Biologist, Conservationist, & Portlander. My passion lives in Africa.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Overfishing alters food chains to the extreme.

11:22 PM Posted by Tara Easter No comments
Photo credit: Catherine Jubb

Cannibalism has been observed in many different forms of nature. In Nambia, I learned about the white lady spider, who waits underground for the vibrations of nearby prey, or male wanting to mate. The male will perform a "dance" that supplies a rhythm that the female senses underneath. If she likes it, they will mate, but if she doesn't, she will often eat him instead. 

photo credit: David Doubliet
My favorite example is the notorious intrauterine cannibalism performed by some shark species. This is when the strongest or most developed embryo literally eats the other embryos and eggs in the uterus of the shark for nutrition. It is true survival of the fittest before birth.

But until now, only in captivity had lobster cannibalism ever been witnessed. In this article on Marine Science Today, it describes the behavior now being documented in the wild. The overfished stocks of the lobsters' main predator, cod and halibut, combined with the warmer waters in Maine due to climate change, has led to a drastic boom in Maine lobster populations. So much so, they have turned on each other for food. 

Banded lobster claw. Photo credit: junehug via photopin cc

I can't be the only one who's as concerned about the effects we have on our ecosystems...

Not only that, but tensions rise in the business world too as Canadian markets suffer from Maine lobsters sudden drop in price. Simple supply and demand, as this article on Reuters states at the end. The depletion of our resources never ends well. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Something tells me this will end badly.

12:30 PM Posted by Tara Easter No comments
In 1979, it was officially reported that burmese pythons were found in the wild of Southern Florida. Since then, they have taken over and have decimated local avian and rodent species.

Burmese pythons were introduced to the Everglades through the exotic pet trade. Many people buy these snakes as a cool pet, and when they outgrow their cages (like this monster to the right) they are set free. The Everglades and other natural areas around it are prime habitat for burmese pythons, originally from Southern and Southeast Asia, thus the rapid invasion. 

Now, wildlife officials, overwhelmed and exhausted, are looking for solutions. The only way to deal with a harmful invasive species is to eradicate it. Because there are more wildlife issues than just hunting pythons, they've turned the issue over to the public. Florida's Fish and Wildlife Service will be hosting a python hunting contest. To test it out, it will only take place for a month, starting January 2013. 

At first, it sounds like a reasonable solution. Why not let enthusiastic reptile hunters loose on the problem? 

Here are some logistics:
  • Cash prizes for the contestant who hunts the largest python, and for the one who hunts the most pythons.
  • Contestants over 18 do not need a hunting license.
  • Training before the hunt consists of a 25 minute PowerPoint presentation. 
  • Snakes are only to be killed in a humane way and in marked zones. 
Seem reasonable? Well, I'm concerned. I'm concerned that native species of snakes will be killed at a high rate because they are mistaken to be young pythons. I'm concerned that someone is going to get tagged by an Eastern Diamondback or get hurt some other way. I'm concerned this small experiment will turn into a desperate attempt at some cash. 

Example: Ever heard of the term "cobra effect"? Here's where it comes from: 


The Indian Cobra
The term cobra effect stems from an anecdote set at the time of British rule of colonial India. The British government was concerned about the number of venomous cobra snakes in Delhi.[3] The government therefore offered a bounty for every dead cobra. Initially this was a successful strategy as large numbers of snakes were killed for the reward. Eventually, however, enterprising persons began to breed cobras for the income. When the government became aware of this, the reward program was scrapped, causing the cobra breeders to set the worthless snakes free. As a result, the wild cobra population further increased. The apparent solution for the problem made the situation even worse.[2][4]
A similar incident occurred in HanoiVietnam, under French colonial rule. The colonial regime created a bounty program that paid a reward for eachrat killed.[3] To obtain the bounty, people would provide the severed rat tail. Colonial officials, however, began noticing rats in Hanoi with no tails. The Vietnamese rat catchers would capture rats, lop off their tails, and then release them back into the sewers so that they could procreate and produce more rats, thereby increasing the rat catchers' revenue.[5]  

But who knows. Maybe it'll work out. Maybe whatever possible harms will show themselves within the first month and Florida will learn quickly that it's a bad idea. Or MAYBE everyone will take their training seriously, abide by the rules, and no person or animal will be hurt. In my experience, this doesn't happen often, but for the sake of the Everglades and all the wonders it stores for us, I sure hope it all works out. 

UPDATE: Only 11 snakes killed so far in the python challenge (1/16/2013)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Hundreds attend public hearing to stop coal exports in Washington.

4:31 PM Posted by Tara Easter No comments
For the past couple of months I've been volunteering with a small group in Portland called "Friends of the Columbia Gorge". As much as I value the mission of this organization, I have to admit, it takes a lot of motivation every Tuesday and Thursday to get up, drag myself downtown, pay for parking, and do the same thing every time: update our membership and events database. I was starting to get discouraged. You see, when I picture volunteering, I picture doing different things each time, being active, meeting new people and making connections, not sitting in front of a computer all day. But I said I would help out around the office with whatever they needed, and entering data is what they need. 

Columbia River Gorge
It wasn't until I stumbled upon this article while scrolling through my Twitter feed that I was reminded of the bigger picture. 

Friends has been concentrating on a campaign to stop 5 proposals to ship millions of tons of coal through the Columbia Gorge and on to Asia (for dirt cheap, might I add). The environmental impacts, potential risks and damage to the gorge, and lack of economic incentive make these proposals a big threat to Oregon and Washington, who have historically avoided coal as much as possible, and to the world as the threat of CO2 pollution becomes more and more recognized. 

For months Friends has been phone banking, tabling, and collecting comments to get people involved with stopping these proposals. The support that we've received has been overwhelming, with most people we talk to being strongly opposed to the idea of more coal near their communities. What I've been doing, every Tuesday and Thursday, is updating our events pages with the names of the people we've talked to who have said they will come to one of the public hearings. It's tedious and boring, but then my supervisor uses that information to follow up with everyone, send them directions, and make sure they don't forget when it is. 

Eagle Creek, a gem in the Gorge.
The result? Hundreds of people put their schedules on hold and attend long and exhausting public hearings to give their opinions on coal exports and make sure their local governments hear them. It's pretty awesome. I can't wait to go to the hearings in Portland and Vancouver myself! 

Seeing this article reminded me of the pride I had in Roots and Shoots at NCSU. And come to think of it, most of my days running that organization were spent cooped up in a study room emailing people, updating our membership database and our website, scheduling events and coordinating volunteers. Just because I'm not the front runner of this project, doesn't mean that what I am doing to help isn't just as important.

To learn more about these proposals and how you can help, check out the Friends of Columbia Gorge's website. The Sierra Club is also a front runner on this issue.