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Biology 560 Environmental Regulation, Law and Policy Workshop

An eye for an eye, a swamp for a swamp

Swamp 2 A tupelo swamp in the Nature Conservancy’s Caddo Black Bayou Reserve.

This past week our BIOL 560 class had the opportunity to learn about mitigation banking from Ms. Nelwyn McInnis, the Mitigation Program Manager at the Nature Conservancy.  The Nature Conservancy is an international nonprofit  land-based conservation organization that is dedicated to “protecting the lands and waters on which all life depends” (The Nature Conservancy’s mission statement).  Ms. McInnis has worked with the Nature Conservancy for over 20 years and has been the project leader for the conservancy’s Southeast Louisiana Pine Flatwood Wetland Mitigation Bank since 1998.

Ms. McInnis explained to us the legislation behind wetland conservation that led to mitigation banking.  In short, several federal acts and guidance documents written in the past several decades have influenced the development of mitigation banking, but the most important one was the 2008 rule added under section 404 of the Clean Water Act.  The Clean Water Act gives our government jurisdiction to regulate all “navigable waters”.  Wetlands adjacent to navigable waters or connected to them by a “significant nexus” fall under this jurisdiction too.  The 2008 rule added the goal of “no net loss” of wetlands, which is where mitigation comes in.

So if a developer wants to build in an area with wetlands, they have to make sure their project won’t cause any net loss to those wetlands.  The easiest thing for the developer to do would be to avoid harming the wetlands altogether, but when that’s not entirely possible, they should still plan their project to minimize the level of impact they cause to the wetlands.  If the developer finds that there is no way around the fact that their project is going to cause the loss of some of those wetlands, the developer has to make up for that loss by adding to wetlands somewhere else.  Not only that, but whenever possible, the replacement wetland has to be located in the same watershed as the destroyed wetland and it must be the same type of wetland.

This is the essential idea behind mitigation, but how do you go about adding wetlands?  There are actually four mitigation methods for doing this: restoration, establishment, enhancement, and preservation.  Restoration involves converting land that was once converted from being a wetland back to its previous wetland state.  This technique adds overall wetland acreage and function to the ecosystem.  Establishment also adds wetland acreage and function, but involves converting land that previously was not a wetland into a wetland.  Enhancement involves improving an existing wetland to increase its ecosystem function.  Enhancement only adds function, not acreage, so in mitigation projects that do wetland enhancements, companies often have to enhance several acres of wetland for every one acre of wetland they destroy.  Preservation involves taking a wetland that already exists and maintaining it exactly the way it is, to preserve acreage and function, but this process doesn’t add to either one, so like in the case of enhancement projects, mitigators would have to preserve several acres to make up for every one acre of wetland they destroy.

This sounds complicated, right?  Mitigation can get quite complicated, and most people don’t want to deal with that extra bit of headache.  It’s much easier to let a third party take care of all that mitigation project management so you can just write a check and be done with it.  So that’s where mitigation banks come in!  Mitigation banks do exactly that: they buy land and manage different wetland mitigation projects, which translate into credits, which can then be sold to developers who need however many credits of wetlands mitigated.

sunset-at-abita-creek-flatwoodA pine savanna from the Nature Conservancy’s Abita Creek Flatwoods Preserve.

This is the job of the Nature Conservancy!  Or rather, one of the jobs, since the Conservancy is actually a very large organization involved in many different kinds of conservation projects around the world.  The southeast Louisiana field office where Ms. McInnis works has become somewhat specialized in the conservation of pine savannas, a very unique wetland type made up of pine trees, grasses, and an assortment of carnivorous plants.  They manage several wetland conservation projects across southeast Louisiana and Mississippi, not all of which are pine savanna wetlands.  The Nature Conservancy gets credits for the acres of wetlands they create or restore and the value of functions their wetlands provide.  Then the conservancy sells these credits to developers and companies that need credits to make up for the wetlands they harmed.

TNC_conservation_sitesMap of the Nature Conservancy’s conservation sites in southern Louisiana and Mississippi.

And there you have mitigation banking!  A complicated yet clever process that fulfills two needs in one swoop.  Conservationists that need funding for their management projects and developers who need wetlands to be conserved on their behalf can work together to solve their problems with mitigation banking.  It’s good for business and it’s good for wetlands!

By Kristen Chatelain

Photos from the Nature Conservancy website:

https://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/louisiana/placesweprotect/caddo-black-bayou.xml

https://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/louisiana/placesweprotect/abita-creek-flatwoods-preserve.xml

https://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/louisiana/placesweprotect/index.htm

 

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Sushi and Scientists

Did you hear about the evil tuna?

He was rotten to the albacore.

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Figure 1 A school of yellowfin tuna.

Source: http://russgeorge.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/yellowfin-tuna.jpg

Okay, so lame jokes aside… This week we had an interesting presentation this week from Brett Falterman. Working with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF), he holds two titles: Program Manager of the Fisheries Management Section and the Director of the Grand Isle Fisheries Research Lab. His presentation centered on yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares) management.

A large portion of fisheries management is the communication between citizens and scientists. Scientists are often portrayed as the villains when they hand down recommendations. These recommendations usually include reducing harvest limits, changing collection methods, or changes in size minimum for harvest. We also have a difficult time conveying scientific findings in a way which non-scientists can understand the implications and significance of findings and the ‘inability to reject the null hypothesis’.

LDWF has been actively tagging and tracking individual yellowfin tuna using a few different kinds of tags. The number of tags and transmitters which are recovered are incredibly low but through use of connecting and giving incentives to recreational and commercial fishermen, the percentage of tags recovered have increased. Two kinds of tags (Internal Archival Tags and the commonly used anchor tags) need to be physically processed in order to gain any information from them.

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Figure 2: A yellowfin tune with an anchor tag.

 

Source: http://fishingvideos.com/news/media/2008images/20080501-RS4-08underwater%20tag%20Tuna%20SM.jpg

 

Brett told us about his experiences with collaboration between commercial fishermen and scientists. Some of these were incentivized, and others came with the allure of aiding in important scientific research and the hope of improved understanding and management of an economically significant species.

The study species, the yellowfin tuna, is currently believed to be managed globally in a sustainable way as compared to the ill-management of bluefin tuna. The belief that a global harvest of 1.2 million metric tons annually is sustainable is a bit hard to swallow. Through age and growth studies and tracking individuals, scientists are better able to understand population dynamics of specific species.

A study conducted by the LDWF used over 2,000 yellowfin tuna carcasses from a commercial fisherman in Venice, LA. Through this cooperation, the stomachs, reproductive organs, tissue samples, and small ear bones were removed and kept for later tests. These ear bones were able to be used for two analyses. You may be asking why tiny ear bones from a fish matter. Well, one thing that they can be used for is to determine age.

Depending on the species of fish, the ear bones can be quiet large in fish which produce and hear sounds. But in the case of tuna and other fast moving fish, they have smaller ear bones. Each year, the fish’s ear bones grow some and create a new ring, much like the rings that trees produce. Yellowfin tuna ear bones grow very slowly over time, this has led to an underestimation of age. Old estimations said that yellowfin tuna only lived to be around 8 years old and data collected from this fishery’s waste has led to the new discovery that yellowfin tuna can live to be 13 years old.

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Figure 3 Each year the ear bones of fish grow and create rings, much like a tree. This Atlantic cod ear bone is from a fish, which was 10 years old.

Source: http;//1.bp.blogspot.com/-pi2naeJlcKQ/T7_YlaquekrNI/AAAAAAAAAA/IDEQldhrdrNw/s1600/otolith+rings.jpg.

The inner portion of these ear bones also had a number of tests performed to measure trace elements like Barium, Strontium, and Magnesium. The ratio of these three elements can determine the waters of which a fish were born in. For yellowfin tuna, this tells us where the fish are coming from originally. It turns out that nearly 66% of the yellowfin tuna in the Gulf of Mexico are actually born in the Eastern Atlantic Ocean.

The information gathered from this study would not have been possible if fishermen and scientists had not cooperated. This information will lead to better management strategies and hopefully further cooperation between commercial fishermen and government scientists.

Interactions and population mixing is important for sustaining a genetically healthy population of yellowfin tuna. Much like fisheries, management practices are dependent upon interactions. Management practices involve the interaction between commercial fishermen, politicians, and the public. Just as scientists were able to gain information from the waste of tuna fishermen, the fishermen and scientists can gain information and understanding from each other and develop better management practices which are both sustainable and scientifically informative.

-Ellie Wallace

Read more with these articles available on Google Scholar:

Hampton, J., Kleiber, P., Langley, A., Takeuchi, Y. and Ichinokawa, M., 2003. Stock assessment of yellowfin tuna in the western and central Pacific Ocean. WP YFT-1, SCTB, 16.

Jepsen, N., Koed, A., Thorstad, E.B. and Baras, E., 2002. Surgical implantation of telemetry transmitters in fish: how much have we learned?. In Aquatic Telemetry (pp. 239-248). Springer Netherlands.

Langley, A., Hoyle, S. and Hampton, J., 2011. Stock assessment of yellowfin tuna in the western and central Pacific Ocean. Westtern and Central Pacifc Fisheries Commission.

Miller, M.L., Kaneko, J., Bartram, P., Marks, J. and Brewer, D.D., 2004. Cultural consensus analysis and environmental anthropology: yellowfin tuna fishery management in Hawaii. Cross-Cultural Research, 38(3), pp.289-314.

Wild, A., 1986. Growth of yellowfin tuna, Thunnus albacares, in the eastern Pacific Ocean based on otolith increments. Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission Bulletin, 18(6), pp.421-482.

Zhang, Y., Chen, Y., Zhu, J., Tian, S. and Chen, X., 2013. Evaluating harvest control rules for bigeye tuna (Thunnus obesus) and yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares) fisheries in the Indian Ocean. Fisheries Research, 137, pp.1-8.

 

NOAA: More than just a weather service

Raining Fish

The BIO 560 class was in for a treat when NOAA fisheries biologist Twyla Cheatwood presented to the class this past Monday. Her personable nature and interactive demeanor made for an informative and enjoyable presentation. Twyla earned her bachelor’s degree from Louisiana State University before pursuing her master’s degree in marine biology at Nova Southeastern University in Florida. She currently works under NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS) branch and specifically, she works for the Habitat Conservation Division in the Baton Rouge Field Office.

The first thing she said that really stuck out to me is that NOAA is “more than just a weather service”. As someone who frequently is out on a boat in the Gulf, I rely on the NOAA Marine Forecast to determine whether the weather conditions will allow me to do field work. I never realized how large the NOAA organization is or how many environmental themed “pies” NOAA has its fingers in until Twyla provided an overview. In particular, this was the first time I learned about NOAA’s Habitat Conservation Division and how essential their work is to maintain the coastal health of Louisiana.

One of the main objectives of the Habitat Conservation Division is to protect “the waters and substrates are necessary to fish for spawning, breeding or growth to maturity”, which are also known as essential fish habitats (EFH; Figure 1a and 1b). These waters and substrates include a wide, connected area that is threatened by natural and anthropogenic pressures. What surprised me is that nearly 1,000 of fish species found in the U.S. have specific descriptions of the desired habitats they require (NOAA 2016). Due to commercial fisheries being a popular commodity in the Gulf, federal fisheries are regulated with specific policies to protect both the EFH and to regulate the catch demand on these species. According to Twyla, there is an open comment period, in which the public can provide their input about specific fisheries. It is impossible to determine the quantity of each individual fish that is available within the Gulf waters; therefore, fishery biologists like Twyla examine the socioeconomics of the community when regulating fish species and their habitats.

Figure 1a and 1b. Essential Fish Habitat (Source: http://www.habitat.noaa.gov/protection/efh/).

In addition to fishing pressures, there are a variety of other activities that have the potential to negatively affect EFH. These activities include oil and gas activities, camp establishments, marsh management activities, and flood protection efforts to name a few. Any activity that would negatively affect an EFH area needs to be granted a special permit.  Twyla and her 4 coworkers have roughly 15 days to review a permit application, although they can request up to 30 days if necessary. Some projects are really complex and therefore need the entire 30 days to review. For example, the installation of a levee affects a large area surrounding it due to the water modifications, which Twyla described as it’s “not just the little footprint we’re worried about”.  Most importantly, the focus of projects should be to either avoid any impacts and to minimize impacts instead of only going straight towards mitigation. Mitigation should be the last resort. Twyla described the mitigation banking process as “a business” and that “the landowner can create marsh and make money”.  With the permit application process, ways to minimize and avoid any potential impacts of the project can be proposed and mitigation procedures can be thwarted.

According to Twyla, unlike the state side of operations, the federal government has a “10,000 ft view of things”, but not as many employees. In fact, the Habitat Conservation Division in Baton Rouge has only five employees to monitor all the EFH areas the federal government has jurisdiction over (Figure 2). The fact that they are already stretched so thin to begin with has me concerned with the future status of employment and what will be available to us graduate students once we finish with our degrees. With the federal government, you need to justify everyone’s existence to taxpayers. Therefore, federal entities are always understaffed and the environmental areas of concern are only expected to expand. In addition, with the federal budget expected to be cut by 20 % and 35 to 42% of the federal employees up for retirement within the next 2-5 years, there will be a huge transition within the federal environmental sector. Luckily, regulatory positions are essential, but regulation will most likely not be occurring to the highest capacity due to limited employees. Furthermore, with the polarization of the governmental parties, it will continue to be almost impossible to implement environmentally friendly policies (McCright et al. 2014).

Figure 3

  Figure 2. EFH areas managed by the NOAA Habitat Conservation Division (Source: Twyla Cheatwood).

With the expected large group of potential retirees, there needs to be more entry level positions to develop a new cohort of professionals.  In addition, there needs to be continued collaboration between NOAA and other federal and state agencies, such as USFWS, CPRA, Ducks Unlimited, and more. NOAA currently is a federal sponsor for the CWPPRA, which supports the rebuilding of barrier islands, marsh creation, and more. Lastly, there needs to be a presence of the surrounding community members pushing for sustainable policies that would allow these areas, such as the EFH, to be protected for future generations. We all have a say in our environment and the future of our fisheries.  As the great President Theodore Roosevelt once said:

“ Here is your country.

Cherish these natural wonders,

cherish the natural resources,

cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage,

for your children and your children’s children.

Do not let selfish men or greedy interests

skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance”.

Blog post written by Megan Nepshinsky

Sources: 

  1. NOAA. 2016. “What is Essential Fish Habitat?” Retrieved from: http://www.habitat.noaa.gov/protection/efh/.
  2. McCright, A.M., C. Xiao, and R.E.Dunlap. 2014. Political polarization on support for government spending on environmental protection in the USA, 1974-2012. Social Science Research 48: 251-260.
  3. Source for raining fish photo:http.s://i.kinja-img.com/gawker-media/image/upload/s–5aRGRZlh–/c_scale,fl_progressive,q_80,w_800/17h4s0vnaekigjpg.jpg.

What’s the Connection?

A couple of days ago, Kyle Bird shared his thoughts about an event known as Coastal Connection. He explained a few personal stories, described the structure of the event, and posted a few pictures. But more importantly, he pointed out the importance of communication, specifically communication about science. Well today, I’m not going to explain the importance of communication. Instead, I plan to communicate to you about the importance of Coastal Connections and the relation of this event to the future of science.

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I joined a graduate program in south Louisiana to study marine and environmental biology. Immediately, I went on field expeditions throughout south Louisiana waterways. When I was not in the field, I did extensive research on current environmental concerns. I also attended lectures, classes, conferences, and meetings to get a larger understanding of these concerns. Specifically, I attended Coastal Connections, and I listened to researchers explain their solutions for a degrading south Louisiana coast. I took notes about each project, talked to a couple colleagues, and congratulated the participants. But, I could not help but wonder about the importance of the event, the meaning of my work, and the fate of the science community.

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Oil layer found within south Louisiana marsh soil.

What’s the importance of the event?

Coastal Connections was an opportunity for budding scientists to be introduced to the scientific community. But more importantly, the event was an opportunity for the scientific community to scout out student talent. This event called for the scientific research of college students, and student research had to be relevant to the fate of south Louisiana’s coast. Many students submitted their ideas, however the event’s committee filtered out the majority.

What’s the meaning of my work?

NOT IMPORTANT…………..ATLEAST TODAY!!!!

What’s the fate of the science community?

Throughout my experiences, I’ve come to understand the importance of communication at events similar to Coastal Connections and the relation of these events to the future. Employers are looking for the next generation of young environmental scientists to lead the charge in scientific inquiry, and employers are also looking for scientists to have proficient communication skills. This process can put a lot of stress on a young researcher, and young environmental scientists are spending countless hours trying to enhance their skills to obtain job offers. Even though environmental research can often times seem pure and pragmatic to young researchers, many are wondering, “what’s the purpose of honing one’s skills if one’s potential is squandered by policy makers and the legislature branch”?

I am not proposing all policy makers and legislators are squandering scientific education. However, I am proposing for these professionals to carefully consider the extent and importance of science education whenever the time comes for budget revisions. If less funding goes to education, then less funding goes to programs like Coastal Connections.

In conclusion, the fate of the science community depends not only on legislators and policy makers, but also the votes of the people. Without the people, we would have no science education. Without science education, we would have no future.

-Brandon Bergeron

 

Coastal Connections: Nicholls State University

The summer before my graduate program began, I spent every day building fences. Upon telling a coworker my plan to pursue a masters in marine and environmental biology, he asked if I’d be working somewhere like SeaWorld® afterwards. I explained my interests in water quality and public health, but he just stared at me with a blank expression. I came to grips with the fact Justin still probably believes I’m in school to become a dolphin trainer.

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Snoop link

Communicating science to non-scientists can be difficult. My parents like to ask me how things in the lab are going and I often avoid concepts that I don’t know to easily break down. My father never took the math portion of the GRE, but he has the Geometry/Trig skills to build a house from the ground up. I lived in one of them. My mother has worked at the same bank since she was nineteen, and has become the financial advisor/accountant for my entire family. No matter how many times she tells me I’ll “catch the cold” if I don’t put a jacket on, I’ll probably never make a financial decision without her advice. My point is my parents aren’t unintelligent. They’re actually quite the contrary. They only lack specific knowledge for science. Despite the skills they’ve gained over their lifetime, their formal education ended at 18. As did the education of many, most even, of my peers I grew up alongside like Justin. People like my parents and Justin aren’t the minority. People like these (people not pursuing an education/career in science) are people just as affected by our findings and concerns as we (the scientists) are. The problem I’m outlining here is not intelligence, but the disconnect between the uninformed and the layperson.
The Louisiana Sea Grant sponsors a competition known as “Coastal Connections,” in attempts to encourage young persons of science to bridge this gap between their research and the general public. Undergraduate and graduate level students compete amongst each other by presenting their research with up to two static slides in the format of a “Three Minute Thesis™.” Three judges evaluate the presentations based on the speaker’s ability to condense their research to a three-minute presentation and convey their projects in a way that is compelling, informative, and easily understood by the public. One Nicholls State University competitor, Richard Grabert, has competed in several presentation style competitions with past research, but claims “this (three minute thesis) has easily been the hardest style of presentation I’ve ever attempted.” This is different than many of the types of presentations scientists will give in that they cannot rely on their audience to understand jargon or make assumptions based on context all the while having only a small amount of time to get their message across. The winners can receive up to five hundred dollars that is to be used at a conference of the winners’ choice. This not only incentivizes students to do well at Coastal Connections, but also gives the students a new perspective on alternative ways of delivering their ideas. Giving a student financial means to attend a conference and a different skill set in communication may also help to be a catalyst for their audience of scientists to include some of these skills in their own presentations.
The Louisiana Sea Grant also publishes these presentations on their own youtube page, which you can watch here:
Coastal Connections Three Minute Thesis
coastal connections.jpg
On April 3, Coastal Connections came to Nicholls State University to give the students a shot at presenting their research. Twelve students, three undergraduates and nine graduate level, conveyed the ideas and findings surrounding their projects from coastal conservation and invasive species, to sewage treatment and termite gut biomes. The judges, Dr Bruce Murphy (NSU president), Dr Craig McClain (director of Louisiana University Marine Consortium), and Simone Maloze (director of Restore or Retreat), appeared to be impressed by the efforts of Nicholls students and, as a spectator, I was most certainly inspired. The winners, Alexa Ballinger, Kellyn Lacour-Conant, and Megan Nepshinsky were awarded with five hundred dollars each to pursue whichever upcoming conference they choose. After the competition, Ballinger said “Im just happy to have an opportunity to imprint my passion for wildlife on others.” Personally, I believe that to be the underlying importance of this competition. Not specifically wildlife, but being able to “imprint” an audience, especially a non-specific audience, with the aspects of science that we believe are important.

 

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Alexa Ballenger receiving an award

When sharing findings with the public, scientists may often be received with apathy or ignored entirely by some; however, I think many people would be interested had they only had a thesaurus of scientific jargon on hand and a lot of extra time to kill. Despite their curiosity, most people lack the formal education and life experiences to comprehend what scientists perceive as rudimentary. People in science/technology/engineering/mathematics related careers often express their work with the assumption that only their colleagues need know the contents. Coastal Connections provided Nicholls students with a platform as well as a new perspective on how they choose to communicate. These students now have the opportunity, and maybe the responsibility, to disseminate their information much more efficiently to a broader demographic. Since the industrial revolution, scientific and technological efforts have increased and yielded at an exponential rate all while remaining in the hands and the minds of the few. The laypersons and experts. But what could science and technology achieve with the understanding, input, and cooperation of the majority?

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A few participants mixed with supportive fellow students

-Kyle Bird

That Time I Competed in Coastal Connections

3C-NSU

Arguably the biggest problem scientists face today is their ability to communicate about science with the public. It’s easy to forget that while we’re doing our lab work, trying to catch up on the latest research relevant to our work, and trying to meet deadlines that the vast majority of people are not scientists. We get comfortable talking to our colleagues who are also scientists, but at a public university, our research is only possible because of government funding, and government funding is only possible because of the taxpayers.

We must therefore always be prepared to justify why we do our research. As a new graduate at Nicholls State University, the most irritating question I’ve been asked over and over is, “Why is this important?” My research project involves the gut bacteria and population genetics of Formosan termites in Louisiana feeding on different wood species. People often ask me why I would want to study that. If I’m honest, the real reason is because I think it’s interesting. I think it’s interesting because there are so many factors at play and it would be deeply satisfying as an intellectual exercise to find out if diet can cause changes to a microscopic ecosystem which would cause their termite hosts to diverge.

But that’s not the answer I give to that question because my intellectual satisfaction is not worthy of taxpayer money. What is worthy of funding is the fact that pest controllers are always looking for ways to control Formosan termites in Louisiana because they cause billions of dollars in damage every year. The bacteria and protozoa which live in the termite gut are responsible for digestion, supplementing the diet with nitrogen, and nestmate recognition and are therefore a potential target for future pest control, and if populations differ based on their particular wood diet, it could make it easier to find out how to kill them. All of this is true and a good enough reason to justify my research, even if it isn’t the real reason I’m doing it.

GH lab colonyFormosan termite colony in the lab

This brings me to the Coastal Connections competition, put on by Louisiana Sea Grant this past Monday at Nicholls State University. Contestants were challenged to convey their research for a general audience and explain what it had to do with Louisiana’s degrading coast in three minutes, using two slides. With a little “gentle” persuading from my advisor, I submitted an abstract, and much to my surprise, I was selected as a finalist to compete, along with a few of my incredibly intelligent and arguably better prepared colleagues.

So, to recap, I’m researching termites. I was selected to give a talk about what my research has to do with Louisiana’s degrading coast. For those of you unaware, termites are strictly terrestrial animals. This made coming up with a justification for my research to Louisiana Sea Grant difficult. It was easy, or at least I imagine it was, for other people involved in this competition. My friend Megan’s research involves shorebirds on the barrier islands. My friend Kellyn’s research involves the implications of mussels and periwinkle snails in restoring salt marsh degraded by the BP oil spill. Justification for these projects is obvious. What could I come up with?

17799330_10155227953472244_4754215112126026416_nGiving my presentation. Photo credit to Ellie Wallace

The Formosan termite began its invasion in port areas of Louisiana and Texas. Studying an invasive species dispersing from port cities creates a small connection to the coast, but the Formosan termite has been wildly successful in colonizing the southern United States and can be found feeding on many different wood species. When presented with a choice, Formosan termites prefer softer wood with little chemical protection. Many people used to believe that Formosan termites would not feed on baldcypress, and yet it turns out that with no other option, they will resort to less ideal diet choices. Because of how easily they attack living trees, Formosan termites could potentially undermine restoration efforts in Louisiana’s wetlands and barrier islands.

This connection isn’t intuitive and is mostly speculation on my part, but that’s what scientists do. We speculate and justify our speculation to the rest of the world with sound reasoning. Are Formosan termites a threat to Louisiana’s wetlands? Maybe so. Regardless, participating in Coastal Connections was a valuable professional exercise for me. It made me remember that, as fascinating as my research might seem to me, people from many different backgrounds might not see things the way I see them. If there is to be a good relationship between the scientific community and the rest of the world, we need to remember that most people aren’t professional scientists and we can’t just get frustrated when they don’t understand us when we patronize them with jargon.

-Seth Van Dexter

Coastal Use Permitting Process Needs Reevaluation

by Kellyn LaCour-Conant

Louisiana boasts one of the most erosive coasts in the world, losing an estimated 24 square miles annually over the past eighty years (Barnes et al., 2015). This rampant erosion is a cumulative effect of unsustainable resource use in the coastal region (oil and gas extraction chief amongst them), climate change, and the leveeing of the Mississippi River, which cut off southeast Louisiana from its traditional source of sedimentation and land building (McClenachan, 2013; Houck, 2015; Gotham, 2016). With the Louisiana coast in such a dire crisis directly attributed to human activity, one wonders how we’ve let things reach this point? As environmental health is linked to human health and both are threatened by this unsustainable use of the coastal zone, a more critical analysis of our coastal resource use practices is necessary for developing best management practices that benefit coastal ecosystems and residents.

Last Monday, Christine Charrier, of the Louisiana Department of Natural Resource’s Office of Coastal Management (OCM), fielded questions on Coastal Use Permitting as we continued our ongoing segment on Coastal Management.

The Louisiana Coastal Zone is comprised of 20 coastal parishes and waters within 3 miles of the coast (Figure 1).

CZB_map

Figure 1. The Louisiana Coastal Zone (LA DNR, Office of Coastal Management, 2017).

Within the coastal zone, several federal, state, and local agencies oversee various uses and developments of our coastal natural resources. The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), for example, is tasked with regulating impacts of navigable waters and the filling of wetlands (under Sec. 404 of the Clean Water Act), while the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality permits Wetland Assimilation Projects and pollutant discharge elimination. These are only two of the many local and state land offices, including 11 parish permitting programs, that manage coastal land use in some way. The Office of Coastal Management acts as a single point of contact for all Louisiana coastal agencies to facilitate the permitting process.

All prospective developments within the coastal zone must first be cleared by the OCM. In the preliminary permitting process, the OCM makes a determination of the development in question: outside of the coastal zone, exempt (single family residences, navigational aids, grazing, etc.), no direct and significant impact, or general permits (including the installation, replacement, maintenance, and removal of up to 100,00 linear feet of pipeline in vegetated wetlands, spoil banks, and open water areas).

When a permit is determined to be required, information on the builder, plans, adjacent landowners, and potential environmental impacts are compiled. After an impact assessment, if a development is deemed to cause undue damage to the local natural resources, alternative locations or techniques and justifications are analyzed. However, the OCM advocates for a “working coast”, and does not wish to discourage development for the sake of conservation, and attempts to balance the environmental impact of certain approved coastal uses by offsetting impacts to vegetated wetlands via mitigation banking (Figure 2) and other restoration methods.

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Figure 2. Lake Long, LA mitigation bank wetland managed by Resource Environmental Solutions, LLC. (2017)

Despite the OCM’s efforts to minimize environmental impact from coastal zone use, there are several ways in which the Office of Coastal Management’s tactics miss the mark or are overly lax. This laxness benefits developers and those benefitting from industrial development, but comes at the expense of environmental quality and functionality. For example, oil and gas related activities are considered to be of “national significance”, as Louisiana is a leading state in oil and gas production and imports (US EIA). Therefore permit applications for these activities require no justification if they are found to be problematic from an environmental impact standpoint.

Furthermore, no quotas or density caps are instituted to limit the overdevelopment of a certain region. In recent years, Maurepas Swamp has been heavily developed with oil pipelines, but the OCM deems it acceptable to continue widening this corridor rather than spread the impact out across a wider area. This approach is especially problematic, considering mitigation efforts that take place within the Maurepas Swamp area can be counteracted by continued development. Mitigation efforts can sometimes occur outside of the impacted area, but this does little to nothing for the impacted area.

An additional oversight in the OCM permitting and regulating process is allowing permit applicants to self report their environmental impact statements. While this may save time and money for OCM by limiting the number of active field biologists employed, this compromises the integrity of these environmental impact assessments, allowing developers to underreport impact. Reports by the Legislator Auditor have similarly argued this point, calling the state’s regulation and inspection of oil and gas wells inadequate (Schleifstein, 2014)(Figure 3). Lastly, by giving oil and gas companies a near carte blanche, this allows developers to escape liability for long-term coastal degradation (McGill, 2017).

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Figure 3. Current oil and gas wells, including orphaned wells, in the state of Louisiana, as reported by the Legislative Auditor (2014).

OCM representatives like Charrier argue that excessive mitigation fines to developers would impede development, but in actuality it might simply impede certain types of development. Louisiana currently obtains less than 4% of its net electricity generation from renewable sources (US EIS). With oil and gas development given preferential permitting treatment, this makes it difficult for more novel, sustainable energy options to compete with fossil fuels.

By favoring oil and gas production at the expense of wetland ecosystems and sustainable energy development, the permitting processes loses its utility and value to the public good. Science-based, adaptive management could improve the permitting process and better protect our coastal resources.

Citations

Barnes, S., Bond, C., Burger, N., Anania, K., Strong, A., Weilant, S., & Virgets, S. (2015). Economic Evaluation of Coastal Land Loss in Louisiana.

Gotham, K. F. (2016). Coastal Restoration as Contested Terrain: Climate Change and the Political Economy of Risk Reduction in Louisiana. In Sociological Forum (Vol. 31, No. S1, pp. 787-806).

Houck, O. A. (2015). The Reckoning: Oil and gas development in the Louisiana coastal zone. Tulane Environmental Law Journal, 185-296.

Louisiana Department of Natural Resources Office of Coastal Management. (2017). About OCM. http://www.dnr.louisiana.gov/index.cfm?md=pagebuilder&tmp=home&pid=89

McClenachan, G., Turner, R. E., & Tweel, A. W. (2013). Effects of oil on the rate and trajectory of Louisiana marsh shoreline erosion. Environmental Research Letters, 8(4), 044030.

McGill, Kevin. (2017). Louisiana levee board loses appeal to oil and gas in coastal wetlands lawsuit. The Associated Press. Web.

Resource Environmental Solutions, LLC. (2017). Wetlands. res.us/solutions/wetlands/

Schleifstein, Mark. (2014). Louisiana’s regulation and inspection of oil and gas wells, including ‘orphaned’ wells, is inadequate, Legislative Auditor finds. NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune. Web.

U.S. EIA, Crude Oil Production, Annual-Thousand Barrels, 2010-15.

U.S. EIA, Natural Gas Gross Withdrawals and Production, Marketed Production, Annual-Million Cubic Feet, 2010-15.

 

Mosquitoes, spray trucks and bacteria, oh my!

If you are new to Louisiana (or the south in general) like I am, you may have wondered: “What are those trucks that drive around at night spraying some unknown chemical substance into the air I breathe?” This was a completely foreign concept to me as a native of Michigan because you never see a truck equipped with a sprayer full of insecticide driving around town. For those curious about mosquito control in southern Louisiana, I thought I would introduce you to your friendly neighborhood “bug-busters” that work tirelessly to defend you from those backyard pests that never receive an invite to your house party, but insist on showing up anyway.

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Figure 1. Eliminating pests, one mosquito at a time.

I attended a lecture given by one of Lafourche Parish’s own “bug guys.” Steve Pavlovich, entomologist and General Manager of Mosquito Control Inc., happens to know all about mosquitoes and ways to control their populations. Pavlovich initially went to medical school, but later switched career paths and entered the world of insect biology. During his lecture, he went into great detail about the current mosquito control program in Lafourche Parish, as well as other areas in Louisiana.

How do the “bug guys” protect southern Louisiana from the bloodsuckers that invade our territory? They have established a five-part program to control mosquito populations. Pavlovich stressed the importance of inspection and surveillance to a successful mosquito control program. This allows the scientists to determine specific locations to focus on for control. It is based on the amount of mosquitoes, as well as the presence of particular species of mosquitoes that are vectors for diseases we have all heard about from the media such as Dengue Fever, West Nile Virus and, everyone’s new favorite, Zika Virus. Once problem areas have been identified, different methods of control can be used.

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Figure 2. Spray trucks equipped with insecticide.

My major concern has always been the chemicals used to reduce mosquito populations. How long do they last in the environment and how might these substances harm other organisms? Pavlovich shared that the chemicals used are light, don’t build up, only last in the environment for a few hours and are highly target specific, meaning they mostly only negatively impact certain species of mosquitoes. Also, only a small amount of the chemical can actually be sprayed at a time to prevent a build up of chemicals in the area. A maximum amount of chemical sprayed and a rotation of the types of chemicals used can prevent the mosquitoes from building a tolerance that allows them to survive the chemical spray. This is especially important for the mosquitos that harbor the diseases we all fear. Although regulations are put in place to limit the negative impact the chemicals have on the environment and organisms other than the target mosquitoes, there is still the issue of the chemicals affecting other insects in the area. In the future, I believe the use of biological controls (use of natural predators) for mosquito populations would be more effective and less harmful to the environment than the common chemical controls like those spray trucks we all know and love.

One of the most interesting things Pavlovich shared was the use of a biological control in the form of bacterial products made from naturally occurring soil bacteria (Bacillus sphaericus and Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis), which are very specific to targeting mosquito larvae. These products are sprayed into water systems where mosquito larvae are present. They are so effective that they typically kill the mosquito within two to three hours by attacking the stomach and causing internal bleeding (Federici 2007). These products have so many toxins in them that there has yet to be a case of a mosquito building up a tolerance against these bacterial products to allow them to resist its effects. These products are now being used worldwide and no harmful environmental impacts from the bacteria have been recorded (De Barjac and Sutherland 2012). The best part about these products is they have no negative effect on humans, domestic animals, or even other aquatic insects. With more research, I believe other successful controls that involve natural, native organisms as a form of mosquito control can be developed without bringing harmful consequences to the environment.

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Figure 3. Join the campaign to end all disease-ridden mosquitoes.

By A. Ostrowski

 

Sources:

De Barjac, Huguette, and Donald J. Sutherland, eds. Bacterial Control of Mosquitoes & Black Flies: Biochemistry, Genetics & Applications of Bacillus Thuringiensis Israelensis and Bacillus Sphaericus. Springer Science & Business Media, 2012.

Federici, Brian A., et al. “Developing recombinant bacteria for control of mosquito larvae.” Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association23.sp2 (2007): 164-175.

http://www.wbrcouncil.org/Images/Interior/mosquito%20abatement/no_mosquito.jpg

http://bloximages.chicago2.vip.townnews.com/goldenisles.news/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/b/5d/b5dbe4af-c664-53da-b5c4-43caba994645/5701d08961526.image.jpg?resize=1200%2C1313

http://www.metrofightthebite.com/images/Grass-header-FTB2-5.jpg

 

DDT once our past, maybe our future

Throughout this semester, I have been learning about the worldwide problems with mosquitoes.  So far the first couple of lecturers have discussed their research dealing with mosquito populations in Louisiana and around the world. However, there have been several unanswered questions on how nearby parishes in Louisiana specifically control mosquito populations. The lecturer I have the pleasure of writing about is the director of Mosquito Abatement Program in West Baton Rouge Parish, LA, Mr. George Bragg. He has been in the mosquito control industry for over 20 years.  Mr. Bragg’s presentation went into detail of the most prevalent mosquito species that Louisiana deals with on a daily basis. He stated that in West Baton Rouge (WBR) Parish, the Southern House Mosquito (Culex quinquefasciatus), Asian Tiger Mosquito (Aedes albopictus), Dark Rice Field Mosquito (Psorophora Columbiae), Woodland Mosquito (Aedes Vexans), and Malaria mosquito (Anopheles Quadrimaculatus) are prevalent. Now I won’t go into detail about these blood-sucking fiends since my fellow colleagues have discussed them in their recent blog posts.

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Figure 1. Asian Tiger Mosquito

The bulk of Mr. Bragg’s presentation was on the integrated mosquito management system that is used in WBR Parish to control mosquito populations and disease surveillance. WBR Abatement Program employs numerous tactics such as biological control, chemical control, physical control, disease surveillance, and public education and outreach. Throughout the talk he highly stressed the use of surveillance as an excellent method to maximize efficient use of funds available and as an early detector for mosquito borne diseases in the area. However, what caught my attention was his ideology of chemical control. Mr. Bragg stated that DDT is the best chemical made for mosquito control.

Image result for DDT memesNow, in case you are not familiar with DDT(dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane) it is a colorless and tasteless chlorinated hydrocarbon. In the 1940’s, it was first used in World War II (WWII) to control malaria and typhus (Eskenazi et al. 2009). After WWII it was used as an insecticide for agriculture. Sure you may think, ok, what is so bad about DDT? Well, DDT is a persistent organic pollutant that lasts a really long time in the environment and can be adsorbed in soils and               sediment. As far as environmental harm, it is found to attack the central nervous system in insects and cause liver damage in birds (Eskenazi et al. 2009). DDT was one of the leading causes of decline in North America and European bird populations due to eggshell thinning (Eskenazi et al. 2009). It is extremely toxic to a wide range of organisms such as fish, crayfish, daphnids, and birds.

Image result for DDT             Image result for DDT and animals

Figure 3. Eggshell thinning                        Figure 4. Baby Bald Eagles

If that does not scare you, well just give me a couple of seconds. DDT is also known to be soluble in fat and stored in fatty tissue (Eskenazi et al. 2009). Due to its properties, it is able to bioaccumulate in many organisms. Bioaccumulation refers to the accumulation of a chemical in the tissue of an organism. The problem is DDT concentrations increase the higher an organism is on the food chain. As an organism consumes other organisms with DDT present in their tissue, the concentration increases. Well, guess who is at the top of the food chain—you guessed it humans. Recent studies have determined that DDT concentrations in the blood are relatively high in countries where DDT is currently being used (Eskenazi et al. 2009). In humans DDT may cause nervous system and liver damage, developmental delay, male infertility, miscarriages, and may be carcinogenic (Eskenazi et al. 2009). In 1972, it was banned in the United States after the publication of a book called Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. The book discussed the widespread concern over the misuse of pesticides.         Image result for DDTsprayed on kids

Figure 5. Kids being sprayed with DDT

Mr. Bragg argued that the chemicals used presently to control mosquito populations must be used multiple times, while DDT is so potent that only one application is needed. However, I don’t have much faith in people applying the correct amount of the chemical. Also, what is considered overuse? When applying DDT how do we just affect mosquito populations? What are the negative effects of using DDT on pollinators? These are questions that Mr. Bragg could not answer. While DDT is probably cost-effective it is still a very potent toxin that has not been researched thoroughly enough to be used. My recommendation is that in the United States needs to close this educational gap and develop safe and effective alternatives to DDT.

By: A.Rixner

Literature Cited

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