Friday, July 9, 2010

A&M System and Harte Research play instrumental role in response to the oil spill

Released earlier this week, Governor Perry named the Texas A&M System a participant in the Gulf Project, a coalition of energy and environmental scientists, policy experts, academic researchers, private sector research scientists and state officials.

Consultants for the Project include Dr. Larry McKinney, executive director of the Harte Research Institute at Texas A&M - Corpus Christi. The Harte Research Institute has proved instrumental in providing data and research for information on the Gulf of Mexico and the oil spill. McKinney has also authored a foreword to the forthcoming book Glory of the Silver King edited by Brandon Shuler.

Texas A&M University Press authors Sylvia Earle and Wes Tunnell are both active at HRI, providing articles, interviews and access to research for greater understanding of the Gulf of Mexico and the effects of the recent oil spill.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Human Origins and Human Evolution: "The Human Edge. Without it, we might just be up a tree."

NPR recently released an article by Christopher Joyce about the about the station's latest radio addition. NPR will be investigating 500 million years of human evolutionary history to determine the development cycles and "how we ended up the way we are." This will all be examined in "The Human Edge" radio show. The summer special will feature radio and web series.

"In Human Origins, by Rob DeSalle and Ian Tattersall, two of the world's foremost scientists show how research into the human genome confirms what fossil bones have told us about human origins. Human Origins serves as a companion volume to the American Museum of Natural History's permanent exhibit as well as an overview of recent insights into what it means to be human."

The information available on this topic is extensive. NPR's radio show will cover topics such as why feet ache, what is the cause of backache and the evolutionary developments that led to modern women having complexes about their hip size. In addition to these physical changes, "The Human Edge" will explore the mental complications of self doubt, the blues and delusions of grandeur, to name a few. Joyce comments that there's a reason "chimps don't need shrinks or Viagra."

Q&A with Gay Gomez, author of The Louisiana Coast: Guide to an American Wetland

Gay Gomez is associate professor of geography at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Gomez, a professional nature guide and longtime activist and champion for the state's wetlands, has served on the board of directors for the Coalistion to Restore Coastal Louisiana and the Louisiana Ornithological Society. She is actively involved in many other organizations and is the author of The Louisiana Coast: Guide to an American Wetland.

  1. What is a wetland environment? And, why should we preserve them?

"Wetlands are transition environments between dry land and open water. They are places where standing water is present for all or part of the year, and, because of this, they support vegetation that is adapted to saturated soil conditions. In the Gulf Coast region, swamps and marshes predominate. Swamps are forested wetlands, while marshes feature many species of grasses, sedges, rushes, and submerged aquatic vegetation. 'Water brings life,' and these wetland habitats are high in both plant and animal diversity. Humans also are part of these ecosystems; we impact them by managing water and wildlife and use them for a variety of commercial and recreational activities, from bird watching to seafood harvesting. Without coastal wetlands, valuable fish and shellfish like brown shrimp, white shrimp, redfish (red drum) speckled trout (spotted sea trout), gulf menhaden, blue crabs, and American oysters would not have a place to grow to adulthood. Without these wetlands, many species of waterfowl and other wildlife would not have a refuge in winter, or a place to breed in summer, or a spot to rest and feed during migration."

Photo by Gay Gomez at the Cameron East Jetty Park and Pier, Camero, LA

2. In your book, The Louisiana Coast: Guide to an American Wetland, you describe the coast as a "place of interaction among land, people, and ideas." Can you tell us more about this connection between the land and local people? Why is this connection unique to the Louisiana coast?

"People are an integral part of the Louisiana coastal environment. Generations of families of many ethnicities have adapted to the opportunities and challenges of the region, which include a long growing season, bountiful fishery, and location along the Mississippi and central flyways, as well as threats from hurricanes, storm surges, flooding and insects. Louisiana coastal culture reflects these adaptations in its architecture, food ways, wetland and wildlife management, commercial and recreational activities and attitude toward life. According to 2007 U.S. Census estimates, approximately 47% of Louisiana’s population lives in the state’s coastal parishes. There is a strong emotional attachment and sense of identity associated with living in or near the coast and using its resources. People here feel we are part of the coast, and it is part of us."

3. Over many years, hurricane damage, erosion, human land development, and the byproducts of oil exploration have taken their toll on the coast. What are the specific, long-term implications of the recent BP oil spill with which you are most concerned?

"I’m concerned about the presence and effects of both oil and toxic dispersants in our wetlands, on our beaches, and in our marine environment. All these habitats are interconnected; foul one habitat and the others will also be affected. I fear the contaminants will have long-lasting effects on our fisheries and of course on the entire food web. I’m also wondering how the presence of oil will affect water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico. If the presence of oil results in higher water temperature, this could cause hurricanes to intensify as they pass over the warmer area. I recall how rapidly Hurricane Katrina strengthened to a category 5 storm as it passed over a warm water eddy west of Florida in 2005. On the subject of hurricanes, I’m concerned that a hurricane and storm surge crossing oil-impacted wetlands will both convey oil further into fragile wetland areas and cause land loss where wetland plants have already succumbed to the suffocating effects of the oil."

Photo courtesy of Gay Gomez. Shrimp boat and the Gulf of Mexico shoreline at Holly Beach, LA.

4. You also discuss coastal restoration at length, in your book. The environmental devastation associated with this spill seems to be massive and widespread, with broad implications. What can individuals do now to aid both in recovery from the spill and long-term restoration?

"Individuals can stay informed about the spill and can learn about its impacts on coastal wetlands by exploring sites like the coalition to restore coastal Louisiana,, and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Becoming informed about and supporting coastal restoration, and urging your U.S. congressmen and senators to do likewise, will also help. One way you can support the gulf coast seafood harvesters and businesses is by refusing to buy imported shrimp, crabs and oysters; don’t let the spill be an opportunity for foreign competitors to steal the market from domestic producers and suppliers. In addition, people might want to help by coming to the gulf coast and directly patronizing businesses impacted by the spill. There is much to see and do, even if fishing and swimming are currently unavailable in some areas."

5. Tourism will, no doubt, be affected by the spill. Will it be safe for families to visit the coast this summer? If so, what are some of your favorite, must-see spots?

"I believe tourism is still a possibility, especially eco-tourism. It is still possible to visit many wildlife refuges and coastal communities. Some of my favorite spots in Louisiana are the Creole Nature Trail in Cameron Parish, Grand Isle in Jefferson Parish, and the Louisiana Great Gulf Coast Birding Trail, which stretches across the state’s entire coast region. My book, The Louisiana Coast: Guide to an American Wetland, has information on these and other locations.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Huffington Post names Texas Review Press one of 15 'feisty small presses'

Huffington Post released this article late last week naming Texas Review Press of Sam Houston State University one of the top fifteen feisty small presses. Featured in the paragraph below, was Richard Burgin's new novel, Rivers Last Longer.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Guest Blogger: Gay Gomez, Associate Professor of Geography at McNeese State University

As published in the Baton Rouge Business Report Letters to the Editor section June 15:


From my home 30 miles from the Gulf of Mexico I feel the moist air the south wind carries from the southwest Louisiana coast. There is no odor of petroleum yet, but that may be present soon, since the oil continues to gush from the punctured sea floor, and the prevailing current along the northern shores of the Gulf flows from east to west. This was, of course, what carried the Mississippi River’s voluminous sediment to Louisiana’s shores and built the state’s vast coastal wetlands during most of the past seven thousand years, before humans intervened by building tall levees along the river’s banks. The levees have served the state’s and the country’s economic interests well, as have the thousands of miles of canals and pipelines and the myriad oil and gas operations that are as much a part of this coastal region as are its shrimpers, fishermen, and hunters. As the Gulf oil spill disaster has at last forced us to realize, however, everyone—from our national leaders to oil company executives to wildlife harvesters to seafood eaters—has a common interest in a healthy coastal and marine environment.

Damage lands and waters, and there will be damage to economies and cultures. Countless events throughout the U.S. and the world during past decades have proclaimed this message, but governmental decision makers and corporate executives have rarely given the message a hearing, much less acted as though they understood the correlation. Instead, a myopic focus on and prioritization of economic gain trumps restraint, caution, and defense of environmental quality. As BP’s spill-related expenditures climb, as federal aid packages for beleaguered coastal fisheries and tourist operations multiply, and as Louisiana’s already threatened coastal wetlands endure contamination from oil and chemical dispersants, isn’t the message clear? The environment IS the economy. It is time for people everywhere to absorb this fundamental lesson and to act accordingly.

Restoring environmental quality and economic strength in the Louisiana coastal region will be a long and difficult process. Everyone can help by learning about and supporting the state’s coastal restoration efforts, and by urging their U.S. senators and representatives to do likewise. Visit the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana’s site,, to read about the issue or to volunteer to help with the recovery. Also consider supporting Gulf Coast seafood businesses by refusing to buy imported shrimp, crabs, and oysters; let’s not let this disaster allow foreign competitors to steal the market away from U.S. harvesters and suppliers. Finally, BP must pay the full price for the disaster its negligence and greed have caused to our intertwined environment, economy, and culture. BP should pay off the mortgages of every affected seafood harvester, seafood business owner, and tourist operator in the spill-affected areas of the Gulf Coast, as well as provide funding to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries for restoration of the state’s coastal resources and livelihoods. Having “fouled the nest,” the least the oil giant can do is to leave resource users with the “nest egg” that could allow them to remain in the region and facilitate its recovery.

Gay Gomez

Associate Professor of Geography, McNeese State University, Lake Charles, Louisiana

Author of The Louisiana Coast: Guide to an American Wetland and A Wetland Biography: Seasons on Louisiana’s Chenier Plain

Thursday, July 1, 2010

'Sea Monster' fossil found

An article on CNN notes the recent discovery of the fossilized teeth of the "Leviathan Melvillei." The teeth were recently found in fossils in the Pisco-Ica desert in coastal Peru. Originally thought to be elephant tusks because of their size, the teeth indicate that these sea monsters fed on large prey like baleen whales. At about the size of three modern day killer whales, the reason for their extinction is unknown but as they were top predators, only few thrived at any given time.

In The Archaeology of Animal Bones, Terry O'Connor analyzes bone composition and the archaeological evidence left by the processes of life, death and decomposition. Tim Tokaryk, a Canadian Field Naturalist, said the book "proves to be a useful guide not only for zooarchaeologists and event paleontologists alike, but for mainstream archaeologists as well."More information on O'Connor's work can be found here, or purchased on Amazon.

This rare archaeological find will be detailed in the scientific journal Nature, published today.