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Coastal Zone Reform Bill Encountering Resistance

Swamp Stomp

Volume 17, Issue 25

Business leaders and environmentalists alike have been preparing to argue their sides regarding Delaware’s Coastal Zone Act.

Preparations were put to us on Thursday, May 18,2017, when state legislators introduced a bill that would alter how Delaware’s signature environmental zoning law is administered. If these changes come to pass, they would only be the second made in nearly 50 years.

Some environmentalists do not support the bill and have gone so far as to state that it is even worse than they imagined.

“It’s absolutely terrifying,” longtime activist Amy Roe said. “What they’re proposing would completely and totally break the Coastal Zone Act while putting low-income, minority communities at risk of real environmental disasters.”

The Coastal Zone Conversion Permit Act, House Bill 190, if passed, would create a permitting process that would allow new industrial uses at 14 coastal sites, only one would not be located in New Castle County.

Though not all are currently active, all have in the past had heavy industry use and all are polluted. Supporters argue that the bill would encourage businesses to clean up the sites and hundreds of factory jobs.

“The state doesn’t have the funds to remediate these sites and the only way to clean them up is for a business to come in,” said James DeChene, vice president of government affairs for the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce.

“The only way they’re going to do that is if they can use the sites and then you get new industries and good-paying jobs,” he added. “It’s a win-win.”

A big problem for environmentalists is a provision that would allow nine properties with docks and piers built before 1971 to conduct bulk product transfer, which means it can move cargo such as oil or raw chemicals from ship to shore and vice versa.

The current Coastal Zone Act fought to protect the Delaware Bay and the state’s shoreline from the encroachment of heavy industrial development and specifically bans bulk product transfer.

The act’s first paragraph warns that ports and docking facilities used for that purpose would represent a significant danger of pollution and attract exactly the types of heavy industry the law sought to contain.

“For these reasons,” the law states, “prohibition against bulk product transfer facilities in the coastal zone is deemed imperative.”

Roe said she would be devastated if these shipments were now allowed.

“That would mean opening Delaware’s coast up to more ships and more trains carrying hazardous materials,” she said. “That means a much greater risk of oil spills and other incidents that could threaten our wildlife, our fishing industries and our beaches.”

Proponents counter that these fears are overblown.

“Everyone seems to focus on the fear of an oil spill,” said state Rep. Ed Osienski, D-Newark, the bill’s lead sponsor in the House. “But I’m sure with the new technology – sensors, switches, electronics, video – that when something goes wrong, it’s going to be caught quickly to eliminate any major disaster.”

The legislation, he argues, has provisions that would require owners of the properties to put up money to cover cleanup costs from spills and other contamination.

“I don’t think it will impact the state’s tourism industry at all,” he said. “There are 14 sites [in the bill] none of which I can ever imagine being tourist sites.”

What are your thoughts about the bill?

Source: Goss, Scott, and Xerxes Wilson. “Bitter Fight Expected over Coastal Zone Reform Bill.” News Journal. Delawareonline, 20 May 2017. Web. 22 May 2017.

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Leo DiCaprio teams with Mexico to Save Endangered Porpoise

Swamp Stomp

Volume 17, Issue 24

In an unusual combination, the Mexican government, tycoon Carlos Slim and U.S. actor Leonardo DiCaprio announced on Wednesday, June 7, 2017, that they are teaming up and have created a plan to protect a tiny porpoise in the Gulf of California. This porpoise has become a powerful symbol of critically endangered animal species.

What was once a thriving population of snub-nosed vaquita porpoise living in the Gulf of California, is now a dangerously low number due to gillnet fishing for shrimp and totoaba, a popular delicacy in Asia, sparking increasing calls for action.

In Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto’s home in Mexico City, he as well as Hollywood star DiCaprio and Slim signed a memorandum of understanding committing to conserve marine life in the Gulf of California, including the vaquita.

The once thriving porpoise population is down to fewer than 30 wild vaquita according to the foundations run by Slim and DiCaprio.

“The accord comes less than a month after DiCaprio urged his fans on social media to petition Pena Nieto to save the vaquita, which prompted the president to take to Twitter to assure the actor that Mexico was doing all it could to protect the porpoise” (Graham).

The memorandum states that the signatories will undertake to make permanent a temporary ban on using gillnets in the vaquita’s waters and to step up efforts to combat the use of illegal gillnets, as well as the prosecution of illegal fishing and totoaba poaching.

Gillnet fishing uses mesh which is designed to allow fish to get only their head through the netting but not their body. It is believed that this is largely to blame for trapping the vaquita porpoises and killing them.

“The plan also included a commitment to prohibiting nighttime fishing in the upper Gulf of California and the vaquita reserve, and to enforce limited entry and exit points in the region for fishing, among other measures” (Graham).

In the last month, 200,000 people signed the petition to save the vaquita that DiCaprio created aimed at Pena Nieto, the World Wildlife Fund said.

In the statement, DiCaprio, the 42-year-old star of “Titanic,” called the memorandum a “critical step” on behalf of the marine mammal.

“I am honored to work with President Pena Nieto, who has been a leader in ecosystem conservation, to ensure the future viability of marine life in the Gulf,” DiCaprio said.

Later in the day, after signing the memorandum, Pena Nieto tweeted pictures of his meeting with DiCaprio and Slim, saying that Mexico understood its environmental responsibility to the world.

It is unclear at the moment just how much money was being dedicated to the rescue effort and how much each signatory was providing.

What more do you think can be done to save the vaquita? Do you think celebrities drawing attention to causes is appropriate? What causes would you like to see celebrities supporting and drawing attention to?

Source: Graham, Dave. “Mexico, DiCaprio and Carlos Slim Craft Plan to save Endangered Porpoise.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 07 June 2017. Web. 08 June 2017.

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Race is On to Find Why Marsh is Dying

Swamp Stomp

Volume 17, Issue 23

A colony of tiny bugs has taken up residence near the mouth of the Mississippi River and is killing large amounts of wetland grass that is needed to ensure the health of Louisiana’s coast. This incident is causing state and university scientists to quickly try to figure out how and why the pest, which could be a European or Asian import, got to south Louisiana, and how can they stop them from killing more of the wetland grass.

The wetlands in south Plaquemines Parish have experienced large-scale die-offs of Roseau cane. Roseau cane is a tall-growing grass that’s native to Louisiana and is the perfect habitat for fish and other wildlife. This has been going on since last fall. This grass is so important to the health of wetlands because its roots hold marshlands in place. Without this grass the already rapid erosion of the coastline will happen even quicker.

“Roseau cane is very, very important to the overall stability of our coastline,” state Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain said. “This is happening at the mouth of the Mississippi, and that’s part of the economic lifeblood of the American economy. It’s important we deal with this.”

The invasive species is a type of scale, an aphid-like insect that feeds on plant sap. Scientists do not think it is native to North America. Louisiana entomologists are collaborating with others in Europe and Asia to identify the scale.

“At the moment, we don’t know the species name of the scale nor its origin,” said Rodrigo Diaz, a Louisiana State University entomologist. “We are working with taxonomists and ecologists to understand this problem. Because of the recent discovery of the problem, there are a lot of unknowns.”

The large-scale cane deaths were first reported to Department of Agriculture and Forestry by fishers and charter boat captains in October and November. In winter, the cane dies back naturally. By February, when department scientists inspected the affected areas, the marshes should have been green with regrowth.

“We went out in airboats, and the impact was obvious,” said Joey Breaux, an environmental specialist with the department’s soil and water office. “We were seeing regrowth of just 5 and 15 percent when it should have been 80 or 100 percent. And we’ve been back since then, and it’s lots worse.”

It is unknown how many acres are affected. Charter fishing captain Eric Newman guesses that thousands of acres near Venice have experienced partial or near-total die-off.

“These places were flush with cane in November,” he said. “Now they’re almost unrecognizable. These bugs have eaten almost all of it.”

The Agriculture Department has found cane death as far north as the Bohemia Spillway. The scale has caused the biggest problems around the river’s mouth, including the Pass a Loutre Wildlife Management Area. Breton Island has also been hit hard.

Scientists are trying to determine how the scale arrived and whether environmental factors, such as changes in climate, water chemistry and storm patterns, might have affected the scale’s spread.

Source: Baurick, Tristan. “Mystery Pest Wiping out Wetlands at the Mouth of the Mississippi River.” NOLA.com. Times-Picayune, 04 Apr. 2017. Web. 13 Apr. 2017.

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Energy Storage Development Priority for Military

Swamp Stomp

Volume 17, Issue 22

In an effort to improve energy security, military leaders are looking to use on-site power storage. Since they are not the experts on this technology, two of the military branches are reaching out to the energy industry for ideas about how to most effectively utilize this rapidly growing technology.

“Developers have been working on building and commercializing the necessary battery technology to complement intermittent renewable power sources, and now the military appears more interested in their success” (Mintz).

On April 25, the Army and Air Force, along with the Defense Logistics Agency, asked for information from companies regarding the new technology as well as their thoughts on “approaches, opportunities and strategies” for implementing energy storage projects on installations.

The interest comes as a logical next step to the military installing renewable energy systems on bases, said Michael McGhee, who heads the Army’s Office of Energy Initiatives, in an interview.

“To us, a very attractive situation would be where we have on-site generation on Army installations, on-site storage, whether that be fuel or battery storage, and then finally combined with the necessary controls that allow power to be turned inward … in the event of a grid disruption,” he said.

“The efforts, which have been ongoing for years, also tie to a recent Army directive on energy and water security, which ordered installations to work toward meeting mission-critical energy and water needs for a minimum of 14 days” (Greenwire, March 28).

While this technology looks very promising, there is a drawback. If there is horrible weather or a cyberattack, there could be potentially catastrophic grid disruptions.

“We do have a concern about the vulnerabilities that may be evident in the current infrastructure that is the national grid,” McGhee said.

Extreme weather is a great concern due to the increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events, he said, but equally concerning are “malevolent actors have been probing and are looking at and have been attempting to insert malware into systems that manage or otherwise operate the grid.”

“Those attacks appear to be intended to disrupt the grid in ways that would be rather catastrophic,” McGhee said. “We are concerned … that if these attacks are successful, they could result in large-scale and long-term grid outages, more than we have seen before.”

Do you think this technology should be utilized by the military? If so, how do you think they should use it?

Source: Mintz, Sam. “Military Focuses on Developing Energy Storage.” E&E News. Greenwire, 08 May 2017. Web. 08 May 2017.

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Pest Destroying Wetlands Grass Identified

Swamp Stomp

Volume 17, Issue 21

The unknown pest wreaking havoc on thousands of acres of a critical wetlands grass in the Mississippi River Delta is no longer unknown.  The pest has been identified as an invasive insect from Asia. After weeks of numerous consultations with scientists from all over the world, Louisiana State University announced Thursday, April 13th that the pest is known as Nipponaclerda biwakoensis, which is a type of scale originating from Japan and China.

It is still unknown to Louisiana scientists just how the scale arrived in Louisiana. The scientists have yet to discover how to stop the spread of the pest. Since fall, the scale has destroyed copious amounts of roseau cane, a tall grass considered vitally important for fish and bird habitats and for the stability of the fast-eroding delta. If the spread of the pest is not controlled soon, scientists and Plaquemines Parish residents worry the loss of the cane could speed up coastal erosion.

The most damage to the cane is located in the far south end of Plaquemines, including the Pass a Loutre Wildlife Management Area, where about 80 percent of the preserve’s 110,000 acres are affected by the pest. So far, the scale has spread as far north as the Bohemia Spillway.

“We’re the first on the North American continent to see it first, unfortunately,” said Joey Breaux, an environmental specialist with the state Department of Agriculture and Forestry.

LSU says that entomologist Scott Schneider is the scientist who first identified the scale. Schneider works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Systematic Entomology Laboratory in Beltsville, Md.

The British Natural History Museum’s John Noyes has discovered what could turn out to be the scale’s weakness. He believes that a type of tiny parasite, also native to Japan and China, preys upon the scale. The parasite, known by the scientific name neastymachus japonicus, appears to accept no other host but the particular type of scale now invading south Plaquemines.

Breaux said that the parasite could be released in Plaquemines to kill the scale. Unfortunately, this option comes with many unknowns, such as availability and price.

“Japan probably doesn’t have a batch of the parasite ready to ship,” Breaux said. “And if they did, it’d be expensive.”

If the parasite does not turn out to be a viable option, there are others. These include controlled marsh fires and pesticides. These other options come with their own set of risks.

“We want something affordable, do-able and environmentally friendly,” Breaux said. “In the meantime, we’re losing more roseau. We’ve got to get at it and do something.”

While we can all agree that something must be done and fast, what do you think is the best option for dealing with the scale? Can you think of any other ways of dealing with the scale? Do you think Louisiana scientists are handling the situation properly? In the meantime, what is your biggest concern regarding the presence of the scale?

Source: Baurick, Tristan. “Scientists Identify Pest Laying Waste to Mississippi River Delta Wetlands Grass.” NOLA.com. NOLA.com, 13 Apr. 2017. Web. 17 Apr. 2017.

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Proposed Bill to Increase Leisure Fishing

Swamp Stomp

Volume 17, Issue 20

A bill has again been proposed in the House that, if approved, will change the nation’s top fisheries law.  The bill specifically focuses on the need to make it easier for recreational fishermen to get access.

The bill is being referred to as the “Modern Fish Act.”  It would allow fishery managers to consider different avenues than the annual catch limits and the current 10-year limit on rebuilding fish stocks. The bill was proposed on April 6, 2017 by Reps. Garret Graves (R-La.), Gene Green (D-Texas), Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) and Rob Wittman (R-Va.).

This new bill allows for an alternative option to the bill proposed by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), which was not well received when it was introduced last year. Young’s bill, H.R. 1335, despite the controversy, did pass the House but did not make it to the Senate.  In the hope of getting the bill to reach the Senate, Young proposed a revised version of the bill earlier this year.

If either bill makes its way through the necessary channels, they would change the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.  Recreational fishing groups are supporting the “Modern Fish Act.”  They see the bill as a common-sense update to a law that was originally intended to regulate the commercial sector.  Some of the groups supporting the “Modern Fish Act” are the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, the Recreational Fishing Alliance, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and a few other recreational and sportsmen’s groups.

“For decades, the recreational fishing community has been subjected to antiquated federal policies not designed to manage recreational fishing,” said Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Sportfishing Policy. “The time is now to update these policies so families can fully enjoy our nation’s remarkable marine resources and continue a proud American tradition on the water.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration attempted to address the recreational industry’s concerns in recent years through administrative actions. An example of this occurred last August when the agency released new guidance to urge fishery managers to review catch allocations.

“Today’s bill would require a periodic review of allocations, which recreational groups say are “locked in place” and favor the commercial sector. It would also “clarify” that NOAA is allowed to implement “alternative management approaches” that are more suitable to anglers, according to a summary of the bill” (Yehle).

It is possible that environmental groups will oppose the “Modern Fish Act” like they did for Young’s bill.  They opposed Young’s bill because they felt that it would weaken conservation measures.

Do you support or oppose the “Modern Fish Act?”  Why?  What changes, if any, do you think should be made to the “Modern Fish Act?”  What concerns, if any, do you have with the possible changes to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act?

Source: Yehle, Emily. “Lawmakers Introduce Bill to Boost Recreational Fishing.” Greenwire. E&E News, 06 Apr. 2017. Web. 06 Apr. 2017.

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Changes and Renewals to Nationwide Permits

Swamp Stomp

Volume 17, Issue 19

On January 6, 2017, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) publicized the changes and renewals to nationwide permits (NWPs) that are mandatory in order to work in streams, wetlands and other waters of the United States under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act and Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899. The new NWPs will be enforced starting on March 19, 2017, and will nullify the existing permits, which expired on March 18, 2017.

The 2017 nationwide permits have been published in January 6th’s Federal Register at https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2017/01/06/2016-31355/issuance-and-reissuance-of-nationwide-permits, and can also be found on USACE Web site at http://www.usace.army.mil/Missions/CivilWorks/RegulatoryProgramandPermits/NationwidePermits.aspx.

“Our goal in developing and authorizing nationwide permits every five years is to update them, and provide clarity and certainty for the regulated public while protecting the aquatic environment. Our nationwide permits are an important tool in encouraging project proponents to avoid and minimize impacts to wetlands, streams, and other aquatic resources,” said Maj. Gen. Ed Jackson, USACE Deputy Commanding General for Civil and Emergency Operations.

NWP 53 and NWP 54 are the new permits. NWP 53 provides the process to efficiently authorize permits for the removal of low-head dams to restore streams and enhance public safety. NWP 54 covers the construction and maintenance of living shorelines to control erosion in coastal areas.

Very few of the renewed permits from 2012 were changed.

It is possible for USACE division commanders, after public review and consultation, to add regional conditions to nationwide permits in order to protect local aquatic ecosystems such as fens or bottomland hardwoods, or to minimize adverse effects on fish or shellfish spawning, wildlife nesting or other ecologically critical areas.

Division and district commanders also coordinate and consult with federally-recognized American Indian and Alaska Native governments when necessary.

Highlights of the 2017 nationwide permits include:

  • USACE reissued 50 existing permits and added two new ones.
  • NWP 48 – The NWP 48 for Existing Commercial Shellfish Aquaculture Activities is revised to provide greater flexibility in its use. For example, NWP 48 now incorporates provisions that authorize activities that are consistent with other federal, state, tribal and local regulatory authorities. Incorporating these already authorized activities will reduce the number of activities that require review by individual USACE districts.
  • NWP 53 – This new NWP covers the removal of low-head dams. The removal of these dams will restore rivers and streams, and will improve public safety by removing dams that can pose hazards to swimmers and to users of small recreational craft.
  • NWP 54 – This new NWP covers the construction and maintenance of living shorelines, a technique to protect coastal property from erosion while providing some aquatic habitat and water quality benefits.

The new NWPs are numbered 53 and 54 respectfully, even though there are only 52 total permits this cycle, because NWP 26 has not been assigned since 2000, and NWP 47 was in effect for only one five-year cycle (2007 to 2012).

Additional information about the USACE Regulatory Program can be found at http://www.usace.army.mil/Missions/Civil-Works/Regulatory-Program-and-Permits/.

Source: “Army Corps of Engineers Revises and Renews Nationwide Permits.” U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 06 Jan. 2017. Web. 10 Apr. 2017.

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International Wetland Plant Project

The Swamp Stomp

Volume 17, Issue 18

For the past couple of years, we have noticed an increase in our international student body. Wetland identification and delineation is becoming more important as countries expand their economies and run into complicated water quality and quantity issues. Wetlands play an important part in the overall water management of a given country.

Recently the Swamp School released a new online class entitled, International Wetlands Assessment and Delineation. This class is tailored to meet the needs of the international community and has been put together based upon Ramsar, Wetlands International, USACE and other standards.

One of the principal features of a wetland is the plant community that exists in the wetland. In the United States, we have the benefit of a wetland plant list that is decades in the making. It was originally created by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and has since been updated by the US Army Corps of Engineers.

What many people do not know is how the original list was compiled by the USFWS. In the 1980’s the USFWS was completing the National Wetlands Inventory (NWI). They needed to ground truth some of the areas that were under consideration for refuges and they needed a way to qualify if a site was a wetland. One of the developing criteria was that the site had to have 50% hydrophytes to be a wetland. What was a hydrophyte?

The USFWS sent out a survey to a limited group of USFWS employees and some from academia asking them to categorize common plants found in wetlands in their area based upon the now familiar wetland ratings of obligate (OBL), facultative- wet (FACW), facultative (FAC), facultative-up (FACU) and upland (UPL). Originally, the ratings were based upon a numeric experience estimate. For example, a wetland plant with a rating of FACW would be expected to be found in wetlands 67%-99% of the time. There was no real data collected. Rather, it was more of an opinion survey of qualified professionals and has served us well for nearly 30 years.

To this end, we are conducting a similar survey of wetlands plants found around the world and we need your help. Both by spreading the word about this project and by participating in it. If you can provide plant data for your area, we have the database up and running. We will need scientific name, common name, location information and your rating opinion. We also ask for a reference source that helps verify the habitat of the given plant. Due to the size of the database, we are not asking for any pictures. At least not yet.

Request Project Access Here

If you would like to participate in the project, we have a very simple registration process. Just go to this page and fill out the contact information. We ask for location information of the main area that you will be working in. However, you can submit data from others areas once you are registered. We do not need any USA data as the USACOE does a fine job of keeping up with the US wetland plants. We have had many requests for this data from Canada, New Zealand, India, China, the United Kingdom, Brazil, and South Korea. We need data from all over the world, but these countries are in high demand.

The database is open and accessible to anyone who is registered. The data is processed in real time so you will see continuing updates. If you have a spreadsheet of this data for your area, we do have the ability to upload this into the database. Just let us know if you need to do this and we will be happy to help.

Please note:  This project is open to botanists everywhere.  We just do not need any data for US plants.  US botanists are most welcome to participate.

This is an ongoing project and we do not ever expect it to be finalized. The International Wetlands Assessment and Delineation students will be submitting data as part of their class into this project so you will see ongoing updates. We are also hoping to be able to publish national wetland plant guides once we have enough data to share.

Lastly, this project requires a fair amount of database server space and utilization. We want to make the information free to anyone who wants to use it. We have set up a GoFundMe account to help us cover some of the backend computer costs. Even if you are not able to help with the database, please consider helping us by contributing. Any amount if very much appreciated. If there are any philanthropists out there we would love to also add photographs to the database, but the amount of server space for this is enormous and outside what we can self-fund.
Please circulate this post to anyone you think can help and please let us know your thoughts by commenting below. Please feel free to repost this blog post, tweet it out, share on Facebook, copy in an email or use whatever social media avenue you like. We need to get the word out!

Help Fund the Project Here

Thanks for all your help and support! – Marc

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Maryland Senate to Rule on Fracking Ban

Swamp Stomp

Volume 17, Issue 17

A bill that is currently working its way through Maryland’s legislative system cleared a major hurdle Wednesday, March 22, 2017.  The bill would ban hydraulic fracturing in Maryland.  This victory for those who support the bill comes days after Gov. Larry Hogan (R) surprised supporters by endorsing the ban.

In a vote of 8-3, the state Senate’s environmental committee voted in favor of the House bill.  One of the panel’s four Republicans voted in favor of the bill as well as all seven Democrats. The next step for the bill, which has 23 sponsors, is advancement to the full Senate, where it would need at least 24 votes to pass.

If Maryland bans fracking, it would not be the first to do so as New York and Vermont have already banned the practice.

Supports of the bill where able to keep an amendment off the bill that would have required a statewide referendum in 2018 to determine how voters feel about the ban on fracking, a natural-gas extraction method formally known as hydraulic fracturing.

Those against the referendums argued that the extra time taken would provide an opportunity for the oil-and-gas industry to run ads against the ban and drum up support for repealing it.

Among those who agree with the outcome of the committee’s vote are environmental and anti-fracking groups.

“Mountain Maryland residents and citizens across our state have for years raised alarm over fracking’s potential to contaminate water and air, to cause earthquakes, and to harm public health and safety,” Citizen Shale said in a statement. “With this vote, we can breathe a little easier.”

Do you think the fracking ban bill will pass?  Do you agree or disagree with Maryland for attempting to ban fracking?  Why?

Source: Hicks, Josh. “Fracking Ban Advances to Maryland Senate Floor.” The Washington Post. WP Company, 22 Mar. 2017. Web. 24 Mar. 2017.

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Oyster Reefs Can’t be Rebuilt Fast Enough

Swamp Stomp

Volume 17, Issue 16

The Chesapeake Bay has a serious problem.  The oyster population and the reefs in the Bay are diminishing and cannot be replaced fast enough.  The big issue regarding the oyster population is with the shells.

The oyster population cannot be restored because there are not enough shells to rebuild the Chesapeake Bay’s depleted bivalve population.  The Virginia area has been hit the hardest.  In this area, there may not even be enough shells to sustain the wild fishery for a whole lot longer.

The situation got this way due to decades of overharvesting, habitat destruction, disease and poor water quality.  The population of oysters in the Bay has reduced to less than 1 percent of its historic levels.  The fact that there are not enough shells also affects the oyster reefs not just the oyster themselves.  Oyster reefs are made up of the shells of living and dead bivalves and they are wearing down and disappearing faster than they are being built up.

Scientists, managers and others are concerned that there are not enough shells to go around sustaining both the traditional wild fishery as well as grow the aquaculture industry.  This does not take into consideration the ambitious large-scale efforts by both states and the federal government to restore the Chesapeake’s oyster population for its ecological value.

“We don’t have the habitat,” said Bruce Vogt, manager of ecosystem science and habitat assessment for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Chesapeake Bay Office. “Even if we had adequate spawning stock to revive the population over time, the habitat just isn’t there.”

The problem with not having enough shells is twofold.  “Oysters make their own habitat, building reefs out of the shells they produce. But juvenile oysters need a hard surface — customarily, another oyster shell — on which to grow. The problem now is that there are many fewer shells than there used to be on which the shellfish can live and reproduce” (Wheeler).

There used to be 450,000 acres of oyster reef habitat that once blanketed the bottom of the Bay and its tributaries.  Of the 450,000 acres, 70 percent has been lost to siltation, according to an environmental assessment done in 2009 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  The silt that is covering and destroying the reefs has yet to let up.

The shells are also being destroyed by predators.  Shells are also removed by harvesting and are not always returned.  In addition, the gear used to dredge up oysters scatters and breaks other shells.

The biggest challenge to restoring the oyster population and reefs is that there shells break down naturally overtime.  If there is a live oyster in the shell, they produce new shell from carbon and calcium and they filter out water.  After the bivalves die, corrosion sets in.  The process is hastened if the water is saltier or more acidic.

In order to get to the bottom of how to fix the problem, the state-federal Chesapeake Bay Program is commissioning a “shell budget” — an analysis of how many oyster shells are being lost and how many produced by new oysters.  The study is expected to take a year and the cost is estimated at $50,000–$60,000.

“We really need to put all this together,” said Peyton Robertson, director of NOAA’s Bay office and co-chair of the Bay Program’s Sustainable Fisheries Goal Implementation Team. “We don’t have a good handle on the puts and takes of shell coming in and going out.”

Source: Wheeler, Timothy B. “Chesapeake Losing Its Oyster Reefs Faster than They Can Be Rebuilt.” Bay Journal RSS. Bay Journal RSS, 29 Jan. 2017. Web. 13 Mar. 2017.