Saturday, June 19, 2010

Blue Team: Sarah Senfeld

“Nature is sloppy,” so said former environmental columnist, Bill Maxwell chiefly emphasizes this discrepancy when describing the cookie-cutter landscapes most Florida citizens see daily. I took notice of this distinct change from the kept lawns and parks in suburbia when I visited Lake Alice on University of Florida’s campus.

The swampy plant life, mossy trees, and massive multicolored dragonflies wholly ignore any accommodation to human comfort, whizzing two inches from your face, growth covering any form of a pathway.

In fact, the only distinct pathway is a man-made bridge which is still housed by dragonflies and curious insects making homes in the holes of the wood. Seeing all this plant and animal life live without restraint is such a shock to all the perfectly trimmed and weeded gardens. But while this habitat can live under such autonomy, there are consequences.

Lake Alice has been dealing with invasive aquatic plant life since the 19th century. In order to control aquatic species such as water hyacinth, hydrilla and alligator weed, many alternatives have been proposed and dealt with.

“[A healthy environment] is one where everything is in balance” said Dr. James P. Cuda, a Professor of biological weed control, at the University of Florida’s Summer Journalism Visitation Program. “When you don’t [have a balance] you get explosive growth, invasive weeds, and you’re no longer in balance.”

When biological control, or fighting the invasive species with an animal or insect from its native land, is introduced, the Aquatic Management director at UF, James Wilmoth, makes sure it is not a counterproductive strategy to what they are already fighting. For instance, to fight hydrilla, a plant that grows submersed underwater forming thick mats which slows the water flow and alters oxygen levels, Management for Lake Alice introduced Chinese grass carp that they make sterile so as not to reproduce once they eliminate the hydrilla.

Another method Dr. Michael D. Netherland advocates is herbicide control. “Out of all the herbicides used in the United States in agriculture, forestry, rights of way, railroads, there are literally hundreds of products registered for [them],” he said. “In aquatics there are twelve.”

The use of herbicides is tested for the concentration of toxicity to make sure they do not harm the already existing native plant life and the organisms that drink it.

Talking to such educated experts on invasive species really widened my spectrum of awareness. I realized that just being conscious about global warming and recycling will not cut it. There are so many environmental issues that do not get publicized half as much as the newest trend in environmental fads. Unbeknownst, people will pick flowers out of the ground carry it a few blocks back to their home and plant it in their backyard. This might inadvertently create a whole new population of this invasive plant in your neighborhood. Provision also applies to exotic animals such as the Cuban tree frog and green iguanas being used as pets.

Learning about this entirely new field of precautions will undeniably affect my judgment and will keep me active in the global issue of invasive species, as well as my concern for the determined Lake Alice.

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