Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

Weekly blog-about -- Man-Made Islands Are the Bomb; Don’t Sneeze at Tent Caterpillars

Man-Made Islands Are the Bomb; Don’t Sneeze at Tent Caterpillars

Photo by: Jack Reynolds

MAN-MADE ISLANDS ROCK: I was reading a pie-in-the-sky suggestion that artificial storm islands (my term) could be built off Jersey. Somewhat surprisingly, I have no problem with those artificial islands off N.J., providing they’re located in the vicinity of Barbados. Hey, nobody specified to me just how far off Jersey they might go. Having them down in the Caribbean would be a boon to storm preparation. You know how hard it can be to get folks to leave the Island as a storm moves in? Not if we have magical artificial storm islands in the Caribbean to turn to.

“Holy crap! A storm is heading our way. Everybody stay calm and get ready to head for our artificial islands!”

“But, Jay, it’s just a little thunderstorm, way off in the distance.”

“Oh, sure. First it’s just a little thunderstorm, then, just like that, we’re getting annihilated by a full-blown cyclone. I say it’s positively time to head back to the islands – and don’t forget the frickin’ ice this time!”

To allay your artificial island fears, I can virtually assure one and all that no manmade islands will be built off Jersey, at least not within the current geological period. However, I will acknowledge that we came very close to having an s-load of concrete reefs built atop our state’s sandbars.

Not that many years back, the state openly pondered placing concrete structures just seaward of erosion-inclined beach zones. It even reached the in-water experimentation phase, with a couple prototypes being placed down in Cape May County. I wrote about those manmade buggers but never followed up on how they fared against our decidedly anti-concrete coastal storm systems.

Of course, a couple concrete reefs are a long way from elaborate manmade storm islands, though such instant islandizing can surely be done.  If money were no matter – and surfers were disarmed – the Army Corps could easily design and place just such prefab storm islands, fully capable of knocking shore-eating waves down to poetic ripples.

How can I be so sure? Well, it so happens I’m real close to the king of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum – “Al” to those of us close to him on Facebook. As you likely know, Dubai Al has been building an entire “water world” from scratch, using just sand to make massive islands shaped like every known continent. Although his solid-gold housing project is now $80 billion in arrears, he could surely offer some pointers not only on building  storm islands off Jersey, but also how to shape them into, say, pine barrens tree frogs, or, more appropriately, giant saltmarsh mosquitoes. Those shapes are my idea. Cool, huh? Imagine loading a little boat with fishing rods and surfboards, then zipping out to “The Mosquito.” Come to think of it, I’m suddenly only half joking. That really might be super cool. Maybe we shouldn’t be overly hasty about panning those party islands – I mean storm islands.

NUCLEAR FOAM: This is a perfect segue into some fully freaky LBI near history. Back in the early 1970s, plans were underway to place a floating nuclear power plant within 2 miles of Little Egg Inlet. Locally proposed by the Public Service Electric and Gas Company, it was to be called the Great Atlantic Nuclear Power Plant. (OK, so maybe I added that “Great” part.)

The Jersey Shore in-water nuke plant would highlight something dubbed Offshore Power Systems, bankrolled by Tenneco and Westinghouse. The systems would foster 10 such nuclear power plants along the Eastern Seaboard. What could possibly go wrong?

I have a highly collectible, original copy of the actual draft for that generating station – which clearly includes the building of artificial storm islands.  Déjà vu, dude.

Per draft plan literature, “The islands themselves and the massive concrete breakwaters would be built in a factory on Blount Island, near Jacksonville, Florida, and would then be floated by ship to the plant site.” In fact, the generating plant itself was to be built in Jacksonville, then “floated” up to Jersey.

Just to show how close that rolling reactor was to a go, a $1.1 billion contract to build the plant was signed at sea, atop a luxury yacht anchored just off the New Jersey coast. What’s more, PSE&G rush-ordered four Westinghouse megawatt reactors between 1972 and 1973.  Those reactors were literally ready to roll out to sea, so to speak. The start-up date was circa 1985.

What stopped this utterly brilliant nuclear venture? Money and mayhem. Power company bean counters eventually surmised it would take at least 25 years of uninterrupted plant service to cover just the startup expenses – much less any storm-related expenses. The mayhem came from budding anti-nuke environmental groups, which had total meltdowns after brooding over radioactive material sitting, target-like, in the ocean – not to mention the merciless amount of pure ocean water that would be needed to cool the plants.

So, now I sit here looking at an artist’s rendering of the proposed nuclear reactor off Holgate – and thank the glowing orbs above that it was financially infeasible and publicly panned. Can you imagine what might have washed ashore after Sandy had the Great Atlantic Nuclear Power Plant been a-sway out there?

DON’T SNEEZE AT CATERPILLARS: Maybe if I simply write about spring-y things, it’ll urge something resembling warmth to caterpillar its way toward us. Speaking of springtime caterpillars, I was forwarded one of those “Ain’t that the damnedest thing?” things, regarding likely the most visual caterpillar in North American, the tent caterpillar.

Last week, I was on the soft side of spiders. This week, I’m doubly so in defense of tent caterpillars.

As kids, we’d go stick-happy on tent caterpillars, poking open their “nests,” and sending the wiggly buggers flying left and right. To this day, the high-profile multi-leggers are hardly held in high esteem. Who could ever guess that such lowly moths-to-be would crawl to the fore in the fight against influenza?

No, you didn’t. In fact, odds are you’re among the legion of gardeners and weekend backyard warriors willing to go to the heights of toxicity to vanish tent caterpillars, convinced they’re killing your precious little nonindigenous trees.

First, tent caterpillars do not kill trees. They wing them at very worst. Any leaves they gnaw are meaningless to the overall well-being of the trees. For the minor battle scars the leaves suffer, dozens of wildlife forms, particularly birds, get to dine mightily on juicy, protein-packed caterpillars. In fact, it is not easy being a tent caterpillar. Once it’s out of its silk cathedral, even larger mammals cash in on its mealiness.

But back to the connection between tent caterpillars and flu vaccines. Turns out that the next great medical push to outdo ever-morphing influenza viruses is caterpillar-based. Gospel truth.

A push is being made to speed up the process of brewing flu vaccines, while increasing the ability to quickly change vaccines, as flu viruses morph. And out of the blue crawls our unbeloved tent caterpillar. Through whatever quirk of nature assigns aftermarket traits to some of the least likely life forms, these overly common caterpillars have cells that make chicken eggs pale by comparison.

How did chicken eggs suddenly roll on-scene? Until now, chicken egg embryos have been from whence anti-flu antibodies were developed in labs. The problem is the egg-yolk growing method is slow, taking over six months to brew new vaccine ingredients – and utilizes literally millions of eggs, to boot. Growing the same essential vaccine ingredients inside caterpillar cells reduces the timeframe by many months – and frees more eggs for omelet-type usages.

One of the movers of the new vaccine-developing technique is Jose Romero, chief of pediatric diseases at Arkansas Children’s Hospital.

“This type of technology is going to move traditional influenza vaccinology into the 21st century,” says Romero. “We recognize that there may come a day when a (flu) strain does arrive that cannot be supported by growth in traditional egg-based technology, and this and other cell-based technologies can breach that problem and provide us with another avenue for developing vaccines.”

The next flu vaccine might well be thanks to caterpillars – thank you very much.

So, as tent caterpillars start to show this spring, give ’em a break, based on their contributions to both mankind and wildlife.

HOLGATE FADEAWAY: The Edwin B. Forsythe Holgate Wilderness Area has been humanly and humanely closed for the summer. Birds of threatened and endangered feathers are moving into the undeveloped sands of the far south end. Alarmingly, I’m using the words “sands” all too literally. One-third of the Holgate Wilderness Area is now merely a highly exposed, sandy wasteland of sorts. Hey, it looks mighty wasted to many of us who recall heavily vegetated, verdant, maritime shrublands thriving there as recently as 10 years back.

Face it, the plants and now the sands of Holgate are dying away. Not only are the first 7,500 feet of the refuge area denuded of vegetation, but the die-off of vegetation is continuing at an obviously accelerated rate. In one year, post-Sandy, the dead zone (my expression for areas of no vegetation) has quadrupled in length. And I closely watch such things. This is the first time in the south end’s written history that Holgate is simply vanishing into nothingness, not unlike long-gone Tucker’s Island.

I’ll be the first to admit the eat-away is due to the unique set-up of bulkheaded human development to the north and the uncontested barrier island westward migration of the “natural” south end. Still, it’s going fast, regardless of an earthly explanation.

As of this week, there is little more than a shelly, sandy stretch – less than 100 yards across – twixt bayside and oceanside. Anyone worth their dunes knows this is not a good thing. When bays and oceans meet, it’s called a breach. Also a very not-good thing.

Possibly more disturbing is the north/south die-off of plant life. I actually don’t have a worthy explanation for that cancerous condition, short of excessive saltwater intrusion. Sure, the plants that thrived thereabouts had some resistance to salinity, but relentless saltwater can be survived only by mangroves. The planet may be warming, but we’re not suited for mangroves just yet.

As Holgate fades from view, how does one not ponder the refuge’s unshakable stance that there can be absolutely no efforts to save it – since it’s a “wilderness area” and, I assume, unsaveable, or something along equally irrational lines.

My read is likely just as irrational, namely, it does neither wildlife nor LBI’s humans any good to have Holgate erode away to nonexistence. I was duly advised by a former refuge manager that the refuge is proud of having sensitivity to the human community in which it resides. I wonder: When Holgate is reduced to little more than a disappearing island off the south tip of LBI, won’t the homes adjacent to the north end of the refuge be left wide open to rapid erosion? In the end, the wildlife will be out a home and the humans might also be out homes.

It’s now all a waiting game. By fall, I fear Holgate might very well be reduced to Halfgate – and fading fast.

NORTH JETTY READ: The work to repair and modify the North Jetty will begin in a couple weeks. (See related story in this issue.) The so-called “safety zone” includes every square inch of the inlet between the North and South jetties. Work will carry on until at least November.

It would be great if the project humbly abides by said schedule. Perish the thought. There’s a little thing called weather, which doesn’t give a squid’s patoot about no stinkin’ schedule. The two most troubling sky times will be the remainder of this already testy springtime and the always-spooky early fall (tropical) season.

Also a-bother will be any submerged snafus. I’ll bet anything the North Jetty has some surprises up its rocky sleeve.

The inlet’s currents, as wild and wooly as anywhere along the coast, will also surely have something to say about the project infringing on its free flow. I’ve fished near the North Jetty a lot. During astronomically nasty tides, the water movement is ferocious, possibly more than the contractor has planned upon.

I’ve heard from anglers and naturalists wondering about the project’s potential impacts on the plethora of marine life that lives thereabouts, especially the already strained blackfish biomass.

The North Jetty is some of the most prime tog terrain in the state. But will they truly suffer at the hands of arriving heavy equipment? Nah. Tautog are definitely not wimps; they’re more like scaly bulldogs. Sure, they’ll get spooked off their beloved North Jetty summer haunts. They’ll then scoot to new – and likely nearby – rocks. No biggy.

At the same time, it will be crushingly hard times for any in-place benthic life anchored within the existing jetty rocks. Many a mussel, along with more than a few crabs, will meet their maker. Still, when the project is done, there will be more hard structure than has ever been available to North Jetty rock life.

Might the fishing be better on the South Jetty this summer, across from the work? Sure, why not? That might be particularly apparent with striped bass, which will also bolt from the North Jetty impact zone. Of course, stripers are famed for frolicking within impact zones, be it behind bottom trawls or near jetty modifications. Sadly, absolutely no fishing will be allowed in the thick of the work zone.

Don’t spread this too far, but it seems the stringent rules set down by the project’s higher-ups will be up for tweaking once the project gets underway. I see room for improving the forecasted single-lane boat traffic mandate. There could even be some in-inlet fluking drifts allowed. At first, let’s just play it by ear. Changes could come kinda quickly.

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