Anti-fish electric barrier successful during summer floods


Julia Poska | August 23, 2018

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Asian carp, found in the Iowa Great Lakes in 2011, are one of the most notorious invasive freshwater species in the Midwest (flickr).

An electric barrier between Dickinson County’s Milford Creek and the Iowa Great Lakes proved its worth this summer, protecting the lakes from invasive fish during the region’s second highest flood on record.

Invasive carp species were first found in the Great Lakes in 2011. Flooding accelerates their entry via streams by allowing them to swim upstream and over dams. Such species can disrupt food chains, ecological processes and even recreation (see invasive Asian carp body slamming boaters here).

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources installed the $1 million barrier in 2012. During floods, it ramps up its electric field to prevent fish from passing through. Floods in late June and early July were the highest since 1933.

Scientists have since found invasive fish in Milford Creek but say the barrier seems to have fenced in most, if not all of them. DNR fisheries biologist Mike Hawkins told Iowa Public Radio that if any individuals made it in, they should not be able to reproduce in the lake.

Read the full story on Iowa Public Radio.

Get your conservation “on tap” this week


Julia Poska | August 19, 2018

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Like-minded locals will discuss local conservation over beer Wednesday night at “Conservation on Tap.” (flickr)

The Iowa Wildlife Federation is hosting a “Conservation on Tap” gathering Wednesday night at Tin Roost, 840 W. Penn St. in North Liberty, to bring together local conservationists for beer, appetizers and discussion.

The non-profit collaborates with stakeholders like anglers, hunters and outdoors enthusiasts to conserve wildlife on a local level. At the state level, they raise awareness at events and online, support research and restoration efforts and endorse pro-conservation legislature.

Co-Director Tammy Mildenstein said the board hopes Conservation on Tap will help the federation expand its reach with new members, ideas and collaborations. All sorts of people can play a role in conservation, from scientists to policy makers to recreational nature lovers.

A $10 ticket includes appetizers and the first round of beer. For $40, attendants get a year of Iowa Wildlife Federation membership, discounted $5. Tickets must be purchased in advance at iawildlife.org.

 

 

Animal protection remains popular and economical


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Otters and other animals have been protected by the Endangered Species Act since the law began in 1973. (Mike Baird/Wikipedia)

Katelyn Weisbrod | July 26, 2018

Adorable otters, majestic bald eagles, and fearsome gray wolves are not the only things at stake as the Trump administration considers revisions to the Endangered Species Act.

The law, passed in 1973, aims to protect a list of species with critically low population sizes. The revision to the law proposes considering economic costs when making decisions about protection of endangered species.

Time Magazine reported this week the many economic benefits of protecting America’s wildlife. These animals contribute to a broader, delicate ecosystem that can have serious implications if altered. The National Fish and Wildlife foundation reported in 2011 that ecosystem services in the contiguous U.S. contribute to 10 percent of the country’s gross-domestic product. Activities like hunting, fishing, and wildlife watching amount to millions of dollars every year in retail sales and tax revenue, according to the same report.

Although the costs of protecting wildlife are real, Time reported, the implications hit corporations the hardest rather than the country as a whole. In 2015, four out of five Americans supported the law, PBS News Hour found.

Hawaii’s sunscreen ban


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Coral reefs provide food and shelter to numerous marine animals. (flickr/USFWS)

Eden DeWald | July 11th, 2018

Hawaii is making a move to protect its coral reefs. A bill banning the distribution or sale of synthetic sunscreens in Hawaii was signed by Governor David Ige earlier this month. The ban will go into affect in January of 2021, and will prevent the sale of sunscreens that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate.

There are two main types of sunscreen found in any drugstore—chemical and physical. Physical sunscreen, or mineral sunscreen, often has active ingredients such as titanium and zinc oxide, which reflect or scatter UV rays by forming a protective layer on the skin. Synthetic sunscreens, which often contain oxybenzone and octinoxate, soak into the skin. They protect the wearer by changing the electromagnetic affect of UV rays. Physical sunscreens are not at all affected by the ban and will still be available for retail sale and distribution.

According to a 2015 study, oxybenzone has been found to cause the bleaching of coral reefs, as well as endocrine damage. There have been fewer studies done concerning octinoxate, but similar damaging effects have been associated with this chemical. Approximately 14,000 gallons are estimated to end up in the waters off the coast of Hawaii each year, consequently banning sunscreens with oxybenzone and octinoxate has the potential to remove thousands gallons of coral reef damaging chemicals from the environment each year.

Seattle bans straws


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Five hundred million straws are used everyday in the US (Jeff G/flickr)

Eden DeWald | July 4th, 2018

Seattle is making a move to reduce single use plastics, by banning straws and any single use plastic utensils from restaurants and all other dining venues. Straws that are reusable or can be composted are still allowed, but the ordinance has a strong preference towards not providing any straws.  

Five hundred million plastic straws are used everyday in the United States. Because they are so lightweight, used straws find their way into the ocean quite easily. Once in the ocean, straws wreak havoc on marine life and seabirds. Approximately 70 percent of seabirds and around one third of turtles found have ingested, or gotten some kind of plastic superficially stuck on their body. There are around fourteen cities in the US that currently have straw bans, but Seattle is the largest city so far to place a ban on straws. However, New York City and the state of California have also gained momentum towards banning single use plastic utensils. 

The city of Seattle has made many other steps towards their mitigating impact on the surrounding ecosystem, including its efforts to help the salmon population. The Salmon in the Schools program allowed schoolchildren to hatch salmon and release them into, providing important environmental education to school children as well as helping to bolster the salmon populations numbers. 

 

Rise in toxic algal blooms


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A sign warning swimmers not to take a dip in algae infested waters (Amanda S/flickr)

Eden DeWald | May 30th, 2018

With the first day of summer well on its way, so are toxic algal blooms.

Cyanobacteria, also referred to as blue-green algae, are a type of photosynthetic bacteria that produce microcystin toxins. These pose both short term exposure and a long term exposure threats to humans. Skin contact with microcystin can cause digestion issues, a sore throat and even liver damage. Whereas long term contact can create side effects as serious as cancer and liver damage. Microcystins may cause damage via ingestion or skin contact. Cyanobacteria are not only a danger to humans, and can cause large populations of fish to die off and disrupt aquatic ecosystems.

Cyanobacteria blooms have become a growing threat for waterways in the United States. The amount of blooms has grown substantially even in the past few years according to the Environmental Working Group, which saw a rise from three self reported algal blooms in 2010, to 169 reported blooms in 2017. 

The Environmental Protection Agency sites commonly used fertilizers nitrogen and phosphorus as causes for these algal blooms. When excess fertilizer runs off and finds its way into a waterway, it can create a dangerous potential home for cyanobacteria which utilizes these elements within its chemical processes.

Potential prevention methods for toxic algal blooms can include approaches such as planting vegetation buffer strips near waterways, and changing the way that fertilizers are applied to crops to prevent excess from being utilized.

 

Species loss varies significantly under different climate change scenarios


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Insects were found to be more susceptible to climate change than other land animals and plants. (Joe Hatfield/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | May 24, 2018

According to a recent study published in the journal Science, limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels rather than 2 degrees Celsius could significantly reduce terrestrial plants and animal species loss.

The study analyzed the geographic habitat ranges of 100,000 land plant and animal species, including insects. Scientists monitored how suitable habitat ranges changed under three climate change scenarios: the 1.5 degrees Celsius warming limit goal set by the Paris Climate Accord, a 2 degrees Celsius increase and the 3.2 degrees Celsius increase Earth is expected to experience by 2100 if no further climate action is taken.

They found that if global warming is held at 2 degrees Celsius, 18% of insects, 16% of plants and 8% of vertebrates will lose more than half of their suitable habitat range. In contrast, if global temperature increase is kept under 1.5 degrees Celsius, just 6% of insects, 8% of plants and 4% of vertebrates would experience the same fate.

Rachel Warren is an environmental biologist at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England and one of the study’s others. She said to the Los Angeles Times, “All the previous scientific literature looked at 2 degrees as the lower limit because that was what was being discussed at the time.” Warren continued,”The takeaway is that if you could limit warming to 1.5 degrees, the risk to biodiversity is quite small. At 2 degrees it becomes significant, and at 3 degrees almost half the insects and plants would be at risk.”

Of note, the study found that insects were more sensitive a warming climate than vertebrates and plants. For example, the typical insect under the 3 degrees Celsius warming condition would lose 43 percent of its habitat range.