Sunday, June 10, 2012

Cordgrass is not a Ropey Seaweed

Did you all hear about the 60' section of Japanese floating dock that washed up in Oregon? Covered in potential economically devastating invasive species? Volunteers scraped it clean and buried everything on dry land and then disinfected it with a flamethrower.

Here's the story I read last night off a tweeted link from @guardianscience. It tries to describe the potential devastation. "Spartina, a ropey seaweed from Europe, chokes commercial oyster beds."

No. That is wrong. Spartina is a native marsh grass from the Eastern United States. Spartina is crucial to the ecosystem of the Chesapeake Bay but it is an invasive species in estuaries in Europe and Oregon. It's totally not seaweed. It grows in the air. Everybody I know calls it Spartina but the common name for it is cordgrass. So I guess the person that wrote this mistake used a thesaurus to change "cordgrass" to "ropey seaweed."

There's a great example of economic damage that is more relevant than a made-up European seaweed, considering the dock came from Japan. There are already Japanese animal invaders screwing up Oregon oyster beds. Up until this year they would spray Sevin Dust from helicopters at low tide to try to control burrowing shrimp. That whole coast is seriously messed up from anthropogenic meddling, not just invasive species. If they hadn't taken the old oyster shells out in the first place none of this would happen.
Washington's multimillion dollar shellfish industry is being seriously threatened by burrowing shrimp that expel sediment, soften tideland, and cause surface organisms to sink and die.
The thing about a new species coming from somewhere else is that's how they ALL got there. From somewhere else, but maybe they established their balance before people came along to observe it. Or maybe people came along and tore it up before they made good notes about what it was like before human interference. I think Lewis and Clark started building that jetty at the mouth of the Columbia River before their first fire roasted salmon was sizzling and flakey. There is no real record of the balanced ecosystem of any of those estuaries. As soon as white men got there they immediately started to change things to suit themselves. From the original story:
Lindeberg said, "The only defense for invasive species is early detection. Just like cancer."
Yes, but what about offense? New species have a hard time invading an undisturbed, naturally balanced ecosystem. When there is high diversity there are less opportunities for one new species to change things to suit themselves to the detriment of the natives. The problem is rich men mess with nature to make money for themselves. They don't care about any organism except more oysters, or more quail, and then they get invasive species. And they just keep messing with it, spending money to keep it out of balance in the way it suits them, poisoning the invaders. They can't just let it be naturally in balance.

Anyway, nobody cares about this Spartina mistake. I read this last night and tried to forget it. But it's been nagging at me. So today I looked at it again. I googled "Spartina, a ropey seaweed from Europe" and got lots of hits. When I looked closely at the fine print and realized it's an AP story. That's unfortunate. Byline on the Seattle Times version. Jeff Barnard, AP. I found him on Twitter, @JeffBarnardAP. Should I tell him he's wrong? Isn't it too late? Why can't I just not care?

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