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Science Essay Winners Announced

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Professor CJ Yow held a contest in his Comp I class. Students wrote research essays on a science topic of their choice. Essays were judged by Shannon Ulrich. Congratulations to the two contest winners: Jared Narvitz and Mason McCaffrey!

The winning essays can be read below.


Deadzone in the Gulf by Jared Narvitz

One of the biggest concerns for local environmentalists and fishing industries is the growing size of the Deadzone that we have sitting in the Gulf of Mexico that is killing the marine life in that area. The Deadzone has been present in the Gulf since the 1970s, but has grown to the size of New Jersey and continues to affect the Gulf and its reefs (Gallegos, 2017).  The reason these Deadzones cause so much harm is because they suck the oxygen out of a body of water, making it impossible for fish to breathe. This not only causes a problem for marine life, but also industrial productivity. In order to solve this issue, more research must be done to find ways to lower the amount of waste in the Gulf and restore marine life, while allowing agricultural production to flourish.

Deadzones are difficult to regulate and cause a variety of problems for our society and government. The reason they are called Deadzones is because “The oxygen level in such areas, some several hundred acres and others several thousand square miles, periodically drops to a level too low to support marine life. The results are mass die offs of sea creatures, especially bottom dwellers” (Davis, 2017, pg. 158). These oxygen levels drop because of the agricultural runoff that farmers throw into Mississippi travels south and pours into the Gulf, which then impacts our economy, environment, and health. These runoffs contain harmful nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous pollution, which without further treatment to fix it, are predicted to double by 2050 or worse (Crawford, 2016, pg. 2).  Since we eat the food from our oceans, we are subjected to the harmful chemicals that the fish must endure, therefore, harming us just as much. The largest part of this problem is the hit that the economy has to take due to how much seas food we gather from that area. According to Endre, “The Dead Zone of the Gulf of Mexico occurs in an area responsible for approximately 30% of fisheries in the United States, including over 70% of the nation’s shrimp catch and over 60% of oyster production, generating over $2 billion in sales, $1.1 billion in income, and employing almost 50,000 people” (Endre, 2010, pg. 3). Also, due to the increase in size of the Deadzones, more algae have bloomed creating harmful effects on people and requiring medical treatment costing a total of $50 million per year for the US economy (Endre, 2010, pg. 6).

Our health and our economy are reliant on the strength of our reefs and wildlife; if things continue to stay this way the problem can only get worse and more apparent to those that might not see the urgency now. The size has since fluctuated since the 1970s, but certain environmental groups have pushed and congress responded by taking into action with an Amendment to regulate the waste we throw into the water. As Crawford explains, “The 1972 amendments to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act created the Clean Water Act (CWA) we know today. The purpose of the CWA was to “comprehensively and ambitiously address the . . . growing problem of water pollution” in the United States” (Crawford, 2016, pg. 5). As the water pollution became a bigger issue, the government attempted to regulate the amount of waste that poured into the Gulf.

Although congress has given the issue some attention, little has changed in the Gulf and people are starting to realize it as well, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any hope left. As recent studies show there are steps that can be taken to reduce the amount of pollution, “In a study published this year, his team showed that runoff could be reduced by 60 percent if farmers growing corn and soybean rotated in one or two more crops” (Gallegos, 2017). If we spring into action soon we can fix the issue, but in order to change the amount of waste, farmers must decrease production and find a different way to regulate the waste created when working. Even though the Deadzone may never completely disappear, it can still be regulated and maintained at a decent size that everyone can survive with.

References

DAVIS, J. E. (2017). Booms, Blooms, and Doom: The Life of the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone. Alabama Review, 70(2), 156-170.

Crawford, A. L. (2016). Nutrient Pollution and the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone: Will Des Moines Water Works Be a Turning Point?. Tulane Law Review, 91(1), 157-187.

Szalay, E. (2010). Breathing Life into the Dead Zone: Can the Federal Common Law of Nuisance Be Used To Control Nonpoint Source Water Pollution?. Tulane Law Review, 85(1), 215-246.

Gallegos, Jenna. (2017). A dead zone the size of New Jersey is choking the Gulf of Mexico. Washington Post. http://www.tampabay.com/news/environment/water/a-dead-zone-the-size-of-new-jersey-is-choking-the-gulf-of-mexico-wvideo/2332635


Invasive Burmese Pythons in the Everglades by Mason McCaffrey

Originating in South Asia, the Burmese python has become an invasive species over the past few decades, and now populates the very similar climate of the Florida Everglades in staggering numbers. These snakes can grow over 23 feet in length, and up to 200lbs, thus, making it an apex predator with an abundance of food available.  Their sheer size and exploding population has led to “severe and apparent declines in mammal populations”(Dorcas et al, 2011). This disruption to the Everglades ecosystem is detrimental to its existence and if the problem isn’t addressed through further research and action in a timely manner, it could lead to irreversible damage and  affect surrounding areas more than it already has.

The Burmese python has both direct and indirect effects to the Everglades ecosystem. While the indirect effects may not be as apparent, the direct effects are more obvious. Due to the pythons adaptability to the warm marshy Florida climate,  its ability to reproduce in great numbers, and the fact that it’s an apex predator, is a perfect recipe for disaster to the Everglades mammal life and has led to a severe decline in certain populations. To be exact,  “populations of raccoons have dropped 99.3 percent, opossums 98.9 percent, and bobcats 87.5 percent” (Puckett, 2012). The python has also had an effect to the ecosystem by indirectly altering their prey’s behavior, causing what is known as trophic cascades. John D. Wilson was the first to report this when he “evaluated the potential indirect effects of pythons on the nesting success of oviparous species by monitoring artificial turtle nests” (2017). His findings are evidence that where there’s an abundance of pythons, there is very little nest predation by other mammals, and vice versa. Moreover, according to Wilson (2017),  this is also evidence that shows remarkable parallels with the catastrophic case of the brown tree snake in Guam, but in some ways is even more worrisome”. Another interesting and potentially devastating effect the python has had on the Everglades is how the snake has changed the eating habits of mosquitos, leaving mainly rats as a food source for them. According to Sun Sentinel (2017), “The mosquitoes can spread Everglades virus’ from rats”, creating an epidemic in the region, with potential to spread elsewhere.

The most concerning fact about the python problem in the Everglades is its many similarities to the case of the brown tree snake in Guam, which has had disastrous effects to the region. Since the snake’s induction to Guam, it has decimated the bird population,  small animals, and mammals. This  has  had an indirect effect on seed germination which has created a  “devastating drop of between 61 and 92 percent in new forest growth” (Mcrae, 2017).  This would be catastrophic to the Everglades as we know it. As the pythons continue to reproduce and devour everything, they’ll need to branch out, looking for more food sources. This will not only negatively affect tourism, but also residents and potential future residents of southern Florida, putting a dent in the economy as well.

With all the research that has been conducted regarding the Burmese python’s effect on the Everglades, it’s without a doubt that the Everglades ecosystem is slowly but surely  being altered, potentially driving certain mammal populations to extinction and following down the dark path that Guam has already experienced with the brown tree snake. To help prevent this, Bradley (2014) states that “Learning more about how to best detect and capture the snakes is a crucial first step to addressing the problem”.  Citizens also need to be proactive and report all python sightings to prevent them from spreading. Getting involved and becoming part of the “Python Patrol” program (a no cost training program that teaches how to identify, report, and remove pythons),  and participating in python hunt contests is paramount in fighting back against the pythons so that the Everglades ecosystem and surrounding areas can be preserved and restored to what they once were.

References

Dorcasa1, M. E., Willsonb, J. D., Reedc, R. N., Snowd, R. W., Rochforde, M. R., Millerf, M. A., . . . Romagosai, A. C. (n.d.). Michael E. Dorcas. Retrieved from http://www.pnas.org/content/109/7/2418.full

McRae, M. (n.d.). Guam’s Plague of Snakes Is Devastating The Whole Island Ecosystem, Even The Trees. Retrieved from https://www.sciencealert.com/guam-s-plague-of-snakes-is-having-a-devastating-impact-on-the-trees

Press, T. A. (2017, October 05). Pythons changed the diet of Everglades mosquitoes, researchers say. Retrieved from http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/florida/fl-reg-pythons-mosquito-diet-20171005-story.html

Waves, S. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://soundwaves.usgs.gov/2012/04/research2.html

Willson, J. D. (2017, January 10). Indirect effects of invasive Burmese pythons on ecosystems in southern Florida. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1365-2664.12844/abstract

www.usnews.com. (2014). Snakes on the ‘Glades. [online] Available at: https://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2014/07/21/invasive-pythons-threaten-florida-everglades [Accessed 21 Jan. 2014].

 

Header photo from PBS.

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