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October 30, 2012

On how oysters save shorelines

Moral: stop eating oysters! An Oyster in the Storm - NYTimes.com
Crassostrea virginica, the American oyster, the same one that we eat on the half shell, is endemic to New York Harbor. Which isn’t surprising: the best place for oysters is the margin between saltwater and freshwater, where river meets sea. Our harbor is chock-a-block with such places. Myriad rivers and streams, not just the Hudson and the East, but the Raritan, the Passaic, the Kill Van Kull, the Arthur Kill — the list goes on and on — flow into the upper and lower bay of the harbor, bringing nutrients from deep inland and distributing them throughout the water column. Until European colonists arrived, oysters took advantage of the spectacular estuarine algae blooms that resulted from all these nutrients and built themselves a kingdom. Generation after generation of oyster larvae rooted themselves on layers of mature oyster shells for more than 7,000 years until enormous underwater reefs were built up around nearly every shore of greater New York. Just as corals protect tropical islands, these oyster beds created undulation and contour on the harbor bottom that broke up wave action before it could pound the shore with its full force. Beds closer to shore clarified the water through their assiduous filtration (a single oyster can filter as much as 50 gallons of water a day); this allowed marsh grasses to grow, which in turn held the shores together with their extensive root structure. But 400 years of poor behavior on the part of humans have ruined all that. As Mark Kurlansky details in his fine book “The Big Oyster,” during their first 300 years on these shores colonists nearly ate the wild creatures out of existence. We mined the natural beds throughout the waterways of greater New York and burned them down for lime or crushed them up for road beds. Once we’d hurled all that against the wild New York oyster, baymen switched to farming oysters. But soon New Yorkers ruined that too. Rudimentary sewer systems dumped typhoid- and cholera-carrying bacteria onto the beds of Jamaica Bay. Large industries dumped tons of pollutants like PCBs and heavy metals like chromium into the Hudson and Raritan Rivers, rendering shellfish from those beds inedible. By the late 1930s, oysters in New York and all the benefits they brought were finished.

October 26, 2012

Today's Tumblr: Things I Learned as a Field Biologist

Evopropinquitous
It is generally unwise to get your feet wet when doing field work. Yes, there’s a certain amount of squishy discomfort when your wool socks are squelching in your rubber boots, with the wet fabric gently but persistently scraping against the now-doughy, damp, cold flesh of your feet. And if you wore cotton socks… well… have fun with the nascent case of trench foot creeping over those disgusting stumps that used to be your feet… But there’s an even more pernicious reason to avoid flooding your boots: Fungus. Oh… fungus… Perhaps you’ve had athlete’s foot before, or a tiny spot of ringworm… such quaint infections. When a fungus takes hold in the 100% humidity, constant rain, and multiple boot-floodings of the wet season, it does not let you go. Ever. So if you find yourself in the rainy season with a shiny, round red welt that itches like the dickens, please remember these few things: 1) For frak’s sake, DRY OUT YOUR SOCKS. Put them over the fan over night so that you have 5 precious, precious moments of dryness before stepping out that door into the rain again… 2) Air everything out. For real. I mean everything. If you have electricity, lay in front of a fan in the buff for at least two hours every evening. You think I’m joking… but: 3) When your feet start to bleed - and boy, will they ever - don’t panic. The hole that appears to be eating its way into the space between your 4th and 5th toes on your right foot won’t go any deeper than a full centimeter (you know this because you stuck your finger inside of it and then measured the extent of the bloody seepage on your pinkie finger… the hole is that wide and deep). 4) Ditch the hat. Ditch the hat. Ditch the - oh. Now it’s on your scalp. 5) Don’t even bother trying to prevent it from attacking your delicates. That ship sailed about a month ago. Just don’t scra- ok… now it’s all over the place. 6) Once everything itches all the time, it kindof doesn’t even matter that your feet are bleeding and that your hair is falling out… because the itching… the itching… will prevent your itching about itching else… itching… It’s ok. Dry seasons come back. Eventually.