Monday, April 6, 2009

Invasive species: battle in the Bay.

Ever since humans created methods of mass transportation, local ecosystems have had difficulty with invasive species.I'll be covering some other species and locations later on, in this multi-part bit, but for now, I'll focus on some new news occurring in Maryland. The Chesapeake Bay is home to many people, and once upon a time, many healthy wildlife. The Maryland Blue Crab, native only to the Chesapeake, is one of the many indigenous species that has had a major population problem since people decided they were tasty. Ground dwellers, they feast on what falls to the bottom of the bay, be it natural to their diet, or large quantities of iodine and other spilled chemicals from local plants. You could draw that if the bay itself were healthier, that the Blue Crab's population would improve in health-as long as humans didn't eat them to extinction, or prevent their infrequent mating rituals. (note to you Bay dwellers-DON"T pull them apart! DON"T take them when they're too small! DON"T take the females!!!)
Now, you might ask how the bay became so unhealthy? That answer would take a bit too long for this post, but suffice it to say that besides habitat degradation in the watershed, pollution, and human encroachment, the natural bay filters have had a major problem as well, thanks (again) to people. I refer to the oyster, Crassostrea virginica. A native to the Bay, they are natural filter feeders, and as such, are great at keeping their habitats nice and clean. They even vaccum up after their parties. When people settled in great numbers in Maryland, oyster harvesting became a way of life, and a very lucrative one. Until the population was over-harvested. Eventually, we realized we were harvesting faster than they could reproduce, and backed off. Read more about the details here. And of course, right when the populations began to recover, two major diseases infected our poor britas. The combination of harvesting and disease has caused the oyster population to become only one percent of its original during the "good ol' days". As such, some of those silly politicians on the hill thought, "hey, let's just grab some other oyster, since they're all the same, and put it in the Bay instead!" Thankfully, our friendly neighborhood sciency-bay gurus said, "helllllllllllllllllllllllllll no".

So, I am happy to report, that at least for the time being, our darling native friends are being given the opportunity to sort themselves out (with the hopefully beneficial aid of humans). So, if you feel like helping out the cause (and making the world a little nicer for our crusty neighbors), please remember that all your crap goes somewhere, and try to eat stuff that's local. If you're out in Wisconsin, don't be stealing our blue crabs or oysters. Eat your own. :)

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