A Talk on the Wild Side.
|Jay Davis (brown, FWS jacket) and others pour runoff collected from Seattle highways into a large tank at Grovers Hatchery in 2012. Photo by Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission|
Jay Davis, a resource contaminant specialist in our Pacific Region, works with environmental toxics. Jay says he asks, “What does pollution do, what do contaminants do to fish and birds and other wildlife?”
Both Jay’s parents were in the pharmaceutical industry, and from them he learned that “if you take too much of anything you can kill yourself.” So maybe there is some toxicology in his blood.
But his undergraduate degree is in marine biology, and he says he spent a lot of time raising fish, shrimp and other aquatic organisms. “Every once in a while, you have this one tank that didn’t do well, and then you start to try to figure this out. Is the water quality not good enough or is there a particular contaminant, disease or pathogen causing a problem?”
What really made him say “Wow! I’m interested in pollution,” though, were large beachings or mass strandings of whales or dolphins. After strandings, he says, “oftentimes people will wonder if contaminants or pollution played a role in that.”
So he got his graduate degree in environmental toxicology to try to find out: “Is pollution causing enough harm that it could actually be affecting the fish or the whales?”
It can, however, be a hard career field, Jay says. “There are so many pollution problems out there and so many contaminants out there.” As an environmental toxicologist, Jay says, there is a temptation to just say: “Oh, this chemical’s bad and that chemical’s bad and this pollution’s bad.”
It’s much more rewarding – the best part of Jay’s job actually – to make a difference by finding a solution to a pollution problem. And that’s why I was chatting with Jay recently.
Storms and stormwater are nothing new, but they can be a big problem, because, as Jay says, “any time it rains, all the stuff (contaminants) that collects on the land and on the street washes into the creeks and into the rivers, and that causes a problem for our fish in those waters.”
Jay and other researchers have been taking a close look at stormwater runoff because it is killing coho salmon, a key species in the Pacific Northwest, and affecting invertebrates, which are food for young salmon.
Coho salmon are a huge deal in our Pacific Region. In addition to providing food for everything from bears to orca whales, salmon are important to freshwater food-webs, bringing marine-rich nutrients into streams, rivers, lakes and the surrounding forests. Pacific salmon also fuel a multi-billion dollar fishing industry, supporting tens of thousands of jobs and local economies and communities. Salmon have been the life-sustaining heart of many native cultures from California to Alaska for millennia; today, millions of people around the Pacific rely on salmon as a healthy and reliable protein source.
|Coho salmon. Photo by NOAA Fisheries|
In their recent study, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, the researchers used actual runoff from roads in Seattle, Washington, to test its effect on coho. While they have not yet determined “the exact chemical or mixture of chemicals that’s causing the problem,” what they did find is a simple solution to the problem.
Running the stormwater through a basic treatment system before it enters the creek or the river cleans the water “up so much that it doesn’t harm fish anymore.” The treatment system can be a rain garden or any of a number of soil-based techniques that let “the Earth do what it does so well, what it has done for eons: cleaning things up,” Julann Spromberg, a toxicologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and one of the researchers working with Jay, told The Seattle Times.
Work certainly remains. The researchers are seeing how stormwater affects other aquatic critters and what works best to neutralize the toxics.
The next treatment technique the team will look at is something called pervious pavement. When rain hits normal pavement, it has nowhere to go but run off the side and potentially become a problem. With pervious pavement, Jay says, “When the rain hits it, instead of it running off that surface into your grass or into your storm drain, it actually goes through your sidewalk or through your driveway and infiltrates into the ground the way nature intended.”
Jay’s right: There are an awful lot of toxics in the world that can harm fish, wildlife, plants, even the whole environment (people, too!). It’s reassuring that Jay Davis and other members of the Fish and Wildlife Service are out there finding ways to neutralize those harmful compounds.
-- Matt Trott, External Affairs