Watersheds and International Day of Action for Rivers

Water flows from the higher elevations of the northern United States to our low-lying wetlands. Surface elevation, on average, decreases from the northern border with Canada all the way to the mouth of the Mississippi River. What that means is that most of the water that falls between the Rocky Mountains and the Great Smoky Mountains drains into the Mississippi and eventually in the coastal waters of Louisiana. We call this area the Mississippi/Atchafalaya River Basin (MARB) or the Mississippi River Watershed. [1] A watershed, by definition, is an area that drains to a river or lake. The Mississippi River Watershed encompasses nearly 41 percent of the United States.

Streams and ponds in the higher elevations of our watershed are fed by precipitation (rain, snow, hail, etc.) or springs. Water always follows the path of least resistance, which is downhill. Even on gradual slopes, water will seek out lower elevations. Flow rate is dependent on the angle of the slope, also called the elevation gradient. This explains why rivers in more mountainous regions flows faster than in our very flat land. Of course, some water will evaporate, some water will seep into the ground, and the rest will continue downstream until it gets to the ocean. While there are some exceptions to that rule, such as the Great Salt Lake in Utah and other Endorheic basins (no outlets besides evaporation), most water that falls on land will follow the water cycle that we all learned in grade school.

In Louisiana, the MARB outlets are the mouths of the Atchafalaya and Mississippi rivers and their distributaries. Because the state receives this water runoff through our bayous and marshes, so too does it collect  the trash and other pollution from the watershed. This pollution includes not only typical litter and non-point-source runoff, but also agricultural runoff that carries an abundance of nutrients. Select groups across the state are employing litter collection traps in bayous and streams to prevent trash from ending up in our coastal waters. More about these issues can be found in our articles about hypoxia stress and soil pollution.

The International Day of Action for Rivers will be celebrating healthy watersheds worldwide tomorrow, March 14. [2] We encourage our readers to do a little cleaning in their local waterways year-round but especially tomorrow. There are several groups around the state who organize clean-ups in our local waterways for any who are interested. Some of these groups can be found in our sources. As the third largest watershed in the world, the MARB supports numerous ecosystems and human settlements, and it is crucial that we keep it healthy for all its constituents. Each day, our coastal wetlands protect our cities and ports, so we at CWPPRA strive to return the favor and #ProtectOurCoast.

 

[1] https://www.epa.gov/ms-htf/mississippiatchafalaya-river-basin-marb

[2] https://www.internationalrivers.org/dayofactionforrivers

Featured image from http://www.bayouvermilionpreservation.org/photos.html

 

Action groups:

 

City of Lafayette: http://www.lafayettela.gov/EQ/Pages/Environmental-Outreach.aspx

Bayou Vermilion District: http://www.bayouvermiliondistrict.org/

Sierra Club: https://www.sierraclub.org/louisiana/what-do-you-want-do

BREC: http://www.brec.org/index.cfm/page/GroupVolunteerOpportunities

BTNEP: https://volunteer.btnep.org/

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Sustainable Fisheries

Some of you may remember the 1989 film “Field of Dreams,” and perhaps the famous quote “If you build it, he will come.” Meant as motivation to build a baseball diamond in a corn field, the line encourages dreaming big and following your passion. It can also apply directly to environmental protection and restoration. CWPPRA builds wetlands, and ecologically diverse communities come. They may take a long time, but they will come. Creating a resilient environment requires hard work, and the environment will return on investment many times over.

Biodiversity has a massive positive effect on the productivity of a system, [2] and we in Louisiana have some of the most productive wetland ecosystems in the United States. Coastal fisheries today produce about 40% of the world’s wild-caught seafood, according to the WWF, [1] and wild-caught fish rely heavily on a healthy ecosystem to produce populations large enough to harvest.  Unfortunately, many fish communities are over- exploited and have a lot of bycatch, causing  species declines and shifts in the health of the community. It doesn’t have to be this way, though. Sustainable fishing is an achievable goal.

By using our bountiful resources and productive wetlands, we can cultivate thriving ecosystems that don’t need much maintenance at all. A perfect model would require no feed, no destructive fishing methods like trawling or wasteful bycatch, and it would have numerous benefits to wetland health such as better nutrient capture, pollutant filtration, food production, biodiversity, and even improved resilience. [3]  Such a complex problem cannot be solved overnight, but focusing on the health of our fisheries will drive them to be more sustainable, and sustainable fisheries will keep our critical $2.4B seafood industry alive. Our coastal zone is a great asset that provides us with plentiful resources, and we have a responsibility to use those resources, such as the fisheries, in a sustainable manner. Programs like CWPPRA emphasize the benefits of sustainability on a large scale and seek to apply those practices in their restoration projects.

 

[1] http://wwf.panda.org/our_work/oceans/solutions/sustainable_fisheries/

[2] http://science.sciencemag.org/content/314/5800/787

[3] https://www.ted.com/talks/dan_barber_how_i_fell_in_love_with_a_fish?language=en

Featured image from https://e360.yale.edu/features/can-deepwater-aquaculture-avoid-the-pitfalls-of-coastal-fish-farms

 

 

Seasonal Change in Wetlands

In honor of the official “First Day of Fall” on Saturday, September 22, let’s fall into seasonal changes in wetlands! When many people think of the transition from summer to autumn, the first thing that pops into their heads is leaves changing colors and seeing more sweaters and long pants. A less common thought is how wetlands change in the later months of the year. From species composition to hydrology, many wetlands undergo radical changes when summer turns into fall. Wetlands in coastal Louisiana are no exception.

For a start, seasonal changes can be observed with migratory species. Many species of birds and some fish and crustaceans use our swamps, estuaries, and other wetlands for breeding habitat in the summer months because of the abundance of food and warmth. On the other hand, some migratory birds like the famous Bald Eagle use the Mississippi River Delta as a wintering ground. [1] Blue Crabs, another species found in wetlands, mate around this time of year before going dormant for the winter. [2] Migratory birds are starting to migrate back to the southern hemisphere around this time to follow food resources.

Decreasing temperatures and humidity also cause plant communities to change. Wetlands experience loss of vegetation from wilting and freezes. [3] Black Mangrove distribution is limited by minimum winter temperatures. You can read more on mangroves and freezing here. Swamps and marshes lose much of their greenery with lower temperatures, which really decreases their water storage potential. Evapotranspiration, or water vapor leaving plants through their leaves, often decreases too, which means that water is not being cycled as quickly as at other times of the year.

Ecosystems in a stable state can weather the changes between seasons and bounce right back to full productivity in their peak season, but sometimes a large disturbance or even small, incremental changes over time can degrade habitat to the point of no return. Degraded wetlands provide less storm buffer, which is a crucial ecosystem service that protects us during hurricanes. It is in our best interests to preserve our wetlands through projects like CWPPRA because they are so critical and invaluable to us.

 

[1] https://www.asc.ohio-state.edu/accad/womenandtech/2007/research_web_pages/LifeCycle/2007lifecycle.html

[2] https://www.bluecrab.info/mating.html

[3]http://www.loyno.edu/lucec/natural-history-writings/winter-swamp

 

Featured Image from https://www.hcn.org/articles/the-disappearing-wetlands-in-californias-central-valley

 

National Honey Bee Day – August 18th

August 18th was National Honey Bee day in the USA, but what’s all the buzz about? Pollinators play vital roles in plant communities, including carrying pollen from plant to plant. How does that work? How do honey bees know which flowers need their help? How do they communicate with other bees? All of that and more to come on this special #WetlandWednesday!

There are many kinds of pollinators, from birds to bugs to bats! A mutualistic relationship between pollinators and flowering plants allows the pollinators to collect food and allows the plant to spread its pollen to other individuals. Different animals have different strategies of carrying pollen. Honey bees use some very complex methods of finding, harvesting, and spreading pollen within plant communities. There are almost 20,000 described species of bees; some live in colonies and some do not, some pollinate only one plant species and some pollinate multiple species. The most cultivated of the honey bees (genus: Apis), the Eastern Honey Bee (A. mellifera), is a colonial bee species that does not specialize on one plant. In flight, bees build up an electrostatic charge on their fine, branched hairs. When bees climb into flowers looking for sugary nectar, their charged hairs attract pollen even from a couple of millimeters away! The charge and the branches in their hairs help to keep the pollen attached when the bee leaves in search of its next bounty of sugar.

How do honey bees find flowers? Using a combination of visual, chemical, and communicated clues, bees are highly specialized to find the flowers that are just right for them. Compound eyes do not have the high definition visuals that human eyes have, but they can see ultraviolet light. Some flowers have ultraviolet patterns on their petals called “nectar guides”. [1] When in flight, bees will not always see color, but they can still see shapes and can recognize nectar guide shapes, as well as smell aromas from the flowers. Bees can also communicate instructions or coordinates for finding flowers through “waggle dancing”! [2]

Honey bees pollinate throughout wetlands across the world and have major positive impacts on ecosystem health. Native trees and shrubs of Louisiana that are dependent on pollinators like the European honey bee include Wax Myrtle (Morella cerifera), Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora, our Louisiana state flower), and Dwarf Palmetto (Sabal minor). Some smaller flowers that need bee pollinators include Wooly Rosemallow (Hibiscus lasiocarpus), Coneflower (Rudbeckia triloba), and Trumpet Creeper (Campsis radicans). [3] Honey bees are also vital in pollinating about 90% of agricultural crops nationwide! Without pollinators, our Louisiana wetlands would not be as productive and vibrant as they are, and we need the help of pollinators to #ProtectOurCoast!

 

[1] https://www.bumblebee.org/bodyEyehtm.htm

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waggle_dance

[3] http://pollinator.org/guides

Featured image from https://www.louisianabeesanctuary.org/

Wetland Soils

World Soil Day was officially celebrated on December 5th. This day was created in an effort to share the importance of healthy soil and advocate for the sustainable management of soil resources. Wetland soils, also known as hydric soils, are permanently or seasonally saturated by water and develop anaerobic conditions. Soils’ ability to store surface or ground water and bio-geochemical processes are critical to wetland function and maintaining a healthy ecosystem. Wetland scientists spend a great deal of their time performing soil surveys. Different wetland types feature different soil types. Soils should be evaluated for the presence of pesticides or dangerous elements that could cause damage to the vegetation and animals of that wetland site.

This day was created in an effort to focus on the importance of soil as a critical component of natural systems and as a vital contributor to human well-being.

Wetland_Soils_HydricSoil_Probe-1080x675

Interesting fact:

  • 95% of our food comes from the soil

 

The Pantanal — The Largest Wetland in the World

Located in the heart of South America is the world’s largest wetland that has not been significantly modified by humans, the Pantanal. The Pantanal is often referred to as South America’s biggest biodiversity star. However, it is also one of the continent’s best-kept secrets, often overshadowed by the Amazon Rainforest. This massive wetland covers an area estimated at 75,000 square miles across Bolivia, Paraguay, and (mostly) Brazil. The Pantanal is home to over 4,700 species of plants and animals.

The array of life in the Pantanal relies on an annual flooding cycle. When it rains, about 80 percent of the floodplain is submerged underwater; throughout the dry season the water lessens. This process is essential to nurturing a biologically diverse collection of plants and providing nutrients that the wetlands need to flourish. An area that is the size of Belgium, Switzerland, Holland, and Portugal combined needs a lot of water to guarantee that it continues to flood and a healthy ecosystem is preserved. The quality of the water is also important to maintaining a nourishing environment. Recently, human activity has been threatening this precious wetland. The Pantanal is threatened by intensive farming, deforestation, and pollution. Few signs of this situation improving are shown, and environmental issues are difficult to resolve quickly. Conservation of the biodiversity and natural resources of the Pantanal is essential.

June — Great Outdoors Month

While there are some people who cannot spend enough time outdoors, enjoying all of nature’s gifts, there are others who need a little more motivation to get outside and seek the beauty of our outdoors. What better time for either party to embrace the outdoor spirit of America than in the month of June, Great Outdoors Month. The month kicks off with a Presidential Proclamation, which advocates for all Americans to visit the great outdoors and to protect our nation’s legacy by conserving our lands for future generations. The Proclamation discusses the numerous possibilities for Americans to explore, play, and grow together through outdoor activities. Any activities from hiking to canoeing to wildlife watching, hunting, or fishing can involve kids by being healthy, active, and energized.

More and more Americans are seeking healthy and fun outlets as ways to stay active. The outdoor recreation community is situated in an exemplary position to help people lead a healthier lifestyle by welcoming them and providing guidance on how to take advantage of the great outdoors. Wetlands provide recreational opportunities such as fishing, canoeing, hiking, bird watching, and waterfowl hunting, just to name a few. One of the largest and most avid groups of people using wetlands is waterfowl hunters. There are an estimated 3 million migratory bird hunters in the United States. This year, new studies by the recreation community will record data on the key role outdoor recreation plays in local, state, and national economies. Outdoor recreation is an economic powerhouse in our country generating nearly $887 billion in consumer spending each year and creating 7.6 million jobs. Great Outdoors Month is designed to highlight the benefits of getting involved with our great outdoors and enjoying natural resources, such as forests, parks, refuges, and other public land and waters.