Letter to the Editor in the East Hampton Star East Hampton December 2, 2019
At check-out in Brent’s Store in Amagansett, a wizened fisherman blamed state regulators for the fact that the tags he’s allocated now allow him to catch barely enough fish for his own family table. And as a New York Times headline announced, “The Scallops Are All Dead.”
While we look for local influences, we ignore at our peril the fact that it is a global problem.
This week, to pick one from a thousand stories, The Washington Post profiled Tombwa, Angola, where in the 1990s there were 20 fish factories processing tons of fish coming from the sea. Now there is one factory left. The fish species recently thriving there have collapsed in the overheated water. Trawlers ranging from distant ports are gobbling up what remains.
Ten years ago Bill McKibben wrote, “Climate Change is about whether you eat or don’t eat.” Deniers called it alarmism.
This year, as temperatures in Bordeaux reached 106 degrees, the vineyards were parched and wine production was down 13 percent. Corn production suffered the same fate.
In the American Midwest unprecedented rain bombs flooded the fields and destroyed billions of dollars’ worth of crops. Last year (or was it the year before?) multi-year drought destroyed countless acres of nut orchards that had been prosperous for generations in California. A recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate report predicts a 2 to 6 percent decline in worldwide crop yields per decade going forward, at the same time as population swells.
Sidewalk experts, including the entire Republican Party, still scoff at the science. “These scientists can’t make up their minds. One day it’s drought, the next day it’s flood! Which is it, they don’t know what they’re talking about. They can’t predict the weather next week, and they claim to predict it 20 years from now. Gimme a break!”
More people now understand that we should have listened to James Hansen when he was informing the American Congress 30 years ago about climate disruption. Imagine how far we could have come in 30 years toward slowing the onset. Still we dither instead of taking personal responsibility for the problem.
Drive down any street lined with parked cars and note that most of them are SUVs. Their growth in popularity has canceled out the benefits we might have gained in the incipient move to electric vehicles. We burn as much gas now as we did before electrification because mammoth SUVs use more gas than the smaller cars we used to drive, not to mention the sky parade of private jets roaring in and out of our airport. So much for self-regulation in the face of global catastrophe.
Demagogues and religious zealots around the world can turn men without hope into terrorists. This is just the beginning. The World Bank projects 143 million climate-displaced migrants by 2050, and stresses that this is a lower bound estimate, with the numbers certain to go much higher, perhaps sooner, assuredly later.
As we approach the 2020 elections, no matter how you have voted in the past, if you care about fish, or food in general for the children you love, remember that we have two parties in this country with radically different attitudes about climate change. Forget about the personal foibles of candidates that the media love to dwell on.
Remember that one party makes its living serving the interests of the fossil fuel industry. The other party is finally listening to scientists and young people who will inherit this planet, and committing to meaningful action. Climate change is no longer about 2100, Bangladesh, or polar bears. It has come to this: not just in the long run, but for millions alive today in America, including the fisherman at Brent’s, nothing else matters.
On my daily beach walk I came across this dead animal (about 1 week ago, on the Lion Head beach close to the entrance to Hog Creek, in Springs, East Hampton):
Based on the pictures I took, it’s now been identified as Kemp’s Ridley Turtle. This is a critically endangered species. In fact it is the most endangered sea turtle species!
Obviously we would all like to know why this rare animal showed up on our beach, and what might have caused its death.
Adult turtles which reach sexual maturity at the age of 7-15 years, measure about 27″ in length. This specimen measured about approx. 15″ and was therefore a juvenile.
Kemp’s Ridley can be found along the Atlantic coast as far north as New Jersey. Mature adults migrate back to their nesting beach in Mexico every year: female Kemp’s Ridley turtles come together all at once in what is known as an arribada, which means “arrival” in Spanish. Nearly 95 percent of Kemp’s Ridley nesting worldwide occurs in Tamaulipas, Mexico. Nesting is usually between May and July, and females will lay up to three clutches of 100 eggs that must incubate for 50-60 days.
Hatchlings spend up to 10 years in the open ocean as juveniles. Kemp’s Ridley turtles occupy “neritic” zones, which contain muddy or sandy bottoms where their preferred prey is plentiful. Even in the ocean, the Kemp’s Ridley turtles rarely swim in waters deeper than about 160 feet.
Kemp’s Ridley turtles face many threats to their survival including incidental capture in fishing gear, or bycatch, egg collection by predators and climate change.
What was the cause of death for our turtle? Kemp’s Ridley turtles do not tolerate cold water below 8 degrees Celsius. East Hampton waters are currently about 10 degrees Celsius. So it seems that the turtle was too far north for its comfort zone. Note that it’s left front flipper seems to be missing or seriously mangled. This suggests that the turtle may have been injured, perhaps by fishing trawlers. Incidental take by shrimp trawlers in the gulf of Mexico is a recognized hazard for this species.
Finally, there is the possibility that ocean acidification from climate change has altered the food chain for this species as noted by OCEANA. Kemp’s Ridley turtle feeds on mollusks, crustaceans, jellyfish, fish, algae, seaweed, and sea urchins. But juveniles (such as our specimen) feed on crabs and on bay scallops.
It’s interesting that bay scallops in the Peconic bay have recently suffered a die-off discussed elsewhere on this blog and possibly related to ocean acidification.
Bottom line: you don’t have to look far to witness a species in trouble!
I note that this species likes waters with high salinity (over 30 PSU), see above. The following map shows that our waters around Long Island have much lower average salinity (less than 25 PSU). Thus both the low temperature and the low salinity represent a hostile environment for Kemp’s Ridley Turtles.
WWW is a friend of fish and all the creatures living in our oceans!
Even as the oceans are acidifying and
warming at alarming rates, and species are migrating northwards, the opposition
to off-shore wind energy suggests wind farms will bring harm to fish, or to
whales, etc. Healthy oceans spell abundant fish and are good for the
fishing industry and some fishermen recognize this.
In our opening statement regarding the
South Fork Wind Farm, pinned to the top of this blog it states:
WILL THIS HURT OUR FISHERMEN?
After listening to commercial fishermen, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management made
sure that wind turbines and cable will avoid Cox’s Ledge, a valuable commercial
fishing area. In fact, existing wind turbines off Block Island attract marine
life to them, imitating an artificial reef.
For years, researchers have warned that the increasing acidity of the oceans is likely to create a whole host of problems for the marine environment. Check it out: the evidence is already here.
One of the biggest problems is that zooplankton is shifting poleward as a result of warming ocean temperatures. The findings, published in the journal Nature, show the widespread impact climate change is having on marine ecosystems. Scientists have warned that while some species will be able to follow their food source to new waters, many others will not. Even at 1 degree [Celsius] of warming, species have to adapt because their food source has disappeared. As an example, read about the migration of stingrays that have wiped out oyster beds in the Chesapeake Bay and have moved to the Peconic Bay this year!
Here is something fun you can do. Go to https://poshtide.threadless.com/collections. Pick your favorite fish (or shell fish) design and order a holiday gift: tee shirt, slippers, back pack, pillow, beach towel, zip pouch, or even a shower curtain! If you are on Instagram check out @staceyposnett an incredibly gifted artist and designer and a big environmentalist. You can also order custom items which include the Win With Wind logo.
A massive and mysterious die-off of bay scallops over the
past summer wiped out as much of 95 percent of the valuable and iconic
shellfish in parts of the Peconic Bay system, raising concerns about the
effect that climate change may have on the future of the East End’s
most famous natural resource.
The scale of the losses, the
scientists who have documented the destruction said, is so great in some
areas as to be reminiscent of the devastation wreaked by some of the
infamous “brown tide” algae blooms of the late 1980s and early 1990s,
which decimated the wild stock and all but ended a centuries-old
commercial fishing industry that relied solely on harvests from the East
The cause of this year’s devastation is not
immediately clear, but scientists say that the arch-enemy of bay
scallops — algae blooms like brown tide and the more recent “rust tide” —
do not appear to be at fault, and other likely culprits also do not
seem to be to blame.
What’s left to blame, according to one of
researchers who has tracked the die-off, is a confluence of
environmental conditions and the stresses of the scallops’ own
biological cycles that may have killed the shellfish, even as they sowed
the seeds of next year’s stock.
There is some good news amid
the devastation, primarily because half the reason that the scale of the
die-off is remarkable is that there were so many live scallops to start
with — and they appear to have spawned before they died, leaving huge
numbers of their offspring in their place.
Population Takes A Nose Dive Surveys conducted by Cornell Cooperative Extension biologists last spring had revealed that the annual “set” of young-of-the-year scallops was enormous and on track to support a commercial take rivaling or surpassing those of the robust hauls of the last two years.
But when the scientists donned wetsuits and returned to their underwater survey areas throughout the Peconics early last month, they found the ghostly signs of an epic massacre: thousands of scallops sitting where they died, their shells gaping open.
“We call them ‘cluckers,’” Dr. Stephen Tettelbach, who leads the surveying for Cornell, said of the dead scallops, whose twin shells have remained attached and sitting on the bay floor. “Based on the cluckers, it looks like the mortality happened a while ago — a few months, probably. The pattern was the same everywhere we went — there were no freshly dead adult scallops. They had no tissue left in them. So whatever happened to them happened a while ago.”
A longtime marine biology professor for Long Island University at Southampton College and C.W. Post College, Dr. Tettelbach has been conducting bi-annual surveys of scallop populations since LIU and Cornell began an effort to restore the scallop stocks depleted by the brown tides that beset the bays between 1986 and 1995. Through the Cornell hatchery in Southold, the initiative released more than 10 million seedling-sized scallops into the bay over the last two decades in the hope of restoring the spawning foundation for the species.
Looking For Answers Since discovering this year’s die-off, Dr. Tettelbach and other scientists have been exploring what could have caused the mortality.
The destruction of harmful algae blooms was quickly ruled out, because there were none in the Peconics this year — the second straight year that the destructive successor to the brown tides, a red algae bloom that scientists have dubbed “rust tide,” has been absent from local bays, after a 15-year run of increasingly dense blooms.
Dr. Tettelbach himself had pinned a large die-off of scallops in the same area in 2012 on the dense blooms of rust tide that killed what had looked to be a robust stock just weeks before the harvest began.
The second thought about this year’s event — a disease of some sort — also is being seen as unlikely, because the die-off does not appear to have extended to juvenile scallops, which the survey divers saw alive and in great abundance.
And the vast extent of the mortality could not be chalked up to the usual cast of submarine characters that prey on scallops like crabs, whelks and some fish species.
But there was a wild card this year in the form of an invasion of a certain species of shellfish-eating stingrays that have wiped out oyster beds in the Chesapeake Bay.
Thousands of cownose rays, a brown-winged creature that feeds primarily on shellfish, swarmed into East End waters in July and August, roaming the bay bottoms in schools of dozens or hundreds.
Dr. Tettelbach said there were accounts of the rays being seen in Hallock Bay, in Orient, but he has not yet confirmed that they made their way deep into the Peconics. He said the rays could explain the disappearances in some of the areas where large number of scallops had been seen in the spring, and now there are no signs of them at all.
But the species would not be easy to blame for the full extent of scallop losses this summer, since there were so many intact shells left behind as a sign that the scallops simply died where they sat. The shells of scallops set upon by the rays would be crushed, he said.
A Matter Of Climate? Eliminating those considerations turned the former professor’s critical thinking to other environmental factors, and the warm temperatures of the summer.
Data from water monitoring stations at the western end of the Peconics revealed that water temperatures hovered around 84 degrees for several weeks this summer — an unusually long stretch of exceptionally high temperatures, and near what is understood to be the lethal limit for scallops.
In a typical parallel, levels of dissolved oxygen in the water were also very low — near zero at times — which typically will result in the death of any marine species.
But those conditions have occurred before at various times of past summers, and broad die-offs of scallops were not seen.
Dr. Tettelbach said his hypothesis is that the high water temperatures and low dissolved oxygen levels had set in early enough this year as to coincide with the weeks of early- to mid-summer when scallops are going through their first spawning cycle — some will spawn again in the fall — which can weaken them and make them more sensitive to environmental conditions.
“What I’m thinking is that the stress from spawning combined with environmental stressors may have been the cause,” he said, noting that if his hypothesis is correct, it would exacerbate concerns about a trend of warming waters. “We’ve had water temperatures in the Peconics over 80 degrees the last five years. Years ago, we never saw that.”
Impacting Local Economy Word of the scientific findings was not news to area baymen, some of whom routinely do their own pre-season surveying to keep tabs on their economic prospects for the fall.
Many didn’t even set out in their boats in search of scallops on Monday, the first day of the season in New York State waters.
“I went clamming today,” Edward Warner, a bayman from Hampton Bays, who is also a Southampton Town Trustee, said on Monday. “The only other time I can remember not going scalloping on the first day was, maybe, 1986, the first year we had the brown tide.”
Among those who did go, many found little return for their efforts.
“I had 14,” said Stuart Heath, a bayman from Montauk who scoured traditional scallop grounds in Shelter Island Sound. “I went all around North Haven, from Margarita guy’s house … to Sag Harbor, around the moorings, Barcelona, all around Northwest. Terrible. We’ve had a terrible year already — now this.”
Wainscott bayman Greg Verity said he ran his small boat across to the North Fork and found enough scallops to fill several bushel baskets, but he was still well short of the 10 bushels that a bayman is allowed to harvest each day.
East Hampton’s baymen said there’s only a faint glimmer of hope, when East Hampton waters open next week, that there may be some scallops lurking in areas that haven’t been prospected.
The Cornell scientists conduct their surveys in the string of bays connected to Great Peconic Bay, from Flanders Bay in the west to Orient Harbor in the east. They do not survey any of the waters off East Hampton — where scalloping is not allowed until this coming Sunday.
Pre-season scouting has not given East Hampton’s baymen much cause for hope, either.
Mr. Heath and Mr. Verity said they’d heard talk of scallops in Three Mile Harbor, where the town releases thousands of hatchery-raised baby scallops each year. But that supply is often depleted quite quickly, especially when the harvest in other areas is poor.
On Monday evening, Mr. Verity and Sara Miranda were counting themselves as lucky while they shucked their way through the briny pile of scallops on a steel table set up in a trailer next to Mr. Verity’s cottage in Wainscott.
“I’ll sell ’em to whoever wants ’em,” he said, as he flicked the glistening white morsels of meat into a pile.
The scene was not being replicated in many of the seafood shops around the region.
“So far, we’ve got nothing, not even one bushel,” said Danny Coronesi at Cor-J Seafood in Hampton Bays, one of the areas largest buyers.
“I’ve been here a long time. We’ve never had this. Even on bad years, opening day some guys would come in with them.” He added, “We had thought this was going to be a great year.”
Comment from Win With Wind: Scientists quoted think global warming is causing this die-off. Are scallops the canary in the coal mine for the marine environment and when will all local fishermen understand that global warming will destroy their industry, not offshore wind?
In the Guardian, Fri 25 Oct 2019 04.23 EDT First published on Thu 24 Oct 2019 14.45 EDT
“Offshore wind currently provides just 0.3% of global power
generation, but its potential is vast,” the IEA’s executive director,
Fatih Birol, said.
The study predicts offshore wind generation will grow 15-fold to
emerge as a $1tn (£780bn) industry in the next 20 years and will prove
to be the next great energy revolution.
The IEA said earlier this week that global supplies of renewable electricity were growing faster than expected
and could expand by 50% in the next five years, driven by a resurgence
in solar energy. Offshore wind power would drive the world’s growth in
clean power due to plummeting costs and new technological breakthroughs,
including turbines close to the height of the Eiffel Tower and floating
installations that can harness wind speeds further from the coast.
The next generation of floating turbines capable of operating further
from the shore could generate enough energy to meet the world’s total
electricity demand 11 times over in 2040, according to IEA estimates.
The report predicts that the EU’s offshore wind capacity
will grow from almost 20 gigawatts today to nearly 130 gigawatts by
2040, and could reach 180 gigawatts with stronger climate commitments.
In China, the growth of offshore wind generation is likely to be even
more rapid, the IEA said. Its offshore wind capacity is forecast to
grow from 4 gigawatts to 110 gigawatts by 2040 or 170 gigawatts if it
adopts tougher climate targets.
Birol said offshore wind would not only contribute to generating clean electricity,
but could also offer a major opportunity in the production of hydrogen,
which can be used instead of fossil fuel gas for heating and in heavy
The process of making hydrogen from water uses huge amounts of
electricity but abundant, cheap offshore wind power could help produce a
low-cost, zero-carbon alternative to gas.
In the North Sea, energy companies are already planning to use the
electricity generated by giant offshore windfarms to turn seawater into
hydrogen on a floating “green hydrogen” project, backed by the UK
government. The clean-burning gas could be pumped back to shore to heat
millions of homes by the 2030s. The UK has committed to reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
The overlap between the UK’s declining oil and gas industry and the
burgeoning offshore wind sector could offer major economic benefits for
the UK, Birol said.
“Offshore wind provides a huge new business portfolio for major
engineering firms and established oil and gas companies which have a
strong offshore production experience,” he said. “Our analysis shows
that 40% of the work in offshore wind construction and maintenance has
synergies with oil and gas practises.”
We have some news… about how we will respond to the escalating climate crisis – we will not stay quiet. This is the Guardian’s pledge: we will continue to give global heating, wildlife extinction and pollution the urgent attention and prominence they demand. The Guardian recognises the climate emergency as the defining issue of our times.
independence means we are free to investigate and challenge inaction by
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The Guardian believes that the
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societal change is needed. We will keep reporting on the efforts of
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stand for future generations and the preservation of human life on
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address our impact on the environment.
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hope you will consider supporting the Guardian’s open, independent
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