It important to know the difference between egg cases of the invasive Chinese praying mantis and the native Carolina mantis. Both live on Fishers Island.

(l-r) Arabella Hatfield and Lillian Kane are proud finalists in the 2021 Connecticut Science & Engineering Fair.

Arabella Hatfield and Lillian Kane, two senior honors physics students at Fishers Island School, were State Finalists in the recent 2021 Connecticut Science & Engineering Fair. The annual competition is open to all 7th-12th grade students in Connecticut schools and Fishers Island.

Both Arabella and Lillian benefited from Fishers Island Conservancy grants to purchase equipment needed to execute their experiments in Carol Giles’s science classes.

Arabella used the fluorometer, purchased for use by oceanography students at school, to measure phytoplankton population density for her experiment: Ocean Acidification: How it Effects the Phytoplankton Species Nannochloropsis Oculata.

Lillian used her grant to purchase oxygen and carbon dioxide probes for her experiment: Exploring Earthworm Ecotypes: Carbon Source or Sink?

Awards

Arabella:

Environmental Sciences Award with CACIWAC—HS Finalist, CSF Medallion

Lillian:

PepsiCo/Pfizer Life Sciences Awards—Finalist – Life Science Senior High – CFS Medallion

Petit Family Foundation Women in Science & Engineering Awards—High School Finalist – Medallion

Future Sustainability Awards—High School Finalist – Medallion

Alexion Biotechnology Awards—3rd Place – Biotechnology Senior High – $300 & plaque

NASA EARTH System Science Award—Certificate and $25 gift card given by CSEF

University of Connecticut – Early College Acceptance—UCONN Early College Experience Program: Life Sciences – Co-Op $100 Gift Certificate

Two new books of interest have recently been published: “The Nature of Oaks”, by Douglas Tallamy and “A World On the Wing: The Global Odyssey of Migratory Birds”, by Scott Weidensaul.

A healthy manatee drifts under dock in Vero Beach, FL amidst reflections of boats on lifts. Disappearing seagrass causing a feeding crisis for manatees is farther up the east coast near Merritt Island. FIConservancy Photo.

Manatees are starving to death in Florida. These gentle giants, weighing up to 1200 pounds, feed almost exclusively on seagrass and eat 9 percent of their body weight everyday.

Seagrass has long been in trouble in Florida’s increasingly polluted Indian River Lagoon Estuary. But scientists say that this year, in main manatee feeding areas, there’s almost no seagrass left for these herbivores to eat, causing them to become “severely emaciated” and die.

Fishers Island seagrass does not have to support the voracious appetites of manatees, but “our” seagrass forms the base of a highly productive marine food web, providing foraging areas and shelter for young fish and invertebrates, and food for migratory waterfowl and sea turtles.

This unique habitat also improves water quality by filtering polluted runoff, absorbing excess nutrients, storing greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, and trapping sediment, reducing the force of wave energy, thereby reducing coastal erosion.

Fishers Island has 94 percent of the remaining eelgrass in New York waters of Long Island Sound and 25 percent of all eelgrass in the Sound. (Eelgrass is a form of seagrass and gets its name from its long, eel-like leaves.)

Decimation of once abundant and protective eelgrass meadows in Long Island Sound, prompted The Nature Conservancy to evaluate eelgrass areas and boating patterns around Fishers Island. The study concluded that boating activity, particularly in summer months, presents a grave threat to Fishers Island eelgrass meadows.

The Fishers Island Seagrass Management coalition has been working to raise awareness about the serious threat to seagrass, and to designate seagrass management areas (SMA) to guide and balance effective use and protection of seagrass ecosystems around Fishers Island.

The loss of seagrass along any shore, whether through pollution or summer boating, is a recipe for irreparable environmental harm.

Changes in eelgrass distribution around Fishers Island from 2012 to 2017, published Feb. 28, 2019 in The Nature Conservancy report: An Evaluation of Eelgrass Extent and Vessel Use Patterns Around Fishers Island, New York.

 

 

Mating ritual of least terns on South Beach. “What wild creature is more accessible to our eyes and ears, as close to us and everyone in the world, as universal as a bird?” said Nature historian David Attenborough. Todd McCormack Photo

owl

This young barred owl is typical of birds of prey at risk of ingesting anticoagulant rodenticides used to kill nuisance rodents, like mice and rats. Justine Kibbe Photo

Scientists agree that there is no such thing as a safe poison. That unfortunate truth applies to anticoagulant rodenticides (AR), which have been used for decades to kill nuisance rodents like mice and rats.

Rodenticides are anti-coagulants placed in bait stations to attract mice and rats. After feeding, rodents die from internal bleeding, but not immediately. While still alive, they are a food source for raptors, and after death, for scavengers. Ingestion transfers the poison to the birds.

A 2020 Tufts Wildlife Clinic study reported that 100 percent of the red-tailed hawks in the study tested positive for exposure to anticoagulant rodenticides. For the study, Clinic Director Maureen Murray, a wildlife veterinarian, sampled 43 red-tailed hawks, which were admitted to the clinic but did not survive due to their injury or illness.

Ms. Murray focused on these hawks, because they are most commonly seen at the clinic and are generalist predators, which offered a sense of how widespread the contamination is in the food chain.

“The ability of these rodenticides to permeate the food chain and ecosystems is pretty remarkable,” said Ms. Murray. “Other studies have shown residues in songbirds and insects. And that’s what this study reflects. Red-tailed hawks eat a lot of small mammals, but they also eat birds, reptiles, or amphibians that they might scavenge. Ultimately, their prey base is very contaminated.”

First generation ARs, chlorpophacinone, diphacinone and warfarin, were followed in the 1970s by a second generation of more toxic anticoagulant rodenticides (SGAR), brodifacoum, bromadiolone, difenacoum, difethialone. This study found that SGARs were more prevalent in the hawks than ARs.

In 2008, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began tightening rules regarding sales and use of SGARs. This study’s findings are meant to measure the effectiveness of the EPA’s approach to regulating SGARs in preventing exposure of wildlife species.

Ms. Murray encouraged anyone looking for pest control solutions to consider approaches other than ARs: Find out where the mice or rats are coming in, plug up holes in the house or around windows, take away food and water sources, and clean out nesting sites.

Blurry black images are winter robins dispersing seeds of invasive Chinese privet shrub. Ironically, the robins are spreading the very seeds that can lead to fewer insects needed to feed their young.

This interactive illustration was developed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, but these birds are all found in New York and New England.

Plum Island is a gem of untouched flora and fauna. It lies in a straight line with Long Island, Fishers Island and coastal Rhode Island. All are part of a terminal glacial moraine, in which debris was scooped up and pushed to the front of the southernmost stop of a glacier as it advanced and retreated 20,000 years ago.

Congress granted Plum Island a permanent reprieve from potential commercial development, when it tucked relief from the auction block into its 5,000-page omnibus COVID relief bill in December.

For nearly seven decades, the high-security Plum Island Animal Disease Center has served as the nation’s premier defense against accidental or intentional introduction of foreign animal diseases. It also has been the only laboratory in the nation that can work on live foot-and-mouth disease virus, a contagious disease of cattle and sheep.

The result of the high security is that few people have traversed the island since the 1950s, creating, in effect, a wildlife sanctuary, which now supports rare plants and provides a home or resting place for some 227 bird species—nearly a quarter of all bird species in the United States and Canada, stretching up to the Arctic.

In 2008, Congress decided to close Plum Island and move its research to Manhattan, Kansas. The plan was to auction the island to the highest bidder to help raise part of the $1.25 billion needed to create the new facilities. The sale price of the island was estimated to be up to $80 million, and a 2013 federal environmental report found that as many as 500 homes could be built there.

Conservationists feared potential development of the 840-acre island would likely lead to the destruction of its unspoiled habitats.

Environmental groups, Native American nations, local businesses and other organizations mobilized, forming the Preserve Plum Island Coalition to block the sale. For years, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) pushed a bill to stop the auction, but the legislation never made it out of committee.

Then, in early December, things changed. “It’s been very recent and very hectic and very delightful,” said Louise Harrison, the New York natural areas coordinator for Save the Sound, a nonprofit that is part of the coalition.

Under the terms of the compromise spending bill, Plum Island will be offered to other federal agencies, such as the Fish and Wildlife Service. If that is unsuccessful, the island could go to a state or local government. Members of the Plum Island coalition ultimately hope to conserve the ecosystem and its creatures, create a new research facility and museum, and open the island, “gingerly”, to the public.

Plum Island’s high security has made it home to endangered and rare wildlife species. This lighthouse, built in 1869, is a landmark. Jane Ahrens Photo

This map is an interactive community-based visual that will show each person’s contribution to planting native by state, county and zip code. It is a way for individuals to see their efforts as part of a greater whole, as part of a community that wants to do something purposeful and see tangible results.

Nationally recognized entomologist Doug Tallamy and business entrepreneur Michele Alfandari, have launched Homegrown National Park™, a program that encourages everyone with access to a patch of earth to help sustain biodiversity by removing most invasive plants and starting new habitats of native plants.

Doug Tallamy is a professor of entomology at University of Delaware and, for many years, has consulted with the Fishers Island Conservancy on its grassland restoration initiative in the Parade Grounds area. He has also advised Island landowners on the best way to begin planting native.

During his many visits to Fishers Island, Dr. Tallamy spoke about the vast wasteland of residential lawns in the United States and his hope to have landowners plant native species, even on only parts of the properties. This initiative at last formalizes his longtime goal of achieving 20 million acres of native plantings across the United States.

“This represents approximately half of the green lawns of privately-owned properties and is the largest cooperative conservation project ever conceived or attempted,” Dr. Tallamy said.

“Our National Parks, no matter how grand in scale are too small and separated from one another to preserve species to the levels needed.  Thus, the concept for Homegrown National Park™ is a bottom-up call-to-action to restore habitat where we live and work, extending national parks to our yards and communities. 

“Recent headlines about global insect declines, the impending extinction of one million species worldwide, and three billion fewer birds in North America are a bleak reality check about how ineffective our current landscape designs have been at sustaining the plants and animals that sustain us.

“We are at a critical point of losing so many species from local ecosystems that their ability to produce what sustains us–oxygen, clean water, flood control, pollination, pest control, carbon storage, etc.–will become seriously compromised.

“Homegrown National Park™-Start a new HABITAT™ has no political, religious, cultural or geographic boundaries, because everyone–every human being on this planet–needs diverse, highly productive ecosystems to survive,” Dr. Tallamy said.

Doug Tallamy and Michele Alfandari have launched Homegrown National Park™, a program that aims to cover 20 million acres of formerly green lawns with native plants that will attract native insects, a critical early step in our food chain. Dr. Tallamy has written, among other books, the award-winning Bringing Nature Home and the bestseller Nature’s Best Hope, both recommended as excellent holiday gifts!