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Another Saturday Night

Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Phil Colarusso

Saturday night is usually the big social night on the weekly calendars of most humans. Who knew that sea worms kept the same schedule?

Fellow EPA diver Dan Arsenault and I braved the north Atlantic just after sunset on a recent Saturday evening. Night diving requires a little more planning than the same dive executed during the day. Each diver carries a waterproof dive light, generally with a fresh set of batteries for each dive. In addition, we attach a glow stick to the dive flag and place a second one on the beach where we leave our shoes, car keys and towels. The glow stick on the dive flag helps divers who get separated to find each other and the one on the beach helps us find our car keys.

Some animals are easier to find at night, such as squid, which are more abundant at night and are attracted to dive lights. Lobsters also tend to be much more active at night, emerging from their burrows to roam their respective neighborhoods looking for food. Fish, such as Atlantic cod, generally found in deeper water during the day, venture into shallower waters at night.

At night, there is also always the sense that something unusual is just around the corner. This recent night dive was a perfect example. Dan had found a beautiful fish called a longhorn sculpin, which I was filming. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed what appeared to be a rocket rising with white smoke trailing behind it. After a closer look, I realized the “rocket” was really a 12 inch long sea worm and the smoke was clouds of sperm. We had caught the worm in the act of spawning, which only happens a few nights a year in and around the full moon.

Unfortunately for the sea worm, his frantic flight also drew the attention of a large fish known as a cunner. As the sea worm released its gametes in a writhing dance, the cunner tried to figure out how to take a bite. Finally, it inhaled the entire worm in two gulps and swam off with the white cloud of worm gametes streaming out of its gills. This type of interaction generally occurs only at night and Dan and I were incredibly fortunate to witness it. You can see a 30 second clip here:

About the author: Phil Colarusso is a marine biologist in the Coastal and Ocean Protection Section of EPA New England, and is an avid diver.  He’s living the dream with wife JoAnn, two kids, dog and white picket fence.

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Students Fight Fire With Fire, And Stop An Invasion!

By Thomas Mendez

As an avid SCUBA diver in the Great Lakes region, I’ve seen firsthand how an invasive species can cause havoc in an ecosystem. Invasive Zebra and Quagga mussels now blanket the bottom of our Great Lakes. Because of their widespread proliferation without natural predators, it would seem that no solution is in sight. So, when I heard about Westborough High School’s effort to control their local invasive species with another predator species, I was intrigued.

Westborough is a community west of Boston that has a problem with the invasive purple loosestrife plant. This plant is quickly changing the balance of natural wetlands in the area by outcompeting native species. These aggressive plants originated in Europe and Asia. Here in the United States, there are no native predator species that can control purple loosestrife populations. The result is an invasive plant that spreads quickly, causes significant damage to wetlands, reduces native plant coverage and discourages diversity in the local ecosystem.

This is where the students of Westborough High School are making a difference. The environmental studies students, together with the Westborough Community Land Trust, are raising beetles. These aren’t just any beetles, but a specific species, Galerucella, that prey on the purple loosestrife. At first I was leery of this method of species control because the Galerucella beetle itself is not a native species. However, my trust in this method was renewed as I researched the efforts of these motivated students.

The Galerucella beetles the students are raising feed on purple loosestrife almost exclusively. Also, these beetles prefer purple loosestrife and will only reproduce on this plant even when other native species are available. It would seem that these two species’ fates are intertwined. As the beetles feed on the purple loosestrife, the population of purple loosestrife declines, the beetles are forced to move on to another area the purple loosestrife inhabits or naturally die off. Both the USDA and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection have approved this method of bio-control and have been using it for some time now.

These students are learning valuable environmental lessons while helping to control their local invasive species. This winning combination, classroom education and real world experience that produces a cleaner and healthier environment, provides a lesson students will not forget.

About the author: Thomas Mendez is a Student Temporary Employment Program intern in the Air and Radiation Division in EPA’s Chicago office. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering and is currently finishing up his Master of Science in Environmental Engineering.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action; and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog post.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.