Oysters & Fortunetellers


Where the gringa lives in the gulf coast of Texas, oyster farming is big business. The gringa’s farming experience is limited to my father’s cattle ranch and my own egg farming. Is that how oyster farming works? Do you just leave the little guys alone most of the time to do what oysters do? Toss them a bit of feed, protect them from predators, stuff like that? Well, actually oyster farming has gone hi-tech. For young people who are interested in a beach bum lifestyle with the edge of technology, oyster farming or working with the technology related to the industry may be your thing if you love science as much as beach bumming.

Oysters don’t need their human overseers to bring them a bale of hay or toss out some nutrient enriched scratch. They are living filters that live on the bottom of a bay. Oyster farmers really don’t have that much to do, it would seem, unless it is harvest time. Sounds like the perfect beach bum job.

However, there is one thing that can happen that can interrupt an oyster farmer’s hiatus between harvests. If storm clouds gather, oyster farmers have to get out of their hammocks, put away the surfboard and forego the margaritas and head out for some serious relocating work in the estuaries.

You see, as bottom feeding filters, rain in this polluted day and age can be deadly for oysters. And even if contaminants in run off don’t kill the slimy, little buggers they could, in turn, kill a human if eaten. A local thunderstorm with a heavy downpour means one of two things:

  • Completely relocate their stock, or,
  • Quarantine the area and delay harvest until it is safe.

Now, even if an oyster farmer was willing to relocate their oysters, often weather conditions can change rapidly and unexpectedly in coastal regions.  Usually an oyster farmer simply doesn’t have enough time to respond. So, the oysters bide the storm and everyone hopes for the best. But considering how heavily polluted most of the soil is in populated areas around the world, it’s usually not good news when it’s all over.

The gringa doesn’t have the numbers for industry loss or farm closures in the Gulf of Mexico area I call home. However, I can tell you about what’s been going on in Tasmania. Since 2013 industry research has recorded a loss of over $4.3 million (Australian currency!) for Tasmanian oyster farmers due to contamination related farm closures, caused by pollutants in rainfall water runoff that entered estuaries.  This sounds awful, right? Well, take heart, dear readers. There is good news for Tasmanians as well as oyster farmers everywhere thanks to an agriculture technology start-up company, The Yield.

The Yield has designed a system of sensors that were tested in 14 Tasmanian oyster farm estuaries. This comprised about 80% of the entire oyster industry for the state. The technology measured:

  • Water depth
  • Salinity
  • Temperature
  • Barometric pressure

Oyster farmers use their smartphone, or other device, to access the handy little app that is updated every five minutes with new data about their squishy, little, hard-shelled babies. Access is also available to food safety regulators so everybody that matters is in the loop.

But the gringa wants to know if this has made oyster farming better. I mean, it’s always fun to have new gadgets but where business is concerned, is there a point to the expense? Here are the benefits of this new technology:

  • Reduces paperwork between farmers & food service regulators.
  • Food quality and safety has improved.
  • Accurate measurements has resulted in fewer farm closures.
  • Fewer farm closures has resulted in higher production, yields and profits.

Well, it looks like this technology is worth the investment for oyster farmers. It also looks like the investment of time and effort of scientists and meteorologists for more than a century was also a worthy investment. That is the backbone of the information that went into designing this system. If you have a habit or hobby of recording weather related “stuff”, who knows, one day what you may consider a hobby or pre-occupation could change the world! More than a hundred years worth of weather and tidal related data helped developers understand weather and tidal patterns, how they changed with the seasons, and how this would affect the performance of the technology to predict weather events. So, basically, Tasmania’s oyster farmers are more successful because of digital fortunetellers.

Sources:

www.techrepublic.com

www.theyield.com

oysterstasmania.org

Image Credit: oysterstasmania.org

 

 

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El Nino 101


Climate change discusses, of course, changes in Earth’s climate. This includes things like warmer ocean temperatures and fiercer storm systems. Meteorologists on local news broadcasts attribute these destructive storms to something called “El Nino”. The gringa has been hearing this term for years and finds herself often saying, “Oh, yeah, El Nino.” But, when I actually take a moment to define what the heck El Nino is, um, I’m at a loss. Being familiar with climate change terminology doesn’t mean a person actually knows what that term means. So, here’s “El Nino 101” for some clarification.

El Nino is actually a weather system caused by oceanic temperature anomalies. El Nino specifically affects the equatorial Pacific region of Earth. It is defined by unusually warm ocean temperatures shifting eastward, traveling toward the coastal regions of South America. When trade winds shift from east to west, they drag warm surface waters westward. The warmer waters collectively pool in the waters east of Indonesia and northeast of Australia. As this is going on in the western Pacific, cooler waters are surfacing in the eastern Pacific which creates what is known as a “thermocline tilt”, an east to west ocean temperature gradation. This is Earth’s normal, healthy cycle of ocean agitation, much like stirring a pot to keep it from boiling over.

As spring breaks in the northern hemisphere, the trade winds abate, thus no more “stirring the pot” cooling effect. This causes the eastern Pacific to begin warming up, leveling out the thermocline tilt. If Asian monsoons do not restore the delicate temperature balance of the thermocline tilt, El Nino begins to happen. The warmer Indonesian waters begin to move eastward and the central Pacific waters continue to warm throughout summer and fall. The thermocline tilt disappears and warm surface waters prevent cooler, deeper waters from rising. This is called a “capping effect”. Capping results in central and eastern Pacific ocean regions warming by almost 5 degrees Fahrenheit, possibly even 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

Eastern Pacific warming causes ocean water to “expand” which means sea levels rise. This rise could be a few inches or even up to a foot. However, the opposite happens in the western Pacific. As warmer surface waters flow eastward, the western Pacific experiences lower sea levels that can expose upper levels of coral reefs, resulting in their bleaching and destruction.

All of this warmer water feeds the moisture in the air which collects in cloud systems. This extra moisture being added to Earth’s normal “rainfall” budget then results in massive storm systems. And that, in a nutshell, is the story of El Nino.

Source: www.nasa.gov

Image source: en.wikipedia.org

The U.S., Migrants & Climate Change


 

It’s easy to be academic and read reports on climate change and nod your head in agreement. It’s easy to be concerned and realize that if we don’t get our crap together, world, and make some meaningful changes fast, our grandkids are going to inherit a planet and lifestyle we will not even recognize. But, truthfully, despite our academic acceptance and realization of the future, has anything actually happened close enough to home to truly motivate us to make significant change in our own personal lives?

I am not a faithful recycler. I live a minimalist consumer lifestyle but that’s probably because I’m poor. I don’t drive that much but that’s probably more to do with my work-at-home lifestyle and epilepsy. I keep the house warm in the summer and chilly in the winter mainly because I want to save money on my utility bill. So, really, despite all of my opinionated bloviating on climate change, I feel like I’m not actually walking the walk. I don’t think I’m alone in this. What would really have to happen to inspire drastic action for the average person?

What about a mass migration occurring right in your neighborhood? What if you lived in a small, rural town that had a very small conclave of immigrants from a tiny island in the Pacific ocean? What if this island is facing a very real threat of being inundated with devastating storms and floods because of climate change? What if the 50,000+ population’s primary connection to salvation lay in their friends and family living in this small, rural, U.S. town? What if they expect to be “run aground” within ten years at the current rate of rising sea levels? What if many decide to get the heck out of Dodge starting now?

Guess what? All of those “what ifs” are the real deal for Springdale, Arkansas and the Marshall Islands. And the Marshallese consul general in Arkansas is already preparing for this very real and very near possibility. We could very well be entering the era of climate refugee migrations. And it could all begin in the Pacific Ocean and Heartland of America.

The 7,000+ Marshallese community of Springdale, Arkansas is the largest community of Marshallese within the U.S. mainland. About 12,000 more live in the northwestern region of Arkansas. Honolulu is the only place on Earth, other than the Marshall Islands, with a larger Marshallese population. And, if the Marshallese are fleeing from climate change destruction on their islands, it is unlikely they will migrate to other Pacific islands (Hawaii) for refuge. So, it looks like the open arms of friends and family in Arkansas will soon receive an influx of the first climate change refugees.

The Springdale population is around 75,000. Could they handle taking on another 10 or 20 or 30 thousand over the period of ten years? What if the entire 50,000 show up? The town already has the nation’s only Marshallese newspaper written in their own language. They also have a radio station. Is that enough? What else would such a vast cultural community need to adjust to new migrants?

Over the years, the Marshallese that have immigrated and settled in Springdale have proven to be good citizens, getting educated, finding work and behaving themselves as good citizens. The history of the Marshall Islands connection with the U.S. reflects a close relationship. That was where the country tested out nukes in the 1940s and 1950s.

Perhaps the name “Bikini Atoll” sounds more familiar to most mainland Americans than Marshall Islands. That little atoll was inhabited and those poor people had to abandon their homes because of the nuclear tests. Even today that little atoll is uninhabitable because of the nuclear contamination. It is then no wonder that in the 1980s the U.S. attempted to right this wrong by creating the Compact of Free Association which allowed indefinite, visa-free immigration to the U.S. by Marshallese citizens. Many of these “Bikinians” made their way to Springdale.

The Tyson Foods plant was one of the first employers of the immigrants. It did not take long for word to get back home about job opportunities at the chicken plant. Very soon many more Marshallese were arriving in Springdale looking for work.

Despite the opportunities for work and education on the mainland, most of the Marshallese want to return to their homeland. Unfortunately, it may now disappear. Because of this history of displacement and longing for home, the Marshallese have become strong advocates regarding climate change. And the gringa is listening.

Arkansas is practically right next door! I know I live in Texas, but, still, Arkansas is my neighbor! I have an aunt and uncle that live there. My family and I have vacationed there. And it could be the first state in my country to receive the first climate change diaspora. And it could happen within my lifetime.

If the Marshallese Islands become uninhabitable within a decade, how many other island nations are facing the same stark reality and looking at the possibility of the extinction of their homeland? Where are they planning to escape to? Could it be in your own backyard? How could this affect you and your own?

These are things the gringa wants to know. And, the gringa has to really change.

Source: http://www.unfccc.int

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com