Protect estuaries, marshes, oyster beds

Published 3:59 pm Friday, July 23, 2010

Dear editor,

Estuaries, salt marshes and oyster beds are a sacred and delicate part of the ecosystem. For many species, their life journey begins in an estuary or a marsh. These wetlands are a Garden of Eden in which a large amount of marine animals start their life. This is what makes them so crucial to protect. During spawning season, numerous fish lay their eggs in the estuaries so that the eggs during gestation and juvenile stages will be away from most predators. However, eggs are mostly lipids, which will dissolve when in contact with oil. This is why Gov. Bob Riley wants to fill in Katrina Cut on Dauphin Island.

Some may think that putting $15 million man-made wall up to fill in Katrina Cut is a waste and pointless. Yes, it is true that the island was already splitting apart even before Hurricane Katrina, but the government is stepping in to help save our precious estuaries, salt marshes and oyster beds. However bad it is that the oil is spilling into one of the world’s greatest fisheries it will eventually flush out. It may take several years and a couple of hurricanes to dilute the oil, but it will clean up and fisheries will be replenished eventually. However, the effects of oil getting into estuaries and marshes will devastate several species, possibly killing out a couple of important ones. If oyster beds are impacted, not only will commercial oystering go down for decades, but so will other species of invertebrates (starfish, crabs, etc.) and fish that feed on oysters. We might even see an extinction of any species that inhabit estuaries.

Not only is this devastating to the ecosystem, it affects people as well. Fishing businesses will go out. Oyster restaurants that have been in business for decades will close. More unemployment will rise. Roughly 75 percent of our oxygen that we breathe comes from the marine plants. If the marine plants get covered in oil, they will not photosynthesize, thereby, not give off as much oxygen. If we do not get the oxygen we need, we will face illness problems.

Having this background, we need to do all we can to protect our precious estuaries, salt marches, deltas and oyster beds. There is no perfect plan for this tragic oil spill, but we do what we can. Dauphin Island and all the other islands to the west are barrier islands that are God’s natural protectors for these delicate area; and since Hurricane Katrina sliced Dauphin Island in half and left over a mile-long gap that’s about five feet deep, a significant amount of oil can get in these areas, especially with hurricanes helping to push the oil through.

The marshlands and estuaries around Katrina Cut are most vulnerable because they have been trying to reach a new steady state since the cut from 2005. Anymore damage and the surrounding areas will not last. It is for these reasons that we should support Gov. Bob Riley in his project to wall-up Katrina Cut.

Kayla Austin

Clanton, AL