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Entries in Vanishing Paradise (13)

Monday
Apr282014

Tuna Possible Casualties from Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

More bad news has surfaced about the long-term consequences from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Scientists say the pollutant can cause severe defects in the developing hearts of bluefin and yellowfin tuna.

The 2010 spawning season coincided directly with the spill, meaning floating embryos were exposed to large surface slicks as oil gushed from the damaged wellhead.

“We know from the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound that recently spawned fish are especially vulnerable to crude oil toxicity,” says Nat Scholz, head of the ecotoxicology program for NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle. “That spill taught us to pay close attention to the formation and function of the heart.”

Scientists add that affected fish likely would have died soon after hatching. Additionally, scientists know from previous research that survivors of exposure to crude oil can suffer subtle and transient changes in heart rhythm during development. These changes can permanently impair heart function and swimming ability at later life stages.

“This creates a potential for delayed mortality,” says one scientist. “Swimming is everything for these species.

And evidence that the threat is still out there appeared last June, when a 40,000-pound (20 tons) tar mat was discovered in the surf off Grand Terre Island. Considered hazardous to marine life, the mat reportedly was made of up 15 percent oil and 85 percent sand, shells, and water.

Also, a report last spring revealed the damage done to dolphins, sea turtles, and killifish, a common forage fish at the base of the food web.

“Three years after the initial explosion, the impacts of the disaster continue to unfold,” said Doug Inkley, senior scientist for the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). “Dolphins are still dying in high numbers in the areas affected by oil. These ongoing deaths—particularly in an apex predator like the dolphin—are a strong indication that there is something amiss with the Gulf ecosystem.”

All this is not to say that the fishing is not good along the coast and in the Gulf or that it will deteriorate in the next few years. The truth is that we just don’t know what the long-term consequences will be.

But evidence certainly suggests that fish and other wildlife immediately exposed to the crude oil were harmed and some species continue to be.  

That means we haven’t seen the end of this disaster. No one can legitimately declare that damages have been mitigated, or that our wildlife, marshes, barrier islands, and offshore habitat are “cleaned up.”

“It is crucial that impacted regions of the Gulf implement restoration projects that are based upon the best available science, and to spend every single dime of the penalty money from the spill wisely,” says NWF. “That is our priority. The Vanishing Paradise campaign is focused on these goals as we continue our work in all five of the Gulf states. In Louisiana, that means two things:

  • Supporting the implementation of the Louisiana State Master Plan
  • Ensuring the integrity of the financial mechanisms that fill the gaps between Plan-Funding- and Restoration

“The moral of the story is that the Gulf is still hurting, four years after the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Recovery and restoration are far from complete.”

Tuesday
Feb182014

Exotics Take a Bite Out of Wetlands

Nutria photo from Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries website.

Most anglers know that Asian carp are harming this nation’s fisheries, from the Upper Midwest down to the Gulf Coast and eastward through the Ohio River watershed.

What many do not realize, however, is that other exotics also are doing severe damage. They don’t receive as much publicity because their range is more limited.

But in Louisiana, the nutria, a large rodent, is devouring the wetlands, destroying spawning and nursery habitat for a multitude of important sport fisheries. In fact, the state estimates that damage at any given time is about 46,000 acres, as about 5 million of the web-footed animals with large, orange teeth feed on the roots and stalks of aquatic plants.

Additionally, the giant apple snail also is taking a giant bite out of the wetlands. They’ve been banned from the state since 2012, but that was too late to keep them from becoming a destructive force, courtesy of irresponsible hobbyists who dumped their aquariums into waterways.

“They eat a ton of plant material, anything they can get their tiny little mouths on,” said Michael Massimi of the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program. “You are converting a water body from one dominated by plants to one dominated by algae.”

Asian carp, tiger prawns, water hyacinth, and giant salvinia also are among the exotic species doing damage to Louisiana’s coastal system.

Some limited good news is that the state’s nutria control plan, implemented in 2002, has lessened the impact of these furbearers, which were imported during the 1930s and promoted as a way to combat water hyacinth and other invasive plants during the 1940s.

Giant apple snails also are gobbling up wetlands.

Still the cumulative effect of these invaders is significant for an ecosystem already under siege. First came decades of habitat degradation and mismanagement, most of it originating from development and water diversions. These actions accelerated erosion and saltwater intrusion, which are crumbling away the equivalent of a football field every hour.

Then came the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and its aftermath, which added to the peril of an ecosystem that is critical for sustaining the food web of the Gulf of Mexico.

Fortunately, the spill also provided impetus for passage of the RESTORE Act, which provides a rare opportunity to restore and enhance the Delta and its wetlands. Guiding that restoration is a multi-state, multi-agency group known as the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council.

And a coalition known as Vanishing Paradise is working to make sure that Council members remember the importance of habitat restoration, which can drive and support economic recovery.

“The people, business, communities, and economy of this region are undeniably reliant upon a healthy and productive Gulf, and ecosystem restoration should be the top priority,” said spokesman Ben Weber.

Sadly, passing legislation and creating coalitions will do little to counter the damage already being done by established exotic species, including the nutria and giant apple snail.

But something could be done to lessen the likelihood of future harmful invasions in Louisiana’s marshes and wetlands, as well as other waterways nationwide. Congress needs to strengthen the Lacey Act, which prohibits the import and trade of harmful species.

Here is how bad the problem is: Since the act’s implementation more than a century ago, only about 40 animal groups have been prohibited, and that usually occurred long after they were imported, escaped into the wild, and started doing damage.

By modernizing the Lacey Act, Congress could empower the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to first assess the potential risks associated with a species proposed for import before deciding whether to allow or prohibit its trade in the United States. The ineffectiveness of the current law is easily evidenced by Burmese pythons in the Everglades, Asian carp threatening the Great Lakes, and giant apple snails joining nutria in gobbling up Louisiana’s wetlands.

Wednesday
Jan152014

Anglers Divided Over Diversion to Restore Mississippi Delta

Vanishing Paradise staffer Ben Weber

The campaign to protect and restore the wetlands and marshes of the Mississippi Delta has been fractured. Sadly, anglers now are pitted against anglers regarding the strategy for coastal Louisiana, with the future of fish and waterfowl, as well as their habitat, in the balance.

“It breaks my heart to see this fragmenting,” says Ben Weber, a Louisiana native and staffer for Vanishing Paradise, a coalition endorsing a comprehensive plan for rehabilitation of the Mississippi Delta. “Opposition is not based on science, and bass fishing is taking a hit.”

“This is the greatest environmental disaster in our country and no one knows about it,” adds Ryan Lambert, owner of Cajun Fishing Adventures. “We have to get bass fishermen involved in the fight.”

In short, manmade alterations in the river’s natural flow during the past 70-plus years, mostly for flood control, have allowed saltwater intrusion. That has killed vegetation and prompted erosion and loss of about 1,900 square miles of wetlands.

As this habitat for bass and waterfowl has been destroyed, a multitude of saltwater species, including redfish, flounder, speckled trout, shrimp, and crab, have enjoyed an expanded range. Not surprisingly, some commercial fishermen, charter captains, and local communities  want to maintain the status quo.

Their Save Louisiana Coalition supports restoration, but opposes freshwater diversion, one of the most effective tools for doing so. That’s because this sediment-carrying water, which will rebuild marshes, also will move saltwater species back toward the Gulf.

As an angler, it’s easy to understand their point of view: They don’t want to surrender any of their fishing grounds, including those created by man’s interference with a natural system.

But they also are short-sighted. Freshwater diversion is vital to the continued health of both the fresh and saltwater fisheries in the Delta. If saltwater continues to encroach, nearly all nursery habitat will be lost and redfish and trout will decline, right along with bass and catfish.

“The problem in Louisiana is we’re addicted to salt because that salt brings tremendous benefits in fisheries,” offers Robert Twilley, a coastal scientist at Louisiana State University.

But every year, he cautions, that artificial fishery moves closer to the river than nature ever intended.

“In 15 years, I’ve seen 80 percent of the marsh near our camp (Leesville) vanish,” says Weber. “There are cemeteries in bayou communities with just one or two headstones left (above water). We fish in the cemeteries for trout.”

Along the Mississippi at Buras, a stark contrast highlights the importance of using freshwater diversions, adds Lambert. On the west side, which receives little to no freshwater, only open water and dead marsh grass remains. On the east side, where freshwater flows, the wetlands are alive and thriving.

In that area, the Louisiana angler notes, “bass fishermen and redfish fishermen go to the same place to catch fish. From Buras down to the mouth of the Mississippi is the best fishing in North America.

“You can’t just pump in sediment,” he says. “You have to have freshwater too (for sustained fisheries).”

He also points out that the Davis Pond Diversion, where Kevin VanDam won the 2011 Bassmaster Classic, is no longer a viable fishery because flow has been reduced. “Saltwater has come in and killed the grass,” he says. “There are no bass, no brim, no crappie, no catfish, and no duck habitat. And it’s all because they want to grow oysters there.”

Freshwater diversion is but one of several tactics that will be used to revitalize the Delta. Others will include vegetation planting, dredging and placement of sediment, and protecting shorelines and barrier islands.

But reconnecting the river to the Delta is of paramount importance.

Only by restoring the natural process as much as possible can we achieve a solution that will benefit both freshwater and saltwater species.

 “Sportsmen and women have always had an eye towards long-term conservation,” says Steve Bender, Vanishing Paradise director. “That is what this is all about ---  the long term. To do it any other way is shortsighted and will not ensure that future generations will have the hunting and fishing opportunities we have all come to enjoy.”

(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)

 

Thursday
Jun062013

Rodent Invader Adds to Decline of Delta Wetlands

Photo from Greg Lasley Nature Photography

Most anglers know that Asian carp are harming this nation’s fisheries, from the Upper Midwest down to the Gulf Coast and eastward through the Ohio River watershed.

What many do not realize, however, is that another exotic also is doing severe damage. It doesn’t receive as much publicity because its range is more limited.

But down in Louisiana, the nutria, a large rodent, is devouring the wetlands, destroying spawning and nursery habitat for a multitude of important sport fisheries. In fact, the state estimates that damage at any given time is about 46,000 acres, as about 5 million of the web-footed animals with large, orange teeth feed on the roots and stalks of aquatic plants.

The good news is that damage has been lessened since Louisiana implemented a nutria control plan in 2002.

Still, this is one more blow to the Mississippi Delta, which already is under siege from decades of habitat degradation and mismanagement, most of it originating from development and water diversions. As a result, erosion and saltwater intrusion are crumbling away the equivalent of a football field every hour.

In 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and its aftermath added to the peril of an ecosystem that is critical for sustaining the food web of the Gulf of Mexico.

Fortunately, the spill also provided impetus for passage of the RESTORE Act, which provides a rare opportunity to restore and enhance the Delta and its wetlands. Guiding that restoration is a multi-state, multi-agency group known as the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council.

And a coalition known as Vanishing Paradise is working to make sure that Council members remember the importance of habitat restoration, which can drive and support economic recovery.

“The people, business, communities, and economy of this region are undeniably reliant upon a healthy and productive Gulf, and ecosystem restoration should be the top priority in drafting and finagling the Council’s comprehensive restoration plan,” said spokesman Ben Weber.

To learn more about Vanishing Paradise and its efforts, go here.

And to learn more about the nutria in Louisiana, go here.

Friday
May242013

Fishing, Hunting Groups Want Gulf Ecosystem Restoration to Be Priority

More than 350 hunting and fishing businesses and organizations sent a letter to the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, asking that the Council prioritize restoration of the Gulf ecosystem in order to also achieve economic restoration in the region.

Activist Angler proudly is one of those signees.

Vanishing Paradise drafted the letter, which illustrates that hunting and fishing are major economic drivers in the Gulf and are supported by habitat restoration and wildlife conservation. In 2011, in the five Gulf states alone, nearly 8.5 million hunters and anglers spent $15.7 billion on their outdoor pursuits. This spending supports more than 255,000 jobs and generates $3.3 billion in federal, state and local taxes.

Here’s an excerpt:

“If the wild spaces of the Gulf region aren’t protected and restored, sportsmen and women will lose the return on their long-standing investment, and the region will lose its rich hunting and angling heritage.

"A restored and productive Gulf ecosystem is essential for both regional and national economic recovery and growth. Every dollar spent on ecosystem restoration helps the recovery of the Gulf’s natural resource-based economy.”

The Restoration Council is a multi-state, multi-agency group that has been tasked with developing a comprehensive ecosystem restoration plan for the Gulf. The Council is developing the plan, with a draft due for public comment this spring.