The Gulf Oyster Situation Is Very Bad, But There’s Hope
By Dan Nosowitz
There are several huge, pressing problems facing oysters in the Gulf. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill killed billions of oysters, droughts and floods upwards from the rivers that feed the Gulf have fed damaging amounts of sedimentation into the ocean, and pollution and development remain major issues. But, according to a big new report from the Nature Conservancy, there is hope—and even a plan.
Oysters are vital to the ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico in multiple ways. Aside from being a near-$100 million-per-year industry, oyster beds perform the same role as coral reefs do elsewhere, breaking waves and protecting shores from the wrath of the ocean. They also, as do other bivalves like clams and mussels, serve as filtration systems for the water. Generally speaking, if a usually-rich bivalve population is struggling, it means the entire ecosystem is in serious trouble.
Seafood Source notes that the oyster population in the Gulf is in dire straits. Alabama cancelled its entire oyster season this year due to low oyster numbers, the first time such a cancellation has ever happened. Following the oil spill, oyster populations dropped to a small fraction of their typical numbers, and haven't nearly recovered. The Nature Conservancy report estimates that 85 percent of the oyster reefs are lost.
But, happily, hope and resources are not quite as scarce as the oysters. As part of the settlement after the oil spill, BP paid about $160 million for oyster restoration, easily the largest amount of money in US history ever specifically dedicated to that task. The report itself reviews the current conditions across the Gulf, and lays out possible strategies for oyster restoration projects; Nature Conservancy is particularly emphatic on the subject of collaborations between fishermen and the government.
At the same time, the Nature Conservancy also announced two projects of its own: two artificial oyster reefs, both in Texas. One will be in Galveston Bay, a 50-acre project. Another, a 60-acre reef in Copano Bay, will cost about $5 million (those funds will be from the BP settlement), with construction beginning next month. The plan for the Copano Bay reef includes one section open to commercial fishing and another to be protected; the oysters themselves will be seeded this winter and allowed to grow, undisturbed, until 2021.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.
Returning the ‘Three Sisters’ – Corn, Beans and Squash – to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land and Cultures
By Christina Gish Hill
Historians know that turkey and corn were part of the first Thanksgiving, when Wampanoag peoples shared a harvest meal with the pilgrims of Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts. And traditional Native American farming practices tell us that squash and beans likely were part of that 1621 dinner too.
Abundant Harvests<p>Historically, Native people throughout the Americas bred indigenous plant varieties specific to the growing conditions of their homelands. They selected seeds for many different traits, such as <a href="https://emergencemagazine.org/story/corn-tastes-better/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">flavor, texture and color</a>.</p><p>Native growers knew that planting corn, beans, squash and sunflowers together produced mutual benefits. Corn stalks created a trellis for beans to climb, and beans' twining vines secured the corn in high winds. They also certainly observed that corn and bean plants growing together tended to be healthier than when raised separately. Today we know the reason: Bacteria living on bean plant roots pull nitrogen – an essential plant nutrient – from the air and <a href="http://www.tilthalliance.org/learn/resources-1/almanac/october/octobermngg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convert it to a form that both beans and corn can use</a>.</p><p>Squash plants contributed by shading the ground with their broad leaves, preventing weeds from growing and retaining water in the soil. Heritage squash varieties also had spines that discouraged deer and raccoons from visiting the garden for a snack. And sunflowers planted around the edges of the garden created a natural fence, protecting other plants from wind and animals and attracting pollinators.</p><p>Interplanting these agricultural sisters produced bountiful harvests that sustained large Native communities and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/eam.2015.0016" target="_blank">spurred fruitful trade economies</a>. The first Europeans who reached the Americas were shocked at the abundant food crops they found. My research is exploring how, 200 years ago, Native American agriculturalists around the Great Lakes and along the Missouri and Red rivers fed fur traders with their diverse vegetable products.</p>
Displaced From the Land<p>As Euro-Americans settled permanently on the most fertile North American lands and acquired seeds that Native growers had carefully bred, they imposed policies that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/87.2.550" target="_blank">made Native farming practices impossible</a>. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the <a href="https://guides.loc.gov/indian-removal-act" target="_blank">Indian Removal Act</a>, which made it official U.S. policy to force Native peoples from their home locations, pushing them onto subpar lands.</p><p>On reservations, U.S. government officials discouraged Native women from cultivating anything larger than small garden plots and pressured Native men to practice Euro-American style monoculture. Allotment policies assigned small plots to nuclear families, further limiting Native Americans' access to land and preventing them from using communal farming practices.</p><p>Native children were forced to attend boarding schools, where they had no opportunity to <a href="https://doi.org/10.5749/jamerindieduc.57.1.0145" target="_blank">learn Native agriculture techniques or preservation and preparation of Indigenous foods</a>. Instead they were forced to eat Western foods, turning their palates away from their traditional preferences. Taken together, these policies <a href="https://kansaspress.ku.edu/978-0-7006-0802-7.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">almost entirely eradicated three sisters agriculture</a> from Native communities in the Midwest by the 1930s.</p>
Reviving Native Agriculture<p>Today Native people all over the U.S. are working diligently to <a href="https://www.oupress.com/books/15107980/indigenous-food-sovereignty-in-the-united-sta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reclaim Indigenous varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and other crops</a>. This effort is important for many reasons.</p><p>Improving Native people's access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods will help lower rates of <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aian-diabetes/index.html" target="_blank">diabetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/native-american/obesity" target="_blank">obesity</a>, which affect Native Americans at disproportionately high rates. Sharing traditional knowledge about agriculture is a way for elders to pass cultural information along to younger generations. Indigenous growing techniques also protect the lands that Native nations now inhabit, and can potentially benefit the wider ecosystems around them.</p>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Jake Johnson
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