Category Archives: Wetlands

CAT in WATER Kickstarter Launch!

Support the Kickstarter project to document them in the wild  here.

The fishing cat is up and running! We have 90 days to raise the first round of funds for the CAT in WATER expedition. Check out our Kickstarter project and watch the short video. You can also learn about all the paybacks in store for our supporters. Who wouldn’t want a care package from Thailand and the knowledge they are helping a gorgeous, wild animal in need?



Changing Chesapeake Bay acidity endangers oysters

New research shows that the shell growth of Crassostrea virginica from Chesapeake Bay could be compromised by current levels of acidity in some Bay waters. (Photo/Chris Kelly, UMCES Horn Point Laboratory)

Growing up at the mouth of the Lynnhaven River in Virginia, where the river meets the Chesapeake Bay and the bay meets the ocean, I can’t tell you how many mornings I woke up and looked out my window to see neighbors wading in rubber boots, harvesting oysters from the beds just off our riverbank. For some, like my neighbors, oysters were a way to connect with the land and make a little extra dough. For others it was their livelihood. The act was something that just was. It never occurred to me that the oysters could one day be gone.

That’s why I was especially alarmed to read this new report from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences. Rising acidity levels in the Chesapeake Bay are making it harder for oysters to grow their shells. I’ve heard the news before that rising ocean acidity from sources such as carbon dioxide can spell disaster for marine wildlife, but this new study shows that acidity is rising faster in the Chesapeake Bay than in the ocean and having a measurable impact on Bay wildlife.

“With oyster populations already at historically low levels, increasingly acidic waters are yet another stressor limiting the recovery of the Bay’s oyster populations,” said marine biologist Dr. Roger Newell of the UMCES Horn Point Laboratory in a press release.

But don’t turn around to blame climate change just yet. The story is a bit more nuanced than that, though the source of the problem still has to do with us. In the saltier areas of the bay, the acidity is going up, leading to thin shell growth that makes oysters more vulnerable to predators, including crabs. But in more freshwater portions of the Bay, acidity is actually going down, said the study, which looked at more than 20 years of historical water quality data from the Bay.

The difference seems to be not atmospheric carbon dioxide, but the base of the food chain. In freshwater areas along the upper Chesapeake, sewage and agricultural runoff cause phytoplankton blooms, which consume carbon dioxide and lower acidity, said the study. Sounds good at this point right? Here’s the catch. As phytoplankton drift through the Bay, they are eaten by animals and other bacteria, releasing the carbon dioxide that the plankton so diligently consumed in the first place. This carbon dioxide lingers in the water, leading to spikes in acidity in the saltier regions of the Bay near the ocean.

“While these variations in acidity may improve conditions for shellfish in some areas, they may also magnify detrimental impacts in others,” said lead author Dr. George Waldbusser of Oregon State University in a press release. “What our study indicates is there may be an important shifting baseline and without better measurements we will fail to fully understand impacts on estuarine biota.”

Beyond the science itself, this study highlights how connected and varied our environment is. It lays out a pathway of human-induced consequences to an ecosystem, and teaches that we need to look beyond one-to-one cause and effect. Erin Voigt, an undergraduate student who worked on the study puts it well. “The complex response of oyster shell formation to temperature, salinity, and acidity highlights the need to understand how the entire ecosystem is changing, not just acidity,” she said.

And that ecosystem includes us.

You can view the article online in the journal Estuaries and Coasts.


Saving the white-shouldered ibis and a way of life in rural Cambodia

Only about 500 of the birds remain in the world,  making the white-shouldered ibis a creature that flirts dangerously

A white-shouldered ibis in Cambodia. Human impact on this critically endangered bird can be beneficial rather than destructive, and could even save it from extinction. (Photo/Hugh Wright)

A white-shouldered ibis in Cambodia. Human impact on this critically endangered bird can be beneficial rather than destructive, and could even save it from extinction. (Photo/Hugh Wright)

with extinction. The once common bird’s number is not up just yet however, as the ibis’ saving grace may lie in their relationship with small-scale farmers of Cambodia, a partnership likely to help save both the bird and a traditional way of life in Southeast Asia.

A new study published in the journal Animal Conservation highlights the work of the University of East Anglia and BirdLife International as they look at the benefits of traditional small-scale farming to survival of the critically endangered white-shouldered ibis.  Farming and cattle grazing create ideal forage land for the birds and opens a clean line of sight for spotting predators and prey. These findings draw attention to the friendlier side of human impacts. But plans for large-scale development in western Siem Pang, Cambodia, threaten both the farmer’s way of life and the ibis’ last hope for survival.

Scientists, conservation groups and the Cambodian government are currently looking at ways to mediate impacts. “The Forestry Administration in Cambodia is supportive of a proposal to make the area a protected forest,” said Hugh Wright, lead author of the study, in a press release “and we believe that this – along with the continuation of local farming methods practiced for generation after generation – will be crucial in saving this once common species from extinction.”

To find out more about the plight of the white-shouldered ibis, check out BirdLife International.


The Nature Files and a visit to Sawhill Ponds

The Nature Files brings information about the open spaces and wildlife that share our home in the Denver Metro area to you. I hope that this site can be a resource as well as an inspiration for those of you wanting to explore the nature in your backyard. I will periodically upload featurettes including sights and sounds of easy day or weekend outings around Boulder, Denver and other nearby counties, and will also share photos, or news about what’s happening with parks and open spaces.

Click photo to view a short video about Sawhill Ponds.

Click photo to view a short video about Sawhill Ponds.

SAWHILL PONDS

I hope you enjoy the first posting about Boulder’s Sawhill Ponds, a series of 18 ponds — reclaimed gravel pits — that are a safe haven for birds and other local wildlife. This open space area is about half a mile north of the 75th Street and Valmont Road intersection, and great for an easy, but not too crowded nature walk. I plan to bring you a new featurette about this location each season in order to give you some idea of how this environment evolves throughout the year. Click on the photo below to access the first show depicting late fall at Sawhill Ponds.


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