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Environmental connections to public health >>

Outside The Box: Head for the hills!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Ecosystems are fragile like a house of cards: add the wrong component in the wrong place and it can come tumbling down. Worlds are at war as this week’s OTB resembles a third rate science fiction novel and takes a closer look at species invasion and ecosystems in peril.

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea Packs of large, aggressive, and dangerous squid have taken residence in California’s Monterey Bay in this article that should double check for copyright infringement with Jules Verne’s famous novel.

Just how aggressive is this new addition to the Monterey Bay’s ecosystem? The predator’s nickname is diablo rojo (red devil in Spanish) and it not only attacks everything it sees but tries to eat it as well. The eating habits of this “Creature from the Black Lagoon” were described by one researcher, who said “[Their abundance] scares the hell out of me because these things eat so much. They are eating rockfish, hake and shrimp, lanternfish, anchovy, sardine - and actually they eat each other."

Unfortunately, the squid’s new home in Monterey Bay reflects the instability of its old environment, off the West Coast of South America, as well as a potential threat to its new one. The motivation for their emigration is suspected to be the diminishing supply of prey in their traditional waters caused mainly by human actions such as over-fishing. Will Smith isn’t going to hop out of his jet and kick this invader’s behind back to where it belongs ala Independence Day. Political solutions and regulations need to be found and enforced to ensure healthy oceans and ecosystems.

The Blob
Another invader from South America, salvina molesta, an incessantly expanding aquatic fern (read: weed) is threatening the ecosystem of Caddo Lake in Texas. In true cheesy science fiction fashion the town located on the shores of the lake is named Uncertain (so perfect that even I couldn’t have made that up).
This ever-expanding threat is so dangerous that it is officially banned in the United States. Salvina molesta is dreaded for its remarkable ability to double in size every two days and smother 40 square miles every three months. At that rate it would cover the entire state of Rhode Island in about 7 years. Yikes! I guess everything really is bigger in Texas.

Uncertain residents (why does this sound like a bad version of an Abbott and Costello routine?) are fighting back. $240,000 has been appropriated by the Texas State Legislature to fund resistance efforts, and heroes are engaged daily on the front line spraying a government-approved herbicide on the rapidly growing monster.

Unknowing boat travelers dragging the plant from lake to lake are thought to be the culprit behind the invasion, reflecting again how small actions have the potential to cause serious harm to ecosystems.

This land is mine land
Speaking of incessantly expanding invasions, the United States is experiencing a bonanza of western mining claims on federal public lands. Similar and just as worrisome as Salvina Molesta’s expansion, mining claims with the Bureau of Land Management have increased 80% over 4 years. Congress has recognized the problem and is currently holding hearings for reform legislation (H.R. 2262 for you policy wonks). This much-needed legislation would reform mining law put in place in 1872 during Ulysses S. Grant’s administration.

EWG Public Lands Analyst Dusty Horwitt testified at the hearings:

“Our research shows that in 12 Western states, mining claims have increased more than 80 percent since January 2003. Over an eight-month period, from last September to this May, the BLM recorded more than 50,000 new mining claims.”

Many of these claims are just miles from national treasures such as Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. Mr. Horwitt pointed out there have been 805 claims 5 miles from the Grand Canyon since January 2003. Although they don’t contain the most recent data, these interactive Google mining maps from our December 2006 report help illustrate the severity of the problem.

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