The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

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American Alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) paint art for the Aquarium's fall fundraising auction.An American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) paints art for the fall fundraising auction for the Tennessee Aquarium. The auction runs through Sept. 26.  Tennessee Aquarium

Wildlife masterpieces mark an artistic autumnal fundraiser for the Tennessee Aquarium

CHATTANOOGA — While getting ready to tackle his next artistic masterpiece at the Tennessee Aquarium, Avior the red-ruffed lemur likes to take a few steps to center himself: languid naps in the sunshine, delicate nibbles of romaine lettuce, a resounding howl to focus his energy. 

Only after these rituals are complete can this master of composition — a true “Lemur-nardo” da Vinci — begin putting paw and tail to canvas to create his next opus. 

Avior’s latest triumph — made using non-toxic, animal-friendly tempura paint, naturally — is a 16-by-20-inch piece created in collaboration with his fellow lemurs and social media star Atlanta-based artist Andrea Nelson (TikTok video). Avior and Nelson’s masterwork is one of more than two dozen pieces of art made by aquarium animals now up for bid during the Tennessee Aquarium’s online fall fundraising auction. The auction will conclude at noon on Monday, Sept. 26.

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Bales Freshwater jellyfish

Freshwater jellyfish: Here one year, gone the next.

KNOXVILLE — Paddling along the still water of Mead’s Quarry Lake you notice the air bubbles created by your oars. They are all around your canoe near the surface.

It’s a hot early September afternoon and the nearly transparent bubbles seem to take on a life of their own. You slow to watch and yes, they undulate, rising and falling in the pristine water of the abandoned marble quarry.

Air bubbles do not undulate!

Taking a clear plastic cup, you lean over the gunwale and scoop up one of the penny-sized bubbles to get a closer look.

Tentacles? Air bubbles do not have tentacles. What you are looking at is a freshwater jellyfish and the heat of late summer is its mating season. It’s a blossom of jellyfish as hundreds gather together near the water’s surface. They are commonly known as peach blossom jellyfish

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Crimper on Sequatchie Valley FarmA crimper is attached to the back of a tractor on a farm in the Sequatchie River Valley. A relatively recent agricultural technique, crimping has been shown to reduce farmers’ input costs and improve soil quality. Recently, USDA approved funneling $10 million into a six-county region of Southeast Tennessee. This money will fuel conservation-minded improvements for landowners, including lowering the cost to rent equipment like crimpers and subsidize the planting of cover crops to improve soil health and reduce sedimentation in nearby streams.  Tennessee Aquarium
 

Targeted collaborative conservation will help local agricultural operations improve soil and water quality and protect aquatic life

CHATTANOOGA Tennessee is as much a patchwork quilt of farms as it is an intricately woven lacework of streams and rivers. Soon, farmers and the aquatic life living alongside them will reap the benefits of $10 million in federal funds to support water-friendly agricultural improvements in the rolling uplands of the state’s southeastern corner.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved the allocation of more than $197 million to support Regional Conservation Partnership Programs (RCPP) throughout the nation. These initiatives promote coordination between USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and partnering organizations that are already engaged in conservation efforts.

Among USDA’s list of 41 approved projects this year is a five-year allocation of $10 million — $2 million per year — to fuel the “Ridges to Rivers” program, an RCPP focused on agricultural improvements in a six-county region spanning the Sequatchie River Valley and Walden Ridge. This federal funding matches $11.8 million already being invested in the region by more than a dozen local partnering organizations that applied to receive this funding.

Published in News, Earth, Water
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Chilean purse seineA purse seine on a Chilean fishing vessel captures tons of mackerel. NOAA

We need to navigate to where fish sticks in your mind

You can read Coty Perry’s full report on overfishing at YourBassGuy.com.

When you hear about sustainability, one thing that often flies under the finder is the topic of overfishing. Many will say that overfishing is a natural response to the need for more fish, but it runs much deeper than that.

The goal of this article is not to shame any specific industry, country or company. The goal is to shine light on an issue I believe is highly under-reported by mainstream media.

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An empty Circle Park as trees bloom on April 02, 2020. Photo by Steven Bridges/University of TennesseeAn empty Circle Park is seen in April. The park is adjacent to the UT School of Journalism and Electronic Media. Steven Bridges/University of Tennessee

Everybody has a story about the natural environment. Look around, and into yourself.

University of Tennessee journalism professor Mark Littmann asks students in his environmental writing class every semester to write short sketches about environmental issues they may observe during any given day. Such an assignment requires an almost poetical approach. Here's a sampling from spring semester.

A reef of bones

Huge schools of rainbow-colored fish weave through the brightly colored corals as Sir David Attenborough describes a day in the life of a fish on the television screen. A little girl is mesmerized; this is no Disney fantasy but real life. The nature shows on Animal Planet capture her imagination and soon mornings and afternoons are spent watching big cats and meerkats navigate the wild spaces they call home. She finds an instant favorite in the book “The Rainbow Fish” and celebrates turning four with a sparkly rainbow fish cake, hand decorated with sprees for rainbow scales. She insists someday she will swim among the fish in their magical undersea world. 

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ky floodsHeavy flooding is seen in eastern Kentucky this weekend. State of Kentucky/Office of Gov. Andy Beshear

Another round of severe flooding hits the Southern Appalachian region

UPDATED: The death toll from last week’s unprecedented flooding in Kentucky reached at least 29, as some areas contended with additional flooding over the weekend. Fifteen of those, including four children, died in Knott County, which is about 100 miles north of Kingsport.

Water service to nearly 67,000 connections has been affected, as well as 17 wastewater-treatment systems in eastern Kentucky, according to Gov. Andy Beshear’s office. 

“We are currently experiencing one of the worst, most devastating flooding events in Kentucky’s history. The situation is dynamic and ongoing,” Beshear said in a statement.

“What we are going to see coming out of this is massive property damage and we expect loss of life. Hundreds will lose their homes. And this will be yet another event that will take not months, but years, for our families to rebuild and recover from.”

Published in News, Water
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Newly hatched Shorttail Nurse Shark pups (Pseudoginglymostoma brevicaudatum) at the Tennessee Aquarium.Tennessee Aquarium
 

Tennessee Aquarium hatches endangered shark species

CHATTANOOGA — The Tennessee Aquarium reached a significant milestone just in time for Shark Week with the recent hatching of three critically endangered short-tail nurse shark pups. 

The diminutive youngsters, which hatched July 7, are the product of three adult short-tail nurse sharks — one male and two females — which arrived at the aquarium along with eight juveniles and eight fertilized eggs from a facility in Canada last year.

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7.13.22 Porters Creek Road washoutA washout is seen along Porters Creek Road in Great Smoky Mountains National Park following torrential rain on July 12. National Park Service

Flooding causes Smokies damage, prompts water advisory for Sevierville 

SEVIERVILLE — Extremely heavy rain on July 12 in the Smoky Mountains caused a cascade of problems now just coming to light.

Sevierville and Sevier County issued a boil-water advisory early Thursday after debris flushed by Tuesday’s floodwaters clogged the city water utility’s main intake on the French Broad River, leading to pressure decreases that opened up lines to possible outside contamination.

In Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Greenbrier campground was closed indefinitely after the swollen Middle Prong of the Little Pigeon River wiped out roads, trails and bridges in the area.

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Georgia’s Ocmulgee River is a case study in the decline of Southern river fisheries, and their revival

Ethan Hatchett is a writer for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

MACON — The Ocmulgee River has changed. The cloudy water once ran clear. The sandy bottom was once rocky. Fish swam upriver to breed from places as distant as the Altamaha River, which the Ocmulgee and Oconee rivers join to form near Lumber City and the Atlantic Ocean.

European settlement changed the river. Centuries of agriculture and development stripped away much of the land’s vegetation that filtered the flow, causing the Ocmulgee to fill with sediment. The soil particles gradually moved through the waterway, covering gravel that fish spawned in, smothering fishes’ eggs, mucking up the water and even building up on the banks, saturating the ground with sediment.

It is impossible to know how many freshwater fish the Ocmulgee lost since the first Europeans arrived. Many species disappeared without being discovered. Yet on a clear afternoon in May, DNR aquatics biologist Paula Marcinek led a team on the upper Ocmulgee in search of robust redhorse, a “lost” fish found in 1991.

Read DNR’s blog post about efforts to restore the robust redhorse, plus news of a new grant that will expand the work and rare video of these fish spawning.

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Reintroduction Assistant Kaylee Clayton, left, Jim Hill Fellow for Conservation Anthony Hernandez, center, and Reintroduction Biologist Teresa Israel cross a stream during a Southern Appalachian Brook Trout release.Reintroduction Assistant Kaylee Clayton, left, Jim Hill Fellow for Conservation Anthony Hernandez, center, and Reintroduction Biologist Teresa Israel cross a stream during a Southern Appalachian brook trout release. Tennessee Aquarium

Emblematic brook trout get a second chance at home in Southern Appalachian streams

Casey Phillips is a writer for the Tennessee Aquarium.

CHATTANOOGA — A team from the Tennessee Aquarium, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and Trout Unlimited hiked along — and occasionally waded through — a pristine tributary of South Fork Citico Creek in Cherokee National Forest. 

 Navigating an obstacle course of tangled mountain laurel branches and moss-slickened boulders in late May, the team followed the stream as it gently descended through the Appalachian uplands. When a calm pool or shaded rocky overhang presented itself, they paused to dip their nets into five-gallon buckets filled with wriggling juvenile Southern Appalachian brook trout.

These little fish, raised to about two inches over six months, were the focus of more than six months of work at the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute and the impetus for the hours-long trek into the East Tennessee woods.

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