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« on: April 29, 2016, 11:19:02 AM »

Eelgrass Blue Crabs Lobsters and Vibrio Bacteria EC #11 – Supplement
The Blue Crab Forum™ Environment and Conservation
April 26, 2016
A Capstone Proposal for FFA Non Experimental SAE
Tim Visel, The Sound School Regional Vocational Aquaculture Center
60 South Water Street
New Haven, CT  06519

{The views expressed here do not reflect the Citizens Advisory Committee nor Habitat Working Group of the EPA Long Island Sound Study.  On February 16, 2016 I have asked resource management agencies to recognize Sapropel as a distinct habitat type.  This is the viewpoint of Tim Visel}.

This is the last portion of Environment and Conservation Post #11 Eelgrass, Blue Crabs, Lobsters and Vibrio Bacteria – readers should read the first segment dated March 10, 2016.  This paper concludes a study of “Limnic Peat”as compared to marine Sapropel, the organic compost that forms in estuarine waters.  On February 16, 2016 I have asked researchers working in marine habitats here to use the term Sapropel.  This term I believe is the one most appropriate and describes the chemical and biological processes associated with it – my view.

In July 1987, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Dept of the Interior and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released Biological Report 85 (7-16).  In July 1987 “The Ecology of Peat Bogs of the Glaciated Northeast, United States.

Limnic peat pg 13 is described below,

“This is a sedimentary peat or coprogenous sediment deposited in lakes and other water bodies.  It consists mainly of organic matter derived from aquatic organisms or from aquatic plants.  Gyttja and Sapropel are forms of limnic peat.”

Waterford Urges Action on Coves

A December 8, 1983 New London Day newspaper article titled “Waterford Studies Urge Action On Coves” focused upon several aspects of habitat change.  While I was on Cape Cod – John A. Scillieri Jr. then Chairman of the Waterford Flood and Erosion Control Board told me about dozens of complaints he had obtained about Waterford’s coves – the changes in bottom and increases of a black like jelly material now suspected to be Sapropel (personal communication T. Visel) and sulfur smells from them in the “hot” summer.  Chairman Scillieri supported dredging and eliminated sewage “that still runs into some coves and caused nutrient imbalances that lead to foul cove odors in warm weather.”  By the middle 1980s as the heat continued to build, different bottoms and sulfur smells would be common in many eastern Connecticut coves.

As more and more eastern Connecticut winter flounder fishers noticed Sapropel covering winter flounder habitats – mostly behind railroad causeways Connecticut many asked for information or an investigation of this complaint. In heat and the absence of energy – this climate period was very different than the 1960s.  It was beginning to get hot – again and devastate the winter flounder habitats.

The Sapropel would be back and cores of Connecticut’s estuaries 1991-1993 would all found to contain layers of bivalve shell between Sapropel layers (termed black facies).  Sapropel along with huge striped bass, oyster sets and blue crabs all increased.  All these coves contained the same thing the cores showed district changes – layers of bivalve shell and then Sapropel – some had four layers dating back hundreds if not thousands of years.  The layers seemed to indicate that these habitat changes have in fact happened before – some coves had multiple shell layers.  What was the impacts of these changes to estuarine habitat quality – that is perhaps left in the remains of Native American shell heaps or “middens.”  We may have some evidence of those habitat quality reversals – as more northern areas most susceptible to temperature variations.

The large unknown is the fact that “marine soils” are much understudied and therefore do not have a chair at the climate change table.  Fishers known them, they observe them and most likely observed the same or similar changes described above.  In Connecticut it has been an up hill struggle just to get some regulatory agencies to admit that Sapropel even exists.  (As of February 2016 this recognition has yet to materialize – T. Visel).

Overseas research I feel is the key to unlocking some of these key fish habitat quality questions.  They seem able to tackle some of these basic habitat questions and evolved the Saprobien System there more that a century ago (1909).  The Saprobien system had a foundation of “pollution” as organic matter - not chemicals.

Overseas research can offer much information about marine soils and bacteria in them but not directly the blue crab.  They can however give us important information about general blue crab habitat quality.

The sulfur cycle and the rise and fall of Vibrio bacteria could tell us much about inshore habitat quality for many species, we should investigate this before the next “hot term” – my view.

Always interested in comments – suggestions.

Tim Visel

Appendix 1

A Historic Trilogy by Harold W. Castner
The Prehistoric Oyster Shell Heaps of the Damariscotta River

An excerpt of an account of Ancient Oysters in the Damariscotta River in Maine.  A 1950 account reproduced from a reprinted Damariscotta History Society bulletin.  A Historic Trilogy by Harold Castner – reprinted by the Damariscotta Historical Society – introduction Richard B. Day printed by the Boothbay Register.

In 1950 Harold Castner wrote several environmental fisheries histories for the Damariscotta River and a village he called Pemaquid in mid coast Maine.  I am sure he did not realize at the time that he would be one of the first environmental historians to portray coastal shellfish history (ecology) as a continuum of events far before European settlement.  He looked to those who lived along the coast before his time to write and help explain his favorite topic, history.

In this account he describes a healthy oyster population in Oyster Creek 1895 and “novelty oyster suppers” at the Damariscotta Baptist Church and a dredging project in 1900-1901 to Cottrells Wharf when some very large oyster shells were dredged up in the Damariscotta River.  (A more detailed write up of his accounts found in IMEP #3 Did Native Americans Leaves Us a Habitat History Lesson for Climate Change?  December 2013 – The Blue Crab Forum™ Fishing, Eeling and Oystering posted February 11, 2014).

A segment of his description is reprinted below but a more recent work Boom and Bust on the River, The story of the Damariscotta Oyster Shell Heaps – Archaeology of Eastern North America 1986) provides evidence of habitat species reversals – the presence of clam middens over those of oysters (from a series of accounts The Davistown Museum) changes of abundance such as above indicate a changing population that could signify a different climate.  Investigations of shell middens should yield further evidence of such cycles in coastal resource abundance.

An excerpt of an account of Ancient Oysters in the Damariscotta River in Maine is from a 1950 account reproduced from a reprinted Damariscotta History Society bulletin. 

“Just previous to the Civil War, Professor Chadbourne of Bowdoin College, made a thorough study of the deposits, and established for all time, conclusive proof that these shells had been left there as a result of ancient feasts, and at a time so far in the past, he dared not attempt computation.  He found many individual piles of shells ten or fifteen feet in diameter and several feet deep.  Beneath this, the soil was made up of a alluvial deposit of sand, gravel and rocks, resembling the land adjacent to the deposits.  There were numerous bones of animals, birds and beavers, and even a sturgeon’s plate.  A dark line ran through the bottom of the great mounds, showing the possibility of vegetable mould, formed during temporary abandonment of the place.  Shells under this layer were decomposed, or turned to lime, as if acted upon by fire.  He obtained shells of other types than the oyster and found some clam, quahog, and several kinds.

Despite the loss of hundreds of tons of shells by erosion and commercial uses, a great volume still stands exposed to view.  Scientific investigation revealed that there were three distinct periods of construction of these heaps.  In each case there was a period of abandonment, during which time a thick layer of vegetable mould accumulated over the shells.  The lowest layer of shells extended over about one eighth of the present known area.  This layer was about three feet thick, and at the base, many large tree trunks were found which had decayed to powder, leaving conical hollows around which the shells were packed.  Directly above this layer was a strata of mould which was some five inches thick.  It has been quite accurately determined that it takes about one hundred years to accumulate an inch of mould.  We can, therefore fix the period of this first abandonment at about five hundred years.

The second layer of shells was larger and more extensive.  This was about six feet thick and covered by mould to the thickness of about three inches, or, let us say, an interval of three hundred years of the second abandonment.  In this second strata of mould were found trunks of large trees which were of unknown species in this climate.  They were two or three feet in diameter and had grown up entirely over this second strata of shells.  These trunks were better preserved than those of the first strata, but although they held their form, they easily crumbled in this hands.

The third strata of shells had a layer of about three inches of mould over it.  An intimate study of this top layer of mould caused scientists to agree that it was about three hundred years ago when the last deposits were made, or at the time of the Wawenock Settlement, at this place of abundant food supply.”
   Appendix 2 

Terminology of Peat and Causes of Confusion – Chapter 1

The Peats of New Jersey and Their Utilization by Selman A. Waksman
Department of Conservation and Development State of New Jersey

In Cooperation with Agricultural Experiment Station
Rutgers University – William H. Martin
Directors Trenton V. J. 1942

From Waksman pg 15 –

“Two Federal agencies, the Bureau of Mines and the Bureau of Plant Industry, have made a survey of the occurrence and utilization of peat in the United States.  The first Peat Experiment Station was established in 1925, at Belle Glade, Florida, thereby giving recognition to the importance of peat in agriculture. 

And very soon Waksman mentions confusion in describing the studies and terminology associated with peat. 

“To bring out the confusion which has been introduced in the definition and characterization of peat types, it is sufficient to direct attention to the terms most commonly employed.  The following list is not exhaustive.  Some of these terms are more localisms.  Others have been largely for the purpose of emphasizing the differences in type of peat, its physical or chemical condition, and its utilization.  Many are merely synonyms.” Pg 17.

In the lowland classification Waksman includes a list of 25 terms (names including Sapropel and Gugttja terms that continue in European research today).  Each discipline had looked at this soil with various viewpoints  - what Waksman wrote in 1942 is still appropriate today.  Each discipline has looked at this soil with various viewpoints – what Waksman wrote in 1942 is still a concern today a bias between bacterial strains.

“The chemist in attempting to unravel the complex chemical nature of the peat material, has limited himself chiefly to the inorganic constituents, having found the organic substances far too complex.  The physical chemist has paid attention to the colloidal nature of the peat as a whole, especially in connection with the water relations.  The bacteriologist has paid to peat the least attention, since as an anaerobic system it is rather poor in the types of microorganisms that are found in ordinary field soils.  The agriculturist has been interested either in the utilization of peat for the growth of cultivated crops or in the exploitation of the physical and chemical properties of peat for fertilizer and other purposes” pg 18.

The problem of changing descriptions – again on page 16

“More recently a New Jersey geologist (213) improved considerably upon the foregoing definitions, as follows:

Peat is a brownish to black deposit formed by the accumulation and slow decay of vegetable matter under water, in bogs and swamps.  It may be in some cases, the incipient state in the formation of coal and a chemical gradation can be traced from peat to anthracite.  Peat is often fibrous, though in some varieties but few fibres may be distinguished.  The process (of peat formation) is one of slow oxidation out of contact with the air; in which the amount of carbon increases as the volatile elements like oxygen and hydrogen decrease. 

When one compares this conception of peat with that common in the middle of the last century, it appears that but little progress has been made.  This is brought out in the following quotation from S. Johnson (145, 146).

The production of peat from fallen and decaying plants depends upon the presence of so much water as to cover or saturate the vegetable matters, and thereby hinders the full access of air.  Saturation with water also has the effect to maintain the decaying matters at a low temperature, and by these two causes in combination, the process of decay is made to proceed with great slowness, and the solid products of such slow decay are compounds that themselves resist decay and hence they accumulate.”

The reference to Samuel W. Johnson mentioned by Waksman refers to two publications by him that detailed the use of peat and muck as fertilizer.  (Essays on Peat Muck and Commercial Manures – Browned Gross Hartford, CT 1859).  It was Samuel W. Johnson at Yale University who worked hard to establish the first Agricultural Research Station in Connecticut 1875 and located in New Haven in 1882.  Many of Dr. Johnson’s research papers can be found in CT Board of Agriculture reports and on the Online Books page, he would be a leader in fertilizer analysis of the University of Pennsylvania, Professor Johnson was the one who urged caution about the use of “mussel mud” “Sapropel” and the hurtful “acidity” sulfuric acid it contained when re exposed to air oxygen to New England farmers over a century ago.

Appendix 3

Shellfish Closures in Massachusetts:  Status and Options

Edited by

Alan W. White and
Lee Anne Campbell

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Woods Hole, Massachusetts  02543

September 1989

Technical Report


Robert A. Duncanson
Water Quality
Laboratory Town of Chatham
Chatham, MA 02633
Dale L. Saad
Town of Barnstable Health Department
Hyannis, MA 02601 (1989)

The use of  bacterial  species  as  indicators  of  the  sanitary  quality  of  water  had its origins in  the  early  part  of  this  century.  The indicator  concept   was  begun as  a protective measure for potable water supplies in response to widespread outbreaks of waterborne diseases such as typhoid and cholera. The use of bacterial indicators in the shellfish arena began in the 1920s  following  several  outbreaks  of  typhoid  linked to oysters. Since the introduction of bacterial standards for both shellfish growing waters and market samples, the incidence of shellfish-borne disease has declined. The question thus becomes why should consideration be given to a change in the indicator system which appears to have been working adequately for over 60 years?

The answer to the question posed above is multifaceted. Although the incidence of classical shellfish-borne diseases (typhoid and cholera) have declined, there are increasing numbers of disease outbreaks attributed to shellfish. This would indicate that the pathogenic  agents  involved  in  these  more  recent  outbreaks are  not  the  classical pathogens which the original indicator system was meant to warn of. Indeed, in many recent outbreaks other bacteria, such as  Aeromonas    hydrophila, Vibrio parahemolyticus and V. vulnificus, have been the cause.



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