Why I am Swimming on July 26
By Mark Mattson
On Thursday, July 26, Waterkeepers across the globe will plunge into the waters of their lakes, rivers and ocean coasts to celebrate the act of swimming. This act will be unremarkable for some, the repetition of a habit as old as their communities. For others, taking the plunge will be quite out of the normal, an act of adventure or even profound “civil obedience.”
Here in Toronto, there are a thousand reasons not to swim in Lake Ontario. The shoreline is rocky. The water can be cold. The current can be strong and the waves even stronger.
There are access issues, because we have handed over prime waterfront land to private owners. There are pollution concerns, because we have used our waterways as receptacles for storm water, sewage and waste. In both cases, the benefits of Lake Ontario are reserved for the few, at the expense of the many.
Despite the challenges, we still swim in Lake Ontario. In 1954, Marilyn Bell became the first to swim across the lake. Today, swimmers like Vicki Keith have made multiple crossings, while new swimmers like Melanie Price attempt it every year.
We are not all marathon swimmers, but hundreds of thousands of Ontarians splash around in Lake Ontario each summer. When you live beside one of the greatest fresh water basins in the world, you swim. You can’t help it.
I have been swimming in Lake Ontario my whole life. I’m not alone, either. More than 22 million Canadians swim in our freshwater lakes and rivers every year. Some of the greatest swimmers in world come from right here in the “frozen north,” including Alex Baumann, Victor Davis and Mark Tewksbury. Canada also produced pioneering divers Dr. Joe MacInnis, Phil Nuytten, and filmmaker and underwater explorer James Cameron. Add to that world class paddlers, rowers and sailors, and Canada stands out as a swimming nation.
I am swimming on July 26 because I live on Lake Ontario, because I am a Canadian and because it is summer. Also, I am swimming because I love it and I am good at it. After learning to swim in the St Lawrence River, I became a competitive swimmer, spending more than 20 hours a week in the pool for many years. All that practice helped prepare me for other challenges, including becoming the Lake Ontario Waterkeeper.
When 400 people jumped into Lake Ontario in Kingston last week, we demonstrated our love for our water bodies, even in their fragile states. Because of my experience as a Waterkeeper and environmental lawyer, I know that we will lose our public spaces, our clean water, if we stop swimming. Beaches closed due to pollution will never re-open. Public waterfront spaces will be increasingly reserved for privileged groups.
I swim in Lake Ontario because it is right there. And because I want it to be right there for many, many years to come. I’ll be swimming in Lake Ontario on July 26, and I encourage you to join me.
Step One: Find your beach on Swim Guide. I’m going to Bluffer’s Beach in Toronto.
Step Two: Snap a photo of you at a beach. (If you can’t make it to the beach, send over one of your favourite beach snap shots and participate virtually.)
Step Three: Share your photo with us on Facebook or Twitter.
On July 26, be part of Waterkeeper Alliance’s global Swimmable Action Day. I’ll be at Bluffer’s Beach in the morning, doing my part to celebrate Lake Ontario.
Visit EcoWatch’s WATER PAGE for more related news on this topic.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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