Joined: 29 Jun 2011
Location: New Haven/Madison/Essex
|Posted: Thu Nov 30, 2017 12:35 pm Post subject: Black Mayonnaise, Cape Cod & Fisheries IMEP #63 - T. Vis
|Black Mayonnaise, Cape Cod and Fisheries IMEP #63
Habitat Information for Fishers and Fishery Area Managers
Understanding Science Through History
Marine Humus and the Formation of Sapropel
The Chemistry of Marine Soils – Part I
Timothy C. Visel
The Sound School - New Haven, CT 06519
Updated – October 2017
Read all IMEP Habitat History Reports on the Blue Crab ForumTM on the Fishing, Eeling and Oystering Thread
The Sound School ISSP – SAE Capstone Series
Do Climate Factors Lead to Habitat Failure?
Climate Cycles Habitat Capacity and Public Policy Discussions
Revised for Capstone/SAE Proposals July 2017
ASTE Standards Aquaculture #5
Natural Resources #6, 7, 9
A Note From Tim Visel
Did we forget the leaves?
Even “natural streams may show the characteristic signs of pollution.” – The Biology of Pollution Waters 1971 is a short opening passage by H.B.N. Hynes – University of Toronto Press in the opening of a book written in 1970. This book authored by H.B.N. Hynes and printed in 1971 (University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada) warns readers not to assume the signs of pollution was always due to human actions. The date is significant because the climate was shifting as North America left a largely negative North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) of cold and strong storms of the 1950’s and 1960’s. A more positive NAO that followed in the 1970’s meant fewer storms, warmer temperatures and frequent droughts closely resembling the 1880 to 1920 period termed The Great Heat. Here, a century earlier, New England would be subject to killer heat waves, an ice famine in 1899 and witness the rise of the oyster industry (See Warm Waters Reach the Canadian Maritimes 1910, IMEP#55A, October, 2015) and fall of the southern New England lobsters (IMEP #62 posted April, 2017, Blue Crab ForumTM, Fishing, Eeling, Oystering Thread).
As the warmth returned to New England in the 1970’s, so did its forests largely cleared after the Civil War for a huge expansion of the dairy industry. Trees were succeeding in New England as grass forage now turned into wood lots. It did not happen overnight, but pictures of Connecticut at the turn of the century showed hillsides completely free of trees and the hot summers of the 1900’s gave rise to “Arbor Day,” not to support the construction of them, but to recognize the cooling, shading aspects of large trees. A decade after Arbor Day was proclaimed New England’s weather would turn sharply cooler. Cooler weather meant shipping milk by rail changed the market for New England dairy farmers (also new refrigerated rail car with vanes that prevented butter formation) and many pastures were abandoned as thin glacial soils were great for grass and hay, but poor for grains and cultivation. And with the forests came also the leaves.
I think it was my early trout fishing trips with my father and brother that showed me what leaves could do to trout streams. My father termed it “natural drainage,” but today we call it storm or street water. This flood of water, a sudden down burst could move soil, sand from winter application and especially leaves into streams. By for the greatest enemy of trout was not us but heat and tree leaves that buried habitat, restricted flows and putrefied, releasing phosphate and ammonia into the same waters we tried to catch trout. These small brooks were not overfished. In time, these waters became so warm that coldwater fish could not live in them. Instead on the most productive trout streams, fallfish (Semotilus corporalis) (Dace) soon took over a habitat once the realm of brook trout. In streams without much flow, leaves collected and bottoms filled with leaves. Once that happened, we didn’t try to fish at all.
Hynes on page 1 (1971) includes this statement about trout habitats:
“In densely wooded regions, the autumn leaf-fall may add so much organic matter to water that fish are asphyxiated. Schneller (1955) has investigated this effect in an American Stream (Schneler, M.V., Oxygen Depletion in Salt Creek, IN, Investigation Indiana Lakes, Vol. 4, pg. 163-175) and the reader will be familiar with the foetid [smelling extremely foul or pungent, T. Visel] appearance of many woodland streams and pools in this country. In such places, the water is murky and smells foul when disturbed, and the decaying leaves near the surface are covered with a white coat of sewage fungus. These conditions occurring near a cesspool or a town dump would immediately be attributed to gross pollution by human agency. There is little doubt, however, that they have occurred in some places in every age since the invasion of the land surface by plants.”
For three centuries, leaves and marshes along the coast were frequently burned to generate carbon residues for plant growth. Ash became an important component for commercial fertilizer mixes as a source of carbonates. As farmland gave way to residential housing, coal ash and burned leaves was no longer a fertilizer need but a lawn care disposal concern. People would rake leaves to the streets and burn them, not for a soil additive, but just to get rid of them. Rains then cleared the residues and into the waterways. After the mid-1970’s, open leaf/yard waste burning was made against the law- people still raked them to the gutter or winds blew them there. After some rain and road traffic an organic paste soon flowed into catch basins and soon found them in trout streams. An organic flow of billions of leaves now entered the estuaries and as temperatures increased and elemental oxygen saturation levels declined, humus or oatmeal, as Cape Cod fishers once called it, built up in shallow, sluggish bays and coves. In time and increasing heat, Sapropel (black mayonnaise) now formed, changing the coves, bay and pond bottoms black and sticky. Bacteria changed as well, those who would or could use sulfate as an oxygen source thrived as those that needed oxygen O2 - or used nitrate and nitrite until those sources were also used up died as sulfate-reducing bacteria filled this compost void.
The problems of sulfate reducers are that they are not very energy efficient. In other words, they slowly digest the leaves and in time, leaves and organic matter built up – at first a couple of inches, then a foot, and in others, several feet. Most Cape Cod bay scallopers noted this transition from firm sandy shell bottoms to soft, a first a sticky muck that could take a sneaker, then a boot, and at times, trap a boater. This is the rise of Sapropel, which between 1972 and 2012, became a dominant habitat type in many back waters. The upper reaches of coves and bays or just salt ponds in time fishers watched Sapropel become a dominant habitat type and as the Sapropels grew deeper and spread into the shallows. The smell of early morning Sapropel and the sulfur gases from them at times could stain paint on houses (Great South Bay, New York) and pit the finishes of parked cars (Niantic River, CT). Leaves, not fishers, became the largest fisheries habitat and seafood population issue for “nursery” fish and shellfish habitats as reported by coastal residents as a deepening and sulfur smelly “black mayonnaise” covered bottoms.
These Sapropels suffocated aerobic life and in heat, generated ammonia, which nourished different types of algal blooms, the ones that contained toxins that poisoned seafood all along the coast. Today, we call them harmful algal blooms (HABs). The harmful effects of built up leaves would be both observed by a lack of resource awareness and the failure to include them in ecological studies. They were for all respects forgotten. A century ago, they were called black water deaths – the fish kills that plagued Narragansett Bay Rhode Island fish die off in 1898. In 1989, Scott W. Nixon of the University of Rhode Island mentions this event in a paper titled, “An Extraordinary Red Tide and Fish Kill in Narragansett Bay,” and quotes from a description made by A.D. Mead as part of the 29th Annual Report of the Rhode Island Commissioners of Inland Fisheries titled, “An Investigation of the Plague Which Destroyed Multitudes of Fish and Crustacea During the Fall of 1898.” This is Dr. Mead’s description of the bloom that followed a series of very hot New England Summers (1899):
“During the last two months, the inhabitants of Rhode Island witnessed the following remarkable phenomenon. The water of a considerable pattern of the Bay became thick and red, emitting an odor almost intolerable to those living nearby. The situation became alarming when, on the 9th and 10th of September, thousands of dead fish, crabs and shrimps were found strewn along the shores or even piled up in windrows.”
The most often trigger for harmful algal blooms have a temperature and energy link, a very hot summer and a sudden rainfall event. Imbalances of phosphate and ammonium often occur just before a bloom, both byproducts of the decomposition of sedimentary processes – the biogeochemical processing of bacterial action upon organic matter – leaves.
It was at a meeting of the Bourne Sandwich Shellfishermens Association (BSSA) that I mentioned the impact of leaves upon shellfish habitats. I had grown up along a small tidal creek in Madison, Connecticut - Tom’s Creek. Each fall we would shellfish - as did many others, harvesting oysters, scratching and lifting shells, leaves and sticks from mucky bottoms - that was in the late 1960s. However by 1971, Tom’s Creek was closed to shellfishing and within a few years the oysters were covered in leaves and a jelly-like deposit we scooped up in a mayonnaise jar (which almost had the same consistency) we called black mayonnaise. It was covering oysters and killing them. I now know that this was the first step in forming Sapropel that would overwhelm waters with ammonia and the smell of sulfides in shallow areas throughout southern New England (see IMEP #38: Shellfish, Nitrogen, and Habitat Quality - A Cape Cod Experience 1981 - The Truth About Nitrogen Part 2, November 2014).
It was Charles Beebe decades ago that also talked about the damage that wood and leaves could do to oyster beds and navigation. In the early 1970s just as the snows left, Mr. Beebe insisted I visit and participate in a row on the East River. It must have been March because I remember ice still on the banks before the Route 1 bridge at the Madison / Guilford border, but the river was open enough to row. It was low tide and drifted over the section of river next to Mr. Beebe’s marina and outboard motor shop. The water was remarkably clear and on the bottom were branches, limbs and parts of a tree. He had worked the day before clearing some small limbs to set up to move larger limbs. I was amazed at this “pick up sticks” approach and never realized how much “wood” ended on the bottom versus the rafts of surface wood that floated down the Connecticut River each spring. I could see the spring floods and the trees it swept into the Long Island Sound. According to Mr. Beebe, trees would settle over the bottom as well and tree spikes, a type of wood harpoon was made by local blacksmiths to remove them (See A Review of Fisheries Histories for Natural Oyster Populations in Tidal Rivers, The Sound School, 2008). There was no “Army Corps” to help navigation interests. So, trees had to be removed by local fishers or sailors/maritime industries to keep channels clear. About a year after, it was Mr. Beebe who showed me the oysters south of the old trolley right of way being buried by leaves out of sight and unknown to those who looked at the river going over the Route 1 bridge. No one, it seemed, was looking at the impact of these leaves and other woody debris in the shallows. One tree being stuck and the leaves it trapped could ruin an entire river according to Mr. Beebe.
Fresh water fish biologists had known long ago about fall leaves and the “phosphate flush” from them. But in sulfate rich marine waters, the heat and little energy soon meant nitrogen levels would soar – not from human nitrogen sources that actually contain nitrate and nitrite, secondary oxygen sources, but from sulfate metabolism - the sulfur cycle – the purging of ammonia.
As I recall, I met John Hammond at the oyster-clam shops along Barn Hill Road in Chatham. Shell fishers recommended I should seek him out to learn more about the nitrogen problem and the build up of black mayonnaise. Hammond, grabbing a long pole with, what I think was, a nail driven across its end – a quick push off the oyster float and a few twists came up with a ball of eelgrass with leaves and sticks. Hammond commented “This is your nitrogen problem” as he pointed to the organic matter wrapped around the shaft.
What began was a series of meetings about climate cycles and fisheries as they related to temperature and storm intensity. Several papers are on the Internet regarding these discussions, IMEP # 40 to 45, which contain much on the topic and discussions. To me to learn how much damage they (leaves) could do to shellfish was something that I had seen before and discussed with George McNeil of Clinton, CT. At the end of his oyster career, Mr. McNeil spent more time removing organic matter (leaves) from his oyster beds than predator control and thinning combined (Hammonasset River Clinton-Madison, CT).
In this heat and drought, leaves rotted and filled streams, discharging ammonia compounds into low oxygen waters. Mr. Hammond’s concern was all the attention was going towards human nitrogen (a concern in its own right) but missed the “boat” when it came to the habitat impacts of marine humus and rising temperatures, something that had happened on Cape Cod before – a century ago.
In 1901, Connecticut officials declared the brook trout extinct, so more heat tolerant strains were released, browns and rainbow trout. The hot waters of the 1890’s had taken their toll on cold water species, including the alewife. My employment with the University of Massachusetts Cooperative Extension Service – The Cape Cod Cooperative Extension Service was at 20 Railroad Avenue – the seat of Barnstable County Government. William Clark, County Agent Manager and Supervisor then, suggested that I conduct some workshops on Fish Run Management, particularly Alewife with Joe DiCarlo -- “Buzzy” as he was called. Responsible for the state Massachusetts area of anadromous fisheries, Mr. DiCarlo’s office was at the Marine Fisheries facility in Sandwich (1981).
We conducted some workshops and those meetings can be found in a paper titled “Do We Need to Re-Establish Local Alewife Committees?” But here again, the damaging aspect of fall leaves blocking alewife runs, were described by Mr. DiCarlo and demonstrated by “stream surveys.” According to Mr. DiCarlo, after the leaf burning ban (1970’s), the amount of leaves in streams increased, creating negative habitat conditions for the alewife. Mr. DiCarlo’s account of leaves accumulating in streams and negative impacts are described in a post titled “New England Alewife Habitat Histories” on the Blue Crab ForumTM , papers IMEP# 57A & IMEP# 57B. Fresh water fish were impacting leaf rot described by fresh water ecologists, especially H. B. Hynes (1971) who includes organic matter as a polluting factor. But it was the sulfur cycle in estuaries that leaves fed, according to Mr. Hammond. The shell fishers of Lewis Bay on Cape Cod noticed the organic matter as well, calling it oatmeal, which collected on the bottom – brown at the surface (exposed to some oxygen) but black at the bottom and thousands of oak leaf stems.
Shellfish, alewife runs and ponds frequently had masses of leaves, and it was hot and dry on the Cape at the time – and it was a climate cycle that mirrored the period of Mr. Hammond’s habitat study – 1880 to 1920 a century before of heat and little energy – stream flows decreased coastal inlets healed or closed reducing tidal flushing, shellfish beds now were buried in an eelgrass peat as one of the largest habitat reversals in a century. The sulfur cycle – the rotting of leaves in heat (low oxygen) would generate a tidal wave of ammonia - while “black mayonnaise” reeked of sulfides as it slowly built up in bay and cove bottoms. The end result of this shallow water transition would occur at the same time coldwater species decline. Climate change in these shallow waters would be overlooked and any seafood loss blamed on pollution or the fishers themselves as “overfishing.” It was Mr. Hammond who provided testimony to the Army Corps about energy and temperature regarding a shellfish grant during a public meeting Pleasant Bay Survey Report, regarding the Chatham Inlet Report, November 1968 (pg. A-3 Reports on Fishermen comments, August 27, 1964):
Public Hearing comments John C. Hammond Interest presented self (pg. A-2, August 27, 1964, Pleasant Bay Army Corps recommendations (1968).
John C. Hammond “As a property owner, he is in favor of a project to preserve the barrier beach. As a shellfisherman, he cautioned the adverse effects of cold water entering through the inlet on shellfish, and he favors giving the fishermen a stabilized inlet.”
The cycle of heat or cold with energy storms would not, as Mr. Hammond feared, be considered in the nitrogen reduction programs to follow. That fear would be realized in the decades that followed in nitrogen studies. He also was concerned about the absence of the sulfur cycle in soil pH as reasons for failing shellfish sets (a frequent topic of discussion during my meetings) and that would also happened as well.
In 1986 following Hurricane Gloria, a large tree became lodged in the Branford River, located in central Connecticut. It trapped leaves and other debris. Within a year, the smell of sulfur (rotten eggs) permeated hot August nights; in simple terms, it stunk. Boaters and residents complained. The build up of marine compost now rotted in hot water and eventually the National Guard was called in to remove it (“National Guard Comes To Rescue,” Branford Review, August 10, 1988). Complaints from the local Branford Fire Department included “The tree has caused so much debris and grass to block up, it’s actually giving off an odor!!” (Huge Oak Tree Snares Debris Floating In Water, New Haven Register, August 1988, Catherine Sullivan, Register staff).
In fact, as the farming community knew – a large compost pile sealed from the air would lose valuable nitrate, a compound that helps plants grow to ammonia – a less valuable form that altered the pH of submerged soils so basic as to render some soils as sterile for weeks after draining and oxygen bacteria finally stabilized. This can occur with marine soils, these soils, which are bathed in sulfate, the largest oxygen source in seawater. Here in heat, the ammonia pathway would come to dominate habitat change, not for the better for many species.
Climate induced Sapropel would be “missed” or what Mr. Hammond called humus, what shellfishers termed black mayonnaise, geologists called sediment, biologists refer to as benthic flux, would allow nature a free pass when it came to habitat change. The Putrefaction of organic matter in the absence of elemental oxygen (in heat) will come to define habitat change increases in which energy is low (flushing or residence time). Sapropel started to form in the late 1970’s, but by the late 1990’s became a dominant habitat type in most of southern New England’s near shore habitats.
It is a difficult process to describe that the same habitat condition or type that is considered positive (of value or importance) for fish and shellfish but can become negative (destructive or dangerous) but that is the chemical conditions of Humus-Sapropel in the marine environment. It can change and even reverse at times as organic material is consumed by different types of bacteria. This has a lot to do with the temperature and elemental oxygen availability or saturation. This aspect can occur outside any human environmental role or problem. Although it has become popular and often financially advantageous to only point to human causes for the decrease in seafood, many times this conclusion is false. These reports often contain a fund or grant bias if they exclude natural causes for species appearance or disappearance. Fishers usually refer to these changes as cycles. Connecticut, for example, experienced a tremendous surge in blue crab populations as the Long Island Sound lobster population died off in the late 1990s. If pollution caused the decline of the lobster (a frequent conclusion), then was that same impact good for the blue crab?
For those students desiring to explore a bias in the recent marine literature – excluding natural cycles – of environmental history. See the Federal Register – Findings of Research Misconduct. Federal Research Misconduct is defined as fabrication, falsification, plagiarism in proposing, performing or renewing research, or in reporting research results (65 Federal Register 76262) and falsification is manipulating research materials, equipment or processes, or changing or omitting data or results such that the research is not accurately represented in the research record (65 Federal Register 72626).
This is defined further as varies by federal agency, each agency can establish its own research guidelines
• A significant departure from accepted practice of the relevant research community
• The misconduct be committed intentionally or knowingly or recklessly
• The allegation (or application) be proven by a preponderance of evidence
And newer definitions (post 2002) include:
• Citation amnesia – glossing over, leaving out pertinent studies, or similar (historical) research not mentioned as a review of the literature or discovery as a caused or created case history of novelty (reinventing the wheel, etc.) that has occurred or been reported before.
Cold Water Humus
This organic deposit utilized for terrestrial agriculture soil enhancements or fertilizer (mussel mud or marine mud) a century ago here in New England is a compost that forms in cold water. Colder water contains sufficient dissolved oxygen (elemental or free oxygen) not in a compound form. Oxygen (O2) can be a part of the composting process, shellfish can inhabit this deposit on the surface which is usually a brown, oxidized state. The soft shell clam (mya) fisheries of Maine clearly illustrate these productive brown and humus-rich habitats termed mudflats. These flats often have a brown coating as organic matter is oxidized; it leaves a brown coloration. Soft shell clam fishers most likely have the greatest habitat experience with humus – brown at the surface, black and often sulfide rich at the bottom. These surface humus deposits consists of leaf fragments, stems, bark and ground up organic dust called “duff” collect in these areas in medium to low energy areas (high energy areas very rarely compost filled but contain beaches) for several inches humus is mixed by organisms such as the soft shell clam termed bioturbation in the literature. Crabs and lobsters help aerate these deposits by burrowing into them – fiddler crab species riddle salt marsh peat banks better than any mechanical soil aerator, blue crabs hibernate in humus, and lobsters can create tunnels in humus if enough clay is present.
The winter New England eel fishery depended upon eels hibernating below eelgrass in humus, called live muck (See IMEP# 61-A: Eels, Eelgrass and the Bay Scallop Fisheries, posted on the Blue Crab ForumTM, March 28, 2017).
In cold times, humus supports oxygen-requiring bacteria. The composters of oxygen as O2 it can be productive for fish and crustaceans such as the blue crab. In times of medium energy and cold temperatures such habitats are often termed good even “critical ”or” essential” in the fisheries literature, especially for those species that use shallow water areas as spawning or young of the year nursery habitats. Oysters, if planted or set on marsh grass, can form clumps on creek and riverbanks. They can grow quickly but may elongate or turn into long and thin “shoehorn” oysters. Clams infrequently set in humus, but if sufficient shell hash is present, sets can occur here and grow next to marsh peat in cold temperatures.
Hot Water Sapropel
Now examine the same habitats in times of high temperatures, little flushing (lower or no energy) and they become “bad” for the fish and shellfish we value as seafood. The term Sapropel is the combination of the Greek words sapros and pelos (meaning putrefication and mud, respectively), describing the rotting of organic matter without elemental or free oxygen. In hot water oxygen cannot diffuse from the air – it has an inverse dissolution chemical reaction called the inverse solubility law that is in warmer or even “hot” water, it is natural for seawater to contain less elemental oxygen as O2. Low oxygen or anoxic waters opens the door (or pathway) for another type of bacteria that utilizes oxygen in other compound forms, nitrate and sulfate. The dominant strains are termed sulfate-reducing bacteria (desulfvovibrio) (SRB) and break apart sulfate SO4, freeing up a sulfur atom with hydrogen ions forming H2S or hydrogen sulfide – a toxic gas that is held in the organic matter or released in the air. It has the putrid odor of sulfur (or death in some manuscripts) and can bind with the metal iron ions, forming the black coloration of these deposits. This is the habitat type of concern – low productivity or no fish or shellfish, especially for soft shell clams.
An excellent example of this change can be on any shorefront that contains cobblestones. The surface exposed to air oxygen is usually brown, signifying oxygen. But turn over the same cobblestone and it may be stained black and smell of sulfides or have a smell of “matchstick” sulfur - sign of a lack of oxygen. It is the soft shell clam fishery reports that are so helpful in measuring the transition from good humus in marine soils to the “black water deaths” or “dead lines” of sulfide formation. Here, the literature describes stagnant conditions as “dead bottoms” as compared to “live bottoms.” This is especially true in the historic eel spear fisheries. Shellfishers often describe great sets after a marine soil cultivation event (storms re-cultivate and rinse marine soils of organic matter and sulfides) and the benefits of “working the bottom” similar to terrestrial agriculture. New soft clam growths are often reported 18 to 24 months after a storm break (inlet breach) a sand wave or bar mores ashore. These are often described as great “sets.”
The Marine Soils
Marine soils free of excess organic matter and sulfides rinsed with sweet or alkaline seawaters (moderate to high pH water) after storms, for example, now can set again. If the energy or cultivation process is long enough buried shell hash (bits and pieces of broken bivalve shell) can be brought to the surface and acting much like terrestrial lime sweetened marine soils, aiding clam sets on flats for years. It has also perplexed soft shell clammers as once productive areas slowly over time “died out” as the chemical soil characteristics in them over time changed. Although natural resource harvesters (such as the soft shell clam fishery) clammers often take the blame (unfairly) for diminished catches if management rules were followed is called the empty basket or net syndrome. They are just more visible when the soils collapse and seafood catches fall and are often charged with “overfishing” (A similar situation can occur in terrestrial agriculture as well, blaming farmers for low crop yields in times of drought, etc.). Some of the first soil – soft shell clam cultivation experiments came forth from the soft shell clam fishers and occurred over a century ago (See Appendix). (Some of the first experiments were on the huge soft shell clam flats of Bridgeport, CT). If any fishery can detail the brown (oxidation) of organic matter humus into the black greasy, often described as “black mayonnaise,” (Sapropel) it will be the soft shell clam fishery (See Appendix #1).
Marine Soils Succeed
But Sapropel exists and has existed for thousands of years – putrefication of organic matter without oxygen but in the presence of other oxygen compounds in seawater especially sulfates – which is non-limiting in seawater. These sulfate-reducing bacteria will never run out. It is the process of organics and soil pore space that impacts clam growth in marine soils. The buildup of organic matter (such as fall leaves) and acid conditions as clams living close to the surface as soil pores close, forcing clams into a zone of active predation, those most susceptible to surface crab predators especially the green crab (See Appendix #2). Soft shell clammers notice that dug over flats, those with loose soils clams can often live deeper. These deep clams are often very large, living beyond the zone of predation. However, clam flats with low or declining density are not dug cultivated (not commercially viable) so soil conditions over time worsen, eventually becoming “dead” and lost to the clam fisheries. These flats slowly “die out” as surface sets mostly sustain clam predators that pick them out of a thin layer. In times, these soils completely fail to obtain any clam sets at all.
It is the process of sulfate reduction by SRB bacteria that produces sulfides and ammonia toxic to marine life (See Appendix #3). This is the formation of Sapropel.
It is the sulfate reducers that contain vibrio bacteria in cold weather that exist deep in Sapropel, but in heat Vibrios “bleeds” to the surface as oxygen requiring bacteria die off and/or replaced by those that can live on sulfate. That is why in times of cold, a cut or scratch, while blue crabbing to our south, would cause little concern, but today great concerns about “marine bacteria infections” vibrio that have plagued southern states including Florida. In cold, these bacteria cannot live that well. The colder temperatures slow bacterial growth, but in heat, they thrive even in “black waters” sulfide rich dead zones. It is the sulfur-reducing bacteria feeding upon plant matter that sets up on sulfuric acid wash now thought to release cysts/spores and shields of parasites for HABs (Harmful Algal Blooms) that can contain toxins themselves also found in Sapropel deposits.
In the succession of humus to Sapropel, carbon chains are stripped, chelating heavy metals in the process that produces acids that can release aluminum toxic to all sea life. Some of the salt marsh researchers decades ago were aware of this process but concentrated on keeping water on marshes instead of draining them exposing marsh peat to oxygen. That was the colder 1950s and 1960s. It is natural therefore over time to show heavy metal chelation in organic Sapropel from bacterial processes – not pollution.
In high heat, salt marshes today are bathed in sulfate and open the bacterial pathway to sulfide formation - today we call it sulfide browning or marsh die back. Sulfate-reducing bacteria are now transitioning peats back to Sapropel. As the heat is consumed by SRB, the marshes may collapse or slump, allowing more sulfate to enter. Sea level rise and crab species help the sulfate reduction process as they allow sulfate to penetrate marsh peats – anyone viewing a creek bank at low tide will see the aeration impact of the crab species Uca pugnax or fiddler crab as thousands of holes similar to a core aerator for terrestrial lawns..
One of the attributes of sulfate bacteria strains is that they are very inefficient or slow. Organic material can now build up in deeper deposits. Mapping Sapropels could be one of the most important climate change indicators, we can do in shallow water, estuaries and inshore fisheries are the ones who often see it first (especially shellfishers). Reduce the energy - a closed or blocked inlet for example will allow humus to grow, subject that humus to heat and over time it can form Sapropel. It is a natural process that we may or may not be able to control. Certainly the dumping of leaves into estuaries can help start this process or make it worse, but reducing tidal energy (such as insufficient railroad causeways that reduce tidal energy) can also change salt dominated marshes into fresh water ones. That can be seen in the Pattagansett system in East Lyme, Connecticut, which the original tidal opening was once 1,800 feet wide but is now reduced to only 30 feet from the railroad crossing. The Pattagansett River offers a unique case history as much of the original rail crossing trestles opening still exists - and comparisons to energy profiles before and after still possible. Sapropel formed north of this blocked opening as organic humus then “cooked” in high heat in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Below such deposits are often long ago buried bivalve populations – oysters for example were found deadunder several feet (Auster et. al., 1990 NSA Abstract, p. 459, April Meeting).
The sulfides and acids from Sapropel kills shellfish spat before it can “set” and on hot nights, neighbors will report sulfide odors. One of my Florida Institute of Technology teachers once remarked, “If you can smell it, the fish have felt it.” If sulfide smells linger over marsh peat, it is likely that sulfides have killed shellfish spat.
The Importance of Including Organic Matter in Marine Soil Studies
On salt marsh surfaces oxidation will produce brown, loose oatmeal-like deposits easily carried by currents and tides. As Sapropel forms, it becomes sticky or greasy to touch which much of this can be attributed to the leaf paraffins - the undigested leaf wax that is not digested by sulfate-reducing bacteria. Over time it becomes like a jelly and gave rise to the term, “black mayonnaise.” Most fishers and blue crabbers see Sapropel and may not know it (other than grabbing a sneaker or boot), but it typically looks green. It is often covered by a dense mat of sea lettuce (Ulva species) that grows on top soaking up vast amounts of ammonia - the byproduct of Sapropel formation. Sea lettuce is a sign of trouble for Blue Crab Megalops as sea lettuce is known to emit small molecules toxic to crab lavae called biocides. Sea lettuce can also suffocate the bottom sealing off any residual oxygen below and in a natural cycle assist with additional Sapropel formation. A strong storm is needed to remove these Sapropel deposits and when oxygen is reintroduced to the seawater, a sulfuric acid wash occurs - sometimes as a low pH discharge that can cause fish kills.
Sapropel studies are a missing piece of salt marsh ecology with huge impacts to fisheries. In my opinion, it should be identified and mapped. Sapropel habitats should be fully explained to the public and made available to shellfishers – my view.
Land & Marine Soils
The ecology of forest soils has been well studied and the impact of cellulose leaf material feeding bacterial populations in it. S.A. Wilde, University of Wisconsin, 1958 in a book titled “Forest Soils: Their Properties and Relation to Silviculture,” details the role of bacteria in soils and the organic matter in them.
Wilde mentions these carbohydrate consuming bacteria (p.51) and their role at times in utilizing nitrogen compounds by way of both aerobic (oxygen) and anaerobic (no oxygen) bacteria forms that do not require oxygen in an elemental state. pH is also highlighted as aerobic cellulose – decomposing bacteria are very intolerant of poor soil aeration and soil acidity. “Their activity ceases completely at a reaction lower than a pH of 5.5.” The oak leaf, for example, is very acidic and contains high amount of leaf paraffin wax, making them at times hard to digest by both bacterial groups.
Simply, it is the carbohydrate, decomposing bacteria that attack our fall leaves as food. Here cellulose is a combination of sugars and starches in a form that drops to the forest floor to support the growth of humus. In forest soils, S.A. Wilde concludes on page 51:
“Cellulose is the most abundant constituent, and the process of its decomposition influences soil fertility. The role of cellulose in plant nutrition is of a complex nature; it may exert either beneficial or harmful influences.”
“Cellulose serves directly or indirectly as a source of energy for nitrogen-fixing bacteria and other useful organisms but has no value as a plant nutrient or base exchange material. In large quantities, it encourages the growth of organisms utilizing ammonia and nitrates and thus may cause the nitrogen starvation of trees.”
In other words bacteria can produce ammonia, the smelly compost of land that leaks ammonia and not nitrate, as further described by S.A. Wilde (1958) regarding “wet” forest soils:
“Denitrifying bacteria – under anaerobic conditions (lower no elemental oxygen – T. Visel) certain bacteria derive their oxygen supply from the oxides of nitrogen. In this process, the nitrate is reduced by bacteria to nitrite and further to nitrous oxide or elemental nitrogen. The reduction of nitrates to nitrites usually takes place in wet soils of a neutral or slightly alkaline reaction. In acid soils nitrates are likely to be reduced to ammonia with nitrites as an intermediate product. The adverse effects of denitrification are largely limited to stands of lowland hardwoods and nursery stock on heavy soils.”
This is what Dr. George Field described as the “nitrogen problem” in 1899. In heat, the good nitrogen compounds, such as nitrate (that fed nutritious algal cultures for shellfish), were scarce and increases in ammonia (the not so valuable or usable form of nitrogen) fed suffocating sea cabbage (sea lettuce), which then became abundant. The exchange of oxygen bacteria with those who do not need it, the sulfate-reducing bacteria occurs in high heat when elemental oxygen levels drop. That is the two pathways that Dr. Field reviews in his support of the Herring River dike in Wellfleet, Mass. over a century ago mentioned in EC# 14-B posted on May 18, 2017 in the Environment Conservation thread of the Blue Crab ForumTM. His support was based that the dike would drain marsh peat, exposing it to oxygen allowing nitrogen fixation rather than denitrification, which is how oxygen requiring bacteria (seawater) uses nitrite, nitrate and eventually non-elemental (oxygen) bacteria sulfate for its oxygen. A flooded marsh with sulfate becomes a source of ammonia, not nitrate from a lack of sufficient oxygen (The Utilization of Waste Products and Waste Places, Part I, The Nitrogen Problem, Rhode Island College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, Bulletin #50, 1898). Dr. Field notes on page 62 “The mouths of rivers, and the shallow bay of our coast, of which we get sensory evidence (smells – T. Visel) immense stretches of tidal area which are unproductive or even worse than unproductive.” (In other words, they could kill, not create additional seafood. – T. Visel)
In times of heat, humus on marine soils becomes Sapropel and feeds bacteria that produce ammonia and hydrogen sulfide gas – toxic substances themselves. It is the ammonia generation from Sapropel that is most dangerous to seafood as it helps fill a void left by the oxygen and nitrate bacteria dying off but replacing them now with sulfate-reducing bacteria. SRB (sulfate-reducing bacteria) generates high amounts of ammonia as they consume reduce cellulose without oxygen using sulfate – an oxygen containing compound that is not limiting in seawater; it is a huge source of oxygen in a compound form dissolved in seawater when sulfur ruled the earth’s surface, not oxygen. For sulfate-reducing bacteria in heat, they will never run out of sulfate. However, in cold, they die off as oxygen levels tend to now increase.
Marine soils, like forest soils, do not exist in an ecological vacuum and taking Wilde’s description for soil formation – a type of habitat succession does exist (S.A. Wilde, University of Wisconsin, 1958).
“It is an ancient axiom that out of nothing comes nothing. Hence, soil material of pure quartz, a mineral of no value as a plant nutrient, could not give rise to a crop-producing soil. This postulate however would be true only in an ecological vacuum. Under natural conditions, a deposit or pure quartz is exposed to transient birds and animals, atmospheric dust, and rainwater bearing nitrogen from electric discharges. Now matter how small the amount of mineral nutrients contributed by these agents, in time the deposits will be suitable to harbor algae, lichens, and nitrogen fixing bacteria, then to be invaded by some higher plants, and finally to support jack pine, yielding a dozen cords of pulpwood per acre. This brief account is given to underscore the fact that mineral substratum cannot be divorced from environment.”
The same situation exists for marine soils; in time, nature can change them. But by calling marine soils “sediments” that is exactly what has happened. We don’t consider soil biochemical reactions under shallow water because we do not use the term “soil.” That is what Mr. Hammond on Cape Cod tried to show me with a dredging project on the Cape in his hometown of Chatham. The bottom of “today” was sometimes covered by a marine humus, a compost of decaying vegetable matter from long ago.
This is how I was given a reply of “Some Aspects of the Estuarine Ecosystem of Oyster Pond Chatham Massachusetts by David A. Gates and Herbert Pettengill (1971). This study concerns a dredging project that removed largely beach sand but as dredging progressed, the dredged material (called dredged spoils in the 1970’s) changed, it became fine grained, and sticky with a strong sulfur smell. Apparently, the dredging project was halted (the beach nourishment project of restoring the sands of summer was being deposited into Farmer’s Cove on the property of the Ebb Tide Motel). The impact of energy modifying the soil – was highlighted in the report “As the dredging continued into the general pond area (lower energy higher amounts of leaves organic matter – T. Visel) the substrate (soil – T. Visel) changed from a sand (higher energy – T. Visel) to a silty mud.” That description of high to low energy from large grain sand to silt is common. It is the character of the soil itself that was the subject of study for Mr. Hammond. A dredging project allowed him to view time (habitat succession) in the dredge material itself. Mr. Hammond would say that “time” shellfish history was delivered on the beach for all to view, good or bad, sand with bivalve shell of sets long ago or marine humus that stank of ammonia or sulfur. Apparently, this change from sand to Sapropel caused alarm, halting the dredging and then requiring this study.
I got the feeling that Mr. Hammond was examining the material not only for its grain sizes or organic matter, but also what shell debris it contained – softshells for example was a subject that Mr. Hammond mentioned after breaks on Monomoy many times. I did recall a similar dredging project at Hammonasset Beach in the middle 1960’s. To prevent erosion to the beach and to eliminate the chance of a split at East Beach, following a storm in fact splitting the State Beach into two beaches a dredging operation about 1,500 feet offshore pumped a huge amount of sandy material into the center sections of Hammonasset Beach, filling in many acres of salt marsh for parking lots (1965-1966). (Much of this fill has recently been removed in a salt marsh restoration project). What was concerning to me at the time was the number of seagulls flying at the pipe mouth, until I watched for awhile and saw that the gulls were grabbing surf clams (Spisula solidissima) no doubt from large beds offshore of the beach. These we rarely saw them in the creeks or shorefronts but existed offshore. (The dredging operation unknown at the time pumped up the remains of Native American settlements along the Hammonasset when the coastline was at least 1,500 feet further into the sound. This project was to yield thousands of Native American artifacts at East Beach. My family, mostly my father Raymond Joseph Visel (an ardent beachcomber himself), would find dozens of artifacts, mostly quartz points washed by the surf but clearly showing the shape design and working of projectile points.) For decades after, we would find many artifacts initially thinking that these were dropped on land but by 1982, believing as Mr. Hammond described – history (time) of long ago was being delivered to his feet and mine as well. In 2008, the Woods Hole Group of Falmouth, Massachusetts would put this question to rest. The middle 1960’s dredging project did excavate a Native American site from about 1,500 years ago, when the shore then was 1,500 feet further into Long Island Sound. (Hammonasset has been losing a foot of tideline a year, i.e. a hundred years ago; the high tideline was a hundred feet further out into Long Island Sound). In the years following Hurricanes Sandy and Irene, a marsh restoration project excavated the dredge fill to restore water flows. (This is an excellent marsh restoration project if you get a chance to see it. It is in the middle of the State Park just west of the East Beach pavilion). The dredge material was much like an archaeological dig (on a much larger scale) and again was placed on the open, unprotected beach front in an effort to save the West Beach bathhouses and boardwalk. These excavated dredge materials were then subject to some strong winter nor’easters’, which quickly washed away the small grain (fines) leaving once again dozens of artifacts which were recorded in the Woods Hole Report (Fuss O’Neil) cultural resources section on page 53 “Artifacts originating in the areas including offshore along the beach and an offshore burrow area (dredge pit) for former beach nourishment projects.”
As John Hammond described, dredging can bring you a valuable “habitat history” to your feet. As I recall, one aspect of the 1960’s dredging was the seagulls grabbing surf clams whole or crushed adults. I have seen an occasional surf clam after a severe winter storm, which were quickly dispatched by waiting seagulls. But the amount of adult clams in the dredge outwash was much more than the occasional storm – dozens of clams at times flopped on the beach quickly grabbed by waiting seagulls. These clams in Connecticut live offshore in deeper water and far from the active surf zone. The surf clam shell is quite distinctive – and resembling a giant soft shell clam but much larger. A short walk along the back dune line at East Beach Hammonasset in exposed sandy soils today you can still see the habitat history that Mr. Hammond described – the shells of bay scallops and surf clams dredged up 50 years ago just mixed into loose gray sand. Reminders of long ago habitats and the organisms they once supported.
Dredging projects in shallow water do provide a view at previous habitat types as coastal land continues to retreat in the face of ocean/wave energy. As the Chatham Oyster Pond study illustrates that organic matter can collect in cold and sustain “life.” As cold water oxygen penetrates this living compost, it is alive, but seal this compost from oxygen by a sand layer (such as after a winter storm) and in time, it will become a Sapropel or a dead bottom. If oxygen levels fall from high temperatures or several feet of organic material (such as after a tropical storm) accumulate and the bottom will become Sapropel. The surface may not “smell” seasonally with oxygen but still grow deeper as the “lagoon effect” of those early reports of European researchers who studied fjords in the 1930’s that had reduced flushing from tidal restrictions called sills. Reduced flows would tend to trap organics and accumulate them quicker, reducing depths and further restrict tidal flows. A jelly like Sapropel can form until it is washed away or buried in a storm surge sand layer. Below the sand layer “new bottom,” the old bottom still exists waiting and undergoing slow bacterial biochemical reactions. When the dredge operation hit a buried Sapropel (compost) deposit on Oyster Pond, it created a sulfuric acid wash and released hydrogen sulfide compounds into the air, “it smelled.” One can assume that a foul smelling Sapropel spread on a beach – a marine sticky compost did not match the typical beach going experience or expectation and the dredge project was quickly halted. The bottoms of Cape Cod salt ponds would in time resemble Sapropel and on hot nights also smell. That is the sulfur cycle and marine composting process over and in marine soils. It is an important part of coastal habitat quality that has been missing from many estuary nitrogen reports. A write up of the report is found below (1971):
From the Collection of John C. Hammond
Some aspects of the Estuarine Ecosystem of Oyster Pond,
Chatham, Massachusetts 1971
with special emphasis on The Quahog (Venus mercenaria)
The Soft-Shelled Clam (Mya arenaria) and
The Scallop (Pecten irradians)
David A. Gates, M.S., Biologist
Herbert F. Pettengill, M.A.T., Chemist
The Cultivation of Marine Soils
Timothy C. Visel, The Sound School,
Former UMASS Cooperative Extension Service Agent, Barnstable Cape Cod 1981 -1983
February 17, 2017
The Oyster Pond study was one of Mr. Hammond’s favorites when it came to the area of previous bottoms, the impact of temperature and energy upon shellfish habitats and the process of eelgrass succession. It was this dredging operation that Mr. Hammond described the most that the dredging company broke into a previous layer of organic matter humus mud. This “humus” according to Mr. Hammond, smelled so bad the dredging operation was stopped – what he termed “humus” was most likely Sapropel, sealed from oxygen by the newer bottom; the result of sulfur reducing bacteria had made the common reported rotten egg smell of this “older bottom.”.
Mr. Hammond stated that as the smell increased, from the disposal area (apparently a beach) neighbors objected to this substance now thought to be “Sapropel,” the result of the sulfur cycle bacterial processes pumped on the shore of Ebb Tide Motel. (It was not something that would be a pleasant beach experience for summer visitors.) The smell of sulfur was very strong and the dredging halted for need of a substitute disposal area.
From what I recall, a layer of sand had caused navigation (perhaps a flood pressure sand wave) had covered the previous bottom most likely after a storm. Such inlets are prone to have sand waves offshore (sand bars) move into them following storm events. Therefore, the concept of a “habitat history,” and mention of a “bar” is on page 8 of the report. It is thought the dredge operation on “black sands” moved into a blue-black Sapropel. Black sand does smell like a slight matchstick sulfur smell; it is Sapropel that sulfide smell that can cause eyes to water and people to cough- sulfides are so strong (pg. 12). Apparently the sand wave made it almost to the pond itself and dredging set out to a certain depth (contractual no doubt) broke through the newer sand and started to pump older Sapropel (black mayonnaise) buried below. This substance once re-exposed to sea water creates sulfuric acid wash and the sulfur “dead line” observed on mooring chains to mushroom anchors; it is sulfuric acids that dissolves steel and iron in seawater – it is also deadly to sea life. Sapropel contains few living forms and the acid conditions quickly kill shellfish spat. On page 21, note the comment “layer of sand covering a mud base.” This is the marine humus that Mr. Hammond mentioned so many times.
Ice on salt ponds causes sulfides to rise as a “winter kill” from Sapropel, many scallops perished this way in cold winters (pg. 21), leaving the dead shells behind (Winter kill in salt ponds (sulfide events) still happen today on the Cape, warnings are still issued.).
The sulfur cycle of Sapropel is mentioned on page 40 including the rotten egg sulfur smell most likely from Sapropel once exposed to air.
Bacterial concerns are mentioned on pages 76 to 77, but many Vibrio infections were perhaps misdiagnosed as E Coli – then – and on page 84 “the eelgrass problems” now linked as a reservoir for vibrio bacteria. Vibrio bacteria outbreaks happen in heat such as the oyster Vibrio cholera outbreaks in the 1920’s in Southern New England. A rather infamous cholera outbreak (which is a Vibrio) in New York led to the establishment of the National Shellfish Sanitation Program.
It is the warm temperatures (shallow water heat) that allows vibrio bacteria to bleed up to the surface and then dominate the bacterial spectrum. Because eelgrass stabilizes and then traps (builds) organic matter, it provides a growth media for vibrio to populate below this eelgrass peat. Mr. Hammond used this study to illustrate the eelgrass aggressive habitat successive attributes that so damaged shellfish habitats even for bay scallops; he did not feel the eelgrass strain in Oyster Pond was in fact, native – it was so damaging over time- first in after a break once then years later thick mats of root tissue “peat”- the “eelgrass problem,” (pg. 94, item covering up clam and oyster habitats.
Marine Soils and Plant Succession
He kept a binder of eelgrass blade press-mounts on old heavy biological paper – like mounts for botanical collections of seaweed from the last century. He had blade samples from Chatham eelgrass plants and some from overseas. He would repeat his concern that “it did not belong here” because it was so deadly (over time) to Quahogs [I did in fact find large buried dead quahog bed in Pleasant Bay below eelgrass meadows shellfish surveys and hydraulic clam dredge experiments with Sheril Smith, a Division of Marine Fisheries, Fisheries Agent then.]
He said to me many times, “This eelgrass is like a visitor to your home, stays too long and then kicks you out of your own house.” (Habitat successive attributes of a farm field going to forest is the example he used.)
He did not like eelgrass (at least this strain) and from what we know today it is a likely North Sea strain most likely as Mr. Hammond suggested long ago suspected came over here in the first ships as a cushioning material packing for green crabs or put into oyster barrels to cushion them for ocean transit.
[I have asked our State officials in Connecticut to investigate if it is indeed invasive, non-native species.]
There is much habitat information in this report, pH, salinity and more information is coming in (mostly from overseas Sapropel research) that eelgrass meadows from “Vibrio pools” beneath them that include, vibrio (sp) that impact the shellfish industry- vibrio (sp) that cause lobster shell disease, Vibrio of the flesh (fin)rot of Winter Flounder and even Vibrio chlorae (Cholera) that devastated the Long Island Sound Oyster industry here a century ago, all below eelgrass and in southern water seagrasses of various species. In high heat, eelgrass peat becomes deadly to fish and shellfish and even to us – blue crabbers in more southern waters have been dying from Vibrio infections in warm oxygen depleted waters.
This report provides a snapshot of Oyster Pond as the colder NAO weather pattern began to moderate (1970). What Mr. Hammond called the “New England Oscillation” is known today as the Northeast Atlantic Oscillation or the NAO. The 1950s and 1960s allowed the outbreak of the polar vortex cold Canadian air to sink deep into the middle of the United States; these cold air outbreaks energize the low pressure systems and strong storms drove sand deep into the estuaries – a moving sand bar or sand wave that moves with this increase of energy.
He had watched some of the project, looking at the shell remains of previous sets – softshell clams, quahogs and bay scallops. The long buried soils of sand and organic matter gave a history of previous sets according to Mr. Hammond from energy soil cultivation – much from even the direction of wind (In his notebook, he kept records of nor’easter’s, the duration, velocity and direction. He explained that different sides could get a set, or from energy in tidal action around bends themselves. The 1950’s and 1960’s were cold and storm filled – this period is largely attributed to a negative NAO.
In times of a positive NAO, the 1880-1920 period Mr. Hammond mentioned many times it was hot and few storms. The composting of Sapropel produced ammonia, which caused the brown tides of the 1890s and the sulfide black water fish kills. The 1950s and 1960s waters were cooler and contained more oxygen; the composting of humus produced nitrate, which feeds algal strains that bay scallops and quahogs needed. Coastal processes changed as well. Inlets tended to “seal up” and needed to be opened to keep herring (alewife) runs in operation. The 1880-1920 was warm few storms and these storms, “weak.” Chatham became famous for oysters and soft-shells in the 1880-1920 period; in the 1950s-1960s in the negative NAO, it was the time of bay scallop and Quahogs.
That was Mr. Hammond’s habitat history lesson: the Oyster Pond Dredge study was a textbook for that lesson.
Tim Visel, February 2017, The Sound School
Copies of the Oyster Pond Dredge study are available from The Sound School.
Contact Sue Weber, Adult Education and Outreach Program Coordinator at: email@example.com
U.S. Fish Commission Report 1887
Cultivating Marine Soils
In Connecticut, early shellfish and soft shell clam harvesters did not wait for nature’s plow; by 1878, they had created their own, and the first marine soil cultivation experiments took place in Bridgeport, CT in 1880. The first marine soil cultivator is attributed to Mr. Wheeler Hawley and on page 590- G.B.G. – The Soft Shell Clam Fishery by Ernest Ingersoll (U.S. Fish Commission Report - GPO -).
“At first small clams, which were bought at 50 cents a bushel for the purpose, were regularly planted in the sand between tide-lines by punching a hole and pushing the young mollusk down into it. This was found too slow and laborious work, however, and the method of plowing the seed in was undertaken. After many trials of all sorts of plows and cultivators, surface and subsoil, and providing them unadapted to the turning of the dense, wet, heavy mixture of sand and mud, Mr. Wheeler Hawley succeeded in inventing a light plow, having a thin, narrow, steel mold-board, which did the work satisfactorily. It was three years after the first considerable planting of seed when I was there, and the whole beach, for half an acre in extent, was as full of the holes indicating clam-burrows as a vast colander. When you dug down you found the mollusks shoulder to shoulder and piled on top of one another. This was manifestly too many, yet they seemed to be doing well, except that the growth was slow. The owner was engaged in thinning them out, and increasing the area of his ground by transplanting. This gentleman says that the clam in Long Island Sound spawns in June, grows only a little during the winter months, and increases in size so slowly that the planter must wait four or five years for his first crop. This attained, however, he will find his whole space “saturated” with young clams derived from his transplanted stock, and can draw almost endlessly upon his “bank” as each selling season comes round. I know no branch of mollusk culture likely to prove more remunerative than this so long as it is not overdone.”
(The growth was indicative of the colder sea temperatures by the 1900s. Warmer waters had cut the growth time in half about 30 months - T. Visel)
Producing Clams for the US Market by Jim Conrad
Aquaculture Magazine, May 1984 – Page 38
“First of all, we own the bottom of the bay we work on,” he says. “We own six acres and lease 1.5 acres from the State. Second, we till and groom the beds-clear off the overburden of mussel shells, take away predators, and keep digging up the substrate all the time. The reason we keep digging up the beds with hand diggers is that if you let the substrate sit, silt drifts over the beach, plugging up the pores so that water won’t circulate through it. Then the clams, three or four inches down, or even a foot down, no longer can survive because they can’t get enough water filtering down to feed on. Then they start migrating upwards to a fairly thin layer at the surface of the beach. You can’t get as many clams per acre if there are all in a thin layer at the beach’s surface as you can if they area scattered through several inches of the substrate. We try to make the beach substrate ‘fluffy,’ like the soil of a well tilled agricultural field.”
A Comprehensive, Integrated Treatise on Life in Oceans and Coastal Waters
Editor: Otto Kinne
Biologische Anstalt Helgoland
Hamburg, Federal Republic of Germany
Volume III Cultivation Part I
A Wiley-Interscience Publication
John Wiley & Sons 1976
London - New York - Sydney - Toronto
The role of bacteria in the oxidation of end products of nitrogen metabolism was anticipated by PASTEUR (1862), and first demonstrated in soil (SCHLOESING and MUNTZ, 1877; MUNTZ, 1890). Oxidation of ammonia to nitrite and nitrate was discovered by MUNRO (1886); WINOGRADSKY (1892) recognized the involvement of two separate oxidation processes performed by VON BRAND and co-authors (1937, 1939, 1942); VON BRAND and RAKESTRAW (1940, 1941); RAKESTRAW and VON BRAND (1947); see also SVERDRUP and co-authors (1942); BARNES (1957); RAYMONT (1963) and VACCARO (1965). These authors discovered that (i) it is possible to reproduce the complete cycle of nitrogen regeneration under laboratory conditions; (ii) dead, decomposing organisms rapidly release ammonia; (iii) the main decomposition stages are: ammonia, nitrite and nitrate. Studies by COOPER (1937), KUHL and MANN (1955, 1956a, b, 1962), BOTAN and co-authors (1960) and others revealed that the resulting picture is quite complex. For details consult Volume II: SCHLEGEL (1975).
The two fundamental processes of bacterial nitrogen transformation are referred to as nitrification (oxidation of ammonia to nitrite or nitrate) and denitrification (reduction of nitrate to nitrite, or of nitrite to nitrous oxide or free nitrogen) (Volume II: SCHLEGEL, 1975).
Salt Marshes A Climate Change Bacterial Battleground
Sea Level Rise - Climate Cycles and Sulfate Metabolism
Capstone/ISSP Case Histories
Timothy C. Visel The Sound School
Many salt marsh ecologists were unprepared for the 1982-2012 hot period, which saw Long Island Sound water temperatures rise in response to this increasing heat. In high heat salt marsh surfaces were bathed in sulfate an important oxygen source for sulfur reducing bacteria commonly abbreviated as “SRB.” Sulfate reduction – (bacterial respiration) “consumes” organic matter when oxygen is limited and can cause collapse of salt marsh surfaces from sulfate digestion below. Sulfate reduction has a temperature element, the hotter it is the better the chance for sulfur/sulfate reducing bacteria to flourish. In long periods of heat, salt marshes can virtually disappear, reduced to Sapropel.
At the turn of the century a famous botanist George E. Nichols described the salt marsh collapses at the end of the great heat – an extremely hot period (“hot term”) in New England’s coastal history 1880-1920. His description is quite accurate today a century later. The end product of sulfur reduction was often a barren expanse of sterile mud flat. “At ordinary low tides these tidal flats of the lower littoral present a surface of soft, blue-black, ill smelling mud an area in which, except for local colonies of eelgrass or salt marsh grass (Spartina glaba), (alterniflora) seed plants and attached algae are practically absent. At certain seasons these muddy flats may be destitute of visible vegetation of any description; but at others the bare mud at low tide is littered with loose sheets of Ulva and tangles of Enteromorpha, which may cover the ground so thickly that, when viewed from a distance, the surface appears verdant green. The failure of the eelgrass to flourish on tidal flats is probably associated with its inability to withstand the desiccation and extreme temperatures to which plants growing here are frequently subjected at low tide.” That is an excellent description of Sapropel – still valid today.
It is extreme temperatures that Nichols refers to an exceptionally “hot” period for New England even up into the Northern Maritimes. (Many New England shore villages and lakeside communities were built as the result of these 1890s killer heat waves). The heat (extreme temperatures) was horrific for city residents and NPR has a segment titled “The Heat Wave of 1896 And The Rise of Roosevelt” – August 2010 that provides vivid details to the hardship city residents faced. At the same
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