In the fight against alien animals that invade and overrun native species, the weird and the wired sometime win.
Invasive species are plants and animals that thrive in areas where they don’t naturally live, usually brought there by humans, either accidentally or intentionally. Sometimes, with no natural predators, they multiply and take over, crowding out and at times killing native species.
A new underwater robot is targeting the stunning but dangerous lionfish. The robot, called Guardian LF1, uses a gentle shock to immobilize the lionfish before they are sucked alive into a tube. In its first public outing this month, the robot caught 15 lionfish during two days of testing in Bermuda. Top chefs competed in a cook-off of the captured lionfish which sells for nearly $10 a pound.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials are using souped-up old technology to catch Asian carp, a fish that’s taken over rivers and lakes in the Midwest. They use a specialized boat – the Magna Carpa – with giant winglike nets that essentially uses electric current as an underwater taser to stun the fish, said biologist Emily Pherigo. At higher doses, the fish are killed and float to the surface. In just five minutes, they can collect 500 fish, and later turn them into fertilizer.
Phosphorus is one of the most important components in the ongoing struggle to balance agricultural prosperity with water quality. When farmers fertilize their fields with this essential nutrient, plants use some, with precipitation carrying excess amounts into nearby bodies of water, fueling algal blooms that can kill fish and and endanger drinking water quality.
But phosphorus that lingers in the soil, sometimes for decades, is troublesome as well.
What scientists call “legacy phosphorus” — or “legacy P,” a common abbreviation — exists in a sort of nutrient limbo.
Phosphorus can easily bind to soil particles, a state in which plants don’t usually access it. The nutrient generally must be in water plants take up in order for them to use it. Moreover, as farmers spread more fertilizer, new quantities of phosphorus are made available to crops. But as land erodes or heavy rains hit fields, some of that older phosphorus will make its way into streams, rivers, lakes and ultimately groundwater. In coming decades, greater quantities of legacy phosphorus could get flushed into water sources due to climate change, which is projected to increase heavy precipitation events in the Midwest.
Portland’s first snowstorm of the winter storm season hit mid-day prompting thousands of people to head home early. Unfortunately, roadways were clogged for hours leaving many to abandon their cars. Cautious motorists decided to stay home from work when the second snowstorm that left roadways icy for days. Portland is now looking at adding road salt to their arsenal to make road ways safer.
The city is concerned with the damaging effects of road salt. It would ultimately get washed into storm drains which flow to a sewer treatment plant. Will the salt corrode old metro-area pipes? It affects the roads, the steel in the bridges and the concrete and it affects your car. And, the salt that stays on the roads will eventually get washed into the environment.
Minnesota is beginning to see some of the environmental effects of road salt use. In the Twin Cities metro area, the level of salt (chloride) in 39 surface waters now exceeds water quality standards. An additional 38 surface waters are almost above the standard and many others remain untested. Data shows that salt concentrations are continuing to increase in both surface waters and groundwater across the state.
The fact is that it only takes one teaspoon of road salt to permanently pollute 5 gallons of water. Once in the water, there is no way to remove the chloride. At high concentrations, chloride can harm fish, aquatic plant life, groundwater and drinking water supplies.
Across the country and around the globe, the effects of drought are everywhere. Google the word “drought” and the news stories are endless; some with severe consequences.
In California, over 100 million trees have died due to the drought. In Tennessee the drought is posing a huge threat to the cattle industry. Pastures have dried up and farmers have resorted to feeding the cattle hay which is normally saved for the winter months. Similar stories are reported out of Georgia as well.
Wildfires have ravaged over 54,000 acres of forest, protected areas and farmland in parts of Peru. Peru is experiencing the regions worst drought in at least half a century. Wildfires have burned over 100,000 acres of land across seven southern U.S. states leading to mass evacuations.
As devastating as those issues are; other countries are faring much worse. The severe drought in Madagascar has left 330,000 people on the brink of famine.
As Bolivia faces its worst drought in at least 25 years, the government has been forced to declare a state of emergency. It is estimated that the drought has affected 125,000 families and threatened 716,605 acres of agricultural land and 360,000 head of cattle.
The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, which is believed to have been around since the 1970’s, is now an estimated 6,474 square miles of water unable to support marine life.
Government and independent scientists believe nutrient runoff is the main cause of the dead zone. Pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorus flow into the gulf of Mexico by way of the Mississippi River and its tributaries.
For many, the ethanol industry and the government’s 2005 Renewable Fuel Standard carry a lot of the blame. Since the governments introduction of the Renewable Fuel Standard in 2005, acreage of U.S. land to farm corn and soy beans has grown by 16.8 million and over 1.2 million acres of grassland has been lost.
Flooding in 2015 and earlier this year washed away tremendous amounts of pollutants that had accumulated on land during the prolonged drought. The sources of much of these nutrients were cornfields, 40% of which are dedicated to producing ethanol, which fuel companies are compelled by Congress to blend with gasoline.
NOAA officials estimate the Dead Zone costs the nation’s seafood and tourism industries $82 million a year. And it likely will get worse, scientists believe. The gulf produces about 40 percent of the nation’s seafood, which includes offshore species such as shrimp and red snapper. And Louisiana is second in seafood production to Alaska, according to The Nature Conservancy.
The Environmental Protection Agency reports that 40% of the nation’s waterways suffer water quality problems. Water systems are often interlinked and the dangers of runoff from agriculture, forestry, construction and people’s personal yards are numerous.
Did you know that a typical city block generates more than five times as much rainwater runoff as a forested area of the same size? This is because rooftops and pavement don’t allow water to soak into the ground like forests, wetlands and grasslands do. Instead, rainwater runs off pavement into the nearest storm drain, where it’s transported to local streams, rivers and eventually the ocean. On its way to the storm drain, rainwater picks up pollutants like oil, antifreeze, pet waste, fertilizers and pesticides. In most places, storm water does not get treated, so all of those pollutants end up in local waters.
Using non-toxic house products, not dumping things other than water down storm drains, and not flushing medication down the toilet or sink are just a few things you can do to keep the water in your area clean.
Chicago officials boast that the Stickney Water Reclamation Plant is one of the world’s largest sewer treatment plants, handling the waste of 2.3 million people.
The Stickney Water Reclamation is the biggest single source of phosphorus in the entire region that drains into the Mississippi River. Combined with other sewage plant releases a state task force concluded that these plants are responsible for about half of the phosphorus pollution in rivers that drain into the Mississippi.
The need for more aggressive and widespread action is especially acute in Illinois, which by most estimates is the largest contributor of phosphorus and nitrogen pollution to the Gulf of Mexico.
A new $31 million project will help to reduce that pollution by diverting wastewater through three reactors that use catalysts to form tiny, nutrient-rich “pearls” for the fertilizer industry. The district estimates the equipment will produce up to 10,000 tons of slow-release fertilizer a year and reduce the Stickney plant’s phosphorus discharges by about 30 percent.
More still needs to be done, but this project is a good start.
Every year marine species, from lobsters and fish to sea lions and birds, become trapped or entangled in lost, abandoned or discarded fishing gear. This “derelict gear” continues to capture fish and wildlife while at sea, even if no fishermen retrieves the catch.
The Fishing for Energy partnership works to address this problem in two ways: by providing commercial fishermen with no-cost opportunities to dispose of derelict and retired fishing gear, and by offering grant support for direct removal and assessment efforts.
Through March 2016, the Fishing for Energy partnership has provided removal services at 48 ports in 10 states, collecting over 3 million pounds of fishing gear. Gear collected at the ports is first sorted at Schnitzer Steel Industries for metals recycling, and the remaining non-recyclable material is converted into energy at Covanta Energy locations.
An estimated 9 to 10 percent of Wisconsin wells have tested over safe limits for nitrate.
Studies have estimated that 90% of nitrate in groundwater comes from spreading of synthetic fertilizers and dairy manure on farm fields, with most of the remainder from septic systems.
Nitrate behaves differently. Relatively little lingers near roots where it can be absorbed. Water washes it down into shallow groundwater that is the source of drinking water for one-quarter of Wisconsin residents.
Legumes and alfalfa, take up nitrogen before it can reach groundwater, but are not as profitable as corn. When prices rise for corn, which requires heavy applications of nitrogen-based fertilizer, farmers quickly convert acreage and boost spreading. Wisconsin farmers applied over 200 million pounds of nitrogen in excess of UW-Extension recommendations.
Not only does the fertilizer create toxic drinking water, but the phosphorus in fertilizer and manure contributes to abnormal algae growth in lakes and streams when it runs off the land with rain and snowmelt.
Drinking water contaminated with more than 10 milligrams per liter of nitrate poses acute risks to infants and women who are pregnant, a possible risk to fetuses in early stages of pregnancy, and a longer-term risk of serious disease in adults.
The line from drought to war is not nearly as straightforward, though on the surface it doesn’t seem to involve any leaps of faith. It makes sense that a severe drought would lead to massive crop failure, and that in a country heavily dependent on agriculture the results would be disastrous.
The drought lasted several years and forced hundreds of thousands of poor farmers off their lands and into cities that were already overcrowded by refugees (1 million or so, by most accounts) from the war in neighboring Iraq.
However, the drought alone may not have been what forced the farmers from their land. The cancellation of diesel and fertilizer subsidies also had a crippling effect on the farmers. Political, economic and technological forces at work in the modern world also play a major role in economical collapse.