Invasive Burmese pythons eat their way through southern Florida: the unexpected effect on our health.

Kaley Fournier (Natural Resources Conservation), Edward Hines (Environmental Science), and Nicholas Stevenson (Animal Science).

 

 

Image result for invasive burmese pythons catch

 

It starts with a headache. Perhaps you develop a fever and become physically ill. You chock it up to the flu and try to let it run its course. What you don’t know; you’ve been infected. Once symptoms start to show, death is expected within 2 to 10 days. Even if you get to a doctor in time to save your life, you will most likely be left with mental and physical disability (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016). Where exactly did you come across such a dangerous virus? Your own backyard. Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus is one of the most severe mosquito-transmitted diseases in the United States with approximately 33% mortality and significant brain damage in most survivors (CDC, 2018). The cause of this EEE scare is something unpredictable. The cause can be traced back to something much larger than a mosquito, Invasive Burmese pythons. This snake has slithered its way through southern Florida, devouring native wildlife in its path. This sharp decrease in wildlife populations has forced a change in the animals in which mosquitoes find their dinner. A change to disease ridden animals. Once mosquitos feast on infected hosts, they too become infected. This leaves us with not only wildlife populations to worry about, but also our own health. Continue Reading

Drilling in the ANWR and the Arctic Porcupine caribou problem

Alaska, Caribou, North Slope oil fields, Rangifer tarandus, Porcupine herd, moving past Prudhoe Bay Arctic Drilling Rig, North Slope, Alaska, 1978

The Arctic porcupine caribou has traversed the same migration path for the past 27,000 years. Surviving the last two major glaciations, the Arctic caribou once stood alongside Mastodons, Wooly Mammoths and Sabre-Tooth Tigers, but today they are being threatened (Maher, P., 2017). Chevron, British Petroleum, Arco and Exxon have begun to fight for the land the caribou have called home for decades. These companies want oil. Under the Arctic porcupine caribou, lies huge reserves of crude oil. Completely oblivious of the multi-billion dollar companies vying for the land beneath their hooves, the Arctic caribou teeters on the edge of disaster.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) established in 1960 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, protects the Arctic’s “unique wildlife, wilderness, and recreational values” (US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2014). The ANWR expanses 19.64 million acres on the northern coastline of Alaska (National Park Service, n.d.). In 1980, this area’s future was solidified as President Jimmy Carter expanded the protection, designating much of it as “protected wilderness” under the Alaska National Interests Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) (“A Brief History of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge”, 2017). Protected wilderness, defined as the “wildest of the wild”, is “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain” (“Why Protect Wilderness”, n.d.). It contains no roads or other kinds of human development. It is the highest level of conservation protection offered by the federal government.

Within ANILCA, Section 1002 mandated a comprehensive assessment of natural resources on the 1.5 million acres of the refuge’s Coastal Plain. This assessment included research into fish, wildlife, petroleum, and the potential impacts of petroleum and gas drilling on the region. Because the ANWR Coastal Plain is discussed in Section 1002 of ANILCA, it is now referred to as the 1002 Area (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, [USFWS] 2014)

Much of what we know today about animal species in the ANWR comes from the ANILCA natural resource assessment. The ANWR is home to an array of 250 species of wildlife, including polar bears, Arctic caribou, grizzly bears, and various species of waterfowl (Alaska Wilderness League, 2017). The ANWR is the only national conservation area where polar bears regularly den and has become increasingly important as polar bear habitat is lost to climate change (Refuge Association, 2017). Birds from the ANWR migrate to every US state and territory, and can be found on 6 continents. The porcupine caribou herd, the largest caribou herd within the ANWR, returns every spring to the Coastal Plain to calve and raise their young (Refuge Association, 2017).

The ANWR porcupine caribou herd is one of the largest caribou herds in the world, with approximately 197,000 members (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016). The ANWR is the only place on Earth that someone can find a porcupine caribou. The ANWR, home to a network of plains, waters and mountains, provides an environment unlike almost anywhere else. Its unique ecological composition makes it the perfect place for the porcupine caribou to live, raise their young and migrate throughout (“Frequently Asked Questions”, n.d.).

In the spring, the caribou leave their southern habitat and move north to the Coastal Plain of the ANWR. This is the preferred calving, or birthing, ground of the herd. Members of the herd travel anywhere from 400 to 3,000 miles to get to this area. After the caribou give birth in June, the herd remains on the Coastal Plain and forages until mid-July, allowing time for the calves to grow strong enough to journey south (Refuge Association, 2017).

The Coastal Plain is the preferred calving habitat of the porcupine herd for multiple reasons. The Plain has a small population of predators such as brown bears, wolves, and golden eagles. This gives calves a greater chance of survival in their youngest stages. The Coastal Plain also has an abundance of vegetation preferred by Arctic caribou. Vegetation thrives during the caribou calving period, providing pregnant and nursing caribou with the nutrition needed to survive the harsh conditions (Refuge Association, 2017). The ANWR Coastal Plain is the only place that the caribou could raise their young.

For thousands of years, the Gwich’in or “caribou people” of the ANWR have depended on the migrating arctic porcupine caribou for food, clothing, shelter and tools. The Gwich’in culture is so “interwoven with the life-cycle of the herd” that their survival as a people is completely dependent on the caribou (Albert, P., 1994). One fundamental Gwich’in belief is that “every caribou has a bit of the human heart in them; and every human has a bit of caribou heart.” Paul Josie, a member of one of the 13 Gwich’in villages, describes any “threat to the caribou is a threat to us… to our way of life” (Maher, P., 2017). Not only does the caribou satisfy these indigenous people’s spiritual needs, but the hunting and distribution of the caribou meat enhances their social interaction with other tribes in the area. The caribou has become a vital component of the indigenous people’s mixed subsistence-cash economy (Maher, P., 2017).

But the lives of both the porcupine caribou and the Gwich’in people are at risk. Oil development in the ANWR is threatening the migratory and birthing habits of the caribou, which in turn jeopardizes the Gwich’in way of life.

       If the ANWR was to be developed for oil production, it is estimated that 303,000 acres of calving habitat, or 37% of their entire natural calving habitat would be lost to human development (US Department of the Interior, p. 120). Furthermore, studies indicate there is a direct correlation between human development and a decrease in animal habitat quality of the ANWR. In areas within 4 km of surface development, caribou use of the land declined by 52% (Nelleman & Cameron, 1996, p. 26). There is an estimated 1,000 meter disturbance zone around oil wells and a 250 meter disturbance zone around roads and seismic lines (Dyer et al., 2001, p. 531). The most consistently observed behavior in response to these petroleum developments among calving caribou is avoidance of the petroleum infrastructure (Griffith et al., 2002, p. 34). Because the ANWR is currently undeveloped, drilling development would need to be widespread and has the potential to take up huge amounts of land. Roads, barracks, storage structures, well pads, and pipelines would all have to be created. The negative impacts on the caribou from human development would be amplified and enormous.

The human development would force calving caribou to move to other, less nutrient rich grounds outside of the Coastal Plain, but this would be disastrous. Caribou calf survival has been shown to be much lower in areas outside of the Coastal Plain (Johnson et al., 2005). In the late 90’s, snow cover reduced access to the foraging grounds of the Coastal Plain, forcing the Porcupine caribou herd to nearby Canada. When this happened, the calf survival rate of the herd dropped 19% (Griffith et al., 2002, p. 34).

Whether it is a good or bad thing, oil and gas are rooted in Alaskan society; oil drilling built Alaska. Much of what we know today about oil in Alaska comes from the same ANILCA research that looked into the porcupine caribou. Seismic exploration conducted to assess petroleum resources, determined that there are approximately 10.6 billion barrels of petroleum lying beneath the ANWR (U.S. Geologic Survey [USGS], 1998). For context, Alaska’s second largest oil field, Prudhoe Bay, contains only 2.5 billion barrels. (Harball, E. 2017). If drilling were to commence today, the ANWR would contribute about 2% of the total US daily oil production by 2020. By 2030, it would account for more than 10% of the US’s daily oil production. Between the years 2018 and 2030, the US would save $202 billion on foreign oil importation (Harball, E., 2016).

The impact of oil production on Alaska has been massive. Taxation on the North Slope has generated over $50 billion for the state. 80 percent of Alaska’s revenue comes from oil production. Statewide, the oil industry accounts for a third of all jobs, and is currently Alaska’s largest non-governmental industry (Alaska Oil and Gas Association [AOGA], 2017). Oil and gas generate 38% of all Alaskan wages. Even those who do not work in the oil industry benefit from Alaskan oil production. Today, Alaska’s citizens receive anywhere from $1000 to $2000 a year from the Alaska Permanent Fund. The Alaska Permanent Fund, created to ensure “all generations of Alaskans could benefit from the riches of the state’s natural resources” has paid out $21.1 billion to Alaskan residents since 1976. Oil has fueled Alaska’s meteoric rise to prominence, even catapulting the Alaska median household income to the second highest in the country (“Oil Payout”, 2015). If there was no oil, Alaska would be crippled.

A state already facing a $3 billion budget deficit, needs oil to function. With production from the North Slope already on the decline Alaska needs more oil. Alaska needs the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Trans Alaska Pipeline, built to carry crude oil from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez (the northernmost point in America free of ice), stretches 48 inches in diameter. It was built this way to accommodate the large flow volumes from Prudhoe Bay, and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where drilling was expected to begin shortly. At its peak, the pipeline would push almost 2 million barrels of oil a day. Today the pipeline is far below its optimum daily flow, averaging only about 515,000 barrels a day (Brehmer, E,. 2017). Around 1990, the North Slope, which supplies the bulk of the state’s oil production, peaked. Since then, oil production has been steadily decreasing and the flow through the Alaskan pipeline has been falling by 5 percent each year (Wight, P., 2017). With oil production slowing at Prudhoe Bay, the pipeline, and Alaska’s economy is in jeopardy.

With potentially ten billion barrels of oil in the 1002 region, pro-oil politicians throughout America and throughout Alaska call for the necessity to drill. They believe more drilling is the most immediate and easiest solution to the dwindling Alaskan oil production. Lisa Murkowski, the state’s senior senator and the chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee responsible for America’s use of natural resources, argues that oil is what has allowed for the development and upkeep of Alaskan “schools and roads and institutions”. She argues that in order to stay relevant and “to stay warm” in the face of a dwindling oil supply, drilling needs to occur in the ANWR (Friedman, 2017).

Murkowski, hoping to work around Section 1002, advocates for using Section 1003 of ANILCA which states “production of oil and gas from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is prohibited and no leasing or other development leading to production of oil and gas from the [Refuge] shall be undertaken until authorized by an act of Congress” (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [USFWS], 2014). Section 1003 basically states that ANWR can only be opened for drilling through an act of Congress.

In June, President Donald Trump announced his intention of withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, which is an international treaty focusing on fighting global warming and climate change. While other nations take steps to combat climate change, America’s current presidential administration has committed itself to fossil fuels. Donald Trump, with hopes of lessening America’s oil dependence on foreign governments, has taken up the call to open the 1002 area. The current administration has encouraged legislation that supports domestic energy expansion and has made it clear that they would like to continue America’s tradition of reliance on fossil fuels (Liptak, K., 2017).

Senate discussions led by Senator Murkowski, lean very heavily in favor of opening up the area to drilling. A referendum on the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that was recently passed through Senate, authorizes the sale of oil and gas leases in a section of the ANWR. Soon, energy companies will be able to search for, and extract oil and gas from the frozen tundra (Meyer, R., 2017). Murkowski and the Trump administration has made ANWR drilling an almost guaranteed occurrence. With this approval of both the President and the committee chair responsible for natural resources in America, environmentalists need to recognize the real threat.

Environmentalist’s need to shift their focus from not drilling at all, to how drilling can be done in an environmentally conscious way. A practice that has the possibility to satisfy these criteria by reducing the environmental impact of oil drilling is Extended Reach Drilling (ERD). ERD is the practice of drilling non-vertical, very long horizontal wells. Extended reach drilling is a more advanced way to extract oil and is more efficient than traditional vertical well boring. Studies show that the ERD horizontal reach extends twice as far as standard vertical drilling methods (Bennetzen et al., 2010). Whereas standard reach drilling sites can only reach 4 km horizontally, an 8 km well is now considered standard depths for ERD (Finer et al., 2013). With distances of over 8 km being the norm, drill pads can be distanced at 16 km away from each other.  (“Average Depth of Crude Oil and Natural Gas Wells”, 2017) ERD wells reduce the area required to set up and drain oil reserves due to the drills extended radius. There is no need to build large amounts of drill pads to extract every oil reserve within a small area (Finer et al., 2013). Using extended reach drilling can drastically reduce the amount of land disruption caused by vertical drill wells. Habitat fragmentation, normally common around drilling sites, will be drastically reduced. Arctic caribou migration will not be affected as drastically as it would have been with standard reach drilling.

Studies from the Western Amazon have shown that half the drill pads normally used for standard reach drilling will be needed for ERD. Platforms were planned to be placed 8km away from each other, however ERD is capable of doubling that distance. All wells within a 16 km radius, were eliminated from the plan (Finer et al., 2013). The original plan consisted of 66 platforms, but 31 could be eliminated with extended reach drilling (Finer et al., 2013). Implementing ERD sites over standard platforms can save huge expanses of land from being disrupted, which directly translates to lessened environmental impacts to the ANWR.

Reducing infrastructure by using ERD sites will immediately reduce disruption of the land. Each new drilling platform requires approximately 5 to 11 acres of land, with an additional 14 acres for production phase processing stations. For example, Block 67, an area of land in the Western Amazon planned to use non-ERD sites consisting of 3 processing stations and 21 drilling platforms. This would require an environmental footprint of over 1 square kilometer. After implementing ERD sites into this scenario, 18 drilling platforms and one processing facility were eliminated, reducing land disruption by over 75% (Finer et al., 2013). ERD could preserve many acres of land for foraging caribou in the ANWR.

One concern for oil companies is the economic feasibility of using ERD platforms. Because it is a new technology, many companies are wary of its practicality. But Exxon Mobil, a leader in the world of oil production, understands it’s unique benefits. In their Russian Sakhalin-1 Project, Exxon uses ERD because they recognized the importance of the technology. To date, Exxon has drilled 43 of the world’s 50 longest-reach wells (“Extended reach technology”, n.d.). In the California OCS Santa Maria and Santa Barbara-Ventura basins, oil companies are considering using ERD to tap into 16 billion barrels of oil that lies off the California coast (California State Lands Commission [CSLC]). These oil companies would utilize ERD as an “economically and environmentally acceptable alternative” to traditional drilling sites. Fewer wells, reduced noise and air emissions, and the elimination of many new platforms incentivize these companies to use ERD. The long reach would significantly reduce the impact to the marine biology and habitats along the coast (“Oil and Gas Leases”, 2015). There would be minimal adverse effects on the environments, with most of the damage occurring in the marine survey and pre-development stage. When comparing EDR to traditional drilling, the economic benefits are enormous (Bjorklund, 2007).

With the passage of the Tax Cuts and Job Acts by the American senate and Alaska’s fossil fuel reliance, America has to prepare itself for drilling in the ANWR. America needs to understand and familiarize itself with the needs and necessities of the Arctic porcupine caribou. The caribou’s safety and livelihood must stay at the forefront of all drilling development conversations. Drilling needs to occur in the least consequential and most environmentally sustainable way possible. Extended Reach drilling is the answer. By reducing land disruption by 75%, and minimizing habitat fragmentation, ERD is the drilling practice that must be utilized to save the Arctic porcupine caribou. Alaska needs oil and the porcupine caribou need ERD.

AUTHORS

Justin Bates – Geology

Caitirn Foley – Environmental Science

Andrew Rickus – Building and Construction

 

REFERENCES

A brief history of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (2017). Alaskawild.org. Retrieved 15 November 2017, from http://www.alaskawild.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Arctic-Refuge-history-fact-sheet.1-25-17.pdf

Albert, P (April 1994). The Caribou Issue in Canadian-American Relations, Porcupine Caribou Management Board. Retrieved 1 December 2017, from http://arcticcircle.uconn.edu/ANWR/anwralbert1.html

Average Depth of Crude Oil and Natural Gas Wells. (2017). Retrieved November 28, 2017, from https://www.eia.gov/dnav/pet/pet_crd_welldep_s1_a.htm

Bennetzen, B, Fuller, J., Isevcan, E., Krepp, T., Meehan, R., Mohammed, N., . . . Sonowal, K. (2010). Extended-reach wells. Retrieved November 14, 2017, from https://www.slb.com/~/media/Files/resources/oilfield_review/ors10/aut10/01_wells.pdf

 

Bjorklund, T. (2007). The Case for Using Extended Reach Drilling to Develop California OCS Reserves from Onshore Locations. AAPG Database Inc., Retrieved from http://www.searchanddiscovery.com/documents/2007/07027bjorklund/

 

Brehmer, E., (2017). For the Alyeska team, it’s 40 years down and 40 to go. Alaska Journal of

Commerce, alaskajournal.com. Retrieved on December 1 2017, from

http://www.alaskajournal.com/2017-01-26/alyeksa-team-its-40-years-down-and-40-go#.Wh8cHrT80fF

 

Dyer, S., O’Neill, J., Wasel, S., & Boutin, S. 2001). Avoidance of industrial development by woodland caribou. The Journal of Wildlife Management, 65(3), 531-542. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3803106

Extended reach technology. ExxonMobil. Retrieved on December 2 2017, from http://corporate.exxonmobil.com/en/technology/extended-reach-technology/about/overview

Facts and Figures. (2017). Alaska Oil and Gas Association, aoga.org. Retrieved 14 November 2017, from https://www.aoga.org/facts-and-figures

 

Finer, M., Jenkins, C. N., & Powers, B. (2013). Potential of best practice to reduce impacts from oil and gas projects in the Amazon. PLoS ONE, 8(5), e63022. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0063022

 

Friedman, L. (2017, November 1). An Alaska Senator Wants to Fight Climate Change and Drill for Oil, Too. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/01/climate/murkowski-alaska-anwr.html?_r=1

Frequently asked questions. Wilderness.nps.gov. Retrieved 15 November 2017, from https://wilderness.nps.gov/faqnew.cfm

Griffith, B., Douglas, D.C., Walsh, N.E., Young, D.D., McCabe, T.R., Russel, D.E.,…Whitten, K.R. (2002). The Porcupine caribou herd. U.S. Geological Survey, Biological Resources Division, Biological Science Report USGS/BRD/BSR-2002-0001.

Harball, E (2017). Alaska’s 40 Years Of Oil Riches Almost Never Was. npr.org. Retrieved on November 29 2017, from https://www.npr.org/2017/06/24/533798430/alaskas-40-years-of-oil-riches-almost-never-was

Harball, E., (2016). How much oil is really in ANWR?. alaskapublic.org. Retrieved on November 30, 2017, from https://www.alaskapublic.org/2016/12/07/how-much-oil-is-really-in-anwr/

Johnson, C., Boyce, M., Case, R., Cluff, H., Gau, R., Gunn, A., & Mulders, R. (2005). Cumulative effects of human developments on Arctic wildlife. Wildlife Monographs, (160), 1-36. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3830812

Liptak,K., (2017). WH: US staying out of climate accord. CNNpolitics, Retrieved on December 1 2017, fromhttp://www.cnn.com/2017/09/16/politics/trump-paris-climate-deal/index.html

Nellemann, C., & Cameron, R. (1996). Effects of petroleum development on terrain preferences of calving caribou. Arctic,49(1), 23-28. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/40511982

Management of the 1002 Area within the Arctic Refuge Coastal Plain – Arctic – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. (2014). Fws.gov. Retrieved 15 November 2017, from https://www.fws.gov/refuge/arctic/1002man.html

Meyer, R., (2017). The GOP Tax Bill Could Forever Alter Alaska’s Indigenous Tribes. The Atlantic, theatlantic.com. Retrieved on December 2 2017, from https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/12/senate-tax-bill-indigenous-communities/547352/

Oil and Gas Leases. (2015). California State Lands Commission, slc.ca.gov. Retrieved 15 November 2017, from http://www.slc.ca.gov/Info/Oil_Gas.html

Oil Payout: Alaskans find out how much they get (2015). Cbsnews.com. Retrieved on December 1 2017, from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/alaskans-eager-to-learn-amount-of-upcoming-oil-payout/

Maher, P (June 2017). Alaska’s Porcupine Caribou Herd – and the People it Helps Sustain. Retrieved on December 1 2017, from https://www.newsdeeply.com/arctic/articles/2017/06/09/alaskas-porcupine-caribou-herd-and-the-people-it-helps-sustain

US Department of the Interior (1987). Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska, Coastal Plain Resource Assessment. pubs.usgs.gov, pg 120. Retrieved from https://pubs.usgs.gov/fedgov/70039559/report.pdf

Why Protect Wilderness | Wilderness.org. Wilderness.org. Retrieved 15 November 2017, from http://wilderness.org/article/why-protect-wilderness

Wight, P., (2017). How the Alaska Pipeline Is fueling the push to drill in the Arctic Refuge. Yale Environment 360, e360.yale.edu. Retrieved on December 2 2017, from http://e360.yale.edu/features/trans-alaska-pipeline-is-fueling-the-push-to-drill-arctic-refuge

 

*The arguments/opinions expressed in this entry do not necessarily reflect the opinions/align with the author(s) own views.

Dam… The Atlantic Salmon Are Gone

 

They start out looking like little, orange colored, tapioca balls, floating in large bundles at the bottom of a steadily moving river. These Atlantic salmon eggs, born in the Connecticut River, are at the very beginning stages of their life, having just been fertilized by a fully mature male Atlantic salmon. They will continue to grow and develop within the freshwater river into parr, or adolescent salmon, for two to four years, before they leave their home tributaries in the spring months and begin a journey that will take them downriver, through estuaries, and hundreds or thousands of miles to ocean feeding areas (Hendry & Cragg-Hine, 2003, p. 4 and McCormick, S. D., Hansen, L. P., Quinn, T. P., & Saunders, R. L., 1998, p. 77). When the developing salmon finally reach the ocean they are known as smolt, and they will then migrate to the coasts of New England, Canada, Greenland, and even Spain, France and the UK, where they will live for around a year before they return to their birthing grounds to spawn the next generation of Atlantic salmon (Hendry & Cragg-Hine, 2003, p.3). Along with long migrations, smolt now face finding new food sources, diseases, parasites, and predators in the vast ocean they have arrived at (McCormick et al., 1998, p. 77). The smolt that survive and thrive in their new environment for one winter now earn the title of grilse (Miramichi Salmon Association [MSA], 2015). Because development, winter survival, and sexual maturation require high levels of stored energy, feeding and growth are of prime importance during freshwater residence (McCormick et al., 1998, p. 78).

Unfortunately, this hasn’t happened within the Connecticut River system since the early 1800’s. With the construction of Turners Falls dam in Massachusetts in 1800, the last recorded spawning of Atlantic salmon was in 1809 and there has been no historical population return since (Benson, Hornbecker, & Mckiernan, 2011, p. 11). Compared to an average of 100-200 Atlantic salmon in the Connecticut River in 1967, there were only about 75 salmon that returned in 2009 (Benson, Hornbecker, & Mckiernan, 2011, p. 12).

Atlantic salmon are important for supporting the ecology of the Connecticut River system and surrounding habitats. Developing fry and parr salmon offer ecological benefits to the Connecticut River system by feeding on and controlling populations of aquatic invertebrate larvae within the river, such as mayfly, stonefly, and caddis (Hendry & Cragg-Hine, 2003, p. 7). In addition, Atlantic salmon that spawn in the Northeast American river systems are also crucial to sustaining the Atlantic Ocean salmon population at large. Not only do they offer food for other species surrounding the Connecticut River, they also function as enormous pumps that push vast amounts of marine nutrients from the ocean to the rivers inland (Rahr, G., 2017). These nutrients are incorporated into food webs in rivers and surrounding landscapes by a host of over 50 species of mammals, birds, and other fish that forage on salmon eggs, juveniles, and adult salmon (Rahr, G., 2017). In Alaska, spawning salmon contribute up to 25% of the nitrogen in the foliage of trees (Rahr, G., 2017). With this information, we can infer that Atlantic salmon populations have the ability to contribute increased percentages of nitrogen to foliage surrounding the Connecticut River system.

A sustainable salmon population also offers economic advantages to the communities surrounding the Connecticut River system. High numbers of salmon bring an increase in public participation in fishing clubs like the Fish Creek Atlantic Salmon Club (Carey, 2017). With increased participation in fishing clubs and throughout fishing season, professional and recreational fishers spend a substantial amount of money on fishing trips. Aside from joining fishing clubs, in 2014, marine anglers in the US spent $4.9 billion on fishing trips and $28 billion on fishing equipment (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA], 2017). In 2006, there were about 2.8 million recreational anglers in the New England region who took 9.7 million fishing trips (NOAA, 2006, p. 51). These anglers, in total, spent $438 million on recreational fishing trips and $1.44 billion on fishing-related equipment (NOAA, 2006, p. 51).  Retired Senator Elizabeth Hubley claims that the value of wild Atlantic salmon was once $255 million and the value to the surrounding areas in the gross domestic product was about $150 million (Atlantic Salmon Federation [ASF], 2017: Hubley, 2017). Increased Atlantic salmon populations also supported 3,872 full-time equivalent job in 2010, and about 10,500 seasonal jobs depend on wild Atlantic salmon (ASF, 2017; Hubley, 2017). These jobs include salmon angling and related tourism, food services, and accommodation sectors in the area (ASF, 2011, p. 54).

New England communities were built along banks of rivers so dams have been a central component since the beginning to provide water for irrigation, power generation, industrial operations, and provide clean drinking water. Specifically, the Connecticut River remains among the most extensively dammed rivers in the nation with 756 dams in place following the floods of 1932 and 1955 (American Rivers, 2017; & Benson, Hornbecker, & Mckiernan, 2011, p. 2 & 3). Two of the first dams on the Connecticut River system that prevent Atlantic salmon from migrating into tributaries are the Leesville Dam on the Salmon River and the Rainbow Dam on the Farmington River (Benson, Hornbecker, & Mckiernan, 2011, p. 20 & 22). The Leesville Dam was built in 1900 and is used for recreational purposes today. The second dam on the Connecticut River, the Rainbow Dam, was the first dam on the Farmington River, which is the largest tributary of the Connecticut River. This river is supposed to provide access to 52 miles of historic spawning habitat (Benson, Hornbecker, & Mckiernan, 2011, p. 22).

Now, Atlantic salmon face the biggest obstacle, figuratively and literally, they have ever encountered before. The Leesville and Rainbow dams are preventing Atlantic salmon from entering their respective tributaries and spawning each season. Dams are preventing upstream salmon passage, reducing water quality, altering substrate within the river, and alter flow regime of the river.

Dams placed on the Connecticut are the primary reason for the lack of returning Atlantic salmon to the Connecticut River system. Dams fragment habitat and ultimately prevent upstream salmon migration, which not only limits their ability to access spawning habitats, but also limits their ability to seek out essential food resources, and return downstream to the ocean (American Rivers, 2017). As a result, major dams on the in the Connecticut River watershed have blocked fish passage and caused significant decreases in Atlantic salmon migration and spawning rates (Daley, 2012, p. 1). A fish count was taken in 2010 and only found 1 Atlantic salmon was recorded above the Leesville Dam (Benson, J., Hornbecker, B., & Mckiernan, B., 2011, p. 20). Another fish count was taken above the Rainbow Dam and only showed 4 Atlantic salmon above the dam site (Benson, J., Hornbecker, B., & Mckiernan, B., 2011, p. 22).

Not only do dams physically prevent salmon from migrating upstream to spawn each season, they also slow down water velocities in large reservoirs which can delay salmon migration downstream (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 2017). Additionally, dams can block or impede salmon spawning by creating deep pools of water that, in some cases, have inundated important spawning habitat or blocking access to it (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 2017).

The water quality of the Connecticut River is very important in order to sustain Atlantic salmon populations because they require very good water quality, including high dissolved oxygen and low nitrates, non-ionized ammonia, and total ammonia content (Hendry & Cragg-Hine, 2003, p. 11). Although Atlantic salmon have a higher tolerance to warm temperatures than other salmon species, warm temperatures can reduce egg survival, stunt growth of fry and smolts, and increase susceptibility to disease (Klamath Resource Information System [KRIS], 2011). The chemical, thermal, and physical changes which flowing water undergoes when it is stilled can seriously contaminate a reservoir and even the water downstream (McCully, 2001). Water released from deep in a reservoir behind a high dam is usually cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, while water from outlets near the top of the reservoir will tend to be warmer than river water year round. Unnatural or inverted patterns of warming or cooling of the river affect the ideal concentration of dissolved oxygen and adversely influences the biological and chemical reactions driven by temperature flux (McCully, 2001).

One experiment was conducted on the Colorado River in Glen Canyon, where pre-dam temperatures were obtained in varied seasons. The pre-dam temperatures varied seasonally from highs of around 27 ºC (80 ºF) to lows near freezing (McCully, 2001).  The maximum temperature of the river water that developing salmon can take is around 27 ºC (80 ºF) (KRIS, 2011). However, the temperatures of the water flowing through the intake of Glen Canyon Dam, 70 meters (230 feet) below the full reservoir level, varied only a couple of degrees around the year (McCully, 2001). The Colorado River is now too cold for the successful reproduction of native fish as far as 400 kilometers (250 miles) below the dam (McCully, 2001). This experiment is transferable to the Leesville and Rainbow dams because they are similar in size to the Glen Canyon Dam, therefore we can infer that both the Leesville and Rainbow dams impede fish populations because of drastic water temperature fluctuations year round.

The dams also stagnate downriver water flow, which is disadvantageous to the salmon because they cannot use the current of the river to guide them to the ocean to continue their life cycle before returning to spawn (American Rivers, 2017). Furthermore, dams that divert water for power also remove water needed for healthy in-stream ecosystems as well as directly affecting dramatic changes in reservoir water level, which can lead drying systems downriver (American Rivers, 2017). Furthermore, flow regime dictates substrate composition, or what makes up the bottom of a river channel. Slower moving water results in a riverbed of fine material, while faster flowing water tends toward a rockier or even bouldered substrate (Claeson, S. M., & Coffin, B., 2016). Research finds Atlantic salmon seem to prefer this rougher substrate, a habitat type that leads to an increase of 80% of individuals in a given area of 70% or more rocky or bouldered, substrate cover in studies of post partial or total dam removal. Researchers hypothesize the rocky substrate mitigates flow speed at greater depths, thereby facilitating salmon passage and providing refuge for salmon eggs and young (Lii-Chang, C. et al., 2008). Thus, a dam’s effect on flow regime and subsequent substrate composition is very detrimental to existing and future generations of Atlantic salmon.

In summary, the implementation of dams on the Connecticut River is harmful to Atlantic salmon populations in more ways than one. Connecticut River dams prevent salmon from migrating properly during their spawning periods. It became such a substantial problem that the National Fish Hatchery System (NFHS) of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stocked Atlantic salmon in the Connecticut River at one point in time. Unfortunately, after poor returns back into the Connecticut River and its tributaries, the NFHA discontinued stocking Atlantic salmon in 2012 (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 2017). In addition to impeding salmon migration, dams that were constructed also reduce water quality and alter the flow regime of the river and its tributaries.

Given the evidence dams present a steep hurdle for migratory, anadromous fishes, the natural evolution of the question then becomes; can we somehow mitigate that hurdle without removing the dam itself? Enter an attempt to do just that with the implementation of fishways around a dam. A fishway is a manmade path that allows for fish to safely pass around a dam without affecting the purpose of the dam (hydroelectricity, flood prevention etc.) (Harrison, 2008). There are two main types of fishways used today: fish ladders and fish lifts. A fish ladder is a system in which fish manually swim up and around the impending dam through a series of ascending pools (Edmonds, 2008, p. 1). Among the most common, pool and weir fish ladders utilize the flow of water over the ascending pools to encourage fish to jump up and into the next highest pool (Edmonds, 2008, p. 2). Another basic design called vertical slot fish ladder utilizes a small vertical slot in which the water flows into a pool. The angles of the entrance and exit slots create a holding area in each pool that the fish can rest in before battling the current to get to the next pool (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission [FERC], 2005).  A fish lift, however, is a hydraulic lift that automatically carries fish up and over the dam. Fish congregate at the base of the dam where they find the entrance to the fish lift. They then swim through this entrance and congregate in a holding tank at the base of the dam. Once there are enough fish in the holding tank, the tank is lifted to the height of the dam where fish are safely released on the other side (Harrison, 2008; Church, 2016).

One significant flaw with fishways is that they are not consistently effective for all fish species, especially Atlantic salmon. A fish lift put in place at the Holyoke dam on the mainstream of the Connecticut River kept track of how many fish passed through the elevator and their species. In 2010, the dam successfully passed: 164,439 American Shad, 39,782 Sea Lamprey, and only 41 Atlantic salmon (Benson, Hornbecker, & Mckiernan, 2011, p. 29). The Rainbow dam, which blocks a main tributary to the Connecticut River, conducted a study measuring what types of fish utilized its fish ladder. They found that three months after its installation in 2010, the vertical slot fish ladder passed: 548 American Shad, 3,090 Sea Lamprey, and only 4 Atlantic salmon (Benson, Hornbecker, & Mckiernan, 2011, p. 22). This data begs the question, why are some fishways more effective to certain species than others? Well, the answer is a lot more complex than people think. Alex Haro, a fish passage engineer at the S.O. Conte Anadromous Fish Research Center noted in 2014 that most of the design decisions made about fish ladders overlooked critical information (Kessler, 2014). Since fish ladder technologies developed with little cooperative partnership between engineers and fish biologists (Calles & Greenberg, 2009), attempts at engineering fish passage was often in the form of a one-size-fits-all solution for the sake of cutting costs. Examples of fatal oversights include a failure to calculate for critical variables that create what is referred to as ideal hydraulic conditions, such as speed, directional chop, and the physical and chemical qualities of water affected by a given dam as it relates to a fish species’ size, resilience, and overall passage efficiency (Brown & Limburg et al., 2013). Furthermore, design emphasis favored upstream passage potential, with little regard for returning downstream passage (Calles & Greenberg, 2009). Though even when fishways were designed with a target species in mind, passage was ever more ambitious than successful. Swedish ecological engineers found salmon-specific fish ladders prevented as much as 30% of potential spawning salmon from passing at the first mainstem dam and ultimately leading to an overall decrease of 70% of potential spawning salmon to reach high-quality spawning tributaries (Rivinoja, 2005).

As a way to bring the salmon populations back to the Connecticut River system, we advise the Connecticut state government to remove the Leesville and Rainbow Reservoir dams from the Connecticut River watershed. This solution will allow the restoration of salmon populations in the Connecticut River communities and bring with it economic, recreational, and ecological benefits to the surrounding areas.

In fact, areas that prioritized dam removal for the sake of habitat restoration are quickly witnessing a substantial recovery in both target fisheries and surrounding ecosystems, to include their local salmon species. The 210-foot-high Glines Canyon dam of Washington State was removed in the year 2014, following the removal of the Elwha dam in 2011, collectively reopening 70 miles, or 90%, of high-quality spawning habitat for salmon (Mapes, 2016). These two dams prevented a whole host of river wildlife from upriver passage for over a century, but the local Lower Elwha Klallam Native American tribe persevered and collaborated with state and federal officials to restore the habitat for their culturally important Coho and Chinook salmon (Mapes, 2017). And while the project came with a $325 million price tag, the effort is producing immediate ecological payoffs. Just three days after the Elwha dam removal, Chinook salmon were documented upriver the removal site (Mapes, 2016). The same year, in the 11-mile stretch between the two dams of century-long impossible spawning potential, the Elwha produced 32,000 outgoing juvenile Coho salmon (Mapes, 2016). Now, Chinook and Steelhead salmon numbers are up 350% and 300% respectively, and previously landlocked Sockeye salmon are returning to sea (Mapes, 2016). But the salmon aren’t the only winners in this story, downstream ecosystems have benefited from nutrient connectivity. As well, resulting physical and chemical changes to the river environment post-dam removal are creating more complex, and thus biologically rich, habitat structure for native species such as otter, various crabs, and birds (Mapes, 2016). One study out of Ohio State University evaluating Washington state’s efforts to remove dams concludes that birds with access to rivers hosting salmon, and therefore marine-derived nutrients, increases survival rates up to 11%, encourages multiple broodings per season of up to 20x, and increases the overall likelihood to stay year-round of up to 13x (Crane, 2015).

Destroying two dams in the Connecticut River watershed could come with major negative effects to the local societies. Because the Rainbow dam provides electricity to Hartford, CT, demolition of the dam will come with negative power ratings for the city, but how much of an impact will dam removal make? According to an excel sheet put together by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), the Rainbow Dam in Windsor, CT has a capacity of .004 megawatts (MW) (2017). The best performing dam in America, the Grand Coulee Dam on the Washington River, has a capacity of nearly 7,000 MW (National Park Service, 2013). To put this number into perspective, if Hartford replaced 100 of its light bulbs with new energy efficient ones, it would successfully negate the power lost from removing the dam (American Rivers, 2016). Converting to newer energy alternatives in Hartford is a cheaper alternative, and could very easily negate the electricity loss from removing the Rainbow Dam.

The main problem with removing the Leesville dam is the recreational value that it holds. However, those who enjoy the open water will actually find that there is more to do without the dams there. Yes, people who had boats on the water will no longer have the ability to enjoy open waters, but the local area should see an upturn in use of the river. Now that the lake behind the Leesville dam is a river, kayaking and rafting will increase as there is more river length to explore unobscured by a dam. Also, as stated before, with more fish in the river, there is likely to be an increase in recreational fishing as well (American Rivers, 2017)

It is also important to consider the costs associated with maintenance of the dams and cost of demolition. One would think that the owner of the dam stands to lose the most when dam removal is considered, but in reality, this is not the case. In fact, the dam owners often work together with local, state, and federal governments to help get rid of the dam. This is because ownership of a dam also comes with maintenance and safety costs, as well as payments related to fish and wildlife protection (American Rivers, 2016). Costs for dam removal range from thousands to millions of dollars depending on sediment buildup, size of the dam, and complexity of river environment. Grant money and taxpayer money covers most of these payments, with some money coming from private investors (Benson, Hornbecker, & Mckiernan, 2011, p. 34 & 41).

In sum, Atlantic salmon populations will likely never be self-sustaining while hundreds of dams exist in the Connecticut River watershed (American Rivers, 2017). Especially when dams block nearly every tributary that feeds into the Connecticut River. Starting at the bottom of the Connecticut River, with the Rainbow and Leesville dam, we can slowly return natural spawning to the bottom of the river. By removing just two dams we successfully open access to over 70 miles historic spawning habitat (Benson, Hornbecker, & Mckiernan, 2011, p. 29; American Rivers, 2017). Luckily we are in a time where dam removal is picking up support. Out of the 1,150 dams that have been removed in the U.S. since 1912, approximately 850 of them have been in the past 20 years (Kessler, 2014). This upward trend of dam removal will heavily influence natural spawning in the Connecticut, and slowly but surely, those little, orange colored, tapioca balls will return home.

AUTHORS

Ava Swiniarski – Pre Veterinary Science

Jonah Hollis – Environmental Conservation Science

Ben Smith – Building and Construction Technology

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Creating A solution For Asian Carp

 For hundreds of years, the fishing industry has not only supported millions of Americans livelihood, but has also become an immense avenue of trade and commerce across domestic and foreign borders. Invasive species threaten this avenue and are estimated to cause the United States tens of billions in environmental and economic damage each year they remain in U.S. waters (Pasko & Goldberg, 2014). An invasive species is defined as a non-native species in an ecosystem whose introduction will likely cause environmental harm (National Invasive Species Information Center, 2006). Aquaculturists introduced the invasive Asian carp to the United States in 1970 for the sole purpose of controlling algae blooms in aquaculture ponds. Algae blooms are an increase in algae and green plants, that may carry toxins, due to an excess amount of nutrients in the water that deplete the amount of oxygen resulting in the death of fish (Environmental Protection Agency [EPA], 2017). Since Asian carp feed on algae, aquaculturists believed they were the perfect solution to controlling their algae bloom issue. This worked until 1980, when flooding led to Asian carp (i.e. bighead carp, silver carp, grass carp, and black carp) escaping their aquaculture ponds and spreading into local water bodies, introducing them into the Mississippi River, Ohio River, and some of it tributaries. Once the Asian carp population settled into the surrounding bodies of water, they started to outcompete native fish by appropriating their resources. To resolve the detrimental Asian carp issue, it is essential for humans to fulfill the role of their natural predators by creating a profitable fishing market to reduce their population in U.S. ecosystems.

Asian Carp are an extremely dangerous fish for the ecosystem. The presence of Asian Carp in the Ohio River led to a population crash of Gizzard Shad, a dominant planktivore species (aquatic organisms that feed on plankton such as zooplankton) in the early 1990s (Pyron et al., 2017). Gizzard shad are small fish in the herring family that feed on these planktivore species. The Asian carp consume up to 40% of their body weight in planktivores each day, leading to a decreased amount of  food supply for Gizzard shad, which led to a decrease in their populations (Pyron et al., 2017). A clear over population of carp is present and something must be done. In 1997, fishermen reported catching over 50,000kg of carp compared to the previous catch size of 5,000kg (Chick and Pegg, 2001). Although Asian Carp are only one of 139 species in Lake Erie, they are quickly taking over space and resources, resulting in the native species becoming extinct in those specific areas (Simon et al., 2016). If time continues without a decline in population of Asian carp, it is clear that the native species will continue to decrease. If native fish continue to decrease in the Mississippi River, it will hurt the fisheries and the ecosystem because carp are effectively killing off native species due to competition for resources. The amount of taxpayers money it would take to rebuild the ecosystem is unthinkable. The jobs and money lost will be in the millions. At the end of the day, Asian carp are taking over many of the major U.S. rivers, which can be more devastating than one can imagine.  

In the river economies, commercial fisheries are essential to efforts of reducing the population of Asian carp. U.S. fisheries provide $208 billion in sales, contribute $97 billion to the nations GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and provide 1.6 million people with jobs (NOAA, 2017). To operate a healthy fishery, there must be a balance between predator and prey (Minnesota Sea Grant, 2017).  In  the U. S., Asian carp have very few natural predators, allowing them to out-compete native fish species, resulting in a reduction of those native fish populations (Minnesota Sea Grant, 2017). The decline of native fish populations negatively affects fisheries because it becomes harder and more expensive to raise and sell those fish, resulting in the closing of fisheries (Louisiana Wildlife & Fisheries, 2015). To prevent commercial fisheries from shutting down, the demand of Asian carp needs to increase. Only when demand is increased, will the process of lowering carp populations rise.

The best way to control an invasive species is to create a mechanism to prevent further introduction, create systems to monitor and detect new infestations, and to move rapidly to eradicate invaders (National Wildlife Federation, 2017). Once an invasive species establishes itself, it becomes extremely difficult and expensive to control. Lionfish are native to the Indo-Pacific, and are found invading the east coast of the US, the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico (NOAA, 2017). Like Asian carp, Lionfish have very few predators due to the fact that they are non-native to the U.S. However, the U.S. combated the invasive lionfish by distributing permits for their removal to recreational divers (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 2017). Permits to catch lionfish allow one to use spear fishing methods; no permit is required for the removal of lionfish with the use of hook and line (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 2017). After the Lionfish are caught, they are used as a food source for people (Lionfish Hunting, 2017). Eating lionfish is good for the environment because removing them helps reefs and native fish populations recover from environmental pressures, lionfish predation, and overfishing (Lionfish Hunting, 2017). Lionfish and Asian carp are both invasive species in the U.S., and they both became successful by their ability to reproduce rapidly, outcompete native species for food and habitat, and avoid predation (NOAA, 2017). Therefore, we can confidently say that using a solution similar to what was used with Lionfish, will give us the results we are looking for with Asian carp. Asian carp have negative effects on the ecosystems they invade, but by using Lionfish as a base model, we will be able to combat the overpopulation of Asian carp by increased fishing.

Many communities rely on fishing as a source of income and food. Asian carp lack natural predators as a consequence of their rapid reproduction, which results in an absence of natural predation to bring down their population. Fortunately, Asian carp mature rapidly and reach a harvestable size at a young age (Michigan Department of Natural Resources [MDNR], 2017). Commercial fishers and markets can benefit from this rapid population increase of Asian carp because it provides an opportunity to create a market. Since commercial fishers rely on large numbers of fish, the higher the population of Asian carp, the more they are able to catch and sell them. In the U.S., humans are the main predators of Asian carp, resulting in the removal of more than 750,000 kg of bighead carp from the Illinois River over a four year period (Ridgway & Bettoli, 2017, p. 438). Asian carp can create plentiful commercial fishing jobs and increase demand with the establishment of a proper marketing strategy.

To eliminate the over population of Asian carp, we need to create a market that increases the demand of Asian carp. Once the demand of Asian carp increases, hunting pressure will also increase. Private industries are actively developing products and markets that utilize Asian carp in a high volume to keep up with increased fishing (Pasko & Goldberg, 2014). One of the main ways Asian Carp are used after they are caught is in food dishes (Illinois Department of Natural Resources [IDNR], 2017). In addition, Carp are commonly turned into kosher hot dogs, fish jerky and omega-3 oil supplements (Modern Farmer, 2015). The community of Chicago was given an opportunity to sample the healthy and tasty fish free of charge, while teaching them about efforts to protect the Great Lakes from the invasive Asian carp (IDNR, 2017). We aim to eliminate the negative perception of Asian carp through public exposure and outreach to promote it as a quality food item in domestic and international markets.

Asian carp have the potential to invade the Great Lakes if no action is taken towards decreasing their population. Bighead and Silver carp eat 5-40 percent of their body weight each day (Asian Carp Response in the Midwest, 2017). They are filter-feeders, meaning they consume plankton, algae, and other microscopic organisms. Native fish populations rely on the same plankton as their main source of food during their larval stage. If Bighead and Silver carp populations increase they can wipe out the larval population of native fish by striping away their key sources of nourishment at the vulnerable larval stage (New York Invasive Species Information [NYISI], 2011). If Asian carp spread to the Great Lakes, they will negatively affect the $7 billion/year fishing industry by out-competing native fish species for food and habitat.

If Grass carp were to spread into the Great Lakes, they will cause degradation of the water quality and damage to wetland vegetation by consuming aquatic plants (NYISI, 2011). Their foraging disturbs lakes and river bottoms, destroys wetlands, and increases murkiness in the water, making it more difficult for native fish to find food. The destruction and loss of aquatic vegetation also leaves native juvenile fish without proper cover from predators and reduces spawning habitats (Fisheries and Oceans Canada [FOC], 2017).

Once Black carp reach the Great Lakes, they will cause a decline in the native mussel population (Michigan Invasive Species [MIS], 2017). Black carp consume native mussels and snails posing an immediate threat to the Great Lakes ecosystem (MIS, 2017). Many of the native mussels are already considered an endangered species and the introduction of Black carp would only make it worse (MIS, 2017). A severe decline in the mussel population would be a huge problem for the Great Lakes. The decline of mussels will negatively affect the water quality because mussels act as biological filters that keep the water clean and healthy (State Of The Great Lakes, 2005). Mussels are also eaten by other animals, such as fish, otters, and birds. The decline of mussels in the Great Lakes mean less food for its predators, potentially resulting in a decline in those animals as well (State Of The Great Lakes, 2005). Although mussels may seem to be a insignificant animals, they are extremely important to the Great Lake’s ecosystem in many ways (State Of The Great Lakes, 2005). The decline in mussel population would result in a decline in water quality (mussels are filter feeders), as well as a decline in other native species’ populations who already depend on them for food (State Of The Great Lakes, 2005).

While the market for Asian carp is strong internationally, there has been some resistance in the U.S. due to the fact that Asian carp are looked at negatively as bottom feeders by society (Varble and Secchi, 2013). One way that markets have started to overcome this resistance is by simply referring to Asian carp as “silverfin”. The University of Arkansas conducted a blind taste test between canned tuna, salmon, and carp, this resulted in canned carp being rated better than both tuna and salmon (Varble and Secchi, 2013). This supports the theory that most of the resistants in the U.S. is due to the fact that society views Asian carp negatively (Varble and Secchi, 2013). If Asian carp markets start referring to them as “silverfin” there could be less resistance to the consumption of Asian carp because it would look  more appealing to the public (Varble and Secchi, 2013). Other countries have utilized the fact that Asian carp reproduce with large amounts of eggs as another avenue of profit (Varble and Secchi, 2013). The collection of carp eggs has become a growing part of the caviar market but has yet to be utilized in the U.S. (Varble and Secchi, 2013).

The market price of Asian carp is very low because of its current abundance in U.S. waterways (Varble and Secchi, 2013). People believe that the quality of meat Asian carp provides is low because the price to purchase it is also low (Varble & Secchi, 2013). If communities are made aware of the quality and palatability of Asian carp, the demand for them would increase in local markets (Varble & Secchi, 2013). Many communities pride themselves on local food production and consumption, which could be a valuable asset in marketing the carp. Local production of Asian carp can be paired with the negative environmental impacts they cause to help increase consumption of Asian carp in communities surrounding areas inhabited by Asian carp (Varble & Secchi, 2013).

The local and commercial fishing industries are an extremely important part of the United States environmental and economic well-being. Invasive Asian Carp are a key factor to a massive native fish decline in the Mississippi River (Asian Carp Response in the Midwest, 2017). Without fish, people would lose not only a food source, but a source of income and a way to keep rivers and lakes clean. Asian carp are a type of fish that are very good at hunting prey and can reproduce quickly, making it essential to create a population decline in order to protect the natural ecosystem. Creating a consumer market for carp will not only solve the problem of overpopulation, it will also be beneficial for our economy and our environment. As of recently, various fisheries all over the country have suffered due to these carp spreading into more and more waterways (NOAA, 2017). Since fisheries are a billion dollar industry, Asian carp are essentially creating an economic problem (NOAA, 2017). To reduce the current population, fishermen first need to fish out a majority of the carp, which they will then sell to local businesses and vendors. Once the fish is purchased by these businesses and vendors, they can sell the fish in the public market, making two branches of this economic sector profit, therefore boosting the economy. In turn, the Carp population due to increased demand will eventually become extremely low, allowing the native fish populations to become established once again. The native fish could then start to rebalance the natural food web again, keeping the rivers healthy.  If Asian carp are only minimally hunted, there is serious risk of the health of all native species in the Mississippi river as well as the river itself. Asian Carp are clearly a very successful yet detrimental, invasive species to the United States. However, their success may lead to their demise. If we can create a high demand market for carp, utilizing humans as their natural predator, we can restore the river environments that have been harmed, while creating jobs and food for people.

AUTHORS

Tiffany Vera Tudela- Natural Resource Conservation

James Sullivan- Natural Resource Conservation

Shannon Gregoire- Animal science

Dylan Osgood- Building Construction Technology

 

REFERENCES

ASIAN CARP CREATING PROBLEMS IN LOUISIANA WATERWAYS. (n.d.). Retrieved December 04, 2017, from http://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/news/30510

Asian carp response in the midwest. (2017). Asian Carp Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from http://www.asiancarp.us/faq.htm

Chick, J. and Pegg, M. (2001). Invasive carp in the Mississippi river basin. Science 292(5525), 2250-2251. doi:10.1126/science.292.5525.2250

Environmental Protection Agency. (2017). Nutrient Pollution. Washington, D.C.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada. (2017). Asian Carp. Retrieved from http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/science/environmental-environnement/ais-eae/species/asian-carp-fact-sheet-eng.html

Fisheries, N. (2017, May 09). NOAA Fisheries Releases Fisheries Economics of the U.S. and Status of Stocks Reports. Retrieved December 04, 2017, from http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/stories/2017/04/05_feus_sos_reports.html

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. (2017). Lionfish Recreational Regulations. Florida.

Illinois Department of Natural Resources. (2017). Target Hunger Now! Program Features Asian Carp. Chicago, Illinois.

Invasive species. (April 27, 2006). In National Agricultural Library online. Retrieved from https://www.invasivespeciesinfo.gov/whatis.shtml

 

Lionfish Hunting. (2017). Eating Lionfish. Retrieved from https://lionfish.co/eating-lionfish/

Louisiana Wildlife & Fisheries. (2015). Asian Carp Creating Problems In Louisiana Waterways. Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Michigan Department of Natural resources. (2017). Invasive Carp. Michigan.

Minnesota Sea Grant. (2017). Aquatic Invasive Species. Retrieved from http://www.seagrant.umn.edu/ais/

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (2017). What is a Red Tide.

National Park Service. (2017). Asian Carp Overview. Mississippi.

National Wildlife Federation. (2017). Stopping Asian Carp. Reston, Virginia.

New York Invasive Species Information. (2011). Asian Carp. Retrieved from http://www.nyis.info/index.php?action=invasive_detail&id=29

Pasko, S. and Goldberg, J. (2014). Review of harvest incentives to control invasive species. Management of Biological Invasions 5(3), 263-277. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.3391/mbi.2014.5.3.10

Pyron, M., Becker, J. C., Broadway, K. J., Etchison, L., Minder, M., Decolibus, D., & Murry, B. A. (2017). Are long-term fish assemblage changes in a large US river related to the Asian Carp invasion? Test of the hostile take-over and opportunistic dispersal hypotheses. Aquatic Sciences, 79(3), 631-642. Doi:10.1007/s00027-017-0525-4

 

Ruffe: A New Threat to Our Fisheries. (n.d.). Retrieved December 04, 2017, from http://www.seagrant.umn.edu/ais/ruffe_threat

Simon, T. P., Boucher, C., Alfater, D., Mishne, D., & Zimmerman, B. (2016). An Annotated List of the Fishes of the Western Basin of Lake Erie with Emphasis on the Bass Islands and Adjacent Tributaries. The Ohio Journal of Science. 116(2), 36-47. Doi: 1874392640.

 

Varble, S., & Secchi, S. (2013). Human consumption as an invasive species management strategy. A preliminary assessment of the marketing potential of invasive Asian carp in the US. Appetite, 65, 58-67. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2013.01.022

What We Do to Stop Invasive Species. Retrieved December 04, 2017, from https://kids.nwf.org/Home/What-We-Do/Protect-Wildlife/Invasive-Species.aspx

The Arctic National Wildlife Reserve: Save the Caribou

 

Every year in April, there is a herd of nearly 197,000 caribou that travel more than 400 miles to reach the plain on Alaska’s northernmost coast. This massive herd is known as the Porcupine Caribou herd and for several months of the year, this Alaskan coastal plain will be their home. It is where the females give birth every June and where the young spend the first weeks of their lives. This area is known as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and it provides vital habitat for the Porcupine herd every spring and summer as the place where they can safely birth their calves and begin to raise them (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016).  

The National Wildlife Refuge System was first put into place by President Theodore Roosevelt more than a century ago (“Political History of the Arctic Refuge,” 2014). Wildlife Refuges are meant to serve the sole purpose of providing and restoring habitat for animals in the wild (Berman, 2015, para. 9). Several decades later in 1954, the National Park Service began surveying areas in Alaska that would be worth protecting under the Refuge System based upon their wildlife diversity, aesthetic values, and recreational opportunities. Almost nine million acres in the northeastern corner of Alaska were deemed valuable according to these standards and in 1960, ANWR was established. Today, this preservation area has expanded to nearly 19 million acres. The Refuge is home to a diverse collection of wildlife that includes eight types of marine mammals, 37 species of land mammals, 42 fish species, and over 200 bird species with its most notable species being caribou, polar bears, and muskoxen (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2013).

The northernmost piece of the ANWR is a one and a half million acre plain that borders the coast of the Arctic Ocean. This particular part of the Refuge is referred to as the 1002 area (U.S. Geological Survey, 2016). Currently, it is not considered Wilderness because it is a vast frozen coastal plain without trees, mountains, or lakes (Energy Research, n.d.). However, this is the esteemed coastal plain that the Porcupine Caribou herd migrates to each spring and relies upon as the habitat in which more than 40,000 calves are born each year (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016; Warden and Johnson, 2015).

Unfortunately, the 1002 area in the ANWR has been being considered for oil exploration since 1980. Today, there is a strong push being made by Alaskan politicians to open up this area for oil drilling. It is estimated that this coveted coastal region holds anywhere from four to twelve billion barrels of oil (Reiss, 2017). According to the U.S. Geological Survey (2016), approximately 10.4 million barrels of this oil are actually recoverable, which translates into about one million barrels per day for the 1002 area. Based on these estimates, ANWR would be producing more oil than any other field in North America. Within the ANWR, 7.16 million acre are currently protected under the Wilderness Act and that does not include the 1002 area (Energy Research, n.d.).

One of the most outspoken proponents for drilling in the ANWR is Alaska’s Republican senator, Lisa Murkowski. She is fighting hard for the rights to drill in the 1002 Area of ANWR as a means to boost the Alaskan economy (Murkowski, 2017). Murkowski argues that opening the 1002 Area to drilling would lead to a massive increase in jobs available for Alaskans and that it will mean billions of dollars of revenue for the state as well (Murkowski, 2017, para. 6). While oil drilling may benefit the state in the short term, it would only make Alaskans more dependent on fossil fuels at a time when the fossil fuel industry is becoming less and less popular (Grant, 2017, para. 3). Meaning that in the long run, the jobs created now for drilling would not last as less oil becomes used worldwide and greener technologies emerge to take its place. In addition to this, the drilling would also create a series of negative impacts to the environment that include excessive noise levels, slow ecological recovery, emissions, and sea ice danger.

The negative ecological effects of oil drilling in the ANWR 1002 area far outweigh the benefits, therefore it should be declared a Wilderness area in order to protect wildlife and the environment from the impacts of drilling activities. The distinction of Wilderness gives the strictest regulations possible for public land protection. Becoming designated Wilderness would make it illegal to drill for oil in the 1002 area (Sanders, 2015, para. 3). Keeping oil rigs out of the area would prevent harm to the caribou herds and other wildlife that rely on the 1002 area for habitat because they would not have to migrate elsewhere to avoid the noise levels and pollution. The Porcupine caribou are an important part of the ecosystem of the 1002, both depending on the environment they live in as well as enriching it (PCMB.ca, 2017).

Ecologically, we should care because of the negative effects oil exploration and drilling will have on the surrounding ecosystem. Noise pollution from oil fields in the 1002 area causes the Porcupine Caribou to cease migration to the coastal plains for calving season. When noises from the drilling exceed 75 decibels, many animals are unable to tolerate it and will avoid those areas (Drolet, Côté, and Christian , 2016). Thus, oil drilling will cause a decrease in the caribou population because it would drive them away from the calving grounds that they have relied upon for generations to raise their young in. Caribou are one of the most prominent animals in the northern Alaskan landscape. One study simulated what would happen to their populations if onshore oil rigs develop near their habitat. The study found that when subjected to the harshest development scenario of 15 rigs, all open for leasing, the caribou lost 34% of their habitat used for calving grounds when they were forced out of it by drilling the effects (Wilson et al., 2015). Excessive noise levels from the drilling activity causes these animals to migrate from their high-quality sites into areas that are less suitable for their needs (Drolet et al., 2016).

According to Griffith et al. (2002), pregnant female caribou will not cross over or under oil industry infrastructure during calving season (p. 40). This creates a large problem since the females are usually pregnant when they migrate to Area 1002 every June (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016, para. 4). This could mean that they are unable to reach the area and may not be able to properly give birth and raise healthy calves. Additionally, caribou forced to migrate from their habitat in the safe coastal plains to the mountains may likely run into many more predators, such as grizzly bears and wolves. According to Griffith et al. (2002), grizzly bears’ habitat is primarily in the mountainous foothills and there has never been a report of wolf dens on the coastal plains (p. 51). Without trees or mountains in the 1002 area, these animals are not very present on the plain, thus making it safer for the caribou to be there than further inland where those predators are more abundant.

The environment in the ANWR is very sensitive to anthropogenic disturbances due to the brutal climate that allows for a short growing season for vegetation to recover from any damage. This slow ecological recovery puts the wildlife, such as the caribou previously discussed, in danger of not having enough food supply. The anthropogenic changes in the ANWR will be detrimental to the vegetation, like grasses, mosses and small shrubs. The pollution released by these oil sites causes death or illnesses that eventually lead to death to surrounding animals (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, 2016). Therefore, the overall pollutants from oil exploration have negative impacts on both the habitat and migration of wildlife in the ANWR 1002 area.

Being how remote and wild this land truly is, it is not often traveled. This is also true for Prudhoe Bay, where there is currently oil drilling occurring. According to Barringer (2006), there was a spill comprised of 267,000 gallons of crude oil across two acres along Alaska’s North Slope (para. 1). The spill took five days to detect due to it starting as pin sized hole that expanded under pressure and most of the oil seeping under the snow (Barringer, 2006, para. 3-4). Inspections of the pipe showed that the almost 40 year old pipe had increased corrosion but not enough to worry about. The leak was also too small for system to detect so nobody knew (Barringer, 2006, para. 9-10). This is not the only spill from this pipeline however, there was an 11 million gallons spill in 1989, a 700,000 gallon spill in 1978 and a 285,000 gallon spill in 2001 (para. 7). Spills happen no matter how careful the companies are. A spill like this could force the Porcupine Caribou out of even more of their habitat.

Oil drilling in the ANWR would have economical value to Alaska, however in the grand scheme this value is outweighed greatly by the negative ecological impact it would have. The noise from the oil rigs is too loud for the Porcupine Caribou herd to tolerate and would force them out of their environment (Drolet et al., 2016). This would also disrupt their migration patterns because a pregnant female will not cross under or over any oil infrastructure (Griffith et al., 2002, p.40). This makes the routes that they can take even more selective if not impossible. In addition the herd would have to move into the mountains, where their predators are, which would lead to fewer offspring surviving (Griffith et al., 2002). If all of this still isn’t enough the herd could end up running out of food. The Arctic has a slow ecological recovery with a very short growing season due to the nature of the climate (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, 2016). Not only is their land being taken by the oil rigs, but also their food sources. Making the ANWR completely designated as Wilderness would make drilling illegal (National Parks, 2012, para. 6) protect this herd for years to come while also preserving the pristine piece of land that is truly left without human interference.

AUTHORS

Adam Mergener – Building Construction Technology

Ashley Casello – Natural Resource Conservation

Kevin Boino – Environmental Science

 

REFERENCES

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (2016, September 19). Retrieved from http://www.defenders.org/arctic-national-wildlife-refuge

Barringer, F. (2006, March 15). Large Oil Spill in Alaska Went Undetected for Days. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/15/us/large-oil-spill-in-alaska-went-undetected-for-days.html

Berman, A. (2015, September 28). Park vs. refuge: What’s the difference? Retrieved from  https://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/wilderness-resources/stories/park-vs-refuge-whats-difference

Drolet, A., Côté, S. D., & Christian, D. (2016). Simulated drilling noise affects the space   use of a large terrestrial mammal. Wildlife Biology, 22(6), 284-293. doi://dx.doi.org/10.2981%2Fwlb.00225

Energy Research, I. F. (n.d.). ANWR. Retrieved from https://instituteforenergyresearch.org/topics/policy/anwr/

Grant, M. (2017, October 19). Oil Drilling in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Imperils Wildlife, Won’t Solve Economic or Energy Challenges. Retrieved from http://www.nwf.org/Home/Latest-News/Press-Releases/2017/10-19-17-Arctic-Oil-Drilling

Griffith, B., D. C. Douglas, N. E. Walsh, D. D. Young, Jr., T. R. McCabe, D. E. Russell, R. G. White, R. D. Cameron, and K. R. Whitten. 2002. The Porcupine caribou herd. Pages 8-37 in D. C. Douglas, P. E. Reynolds, and E. B. Rhode, (eds.). Arctic Refuge coastal plain terrestrial wildlife research summaries. USGS Biological Science Report USGS/BRD/BSR-2002-0001

Murkowski, L. (2017, November 01). Time is right to open a slice of ANWR to drilling. Retrieved from https://www.adn.com/opinions/2017/11/01/time-is-right-to-open-a-slice-of-anwr-to-drilling/

National Parks, National Forests, and U.S. Wildernesses. (2012, April 18). Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/river-of-no-return-national-parks-national-forests-and-u-s-wildernesses/7667

Pcmb.ca. (2017). Porcupine Caribou Management Board. Available at: http://www.pcmb.ca.

Political History of the Arctic Refuge. (2014, November 23). Retrieved from http://anwr.org/2014/11/political-history-of-the-arctic-refuge/

Reiss, B. (2017, September 15). Bolstered by Trump, big oil resumes its 40-year quest to drill in an Arctic Wildlife Refuge. Fortune. Retrieved from http://fortune.com/2017/09/15/donald-trump-big-oil-alaska-arctic-wildlife-refuge/

Sanders, S. (2015, January 25). Obama Proposes New Protections for Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/01/25/379795695/obama-proposes-new-protections-for-arctic-national-wildlife-refuge

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. (2013). Arctic: Wildlife & habitat. Retrieved from http://www.fws.gov/refuge/arctic/wildlife_habitat.html

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. (2016, December 6). Caribou – Arctic – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Retrieved from https://www.fws.gov/refuge/arctic/caribou.html

U.S. Geological Survey. (29 November 2016). Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, 1002 Area, Petroleum Assessment, Including Economic Analysis. Retrieved from https://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/fs-0028-01/fs-0028-01.htm

Warden, A. and Johnson, D. (2015). Wilderness is the right designation for ANWR’s coastal plain. Alaska Dispatch News. Available at: https://www.adn.com/commentary/article/keep-arctic-refuge-wild/2015/12/18/

Replace Hydropower Dams to Save the Southern Resident Orca Whale Population!

 

On August 8th 1970, the southern resident orca whale population was ambushed off the coast of Penn Cove, Washington in one of the most infamous whale captures in history (WDC, 2017). This capture involved 80 whales, in which 7 were collected and 5 were killed (WDC, 2017).  The only current living orca from this incident is Lolita (WDC, 2017). She is now the oldest living killer whale in captivity and lives in what is arguably too small of a tank (Save Lolita, n.d; Herrera, 2017). It’s believed that Lolita’s tank doesn’t meet the minimum 48 feet horizontal dimension requirement set by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) (Herrera, 2017). Lolita has a 60 foot tank obstructed by a ‘work island’ that separates her pool into two 35 feet sections (Herrera, 2017). Another issue Lolita faces in captivity is solitude (which is abnormal for social animals such as orcas) (Save Lolita, n.d). Due to animal rights advocacy groups making these issues well known to the public, Lolita has become both a symbolic example for why orcas can’t feasibly be kept in captivity and a famous icon for the southern resident orca population. This killer whale population is currently estimated at 80 whales consisting of 3 pods named the J,K and L pods (NOAA Fisheries, 2015). In the fall, spring and summer their territory ranges from waterways near the U.S.-Canadian border to inland waterways in Washington state ( NOAA Fisheries, 2015).

The southern resident orca whale population is also vital for Washington state’s economy. These whales benefit the state’s economy by providing tourism revenue through whale watching (Grace, 2015). The number of people going on whale watches in Washington has even increased over time; from 1998 to 2008, Washington state saw an increase of 108,000 whale watchers and a 3% average annual growth rate (O’Connor, 2009). Due to this increased whale watching tourism, wildlife watching activities (such as whale watching) created over 21,000 jobs in Washington State, yielded $426.9 million in job income, and generated $56.9 million in state tax revenue all in 2001 (Grace, 2015, para. 4). People are also estimated to spend nearly $1 billion annually in Washington viewing wildlife (O’Malley, 2005, para. 1). It’s also estimated that the southern resident orca population itself adds minimally 65-70 million dollars to Washington state’s economy (Grace, 2015, para. 1).

Sadly though, despite all the intrinsic and economic benefits these orcas bring to Washington state, they are facing the threat of extinction. In fact, the southern resident orca population was even added to the endangered species list in 2005 (NOAA fisheries, 2015).They were added to this protection list because the population has fallen from an estimated 200 whales in the late 1800s to a current estimate of 80 whales (NOAA Fisheries, 2015). This population decline even lead to the production of a recovery plan by the National Marine Fisheries Services (National Marine Fisheries Service, 2008). This plan addresses specific potential threats to the southern resident orca population such as prey availability, pollution, vessel effects, oil spills, exetera and outlines goals to minimize these threats and their harm to orcas (National Marine Fisheries Service, 2008). One of the believed reasons behind the orcas small population size is a limited abundance of salmon from the Snake and Columbia rivers (Baker & Peterson, 2017). The southern resident orcas rely on Columbia and Snake river salmon as a food source during the summer when they live in waters off the San Juan Islands that lie northwest of Seattle (Baker & Peterson, 2017). Salmon are an essential food source for these whales because resident killer whales only prey on fish, not other marine mammals (such as seals or sea lions) (Ford et al., 1998, 2009). The Columbia River itself is also especially crucial for southern resident orcas as they display unique feeding behavior there not seen at any other territorial location; they stock up on salmon by sitting at the mouth of the river for days and foraging (Baker & Peterson, 2017). It’s also believed the declining salmon population is a key reason behind the southern resident orcas low population because orcas are predators at the top of their ecosystem’s food chains and don’t serve as prey for other animals (Ford, 2009). Therefore, predation of orcas cannot be considered a valid source for their population decline. As a result, the decreasing salmon population in the Columbia and Snake Rivers has added pressure to the orca population over the past three decades (Baker & Peterson, 2017). The Center for Whale Research and the Center for Conservation Biology (University of Washington) found that low salmon populations also lead to enough nutritional stress to cause two-thirds of  southern resident orca pregnancies to fail between 2007 and 2014 (Baker & Peterson, 2017).The majority of the salmon this whale population consumes also originates from the Snake river, a tributary of the Columbia River (Barker & Peterson, 2017). In short, the southern resident orca population is critically endangered and low salmon populations are putting even more stress on the whales (Barker & Peterson, 2017; Ford 2009). If the northwest salmon population is not restored, it could result in the disappearance of resident orcas in the northwest forever.   

Since 1991, twelve specific populations of Columbia River Basin salmon and steelhead have been protected under the Endangered Species Act (Harrison, 2016). For Snake River Salmon the National Marine Fisheries Service noted that the estimated annual returns of spring/summer Chinook declined from 125,000 fish between 1950 and 1960 to just 12,000 fish in 1979 (Harrison, 2016). Proposed recovery plans have also started legal battles over what actions are necessary to avoid further jeopardizing the species (Harrison, 2016). This debate is complicated by hydropower dams directly affecting salmon and steelheads (Harrison, 2016). These hydropower dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers are inhibiting growth of the river’s salmon population by creating habitat fragmentation, causing direct mortality and decreasing their food supply (Harrison, 2008).

At 1,954 kilometers long, the Columbia river is the 15th longest river in North America; its tributaries and it form the dominant water system in the Pacific Northwest as it drains into seven different western states (Bonneville Power administration , 2001). The history of the dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers date back to Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency, as the construction of the first dam on the Columbia river (the Rock Island dam) began shortly after his election with the sole intention of producing electricity (Harrison, 2008) . By 1975 the Columbia river had four more large dams constructed on it and has had smaller dams constructed on it since (Harrison, 2008).  

These dams inhibit the river’s salmon population because they fragment rivers and therefore impede salmon migration. This negatively impacts the reproduction of the Columbia and Snake river salmon because they then cannot spawn effectively upstream. Salmon need to navigate between spawning sites, rearing habitat (juvenile living space) and the Pacific Ocean in order to reproduce. Salmon hatch in rivers and then travel to the ocean for their adult lives  (National Park Service’s, 2017). Then when they are ready to spawn again, instincts guide them back to their birthplace to spawn (National Park Service’s, 2017). There are also case studies to show that dams, like the ones present in the Snake and Columbia river, prevent the salmon from properly spawning upstream. For example, the presence of the Hemlock Dam on Trout Creek, Washington, USA was linked to the impeded migration of  U.S. threatened Lower Columbia River steelhead (a type of salmon) and other migratory fish by blocking their migration path (Claeson & Coffin, 2016, p. 1144). It is also known that the dams in the Columbia river basin now block more than 55 percent of the spawning and rearing habitat once available to salmon and steelhead (Harrison, 2008).

Dams not only block the upstream passage of adult fish but block the downstream passage of juvenile fish as well. Hydroelectric dams (such as the ones on the Columbia and Snake rivers) compound this problem because they force migrating fish to travel through turbines without a bypass systems (Harrison, 2008). This is a problem for migrating salmon because the spinning blades and/or concrete walls in these turbines could kill or injure juvenile fish drawn in by the current (Harrison, 2008). Biologists estimate that fish drawn through a turbine passage has a 10 to 15 percent chance of dying (Harrison, 2008). This is problematic due to the Snake and Columbia river having multiple hydroelectric dams that increase each fish’s chance of dying by forcing them to travel through turbines to migrate (Harrison, 2008).

The dam’s on the Columbia and Snake rivers are also negatively impacting the salmon populations chance of survival by limiting their sources of food. The hydroelectric dams are doing this by limiting the growth of benthic insects (mayflies,stoneflies, caddisfly nymphs) populations within the rivers. Dams are known to limit benthic insect population growth by increasing water temperatures (Claeson & Coffin, 2016).  Dams increase water temperatures by creating reservoirs that isolate water and create a slow flow over the dam that increases the reservoir’s water and discharge temperature (Claeson & Coffin, 2016). In warmer waters, desirable salmon food sources such as mayfly, stonefly and caddisfly nymphs die off and are replaced by other insects (midges and mosquito larvae) that are much less desirable as food for salmon (Effects of Elevated Water Temperatures on Salmonids, 2000).  Cold water fish such as salmon relay on benthic insect populations as a source of food and decreasing benthic insect populations makes an environment unsuitable for salmon to live in (Claeson & Coffin, 2016, Harrison, 2008).  

The best plan to solve this problem and save both the salmon and orca whale population would be to remove the dams from the Columbia and Snake rivers. Removing the dams would help restore the salmon population that the southern resident orcas so heavily rely on. There have been previous dam removals in the Columbia and Snake river area that have resulted in a successful increase in salmon population. In 2012, removing the Condit Dam from the White Salmon River (a tributary to the Columbia River) restored upstream migration access for the first time in 100 years (Allen et al., 2016, p.192). The number of redd counts (the number of salmon spawning nests) shows the increase in the salmon population (Allen et al., 2016, p.197). In the pre-dam model for the Tule fall Chinook Salmon it’s redd count increased by 60% since dam removal and the Upriver bright fall Chinook Salmon redd count increased from no abundance to around 4,251 redds after dam removal in 2013 (Allen et al., 2016, Table 2). This dramatic increase in spawning means a greater number of salmon are being produced. Other large dam removals include Washington State’s Glines Canyon Dam and the Elwha Dam hydroelectric dam. These dams were removed in 2011 (Nijhuis, 2014). Now salmon can be seen migrating past the former dam sites and as salmon populations recover, research expect the whole food web to benefit (Nijhuis, 2014). These cases set forth by the Condit, Glines Canyon and Elwha Dam removal is further evidence that dam removal in the region can be beneficial to the salmon population.

While these cases have made it clear that dam removal is the best option to restore the salmon population, there are other options available. Alternative methods such as a permanent adult fish ladder can be seen on the Lower Granite Dam (Conca, 2016). However, fish ladders can be problematic because they elevate water temperatures to form a “thermal barrier” that stops adults from migrating upwards into warm waters (Conca, 2016). One method the US Army Corps of Engineers attempted to face this problem was releasing Dworshak reservoir water in to cool the Snake River (Lower Granite Adult Fish Ladder Temperature Improvement System, 2016). Another alternative method is  “daylighting” juvenile fish passage (Conca, 2016).  This is when  juvenile fish passage is allowed through a large elevated bypass flume leading to the Juvenile Fish Facility just downstream of the dam (Conca 2016). Save Our Wild Salmon (a nationwide coalition working to restore salmon and steelheads to the rivers) also argues that the federal government is relying on these unreliable alternative methods such as barging and trucking salmon around the dams and limiting the amount of water in the river (Bogaard, 2017). Implementing these alternative methods have already cost billions of dollars to the US taxpayers and over the past twenty years, researchers still also haven’t found conclusive evidence that federal salmon recovery actions succeeded in helping restore these fish (Bogaard, 2017). Federal agencies have spent more than $8 billion in attempts to restore Columbia and Snake River salmon (Bogaard, 2017). Each year more than $550 million in funding goes to NOAA Fisheries, the Army Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies for this effort (Bogaard, 2017). Removing these dams could be cheaper than these other restoration efforts and revive both the salmon and orca populations. Advocates for dam removal also argue that the removal of these dams is a viable option because they produce most of their power in the spring when it’s not crucial for Northwest power supplies, and it would be relatively simple and inexpensive when comparing the cost to other alternative methods  (Baker & Peterson, 2017).

The main reason some are still resistant to removing these dams is because they provide a significant source of hydropower. There are four main hydroelectric power providing dams on the Snake river; these are the ICE Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite Dams (Conca, 2016). According to Conca (2016) Ice Harbor Dam produces 1.7 billion kWhs/yr, Lower Monumental dam produces 2.3 billion kWhs/yr, Little Goose dam produces 2.2 billion kWhs/yr and Lower Granite dam produces 2.3 billion kWhs/yr. (Conca, 2016). Washington’s hydroelectric power provides more than two-thirds of Washington’s net electricity generation and almost nine-tenths of the state’s renewable power generation (U.S Energy Information Administration, 2017). As for the Columbia river, The Grand Coulee Dam is the largest hydroelectric power producer in the United States, with a total generating capacity of 6,809,000 kilowatts (U.S Energy Information Administration, 2017). The communities that depend on the Snake and Columbia river’s hydroelectric dam power are then faced to question if there are potential ways to provide Washington state a renewable energy source that doesn’t hurt the salmon population . To end this debate an alternative energy source (specifically wind energy) needs to replace the hydropower provided by the dams on the Snake and Columbia river so that the dams may be removed.

This replacement energy source absolutely needs to be renewable because Washington passed renewable energy standard (RES) legislation in 2006 that requires certain utilities to have fifteen percent of their electricity sales from renewable resources by 2020 and to invest in energy efficiency (American Wind Energy Association, 2014). One viable, renewable energy source that may be used to replace hydroelectric power provided by these dams would be wind energy. In fact, in 2015 Washington ranked ninth in the nation in wind energy electricity generation (U.S Energy Information Administration, 2017). There are still some skeptics regarding the reliability of wind turbines and their ability to produce enough power to feasibly replace other energy sources.  For example, some claim that wind turbines are unpredictable, not dependable enough for consistent power generation and only produce 8% of their total system capacity (Edmunds, 2014).  However, this is mostly incorrect and invalid in this case. Wind energy has already proven itself feasibly reliable in Washington, it’s the state’s second largest renewable energy generation contributor with over 3,000 megawatts of installed capacity (U.S Energy Information Administration, 2017). This can be compared to the 6,910 megawatts of hydroelectricity generated Washington net electricity (U.S. Energy Information Administration – EIA – Independent Statistics and Analysis, 2017). Wind energy is also relied upon as a common renewable resource of choice to meet renewable energy legislation requirements (American Wind Energy Association, 2014).

New wind turbine farms to replace the hydroelectric dams can be installed by PSE (Pudget Sound Energy), the largest Northwest utility producer of renewable energy (Hopkins Ridge Wind Facility). They own and operate the large wind farms including the Hopkins Ridge Wind Facility located in Columbia County (Hopkins Ridge Wind Facility). The Hopkins Ridge Wind Facility started in 2005 and consists of 87 turbines  producing an average annual output of about 465,000 megawatt hours, sufficient to power 41,000 households (Hopkins Ridge Wind Facility). If more winds farms like Hopkins Ridge Wind Facility were developed to help the state of Washington develop more wind energy, the people of Washington wouldn’t need the hydroelectric power provided by the dams and they could be removed to help prompt orca and salmon population recovery.

The best possible solution for this issue is to harness and develop more wind energy in the state of Washington. This energy replacement will allow for the dams to be removed without depriving the people of Washington of electricity. Being able to remove these dams is critical for the survival of the salmon population within the Columbia and Snake rivers. Sustaining the salmon population is critical for the survival of the southern resident orca population (a beloved tourist attraction in the state of Washington). Saving the salmon population will also help the National Marine fisheries service in achieving the recovery plan outlined for southern resident orca whales in 2008 (National Marine Fisheries Service. 2008).  In short, finding an alternative renewable energy source to replace the dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers is imperative for the survival of the salmon and orca whale populations affected by these dams. Lolita the orca was taken from this population and is now suffering as a result (Save Lolita, n.d.; WDC, 2017). She serves as an example of how hard captivity is for orcas and why preserving the southern resident population in the wild is their only true chance for survival.

AUTHORS

Marilyn Donovan – Animal Science: Pre-vet

Lauren Baldwin – Environmental Science

Connor Taylor – Environmental Science

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Alligator Gar As Means To Control Asian Carp

 

        Jordan Fielder, a nineteen year old boy, was enjoying a fun day on the Illinois river with his family when all of a sudden a large fish launched from the water like a missile, and smashed into his face. The fish fractured his nose, dented his forehead, and shattered bones in his eye sockets and brow (Schankman 2015). Jordan commented, “If it had hit me any harder it could have broken my skull bones and essentially damaged my brain and killed me on the spot”(Schankman 2015). For Jordan this was a fun family day on the river, turned to a near death experience. The fish responsible for this, is the invasive Asian carp, which is overrunning the Illinois river and its surrounding waters including the Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio rivers (Hayer et al. 2014). The carp easily become scared by boat motors or other loud noises which causes them to jump out of the water (Shankman 2015), turning their large bodies into a dangerous projectile which can clearly hurt people in their path. Jordan’s experience is not uncommon as this has happened to many others. As harmful as they can prove to humans, they are just as bad for the ecosystem, as is seen with many invasive species.

        In the 1950s, East Africans introduced Nile perch to Lake Victoria to strengthen a lacking fishing industry (Micalizio, 2015, p. 1). The environmental effects of this introduction completely transformed the Lake Victoria ecosystem. Voracious appetites and bountiful prey allowed the top-tier predator Nile perch to cause the extinctions of over 200-species of fish native only to Lake Victoria, such as cichlids. Native predatory catfish species such as the Sudan catfish and African sharptooth catfish also suffered as a result of the Nile perch (Frans Witte, 1997). In 1973, the Sudan catfish and African sharptooth had catch rates of 44 pounds per hour. However, by 1985 they had catch rates of zero. Whereas the Nile perch showed a catch rate of zero in 1973, but jumped to 176 pounds per hour by 1987, 4 times higher than the native catfish species when they were at peak abundance (p. 28). A domino-effect occurred from the loss of native species, leading to outbreaks of insects and algal blooms (Nile perch , 2014, p. 6). Some of the largest impacts came down on the backs of humans. The fishermen and their families cannot eat the fish themselves, they have too high a value and eating them means a loss in profits, yet fishermen go on longer fishing trips now than in the past to try and keep up with demand (p. 9). The Nile perch serve as an example that represents how non-native freshwater fish introductions can derail an ecosystem and community if not well-controlled or managed (Vitule et al., 2009). There is such an introduction happening right under our noses here in the United States, the invasive Asian carp.

        Ecosystems have a delicate balance in which organisms work in harmony, each occupying their own little niche (the role of an organism in an ecosystem) (Biology-online.org, 2016), when a new organism enters that ecosystem, they can occupy another species’ niche, competing with them for resources and food. Unfortunately, native species often lose this competition to the new invaders. The National Invasive Species Information Center (NISIC), defines invasive species as “non-native (or alien) to the ecosystem under consideration and whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health” (“What is an invasive species?” 2012, para. 1). One such invasive species, the Asian carp, have made a name for themselves here in the United States, introduced to control phytoplankton and for aquaculture.

        Native species of carp have existed in the United States for over 100 years, and the species called the “common carp” has lived here with little environmental impact (Naylor et al., 2001).  The newer and more potent Asian carp describe 4-different species, the bighead, grass, black, and silver carp. The U.S. imported silver and bighead carp in the 1970s from Asia for research purposes, putting them into wastewater lagoons and aquaculture ponds and observing if they improved water quality (Naylor et al., 2001, para. 2). Federal and state agencies, private citizens, and researchers imported and introduced the grass carp from eastern Asia in 1963 to control aquatic plants in fish farms (Grass carp, 2013, para. 1). Juvenile black carp came to the U.S., initially in Arkansas, in the 1970s when they arrived with a shipment of grass carp (Nico and Nielson, 2014). Nobody noticed because juvenile black and grass carp have nearly identical appearances. The U.S. attempted to use the black carp as a food resource and to control yellow grubs in aquaculture ponds (para. 5). Flooding events in aquaculture ponds connected to rivers allowed the silver, bighead, grass, and black carp to escape into the Mississippi River and Missouri River where they now have established breeding populations (Naylor et al., 2001, para. 2; Grass carp, 2013, para. 1; Nico and Nielson, 2014, para. 5).

        Invasive Asian carp demonstrate trends of rapidly increasing abundance a short time after their introduction. In the Missouri River in South Dakota, the abundance of Asian carp skyrocketed from 2009-2012 (Hayer et al., 2014, p. 294). In 2009, a fishing survey in the Missouri River caught no Asian carp. By 2012, fishing surveys caught 35 fish per hour (p. 294). In 6 sections of the Mississippi River, the number of Asian carp caught went from <50 per hour in 2003, to 775 per hour in 2012 after their introduction (Phelps et al., 2017, p. 7).  This 15x increase demonstrates the ability of Asian carp to overwhelm an area in as little as 9 years.

        Asian carp often outcompete native species for food (Asian carp overview, 2015). Asian carp filter feed and voraciously consume algae and zooplankton, primary food sources for native fish species like gizzard shad, paddlefish, and bigmouth buffalo (Asian carp overview, 2015; Irons et al., 2007; Sampson et al., 2009). Small zooplankton such as rotifers compose a large part of the diet of many native filter feeders, however, Asian carp consume them as well. In one section of the Mississippi River, Asian carp cut the abundance of rotifers from 6000 per liter of water in 2002, to 3500 in 2003, nearly a 50% decrease in only one year (Sampson et al., 2009, p. 488). Thus reducing the amount of available prey, and forcing predatory species to feast more heavily on other organisms such as copepods, seldom consumed by many fish, but compose nearly 62% of the diet of endangered paddlefish (p. 489). The decrease in rotifer abundance observed by Sampson et al. (2009) therefore means that fish will have to search for and eat different prey species instead of relying on rotifers the way they did before Asian carp.

        Asian carp reduce the abundance of native species where they colonize (Hayer et al., 2014; Phelps et al., 2017). In 2009, Asian carp represented <1% of the catch in the Missouri River, whereas the native emerald shiner fish comprised roughly 30% of fish caught in 2009. In 2012, Asian carp composed 50% of the catch, and emerald shiner dropped to 5% of the catch, equating to a 6x decrease in emerald shiner, and a 50x increase in Asian carp  (Hayer et al., 2014, p.298). In the Mississippi River, Asian carp caused the bigmouth buffalo population to decrease by 10%, instead of following the historically-observed increase of 35%. After the invasion of Asian carp, the number of buffalo caught per hour decreased from 178 to 85 (Solomon et al., 2016, p.8). In another study on the Illinois River, the bigmouth buffalo’s abundance declined by 80% in 2005, compared to the abundance recorded from fishing trips in 1995 (Irons et al., 2007, p. 268). In this same stretch of river, the annual Asian carp catch increased from 0 in 1995, to 500 in 2005 (p. 265)

        Predatory and game fish populations also undergo negative changes because before the young become large enough to eat other fish and crustaceans, they eat small plankton consumed by the invasive carp (Solomon et al., 2016, p.1). This means that if the carp kill off the young of a species, they will do massive damage to the species populations as a whole. For example, two species of crappie showed dramatic decreases in abundance, Black crappie populations decreased by 61.79% and white crappie populations decreased by 45.98% (Solomon et al., 2016, p. 8). Carp do not feed on crappie, but they feed on the same thing as the juveniles, causing the population to have trouble growing. The removal of plankton by Asian carp also casts residual effects on important prey species for predatory fish. For example Asian carp negatively affect gizzard shad, another filter feeder. These shad comprise an important food source for predators of the ecosystem (Phelps et al., 2017, p. 11). Shad are a staple food source of a very popular gamefish in the Largemouth Bass, if there are less shad, then the bass will not do as well (Storck et al. 2011, pg. 1). Gizzard shad went from an average biomass increase of 10% to nothing because the Asian carp reduced their survival rate from 80% to 10%, preventing their population from growing (Phelps et al., 2017, p.5). Fish catches also decreased by almost half for the shad going from 7186 per hour to 3810 per hour (Phelps et al., 2017, p.6). This massive decrease sends a negative effect right up the food chain of an ecosystem. Directly related to the shad population going down, the CPUE of Asian carp increased over the same period of time showing that the native fish get outcompeted (Phelps et al. 2017, p. 11). As carp became more prevalent in floodplain lakes, predators such as bass, catfish, gar and bowfin started to disappear. (Phelps et al. 2017, p.9).  

        One reason that carp have become so abundant is that native fish have shown a preference for native prey when given a choice between the two. Native piscivores of the Mississippi River Basin showed negative selectivity or preference of silver carp versus native prey species (Wolf et al. 2017, p. 1142). White bass tested in this study, chose Asian carp first only 3 of 29 times (Wolf et al., 2017, p. 1141). The study showed that largemouth bass chose to eat Asian carp first instead of native prey species only 4 of 29 times (Wolf et al., 2017, p. 1141). However largemouth bass did show a positive selection of 0.23 specifically for grass carp, however they still negatively selected for Asian carp in general with a -0.08 (Wolf et al., 2017, p. 1141).  In this study a score of 1 represented the highest selectivity for consuming Asian carp and a score of-1 represented a complete avoidance of Asian carp.  The study showed that all native piscivores showed little or no preference for Asian carp except the longnose gar, which had a selection for Asian carp of 0.12 (Wolf et al., 2017, p. 1141). Asian carp’s low selectivity by U.S. piscivores, (Wolf et al., 2017) demonstrates that using predators to control Asian carp infestations in U.S. waters will only be successful through the implementation of one of the carp’s natural predators into their new environments in the U.S.

        However as none of Asian carp’s natural predators live in U.S. water systems, all of Asian carp’s natural predators would also be invasive species to these ecosystems and their implementation into U.S waterways could cause further ecological impacts that are just as bad or worse than the negative impacts ensued by Asian carp infestations (National Wildlife Federation, n.d.). A situation similar to this occurred when the cane toad was introduced to Australia in an attempt to control pests. These toads succeeded at their job but caused many negative side-effects to the environment such as consuming large quantities of non-pest animals such as small lizards. (Frontier Gap, 2015, para. 4) These toads were able to grow in numbers and cause such havoc due to their toxic skin and glands which leave them with no predators in this new environment. (para. 4) With this knowledge at hand, the introduction of non-native predators in efforts to control the effects of Asian carp infestations does not seem like a  smart option.

        Invasive species cause vast amounts of damage to humans every year. The most recent economic study shows that the United States spends more than $120 billion every year to control invasive species (Scully, 2016, para. 3). In 2010 alone, the U.S. spent $78.5 million dollars to keep Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes (“The cost of invasive species,” 2012, para. 11). That’s enough money to buy 20-Hubble telescopes every year (Goldman, 2012, para. 2). Even if you don’t care about fish, you should find this alarming because Asian carp affect rivers that flow in and out of the great lakes.With sixty-five million pounds of fish harvested from the great lakes every year, the lakes generate about one billion dollars in revenue for the local economy (“About our lakes: economy,” n.d., pg. 1). If Asian carp decrease native fish populations by eve one percent, that is a lot of money to lose. So clearly there is high potential for a significant problem to occur.

        So it is clear that asian carp cause problems wherever they invade. People are not blind to this and have done things to try to combat their invasion. The Army Corps of Engineers implemented an electric fence along the Chicago ship canals to keep them from moving upriver (Kraft, 2013, para 6) This is bad for two reasons. First, it stops native fish from moving along the river, and second the power for the fence has shut off, and carp moved past it (Kraft, 2013, para 6). Another option is dumping poison into the rivers to kill off the carp (Hasler, 2010, para 10). This is bad because it could kill off all of the native species along with it, and dumping poison into a river will only carry it further upstream, affecting more than just the target area. Furthermore, sometimes the poison just does not work (Hasler, 2010, para 5).  With people struggling to come up with a viable solution, we have a proposition; add a predator into to U.S. waterways to combat the Asian carp.

        Luckily there is one species of predatory fish native to the Southeastern U.S., called an alligator gar, that many scientists are arguing could be used as an effective predator of Asian carp. (“How to combat Asian carp? Get an alligator gar,” 2016). The use of a native predator could prevent against any negative effects that could be incurred from the of introduction of another invasive species to U.S. waterways. Alligator gar once existed through the Mississippi River and its tributaries all the way from Ohio to Illinois and down to the Gulf of Mexico. They now however, only live in in the Mississippi River valley from Arkansas southward (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, n.d., para. 12). The reason for this mass decline in alligator gar populations is mainly caused by humans. For one many people saw  alligator gars as a “trash fish” with less value than commercial game-fish and targeted them for extermination and control (para. 13). Some of the other main reasons that humans targeted alligator gar in this way include that they are big, monster looking fish, thought to attack humans and they were thought to deplete populations of commercial gamefish (Cermele, 2016). Although these two notions about alligator gars fueled the drive to eradicate these species, both of them ended up being false. There has never been a confirmed attack of an alligator gar on a human to date (Cermele, 2016, para. 6; Parks, 2016, para. 1). Additionally, alligator gar do not eat many game-fish as they are opportunistic feeders, eating anything that swims in reach of them, and most game fish are relatively stationary, meaning that if alligator gar wanted to eat them, they’d have to hunt them down, something that is just not in their nature (Cermele, 2016, para. 10; Department of Natural Resources, para. 10). Scientists have only disproven these false notion recently through studies allowing light to shine onto alligator gars potential for controlling Asian carp infestations and reintroduction efforts are already underway in Illinois (Department of Natural Resources, n.d., para. 5). State officials must consider two constraints to determine if reintroduction efforts of alligator gar in U.S. waterways will be an effective measure of combatting Asian carp infestations; effects of alligator gar on Asian carp populations and feasibility of an alligator gar reintroduction program.

        Obviously before considering feasibility of an alligator gar reintroduction, policy makers should determine the effects an alligator gar reintroduction will have on Asian carp populations in U.S. waterways. Many people including Dan Stephenson, biologist and chief of fisheries at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, criticize that alligator gar can actually consume Asian carp, saying they aren’t big enough to do so. He says that their jaws just won’t open wide enough to fit most Asian carp (Garcia, 2016, para. 6). However alligator gar one of the  largest freshwater fish in North America and the largest fish species in the Mississippi River Valley (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2015, para. 3), an ecosystem that the Asian carp have spread throughout. At maturity they can grow to be 10 feet in length and weigh up to 300 pounds (“Alligator gar,” 2009, para. 2). On the other hand, the four Asian carp species that have invaded U.S. waterways can only grow to be at maximum, about 3.3-6 feet in length and weigh 70-99 pounds in weight (“Asian carp,” 2017). Considering that the biggest alligator gar can grow to be 3 times the weight of the biggest Asian carps in U.S. waterway and are opportunistic predators (Department of Natural Resources, n.d.), it is perfectly reasonable to assume that alligator gar can consume Asian carp, if not as full grown fish but at the very least as adolescents; which could be even more effective as it would reduce the amount of Asian carp surviving to reproductive maturity.

        Alligator gar do in fact mostly target rough fish, including carp, and gizzard shad (Cermele, 2016, para. 10, Department of Natural Resources, para. 10). Although data is scarce on alligator gar selectivity towards Asian carp specifically and is not well documented, more is known about other species of gars’ selectivity for Asian carp. According to recent research from from Western Illinois University the shortnose gar has a positive selection for Asian carp as they existed in the highest abundance, above any other prey item, in shortnose gars stomachs (David et al., 2016,  para. 5). Additionally, as previously stated, Wolf et al. (2017) found that longnose gar showed a positive selection for asian carp. Since these species are very closely related to alligator gar, it is likely alligator gar would have a similar, positive selection for Asian carp as longnose and shortnose gar and consume Asian carp in similar numbers. Alligator gar would likely even consume more Asian carp biomass per fish than longnose and shortnose gar, as they are the largest of the seven known gar species (Alligator gar et al., 2009, para. 2), adding to their effectiveness.

        With alligator gars effectiveness of controlling Asian carp infestations demonstrated, the next thing to consider is the feasibility of an alligator gar reintroduction program in U.S. waterways. Reintroduction programs have been implemented successfully in the United States on many occasions bringing animals such as California condors and black-footed ferret populations back from the brink of extinction (Errick et al., 2015). In 1982, less than 22 California condors remained. However, through reintroduction efforts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service started in 1985, by 2015 there were about 210 of them in the wild and 180 in captivity (Errick et al., 2015, para. 8).

         On top of returning decimated species back to stable populations, predator reintroduction programs are also a tried and proven technique for combatting the effects of rampant species population growth. The reintroduction of gray wolves to Yellowstone National Park in 1995 had immense success combatting the effects of unwanted elk population growth. All the gray wolves of Yellowstone had been hunted to extinction by the end of the 1920s (“1995 Reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone,” 2017, para. 4). Thereby allowing elk populations to skyrocket and mass degradation of brush and trees that elk graze on (Wolf reintroduction changes ecosystem, 2011, para. 8, 1995 Reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone, 2017, para. 5). However, in the winter of 1995/1996, scientists captured 14 gray wolves from Canada and released them into Yellowstone Park (“Wolf reintroduction to Yellowstone Park, wolf pack dynamics, & wolf identification,” 2000, para. 2). By 2015, there were about 528 total wolves in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem (“Wolves,” n.d., para. 6). Soon after their reintroduction into Yellowstone the environment started to return to a healthy state. This increase in ecosystem health isn’t just because the wolves ate the elk and drove their populations down. In fact elk populations have actually increased since Gray wolf reintroductions into Yellowstone. For instance in 1968, only about one-third of today’s  elk numbers existed in Yellowstone (“Wolf reintroduction changes ecosystem,” 2011, para 9). Willow tree health in Yellowstone also increased (“1995 Reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone,” 2017; “Wolf reintroduction changes ecosystem,” 2011). If 108 gray wolves living in Yellowstone can have these positive effects on the ecosystem by consuming an increasing population of elk, it is likely that a small population of alligator gar, another top predator (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2015), can have significant positive effects on U.S. waterways by consuming Asian carp. With experience gained by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from past successful reintroductions of animals such as gray wolves and California condors, the department is definitely capable of succeeding at yet one more species reintroduction, this time with alligator gar, and these efforts are already underway in Illinois (Department of Natural Resources, n.d., para. 5).

         Asian carp continue to spread and cause problems for the native fish wherever they invade. In these areas, native fish populations decrease by about half through being outcompeted themselves or through their food sources dying off (Phelps et al., 2017, p.6). With Asian carp threatening to establish themselves in the great lakes, a billion dollar per year fishing industry comes under fire, as well as an amazing and unique ecosystem. Nature controls populations through a system of checks and balances. This means that if something were to keep carp populations in check, they wouldn’t be such a big problem. For example reintroducing wolves to the Yellowstone national park region to control the effects of the elk population that was getting way out of control worked out very well and allowed the degraded conditions of the willow trees that the elk feed on to increase immensely (“1995 Reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone,” 2017, “Wolf reintroduction changes ecosystem,” 2011). In a similar way alligator gars are the answer to keeping the effects of the Asian carp in check. They grow large enough to eat them and other gars have shown a taste for asian carp. They also were native to the region before, so reintroducing them is not some radical, new idea. If you have a large prey item, introduce a larger predator to keep it in check, and that is exactly what we propose to do with the alligator gar in regards to the Asian carp epidemic that threatens the Mississippi River Valley Basin and great lakes.

AUTHORS

Samuel Romania – Environmental Science Major

Jonathan Hastings – NRC:Fisheries

Skyler Rehbein – NRC Fisheries

 

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The Effects of Sunscreen on Coral Reefs

As coral bleaching continues, scientists and marine biologists   become desperate to preserve these natural wonders.

Coral reefs are known for their extreme beauty. From their vast array of shades in red, orange and pink, coral reefs have caught the eyes of millions for countless decades. Coral reefs much like The Great Barrier Reef provide food and shelter for numerous marine species. From sea sponges and anemones, to fish and crustaceans, sea turtles and even sharks, coral reefs provide housing, food and successful reproduction opportunities for all who inhabit it (SeaWorld Entertainment, S. P., 2017). Stretching 2,600 kilometers and containing over 900 islands The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest reef ecosystem (“Facts About The Great Barrier Reef”, n.d.). Unfortunately, as tourists from all areas of the world continue to visit, discover and explore these natural wonders, their presence causes deterioration and possible extinction of these coral reefs. These natural beauties, although resourceful and essential, can be extremely sensitive and fragile through exposure to environmental pressures. All populations within the reef ecosystem are interdependent and a part of a global food web. A thriving coral reef is beneficial to humans, aquatic plants, fish and other organisms but coral reefs are at risk due to tourism. Due to this risk the organisms that inhabit these reefs are exposed to danger through the possibility of losing shelter, thus exposing them to predation, and possible population decline. Coral reefs that are especially at risk are those in the Florida Keys and Hawaii. These reefs, although not as large as the Great Barrier Reef, are vital to the ecosystem in which they live and are at significant risk due to being heavily visited by tourist. Through their routine of sunscreen application, tourist successfully protect themselves from harmful UV rays but ironically and ignorantly pose a significant threat to the very reefs they seek to enjoy. Continue Reading

How Farming Oysters Impacts the Ocean

 

Oyster Farmer Chris Whitehead adjusting oyster cages

The district was blindsided by the lawsuit. The National Audubon Society, which is a non-profit organization that aims to fight for the conservation of the environment (“Audubon”, 2016) along with the California Waterfowl Association, sued the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District (Kraft 2017). Humboldt Bay is an important stop for migratory birds to eat and rest on the Pacific Flyway, the path of migration for many birds (Simms, 2017).The Audubon society was outraged by the unjust approval for the expansion of a commercial oyster farm (owned by Coast Seafoods and Co) into the Humboldt Bay Harbor that would hurt Canada geese, Western sandpipers, and other migratory birds (Kraft, 2017). The Audubon society claimed that a faulty environmental report was used by the Conservation District to approve the expansion, and that 200 species of birds, 300 species of invertebrates, and over 100 plant species, including eelgrass, would be affected by this expansion (Kraft, 2017). Why does a decline of a 100 small plant species, like eelgrass, matter? Eelgrass supports a multitude of marine organisms and communities, including but not limited to: crabs, sea turtles, young herring, and other microorganisms through acting as food and shelter. With the expansion of aquaculture as a business, about half of the bay would incorporate wire-like structures (Kraft, 2017). Certain methods to harvest oysters trample eelgrass in the process, which for a species already in extensive decline on the west coast, could have detrimental impacts on the ecosystem as a whole (Kraft, 2017). The spokesperson for the Audubon society, Mike Lynes, points to the fact that with a decline of eelgrass comes a decline of certain birds like the black brant and a decline in certain fish as well (Kraft, 2017). Any decline in a resident species in a habitat will affect the food chain and natural flow of the ecosystem. As if not already expected, the general manager of Coast Seafoods denied that the environmental report was faulty and insisted that the proper measures were taken to evaluate the environmental impact the expansion would have on the Humboldt Bay Harbor (Kraft, 2017). Due to the risk of negative alterations to the seagrass life cycle by oyster aquaculture, the size and number of oyster aquaculture farms must be limited in location and method of farming. Continue Reading

Spay The Strays

Save the Strays! (GIPHY, n.d)

Imagine you gave your child permission to play outside, to later find out that an innocent, harmless act such as playing outside is no longer safe for your child anymore. Precious Reynolds of Willow Creek, California, is a typical 8-year-old who’s spunky and loves sports. In May 2011, she was flown to UC Davis Children’s Hospital. Precious developed brain inflammation, or encephalitis, and tests revealed she had rabies, which she obtained from a stray cat near her school that scratched her on the arm during recess. Anyone who is infected generally receives rabies shots, but Precious did not because no one knows exactly when she contracted the disease. Experts say the shots are only effective if given very soon after exposure (Carollo, 2011). Precious was extremely lucky to survive. This a very rare case, people who are usually affected with rabies and are not vaccinated typically do not live. Symptoms of rabies in humans can get as severe as hallucinations, partial paralysis, excessive salivation and more (Mayo Clinic, n.d). Sadly, Precious’s story, though tragic, is not uncommon. In addition to rabies, cats–and in particular feral cats–are known carriers of a wide range of zoonotic diseases. Continue Reading