I recently witnessed a visible change in Queens Creek that was caused by iron, precipitating into the water. That may have been a natural phenomena, but I am suspicious about the cause, because I don’t remember ever seeing rust colored water in any of our local estuaries in over 20 years of paddling in them. I discovered, while examining water samples under a microscope, that the rusty water contained significantly less phytoplankton than a sample I took the same day on an adjoining creek that didn’t have excess iron.
Micro-organisms may seem insignificant, but they are the very base of the food chain. Without them, there are no bass, flounder, or red drum. Microorganisms can also be toxic, like the red tide. Any imbalance of phytoplankton can have significant impacts on our food supply. There are also microorganisms, like dinoflagellates (pfiesteria piscicida), that can impact human health, in addition to killing fish.
Whenever we pollute the water, whether it be with excess nutrients, untreated sewage, pesticides, herbicides, or other chemicals, we shift the balance in the microscopic populations and jeopardize the very base of the food chain on which every living thing depends; including us. Impaired waters can result from many seemingly insignificant sources of pollution, like excess fertilizer applied to lawns, or large sources of pollution, like runoff from a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO). It could even be from a seemingly natural increase in dissolved iron. I’m not going to say that mother nature is always benevolent, but she has a way of maintaining the balance.
When you combine natural impacts with unrelenting human impacts, the results can be devastating. You may have read the recent news about the loss of about half of the wildlife on the planet in the past 40 years. While the reasons for wildlife loss are various, every negative impact matters. Sometimes it may seem like conservationists are creating a tempest in a teapot over what may seem like trivial issues. Allow me to use an analogy: When your financial situation is such that your bills are paid and you’ve got lots of money left over for discretionary spending, you don’t get really excited about an increase in the price of gasoline, a gallon of milk, or a dozen eggs. After all, it just chips away at your surplus; you’ve still got plenty of money for basic needs. However, when your property taxes go up, your income goes down, and you’re clipping coupons just to put food on the table, all of a sudden, even a small price increase can impact your quality of life.
The environment is not unlike your household budget. When environmental quality is high, production is high, and when demand doesn’t outstrip production, there are surpluses and nobody gets too excited about some environmental degradation. However, after centuries of environmental degradation, habitat destruction, and increasing demands on production by an ever growing human population, we’ve reached the point where small impacts equate not only to less food on our plate, but sometimes entire species are disappearing, which can start an irreversible chain reaction.
Every time a food source disappears, the people relying on that food source must find something to replace it. That results in more pressure on the remaining resources, possibly resulting in yet another collapse in the food web, which, in turn, puts even more pressure on the remaining sources of food.
Conservationists and environmentalists may sound like mother hens, at times, but it is imperative that every one of us get educated about what we can do to reduce our impact on our environment and take action, now. There is no time to wait. I know most people are already struggling with their day to day lives. I know I am. Once you begin to understand the way your choices impact the environment, you can begin to make better choices. In many cases, you can save time, money, or both.
Here are some simple examples that you may have heard of, and even implemented in your life. Thank you, for all that you have done, and anything you can do in the future.
- Use re-usable grocery bags to save on plastic trash
- Replace tungsten light bulbs with energy saving compact fluorescent bulbs, or better yet, LEDs
- Properly dispose of trash (don’t litter), and please recycle
- Don’t over fertilize your lawn, and don’t apply fertilizer or chemicals right before a heavy rain
- Combine trips to the store to save time and fuel
- Don’t flush medications (or dental floss!) down the toilet; actually, it’s bad to flush much of anything down the toilet other than what it was made for
- Eat less meat
- Go kayaking with your Riverkeeper
I could go on for days, here. I know there are lots of Internet sites with suggestions on how to shop wisely and manage your lawn and household in an environmentally responsible way. The point I’m trying to make here is that you are doing yourself, your friends, family, and your descendants a disservice if you don’t at least take a few minutes to evaluate your life, cut out waste, and reduce your use of toxic chemicals and fertilizers that end up in our lakes, rivers, streams and ocean. The fish you kill might be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back. Your used motor oil might kill the last piping plover and start a chain reaction that results in the extinction of all life on Earth! Ha! You would have been disappointed if I didn’t throw in at least one doomsday remark.
Life on planet Earth has changed, because our environment and our circumstances have changed. There are over 7 billion of us, now. We need to get smarter if we’re going to survive. That, my friend, is a fact. Thank you, for taking the time to read this. I hope you’ll give it some thought.