Aliens in the Swamp!
by Emma Reid
Just kidding… there are no aliens, but we are going to start off the first blog about weird swamp stuff with something extra weird… and cool! After the water levels recede in the swamp you may see these gooey globs that you may think look like an alien pod or maybe a jelly-like mass of fish eggs. Think not! These are called Bryozoan Colonies (Pectinatella Magnifica), which essentially means “moss animals.” They are microscopic aquatic invertebrates that live in colonies and can actually be found in many different freshwater ecosystems around the world. The colonies of microscopic zooids take on weird jelly shapes and are usually attached to a submerged structure such as a rock or submerged branch. If you were to touch them they would feel like a washed up jellyfish, but you could easily tear them apart. It would feel very strange.
The way they act is super weird. Each tiny individual bryozoan (zooid) is attached to a surface at its base. Its body has an outer sleevelike structure (cystid) and a mass of organs (polypide) that moves within it. An opening at the top of the cystid permits the polypide to slide outward toward the water, exposing a headlike structure (lophophore) crowned with tentacles, which filter food from water to sustain their growth in late summer to early fall. At the slightest disturbance, the polypide and tentacles retract instantly.
It would be entirely possible to drive into Houston, spend the day there, even stay in a hotel downtown and leave the next day without noticing one of the largest disasters in American history had just happened. What happened in Houston is not photogenic, but somehow the devastation is nearly total. Your friends and family whose houses didn’t flood were luckily on one of the remaining islands of dry land that constituted Houston from the 26th-29th. Houston is massive, southeast Texas is even more massive. For reference, the Houston metro is about the same size as Massachusetts, and the Houston metro was just some of the area hit by the massive storm that made landfall only to sit there, days at a time. From Corpus Christi to Galveston to Port Arthur to Beaumont (where a water crisis still looms), entire lives must be started over. Supposedly some checks for $2000 have been cut by FEMA to a token amount of those affected. Only the convention center is functioning as a Red Cross shelter, supposed shelters in the neighborhoods are non-existent. The absurdly overwhelming bulk of work ahead in post-Harvey southeast Texas will not be handled by FEMA, Red Cross or the large NGOs, but will be carried by those affected, their neighbors and friends. With Irma heading towards land, it’s apparent that helping out others isn’t charity but a necessity on the Gulf Coast, as it very well could be you next.
(If yall are down, it would be sweet to plug the broad coalition of aid groups I’ve been working with… https://www.gofundme.com/greater-houston-autonomous-relief )
Supporting our Shorebirds
by Emma Reid
This week, some of our kayak guides will head down south to Grand Isle and other surrounding barrier islands to help respond to impacts on the Louisiana’s shorebird population after Tropical Storm Cindy. The storm wrecked nests of shorebirds, and many recently hatched chicks drowned because they were not yet old enough to fly away and escape flooded beaches. Biologists are currently surveying hundreds of nests along the coast and it seems that at least half of most nests and chicks were wiped out, especially the Least Terns, Wilson’s Plovers and Black Skimmers since they nest on low-lying beaches. For volunteer work, we will secure the nests that survived and chat with people on the beach to raise public awareness about why we protect these birds and what they can do to help.
Unfortunately, the issue for shorebirds in the Gulf is much greater than this isolated storm. The habitat for these birds is washing away from sea level rise, more intense storms, and coastal flooding due to climate change, so if we don’t focus on rebuilding the barrier islands many more bird populations will be at great risk. Eric Johnson with Audubon said, “There are always going to be storms and there are always going to be hurricanes, but we can make that system more resilient and make events like this less traumatic.” Recently there have been successful barrier island dredging projects that have built land, but we need more federal and state money to upkeep these areas. Spreading awareness and writing to elected officials is the best way to do this.
If you want to be a part of the solution, a great first step to help is to educate yourself and others on the issues of climate change affecting bird and other animal populations. Even if you’re not from Louisiana, climate change threatens nearly half of our bird species in America. Also, the Audubon Society is a good non-profit to donate to that does a lot of work to conserve bird populations. By signing the Audubon pledge “Birds Tell Us That We Need To Act On Climate” you will be in the loop for how to get involved and learn more about climate solutions.
For tips on writing your elected officials…
As the second and final weekend of Jazzfest kicks off I am excited for the return of Dave Matthews Band and hope he covers Don’t Drink the Water. I always associated this video with the swamps of New Orleans and surrounding areas. Included is a video from there visit in 2013.
DAVE if you’re READING THIS, I’d be HAPPY to take you on a KAYAK TOUR ANYTIME. xoxox Batman
As we approach mosquito season, I find it’s important to look back into history and examine how these tiny midge-like flies earned themselves a spot on the stage as the world’s most revered and hated critters of all time.
For starters.. They consume mammal blood. Everything throughout history that we have learned does this is labeled as evil or believed to be sent from satan himself. Although these little demons are mostly impartial about where they draw their meals from, also feasting on fish, invertebrates, birds, and amphibians, the fact that most of their diet consists of mammal blood puts them on the highly undesirable list.
If you walk through the old iconic cemeteries of New Orleans, you may see a strange pattern, a recurring date….1853, a year that will forever live in infamy. This is the year that a confirmed 7,849 people died from the Yellow Fever in New Orleans alone, the single highest annual count as a result of the world-wide epidemic. As the symptoms became easier to identify and the treatment became more readily understood, Yellow Fever slowly phased out. Still, between 1815 and 1905, 41,000 people died in New Orleans from the plague spread by these nearly microscopic flies.
We don’t have much issue with the mosquitos on tours, they usually come out during sunset and by that time, we are usually off the water. So don’t worry about battling these guys as you join us on a kayak swamp tour. So as an ode to the returning mosquito, I give you the story of their story. Everybody get your Deet ready and let’s show these bugs whos boss.