Tuesday, May 25, 2010

May 2010: Serious meanderings--Oil kills everything....

"Oil kills everything." These are the words of Jean-Michel Cousteau. It is a serious and dangerous situation we are facing along the shorelines from Texas to Florida. The accident at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig has taken human life, and if projections continue as they are now, we are in more danger than most people can imagine. All of the marine life, and animals that live along the coastal areas, and eventually all of us, will be in serious, even mortal, danger....

I grew up watching Jean-Michel's father, Jacques, explore our oceans. He is one of the reasons that I got my diving certification many years ago. There is nothing more mesmerizing than floating among a school of colorful fish as they cascade around you under the serene crystal clear environment in the water. And nothing is as heart-breaking as knowing that this beautiful life in the Gulf and our oceans are being devastated by such an avoidable disaster.

Watch a YouTube video made by the Cousteau team at the site of the Deepwater Horizon rig. Jean-Michel was at Valdez after it struck the coast of Alaska. He says that this oil leak is eight times worse than Valdez....that it will last for decades, and that in truth, the oil from the Valdez is still present in the waters there.

Sadly, one of the reasons that this oil leak is so destructive is because it is now the breeding or spawning season for hundreds, even thousands, of species that call the Gulf of Mexico and surrounding estuaries and coastlines home. It is the breeding season for big marine life, including the Blue Fin Tuna, Blue Whales, endangered Sperm Whales, and many other species of whales. For a list of protected species that call the Gulf home, visit NOAA.

The endangered Kemp's Ridley Turtle was one of the first casualities, but endangered Hawksbill, Leatherback and Loggerghead turtles, as well as threatened Green turtles also live in the Gulf. Nine species of dolphins live in the waters, including Bottlenose, Atlantic Spotted and Risso's dolphins. Imagine looking out over the once-blue waters and not seeing a dolphin because they have all been killed by toxic oil!

It is also spawning season for endangered Nassau Grouper and Speckled Hind Grouper, and many smaller species of fish. It is nesting season for Least Terns, Northern Gannets, Magnificient Frigatebirds, and Brown Pelicans....all of which nest along the shore and estuaries.

In the article by Scientific American, "Oil in Gulf Spells Disaster for Young Birds as Breeding Season Unfolds," Jan Dubuisson of the Gulfport, Mississippi Audubon Chapter talks about the rehabilitation efforts needed to help these birds survive. This is a photo from the slide show of a Northern Gannet, whose white feathers have been coated with oil from the Deepwater leak.
I did wildlife rehabilitation for nearly ten years a long time ago, and I can tell you that this is a traumatic experience for the animals, but that without help, they will die from the toxins.
So far, "...24 birds have been rescued from the Gulf of Mexico waters around oil-spill containment ships or on beaches, where volunteers and experts are on the lookout....The birds rescued so far include Northern Gannets, Pelicans, a Sora, a Magnificient Frigatebird, and Laughing Gulls, along with a handful of unexpected species [such as] rock doves and a cattle egret that are not generally expected to come into contact with the oil," Dubuisson said.

You may be wondering why we should care about species that we don't eat or use in some way (I am refraining from using the word "exploit" here, but I am biting my tongue). Even if we don't use them in some way, the animals that people eat also have to eat to survive: all those bottom dwellers, filter feeders (oysters, mussels, scallops, clams, etc.), small fish and plankton are the base of the food web. Some people seem to think if the oil sinks to the bottom, all will be fine. We won't see it, they think....but it will suffocate everything that lives on the bottom (if it hasn't already been killed by long-line fishing or drag netting). And everything that lives on the bottom feeds the next layer on the food web, which feeds the next layer, and so on...until it reaches the tuna and other species that many people eat....

The eggs of the spawning marine life will suffocate, and any of the surviving offspring (called fry when very young and fingerlings later) will suffocate in the "dispersed" oil. You may think that they will be able to swim 'away'...a fry or fingerling is so small that they can't swim 'away' from a disaster of this magnitude....2500 square miles of oil and increasing daily.

We need to realize that there is NO 'AWAY' here....we live in a delicately balanced terrarium on this planet. There is no 'away' for our refuse, no 'away' for our disasters, no 'away' from anything.
Everything we do affects the entire globe, whether economically or environmentally.
Consider that 95% of the US fishing industry is based in the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf and the ocean are Florida's livelihood, whether via vacationing tourists who come here to dive, fish, bird, or sail....or via the people who work in those recreational and vacation businesses. I haven't mentioned the coral reefs and the estuaries! Florida Bay is already endangered because our past and current rape of the Everglades water flow....

It is very fortunate indeed that the BioBlitz at Biscayne National Park took place before this happened. We now have baseline data that will help scientists monitor the changes should this leak creep up the east coast and into the Gulf Stream. Audubon has been counting bird populations for a hundred years, so we know the status of our bird populations (here and worldwide). Any many other smaller groups have been doing the same for other species (herps, reptiles, butterflies, dragonflies...in moments of despair, I think that at least future generations will have a detailed record of what we have destroyed in the last few hundred years!)

But you can do things to help! Particpate in one of these Citizen Science projects. We need people to go out and monitor beach nesting birds, count butterflies and help scientists monitor potential problems before they get out of hand.

Urge legislation to BAN OFF-SHORE DRILLING, and encourage alternative energy production. (Solar is the way to go...wind vanes kill birds by the millions, and coal is NOT clean, no matter what is done to it...it is toxic, polluting and devastating. I have seen firsthand the damage here and in Ecuador.)

Email President Obama and Governor Crist, and our senators and congressmen, including your county commissioners!

THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS TO BIRDS (and other animals) that get caught in oil taken from the Boston Globe....Warning: this will break your heart. I am posting so that you and others really understand what is happening to these innocent creatures. I worked in wildlife rehabiltation and in an emergency vet hospital for many years. Many of these creatures will die before they get help, and some will die from the trauma of the rescue....

If you have wildlife experience, get HAZMAT 3 training to help with oil response. If you want to volunteer, get HAZMAT 2 training. It is free and available locally through efforts coordinated with the Wildlife Care Center in Fort Lauderdale, and the National Humane Society (contact Debbie Drake). I know that there are not enough classes offered and that the notice may be too short for many (Although I missed it on the west coast because I found out about it on the day it was offered and I was working; I just found out about the virtual training below!)

VIRTUAL TRAINING is now available through BP's website. Take the courses online and print out your certification to help hands-on as a volunteer or rehabilitator.

If you can't take HAZMAT training, there are other ways to help. Audubon chapters are collecting towels and other necessary clean-up items, especially Dawn dishwashing liquid (the original brand only).

Hair booms don't work well, as reported by MSNC News and CBS News --it doesn't work as well as touted (it sinks to the bottom when it gets water-logged); so I stand corrected on that attempt to pass along helpful information. DON'T send any more hair to a Matter of Trust , which was collecting hair for that purpose.

For current news about the leak and how to help, contact Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.

And visit Global Coherence Initiative in your prayers and meditations to the planet, people and animals. We need spiritual energy as much as we need physical help in this emergency....

The good news is that I'll be moving back to Miami next month :-)

Labels: , , , , ,

Thursday, May 06, 2010

May 2010-BioBlitz: Wildflowers, Butterflies & Moths Galore

Have you noticed the plethora of tiny yellow butterflies that are fluttering en masse over the 'weedy' or grassy areas in your neighborhood? Take a serious look at the median strips between the highways you travel every day on your way to and from work....if you carefully observe the seemingly empty space, you will see an amazing migratory event occurring before your eyes. We all know about the Monarch, but there are over 38 species of semi- or migratory butterflies in South Florida! The tiny (less an inch wingspan) Dainty Yellow (Nathalis iole) is one semi-migratory species. You will see them congregating in areas where the ubiquitous wildflower Spanish Needles (Bidens alba), its host plant, flourishes. The miniscule wildflower Fogfruit (Phyla nodiflora) and small pink Mexican Clover (Richardia species) grow rampant in these areas and are some of the diminutive nectar sources for this tiny butterfly. Dainty Yellows disperse northward, but are not true migrants. This photo was taken at Hillsboro Pineland last year, nectaring on the invasive exotic flower Wedelia (Sphagneticola trilobata).

On the other hand, you could be seeing Barred Yellows (Eurema daira), which is not much bigger than the Dainty. They are a true migratory species, and they are also on the move now. Their host plants, Pencil Flower (Stylosanthes hamata) and Joint Vetches (Aeschynmene species) also grow in these disturbed sites, along roadways, in abandoned lots and natural areas.

As UF lepidopterist Thomas Walker exclaimed in his 1991 paper, "81.2 million butterflies between Gainesville and Okeechobee (an area of 51,600 Km2) would scarcely be noticeable...." Nor are they any more noticeable between Okeechobee and Fort Lauderdale! Certainly not at highway speeds...you can't safely slow down on the highway, but you can observe the median at the traffic light. There is always something to see!
Along with wishing that the incredible fragrant inflorescences of our palms were not cut down by mad-hackers in the landscape business, I wish that the median strips between highways were allowed to flourish with the array of wildflowers that grow there. This is one of many issues being addressed by the Imperiled Butterfly Working Group. I remember calling FDOT thirty-some years ago asking them to please not cut the wildflowers growing along the turnpike, because as soon as they did, the majesty of butterflies disappeared. Their response was that people complained about snakes and rats, so they cut the habitat down. How inane...where do they think those animals went? To the backyards of the people who complained about seeing them, of course!

Wildflowers are a-bloom now that spring has finally arrived. Take a walk and look for the subtle beauty of these rare and delicate flowers sprouting along the roadways. I have seen our state flower, Coreopsis, the brilliant Narrow-Leaved Blue-Eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) shown here, the ill-named but pretty little-flowered Toadflax (Linearis canadensis), Water Dropwort (Oxypolis filiformis) and Oakleaf Fleabane (Erigeron quercifolius) and many others!

These wildflowers have miraculously survived massive condo and retail developments, and the concretization of the land, all in the name of civilization. To quote Thoreau: "If a man [or woman] walks in the woods for the love of them half of each day, he is danger of being regarded as a loafer. But if he spends his days as a speculator, shearing off these woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is deemed an industrious and enterprising citizen."

One of the most exciting things to occur was the 2010 BioBlitz at Biscayne National Park, in conjunction with National Geographic Society (NGS), April 30-May 1. Think of it as a huge 24-hour "Nature Nerd Festival"! Over two hundred scientists in many fields from all over converged on the park and canvassed every habitat, nook and cranny, to document every species in any taxon that could be found. When we left, the count was over 800 species, with reports still being compiled by NGS.
This is Sea Oxeye Daisy, a beautiful coastal plant that sometimes colonizes in semi-urban areas as well as on beaches. This lovely specimen was photographed on Elliott Key.
There were marine biologists, diving to record corals, nudibranchs, fish, crustaceans and marine mammals. There were ornithologists, netting and banding birds (including Painted Buntings!) There were botanists, lepidopterists, entomologists, herpetologists and mycologists. There were students and volunteers, as well as school groups in the afternoon to learn about science. There were people studying the lichens, ants, beetles, trees and flowers!

This is one of our biggest native moths, the Black Witch (Ascalapha odorata), joining the BioBlitz crew at the data collection center. She was a very 'good witch' blessing our day.

Each morning we were up well before the sun in order to travel to our respective assigned sites. One of the most abundant creatures was the mosquito, so I was glad that I brought mosquito suits for our crew: Here are Alana and I dressed to the hilt for a day's surveying, wearing the field biologists favorite fragrance, Eau d'Deet...sometimes you just have to wear it....Advice to the wise: spray your clothes, not your skin.

I was honored to spend the days with some very special friends: Charlie Covell, the moth curator at the University of Florida's McGuire Center, and author of one of the best field guides on moths and someone who has shared many stories about the atala 'back in the day'; Marc Minno, who has published several excellent field guides and gardening for butterfly books; Alana Edwards, president of the Palm Beach Atala Chapter of the North American Butterfly Association and accomplished photographer; and Suzanne Koptur, master botanist and professor at Florida International University who specializes in pollinator insects. It was delightful to spend so much time with them.
Highlights to the field surveys included this gorgeous moth that Charlie named the Faithful Beauty (Composia fidelissima). He was with us at the time and told us the story while Alana took the picture as it nectared on Sea Rocket. The moth's hostplant is called Devil's Potato (Echites umbellata), a lovely white flowered rare native plant.

Here's Charlie and I checking out the "Insects du Noir", the night's bounty of insects that were trapped with his night lights, for identification in the labs.

To read more about the BioBlitz, and see more photographs visit the websites for National Geographic Society and Biscayne National Park.

The good news is that I have been invited back to Butterfly Days this year, September 25-26, 2010, at Fairchild Tropical Botanical Gardens...more on that later!

In the meantime, keep your eyes open for those migrants: birds AND butterflies!

Labels: , , , ,