Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Invisible dancers

I brought home a few egg coils on eelgrass and seaweed recently. I haven't been able to identify them, neither in reference books nor on the web. So I've been keeping them in two jars of seawater, observing them daily, to see what hatches.

Last night, in one I detected a hint of movement through my lens. In the microscope, I saw the first of the larval forms swimming or gliding about.

Besides these, though, at 200x power, we saw hundreds of tiny spots dashing about, twirling, zig-zagging; always in rapid motion. The screen looked like one of those old TVs with "snow". (Remember that?)

I tested water, a couple of eyedroppers-full from my aquarium, my aerating tank, and both jars of eggs. In all of them, these teeny spots sped around the screen.

Screen shot of a drop of "egg water". Everything there is moving.

This afternoon, I read this, in an article about the oil spill, by William Dietrich:

"Second, cleaning up oil once it escapes its confinement remains an almost impossible task. The technology was not very effective in Alaska, and so far it does not seem very effective in the Gulf. In Alaska, the oil industry tried chemical dispersants such as are being used in the Gulf, booms, burning, hot-water pressure washing of beaches, bio-remediation by culturing bacteria to eat oil, and even wiping rocks with rags. None worked very well. After humans quit, winter storms finally broke up and eroded the surface oil, while subsurface oil still lingers.
Once wind pushes the oil into mangroves and estuaries, forget about it. The damage is hard to imagine until you see it. But to get an idea, dump a quart of dirty motor oil on your driveway and try to clean it up.
There will be immediate photogenic bird kills, but then a much longer and more insidious presence of oily contaminants in Gulf ecosystems. The real damage will play out over years, not days."

He writes, "... photogenic bird kills". The tiny things are not photogenic. We don't even know they are there, but they are the base of the food chain on which everything depends, even us.

I imagined oil creeping onto our beaches, killing the birds, the fish, the crabs, the beach hoppers and amphipods, the snails, the copepods, the assorted larvae, and all these trillions of water dancers. I feel sick.

(Yes, I promised stuck-up spiders. I got sidetracked. They're next.)


  1. photogenic bird kills??? What was he thinking?????

    My heart feels sick to think about the long term damage to our environment from this oil spill. Years and years are going to pass before we know the outcome ... the damage done to the tiniest of God's creatures ... long after it has left the headlines for some new tragedy.

  2. I think he meant that the photos of dying birds make an impact, not that they're beautiful.

    Or else, that the birds were photogenic, and now they're dead.


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