A Day at the Beach

The impact of eutrophication and commercial fishing on molluscan communities in Long Island Sound, USA

Biological ConservationVolume 170, February 2014, Pages 137–144


Did you get that? Sound it out. (Ha!)

This is the title of my wife’s primary doctoral paper, which she has finally put to bed. You might not want to fork over the $36 to read the whole thing–gotta love the scam that Elsevier’s got going on with the sciences–but at the very least you should listen to the audio because it actually makes quite clear what she was working on while at Yale.

The abstract:

Benthic communities in Long Island Sound (LIS) have experienced over 150 years of commercial shellfishing and excess nutrient loading (eutrophication) which causes hypoxia. We established an ecological baseline using a combination of live, dead, archaeological, and fossil material to investigate the impacts of these stressors on the molluscan community. We expected that ecological change would increase with eutrophication-hypoxia west towards New York City. Instead we found that taxonomic similarity, rank-order abundance, and drilling frequency are more strongly controlled by commercial fishing pressure than by decreasing dissolved oxygen. Commercial fisherman collecting quahog clams (Mercenaria mercenaria), physically disrupt surface-dwelling organisms and also kill large numbers of predatory gastropods, including the channeled whelk, Busycotypus canaliculatus, and the drilling moonsnails Neverita duplicata and Euspira heros, to protect hard clam stocks. As a result, areas dredged by commercial fishermen yield fewer shells with drill-holes and fewer surface-dwelling organisms than unfished sites. In spite of recent reductions in lobster fishing, crushing predation by crabs and lobsters on clams has been suppressed below baseline levels throughout LIS, even in the well oxygenated east. The absence of a clear relationship between eutrophication-hypoxia and ecological change questions the effectiveness of nitrogen reduction alone as a restoration strategy. LIS fossils revealed a relatively ancient loss of those mollusks associated with seagrass and oyster habitats (e.g., oysters, Crassostrea virginica; jingle shells, Anomia simplex; scallops,Argopecten irradiens; and the gastropod Bittiolum alternatum) that predates the accumulation of dead shells and underscores the need for older material to reveal the shifting baseline. The interactive nature of multiple stressors means that past overfishing may have dampened the response of communities in LIS to eutrophication or inhibited their capactiy to recover. The unexpected role of hypoxic areas protected from commercial fishing as refuges highlights the utility of no-take marine preserves in eutrophied estuaries worldwide.

My wife is damn smart. Smarter than I’ll ever be, more patient and much more pleasant to be around. This paper and the other work she has done on LIS could help figure out how to make the Sound less polluted.

My own personal take on this project: Long Island Sound is fucking revolting, it reeks and the stink coats your skin lingering in your hair for days. The farther east of New Haven you go, the warmer and more disgusting the water gets. When we were in Rye, New York, I was delighted to see a 19th century pipe that was clearly dribbling waste water into the Sound–and it was at a public beach so, good ons. Connecticut is really no better. The residents and towns around New London are pathetically ignorant of what they’re doing. Case in point, Old Saybrook actually fought against upgrading the town’s sewage system so that septic systems would stop overflowing and running off into the Sound and surrounding wetland.

New Englander’s are weird folk. Every time we went to the coast, there would be people there parked in their car just sitting there with their windows up doing nothing. It was odd. Further, the Gold Coast people seemed to believe they own the beach and coast line–explaining to these people the notion of the commons was impossible. Explaining to them that we weren’t there to swim, sunbathe, or harvest wretched shellfish to eat but to collect  samples for hard science was incomprehensible to most of them.

Also, the idea of eating anything that came out of the Sound was revolting. I was never much for clams, mollusks, or scallops but now I’m in 100% agreement with Michelle that you shouldn’t eat science. I’m fairly certain there was never a time I didn’t have to repeat myself less than four times that we weren’t interested in eating any of the clams or snails–who the fuck eats moon snails? They would still just dumbly stand there as though I had never said anything. I shouldn’t have expected much, the nature of New Englanders is to make things more difficult than the need to be; their default stance is argumentative.

But all of these statements are unfair and mere complaint. Fact is, I fucking hate the ocean. Once, Michelle caught me punching the ocean when I was aiding her in collecting specimens in Rhode Island.

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