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Posts Tagged ‘new york times’

Survivor. Photo by Barry Masterson of Kayak Staten Island.

Sharp-eyed Nature Calendar reader Christopher Johnson spotted this seal casually sunning its shark bite wound on rocks near Swinburne Island, in a gallery published at SILive.com (Staten Island Advance, photo by Barry Masterson, co-founder of Kayak Staten Island).

The question is whether this bite occurred in local waters or if the seal is healing up from an attack out east. Breathe a little easy, for now, says Paul Sieswerda, a shark expert and seal watching guide (and fellow Frisian). Paul has kindly written about sharks for Nature Calendar before, and was profiled in The New Yorker for his seal trips. I got to know him when I broke the story of seals returning to New York Harbor a decade earlier in the New York Times. That discovery was made by fellow kayakers (I joined for the confirming trip), who have now gotten familiar with porpoises.

It seems inevitable that larger sharks will return to our waters as the estuary grows cleaner and more bountiful. Prospects for that are good, if unnerving, with the Wildlife Conservation Society’s New York Seascape Initiative fostering the process. Last summer a NYC beach was closed in the Rockaways after a thresher shark sighting, but sadly the specimen was found dead the next day. A series of attacks in New Jersey became the stuff of legend nearly a century ago. Several sources report large sharks being caught off of lower Manhattan before the 20th century, perhaps attracted by rotting meat scraps tossed into the Hudson River. It also seems the Narrows were then, as now, a hot spot for finding larger creatures. A fun exploration of this topic by Tom Vanderbilt was published in the New York Times a few years ago, bearing this gripping image from the New York Historical Society.

Chaos in the Narrows (circa 1880). Collection of the New York Historical Society.

If you see a shark, please report it to the Wildlife Conservation Society’s New York Seascape Initiative. If you see a marine mammal or turtle, even in good health, please report it to the Riverhead Foundation. If you have the urge to get out there among the big fish, please volunteer at a community boathouse on the NYC Water Trail.

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Summer daylight and heat cycle by USA Today

 

 

by Erik Baard

 

A kid waiting to kayak at the Clearwater Festival last Solstice weekend asked me, “If this is the longest day of the year, then why isn’t it the hottest?” It’s a logical question, and I guess a common one. The incomparable Joe Rao addressed it in his New York Times astronomy blurb last week, and USA Today explored the question as well. The graphic above comes from USA Today.

 

In short, if Earth lacked an atmosphere, then surface temperature, apart from heat retained by rocks, would correlate with sun exposure. But our relatively stable atmosphere slowly and steadily receives energy from sunlight over the course of the spring and summer, as days lengthen. That energy, which we feel as heat, builds higher and higher until reaching its peak in July and early August.

 

I suppose an economist might call day length a leading indicator of summer, whereas as temperature is a lagging indicator. Swimmers and boaters (who are perpetually potential swimmers) know that this phenomenon of delay is even more pronounced with water temperatures.

 

Of course both air and water move around, so there’s a good bit of chaos and complexity to the fluid dynamics that make for summer weather and those late night skinny dips in open water that feel as warm as a bathtub. But the principle of heat retention is a far more powerful truth than its exceptions.

 

I’m also reminded of my good friend, David Grinspoon (with whom, for the record, I’ve never skinny-dipped), who joined us with comments about the Orion Nebula for the very first essay on Nature Calendar. He’s an astrobiologist (with an Earthly incarnation as a rhythm guitarist) with prestigious Mars and Venus robotic probe science assignments from both NASA and the European Space Agency, and serves as the curator of astrobiology at the Denver Museum of Science and Nature. He’s devoted much of his career to the planet Venus. He notes that if there was intelligent groundling life on Venus, it won’t see dominant temperature zones as we see them, corresponding to latitude, but instead look skyward to temperate altitudes. This is because Venus has an atmosphere that’s so dense, and therefore conductive, that heat overloads long ago seeped across all geographic areas. The surface is now isothermic, meaning that temperatures at the poles and the equator are the same. It’s gotten so hot there, due to a greenhouse effect gone into overdrive, that David postulates Venusian life would prefer a cloud habitat

 

Of course, our cities perversely punish themselves, with air conditioners dumping extra heat into the dense local ecosystem through their exhaust, building electrical wires, regional transmission lines, and the power plants required to power them. Makes you wonder if there’s intelligent life on Earth.

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CDC photo of a feeding mosquito.

by Erik Baard

Last night I saw my first mosquito of the season, flying into my bedroom, hot on my carbon dioxide trail. I lost track of it, but minutes later I heard the soft buzz of menace in my ear. One must never underestimate the dangers of mosquitoes. Emperor Titus was driven made by one that flew up his nose and picked at his brain, buzzing ceaselessly until he was driven into madness and death. Well, at least according to the Babylonian Talmud, written by Jews hopeful that God at least took some vengeance on the sacker of the Great Temple of Jerusalem.

 

Actually, those ancient Jewish exiles aren’t unique in offering a slanted view of history centered on this insect. Consider yourself, a person who’s probably an environmentally aware reader. If I mention DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane), the first person to spring to mind (okay, bad pun) is probably Rachel Carson. Her book, “Silent Spring,” and crusade against the chemical for its role in collapsing bird populations helped unleash one of the strongest currents in modern environmentalism, and led to the formation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Few remember Paul Hermann Müller, who won the Nobel Prize in 1948 for synthesizing DDT, which contemporaries saw as an incalculably humane achievement. Some credit the invention of DDT with saving upwards of 500 million lives. Even today, the mosquito threat is real. The species transmits diseases to 700 million people in tropical, often poor, regions each year. Over five million people, usually children, die from malaria annually. Mosquitoes also playing a central role in transmitting yellow fever, elephantiasis, dengue fever, Rift Valley fever, several encephalitis type diseases, and Ross River fever.

 

The fight over DDT usage, as policy leaders balance its risk to human health (in 1987 the EPA classified it as a “probable human carcinogen”) and the environment against its benefits. Of course, strains of mosquitoes in some regions developed a resistance to DDT in the intervening decades. Succeeding pesticides are also controversial. Locally, where 57 of the world’s 3,500 species of mosquitoes live, concerns over pesticides grew with aggressive spraying programs to eradicate insects potentially carrying the West Nile virus.

 

A few years back I wrote for the Village Voice about how New York City-bound containers of the insecticide malathion, made by Cheminova, was being stored at temperatures known to cause carcinogenic impurities. Spraying has continued in recent summers, affecting neighborhoods in areas as widespread as the South Bronx, western Staten Island, and northern Queens. A recent article in the Antigua Sun continues to raise the red flag.

 

One troubling passage on the malathion directions label reads:

“Malathion is approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the USA.

The EPA doesn’t actually test malathion.  It approves the product based on information supplied by the manufacturer.”

In other words, our safety is in the hands of the industry, from the manufacturer down to the evidently often-negligent distributors.

 

Another aspect of the argument against malathion spraying is that our reaction to the West Nile threat could be overblown, perhaps even hysterical, given how infrequently the disease is fatal.

 

Some argue that given our relatively less-dense mosquito populations we might take less radical measures like wearing light-colored clothing (the species is drawn to dark colors), eating more repellent vitamin B1 (found in brown rice, blackstrap molasses, sunflower seeds, brazil nuts, wheat germ, and soybeans, among other foods), applying cinnamon oil, deploying nets and screens, and introducing more animals that prey upon mosquitoes. One odd note: mosquitoes are highly sensitive to women’s menstrual cycles. I’m not sure what that says about interspecies sisterhood…

 

The environmental damage done by spraying is of increasing concern. Parallel to the bee decimation, lobster stocks are historically low. Both marine biologists and the industry suspect malathion spraying, as I reported in the New York Times. Of course there are worrisome inherent contradictions with an insecticide to be used against a wetlands species like mosquitoes when the directions read, as they do on malathion, “Avoid contaminating any body of water.”

 

Joel Kupferman of the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project pointed out to me recently that sprayers near Soundview Park were unaware that just over a ridge they were covering was the Bronx River.

 

What is not heard often, however, is cost of losing mosquitoes themselves. Their importance as pollinators has been greatly underestimated. After all, sugar from nectar is the species’ primary diet, not blood. Males drink no blood at all, and females imbibe blood from a variety of species only as their prenatal nutrient “superfood.” In the Centers for Disease Control photo above, you see the mother-to-be salivating her anticoagulants into capillary and sucking up a meal). Without mosquitoes, our wildflower and community gardens would be impoverished. Mosquitoes and their larvae are a vital food source for shorebirds, amphibians, reptiles, dragonflies, and small fish.

 

I don’t expect to see green activists sporting “save the mosquitoes” tee-shirts, but sober policymakers should perhaps be more considered in their decisions.

 

 

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by Erik Baard 

 

One of the most beautiful contrasts in New York Harbor is that of the verdant tip of Roosevelt Island against the sheen of Manhattan’s glass towers. That is in danger of being replaced with what might be described as a $40 million, concrete press-on nail for the island.

 

The sterile, largely paved and walled Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial and Four Freedoms Park designed by Louis I. Kahn would run counter to our city’s progress toward reconciliation with the estuary, restoration of both marine and uplands habitats, and recreational enjoyment of the harbor. One look at the model in the image at top reveals the travesty awaiting the island, one that ends in what is literally a high-walled room.

 

he future FDR Memorial, as designed by Louis I. Kahn, as it will look in a new Southpoint Park (rendering from the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute).

 The future FDR Memorial, as designed by Louis I. Kahn, as it will look in a new Southpoint Park (rendering from the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute).

 

It’s a shame when quite easily the form of the memorial can be reinterpreted through natural forms and materials. The southern point of the island, in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo below, doesn’t need much improvement.

 

Roosevelt Island by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

 

Imagine that key elements of the Kahn design were expressed through natural forms and materials.

 

Native NYC bedrock quarried from construction and tunneling to pave necessary walkways and be incorporated into the monument itself. This would better respect the environment and ground visitors in ubiety. Bedrock would also symbolize the role that the Roosevelt family has played in our city’s culture and civics. Excerpts of the “Four Freedoms” speech could be engraved into inclined slabs that allow viewers to read the immortal quotations while exhilarated by the wide open freedom of the openness around them. It would be sadly ironic to have the Four Freedoms speech carved into confining walls, especially in our overly-imprisoned era.

 

The V-shaped colonnade of trees should be indigenous. This stand could edge the existing landfill hillock, which should be made rich in indigenous meadow wildflowers and grasses. According to the Audubon Society, wild meadow is vanishing without the attention given wetlands. A soft edge, guarded by thoughtfully placed riprap rock would allow harbor birds, tidal pool creatures, and saltwater plants to live. It would also offer safe landings to paddlers in distress.

 

A bit over a week ago I spoke with a prominent young Roosevelt and asked, half in jest, if one could still love the family without loving the memorial. After teasing me about the “one” pronoun deflection, he reassuringly said, “we all love green.”

 

Regardless of the final form of the park, stopping the outdated version of this monument is a goal that people throughout the harbor community should share with the residents of Roosevelt Island, who have expressed their overwhelming preference for a natural restoration for the southern end of the island in repeated polls and a design exercise by the Trust for Public Land.

 

Yet the project boasts mystifying institutional backing – the New York Times editorial department, and local politicians at city, state, and federal levels. Sentiment in some circles of the architectural profession runs in favor of the plan, perhaps because of the biography of the architect behind it. Louis Kahn died in a Pennsylvania Station bathroom in 1974, ending his life deeply in debt and without this vision realized. But it’s incalculably important to bear in mind the dawn that was concurrent with his death: the national Clean Water Act of 1973 stated “wherever attainable, an interim goal of water quality which provides for the protection and propagation of fish, shellfish, and wildlife and provides for recreation in and on the water be achieved by July 1, 1983.”

 

We missed that goal by a decade in NYC, but our increasingly cleaner harbor and resurging ecosystems will afford adventure and beautiful experiences to people for decades to come. Yes, honor Kahn’s life story and work, but also honor the biographies yet to be written. Let children on Roosevelt Island (thousands more of whom are being added with dense, large-scale development) walk out their doors and into a soul-fortifying relationship with nature. Great Egrets have found nearby Long Island City and Mill Rock Island, so why not invite them to Roosevelt Island?

 

Roosevelt Island is full of paddlers and rowers eager to hit the water, and plans for a boathouse are afoot. A hardscape doesn’t fit the new desire for a landscape that invites residents and visitors alike into uplifting green and blue.

 

“It’s called an FDR memorial but it really seems to be a Louis Kahn memorial,” said a Roosevelt Island resident kayaker who asked not to be identified. “It looks like a Soviet era, Eastern European thing. It will impede the views of the UN and surroundings. The focus should be on looking out, not looking in.”

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