Is a Changing Environment Bringing Baby Bull Sharks to North Carolina?

Marine environments are typically considered more open than those on land when it comes to animal movement. On land, the range of a species can be limited by geographic features like mountain ranges, canyons, rivers, and anything else that might get in the way. In the ocean, however, actively swimming animals like, say, large sharks have few physical barriers and may instead be restricted by their own environmental preferences. This is why in unusually warm summers you might see tropical fishes in southern New England. Because of this, one of the anticipated consequences of warming ocean temperatures is shifting distributions of mobile and highly migratory species. Basically, changes in temperature are likely to allow marine animals to move into places they haven’t before, and if those temperature changes become consistent, these species might make regular visits or even just start staying there.

This kind of change is already happening and has been documented across a variety of marine species. Now, findings from a new paper in Scientific Reports by me and co-authors from the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries, Simon Fraser University, and East Carolina University show an apex predator may be joining the northward shift.

Juvenile Bull Shark captured in Pamlico Sound, North Carolina. Photo from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.

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Tangier, an Island out of Time.

Tangier Island is sinking.

The last inhabited island on the Virginia side of the Chesapeake Bay covers barely 740 acres of marsh and sand, 1/3 of the area it had when it was first mapped in the 1850s. Tangier suffers from the dual onslaught of erosion and sea level rise. In a good year, the island loses 7 to 9 acres of land, while the westernmost beach recedes 4 meters, exposing homes, gardens, and even graves to the Chesapeake’s unrelenting waves. The town, situated on three sandy ridges, rises to a high point just 1.2 meters above sea level. As salt water incursion and erosion deplete trees and other vegetation, erosion will increase. With a conservative projection of mean sea level rise of 4.4 millimeters per year for the southern Chesapeake Bay, the highest point in town, if it manages to stave off the inexorable erosion, would be completely underwater in 270 years. Tangier will be uninhabitable centuries before that.

Crab shacks in the main harbor. Photo by author.

The Chesapeake Bay and mid-Atlantic coastlines are hot spots for climate change, expecting greater than average sea level rise and more frequent and intense storms. Though the residents of the conservative community on tangier are skeptical, the evidence for human-induced climate change’s impact on the island and the effect of sea level rise is undeniable. Intensifying storms and more dramatic temperature shifts have and will continue to exacerbate erosion. Many residents believe that, had Hurricane Sandy made landfall over the Chesapeake Bay, rather than further north, Tangier would already be largely abandoned. Even the glancing blow from Sandy left significant damage in its wake.

One big storm could spell the end for this 350-year-old community. Read More

The call of the Chthulucene ?

We are currently in the Holocene epoch, and many of us have heard about calls to name the current era (from the industrial revolution) the Anthropocene (which dates back to at least the industrial revolution, if not before): a period when  humans change the essential nature of the planet through their activities (primarily via the production of greenhouse gases).

But what comes after the Anthropocene? Some sort of Mad Max style wasteland perhaps?

Donna Haraway (2015) proposed that there will be a new epoch, the “Chthulucene” where refugees from environmental disaster (both human and non-human) will come together .

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Death by Renaissance Faire

I am a big fan of Renaissance Faires and Festivals – I have a sizeable collection of pirate hats, doublets and billowy shirts and even a pair of thigh-length boots that would make Blackbeard envious. But whenever I go to a Renn Faire at this time of year and see the clientele dressed up in full Tudor formal dress, I worry about their immediate expiration from massive heat stroke.

Renn Fest

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