Promises, Promises
Sunday, August 30, 2009 | Author: eventer79
I hope to have a new post for you by mid-week if not before, but until then, I leave you with some true wisdom from Albert Schweitzer, theologian, musician, physicist, philosopher (how's that for a resume!):

Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things,
man will not himself find peace.

A Man With A Vision...And A Pen
Wednesday, August 26, 2009 | Author: eventer79
Looking at the picture in yesterday's post, I am reminded that the the conflict between agriculture and habitat is nothing new. Neither is the demand for people with the passion and conviction to stand in the face of the status quo.

"Ding" Darling (1876-1962) is a name most of us in wildlife biology are familiar with but one that I think the rest of society has missed out on. He was a gifted editorial artist (his cartoons grace this post), which garnered him two Pulitzers. But even more important was his skill and dedication for conservation education. He founded the National Wildlife Federation as well as the US Duck Stamp program, just to name two of his lasting legacies.

Leadership and education like his are priceless in our rapidly changing world. People are bombarded with information and MISinformation from every direction at once on a daily basis. The long term consequences are lost among the trees of the short term gain. More than ever we need voices of reason and compassion, like Darling's to cut through the noise of the everyday.

It is at once hopeful and heartbreaking that even then, over 50 years ago, Darling and others like him saw that without our natural resources, we are nothing. Without clean water and air, without the richness of our global fauna, our future is lost. Darling also understood, in a way so beautifully illustrated in the cartoon above, that conservation and economic development are NOT mutually exclusive. It's not all or nothing, either or, as the naysayers would have you believe. All it takes is some thoughtfulness, common sense, planning and a dash of love to hold on to our invaluable "natural capital" on which our lives are built.

If we can just do that, we can avoid ending up with this:

Money Still Talks
Monday, August 24, 2009 | Author: eventer79
Brazilian rainforest, incredibly rich and globally important, is still under relentless attack. The latest threat is expansion of South American soybean fields. And much of this expansion is funded and encouraged by US-based agribusinesses. Soy is included to some extent in almost every food group these days, it feels like. There are many claims that all this soy is "American soy" -- but all too often that is only a half truth. It may be American OWNED soy, but it was NOT grown on US soil. Instead, it grew on land in Brazil that used to be lush rainforest, vital carbon sink, irreplacable wildlife habitat and source of dazzling biodiversity. Many major agribusinesses claim they will not have soy grown on cleared rainforest but law enforcement in Brazil is sparse and underfunded so actual follow-through is scarce.

A new effort has begun to pay Brazilian farmers and landowners to leave the forests standing. Many residents do not want to see their forest razed, but when faced with the choice of feeding their family or starving, is not fair to expect them to choose the latter in the interests of conservation. I've said it before and I'll say it again: HUNGRY PEOPLE DON'T GIVE A DAMN ABOUT ENDANGERED SPECIES. We have to give them a better option than short term "boom and bust" payoffs that are a result of typical rainforest clearing.

Cleared land can sell for about $1300 an acre (yes, these landowners are getting robbed considering the profits that the agribusinesses are making). If you had 100 acres, this would net you $130,000. That's still a hell of a lot of money if you happen to live in rural Brazil. A local environmental group is offering $12 per acre per year to leave the forest in place. For your same 100 acres, that is $1200 per year. You'd have to live 108 years to make your $130,000. We're going to have to do better than that. If they could get $50 an acre, that interval would go down to 26 years, a much more realistic time frame.

What can we do about it? Well, money even talks to rich agribusiness companies -- don't spend your money there. Try and avoid soy-based products when you can. Soybean oil is often used to make "biofuels", particularly biodiesel as well. Just say no. Reducing demand is key, as is pushing for increased support of the conservation process. If you cannot support conservation financially, push your representatives and media sources to recognize and take action in the process. Be the squeaky wheel, wanderers, and demand the Right Thing!
Free Water Filtration -- And It Already Exists!
Friday, August 21, 2009 | Author: eventer79
Friday Fun Fact!

Native freshwater mussels play a variety of important roles in any ecosystem, but perhaps the most important is water filtration. Mussels are filter feeders, that is, they get all of their food and oxygen from the flow over water over their internal gills, much like a fish. And they are REALLY REALLY GOOD AT IT - they can filter, on average, a gallon of water every hour. Observe a simple demonstration set up streamside:

Two small tanks filled with water from the stream in the background. Sediment has been stirred up, as would occur with stormwater flow or someone walking or driving across a stream. The tank on the right has about a dozen native mussels, the one on the left has nothing but water and substrate.

Elapsed time: 10 minutes

20 minutes

30 minutes

35 minutes

The difference is pretty dramatic. These animals are helping to keep your water clean by feeding on algae and bacteria that I'd prefer NOT to be in my glass of water! How effective are they in a large body of water? Take Chesapeake Bay for example: before we buggered it up, that particular gigantic estuary was FULL of oysters, a mussel relative, also a filter feeder. Those oysters kept that water crystal clear, filtering every single drop about every 2 days. In the whole estuary. Just to give you an idea, that's about 19 trillion gallons of water in that particular bay. 19,000,000,000,000 gallons. More than we can comprehend. In two days.

However, there is limit to their "mad filtering skillz." If the water has any toxic chemicals in it (for example, mussels are VERY sensitive to chlorine and ammonia, both commonly found in wastewater outfalls draining into streams and rivers), they cannot survive and typically, fatal levels of these chemicals are far lower than water quality standards set by states. Also, sediment can quickly smother a mussel if the source is ongoing. Think of it this way: if you make a cup of coffee and it has a few grounds in it, you will probably still drink it. However, if it's chockablock full of grounds, you will clam up (haha) and abstain. Same thing for mussels: they can filter out small amounts of sediment but if there is too much, they will be unable to breathe and they will die. Yet another reason to control sediment input into water, which I discussed here.
Mama's Got A Brand New Groove
Tuesday, August 18, 2009 | Author: eventer79
I'm playing with some new looks here on WWWT -- if you like what you see, let me know. I'm trying to step outside the standard Blogger templates but have no desire or energy to code an entire one myself, so am working to reach a happy medium. It's not exactly easy to switch back and forth, but I do have one other I'd like to try if this one wears out its welcome. You may now return to perusing the pictures below...
My Bubbles!
Tuesday, August 18, 2009 | Author: eventer79
Helloooooooooo from Lake Waccamaw, wanderers! As promised I have lots of pictures from one of my favourite places in this lovely state. I am still working on sorting and uploading, but thought I would post this very silly little video of me saying hullo from my office. Bloggers are often shy of posting pictures of themselves for fear of IRL identification, but I have decided to just let 'er rip. ;-P

I will continue with my picture sorting, oh, I mean WORK and post more later today.

Ready or not, here they come....

This lake is one of our TWO natural lakes in North Carolina. The rest are all manmade reservoirs, i.e. dammed sections of rivers, a process that destroys the native life in the river and causes endless problems for the system. As a result, we almost never work in lakes (since we deal with native species and habitats, there is no point in working in reservoirs given that they are such heavily altered environments) so it's a unique experience to swim around in this one.

This type of lake is called a Carolina bay, named historically for the bay trees that line the shores of many of them. Carolina bays actually rarely have water in them year round, Waccamaw is the exception rather than the rule. About 1/3 of the shoreline is state park (easy to identify, it's the nice part NOT dotted with a bazillion houses and a thousand ugly docks and boathouses) and it is drop dead gorgeous. Sandy shores lines with beautiful cypress trees dripping with Spanish moss.

Here my boss searches for broadtail madtoms, a rare species in the catfish family.

We never did find any, but we DID find one tadpole madtom (Noturus gyrinus), a fiesty cousin found in the signature habitat of madtoms:

And he enjoys opera: "!" Madtoms are just freakin' cute.

Waccamaw is also home to several endemic species (found no where else in the world!). One makes its home in maiden cane beds near the lake shore like this one (the cane is the grassy stuff).

It's the Waccamaw darter (Etheostoma perlongum) and you can see they are perfectly adapted to their habitat -- can you find the one in the first picture??

We wrangled other endemics that day including the Waccamaw killifish (Fundulus waccamensis), a lovely little tiger-striped fish,

...and the federally threatened Waccamaw silverside (Menidia extensa; yes, the folks down there ARE the most uncreative species namers in the world).

Another reason I LOVE working in this lake is that it is one of the few places left in the state where you can still find a LOT of native freshwater mussels. A LOT. As in, I can't take a step without landing on two or three of them. A LOT. I hope to put together a post just about mussels for you soon -- they are fascinating creatures with surprising levels of complexity to their lifestyle, definitely having more to them than meets the eye. When you are in the water, this what a mussel looks like, you can just see the water siphons they use to breathe and feed resembling a row of eyelashes.

Once you pull them out of the bottom, you can get a better look at them to identify them. This is my favourite species there, the rayed pink fatmucket (Lampsilis splendida; now THAT'S a good name!).

All in all, I spent two weeks down there, surveying for fish and mussels. We were happy to discover that many species are doing very well in the lake these days and populations are healthy. Now, if we can just find those pesky madtoms....we may have to start a campaign to get people to throw their empty bottles and cans into the water (I'm not kidding, these fish LOVE to hide in those things!) -- they've done too good a job picking up their trash!

I will leave you with this excited and curious school of coastal shiners (Notropis petersoni) who were intent on investigating me while I searched for darters. Wander in wonder!!

Bats: Radar AND Gay-dar!
Friday, August 14, 2009 | Author: eventer79
Friday Fun Fact!

Male fruit bats have the highest propensity for homosexuality in the entire animal kingdom. That includes humans.

I wonder if their caves are cleaner and more tastefully decorated than those of straight bats?
All In A Day's Work
Wednesday, August 12, 2009 | Author: eventer79
Sunset cuts across the lake surface. The water slapped the hull of my boat in two foot swells earlier today, but this evening it is smooth as glass after a 2:00 pm thunderstorm. An osprey circles overhead in air that smells renewed, cleared of humidity and rinsed by a breeze between soft evening clouds. I cut the motor and set up a pair of light traps to lower over the side. These traps are simple plexiglass boxes with carnival glow-sticks hung inside. They attract fish at night into a mesh net at the bottom, where they will be (hopefully!) held for us until tomorrow morning when we return to lift the traps and identify our prize. Before heading back to the dock, I pause for a moment, take a deep breath and can't help but smile in thanks to the universe, because I'm damn lucky that this is my office.

We are monitoring several imperiled endemic species in this lake -- they are found nowhere else in the world and so I feel priveledged to handle hundreds of them in a single day. Each is treated gently and released quickly to minimize stress so that they can return to their busy fishy lives no worse for wear. This lake is one of only two natural lakes in a state full of manmade reservoirs and as a result is chockablock full of unique fauna swimming, flying, crawling, and hopping all over the place.

These kinds of monitoring project sound routine, but they are really very important. Knowledge really IS power -- by learning about which areas and resources are most important to these fish, and others, and how population numbers change over time, we also learn which areas are most important to protect and thus get the most "bang for the buck." This data shapes a lot of decisions on a daily basis and can sometimes mean life or death for a population or even, in this particular location, an entire species.

Tomorrow, I dive into a blackwater river in hopes of collecting some baseline data about the types of freshwater mussels that live there. I hope this weekend or next week to have some pictures to share with you, wanderers -- this is an amazing place! Today's picture is from last year, one of the blackwater side canals near the boat ramp.

Lakes and Critters and Travel
Sunday, August 09, 2009 | Author: eventer79
Yup, that's what I am doing these days and that is why my blogging stinks right now. So I have to simply post another promise of posts to come. It's hard to be insightful and entertaining after a 60 hour week!

We DO have a new winner in the category "weirdest thing found in a body of water." Plucked out of a stream -- a hot pink dildo. I was simultaneously struck with two questions. (1) How on earth did it end up under a log in a stream??? (2) Why hot pink? Hopefully both will remain forever unanswered.