I wake up scheming

I won’t clam up about this scheme!

Laugh at me, if you wish to tempt my salty, invertebrate wrath, but I can promise you that if this scheme succeeds, the world will tremble before my fearsome bivalve army.  And no, I’m not just flexing my mussels.

© Gwen and James Anderson

Recent work from McGill University biologist Frédéric Guichard shows that California mussels, whose networking skills have previously been questioned because of their sedentary lifestyle, may communicate at much greater distances than previously supposed.  Guichard and colleagues have created mathematical models based on ecological data to show that when a group of mussels releases larvae, it can cause nearby populations to do the same, setting off a chain reaction of larva release that can extend all the way up the coast.  These chain reactions can result in closely-timed larval release in mussels from San Diego to Seattle, and these patterns could exist in other bivalves as well.

This could have tremendous implications for conservation efforts, which had previously focused on isolated colonies of mussels instead of considering interactions between disparate communities.  But more importantly (for me), this could have tremendous implications for my efforts to corral the bivalves of the Pacific Ocean into a fearsome army, capable of attacking coastal towns from Baja California to the Bering Strait.

After all, how much of a leap is it from one group of mussels telling a faraway group to release larvae, to a single deranged marine biologist (moi) instructing all the mussels of the West coast to simultaneously invade the land?  Perhaps a bit of a stretch, but with some finessing of the mussel signaling mechanisms, who knows what could happen?


Life is plastic, it’s fantastic!
March 22, 2010, 3:37 pm
Filed under: eco-villainy | Tags: , , , , , , ,

I try not to get jealous.  I really do, the emotion isn’t becoming on me.  Vengeful, brashly destructive, callous to the suffering of the puny masses – those emotions I’m comfortable with.  But I don’t like being jealous.

That being said, I’m letting myself get a little bit jealous of Miriam Goldstein, chief scientist on the Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastic Expedition (SEAPLEX). She and her team of sailor/scientists piled onto the vessel New Horizon last August and ambled through one of the most awe-inspiring sites that the world’s oceans have to offer: the Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch.

© Doug Lee.

You’ve got to understand; this Texas-sized (or maybe USA-sized?) oceanic dump is basically the Great Pyramid at Giza for people who are trying to destroy the world.  I’ve spent my whole professional life working on a handful of brilliant yet underfunded doomsday devices only to find out that, without anyone even trying, this giant mess of trash is accumulating in the middle of the ocean and threatening our very existence – talk about awe-inspiring!  Even if it’s not what it’s cracked up to be, I’m sure that a trip to the GPOGP could give me some ideas.

A word about this patch.  The Northern Pacific Ocean contains one of the world’s five major ocean gyres, a relatively stationary patch of sea that forms as a result of enormous rotating currents caused by the Coriolis Effect (which is held falsely responsible for choosing the direction in which a toilet flushes).  Currents in the Northern Pacific Ocean create a vortex that pushes surface waters out to sea, carrying floating debris with them.  At the center of the vortex, those waters sink, but the debris remains, and collects, and builds up over 40 or 50 years until we have a giant patch of plastic floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and threatening local ecosystems over an area whose massive size we’re still trying to calculate.

Until the SEAPLEX expedition, news anchors and reporters had assumed that the mess was a big old floating island made of garbage that you could walk on if you wanted to (which I do).  What Goldstein’s team found was a soup of “confetti-like” pieces of plastic floating near the surface and stretching across 1,700 miles of ocean, which explains why the patch can’t be measured from space.  And why I can’t build a mansion on it.

So far, the results of the expedition haven’t been analyzed to the point where the researchers know anything conclusive about exactly how soon the GPOGP is going to destroy marine ecosystems and topple the delicate balance of life as we know it.  They’ve found chunks of plastic in the stomachs of some deep-sea fish underneath the patch, and there are suggestions that the toxins in the plastic could seep into the fishes and the food chain, and begin to poison humans.  But that’s all conjecture at this point.

I’m crossing my fingers.  If this garbage patch pans out and does end up destroying the earth, that means I don’t have to help out with that boring Large Hadron Collider doomsday project, which my heart is totally not into.