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Location: New Haven/Madison/Essex

PostPosted: Fri Apr 27, 2018 3:29 pm    Post subject: EC 14-B Wellfleet and Clinton Harbor Case Studies Reply with quote

Blue Crabs and Marine Soil Habitat Histories #14-B
Environment And Conservation The Blue Crab Forum & CT Fish Talk
Temperature and Energy Impact Chemical Habitat Quality
for Blue Crabs
Coastal Tidal and Subtidal Eelgrass Peat Linked to Habitat Failures
A Capstone Proposal for FFA – Non Experimental SAE
Tim Visel
The Sound School Regional Vocational Aquaculture Center
60 South Water Street, New Haven, CT
April 10, 2017 – The Sound School

A Caution About Vibrio

I have not included the usual introduction and Blue Crab Forum™ - Thank you so that the information about Sapropel – Vibrio can fit into this posting at the start of the Blue Crab season. I do appreciate the ability to post these nitrogen – Vibrio blue crab series and hope to have EC #15 ready in August. That posting will include a review of bacterial inoculants under eelgrass and other submerged aquatic vegetation including the tolerance of Spartina alterniflora to sulfides. Eelgrass especially over long time periods forms a thick root peat, and in this natural process seals off oxygen as a Sapropel forms (black mayonnaise) underneath it where Vibrio bacteria can live. In hot weather Vibrio bleeds up into the water column and can impact blue crabbers with a serious Vibrio infection. Sapropel is a “living compost” in the marine environment. Although our scientific community continues to struggle with its name or existence (about 30 different terms have been found) we should call it what the rest of the overseas community has for a century – Sapropel (my view). Blue crabs live in warm waters in, near or at times over Sapropel and in hot weather/low oxygen conditions Vibrios thrive – they like the heat and is the reason why Vibrio outbreaks often occur during the hottest of times. The Sound School has issued three cautions about Sapropel, the latest on February 9, 2016 –The Search for Megalops Special Report #1 posted to the Northeast Crabbing Resources thread titled “Importance Notice for Blue Crabbers – Estuarine Researchers” Blue Crab Forum™. I urge all blue crabbers to give it a look.

Fishers and the general public should be informed about Vibrio growths in sapropel with or without eelgrass/SAV plant covers – my view.

Have a great safe and successful Blue Crab season.

Tim Visel – Blue Chip

A Note from Tim Visel

The views expressed here do not reflect the Citizens Advisory Committee or Habitat Stewardship Working Group of the EPA Long Island Sound Study. On February 16, 2016 and February 8, 2017, I have asked Connecticut resource management agencies to recognize Sapropel as a distinct subtidal habitat type. This is the viewpoint of Tim Visel. This report is in two parts, 14-A and 14-B. 14-A was released December 2016 and both parts can be viewed on the Blue Crab ForumTM Environmental and Conservation Thread, Post #13: “Blue Crabs, Salt Marshes and Habitat Succession” was posted on July 13, 2016, and should provide an introduction to this habitat history concept. It has been one of the most viewed posts to date.


I very much appreciate the opportunity to post these reports on the Blue Crab Forum™ – the last several years I have learned much from the comments and reading other posts on The Blue Crab Forum™. I never fished a long time on a large vessel, most of my fishing experiences have been in small boats – primarily skiffs and inshore. After I started lobstering with my brother Raymond in the late 1960s I first became interested in fishing gear (one of my first gear papers has been reprinted recently – The History New England Trawlnet Designs on gearnet.com). When Tom’s Creek in Madison was hit with black mayonnaise and my seed oysters perished I became interested in fisheries habitats and chemical habitat succession. We lobstered from Clinton Harbor when it became “sick” in the 1980’s. It did not support the fish and have the water clarity of the 1960’s. We had an increase in the blood fluke summers itch, flounder had fin rot, MSX was killing oysters and now thick green algal growths smothered the bottom. It is at this time that I started to look at case histories and to further research inshore areas, such as Clinton Harbor. I have had much help in this area from retired fishers that I have mentioned in many previous posts George McNeil and John Hammond on the Blue Crab Forum™ like many others that have fished from small boats, I have myself noticed in a small way fisheries habitats change over time.

I was also very fortunate to work for two Cooperative Extension Services – and for a short time an Agricultural Experiment station keeping a foot in the agriculture community while working with small boat fishers, for USDA and NOAA Sea Grant as well. Many of the small boat University of Connecticut Sea Grant Fishing Gear workshop attendees shared with me their inshore fishing habitat observations at the time. They provided a unique and valuable insight into long-term habitat change. In this field of habitat research I have been able to use key USDA crop and climate reports, previous agriculture USDA research in peat soils, and how terrestrial soils respond to heat and cold as part of this research. It is the marine soils that need additional research from an agriculture perspective, it is a “missing piece” in this habitat history research area. Just as farmers inshore fishers also need to know about pH, porosity of marine soils and the bacteria living in them. The nitrogen and sulfur cycles are indeed complex at times and an important aspect of estuarine habitat succession chemistry research of marine soils – my view. Fishers would benefit if from clear easy to understand habitat descriptions that include long-term impacts of energy and temperature. We do not have that aspect in the fisheries literature of today.

One of the largest concerns is a balanced look at environmental fisheries history (my view) a look back at past climate patterns (cycles) and their impacts upon habitat quality for fish and shellfish. I give much credit to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission for reprinting a paper I started in 2008 and is now IMEP #53 – The Blue Crab Forum™ Fishery, Eeling Oystering thread posted last February, The Southern New England Lobster Fisheries Collapse Of 1898-1905. This is exactly the type of historical review that has been lacking in many climate/habitat reports – my view.

In this case, lobster fishers in Southern New England have been able to learn that the 1998 Southern New England lobster die off resembled a similar event a century before in 1898. The entire lobster hatchery effort of the 1900’s was largely “forgotten” or minimized. In this regard, the 1898 lobster die off is now back into the fishery management reports. Climate and energy can have huge impacts as to what species dominate inshore waters. Because blue crabbers fish the shallowest of water – and those waters warm and cool the fastest they add a viewpoint that is unique and valuable. Until very recently the natural sucessional aspect of shallow water habitat change has not had a chair at the climate chair fisheries conference table, and the species that may have the head chair for climate cycles, I have come to believe, is the blue crab– my view.

I respond to all emails at tim.visel@new-haven.k12.ct.us

Some of the most important habitat concerns remain absent from today’s study – temperature and energy as it relates to habitat quality (sapropel) and temperature (the sulfur cycle) (T. Visel).

Coastal Storms – Temperature and Habitat Clocks, Clinton, CT

A Case History of Clinton Harbor – Clinton, CT

In the 1980s Clinton Harbor experienced what many larger New England lagoons experienced rapid habitat succession, a decline in some species while increases in others. Clinton Harbor is at the terminus of the Hammonasset River – one of the “rare” New England’s cold water rivers in central Connecticut. The southerly opening contains a barrier island and spit. From time to time this barrier spit is breached and Cedar Island (formerly called Sandy Island) becomes an island again. This breach is locally called the Dardanelles after the narrow opening to the Black Sea via the Bosphorus strait. This system was the topic of how climate cycles influences fisheries (The Blue Crab Forum™ IMEP #24 fishing, eeling oystering thread posting on September 2014 titled “Clinton Harbor and The Great Heat.” After many years of excellent oystering in the lower Hammonasset oysters in the 1970s oysters started to perish – they became “gapers” with putried with meats inside and sulfur smells.

After Hurricane Gloria, black mayonnaise (Sapropel) quickly accumulated on the oyster beds, the remains of leaves swept downstream as the rain fell from the hurricane – it was very hot and at times water inside the harbor was warm to the touch. It was during one of these oyster surveys in the later 1980’s I met Wayne Castonquay – a University of Connecticut master’s student (thesis topic “The Occurrence of Glugea stephani in Long Island Sound Winter Flounder – the dynamics of infection and effects on the fish – 1988, University of Connecticut) he was working as an intern for the then Dept of Environmental Protection conducting a winter flounder survey. By 1988 our winter flounder population was in trouble – a recruitment failure and bacterial infections termed “fin rot” had happened (The Blue Crab Forum™. Winter flounder habitats after storms (February 2014) posted on IMEP #12 Fishing, Eeling, Oystering thread). Winter flounder fin rot had been identified along our coast in New Haven Harbor (Auster, 1981). But Wayne was looking at a fish disease – a microsporan parasite, Glugea stephani – while I was delivering oyster samples to Dr. Sung Feng, then a pathologist at the University of Connecticut looking for another parasite MSX which was found in increasing numbers in Hammonasset oysters also. When Dr. Feng passed away, his historical collection of MSX slides was given to me, all the hundreds of oyster samples he and Liz Haddad fixed and mounted on glass slides. (Dr. Feng’s work was cataloged and analyzed by Inke Sunila, Shellfish Pathologist, State of the Connecticut Aquaculture Division with some slides prepared by Vicki Blazer at the University of Rhode Island for me as part of the Old Saybrook Oyster River study for my master’s thesis it is online titled Oyster River Habitat Conditions (1981-1986 IMEP #56, Nov 2015) Dr. Sunila’s research on Dr. Feng’s slide collection can be seen under the title, “The First Comprehensive Survey for MSX Haplosporidium Nelsoni in Connecticut,” as the same title Journal of Shellfish Research, Vol. 34, #2, Pg. 297-302, August 2015. Later, a strain of MSX resistant oysters would be named to “Clinton Strain.” Vicki Blazer is now the Fish Pathologist at the National Fish Health Research laboratory – USGS Leetown Science Center, West Virginia.

While Wayne was looking at the parasite infecting winter flounder, I was bringing oyster samples to Dr. Feng at the University of Connecticut looking for MSX. Eventually our conservations turned to habitat quality (Wayne was attempting to index winter flounder habitats – his habitat observations was combined in 1988 report “A Winter Flounder Habitat Index for Connecticut”. (It is on The Sound School publications directory under that title) and we started talking about habitat histories – the opening and closing of the Dardanelles over time and what habitat changes had occurred here as we then focused on black mayonnaise on hard bottoms that made his seining difficult and was suffocating oysters, the apparent buildup of Sapropel. It wasn’t called Sapropel much back then but winter flounder fishers were very much aware of “black mayonnaise”. I had brought this concern to a DEP public hearing held July 9th, 1986 regarding the prohibition of winter flounder fishing upstream of the high way bridge Niantic River (156) this is my comment from DEP transcripts in July 1986 that include the dieoffs of eelgrass. What was happening in Clinton Harbor was happening in other estuaries as well , and in the Niantic River. Up and down the coast, eelgrass was “dying off.” Oyster sets improved and blue crabs became abundant. It was ironic as pollution was often blamed for the decline of winter flounder and lobsters, but the improvement in oysters and blue crabs was the result of warmer waters?

PROPOSAL: Winter flounder fishery closure of the Niantic River - Connecticut

COMMENTS: {T. Visel} As prepared by the CT DEP – 1986, July 9th Public Hearing

“A staff member of the University of Connecticut Marine Cooperative Extension Service observed that he was also very concerned about the winter flounder populations in the Niantic River.”

“I have been working with the East Lyme and Waterford shellfish Commissions for two years. There has been a major die-off of (eelgrass) algae near Camp O’Neill. We have examined it, and it would seem the cause is a brown algae of a filamentous type that is blocking sunlight so it cannot reach other plants. I agree there has been a significant change in the vegetation. I believe it is related to a more serious problem, and that is the accelerating eutrophication of our estuaries, and I would like to direct the DEP to two ‘side studies,’ not yet completed. One, we are finding that the buildup of organic matter on the bottom is very acidic and can produce fin rot in flounder. Secondly, there seems to be a greater abundance of algae and higher oxygen debts due to the increased buildup of organic matter on the bottom. I feel that we should look at dissolved oxygen content and eutrophication of the sediments. I don't believe this has anything to due with the (Millstone) sampling program.” (Winter flounder surveys)

The staff member of the Sea Grant Program further noted that, over the last few years other states have experienced environmental degradation of their salt ponds and coastal rivers, and have totally lost their flounder resources. Also, three salt ponds on Cape Cod have gone completely anaerobic, two on Martha's Vineyard, and several large salt ponds in Connecticut have been lost; Holly Pond is one of the largest ones.

“I think we should initiate a habitat restoration program. You can turn some of these areas around. There has been some work done by Clyde MacKenzie down in New Jersey, where he found a strong correlation between pH, shellfish beds, organic matter, and flounder. I think we have lost a lot of our shellfish beds in this state and we have lost a lot of flounder habitat, too.”

That was my statement about winter flounder habitat three decades ago – Wayne’s observations helped form an position that we were watching habitats transition on a large scale – we were. Clinton Harbor held all the important factors for a long-term habitat history, the energy in the barrier breach, a warming Long Island Sound and a return of trees, its forests. All combined to influence the habitats in Clinton Harbor for the next four decades.

And this is Wayne’s comments about Clinton Harbor in 1988 (From a NOAA Sea Grant Newsletter article authored by Wayne and published in Connecticut Currents then).

Clinton Harbor (Wayne Castonquay’s statement about winter flounder – from “A Winter Flounder Index for Connecticut”)

“The majority of the harbor, from the point the Hammonasset River turns into the harbor area to the sand flats at the outer harbor, has been examined closely. The large spring recreational fishery here suggests the harbor is a major spawning area. Although several areas appears to be good to excellent habitat, YOY flounder have been found only at the area adjacent to the south side of Clinton town beach. This area is quite unique when compared to my other sites. This area is a very shallow ((1’ at low tide), sandy-mud eelgrass bed. Although the density of fish here is moderate at best, the most fish seem to be along the edge of the eel grass. Other species include the usuals and an occasional small fluke. Access is a 200’ walk from the beach lot. The habitat, but has been found to be nearly devoid of fish. I suspect there is too much wave and current action at high tide. On the other hand, the entire north shore inner harbor area is either marina or shallow “black mayonnaise” - hence also devoid of flounder. Otherwise, the North Shore of Cedar Island, a 3⁄4 mile sand/gravel flat is typical of other highly productive areas. However, sampling has turned up nothing (except a clogged net!). I am convinced the worst-ever algae bloom; currently clogging the entire harbor (except Clinton beach) has killed or driven the flounder out of this area. I’m confident this particular area is important in non-bloom years. Access to Cedar Island is a 2-mile walk from Hammonasset.”

What we did not know was this lagoon we knew as Clinton Harbor was undergoing rapid habitat succession it was warming and with changes habitat profiles, blooms of algae not experienced recently and fish finrot winter flounder and now oyster diseases (MSX). Clinton Harbor became a very different place in the 1980s for fishing as the one I recalled in the 1960s and 1970s when lobstering. To us, it was “dying” as we could see the result. But we were not alone several local fishers weighted in this had happened before in Clinton Harbor when the Dardanelles was closed and it was hot. Arthur Lang, Jack Andrews, George McNeil and Cecil Wilcox all provided comments to me about the Dardanelles in 1987 and information about habitat changes while fishing out of Clinton in the 1940s (See IMEP #24, Clinton Harbor and the Great Heat Blue Crab ForumTM posted on the Blue Crab ForumTM, September 3, 2014, Fishing Eeling Oystering Thread). To them, these habitat events had happened before.

Immediately following Hurricane Gloria, the lower Hammonasset River Oyster Beds were covered by a thick blanket of oak leaves and by 1988 these leaves had now turned black (personal observations – T. Visel). These leaves in some places were more than two feet deep and some oysters were all stained black (Tom Brennen Clinton Shellfish Commission UCONN Sea Grant Shellfish survey) from buried organic matter which at times emitted a strong sulfide smell. George McNeil, who used to own and operate the McNeil Oyster business, where the cafeteria for The Sound School is today, recalled the town of Clinton filled in most of the Dardanelles barrier spit opening and eliminated the action of flushing or tidal energy. By June of 1987, the harbor experienced a rapid growth of enteromorpha algal species that covered the oyster beds those that still alive appeared thin and watery – the meats very small – I now realize that was the symptom of sulfide starvation – mentioned decades before in York River oyster studies conducted by Paul Galtsoff in 1937 (See IMEP #51-B, The Cycle of Eelgrass and Fish Habitats, June 11, 2015). In 1989, Clinton Harbor waters turned brown. Alarmed Chris Percy, then president of an environmental organization called the Sounds Conservancy, made arrangements with an Old Lyme pilot Mr. Tom Crosby to take a friend Brian Sullivan and myself to video and photograph the Connecticut coastline. A brown band of algae clung to Connecticut’s shore. This brown algal bloom was huge and wasn’t the shoreline I recalled in the 1960s as we focused upon the Guilford to Clinton area. Along the shore, a band of brown extended all along Connecticut’s coast and could be seen for miles. In the 1960s, the waters were “clear” and cooler, but in this heat, the waters were now brown and warm.

The Importance of Habitat Histories – Tidal Dams – Dikes Wellfleet And Marshfield Massachusetts – Other potential long-term habitat history sites

It is the small boat fishers who first notice a change in energy or temperature increases. We have some excellent habitat case histories to examine – barrier spits and blocked (dikes or tide gates) tidal exchange (See IMEP #50 – Storms, Barrier Cuts, and Shore Fisheries Blue Crab Forum™, Feb. 25, 2015). When energy (tidal flows waves or currents) were restricted different habitats succeeded, especially when temperatures rose. Here inshore fishers in Clinton, CT, Wellfeet and Marshfield Massachusetts would complain about lost inshore fisheries and their habitats. That is the beginning of sulfide or chocolate waters, strange plant growths or blooms of algae. It is also the beginning of the formation of Sapropel – the most deadly of all estuarine habitat types long described by inshore coastal fishers as “stagnant water” or “dead bottoms.” This is the beginning of the sulfur cycle assisted by bacteria that by way of biochemistry turn once productive habitats into natures killing fields. They are the first ones to experience it frequently termed it black mayonnaise. While coastal structures can reduce energy on a small scale the Northeast Atlantic Oscillation does it over thousands of square miles, silently but just as deadly. This weather/climate pattern has been until very recently not a part of the inshore fisheries discussion. A warm to hot period can change habitat quality as cooler temperatures and increased coastal energy can change it back.

Perhaps these New England communities have the most “habitat history” on the opening and closing of barrier inlets (energy) naturally or manmade exist in Scituate, MA (North River IMEP #50, February, 2015), Clinton, CT, Marshfield, MA, (Green Harbor) and Wellfleet, Truro, MA Herring River – when a tidal dike was built upon the in Marshfield Massachusetts in 1903 (to facilitate vegetable and hay production) fishers complained (and still do according to a recent article).

“The dike was completed in the year 1872 and subsequently in 1879, was widened to carry the road from Green Harbor to Brink Rock … Following the building of the dam and dike came certain changes in the small harbor at the mouth of the river. The effect of these changes was a serious one for the fishermen of the village, causing much contention.” (History of Marshfield Lysender Salmon Richards, 1901)

The dike was built to keep tides out, but the early 1870’s had water coming from an 1810 man-made cut that allowed more seawater to enter, most likely benefitting inshore fisheries but changing the soils for terrestrial agriculture – from now salty water, no doubt killing some terrestrial plant species.

“Allow Ocean Tides To Flow Into Green Harbor River” Patriot Ledger, November 19, 2005 – appeared to indicate upstream of the dike had filled with Sapropel at Bass Creek, and the lack of flushing had led to the stagnant water and brown tannin (leaf) residues – A local science teacher, Laurie Blanchi, is quoted “Without a tide to flush out stagnant water, the river suffers, especially in summer … One year it was so bad (the water) looked like dark coffee, it was really aweful.” (These tannin brown waters are often termed “mahogany waters” in the historical literature – T. Visel.)

In time, these energy-blocked waters, bottoms changed they accumulated organic matter and organic paste and in high heat turned black and sulfide rich. In low oxygen conditions Sapropel formed. This habitat type is deadly to the oxygen requiring life forms, it supports sulfate reducing bacteria the source of deadly sulfides and sulfuric acid. Increased coastal energy (storms) tends to reverse these Sapropel habitats – colder temperatures also and oyster farmers of the last century were the first to complain about these muds then thought to be human caused. (A Long Island Sound survey in 1890 exposed putrified organic substances that smelled so badly, crew members could not stay on deck (See IMEP #59-B. Blue Crab ForumTM, Fishing, Eeling and Oystering Thread, August 5, 2016, Marine Soil Experiments).

But removing Sapropel was in conflict of one the chief of tenants of the 1960s environmental movement – bottom disturbance. While dredging does disturb the bottom and at times contains negative habitat consequences – the negative impact of non bottom disturbance from habitat succession was removed from public discussion. Sometimes dredging would have a direct positive habitat benefit(s) increasing energy (mechanical) and improving oxygen access near or into marine soils. Although energy has both destructive and positive habitat impacts – only the negative would be mentioned in many coastal studies. Increasing tidal flows that allow for oxygen reduction, not sulfur reduction, to occur as temperatures rise now increases the importance of tidal energy (flushing) ) (also called residence time). Any bottom disturbance has become one of the chief causes of environmental regulatory policy along our coasts although natural energy is of course immune from such regulatory responses (storms). That long-term habitat history was lost to the public and future generations of young people (students) who now were studying the shore and its fisheries. When that happened natural only meant in time our negative influence – the cause of much of the coastal area management policy and largely (or completely) excluded seafood cycles. Largely absent from seafood and fish discussions were habitat comments from those who earned a livelihood from them, inshore fishers. In fact, in many instances, our fisheries now became “part of the problem” – my view. Much of the 1980’s habitat public policy would now be focused upon catches while cold and hot temperature habitats impacts to them overlooked – my view. That is why I believe today many fishers do not know about Sapropel, nor its seafood disease capacity such as Vibrio, and at times human disease potentials. In fact, in high heat, Sapropel becomes a public health hazard as it is impacting the blue crab fisheries to our south as Vibrio bacterial infections has now increased in the north (very hot summers).

It is important to coastal fishers and those interested in climate change studies are able to view this fisheries history – habitats in heat and also in cold.

And when it turns sharply colder and strong storms or Hurricanes now move and oxygenate these marine composts and a reactivated oxygen/nitrogen pathway that can surge nitrate levels. Bacteria that need oxygen to turn ammonia into nitrate now have it in cold water and nitrate levels now surge (not from human pollution) to feed the good algal strains that shellfish need. This happens during seasons as well colder winter and fall waters allows the oxygen/nitrate pathway to strengthen – nitrates now become available for the spring algal blooms – in summer warm temperatures diminish oxygen levels – the sulfate/ammonia pathway now opens – allowing from those late summer blooms of algae that need ammonia, the “HABs.” This seasonal exchange happens naturally – what is noticed by fishers over time is when one pathway dominates – the oxygen/nitrate transition of cold and energy or the sulfate/ammonia pathway in times of heat and little energy. Between these habitat “reversals” as described by John Hammond (See IMEP Series #40 to #46 posted on the Blue Crab Forum™) come habitat clocks or time periods in which species come and go – giving a longer perspective of habitat history - seafood cycles.

Fishers often record their habitat observations that over time and describe these habitat successional events, sudden blooms of never seen before aquatic plants, explosion and then collapse of forage species and changes in the bottom itself. One of the most mentioned observations in coastal reports is the bottom consistency. One of the most noticed in fisheries coastal waters is the change from hot and cold species both linked to changes in energy especially those areas with restricted flushing. Here the change is most noticed by the cooler of seawater as algal strains that could use ammonia give way to those who need nitrate – another type of alga bloom – the macroalgae greens. After Hurricane Gloria in 1985 Connecticut then experienced a bloom of Enteromorpha, including one in Clinton Harbor Connecticut. A sharp cold and storms can now release decades of nitrogen compounds stored in Sapropel – producing blooms in the same areas (low flushing). This is what happened in Clinton Harbor Connecticut in 1987, two years after Hurricane Gloria – thick growths of the green algae fouled the harbor bottom smothering oysters and even at times stopping outboard motors. This is the quick release of Sapropel accumulations stored during low energy periods, sometimes for decades that opportunistic plants now “bloomed.”

Follow The Blue Crabs?

And how do blue crab populations change in warming waters that have higher nitrogen levels – they increase. It is very difficult to explain at times that blue crabs do better in these warm waters while some of the cold water species die off – often to diseases and fungal/bacterial infections – the waters turn brown and menhaden fish kills happen. The warm water initially helps blue crabs as the cold water – oxygen nitrate bacteria are replaced with warm water sulfur ammonia bacteria. Blue crabs tend to stay in the low oxygen waters to escape some of the larger predators but as the change in bacterial populations are completed what made blue crabs have a habitat advantage now turns deadly – the blue crab “jubilees” the extreme sulfide events of very hot weather and poor circulation. Some biologists attempted to explain the paradox of nitrogen enrichment decades ago in the cooler 1950s some researchers even felt LIS might be nitrogen limited during that time period (See Comments made by J.L. McHugh – Marine Fisheries of New York State, 1972).

The truth of the matter is perhaps somewhere in between, slight or new sapropel may emit sulfides that tend to keep larger predators away (this appears to be true for eels and striped bass) but not yet concentrated enough to kill the crabs, giving blue crabs a unique habitat “edge.” The end result of sapropel formation in hot weather is the Blue Crab Jubilees – when sulfide levels rise so much that even blue crabs may walk from the water.

A series of cold winters and cooler water temperatures now would favor the nitrogen pathway for nitrates – (EC #11). Warm to hot periods favors the nitrogen pathway for ammonia. The transition can have a series of algal and macroalgae blooms as nature works to reduce the nutrient levels built up in this marine compost that accumulated sometimes for decades by the action of bacteria. This was not unknown to the research community in the 1980s – in fact this was known by some of first agriculture researchers as recorded in the Report of the Commissioner of Patents for the year 1860 – Agriculture Washington Government Printing Office 1861 – Agriculture Report from Thomas G. Clemson, Superintendent of Agriculture Affairs of the United States, January 29, 1861. Over a century ago, Thomas Clemson was well aware of sulphur waters and sulfides [T. Visel] and his 1861 letter to Congress contained this statement below. My comments in brackets.

“It is frequently observed upon the surface of stagnant pools, and is also deposited from certain mineral waters the dark colored mud found surrounding such waters [most likely Sapropel 1 or 2, T. Visel] has been applied to curing diseases of the skin [Sapropel mud – skin wraps are still used today in Europe, T. Visel] … Many springs in our country are known by the name of sulphur waters and generally emit the disagreeable odor of rotten eggs, characteristic of sulphurated hydrogen.”

C. Thomas Clemson would include in his 1862 report a plan for many of the agricultural institutions we have today, including the USDA as a separate agency and removing it from the U.S. Patent Office as it was before the spring of 1862. Later after the Civil War, he would leave land and funds to found Clemson Agricultural College, known as Clemson University today.

One of the characteristics of this rapid sudden change from sulfate/ammonia to oxygen nitrate in shallow bays is the sudden bloom of algal species most able to soak up this sudden nitrate release. Fishers often see these blooms as “spaghetti growths,” “redslimes” or sea cabbage (sea lettuce) they often grow so dense as to cover the bottom, and prevent shellfish sets. In warmer temperatures those blue/greens algal strains that like the warmth may “bloom” to soak up this excess bacteria generated ammonia (usually late summer) and then decay adding to an oxygen deficits. In extreme heat the “Browns” may dominate needing higher amounts of ammonia or those blue green species. One of the best examples of this energy and temperature impact upon inshore habitats is perhaps the opening and closure of a barrier spit inlet and one called the Dardanelles in Clinton, CT. This harbor has a habitat history that involves this barrier spit opening over 200 years is preserved in coastal core studies in Connecticut’s other coves and bays. Two studies funded by the State of Connecticut in 1993 and again in 1994 conducted by Dr. Peter Patton of Wesleyan University. In every core sample examined Dr. Patton found evidence of habitat reversals in deep vibra core samples (See IMEP #15-1 and IMEP #15-2 posted on the Blue Crab Forum™, Eeling, Fishing and Shellfishing thread). Cores were at certain depths marked by sudden distinct changes – most identified with relic shells oysters and clams species. (These CT DEP reports funded in 1993 and 1994 were made available in 2010 for researchers – T. Visel).

Sea level rise and low rainfall pushes blue crab habitats higher in the estuaries and now have ample sulfate in which to “burn” salt marshes into the sulfur cycle (called salt marsh dieback) which is a good term – the salt marsh is in a way dying - it is being eaten alive and killed by sulfides from sulfate reducing bacteria. High rain fall tends to keep the most saline waters out of marshes possibly diminishing sulfate – here sulfate reducers die off as well as if the nitrate and sulfate pathway were suppressed or “tied” in heat human nitrogen can tip the balance, a tie breaker so to speak but compared to algae habitat history largely dependent upon temperature and energy and a small part of the actual nitrogen impacts as human nitrogen is more mobile.

That is why I urged EPA estuary programs not to just focus upon Aqueous nitrogen but to look equally at the impact of tremendous organic loads after heavy rains (This organic matter rots in the very important habitat nursery areas).

Blue crabs make a great sentinel species because they can move (presence, absence surveys), they have short live cycles, and we collect catch statistics from recreational and commercial fisheries. In addition crab fisheries exist in the shallows the areas most impacted by temperature and energy swings themselves from a tremendous blue crab population in the early 1900’s in New England. Blue crabs became scarce here in the 1950’s and 1960’s or observations in Rhode Island for the same 1960’s period. This habitat battle took its toll on the warmer water blue crab in New York– McHugh writes in 1972 that the Blue Crab fishery in New York collapsed during this period. His 1972 report contains this section,

“In the waters of New York State, the blue crab, Callinectes sapidus, is near the northern limit of its range. It has never been a major species in the catch in this area. Because the blue crab is highly variable in abundance from natural causes even in the center of its range (McHugh, 1969a), it might be expected to be extremely variable in New York waters, and the history of the commercial fishery suggests that this has been true (Figure 6). Landings have declined steadily but irregularly, since the maximum recorded catch of about 1.6 million pounds (725 metric tons) in 1880. Catches rose briefly in the 1930s, in a recorded peak of more than half a million pounds (270) metric tons) in 1935, but after a minor upsurge in the early 1950s the fishery collapsed. No commercial catch has been recorded since 1961.”

And from Rhode Island much the same observations.

Internal Condition of a Diminishing Blue Crab Population
(Callinectes sapidus)
H. Perry Jeffries
Graduated School of Oceanography
University of Rhode Island, Kingston, R. I.
(Chesapeake Science Vol. 7, No #3, Pg 164-170 Fall 1966

“Early reports of Rhode Island Commissioners of Inland Fisheries (1900-1914) indicate the blue crab once occurred in sufficient abundance to support a small industry. Several bushels could be caught in a single morning with a baited line and dip net. In recent years the blue crab has become scarce in the estuaries of southern New England. Fishery statistics do not accurately reveal this decline because most of the commercial catch was sold directly by individual fishermen and never passed through warehouses.

In the mid 1930’s the decline began. By 1938, the blue crab was so scarce that commercial fishing was no longer profitable. Fishermen say that the last significant run of crabs into Pt. Judith Pond, R. I. occurred in 1947. No blue crabs have been seen here by the author over the past seven summers, and shellfishermen say they are rare indeed. Catches in Narragansett Bay are insignificant; only one crab was caught during an intensive 2-year trapping program for lobsters near the mouth of the Bay.

There is no general clue for assessing the cause of this decline.”

And finally from Massachusetts, the same observations:

Thanks to the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management and the Town of Chatham, Massachusetts for the latest report recently posted titled, “The Study of the Marine Resources of Pleasant Bay,” Fiske et al. 1967 contains an interesting section regarding blue crabs as a series of colder winters caused blue crabs to decline across Southern New England – fishers and fishery managers were curious why- important enough even then to deserve a mention.

“No significant bait or edible crab fishery exists in the bay; however, an unconfirmed report by the Harwich Shellfish Officer suggested that a few blue claw crabs (Callinectes sapidus) were taken by family fishermen in the area of Muddy Creek, Harwich. It should be noted that during the 12-month sampling period biologists did not capture or observe any blue claw crabs in the estuary. During the course of interviews, many local fishermen expressed concern over the disappearance of blue claw crabs in the bay. In recent years, there have been similar reports from many areas along the southern shore of Massachusetts. The cause for the general decline of this species in Massachusetts is unknown. Until recently, many bays and tidal rivers supported substantial family fishing for these edible crabs. Since this species appears to be in marked decline, specific investigation should be conducted to find the cause of this decline and to determine possible methods of rehabilitating the crab stocks.”

As lobsters died off here in CT, for example, the lobster fishers perhaps noticed that lobsters left the shallows first for them the lobstering was poor in these warm waters while lobster fishers in deeper waters brought in amazing catches until 1998, what was reported then that CT was facing a “Lobster Jubilee” like the “Blue Crab Jubilees” in more southern waters where blue crabs sensing sulfides from the sulfate/ammonia pathway run, swim or crawl out the waters. (Lobsters are not noted from coming out of sulfide waters except the 1898 Narragansett Bay die-off even lobsters were observed leaving the water along that event (IMEP #53, Blue Crab ForumTM). That just prior to a massive habitat reversal lobster catches would happen (habitat compression) as the shallows were now unsuitable habitats the remaining populations compressed into smaller habitat areas, making these dense populations easy to trap. For deeper water lobster fishers the fishing was fantastic and catches surged, 5 year’s later most of the surviving lobsters would exit Long Island Sound for colder waters. But this compression/jubilee impact of a longer hot sulfate/ammonia pathway was known in the 1980s. In fact even predicted by the same researcher who urged the mapping of sapropels in 1985 Donald Rhoads – See Long Island Sound Workshop - EPA – NOAA Study of the Month Series #3 (1987).

In time, we will learn that many species have a habitat history and clocks set into motion when habitat quality improves or declines. The first phone calls about the increase in Blue Crabs here came from canoe and kayakers and the general questions of blue crab migrations – reports of “blue crabs among the lily pads next to the DEEP cove ramp in Perry Mill Pond” Fairfield, CT. Here the post megalops stage was observed in the “millions” and again in 2011. (Note these tidal ponds in Fairfield have been identified as significant post Megalops recruitment/nursery areas however this area has a no harvest because of lead contamination from previous industrial use. No blue crabbing is allowed in this area (See The Search for Megalops newsletter posted on Blue Crab ForumTM Northeast Crabbing Resources, August 25, 2011, Report #4).

Great South Bay (Moriches Inlet), New York shares a similar habitat history as Clinton Harbor Connecticut with a much larger barrier spit ecosystems Monomoy Chatham Cape Cod, but many of the same patterns of increases and decreases in species especially the hard clam Mercenaria mercenaria, the quahog can be found here. As the 1990’s warming increased, Sapropel formed on the bottom of many coves and eliminated habitat capacity for benthic organisms acidic Sapropel. These marine soils soon succeeded into sulfide/acid bottoms toxic to quahogs (sets). This could also be traced in the diets of benthic fish, such as winter flounder from softshell clams to worms, which could tolerate higher sulfides, silversides, and eels. Bluecrabs soon arrived into these succeeding habitats as waters warmed and quahogs became scarceand should be considered a part of the habitat successional process.

Habitat Succession can be “negative” but Natural

A series of strong storms and cooler temperatures favors the nitrate reduction pathway, heat and few storms favors the ammonia pathway. That is why the algal presence changes so rapidly – the browns often give way to the greens. And the submerged “rooted” aquatic vegetation loose out in this battle to consume nitrogen compounds – who do best in clear water and less nitrogen – depending on water currents to bring nitrogen to them. It is these habitat transitions that unlocks sulfides and sulfuric acids – too much for the submerged root plants to handle these plants now die off from sulfides and fungal attacks. In these cases sulfur rich soils eelgrass now moves oxygen to its roots, to protect them from acidic conditions, it’s last attempt to survive. After a sharp habitat reversal it is the submerged vegetation that takes a back seat to macroalgae such as sea lettuce (ulva) – in Northern areas eelgrass does best after the storm level resides and marine soils are washed of sulfides in a natural habitat successional process. The bay scallop returned to Connecticut before eelgrass meadows reached their peak a century ago and left again before 1931 when eelgrass died off, returned, and left again before the eelgrass die off in the 1990s.

It is most discouraging for inshore fishers to watch these rapid habitat successional events – first the brown or red tides, sometimes purple or chocolate waters then the smothering sea weeds (algae), shellfish and fish diseases as each “plague” seems to bring yet another. A sharp return to cold and powerful storms sets into motion rapid changes in habitats for plants – it is as if someone dropped a large rock into a calm pond – the ripples represent habitat shifts as coastal habitats adjust to the change in temperature and energy. Fishers observe these ripples in changes in vegetation and later changes of inshore fish and shellfish. One of the studies that I mention in some previous IMEP posts is the 1960s studies of Back Bay – Currituck Sound. Those studies represent one the best long term habitat histories we have – available online from the US Fish and Wildlife Service. A smaller study, Journal of Aquatic Plant Management 21-83-89 1983 details this impact on this Sound on page 85. Davis and Brinson East Carolina University (1983) Trends in Submerged Macrophyte Communities of the Currituck Sound 1909 to 1979. This section bellows details in a small way some of the energy impacts to coastal bays and barrier splits as measured by changes in plants.

Cooperative Back Bay-Currituck Sound Studies – Davis and Brinson (1983)

“On March 7, 1962, an especially severe storm (a “northeasterner”) resulted in several breaks in the barrier spit with seawater intrusion. Although the breaks were soon closed, salinities for the growing season for the system in 1962 were high, averaging 4.4%. Salinities decreased the following year, but remained higher than normal through August 1963, the month of maximal biomass and the last time for which data were reported. It seems likely that drastic and extended environmental changes occurred in the Currituck Sound-Back Bay system as a result of the 1962 storm. November biomass of bushy pondweed in 1964 was about twice that of 1962 and 1963 as this species remained dominant in the Sound. In the summer of Currituck Sound occasionally observed the presence of a “strange” plant in the vicinity of Swan Island (figure 1) later assumed to be Eurasian watermilfoil while lower densities extended over 200 to 400 ha. By 1966 high density infestations covered around 3200 ha and overall the plant had spread to around 27,000. The species extended into Back Bay and into some embayments of the Albemarle Sound system to the south, such as Kitty Hawk Bay. However, during 1977 and 1978, biomass in the Sound decreased dramatically and the thickest remaining stands were restricted to the upper northern part (9). Factors associated with this decline will be mentioned later. We believe that changes following the 1962 storm, especially decreased turbidity as affected by increased flocculation of suspended sediments by increased salinity in the northern part of the Sound, resulted in the irruption of Eurasian watermilfoil.”

It is the heat and rapid deliveries of organics or the cold and increase in energy which starts and stops marine habitat succession (you can say agriculture modify’s succession by the energy we provide in clearing forests and soil cultivation).

As the 1990’s warming increased, Sapropel (black mayonnaise) soon formed on the bottom of many coves and bays, including Clinton Harbor. Species changed as well. Now oysters moved into the shallows and set on metal, stones and even pebbles but not in the oyster beds I once fished. Bluecrabs that were once scarce in the 1970’s seemed to arrive earlier each year as “waves,” and areas once famous for winter flounder seemed now to be populated by fluke. Lower oxygen changed the habitat capacity for benthic organisms; softshell clams were buried by Sapropel as worms in the Sapropel increased – silversides now dominated the shallows and was once the habitats of oysters, and winter flounder turned into silversides, blue crabs and eels. However, in extreme heat, nature makes a clean sweep as the sulfur cycle returns, a massive dieoff.

We must (my view) include long-term habitat histories as we investigate the impacts of climate change to estuarine habitats. In December 2014, I proposed a five-year period in which eelgrass researchers can amend eelgrass reports (primarily New England) to include accurate habitat histories for shellfish or amend habitat services to include negative sulfide/sulfur conditions in high heat. Eelgrass and other types of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) can have negative habitat services in times of heat – global warming. The use of cool or cold water habitat indicators for bays salt ponds and coves in high temperatures is a type of research bias or perhaps misconduct. Those habitat services are not realistic or often not attainable in a warming sulfate-rich habitat profile – my view, T. Visel.

We don’t have that long-term habitat history today that reflects cold and hot cycles, and that is apparent from the literature itself. Rarely do you find references before 1970, or even sometimes 1990, which gives a very short and insufficient data field upon which to base habitat policy.

Once Sapropel builds up its presence can dominate habitat transitions for decades without dredging. It may take a series of storms to remove or “turn” these organic composts each time releasing sulfuric acids while providing nutrients for plants “strange” algal blooms especially in heat. This in turn can set off a series of “strange” or harmful algal blooms. It is a habitat battle for bacteria dominance (See EC #10, Oxygen and Sulfur Reducing Bacteria Questions, December 17, 2015) and the nutrients from them that largely governs our inshore habitat quality.

Although many current studies point to human aqueous nitrogen as the largest factor for coastal eutrophication, organic solids (leaves manure, forest plant waste) likely has the most impact in shallow or poorly flushed areas. They remain (or settle) in shallow localized habitats, the ones most suited for “nursery” functions, and slowly release nitrogen reduction compounds mostly ammonia in warm weather for decades. It is a living bacterial compost – now subject to the bio-chemical processes contained with sulfur reducing bacteria. Our climate patterns may take now decades for fishers to see this as a cycle of seafood, which it is as some species fade and others perhaps not abundant for quite some time suddenly surge – as the New England bay scallop example of the 1950s and 1960s or the recent surge of blue crabs here post 1998. The changes in energy and temperature can be measured by the increase or decrease of this marine compost – itself the depth of sapropels (acid sulfate soil) just as Dr. Donald Rhoads mentioned in 1985 (NOAA Estuary of the month, Series #3, published in 1987).

Today biologists often report on these seaweed blooms and usually point to human nitrogen impacts but that is often very misleading – the capacity of Sapropel (Black Mayonnaise) to change from ammonia shedding to nitrate consuming is often not mentioned. The absence of bacterial action gives the appearance that a reduction of fertilizer inputs alone will correct this imbalance – it cannot. In fact in high heat nitrate (in time of low O2 it becomes a defacto oxygen source) is our friend as it helps reduce a far more toxic nitrogen compound ammonia by keeping nitrate requiring bacteria alive (See EC #6, Bacteria, Disease and Warm Water Concerns, July, 2015). Nitrogen as a nitrate compound is an oxygen source for bacteria as many wastewater treatment plant operators knew when it came to bacterial filters. Estuarine studies frequently mention oxygen as a necessary element of shore seafood life but fail to mention that nitrate and sulfate also contain huge amounts of oxygen in seawater and bacteria can utilize them for oxygen as well. That information is often not included (or glossed over) in many studies. Some southern blue crab jubilees in the 1990’s did mention this bottom “bacterial action” without a full explanation but at least it was mentioned. When Blue Crab Jubilee reports occur the oxygen requiring bacteria have lost to sulfur reducing bacteria and become the source of the sulfides (the rotten egg smell) that nearly always happens with them, sulfide is the smoke of the battlefield when natures filter systems are dramatically altered (See EC #8, Natural Nitrogen Bacteria Filter Systems, October 30, 2015), quite simply the surface oxygen requiring bacteria (pathway) have lost their bacterial battle.

John Teal (The Life and Death of Salt Marsh) brought this secondary sulfate pathway forward for discussion but this lead to a conflict with other salt marsh researchers focusing up the oxygen nitrate pathway instead of sulfur ammonia pathway termed “outwelling” of organic matter (this controversy still exists in the literature). This was the pathway of the lower marshes with sulfate. The high marsh pathway was one dominated by oxygen (See John Teal, 1986, The Ecology of Regular Flounder Salt Marshes of New England, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Pg. 40). “Because of the abundant supply of sulfur in seawater, sulfur is never limited to marsh organisms.”

When habitats reverse, these cycles can be very long – a century or more – recorded in fisher catches – seafood landings. These bays and salt ponds are the same areas that obtain large amounts of terrestrial organic matter. This organic matter is the food for bacteria but the largest habitat question might be food for which ones (bacterial species) and that also appears to be governed by temperature and energy levels - flushing.

On land only constantly wet or submerged soils are subject to the longer sulfur cycle of nitrogen release. We see this sulfide death in large tree trunks that stand dead without branches in wetlands. Terrestrial soils (farm land) exposed to oxygen have bacteria quickly release needed nitrogen compounds in a much faster reduction pathway and why early agriculture researchers noted that deep manure piles sealed from oxygen “leaked” large amounts of ammonia. This process has been known over a century and it is was Dr. Field that weighed in on the diking of the Herring River in Wellfleet, Massachusetts and, in fact, the basis of his support was the “better” oxygen terrestrial nitrogen (nitrate) pathway. Dr. Field’s earlier work in PT Judith Pond, Rhode Island focused on a nitrogen shortage nitrate being the form most usable and during this Great Heat in short supply (the heat then in shallow water would have then favored ammonia). Dr. Field had studied both nitrogen pathways by 1908 realizing that in warm water the estuarine nitrogen pathway was much slower. This is in part even today why terrestrial gardeners still turn the compost pile to discourage the “smelly” compost with ammonia and loss of nitrate to plants and to introduce oxygen favoring the production of nitrate and not the ammonia or “smell.” The same information is needed now in the study of sapropel in marine habitats.

During a June 10, 1908, public meeting on the plans to build a dike across the Herring River on the town of Wellfleet, Massachusetts (made available by The Friends of Herring River), Dr. Field describes this “bacteria battle” in terms of nitrification - during a very hot period, which would have favored the sulfur (sulfate) reducing bacteria and the release of ammonia, not helpful to shellfish, which needed algal strains nourished by nitrate.

Statement of Honorable George W. Field - June 10, 1908, Wellfleet, Massachusetts

- On Benefits of the Dike - Brackets [ ] indicate my insertions – T. Visel

Dr. Field:

“It is known definitely that nitrification takes place more rapidly on fresh land [more oxygen T. Visel] than on brackish land [less oxygen, T. Visel] and the transformation of 1,500 acres from brackish land [salt marshes, T. Visel] into fresh land [fresh water peat, T. Visel] will greatly increase the nitrification [the production of nitrate by bacteria, T. Visel] and increase the amount of shellfish food in the Harbor [Dr. Field was one of the first researchers that discovered that nitrate was the food of the “good algae” for shellfish, not ammonia, T. Visel] (see The Nitrogen Problem, University of Rhode Island Report to the Experiment Station by George Wilton Field, Bulletin #1, 1899). And in this way great benefit will ensue [the production of nitrate should increase, T. Visel] Doubless, from your experience you know that the great sources of supply for shellfish are at the mouth of fresh rivers [a supply of cold water nitrate, T. Visel] such as Chesapeake Bay and Narragansett Bay [nitrogen compounds to nourish algal strains “food” for shellfish, T. Visel]. The growth is where the fresh material [organic matter, mostly leaf litter, T. Visel] washes from the land, and we know that this process [bacterial reduction of organic matter releasing nitrogen compounds] of making shellfish food [algal production, T. Visel] goes on very much more rapidly in fresh [nitrate/bacterial] than in brackish waters [sulfate bacteria, T. Visel]. Therefore, for this purpose the drainage from fresh meadows [more nitrate, T. Visel] is much more valuable [for shellfish, T. Visel] than from brackish meadows [less nitrate, T. Visel].” In other words, Dr. Field supported the construction of the dike because farmland exposed to air and oxygen had more chance to produce nitrate, not ammonia.

This is the concept in EC #7 and EC #8 and Sulfur/Oxygen Bacteria Battles. The most significant outcome of this bacterial battle is what type of nitrogen compound shed by the reduction of organic matter, nitrate in cold or ammonia in heat. It is of importance that Dr. Field mentions nitrification in this hearing about the Herring River dike which featured navigation loss but as in many New England communities during the Great Heat saw the business of “city folks” that wished to escape disease and killer heat waves then only found a new foe, mosquito-born disease along these cool shores. It threatened the very economic vitality of many shore towns (IMEP #16 - Climate Change & Public Opinion, 2008, Mosquito Wars Claim Marshes posted on Blue Crab ForumTM, May 29, 2014).

The dike across the Herring River in Wellfleet at first most likely did encourage nitrate as oxygen was more “available” to exposed marshes, but in the end caused the formation of Sapropel upstream above the dike and caused acidic conditions – and possible aluminum release a deadly mulch compost commonly termed, black mayonnaise or Sapropel. When you examine this 1880 to 1920 time period, the heat brought forth huge mosquito populations and although this Herring River dike transcripts focused on navigation and farming, I believe the real reason for this effort was to protect coastal tourism as many communities filled in salt marshes (some times under the health department’s directives) to reduce mosquito populations during this time period - that is my view – T. Visel.

I mention this as the primary reason for the dike - as mentioned on page 34 of this fascinating habitat history of the Herring River Wellfleet Dike. Mosquito disease and the scourge of biting insects threatened the economic prosperity of many coastal communities during this period. One New England community primarily built upon land surrounded by salt and fresh water marshes would lobby for the filling of all salt marshes and consider it once a civic duty to fill them in - that was New Haven, Connecticut. (New Haven is now the home of several environmental groups wishing to restore them – the salt marshes).

The most dangerous nitrogen compound is ammonia but much of that occurs in low oxygen conditions and not from us but from bacteria working to reduce an organic detritus. Ammonia on land is quickly oxidized to nitrate, the ammonia production from Sapropel in heat is far more serious than ammonia in cold. In fact the first commercial ammonia plants simply took marine muds and heated it (1903 Germany - EC #1 -The Blue Crab Forum™ Sapropel and The Conowingo Dam 9/24/14) much like a warming planet. I myself have grown tired of the snake oil science spin on global warming – there is no “tool kit” for the sulfur cycle. It kills seafood without mercy. It wipes out our seafood at the smallest stage in the warmest of waters – it beckons the return of sulfur and governs the bacteria who “wins” by using sulfate in seawater. Fishers need to know more about this sulfur cycle, but it has been largely omitted from habitat discussions as the result of excluding natural events, not human caused (my view).

If anything the consequences of the return of the sulfur cycle has been lessened (minimized) while our role in it enhanced (maximized) (my view). Is global warming a serious matter it is, extremely serious but without long term environmental reviews our history of pollution abatement itself is necessary but may or may not prevent global warming. Geologic history tells us that warm and cold climates have happened here before during periods in which we as a civilization have had little impact. That is the long-term discussion that is missing in many habitat studies whose “history” often begins in 1970. This has deflected long term discussions of the sulfur cycle in times of heat – warmer climates. It has, in my opinion, weakened a chance for consensus regarding global warming as being limited from an unbiased climate habitat history. Most likely the best example of this bias is the study of saltmarshes and eelgrass using cold water habitat indicators in times of great heat – my view.

Habitat histories may tell us a very different story by the rise and fall of civilizations far before our time. The study of habitat capacity – now termed sustainability is closely linked to bacteria and climate conditions. Cold water cultures and the ability to move clean necessary water and increasing heat, and the plague of disease. It perhaps is no accident that many previous civilizations built extensive water delivery systems (as we have) that in time eventually failed or filled with silt or Sapropel – signs to me of habitat instability then possibly agriculture failures (starvation) - both subject to climate change – cycles.

I feel we could learn more much from a history of habitat quality and capacity than we can from some “tool kits” for climate change, some of which to me resemble the “snake oil” products from the 1900s. One of the ways we can study the impact of climate changes to habitat quality is to “follow the fish” words of advice given to me by a retired oyster grower on Cape Cod, John “Clint” Hammond. A “balanced” historical viewpoint is often missing from today’s climate change discussions – it should not be any longer, fisheries habitat histories can help us now and help answer many future important seafood habitat questions - my view.

I respond to all emails at tim.visel@new-haven.k12.ct.us -always welcome suggestions, comments.
Appendix #1

Arthur, Michael A. Graduate School of Oceanography, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, Rhode Island.

Updated 2014

“A term possessing genetic implications, originally defined as an aquatic sediment rich in organic matter that formed under reducing conditions (lack of dissolved oxygen in the water column) in a stagnant water body. This contrasts with the term gyttja, which is also a sediment high in organic carbon content but which formed under inferred oxygenated conditions in the water column down to the sediment-water interface (thus benthic organisms may be present). Such inferences about water-column dissolved-oxygen contents are not always easy to make for ancient environments. Therefore, the term sapropel or sapropelic mud has been used loosely to describe any discrete black or dark-colored sedimentary layers (>1 cm or 0.4 in. thick) that contain greater than 2 wt % organic carbon.

Sapropels may be finely laminated (varved) or homogeneous, and may less commonly exhibit structures indicating reworking or deposition of the sediment by currents. Sapropels largely contain amorphous (sapropelic) organic matter derived from planktonic organisms (such as planktonic or benthic algae in lakes or plankton in marine settings). Such organic matter possesses a large hydrogen-to-carbon ratio; therefore, sapropelic sequences are potential petroleum-forming deposits. The enhanced preservation of amorphous organic matter in sapropels may indicate conditions of exceptionally great surface-water productivity, extremely low bottom-water dissolved-oxygen contents, or both.

Some sapropels may, however, contain substantial amounts of organic matter derived from land plants.”

Appendix #2

The Sulfur in Sapropel and Fossilized Coal
Henry Potonie – Botanist and Paleobotanist
- 1907 -

The sulfur compounds in coal had long interested geologists but it was an interest in plants that guided Potonie’s research in the formation of coal or “Kohle” then koll” or now coal of today.

Sapro kolls became the intermediate substance between plant life buried without oxygen and its fossilized rock consisting of hydrogen, sulfur, oxygen and nitrogen. This is an abstract of a 1907 paper on the origin of coal written by Henry Potonie.

Potonie, H., On the Origin of Coal. (Rep Brit. Assoc. York (1906) p. 748-749. 1907).

“Three kinds of coal, bright coal, dull coal, and strata coal are distinguished, all connected by transitional stages. If we include the recent combustible biolithes, which have certain characteristics of coal, there are also three classes,
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