Two days ago, I spotted a single Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) butterfly sunning on a pile of wood chips. With all the rain we’ve had, seeing even one butterfly is an early treat.
Stepping out this afternoon, dozens of butterflies filled the sky, buds, and blooms on our rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and New Zealand tea trees (Leptospermum). Traveling north from the Mojave desert up to the Pacific Northwest, some Ladies (and their gents) have veered off their normal interior CA migration route to skim along the coast. Ours may not mirror or rival the Southern California explosion, but I’m ecstatic!
Here on the Northern CA coast, the nights have been cool, so native spring-flowering plants are slower to get started. My manzanitas and huckleberry are coming along, but not getting a lot of action. So far, honey bees from the neighbor’s hive and the native “Yellow-faced” bumble bees ( Bombus vosnesenskii) are the only active bee species I’ve seen around the yard. Hover flies are busy, though. Everyone love the rosemary, grevillea, and teas. Anna’s hummingbirds have been here all year, and they’re now having to share resources with the Allen’s.
Are you seeing Painted Ladies or other butterflies already this spring? If you want to contribute your P.L. sightings to science, check out this project at Iowa State University: vanessa.ent.iastate.edu
Butterfly common name – scientific name; Host plants; Adult food = host and nectar plants
• Red Admiral – Vanessa atalanta Nettle family (Urticaceae) including stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), tall wild nettle (U. gracilis), wood nettle (Laportea canadensis), false nettle (Boehmeria cylindrica), pellitory (Parietoria pennsylvanica), mamaki (Pipturus albidus), and possibly hops (Humulus); Prefer sap flows on trees, fermenting fruit, and bird droppings; visiting flowers only when these are not available. Then they will nectar at common milkweed, red clover, aster, and alfalfa, among others. • Painted Lady – Vanessa cardui More than 100 host plants noted; favorites include thistles, hollyhock and mallow (Malvaceae), and various legumes (Fabaceae); The Painted Lady prefers nectar from composites 3-6 feet high, especially thistles; also aster, cosmos, blazing star, ironweed, and joe-pye weed. Flowers from other families that are visited include red clover, buttonbush, privet, and milkweeds. • West Coast Lady – Vanessa annabella Mallow family (Malvaceae) including tree mallow (Lavatera), globe mallow (Sphaeralcea), bush mallow (Malvastrum), mallow (Malva), alkali mallow (Sida), checkerbloom (Sidalcea), and hollyhock (Althea); Flower nectar. • American Lady – Vanessa virginiensis Plants in the sunflower family everlasting (Gnaphalium obtusifolium), pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea), plantain-leaved pussy toes (Antennaria plantaginifolia), wormwood (Artemisia), ironweed (Vernonia), and burdock (Arctium); Flower nectar almost exclusively, including dogbane, aster, goldenrod, marigold, selfheal, common milkweed, and vetch.
Walks in my pollinator garden are always “I Spy” adventures. I’m tracking which pollinators are using the plants, flowers, and extra water and food resources I’ve provided. These include two hummingbird feeders. A few days ago another group of “I spy” eyes locked onto the feeders . . . honey bees. Maybe they’re from a wild colony or domesticated bees from a neighbor’s box. Either way, a scout made it back to the hive to do its boogie, woogie, waggle dance and map out the way to a sugar fest in my yard.Continue reading →
Last year on Earth Day I was raising a sign for rational thought and action in the March for Science. This year, I’m spending it on my knees in my garden planting for pollinators. All pollinators: bees, birds, butterflies, moths, flies, bats, beetles – indeed all flying insects face increasing risks each year from habitat loss, pesticides, climate change, and disease.
Last week’s House of Representative committee amendments to the proposed Farm Billwould seriously weaken the Endangered Species Act, allowing the unrestricted use of pesticides, many proven to harm or kill the species we depend on.
There are many ways to counter pollinator losses. Certainly, politically, but also by making your home, garden, and behaviors pollinator friendly.
Sea turtle conservation continues to make progress, but most species are still in deep trouble around the world. Understanding the turtles’ entire life cycle is critical to moving these species away from extinction. Until recently, we had little to no data on where the babies went after hatching.
New technology and dedicated scientists have now cracked the case. In celebration of World Sea Turtle Day, I recommend this illuminating videoproduced byChanging Seas. Babies found!
Plastic pollution leads the pack of insults, but as the powerful photo above attests, derelict fishing gear (DFG) adds untold insults to mounting injuries.
Some days reading environmental news sends an emotional death ray into my hope for our planet. I end up deflated as an old tire. This World Oceans Day, I decided sharing a few success stories might put the spin back in my wheels.
Every year hundreds of thousands (maybe millions) of people gather to reclaim from, or keep trash out of, our oceans, seas, and other waterways. Some gather for a day. For others cleanup is a career. Here are a few examples of what’s working.
The Ocean Conservancy’s annual INTERNATIONAL COASTAL CLEANUP
561,895 volunteers in 91 countries collected 16,186,759 pounds (7,226 metric tons) of trash over 13,360 miles. One of the most unusual finds was $1,680 in cash. Largest “pieces” haul – cigarette butts – 2,117,931 of them. Ick. See if you can give up any of the Top 10 Items Found. I bought glass and stainless drinking straws and re-useable bamboo picnic ware to keep in the car. They make great presents, too.
I’m extremely lucky to live near the ocean. Our local harbor supports a fair number of fishing boats. In the winter and spring, we have fresh Dungeness crab, and salmon and local fish during other times of the year. Crab pots and derelict fishing gear are ongoing dangers to marine life, boats, and economic livelihoods in many fisheries. Sustainable solutions often mean partnerships between the fishing industry, states, non-profits, and federal government agencies, like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
CRAB POT RETRIEVAL, REUSE, RECYCLE PROGRAMS
In 2009, NOAA’s Marine Debris Program employed off-season crab fishermen to remove nearly 3,000 derelict crab pots from Oregon’s coastal waters. The Program’s Fishing for Energyfunds paid for disposal bins along the coast where fishermen could discard used gear for free. A steel company recycled and sheared the waste, and an energy company burned ropes and nets as renewable fuel. The program was so successful, it will continue to remove additional pots through an industry-led partnership of the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission, state Department of Fish and Wildlife, and NOAA.
The University of California School of Veterinary Medicine, the SeaDoc Society, and the Humboldt, CA Fishermen’s Marketing Association also have a pilot program to retrieve derelict crab pots. With i.d. info from the pot’s tag, they locate the original owner and offer them the pots for less than half the cost of a new one. Sales support future cleanups and unsold gear is recycled. Five hundred and fifty pots were collected in just two months this year. Program video (2:39)
Fishermen in North Carolina’s Pamlico Sound (through another NOAA partnership), are collecting and re-purposing 4 to 7 tons of crab pot material into 700 linear feet of oyster reefs. The goal is to rebuild the local, Eastern oyster fishing industry.
Abandoned gill nets are made of non-biodegradable mono or multifilament line. Fish and other marine life continue to be snared in this “ghost fishing.” Their value is lost to the environment and to the fishing economy. The inland ocean waters of Puget Sound was a burial ground for thousands of these legacy nets. Over the last decade the Northwest Straits Foundation, working with professional divers, NOAA’s Marine Debris Program, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, state agencies, and others, has removed all 5,600 abandoned and dangerous nets. Talk about success. “Diving for Debris” Program video (6:04)
THE FUN FOR LAST
I am SO stoked about the Marine Debris Tracker app. A collaboration between NOAA’s Marine Debris Program and the University of Georgia’s Southeast Atlantic Marine Debris Initiative, this free app for Apple and Android smartphones and tablets turns you into a citizen trash scientist. Download the app, track, and log your trash collection sites (through GPS), regardless of where you are in the world and whether you’re on a beach, on the ocean, your street, school, local stream ~ wherever. Your info goes into a growing global database, allowing scientists to better understand the world’s trash picture. From knowledge comes solution, right?
This little free tool is so impressive it was included in Apple’s 25th Worldwide Developers Conference promotional video, “Apps We Can’t Live Without.” Oceans advocate Emily Penn, of Pangaea Exploration collects data on marine debris. MDT is an app she “can’t live without,” she told the Apple audience. Just think of the progress we could make if every kid with a smartphone or tablet starting tracking (and picking up) trash.
I’m no Emily Penn, but my ipad’s loaded and a collection bag’s by the door ready for today’s test run.
Ahh, I feel a lot better now. If you have an environmental success story (or you download MDT), please share your good news in the comments.
HAPPY WORLD OCEAN’S DAY!
Peace. Thanks for doing what you can.
P.S. The beautiful Monk seal in the opening photo was one of two rescued off Hawaii from this derelict net.
Click on the ornament to go to Part 1 of A Monarch Christmas
Franca’s Christmas holiday
House-sitting with Marcail ~ “It feels so good to be on a plant with sunshine on my wings!” Franca
House-sitting with Marcail ~ “Here’s where I sit in the bathroom. It’s kind of cold in here, but this plant is the safest. I haven’t fallen off of it, and none of the other animals can get me.” Franca
Katy: What’s new, now that you’re two plus weeks in?
Marcail: I house-sat during Christmas and took Franca with me. She liked it there because the house was warmer than mine. She also had plants to sit on. Sometimes when I got home after work, I’d find she’d fallen off the plant I left her on. Didn’t hurt her, but there were cats in the house, so I made sure they couldn’t get to her.
Not everyone can say they’ve been peed on by a butterfly.
Katy: What a great idea. Now that you are more than two weeks into Franca’s rescue, what’s your hope for her future?
Marcail: I don’t know how old she is, but I have a feeling she’ll make it to warmer weather. Of course I’m hoping to release her. I definitely do not want to keep her as a pet. I’m really happy with the progress I’ve seen so far. I didn’t think she would be so quick to use her legs and wings, and she’s getting stronger. I’m pretty sure she won’t die, unless it’s her time.
Katy: How will you know when it’s time to let her go?
Marcail: I don’t know what conditions prove that she’s able to be released, but I want to see that she’s confident walking, confident flying, and able to find her own food without me putting it in front of her face. I think that would be proof that she can live on her own. My goal is to get her to feed on her own and fly. Then she’s on her way.
Katy: Those sound like reasonable goals. She’s done so well so far. Since she might be around for a while, are you going to make a habitat for her?
Marcail: At this rate, I’ll probably have to get some kind of small cage or terrarium for her to live in until spring. She’s getting more confident walking around and trying to use her wings. I don’t want her to get into trouble.
Katy: I’ve learned a lot following you and Franca. Can you sum up your experience so far?
Marcail: She’s a lot stronger than I thought. I was afraid she would be much more breakable and easily damaged, but she’s not. Caring for her doesn’t take as much time as I expected. I don’t take her to work, so I don’t feed her for a long time during the day. Still, she’s able to make it and keep her strength until I get home. I’m always glad for weekends or holidays where I can stay home and spend a lot of time with her. It’s a lot of time put in, but it doesn’t feel like it. A lot of times I’ll feed her and keep her warm while I’m watching a movie and I don’t notice how much time it takes. I feel like I make it work for my lifestyle and schedule. Sometimes I feel guilty about that, but she seems to be doing well anyway.
Katy: Given fall-hatched Monarchs can live up to eight months, she might be hanging around your house another four or five. Enough time to learn a lot more about this beautiful butterfly and her species.
UPDATE: Franca’s beautiful life came, as far we can tell, to a natural end on January 25th. I’m grateful for the chance to have this closer look at the lives on Monarchs.
Visit (and Like) Franca’s Facebook page to keep up with her. I created a puzzle, using a photo of a Monarch (female!) who stopped by my garden this year.
Monarch puzzle. Click on the link above the photo. If 20 pieces is too easy, bump it up to more. Have fun!
Thanks, Marcail and Franca for allowing me to share your story. I’ll be preparing my garden (with native milkweed and flowers) and anxiously watching for Monarchs this spring.
There is tons of information about Monarchs on the Internet. I found some unusual, fun facts. See how many questions you can answer.
1) Franca got caught in a bad rain storm. What is one strategy butterflies use to wait out a storm?
2) Butterflies come in a range of colors, so why are Monarch’s orange?
3) What is a major difference between Monarchs that make the longest migration from Canada to Mexico and shorter migrations(or none), like the Western or resident Puerto Rican groups?
4) What body part(s) help a Monarch fly in the right direction during migration?
5) What is “puddling”?
6) Are Monarchs found in other places than North America?
7) What is the Monarch called in Australia?
8) What bird is immune to the toxin in Monarchs?
1) They hang upside down from a branch, wings folded tight, so the rain will run off their bodies.
2) The color is a warning signal to predators (like birds) that they’ll get a yucky (toxic to some species) mouthful if they chomp down on a Monarch. This is called an “aposematic” signal. Monarch caterpillars only eats milkweed, which contains a poison. The caterpillar’s body stores the poison and passes it on to the adult butterfly during metamorphosis. The Viceroy butterfly doesn’t rely on milkweed, but its color pattern mimics the Monarch’s. It probably sends the same, “better not eat me” message. A color variation where the Monarch’s normally orange areas are replaced by greyish white, originally appeared in small numbers in Australia, New Zealand, and Indonesia. A consistent 10% of Oahu, Hawaii’s population have this coloration.
Monarch on left, Viceroy on right. Note the black bar across lower wing on the Viceroy, absent from Monarch. Can you tell whether the Monarch is a male or female? Photo: Wikimedia Commons
3) New research shows size matters if you’re flying long distance. Look at the difference between these Monarchs (top left one is a male-note black scent sacs on underwing and thinner veins). The larger set makes the long migration, the smaller set never migrates out of Puerto Rico. BBC Earth News article, here.
Long-distance Monarch fliers have larger bodies and wings. Photo: used with permission
4) Butterfly ‘GPS’ found in antennae The antennae and brain work together to get Monarchs where they need to go. The butterflies use “a 24-hour clock in their brains in conjunction with their “Sun compass” when they migrate. The antennal clock can sense light independently from the brain and can function independently,” while regulating the brain process. “It’s becoming…clear that the antennae have a number of functions that are independent from being odour detectors. They can function as ears, sensing sound and changes in barometric pressure, and now we can add to the list this function as a timepiece.”
5) When a butterfly takes in moisture and nutrients from damp soil and wet gravel.
6)Yes, two species are wide-spread. Populations are found in New Zealand, Australia, New Guinea, and New Caladonia. In Europe: the Canary Islands, the Azores, and Madeira. Also India, Ceylon, Central America and Northern South America-including along the Amazon. And in Hawaii. From: CarnavoraForum.
7) The Wanderer
8) The Black-headed Grosbeak. Other birds, like orioles and jays eat select, less toxic parts of the body. Mice seem less affected by the toxin, too.
Please don’t plant “tropical” milkweed, as there is concern it might be contributing to health issues in Monarchs. Replace it with native milkweed, at the least, cut it back every fall, so it’s not blooming. Read about the issue,here.
Eleven days before Christmas / and all through the town / shoppers aim for the store lights / none notice the ground.
Every December Woodland, CA bustles with people, preparing for the holidays. Sunday the 14th was no exception, as my friends Marcail and her mom, Marjie, finished their shopping at a local mall.
Marjie crossed the parking lot toward her car to wait for Marcail. A flicker of color ~ not Christmas green or red, but true orange ~ caught her attention in a nearby flowerbed. A Monarch butterfly, wings spread, lay motionless on the dirt. She bent and lifted it off the cold ground, first searching its wings for a tiny identification tag. A Santa Barbara native familiar with Monarchs, she once found a tagged butterfly and retrieved information for a group tracking its migration. This downed migrant was tagless.
Behind the wheel, she cupped her palms and blew warm air over the lifeless body. One antenna moved. Marcail opened the car door, sliding into her seat. Marjie handed her daughter the butterfly. It would be up to her to figure out how to care for their new family member ~ if it survived.
In the following days, Marcail’s friends and I fell in love with the “girl and her butterfly” story unfolding on her Facebook page. I realized how little I know about Monarchs, much less how to nurse one back to health. I thought others might benefit from her journey, so Marcail agreed to this interview. The multi-post series combines updates on the butterfly’s progress, Marcail’s photos (used with permission), information on Monarchs, and ways we all can help.
TRIAL AND ERROR FEEDING
Katy: I’ve really enjoyed following the story, Marcail. I know your mom found the butterfly, but you’ve had to take care of it since. Let’s start with what you did when you got the butterfly home.
Marcail: Somehow we knew about keeping it warm and putting sugar water on a cotton ball and letting it drink from it, which it did. This kind of care lasted for a few days, then you and our friend Greg (who knows a lot about butterflies) sent me links about getting other nutrition into it through juice or a mixture of soy sauce and juice. At first it didn’t care for this new concoction, but if I made it much more on the sweet side I could usually get it to drink some.
Katy: You had a few concerns the first couple of days.
Marcail: A couple of hours after we got home, it was barely moving its wings. The antennae were moving much more, but it still wasn’t standing. The wings would move when I picked it up, but stopped when I put it down. I was worried about the missing chunk from her underwing, but Greg said it wouldn’t hurt its flying.
I was also worried because it’s an insect, but I only saw four legs. I found out the other two are tiny and are usually tucked under the head.
I think this video shows it using the front legs to clean its proboscis.
Katy: I see there’s an apple core, maybe a piece of other fruit, in the picture above. What’s that about?
Marcail: I’m trying to incorporate other natural fruits that could give the butterfly more vitamins and minerals than just sugar and water. I give it the juice that oozes out of overripe fruit mixed with sugar water and fruit syrup from jam. I usually put a raisin in it that gets soft as it soaks up the liquids and syrup. I’m hoping the raisins add iron because I’ve heard and read that raisins are high in iron.
12/19: “Well, just when I think “she’s not interested in eating anymore” I find something to perk her up. Some persimmon!” Marcail
Marcail’s Monarch was lucky to be found. A strong, cold storm hit a wide area three days before she crash-landed. Monarchs can’t fly if their body heat is below 86 degrees F.
12/17 “Well, I only fed her in the morning, didn’t have time after work and my next thing, now I can’t get her to eat. feeling frustrated. She probably needs to eat! She does like hanging out near a warm mug of tea though.”
They won’t survive freezing temperatures, especially if they are alone. This butterfly is part of the smaller, Western group whose members live, reproduce, and travel west of the Rockies. They can be found as far north as British Columbia, but they don’t migrate into Mexico, rather only as far south as San Diego. That’s what happens when you leave your passports at home.
Fall Migration Map.” Monarch Butterfly. US Forest Service
The butterfly would have hatched in the late summer or early fall, like its cousins in the Eastern migration group that move from Eastern Canada, through Texas, to Mexico each fall. A small number of the Eastern group fly to Florida where they stay for the winter. The large, Mexico-bound group over-winters in the oyamel fir trees ofMichoacan, Mexico. In the spring, all groups start the search for nectar to eat and milkweed plants on which to lay eggs and nourish the caterpillars when they hatch.
One of Marcail’s original concerns was the butterfly was not standing. It took a awhile, but on Day 6 it was ready for Strength Training! Can sprint flights be far behind?
12/20 “Practicing our grip this morning. She did her first official (small) flutter of her wings last night. Very exciting. I’m glad for a weekend so I can spend more time with her and feed her more often.” Marcail
Marcail (on her Facebook page): I think I’ve got a name for her: Franken Flutter (Franca for short) because I keep thinking, “She’s alive!”
Katy: How did you figure out she’s a female, or did you just decide to make her a “sista?”
Marcail: Our friend Greg told me the females have thicker veins in their wings. I compared her to pictures online, and her veins are definitely bigger.
The other main differences are the males tend to be slightly larger and they have a black spot (the “androconium,” a scent gland used to attract girl Monarchs) on each hindwing. Can you see them in these comparison pictures?
Female Monarch Photo: Creative Commons
Male Monarch Photo: Creative Commons
Marcail and her mom are both fabric artists. Here’s a collage Marcail put together showing the butterfly wing skirt she made in high school. I think Franca (can you see her?) approves.
Marcail’s butterfly skirt
My interview with Marcail and Franca continues in Part 2, along withsome unusual, funMonarch facts. I‘m off to make aMonarch paper airplane. (see update below)
Monarch rescue resource sites
I haven’t cross-checked all the information on the sites I visited for this series. I suggest looking at more than one site, particularly ones backed by universities and researchers studying butterflies. A serious Monarch health issue is linked to the increased use of “tropical milkweed.” For now, don’t plant it or spread the seeds, only use plants native to your area. If you already have it, consider replacing with natives or cut it back in the fall.
Wing repair ~ Live Monarch HospitalMarcail used info on this site to keep her butterfly’s legs from sticking together when it got carried away in its food dish.
Feeding~ Butterfly Rescue InternationalButterflies smell with their antennae and taste with special receptors, called tarsi, on the bottoms of their feet (who knew?).
12/25 – Christmas flutters! Marcail(on her Facebook page): Here’s a video of Franca doing some pretty rapid wing flutters. Of course right after I take this she does one 10x more impressive. I was telling some friends tonight about her personality, how she’s not much of a morning girl and I’ll be like, “hurry up and eat so I can go to work!” But she just farts around with her food like she’s not hungry.
I don’t know for sure, but this looks like the kind of wing “shivers” butterflies do to warm up.
Update: My Monarch paper airplane. Flew pretty well, considering I accidentally tore off what would be the short tail. Helps to follow the instructions.
UPDATE: Finished the airplane. Printed on both sides of the paper. It didn’t quite match up, but worked okay. I accidentally tore off the short tail the instructions say to leave. Flew pretty well anyway, but I’ll try again with the tail intact.
Monarch paper air plane top Katypye.com http://wp.me/p2dkY1-Nj
Monarch paper air plane underneath Katypye.com http://wp.me/p2dkY1-Nj
Interconnected seas form our parent ocean — to my mind, the most critically endangered species on the planet. We are undeniably linked: biologically (from whence we came), for sustenance (food, water, air), and emotionally (see “Blue Mind”-Wallace J. Nichols). We all know our parent is in trouble. What we do on land, and in the air and water can help or hurt. I’m always looking for ideas.
over-fishing ~ MarineBio.org-“…a solvable problem.” World Wildlife Fund“More than 85 percent of the world’s fisheries have been pushed to or beyond their biological limits.”
ocean pollution~ National Geographic and NOAA (“Eighty percent of pollution to the marine environment comes from the land.” I include plastics as a form of “run-off.”)
the atmosphere ~If you click on only one thing in this post, choose this one. iMatter: Young people are taking governments to court in a fight to protect the atmosphere. These powerful, passionate, and eloquent kids are using society’s highest tools to force the top game-changers to uphold and act under the law. Their stories and presence touch, educate, and empower. Expect goosebumps, smiles, maybe a touch of “parental” pride.
After rain Point Cabrillo Lightstation Historic State Park Photo: Katy Pye All rights reserved
We’re in this together. Feel free to share your favorite “primal parent” links, suggestions, and stories in the comments.
Thanks for stopping by, peace, and do what you can.
Nesting Kemp’s ridley Photo: Adrienne McCracken
P.S. It’s sea turtle nesting season in many places and all 7 species are threatened or endangered. To avoid extinction, they need to up their reproduction rates. Please report any turtles or nests you find to appropriate local groups. Seaturtle.org lists 228+/- sea turtle groups in 63 countries. Follow local requirements or best practices, such as turning off outside lights at night. Don’t interfere with, or distract adults or hatchlings. Know how your fish and seafood is caught and whether laws to protect sea turtles from drowning in shrimping nets are being followed. Louisiana defiantly refuses to enforce federal fishing laws that protect sea turtles during shrimp trawling.
Four years after the Deepwater Horizon disaster it’s hard to find irrefutable good news. Billions of dollars and countless numbers of scientists and project staff are focused on understanding and fixing the large and lingering damage. Predictions about the future are cautious to non-existent. What’s clear is the Gulf and the creatures that depend on it are still struggling.
Food, habitat, next generations
While tourists and locals in a news video shot in New Orleans said they had no health qualms about eating Gulf seafood, an oil industry worker/sports fisherman ina Fox News clipbemoaned the disappearance of red fish in his home waters. In a Reuter’s piece last week, Jules Melancon, “the last remaining oyster fisherman on Grand Isle,” says all his leased oyster beds are barren. Seven fishing grounds off the Louisiana coast remain closed.
CatIsland in Barataria Bay, Louisiana, once a teeming pelican rookery, is devoid of stabilizing vegetation. It’s wasting away. The oil/dispersant mix that soaked into the soil poisoned mangroves and all the other plants. The muck is still there, destroying any chance new vegetation will secure a toe-hold. Restoration has begun in some areas hit by the spill, but it’s expensive and slow-going.
U.S. Navy submersible, “ALVIN” used by the research team this month. Creative Commons photo
Where nothing survived four years ago, this week she saw eels, skates, and a vampire squid. Conclusion: recovery is happening. However the sea floor is covered in an inches-thick oiled layer. The long-term effects are unknown, and while heartened she cautioned not to extrapolate the positive signs across the entire area affected by the original spill.
Human health studies
The National Institute of Health (NIH) is in the early stages of its 10-year study on the human health impacts to those who lived in the area and worked on clean-up. It may be years, maybe never, before the true health effects of the spill are known. Many of the sick, lacking health insurance, can only wait and hope their claims survive the complicated bundle of paperwork and court battles between the government and BP.
Environmental monitoring group, Gulf Restoration Network, reports oil is still appearing on Louisiana’s Grand Isle beaches. They collected “thousands of tar balls” there April 9th, 2014. BP denies they are from the Macondo well, saying the tar balls are no threat to human health. (Reuters)
BP has spent tens of billions of dollars in fines, clean-up, and compensation. That figure has almost doubled in court fights, the company attempting to overturn or delay payments.Locally, rifts have developed between claimants who have received settlements and those denied or still waiting. Lawyers have claimed a lion’s share.
A failure to improve
In the meantime, BP has successfully bid on 24 blocks offered for lease in the Gulf of Mexico. These are the company’s first new U.S. offshore leases in two years, which include government approval for deep-water drilling.
Creative commons photo
According to a disturbingNew York Times OpEd article (4/17/2014)nothing has changed in terms of engineering refinements on any deep water operations. The Obama Administration “…still has not taken key steps recommended by its experts and experts it commissioned to increase drilling safety. As a result, we are on a course to repeat our mistakes.Making matters worse, the administration proposes to expand off-shore drilling in the Atlantic and allow seismic activities harmful to ocean life in the search for new oil reserves.” (Liz Birnbaum, former head of the Minerals Management Service, industry regulatory agency at the time of the Macondo blow-out and Jacqueline Savitz, vice president for U.S. Oceans at Oceana.)
New leases for deepwater drilling are handed out to companies every year, yet improved regulations and design requirements on blow-out preventers promised four years ago remain non-existent. “The N.A.E. (National Academy of Engineering) report warned that a blowout in deep water may not be controllable with current technology,” the N.Y.Times piece concluded.
Business as usual.
OKAY, TODAY’S GOOD NEWS!
I was at a low ebb this afternoon after researching articles for this post, when in came an e-mail from Adrienne McCracken. She’s the Field Operations Manager for Loggerhead Marine Life Center in Juno Beach, Florida. Adrienne’s Kemp’s ridley hatchling is the eye-catching baby turtle on the cover of my novel, Elizabeth’s Landing.
Leatherback sea turtle crawl track, Juno Beach FL 4/20/2014. Photo by Adrienne McCracken, Loggerhead Marine Life Center.
She said, “Happy Easter! We had our own version of an egg hunt this morning with a leatherback and a loggerhead nest…”Whoo-hoo! Life goes on, and as Maria the biologist in the book tells Elizabeth, “It’s a one-turtle-at-a-time job.” This morning Adrienne and her group enjoyed two, with hope for 200+/- hatchlings in a few months. Thank you Loggerhead Marinelife Center, and all sea turtle conservation groups for being on the beaches year-round.
Loggerhead Marinelife Center Field Technician, Shelby, flagging a Loggerhead nest 4/20/2014. Photo by Sarah Hirsch
The second piece of good news, at least for me, came yesterday from the Nautilus Book Awards. Elizabeth’s Landing earned a 2014 SILVER award for Young Adult Fiction.Last year, Nautilus GOLD and SILVER award winners included three authors I love: Barbara Kingsolver for Flight Behavior, Louise Erdrich for The Round House, and Brene’ Brown for Daring Greatly. In April, Elizabeth’s Landing was awarded FIRST PLACE in Fiction in Writer’s Digest’s 2013“Self-published e-book Awards.” I am deeply honored by both awards and hope they help bring more attention to the desperate plight of all sea turtles.
It’s spring, and with it comes new energy and possibility. Bloom where you can.
Barbara Kingsolver’s novel Flight Behavior, photography, ignorance, and a meadow walk aligned like personal, fated stars one day last month.
My first photography show, Flora abunda is a wildflower image exhibit at CA State Parks’ Ford House Museum. As a hobby photographer and rank amateur in biology and botany, pulling all the pieces together has been a delightful, if sometimes challenging, eye-opener. A local expert made sure my plant i.d.s were correct, and pointed out, in passing, two plants that are food sources for the immature stage of two rare and endangered butterflies: the Behren’s Silverspot and the Lotis Blue – a species considered extinct here for over 30 years.
While compiling the show, I was also writing a short article for the San Francisco Chapter of the Women’s National Book Association. They wanted my thoughts on women authors such as Barbara Kingsolver, Elizabeth Gilbert, Ann Patchett who, like me, feature the environment (and related human interactions and impacts) in current novels. I’d recently read Flight Behavior and Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things back-to-back. One afternoon flower photos, Latin names, endangered lives, words and themes clogged my brain. I headed out to a nearby forest park and meadow to strain the mental debris. As I stepped out of the woods into the bright, grassland light, I had a my own “Dellarobia” moment.
Spring azure (likely). A common butterfly. Weren’t all our now endangered species once “common?” Photo: Katy Pye
A blue butterfly, barely bigger than a quarter, lit on a grass blade beside me. My feet became one with the path.
The Lotis! It’s got to be. Can’t be. “Are you?” I asked.
It took less than ten minutes to get home, retrieve my camera, and return to the spot. As I crept closer, it seemed impossible he would still be there. Ten minutes in butterfly years is probably twenty human years. He had precious little life to spend waiting for me. I’m sure I heard his rebuke at my approach.
“Finally! You people fly so slow.”
“Just give me a few seconds,” I pleaded, snapping shot after shot.
For a few hours I rode on hope he was the Lotis. Turns out he’s naught but a common variety blue. Still, my encounter proves–as if it needs proving–books fire imagination and the best ones, connection.