Monday, March 28, 2005

A Jar of Crabs

While everyone else carried briefcases and files and notepads, Art Glowka arrived at last Thursday's meeting of the Long Island Sound Study's Citizens Advisory Committee carrying a jar of Asian shore crabs. Glowka is a retired airline pilot who was one of the founders of the Hudson River Fishermen's Association, the predecessor of Riverkeeper, so he's not exactly a novice, or unsophisticated. But he's the kind of advocate who gives government officials, managers, bureaucrats a severe pain in the neck.

Way back in 1963 he and two others discovered that the Indian Point nuke plant was killing thousands of fish a day. A few years later, Art came up with the idea for pre-paid, pre-printed "bag-a-polluter" postcards so people living near the Hudson could simply fill them out and mail them in to report polluters. He was involved in stopping the Storm King power plant, in the Hudson Highlands, a seminal case in environmental history and law.

And as long ago as the 1960s, he began showing up at government meetings and in government offices to ask inconvenient questions and raise inconvenient issues. In Bob Boyle's book about the Hudson ("The Hudson River: A Natural and Unnatural History," Norton, 1979; it was the source for the historical information about Art), he writes:

Art Glowka has a persistence and an equanimity of soul that cannot be rivaled by a Buddhist monk, and for many months he began appearing in [U.S. Army] Corps headquarters and asking about polluters.

On sign-up sheets at government meetings, where those in attendance are supposed to write down who they are representing (usually an agency or organization), Art always writes "the critters." His point last week was that while the CAC, and the Long Island Sound Study in general, were fiddling with issues such as Broadwater's plan to build a liquefied natural gas terminal in the middle of the Sound, a biological fire is already overtaking the Sound's ecosystem. And that fire is the Asian Shore Crab.

Jennifer Wilson-Pines, a CAC member, told me in an e-mail:

Art Glowka ... pointed out while we were debating something that might happen, we have a biological disaster taking place - these babies have the capacity to be the zebra mussels of salt water in terms of impact. They can be the cause of up to 95% disappearance / replacement of all native crab species in an area in less than 5 years, not to mention their habit of consuming the larval stages of just about anything that comes within their reach - like baby lobsters. Art put [the jar of crabs] on the sign in sheet and since they lacked a phone #, someone who shall remain nameless added, "1-800 Go Crabs."

Asian shore crabs were first discovered on the east coast in 1988, the same year as zebra mussels, and already they've spread as far south as North Carolina and as far north as Maine. The heart of their east coast range seems to be the Sound. This site has some good, basic information about just how devastating Asian shore crabs can be.

No one is sure how Asian shore crabs arrived in the area but, as with zebra mussels, a good bet is that they escaped in the ballast water of an overseas ship. I'm not sure what the CAC could or should be doing about Asian shore crabs. But it was an interesting coincidence that on the day Art Glowka brought a jar full of specimens to the CAC meeting, the CAC discussed a report by its ad hoc Broadwater committee that included the following paragraph:

The LNG barge and tankers require the use of ballast water. During operation the tankers will intake ballast water from the Sound to keep the vessel balanced. It is unclear how much ballast water is needed to balance the vessel and whether the amount of water taken from the Sound 2-3 times a week will in any way affect the Sound.

Two or three tankers a week doesn't Sound like much. But over a year, it would mean up to 156 additional foreign vessels in the Sound. Currently, as many as 700 foreign vessels make port calls in the Sound. So Broadwater's terminal could result in a 19 percent increase.

To me that's significant, and it means there would be a significant increase in the chance that other invasive species could take hold. Art Glowka's jar of Asian shore crabs is a useful reminder of that threat.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thank Art for showing me that jar of crabs. It was the first time I was AWARE of what I was seeing.

12:42 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

eXTReMe Tracker