Monday, April 26, 2010

Damage from the Big Rainstorm

The huge rainstorm of several weeks ago did plenty of damage to the Long Island Sound oyster industry by flooding sewage treatment plants and washing bacteria off streets and storm sewers into the Sound and its harbors. The New London Day had a good story about it a while back and the Yale Daily News writes about it today. Things were so bad that Norm Bloom and Son, based in Norwalk, had to lay off half its workers (presumably temporarily).

On the Thames River, the storm gave oceanographers an inadvertent lesson in ocean currents. The storm damaged a sewage treatment plant and wiped out a piece of equipment that included a million or so small plastic disks. A couple of weeks ago they began showing up on beaches, including on the west side of Block Island, 27 miles away. According to the Block Island Times:

They also made landfall in Stonington, Conn., and Misquamicut. Strangely, says Schneider, there have been no reports from Fisher’s Island, while they have showed up west of Groton in Niantic, Conn.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Mianus River Fish Ladder

I went to yesterday's open house at the Mianus River fish ladder, in Greenwich, and came away not just impressed but optimistic -- we're doing something right and, even though we're doing it to compensate for a couple of screw-ups, we deserve to take some satisfaction in it.

When I say "we," I mean we as a society, of course. The direct credit goes to the Town of Greenwich and its Conservation Commission and probably others whom I don't know (the state of Connecticut, maybe). The town built the fish ladder on the west side of the Mianus River dam, just above Route 1, as compensation for violations at its sewage treatment plant (that was one screw-up; the other was the dam itself). River herring -- alewives and blueback herring -- have used the Mianus to spawn for generations but once the dam was built, their progress upstream was stopped.

I learned yesterday that in typical years when there was plenty of fresh water coming down stream, some herring were able to spawn near the base of the dam; but in years of low flow, when salt water crept up from the lower part of the river and Long Island Sound, the salt made spawning impossible. I also learned, via Terry Backer on Facebook, that at some point in the past, people used to carry buckets of herring over the dam to help them spawn. I have a photo in my book, from the 1980s, of men scooping up herring from the base of the dam to use as bait.

The fish ladder gives the fish a free passage and from the evidence yesterday, they're using it. Each time Michael Aurelia, of the Conservation Commission, dipped his net into the passage, it emerged with three or four alewives. Thus far this year, the electronic fish counter has recorded 48,000 fish ascending the ladder -- a number the sounds nice and big except that when you're standing there and realize how big the river is, you could easily envision 48,000 fish a day ascending the river. A couple of times in the past three or four years, about 100,000 fish made it over the dam. Spawning season ends in mid-June, when the blueback herring run peters out, so there still may be time to approach that total this year.

Clearly, in an era when the number of spawning fish has dwindled to the point where it's illegal to catch alewives, blueback herring and (in New York at least) shad, the ladder is a good thing. The state of Connecticut has helped communities along the Sound build almost four dozen similar fish passages on other rivers, and Save the Sound recently helped install a new, wider culvert to allow more fish to ascend Bride Brook, in East Lyme.

It's all good. Congratulations.

Off Block Island, 100 of "The Right Whales to Pursue"

Astonishing that 73 years after right whales, on the verge of extinction, were protected by the International Whaling Convention of 1937, only about 400 survive. Even more astonishing, 100 of them are between Block Island and Martha's Vineyard.

Peter Matthiessen, in his book Wildlife in America, wrote that in the early years of whaling, the late 1700s, "the whales most sought were the bowhead or Greenland whale and its near-relative, the right whale -- so called because, a valuable oil-and-baleen species which shared with the bowhead the crucial characteristic of floating on the surface when killed, it was the 'right whale' to pursue."

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Oysters for Everyone, Even Vegans

I saw this in the Times this morning, and then read the original in Slate. I'm neither a vegan nor a vegetarian but I found it to be a fascinating argument in favor of eating oysters (which I'm in favor of because they taste great and they're actually good for the environment -- an ideal sustainable food):

Oysters may be animals, but even the strictest ethicist should feel comfortable eating them by the boatload. ...

But what if we could find an animal that thrived in a factory-farm cage, one that subsisted on nutrients plucked from the air and that was insensate to the slaughterhouse blade? Even if that animal looked like a bunny rabbit crossed with a puppy, it would be A-OK to hack it into pieces for your dinner plate. Luckily for those of us who still haven't gotten over the death of Bambi's mother, the creature I'm thinking of is decidedly less cuddly. Biologically, oysters are not in the plant kingdom, but when it comes to ethical eating, they are almost indistinguishable from plants. Oyster farms account for 95 percent of all oyster consumption and have a minimal negative impact on their ecosystems; there are even nonprofit projects devoted to cultivating oysters as a way to improve water quality. Since so many oysters are farmed, there's little danger of overfishing. No forests are cleared for oysters, no fertilizer is needed, and no grain goes to waste to feed them—they have a diet of plankton, which is about as close to the bottom of the food chain as you can get. Oyster cultivation also avoids many of the negative side effects of plant agriculture: There are no bees needed to pollinate oysters, no pesticides required to kill off other insects, and for the most part, oyster farms operate without the collateral damage of accidentally killing other animals during harvesting. ...


Friday, April 16, 2010

More Great Stuff ...

... on Larry Flynn's Long-tails blog, about the incredible bird life in and around the Norwalk Islands. Read it. We need someone doing the same at Faulkners Island and Milford Point and Sandy Point in West Haven and Oyster Bay, the mention just a few places.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

The Long-tails Blog and Others Who Keep An Eye on the Sound

There's a good new Long Island Sound blog, largely devoted to birds, by Larry Flynn, a birder and photographer who let me use these photos.

It's called Long-tails, and you can find it at Long-tails, by the way, are a sea duck that when I first saw them in the early 19980s were called oldsquaws.

So Larry joins Matthew Houskeeper of Soundbounder, and @lisoundnews (Becky Kohl) and @nauticgal (Heather Smiarowski) on Twitter, as people who keep track of what's going on on the Sound (Matt is @soundbounder and I'm @tomandersen on Twitter).

The more the merrier.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Plum Island: What If It's Contaminated, continued

At least one reader is extremely skeptical of Sam's observation. Here's what he emailed me:

If anthrax was being tested on Plum Island in WWII or the Cold War, it would have been highly secretive. There would not have been DANGER ANTHRAX signs, anymore than the Manhattan Project would have had signs posted saying
ATOMIC BOMB LAB. The story doesn't add up.

Most of the anthrax links to Plum Island are from the novel PLUM ISLAND and one of the Hannibal Lecter movies. "Anthrax Island".

That doesn't mean anthrax was not used, but I don't buy the story that its use was once common local knowledge....

There have been DANGER KEEP OUT signs for decades, but there has also been a lot of rumor and speculation.


Plum Island: What If It's Contaminated With the Really Bad Stuff that Its Signs Warned About?

Sam, whose natural habitat 25-30 years ago was Long Island Sound and who now lives on South Padre Island, Texas, left this comment about the sale of Plum Island, which I thought was interesting enough to use as a post:

When I was a kid, we sailed by that island many a time, and it is quite large, and the signs all said DANGER ANTHRAX and some prohibition from getting closer. Since the WWII days, that was anthrax city. it made us nervous because if our little sailboat or motorboat crapped out and we washed ashore, we'd have to be arrested and decontaminated by federal agents. No, never did that and thank God.

Anthrax is a soil-borne disease that is usually or always in the soil in certain areas, even your backyard. Livestock such as cattle, sheep, and goats can get it because they breathe a lot of dirt when grazing. It's rare but at one time, it was a strategic weapon for the USA - anthrax bombs.

So I am dubious about this whole deal, and would rather they turned Plum Island into a park where it still looked like 1975, and I even think they have WWII submarine lookout towers from the 1940s.

To think that this is a big land grab by some money-grubbing investors and politicians makes me sick to my stomach.

I sort of wonder why, if it were unsuitable for residential development, it would be suitable for a public recreation area, even a passive one. Anyone else want to chime in?


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