China on the Verge of Exterminating Its Sturgeon 0

The Gezhouba Dam, completed in 1988, created an obstacle for Chinese sturgeon that attempted to migrate from the sea to spawning grounds in the freshwater reaches of the Yangtze River -- one of many impediments to the continued survival of the 240 million year-old fish.

Gezhouba Dam is one of many impediments to the survival of the Chinese sturgeon. Completed in 1988, it created an  obstacle for sturgeon attempting to migrate from the sea to spawning grounds in the freshwater reaches of the Yangtze River and its tributary river the Jinsha.

Despite years of warnings from marine scientists, the Chinese sturgeon, Acipenser sinensis, may be the first of 26 subspecies of sturgeon worldwide to face extinction. Damming, pollution, overfishing and habitat destruction are the causes. According to the Chinese Academy of Fishery Sciences, researchers could locate no young sturgeon migrating back to the sea, as usually occurs in August.

Postage stamp celebrating the Chinese sturgeon.

Postage stamp celebrating the Chinese sturgeon.

This is only the latest in a series of alarming reports about the 200 million year-old fish. In a 2007 story, National Geographic described efforts to save the Chinese sturgeon. But scientists now fear that mitigation initiatives were too little too late.

Sturgeon are in trouble the world over, including on the Hudson, EarthDesk’s home river. Our Atlantic sturgeon and the Chinese sturgeon are two of ten subspecies of sturgeon included on the IUCN red list of critically endangered species.

We wrote on August 10:

Overharvesting of its meat and caviar, pollution, habitat alteration, power plant intakes — the list of insults that humans have invented trump every challenge thrown in the sturgeon’s path during 2,000,000 centuries of life on Earth . . . Imagine those millennia as a twenty-four-hour clock; it has taken us less than one -tenth of a second to endanger all twenty-six subspecies of this enduring, prehistoric fish worldwide.

The UK’s The Guardian of September 15 provided an excellent summary of the Chinese sturgeon crisis.

Poisoning the Poor by Pat Bagley 0

EarthDesk is pleased to return after a brief summer hiatus. In the coming year, we will focus special attention on members of our own species whose sustainability is challenged daily by poverty, food insecurity, illness, homelessness and bigotry. After all, if we cannot create a society that will sustain ourselves, how can we build a world that will sustain other living things? In that spirit, the first EarthDesk Sunday of the new university year features this recent cartoon from the excellent Pat Bagley.

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“Poisoning the Poor” by Pat Bagley. Via Cagle Cartoons. Used with permission.

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Patrick “Pat” Bagley is an American editorial cartoonist and journalist for The Salt Lake Tribune in Salt Lake City, Utah. His cartoons have appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian of London, The Times of London, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, and the Los Angeles Times. He has produced more than 10,000 cartoons for the Tribune.

Pat is also an illustrator and author of independent political cartoons and children’s books. His liberal political stance contrasts with the conservative state of Utah, and has influenced several books of political cartoons and humor. Bagley’s 2002 book Dinosaurs of Utah and Dino Destinations was nominated for the Utah Children’s Book of the Year. Bagley was the recipient of the 2007 Torch of Freedom Award from the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah. Bagley was awarded the 2009 Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning by a unanimous panel of judges, made up of Garry Trudeau, Jules Feiffer and John Sherffius, representing the Herb Block Foundation.

More on Pat Bagley at the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists.

See more of Pat Bagley’s work at Cagle Cartoons.

EarthDesk Returns September 14

Sturgeon Moon 2014 0

Many are calling tonight’s full moon a “super moon.” More important, it is a Sturgeon Moon, as occurs each August. In honor of its appearance coinciding with EarthDesk Sunday, below is a reprise of last year’s post about the same occasion.

Earlier this evening, I laid my tools on the cabin top of the boat on which I was working, and settled-in to watch the rust red moon crawl to the shoulders of the Hudson Highlands. Once there, it continued upward, as if loosened from the grip of gravity, and floated beyond the river’s cragged peaks.

It was a Sturgeon Moon. According to the Farmer’s Almanac:

The fishing tribes are given credit for the naming of this Moon, since sturgeon, a large fish of the Great Lakes and other major bodies of water, were most readily caught during [August]. A few tribes knew it as the Full Red Moon because, as the Moon rises, it appears reddish through any sultry haze. It was also called the Green Corn Moon or Grain Moon.

River, mountain, moon, boat; there was no place I would rather have been, except perhaps parked on Bob Gabrielson’s Burd Street Dock in Nyack, NY, of an early May morning in 1981. That day, I climbed out of my pickup truck camper to breakfast on blackfish and watch the red sun rise one hour prior to our fishing tide. Just four weeks earlier, I had resigned my job in the state legislature, moved into the old black Ford, and driven south to join Bob’s commercial fishing crew for the full shad season.

It was a dry spring. Because of the increased salt in the estuary, all manner of ocean fish were making their way into the lower river. In addition to blackfish, we regularly saw flounder, sea robin, starfish, and jellyfish. The previous evening, we picked up a young Atlantic sturgeon, about ten inches in length. A rubber band was wrapped around its midsection, an uncommon but known phenomenon on the river. I would see it again on a different baby sturgeon two summers later off Garrison, NY.

Just beneath the band, the sturgeon’s body was severely constricted and the flesh raw. If the rubber band did not kill it first, its young midsection was now a certain target for deadly infection and fungus. At some point in its short life, the fish had swum into the carelessly tossed band, which became caught on the rough-skinned body and remained while the sturgeon grew.

Sturgeon are a lens into the past. They are often called living dinosaurs. Their lineage dates back 200 million years. In late spring, adult Atlantic sturgeon leave their ocean home to migrate up the Hudson, and other East Coast rivers, to spawn in the freshwater reaches. Young sturgeon use the estuary’s nourishing waters as a nursery ground until they are about three-feet long and hearty enough to begin a life at sea. (Read more here)

Author Robert H. Boyle described sturgeon well in his book The Hudson River: A Natural and Unnatural History:

They have long, leathery snouts on the front of the head, while the bottom part is soft and white with a vacuum cleaner–type mouth that can hang down like the sleeve on an old coat. The eyes are small and glistening, like threatening peas, and the hard body is almost crocodilian, armed with five longitudinal rows of sharp shields, or scutes.

There are twenty-six subspecies of sturgeon worldwide, all with similar physical characteristics, all imperiled.

Just a few miles from our nets, on the Piermont waterfront, Cornetta’s Seafood Restaurant boasted a sight found at no other eatery in the Hudson Valley. Mounted on the wall of the upper dining room was a seven-foot, ten-inch Atlantic sturgeon. When alive, it probably weighed 250 pounds.

“There isn’t a person who doesn’t say, ‘I can’t believe this is out of this river,’” proprietor Suren Kilerciyan once told me. “And they all call it ugly— until they learn that sturgeon is where caviar comes from, and then they change their minds.”

It was by no means the largest sturgeon ever caught. The Guinness Book of Animal Facts and Feats reports a documented female beluga sturgeon captured in the Volga estuary in 1827 that weighed 3,250 pounds and measured twenty-four feet long. According to Boyle, the largest Hudson River sturgeon reached 13 feet.

Its natural history would be the sturgeon’s most remarkable aspect were it not for its stunning decline. Only shark and humans prey on sturgeon. Guess which has decimated the population. Overharvesting of its meat and caviar, pollution, habitat alteration, power plant intakes — the list of insults that humans have invented trump every challenge thrown in the sturgeon’s path during 2,000,000 centuries of life on Earth. In 1996, Atlantic surgeon were banned for capture on the Hudson River, and in 2009 declared endangered, after an unbroken chain of fishing seasons dating back to the same indigenous tribes who honored the Sturgeon Moon.

Imagine those millennia as a twenty-four-hour clock; it has taken us less than one -tenth of a second to endanger all twenty-six subspecies of this enduring, prehistoric fish worldwide. Worth remembering the next time someone passes you the caviar, or you think to cast off a rubber band. More

Lego Wars: Old Patnership with Shell Oil Breeds New Controversy 0

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1977 Lego Model of Shell Oil Rig.

There is concern anew over the decades-old partnership between Lego and Shell Oil. Shell is a major player in the growing efforts to exploit Arctic resources as shipping lanes open due to Arctic melt. See: EarthDesk August 8, 2013.

Greenpeace is leading an effort to convince Lego to abandon the partnership, and has produced a video to deliver the message, “Shell is polluting our kids’ imaginations.” The video is below. A link to the Greenpeace campaign is here.

Toxic Algae Horror in Ohio by Nate Beeler 0

Toxic Algae Horror by Nate Beeler., Used with permission.

Toxic Algae Horror by Nate Beeler. Via, Used with permission.

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Here is Nate Beeler‘s profile from the The Columbus Dispatch:

beeler_100Nate Beeler, the award-winning editorial cartoonist for The Dispatch, has earned the reputation of being both a top-flight artist and first-rate journalist. Formerly the cartoonist for the Washington Examiner, he won the 2009 Thomas Nast Award from the Overseas Press Club and the 2008 Berryman Award from the National Press Foundation, among other awards.

Beeler, 31, is a native of Bexley and earned a journalism degree at American University. His cartoons have appeared in such publications as Time, Newsweek and USA Today.

1972 Clean Water Act Update 0

10854 days 7 hours 57 minutes 25 seconds

since the Federal Clean Water Act’s 1985 goal
to eliminate the discharge of pollutants


Q & A with John Cronin on Environment and Education 0

The excerpt below is taken from an interview by Barbara Moroch for the Higher Education Supplement of Sunday’s Journal News. John is senior fellow for environmental affairs at Pace Academy for Applied Environmental Studies. He edits and is a frequent contributor to EarthDesk.

stony point cronin students net beach 3

What is the most important thing you’d like readers to know about the environmental work you do?

We are the most extraordinary species on the planet. And we will be successful if we not only learn to care about nature, but about each other, especially for those amongst us who are suffering due to poverty, homelessness, hunger and poor health.

What are your hopes for the Millennial generation?

Passion, compassion, and independence of mind. I hope they will learn more from my generation’s mistakes than from our successes. They have access to tools and knowledge unprecedented in any generation that preceded them. I believe they are at the doorstep of becoming our most creative problem-solvers, innovators, and advocates for a new era of caring for others. All they have to do is walk through.

Go to full interview.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy Responds to EarthDesk Critique of the Clean Water Act’s Performance 0

Gina McCarthy, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency discusses environmental issues with Hari Sreenivasan of PBS News Hour at the Aspen Ideas Festival. July 3, 2013

Gina McCarthy, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency discusses environmental issues with Hari Sreenivasan of PBS News Hour at the Aspen Ideas Festival. Link to video.

Defending the Clean Water Act from EarthDesk’s continuing critique of the law’s performance, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy echoed President Barak Obama when she called upon the memory of the 45-year old Cuyahoga River fire as evidence of current progress toward clean water (See EarthDesk commentary on the president’s remarks).

Below is that excerpt from her interview with Hari Sreenivasan of PBS News Hour. The full video interview is available here. More on Adminstrator McCarthy’s comments soon.

Sreenivasan: John Cronin from the EarthDesk blog recently had a post about the 31st anniversary of the Clean Water Act’s failure to achieve its goal in 1983.

McCarthy: (Laughs) That’s not much to celebrate.

Sreenivasan: No, it’s not. So he was pointing out a fact sheet from the EPA that says approximately 40 percent of our surveyed rivers lakes and estuaries are not clean enough to meet basic uses such as fishing or swimming. Why is this?

McCarthy: Clean water continues to be a significant challenge. I mean I can certainly counter that by how much we have improved. If you remember, when the Clean Water Act came into place, it came into place because the Cuyahoga River was burning.


Water Pollution by Arend van Dam 0


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Arend van Dam is a Dutch political cartoonist whose work has appeared in Reformed Netherlands, Central Weekly, Time, the Financial Times, and the Agrarian Dagblad among others. In addition to his cartoon work, he is also a book illustrator. He sometimes works under the pseudonym Zetbe.

Arend has won a number of international awards, including the Golden Palm at the 1972 Salone Internazionale dell’Umorismo in Bordighera, Italy, and the prize of the Ministry of Rijkswaterstaat at the ninth Eindhoven Dutch Cartoon Festival. In addition to his work as a political cartoonist, he lectures on organizational psychology.

View more of Arend’s work at