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The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has lifted its stay of the Obama administration's Clean Water Rule following last month's Supreme Court decision that district courts should review legal challenges to the regulation. This is one of the couple of dozen 6th Circuit Opinions on the Clean Water Rules issued today.

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The Mysterious Case of Shelly Island

Swamp Stomp

Volume 18 Issue 12

As spring draws nearer, the weather is supposed to gradually become warmer and warmer, until walking outside without a jacket is no longer outrageous. However, if you happen to live in North Carolina, the weather cannot seem to decide whether it wants to welcome spring or desperately hold on to winter. Today, snow falls, but tomorrow could bring temperatures in the high 70s or 80s. However, this is not the only phenomenon that North Carolina cannot seem to make up its mind about. Enter Shelly Island.

Shelly Island appeared overnight in July 2017. It is located in the famous Outer Banks off the coast of Cape Point, which is part of Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Scientists are not completely sure how the island originally formed, but they think it has something to do with the weather conditions of July 2017. Last summer, the winds, and currents appeared to be just right to bring sands from the northern barrier islands to the southern tip of Cape Point to form Shelly Island. This island became a new attraction for tourists interested in snorkeling and kayaking, and it grew to be about 27 acres in area. However, do not start planning your trip to Shelly Island for the summer of 2018. New photos from NASA show that Shelly Island disappeared just as quickly as it came. Moreover, the island is now beneath the waves once again.

How did this happen? The blame can be thrust upon the many hurricanes of the fall of 2017: Hurricanes Irma, Jose, and Maria. The erosion created by these storms first split the island in two and have now completely erased what was once Shelly Island. By October 2017, Shelly Island was “ninety percent gone,” according to Virginia businessman Ken Barlow who was one of many seeking ownership of the new island. Only a small crescent, about 100 acres in area, was left after the fall, and by February 2018 the island was no more.

Could Shelly Island return? Possibly. Again, scientists are not positive how Shelly Island came to be in the first place. However, people such as Barlow suspect the formation of the island had to do with nearby dredging operations, which are resuming. So hold on to your kayaks and your snorkeling equipment: Shelly Island could come back. This would be good news for local businesspeople interested in buying parts of the island and for the local economy that could benefit from growing interest from tourists. Shelly Island may be a mystery, but it is a mystery that comes with positive outcomes.


Ghose, Tia. “Mysterious Sandbar Island that Formed Last Summer is Gone Once Again.” Live Science. Live Science. March 8, 2018. Web. March 12, 2018.

Price, Mark. “The strange new NC island mystifies the world yet again.” Charlotte Observer. Charlotte Observer. October 1, 2017. Web. March 12, 2018.

Posted on

King Penguins Face Habitat Loss in Warming Southern Ocean

Swamp Stomp

Volume 18, Issue 11

The king penguins of the Antarctic sea may be the next charismatic species faced with the daunting challenge of moving to escape the impacts of climate change. A study recently published in the journal Nature Climate Change suggests that, unless warming greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are reduced, up to 70% of the king penguin population will have to move or face starvation by the end of the century.

Due to warming ocean temperatures, the Antarctic polar front, a nutrient-rich band of water in the Southern Ocean from whence king penguins derive 80% of their diet, is migrating closer to Antarctica and farther away from the southern archipelagos where the penguins roost. While the penguins can swim up to 400 miles round trip from the southern islands to the polar front, if the band moves much farther south, it will be out of reach for most of the penguin colonies.

Additionally, the lack of sea ice, which allows penguins to rest while hunting in the open ocean, may further threaten the species capacity to feed itself as warming continues. “They will need to either move somewhere else or they will just disappear,” said Dr. Emiliano Trucchi, an evolutionary biologist at Italy’s University of Ferrara and one of the study’s senior authors. “The largest colonies are on islands that will be too far from the source of food.”

The largest colonies of king penguins, home to a full half of the species population, are located on Prince Edwards and the Crozet Islands, south of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. According to the researchers’ “business as usual” climate change model, the populations on these islands would likely lose their habitat entirely by the end of the century. Another 21% that live on the Kerguelen Islands in the Indian Ocean and the Falkland Islands off the South American coast will likely find themselves far enough away from their food source that they may be incentivized to relocate to islands farther south.

Yet, relocation may not be as simple as moving farther south to islands closer to the new Antarctic polar front. Unlike the larger emperor penguins, king penguins require ice-free islands with sandy beaches, leaving the species with few additional islands closer to Antarctica to move to as many are rocky, covered in ice, or have other species of penguins already living there. “We are talking about one million individuals that need to find a new place to live,” says Trucchi, noting that “the endpoint of this massive relocation is hard to predict.”

Despite the grim finding, the researchers suggested that some islands, such as Bouvet Island in the Southern Ocean, may be able to be colonized by king penguins as temperatures warm if humans take steps to protect them. “If there are some islands that are likely to be relatively safe, like those in the south, then we know about that now, and we can potentially protect those from other threats like fishing and tourism – to give animals the best chance of survival,” says Dr. Jane Younger, evolutionary ecologist at Loyola University Chicago.

The researchers ultimately argue that mitigating climate change is the best chance we have at saving king penguin habitat; using a model in which greenhouse gases were reduced enough to prevent global temperature from rising more than 2-degrees Celsius, they found that the majority of the population would not need to migrate.

“These are kind of poster children for what’s going to happen with climate change,” said Dr. Ceriden Fraser, a marine molecular ecologist at the Australian National University in Canberra. “People wouldn’t care as much if it were a slug or a slime mold, but the same sorts of impacts will happen to many different species. In a way, it’s good for us to see these impacts happening to animals we love, because it might spur a little bit of action.”


  1. Harvey, Chelsea. “Antarctica’s Iconic King Penguins May Have to Move South: But suitable islands for breeding may be harder to find.” Scientific American. E&E News, 27 February 2018. Web. 4 March 2018.
  2. Kennedy, Merrit. “Scientists Predict King Penguins Face Major Threats Due to Climate Change.” North Carolina Public Radio. National Public Radio, Inc., 26 February 2018. Web. 5 March 2018.
  3. Winetraub, Karen. “King Penguins Are Endangered by Warmer Seas.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 26 February 2018. Web. 5 March 2018.
Posted on

The Birds and the Coffee Beans

Swamp Stomp

Volume 18 Issue 10

Coffee. To anyone who regularly has early mornings, this single drink can be a lifesaver. Coffee is more than just a drink. It gets people up in the morning when they least want to leave their beds. But according to a relatively recent study, it may be even more than that.

In addition to providing people with the ability to go to school or work, coffee is also a very valuable commodity. This is true globally. Coffee is consumed on every continent (except, perhaps, Antarctica), so it is very important to the human economy. However, humans are not the only ones who enjoy their coffee.

Although we often think of coffee as a delicious beverage, it is first a plant. There are many different species of this plant, but two of these species include Coffea arabica and Coffea canephora. (The second species is often referred to as C. robusta.) These species are very important to an often-overlooked group of coffee connoisseurs: birds. Moreover, because there are so many species of coffee and because birds value the plants as homes, a group of conservation biologists decided to determine the effects of the different species on biodiversity.

In this study conducted in India, researchers compared the diversity of birds who made their homes in C. arabica farms versus C. robusta farms. There were some differences in habitat preferences, but overall, these researchers came to a more generic conclusion. Within coffee farms in general, there is a great abundance of birds. This is a very important conclusion, as coffee as a commodity is constantly growing in demand.

So what does this mean for birds and the future of coffee? Past studies tended to not focus on the differences between coffee species, but on the differences between different types of tropical plants. This allowed conservationists to focus their attention on helping support the ecosystems of certain plants. This study made it known that across coffee species, these plants are important in terms of avian conservation. In other words, if we want to protect the birds, we need to take care of the coffee properly. For farmers, this could mean focusing management efforts towards making coffee plants safer for birds by, for example, limiting pesticide usage. However, this could mean finding a balance between protecting birds from toxins and protecting plants from the birds.

Moreover, what this study proved was that conservation efforts need to be more focused on the effects of coffee farming on biodiversity. As the demand for coffee rises, so does the need for these efforts. Birds are just as valuable to ecosystems as coffee is to economies. Without coffee, economies may rupture, and without birds, ecosystems may rupture. At this point, there is an unknown, delicate balance between protecting the environment and protecting the crop, but with the cooperation of conservationists and coffee farmers, this balance can be achieved for the benefit of economies and ecosystems.

Chang, C.H. Karanth, K.K, and Robbins, P. Birds and beans: Comparing avian richness and endemism in arabica and robusta agroforests in India’s Western Ghats. Scientific Reports [Internet] .16 February 2018. [cited 2018 February 2018]; 8: 3143. Available from doi:10.1038/s41598-018-21401-1.