Slime, Shorebirds, and a Scientific Mystery
Publisher: Dissident Voice
Date Written: 19/11/2016
Year Published: 2016
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX20229
Examining the impact of large developments near the Fraser River estuary in British Columbia on migrating populations of shorebirds, which have been found to depend on a biofilm in the area to sustain their long flights.
The big unspoken question hanging over these mudflats is how long the sandpipers and other shorebirds will continue to stop on the Fraser River estuary and fuel up, before flying onward. Beyond Elner, as he struggles to maintain his balance on the treacherous mud, rise the silhouetted loading cranes of Deltaport, which lies at the end of a causeway jutting into the Strait of Georgia. Trainloads of coal (bound for Asia, Europe, and South America) and containers of manufactured goods (bound for Canada) arrive there every hour, 364 days of the year. Now the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority is proposing to double the container capacity of this facility by building nearby an entirely new island, called Roberts Bank Terminal 2, at a cost of more than CAN $2-billion.
Beninger shifted the microscope to 1,000-times magnification. There embedded in the bristles were tiny, single-celled algae called diatoms. With silica-glass cell walls, diatoms are crystalline, almost jewel-like, and plentiful beyond number. More importantly, they are carbohydrate-rich and therefore essential to marine ecosystems. They provide energy and vital nutrients for zooplankton and in turn - moving up the food chain -- for as much as half of all ocean life. "This was our eureka moment. We couldn't believe it," says Elner. "The sandpipers appeared to be eating diatom-rich biofilm."