AZ. Photo by Alison M. Jones

Tohono O’odham Tribe – The Tohono O’odham are a nation of indigenous peoples on the American continent. Their tribe is in a unique transboundary situation because their territory spans both the U.S and Mexico. This tribe is vehemently opposed to a larger border wall as it would directly overrule their sovereignty and would prevent them from reaching their sacred lands.  They also know it would disrupt regional ecosystems.

AZ-CHI-114.jpgPetroglyphs of Anasazi desert culture – similar to that of today’s Tohono O’Odham culture, Chinle AZ .  Photo by Alison M. Jones

RECOMMENDED SOURCES:

Burnett, John.  Mexico Worries That a New Border Wall Will Worsen Flooding.  NPR:  April 25, 2017.    http://www.npr.org/2017/04/25/525383494/trump-s-proposed-u-s-mexico-border-wall-may-violate-1970-treaty

Schuyler, Krista.  Continental Divide – Wildlife, People, and the Border Wall.  College Station TX:  Texas A & M University Press, 2012.

 


EarthDay’17: What if it was A Day Without Water?

April 22, 2017

Guest Opinions, Compiled by Christina Belasco

For many of us, a “Day Without Water on Earth” is unfathomable. But for many who live in drought stricken areas, a day without water is reality.  This Earth Day, NWNL is highlighting aspects of water we take for granted in our daily lives. We challenge you to take the time to learn where your water comes from; to take steps to conserve it; and to protect it as a resource for everyone. With no water, there is no life.  Even our very own bodies are about 70% water!

Here’s what NWNL friends say they’d miss on A Day Without Water.

Judith Shaw, NWNL Advisor: A day without water would bring home the fragility of our world. It would mean no gentle shower or fresh water from the tap. It would mean tragedy to communities where people travel miles to a shared source of water to bring home a gallon or two. Our rivers and streams would be dry, sacrificing all flora and fauna which thrive in that fine ecological niche. Here in Ohio, the Cuyahoga River would cease to exist, leaving Standing Rock as a memorial to what once was beautiful, generous and uplifting. Water is our life. It feeds the soul and nourishes our lives. Let us rise together to protect our resources forever.

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Frontenac MN, Mississippi River Basin. Photo by Alison M. Jones.

John Ruskey, Lower Mississippi River Steward and “Rivergator:”  I would miss the sparkling exuberance of water dancing in the middle of a pond on a windy day, the ripply laughter of a gurgling creek, the refreshing showers of misty rain,  the thrilling wildness of a snowstorm, and the deep resounding soulfulness of the big muddy river in flood.

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Old Moon, Ursa Major, Voyageur Canoe, Towboats on Lower Mississippi River.  Watercolor by John Ruskey.

Jacob Mwanduka, Mau Forest Steward in Kenya’s Mara River Basin:  Can you imagine a world without water? Even for a few minutes! In Kenya and Africa as a whole, we are water-deficient localities.  This causes conflicts with no solution in sight. Water-harvesting at family levels should be encouraged and supported, especially to rural and urban under-privileged people. Over and above highlighting this plight, basic solutions must be undertaken as long-term answers are sought.

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Aerial view of dry river beds in Namibia. Photo by Alison M. Jones.

Barbara Folger, NWNL Project Coordinator and Photographer:  In a Day Without Water, I would miss the amazing dances of the Sandhill Cranes that roost in the Platte River during their migrations.

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Sandhill Cranes in Platte River, NE, Mississippi River Basin. Photo by Barbara Folger

Christina Belasco, NWNL Project Manager: Every day we take for granted the ease with which we access clean water through infrastructure. In a day without water, we simply wouldn’t know what to do for our basic needs, we couldn’t survive.

American folk song:
What’cha gonna do when the well runs dry?
Gonna sit on the bank, watch the crawdads die.
Honey, oh sugar baby of mine.

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Big Stream, The Ozarks, Mississippi River Basin. Photo by Alison M. Jones

Alison Jones, NWNL Executive Director and Photographer: 

A Day Without Water would be one day removed
From A Day Without Earth – as we’ve known it.
There’s a reason that people have settled
Along the sea and rivers for 10,000 years.
Water sustains, cleanses, irrigates and transports us.
Water is a universal gift to each of us.

As a “country girl on a day without water, I’d miss:
Birds and butterflies at puddles and birdbaths;
The stream’s gurgle that lulls me to sleep at night;
Floating, splashing, and wetting my lips to whistle;
That cool drink of water just an arm’s reach from me now;
The feel of dew, fog, steam, rain and snow on my face.

As a photographer on a day without water, I’d miss:
Seeking the ripples, currents and eddies of
Waterfalls, ponds, puddles and springs,
Rivers, riverbanks, rivulets and rills,
Brooks, bayous, creeks, and cricks,
Lakes, lagoons, lochs and playas;
Sloshing thru wetlands in rubber boots;
Knowing a line of willows and reeds indicates a stream.

As a researcher on a day without water, I would worry:
Since my brain is75% water, could I still think?
Since my lungs are 90% water, could I still breathe?
Since water lubricates my joints, could I still move?
Since industry and agriculture need water:  No Water No Economy!
Since fish and crops need water:  No Water No Food!

On a Day without Water, I’d realize water connects us all,
No matter what our differences are.
So, on this Earth Day, we invite all to join the NWNL Team
In sharing the importance of protecting our water resources.
Talk with family, friends, and neighbors about water.
Join our pledge to help ensure Clean Water – Every Day – For All!

EarthDay’17 isn’t a Day Without Water. It’s a Day for Teamwork!

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Trout Lake and Mt. Adams, WA. Columbia River Basin.  Photo by Alison M. Jones


Better Water for Our Appalachian Neighbors

March 17, 2017

By Alison M. Jones

Clean water is a vital and existential need. Many say it is a human right. It is certainly critical to good health. However, not all Americans are guaranteed access to clean water.  NWNL recently read about serious contamination of Eastern Kentucky’s drinking water.

In 2013, NWNL documented this eastern edge of the Mississippi River Basin. Appalachia is filled with misty hollers. Old men rock on front porches, waiting for the warming morning sun to peek into their yard.

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Drinking water for rural Appalachian residents should be as sparkly clean as the tumbling waters in their Cumberland River.

But Eastern Kentucky’s water supplies are contaminated by sewage and years of coal and gas extraction.  Coal processing is never far from rivers. In the rain, unprotected piles of black coal leach into the ground and then nearby bodies of water.

The health of residents in Appalachia’s Tennessee and Ohio River Basins is not only impacted by coal’s direct pollution of rivers and groundwater, but also by black carbon – polluted particulate matter spewed from coal-fired power plants. According to the Earth Institute of Columbia University, black carbon particulates are “especially dangerous to human health because of their tiny size.”  This fine soot is “formed by the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, biofuels, and biomass.” It fills the air folks breathe and then drops, polluting land and drinking water supplies below.

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Such pollution damages the health of thirsty children and their elders, as well as wildlife and fish. “Breathing in particulate matter of black carbon’s sulfate, nitrate, ammonia, sodium chloride and mineral dust poses the greatest health risks because these particles find their way deep into lungs and the bloodstream, causing cardiovascular and respiratory disease, and premature death.” Black carbon also affects visibility; harms ecosystems; reduces agricultural productivity and exacerbates global warming.

While still debating continued use of coal, U.S. politicians indicate they want to update infrastructure, including rural water delivery and waste-water systems. That should give hope to Eastern Kentucky residents who need federal support for such infrastructure, since public/private funding in Appalachia is minimal.

While shiny new bridges provide visible evidence of federal support, new underground water tanks and pipes are invisible. Human health needs should be recognized as a top priority. Clean water will reduce illness and health care costs in Eastern Kentucky. Providing clean drinking water to all Americans is as important as new bridges.

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“If only civilization did not bring with it pollution.” Children’s mural in Ericeria, Portugal.

RESOURCES for this blog

 

Becker, Benny. “Kentucky Community Hopes Trump Infrastructure Plan Will Fix Water System,” NPR: March 13, 2017. http://n.pr/2mjp9pp

Cho, Renee. “The Damaging Effects of Black Carbon,” Earth Institute of Columbia University. |March 22, 2016.    http://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2016/03/22/the-damaging-effects-of-black-carbon

U. S. Environmental Protection Agency. “What is Black Carbon? https://www3.epa.gov/airquality/blackcarbon/basic.html

 


Celebrating World Wildlife Day!

March 3, 2017

By Christina Belasco

Today we celebrate World Wildlife Day. Acting to preserve our planet’s treasured biodiversity is more important now than ever. To honor our beloved creatures we share with you all today photos from our African and North American case study watersheds! We can never forget that these animals all depend on healthy, clean fresh water so we must protect our watersheds as well. Each animal, no matter how big or small, plays a critical role in the ecosystem and are all worthy of love and conservation. This reminds us all that no action we take in conservation is too small. We thank local environmental stewards everywhere for standing up for their ecosystems.

Africa:

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Kenya, Maasai Mara National Reserve. Elephants are a flagship species of the Maasai Mara Reserve. They are a key indicator species, and are in danger due to illegal poaching for their ivory.

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Tanzania, Lake Manyara National Park. An Olive Baboon (papio anubis) eats a kigelia nut in groundwater forest. The baboon’s greatest threats are habitat loss due to deforestation as well as human hunting.

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Kenya, Maasai Mara National Reserve. An Impala Herd grazes at sunset. Impala are an important food source for many predators in the African Savanna, and are a very adaptable species.

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Tanzania, Lake Manyara National Park. A Lioness is perched in an Acacia tree. Lionesses hunt for the pride. These predators of the Savanna are in danger because of habitat loss and poaching.

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Tanzania: Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The annual Wildebeest migration is one of the seven wonders of the natural world, when over 1.5 million Wildebeest trod in an enormous loop through Tanzania and Kenya.

North America:

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Columbia River Basin, Greater Yellowstone. The Buffalo was once the great icon of the heartland of the United States, and are sacred to the Native Americans of the plains who relied on Buffalo for centuries as their source of food, material, and ceremony. As the settlers came, the Buffalo was nearly hunted out of existence. Thanks to recent conservation efforts, especially in Yellowstone National Park, this giant creature is making a slow comeback.

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Washington, Columbia River Basin. Chinook Salmon are critical to river ecosystems in the Northwest. The single most damaging threat to the Salmon are dams, which block their ability to migrate downstream and into the ocean where they need to go to complete their life cycle.

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New Jersey, Mountainville (Raritan River Basin). Atlantis fritillary butterfly feeds on the bloom of a bush. Butterfly are not only beautiful, they help pollinate flowers and are a key indicator species.

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Louisiana, Atchafalaya Basin. The Alligator in the Atchafalaya Basin is a critical predator. It faces a multitude of threats including habitat loss, immense pollution, and human hunting.

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New Jersey, Upper Raritan River Basin. Honeybee populations all over the world are facing an enormous crisis due to pesticide spraying and climate change.


Showering in South Sudan…Sometimes

February 3, 2017

DSC_6347.JPGNWNL Director Alison Jones met fellow journalist Dale Willman just before he left for South Sudan. We stayed in touch as he worked to help young local journalists in this Nile River Basin, newly-formed country.   Dale is an award-winning editor, reporter, trainer and photographer with decades of reporting from five continents. During more than 15 years in Washington, DC, he worked for NPR, CBS and CNN. As a trainer, he was recently in South Sudan working with the staff of a local radio station. During the first Gulf War he reported from London for NPR, providing coverage for an IRA bombing campaign. 

South Sudan’s struggles with peace and availability of clean water continue to create disturbing headlines.  NWNL is proud to carry Dale’s story. 

By Dale Willman

Showering outside is one of the few pleasures for a temperate-zone kind of guy working in the tropics.

But water is a precious resource in South Sudan. It is also a complicated topic. For many of the country’s 8-10 million people, clean drinking water is relatively accessible. The operative word here of course is “relatively.”

I lived in Turalei, a small village in South Sudan from July of 2015 until March 2016. Older U. S. sports aficionados will remember its most famous resident, NBA basketball star Manut Bol, who is now buried in a memorial north of the village. I was there as a journalism trainer for Radio Mayardit. We lived in a fenced compound with our radio station, a small living area of three tukuls (small huts), a cooking area, latrines – and that outdoor shower.

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Turalei is a sleepy village. Its rutted dirt roads pass by market stalls made of sticks and rusty, corrugated metal roofs.  Posters of soldiers killed in the country’s civil war are plastered on a monument that marks the middle of the village. Food is scarce. I lost 30 pounds in my first two months. For a guy more comfortable with snow, it is hot. South Sudan is a tropical country where daytime temperatures regularly reach north of 115 degrees. An evening shower under the stars helped me survive.

The entire country however lacks the most basic infrastructure, including running water. Many larger villages have at least one wellhead, thanks to the tireless work of dozens of NGOs over the past ten years. But for those in the countryside, which is most of the country’s population, the nearest well may be a kilometer or more away. That presents difficulties for some of the country’s most vulnerable citizens – its youngest population.

Children are an economic asset in this country. Kids working at home are more important to a family struggling to survive than kids getting a classroom education. So rather than backpacks filled with books like American school kids, many South Sudanese children carry dirty, yellow jerry cans a kilometer or two from wellhead to home. Each can holds five or more gallons of water and weighs 40 pounds or more. Often children do this several times each day in order to have water for the most basic of needs – cooking and bathing among them.

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Having access to clean water though does not mean that the water people drink is clean. For as many as 2/3 of homes, by the time water is consumed it is contaminated with E coli and other impurities, according to research over the past decade.

Open storage is a huge problem. In Turalei’s compound where I lived and worked, drinking water was kept outside in a 50-gallon drum, loosely covered by a broken wooden board, often left lying on the ground. It was not uncommon to see mosquito larvae and pupas floating in the water. Birds that regularly sat on the drum’s rim would defecate into the water. And of course the dust – there is always dust – also infiltrates the barrel.

And there’s that shower I so relished. The water tank for my shower was regularly left uncovered. The container was so contaminated that at one point I was treated for a ruptured eardrum, probably caused by an infection from contaminated water.

Transport of water from its source to a home is another source of potential contamination. Many worked and lived in our compound, thus our water needs were extensive. A young man we hired regularly brought the water to us in two 50-gallon drums welded together and hauled on a donkey cart. One day my shower smelled of petrol. It’s possible that he made a little extra money that week by hauling fuel for someone, using the same drums he used for our water.

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How water is stored in the home plays another major role in whether families will be drinking clean water. The jerry cans that store water in homes across South Sudan are often also used for cooking oil, petrol and other commodities.

The way water is used, or not used, is a significant health factor for the country’s population. It was common during my year in South Sudan for me to see people returning from a toilet before meals without washing their hands. Since most meals are eaten communally, diarrheal diseases easily spread through entire communities.

Throughout history, water has played a major role in defining South Sudan. The White Nile divides this country as it flows from its Ugandan southern border to its northern Sudanese border. Above Juba, the nation’s capital, the river spreads out to form the world’s largest swamp called The Sudd.

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In 61 A.D., The Sudd blocked invading Romans, ending Emperor Nero’s hope of dominating all of Africa. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, the British attempted to cut through the Sudd. While the British were periodically successful, their efforts were always short-lived. Nature, it turns out, is a better reclamation artist than humans usually give credit. Even now, the Egyptian government’s effort to create a canal to drain a portion of the swamp in the next 24 years has stalled.

For many years, The Sudd has been an advantage for the citizens of South Sudan, having created a natural barrier to fighting that has ravaged the country. With much of the conflict based around the oil fields in the northeast, the Sudd has prevented some of that fighting from infecting much of the nation’s western flank.

Like I said, water is a complicated issue in South Sudan.


Let Salmon Migrate Up the Snake River Again

January 20, 2017

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Fish ladder in a Columbia River Dam. Alison Jones/NWNL

By Alison Jones, NWNL Executive Director

Mitigation against impacts on salmon populations by the Columbia/Snake River dams has been deemed insufficient.  Thus, NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) has asked the US Army Corps of Engineers, NOAA and the Bureau of Reclamation to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for breaching, bypassing, or removing 14 Federal dams – including the 4 Lower Snake River Dams.  These agencies are now accepting public comments.  Given drastic declines of salmon, NWNL and many others who agree that avian predation management and “safety-net” hatcheries don’t do enough are sending in comments.  (More background info at www.crso.info.)

TO COMMENT on the Snake River Dams (by Feb. 7): Email comment@crso.info. Call 800-290-5033. Or mail letters to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, NW Div., Attn: CRSO EIS, P.O. Box 2870, Portland, OR 97208-2870.

Our NWNL Comment on the 4 Lower Snake River Dams sent to the US Army Corps of Engineers, NOAA and Bureau of Reclamation:

For 10 years No Water No Life® has studied freshwater issues in the Columbia River Basin. We’ve focused on the Lower 4 Snake River Dams since 2014. During our 4-week Snake River Expedition, NWNL interviewed 17 scientists, fishermen, commercial farmers, USF&W staff, hatchery and dam operators, power companies, historians, the Port of Lewiston Manager and the Nez Perce Dept. of Fisheries. (Our 2014 Snake River itinerary)

After 3 follow-up visits to the Snake River Basin and continued research, No Water No Life asks you to breach, bypass or remove the Lower 4 Snake River dams. Below are the Q & A’s that informed our conclusion:

 Who cares about the future of the Lower 4 Snake River dams?  Many people – in and beyond the Columbia River Basin – are concerned. So far, over 250,000 taxpayer advocates have delivered comments supporting wild salmon and healthy rivers, according to Save our Wild Salmon. That’s a ¼ million people who’ve spoken out on meaningful, cost-effective salmon restoration that could occur with the removal of the 4 costly dams on the lower Snake River.

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Lower Granite Dam on Snake River’s Lake Bryan. Alison Jones/NWNL

Is there a real threat if nothing changes? Yes. The Endangered Species Coalition put Snake River Chinook on its top “Top Ten” list last month. In his examination of the Port of Lewiston’s diminishing role, Linwood Leahy notes we are pushing the salmon to extinction, even though they were here long before homo sapiens.

Is this plea just for salmon? No. Removing the Lower 4 Snake River dams will aid recovery of wild salmon, orca whales, freely-flowing rivers and forests enriched by remains of spawned salmon carrying ocean nutrients upstream. Nature built a fine web where species and ecosystems connect in ways we will probably never fully understand – but must respect. Loss of one species affects the entire trophic cascade of an ecosystem – be it the loss of predator species (e.g., lion or wolves) or the bottom of the food chain (e.g., herring or krill).

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Salmon hatchery in Columbia/Snake River System. Alison Jones/NWNL

The unique and already-endangered orcas (aka Southern Resident killer whales) are highly susceptible to declines of Snake River salmon, per The Orca Network. The Center for Whale Research claims that salmon restoration must “include the Fraser, Skagit and Columbia/Snake Rivers, the key sources that provide the wild salmon that the whales need to survive.”

How do the dams impact the salmon? Fish biologists agree that dams have decreased wild fish populations by making it more difficult for juvenile and adults to migrate to and from the ocean. Dams become salmon-killers each summer as water temperatures become lethally hot in slow-moving, open reservoirs. Even a 4-degree increase can kill thousands of fish.  When the dams go, wild salmon can again access over 5,000 miles of pristine, high-elevation habitat which is much cooler for salmon in this warming world.  Dam removal is agreed to be the single most effective means to restore populations of wild salmon, steelhead and Pacific Lamprey. It will also restore U. S. fishing industry jobs.

Does the Pacific NW need these 4 Snake River Dams for hydro energy? No. These outdated dams produce only 3% of the region’s power – and only during spring run-off, when demand is low. The electricity the dams produce can be replaced by affordable, carbon-free energy alternatives. Local wind energy has exploded and easily exceeds the capacity of the dams — by 3.4 times as much in the Pacific Northwest.  On some days the dam authorities can’t give away the little power they generate.  In light of that, it is wrong that taxpayers support exorbitant costs of maintaining these days (estimated at $133.6 million for 2015).

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Little Goose Lock and Dam on the Snake River. Alison Jones/NWNL

Do farmers or others need the Lower 4 Snake River Dams?  No. Distinct from the Columbia River system, the Snake River barge traffic, enabled by dams, has declined 70% in 20 years. Using the Corps of Engineers’ categorization, the Snake River has been a waterway of “negligible use” for years. There is no longer any containerized, barge shipping of lumber, wood chips, paper or pulse (peas, lentils, garbanzos) from the Snake River or anywhere to the Port of Portland. The only remaining shipping is for non-container commodities, such as wheat from the Palouse, which could be moved solely by truck-to-rail, instead of truck-to-barge. For further data, please feel free to email us (info@nowater-nolife.org) for a copy of “Lower Snake River Freight Transportation: Twenty Years of Continuous Decline” (October 25, 2016 by Linwood Laughy of Kooskia, Idaho).

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Wheat fields and wind energy in Snake River Basin. Alison Jones/NWNL

Much rail infrastructure is already in place and being expanded in realization that the dams are aging, performing as sediment traps (especially with climate change) and incurring heavy repair costs to prevent crumbling. The needed and smart investment would be a few more “loop rail” terminals with storage for grain. Long term, this will provide very cost-efficient and environmentally-friendly transport. There is a growing movement supporting more rail infrastructure, and even electric rail, in the US to create an interconnected and cleaner energy future.

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Ritzville WA Train Depot and grain silos in Snake River Basin. Alison Jones/NWNL

We ask you to avoid outdated date, miscalculations and past errors.  We ask you to hire independent, informed experts for their input on the dams’ actual costs and relevance.  We ask you to make the wise environmental and economical choice. Thank you.

Alison M. Jones, Executive Director of No Water No Life®, LLC

 


“Living Shorelines” Can Fortify Our Coastlines … A Solution at Work in New Jersey’s Raritan Bay

November 29, 2016

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A “living wall” of oysters in the South Atlantic. Photo: Alison M. Jones for No Water No Life

By Meredith Comi, Restoration Program Director of the NY/NJ Baykeeper 

After Hurricane Sandy, it was clear that coastal resiliency had become an immediate priority. Thus, Baykeeper began an innovative project to determine if a “Living Shoreline” of oysters could stabilize eroding shorelines of the urban New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary. Perhaps they would simultaneously protect the surrounding environment, improve water quality, and create healthy aquatic habitats.

Oysters are powerful. They can filter and clean water, a much-needed service today. They can provide reef habitat for other sea creatures and improve resiliency to storm surge and erosion. Oysters once thrived in the NY-NJ Harbor Estuary — so much so that Ellis Island was previously called Little Oyster Island.  However, over-harvesting, pollution and the sedimentation of reefs resulted in a sharp population decline. Today there is no longer a sustainable oyster population in the NY-NJ Harbor area; but NY/NJ Baykeeper is working to restore them. As a bi-state restoration leader, NY/NJ Baykeeper has had restoration projects in both NJ and NY waters.

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“Oyster-keepers” in the Raritan Bay. Photo: NJ/NY Baykeeper

In mid-August, 2016, NY/NJ Baykeeper and its partners installed a first-of-its-kind urban “Living Shoreline” in northern New Jersey waters.  Located in the Raritan Bay at the Naval Weapons Station Earle in Monmouth County, a new 0.91 acre Living Shoreline consists of an artificial reef, using live oysters. Known as “oyster castles,” these new concrete structures are meant to provide the needed hard surface on which oysters can attach and grow. These 137 castles with about 10,000 oyster larvae can thus begin to fortify and protect the Raritan Bayshore.

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Oyster stabilization in the Mississippi River Delta.  Photo: Alison M. Jones for No Water No Life 

In 2010 the NJ Department of Environmental Protection banned all shellfish research, restoration and education activities in waters (1) deemed too contaminated or (2) “Restricted” or “Prohibited” for shellfish harvest.  Thus earlier oyster reef projects in nearby Navesink River and Keyport Harbor had to be moved. At that point, the U.S. Navy and NY/NJ Baykeeper became “Living Shoreline” partners. The U.S. Navy at Naval Weapons Station Earle, with its non-accessible stretch of shoreline, provides protected property, guidance and valuable support for Baykeeper’s oyster restoration activities.

Additional restoration activities at Naval Weapons Station Earle include setting oysters at NY/NJ Baykeeper’s aquaculture facility near the mouth of Ware Creek, and monitoring the oysters and structures in the ¼-acre experimental restoration plot to assess survival and growth.

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Deposition of “oyster castles” into the Raritan Bay at NWS Earle.

NY/NJ Baykeeper has monitored this Living Shoreline twice since its August installation, finding that the oysters grew 22mm in just 2 months!  Other organisms like sponges and algae are attached to the castles as well, further contributing to the Living Shoreline habitat.  All the castles have stayed in place, even during the rough seas when Hurricane Hermine was off shore. This is a good sign of how the castles will hold up in the dynamic Raritan Bay.

This winter, oyster growth will become slower as the water becomes cooler. Since all the oysters are far enough under the water’s surface, they will be protected should the Bay freeze over. Come spring, this Living Shoreline will be expanded, adding more castles and oysters to the system.  Meanwhile, NY/NJ Baykeeper continues its study of biodiversity  and its collection of water quality data.

For further information, please contact Meredith Comi at meredith@nynjbaykeeper.org


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