Plankton

We talk a lot about the health of marine life in terms of fish, oysters, crabs, and other large organisms that we can observe with the naked eye, but we often look past the microorganisms that, in some cases, can be better indicators of water quality, productivity, and overall ecosystem health. [1] The microorganisms in question often fall under the umbrella term of “plankton”. Directly translated from Greek, the root word “planktos” means wandering and describes how these organisms move through ecosystems. There are many varieties of plankton, including producers (phytoplankton) and predators (zooplankton).

One key characteristic that all plankton share is that they do not move very far on their own; they rely on currents and other movement in the water column for most of their migration. While some planktonic organisms can move with a flagellum (tail made of proteins), most of the movement for all plankton comes from external forces. [2] Currents and mixing often occur in the pelagic (uppermost open water) layer because of wind, temperature variation, and a variety of other factors. Phytoplankton thrive in the shallower layers of the pelagic zone where abundant sunlight and gas exchange are available. Higher concentrations of carbon dioxide at the surface allow phytoplankton to photosynthesize, removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and giving off the oxygen we breathe. Phytoplankton produce about half of the oxygen in our atmosphere by some estimates, which makes them just as important as our rainforests and other terrestrial ecosystems. [3]

Plankton do not all fit into one taxonomic group; there are plankton from each kingdom. [4] Our coastal waters contain species from each, including microcrustaceans like copepods, bacteria like blue-green algae (cyanobacteria), and juvenile life stages of larger animals like oysters and fish. Jellyfish in their most recognizable form, the medusa, are technically plankton, too: they have no locomotion so they just drift. As easy, plentiful prey, plankton often form the base of marine food webs. Unfortunately, having too many phytoplankton is a very real, very dangerous issue in coastal Louisiana where excess nutrients coming down our waterways provide lots of food for phytoplankton. An overgrowth of phytoplankton can cause an algal bloom [5] and associated hypoxic or dead zone. See our post ‘Stress pt. II: Flooding and Hypoxia’ for more information on how too many producers can decrease the amount of oxygen.

CWPPRA projects help to decrease the area of the Gulf of Mexico dead zone by restoring wetlands. The more wetlands we have in our Mississippi river watershed, the more filtration of excess nutrients we have. Filtration is a major benefit of wetlands and can prevent phytoplankton from accessing these excess nutrients. Hopefully one day nutrient filtration and other pollution reducing practices will allow the gulf to return to its former glory.

 

[1] https://academic.oup.com/plankt/article/36/3/621/1503238

[2] http://www.biologyreference.com/Ph-Po/Plankton.html

[3] https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/06/source-of-half-earth-s-oxygen-gets-little-credit/

[4] http://www.seafriends.org.nz/enviro/plankton/class.htm

[5] https://www.epa.gov/nutrientpollution/effects-dead-zones-and-harmful-algal-blooms

Featured image from http://blueplanetsociety.org/2016/04/studying-phytoplankton-with-citizen/

 

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Looking Back

Former President George H.W. Bush signed Public Law 101-646, Title III CWPPRA into law in 1990 to combat the national issue of coastal land loss. Over 25 years after he left office and a week after the late President’s day of mourning, this legislation is still providing protection to billions of dollars’ worth of industry, major human settlements, and beautiful ecosystems.

At 28 years of projects and counting, CWPPRA is among the longest-standing federally-funded restoration ventures in the country, as well as one of the most successful. To date, 210 projects have been authorized across Louisiana’s coastal zone to restore 100,000+ acres of wetlands. Each year of operation, CWPPRA has approved funding on multiple projects scattered across our coast. The locations of our projects can be found at https://lacoast.gov/new/About/Basins.aspx.

CWPPRA projects are proposed by anyone and developed in conjunction with one of our 5 federal managing agencies and Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. The process of project selection is always a rigorous competition between candidate projects across Louisiana’s coast. Each proposal presents estimated ecological benefits, cost estimates, and a detailed plan for the desired project. At the beginning of each calendar year, Regional Planning Team meetings are held across the coast to hear proposals. The proposed projects are compiled into an annual Project Priority List (PPL). Upcoming proposal meetings can be found Jan 29-31, 2019 on our calendar at https://lacoast.gov/calendar/. Over the next year the CWPPRA Technical Committee and Task Force narrow the list of candidate projects. In December, the Technical Committee recommends their top 4 projects to the Task Force. The Task Force finally votes in January on the 4 projects they will fund for Phase I Engineering and Design. This annual cycle will complete its 28th round in late January 2019.

CWPPRA is excited about wrapping up PPL 28 next month and starting on PPL 29! Be on the lookout for announcements about projects chosen for funding at the January 24th Task Force meeting. We look forward to continuing our efforts to #ProtectOurCoast!

 

Featured image from https://projects.propublica.org/louisiana/

Soil Pollution

Today is World Soils Day, time to talk about soil pollution and wetlands! Soil pollution is often referred to as “invisible” because, although pollution can be detected through testing [LINK TESTING], it is much more difficult to see with the naked eye. Some of the biggest players in soil pollution today are improper waste management, agricultural runoff, and industrial processes. You may not think you are directly impacted by soil pollution, but you are.

Polluted soil in agricultural fields is arguably the most direct impact to humans because the pollutants are taken into the crop, whether it is a plant or animal, and make it into our food stream. [1] Pollutants in soils are also less hospitable to plant recruits, which is terrible news for coastal Louisiana. Our coastal wetlands provide us with many things that we rely on, and we cannot afford to lose our wetlands to preventable pollution. When soils do not incorporate healthy plant roots, they are much more susceptible to erosion. When moving sediments around, CWPPRA wants to make sure that plants can re-establish effectively, so they want healthy soils. [2]

Areas with unsustainable levels of pollution are spreading, and non-point source pollution, which includes road and agricultural runoff, is very hard to track and very hard to remediate. Pollutants are not easily scrubbed from soils on a mass scale and so they follow the flow of water. Runoff travels through watersheds just like clean water and makes its way into our coastal wetlands with damaging consequences. Coastal wetlands are resilient ecosystems, but they have limits. We cannot overburden them with harmful, carefree attitudes towards pollution. Our coast deserves to be protected. Our coast deserves to be respected.

[1] https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/documents/bioaccumulationbiomagnificationeffects.pdf

[2] https://www.lacoast.gov/crms/crms_public_data/publications/CRMS_FactSheet_Web.pdf

Featured image from https://soilsmatter.wordpress.com/2017/12/15/are-wetlands-really-the-earths-kidneys/

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

 

 

Thankful for Wetlands

When celebrating Thanksgiving tomorrow, be sure to think about all of the ways wetlands provide for you and yours. Whether you enjoy the serene experience of watching a sunset through bald cypress trees, catching redfish in the marsh with your family, or simply love a good shrimp po-boy, Louisiana wetlands provide a huge number of services to millions of people daily.

In addition to protecting our cities from storm surge, wetlands of all kinds host tremendous species diversity, are highly productive, and allow for many types of recreation. Louisiana provides seafood nationwide. All of our most profitable species use wetlands for some part of their life cycle. [1] For example, shrimp spawn in estuaries, crawfish spend their whole semi-aquatic lives in freshwater wetlands, and oysters occupy coastlines while providing some wave attenuation and water filtration. CWPPRA and our partners see oysters as an alternative method to protect our some parts of our coast with artificial reefs that can also be harvested, making them a highly sustainable food source. Some foods we receive from wetlands aside from seafood include turtles and ducks in some cases, rice (a staple in many cultures worldwide), and a wide array of other plants for their tubers or berries.

Beyond the food, though, wetland benefits include flood protection to our major cultural hubs and carbon sequestration. Sequestering carbon makes wetlands wildly productive and an ally in the fight against global climate change. [2] CWPPRA was written into law in 1990 to help preserve these bountiful ecosystems so they can continue to thrive and benefit people in Louisiana and beyond. This holiday season, even if you are not eating any seafood during your feasts, you are benefitting from wetlands, so say a thank you for all of those natural areas that give us so much.

[1] https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-02/documents/economicbenefits.pdf

[2] https://imedea.uib-csic.es/master/cambioglobal/Modulo_V_cod101611/Coastal%20sinks%20(seagrasses_mangroves_saltmarshes)/Bibliography_coastal/Chmura%20et%20al%202006.pdf

 

America Recycles And So Do We

Recycling is a great practice at home, but it reaches far beyond taking materials out of the waste stream. Tomorrow, November 15th, is designated as America Recycles Day, so today’s Wetland Wednesday is hopeful about the future of sustainability.

New materials require exploration and processing that can be destructive to ecosystems. Plastics, some of the most common materials in the product stream today, are largely recyclable. As a crude oil byproduct, producing new usable plastics requires a lot of energy. The same goes for many other recyclable materials. Paper products, various metals, and glass all take a lot of energy to produce, then they quickly find their way into landfills instead of being reused. Landfills produce a wide array of chemicals that often leach into the ground due to poor containment practices, and they can contaminate watersheds. Once those chemicals get into a watershed, they can significantly decrease the health of wetlands across huge swaths of land over time. To further the polluting effects, drilling for oil to meet a growing desire for fossil fuels is one of the most detrimental practices to wetlands. More than 5 years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Louisiana wetlands continued to lose ground due to the spill’s impact. [1]

Recycling is not a perfect alternative to single-use plastics, and there are other ways to reduce our consumption of resources. For example, mitigating loss of byproducts by finding new and inventive applications can greatly reduce consequences. Large-scale food manufacturing leaves plenty of byproduct as leftover plant material that can be used as livestock feed, potentially as biofuels, or fertilizer. In the meat industry, byproducts are often further processed and commercialized to maximize the use of all parts of animals. CWPPRA and our partners have changed some practices in recent years to be more efficient when using resources, for example beneficial use of dredged material (yes, we recycled our header image). Mandatory dredging of shipping and navigational channels produces a bounty of sediment that was lost in the past, but we can now use that material in restoration projects. This exciting new practice has already been implemented in a few CWPPRA projects to restore marshland and nourish pre-existing wetlands.

Our coast faces many human-caused threats, and its future depends, in part, on practices becoming more sustainable. By using new technologies to better use resources, CWPPRA hopes that Louisiana’s natural splendor and resilience can continue to benefit future generations.

[1] https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/70178409

 

Living Shorelines

According to NOAA, one of our managing agencies, a living shoreline is “A protected and stabilized shoreline that is made of natural materials such as plants, sand, or rock.” [1] In some situations, living shorelines are a better option than hardened shoreline protection because they have more movement of natural sediment, the ability to grow, and the obvious aesthetic value of a natural area.

‘Living shorelines’ can refer to multiple restoration techniques and coastal environments; for CWPPRA, a living shoreline can mean vegetative planting on a marsh creation cell or using a shoreline protection barrier that promotes oyster reef growth. Living restored shorelines help maintain the integrity of ecosystems, but they also provide benefits to recreation and potentially to commerce. One big push in restoration over the past few years has been artificial oyster reefs which provide wave attenuation, natural water filtration, and a harvestable population of oysters for the seafood industry. [2]

Illustration, Courtesy of NOAA [1]
Vegetated marsh provides similar benefits to artificial oyster reefs and is a tried-and-true restoration strategy. Many marsh creation projects will naturally revegetate thanks to seed banks in borrow sites but some need management to limit invasive species. In more vulnerable sites, CWPPRA actively plants native species like smooth cordgrass and California bulrush to give them an advantage against invasive populations.

CWPPRA understands that successful restoration projects, including shoreline protection, help keep ecosystems intact and productive. A changing coast means we need changing solutions, and we will strive to find better alternatives to maintain the natural environment.

[1] https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/living-shoreline.html

[2] https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/storms-get-bigger-oyster-reefs-can-help-protect-shorelines-180967774/

Featured image from https://oceanbites.org/oyster_reef_restoration/