By Kirby, David

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But one afternoon in the 1940s, that dreamy world came to an end. Rick’s mother took her six-year-old by the hand and led him down to the water’s edge. She pointed to a new housing development built upstream. When those people flushed their toilets, she said, it went right into the creek. “You can’t swim here anymore, Rick,” she sighed, kissing his forehead. The six-year-old frowned at the prospect of swimless summers to come. Then his face lit up. “Don’t worry, Mom! It’s okay,” Rick said. ” Many years later, he would remember that day as his start as an environmentalist.

Rick wondered if this phantom protozoan might be connected to the massacre on the Neuse. He read on: “A worldwide increase in toxic phytoplankton blooms over the past twenty years has coincided with increasing reports of fish diseases and deaths of unknown cause. ” Suspect identified, Rick thought. The term “dinoflagellates” describes a large group of common plankton with plantlike features, including the ability to photosynthesize. But they can also take on animal-like characteristics, including the ability to move around at will.

Typically, early fall marks the largest migration of the menhaden, a small, tender-fleshed silvery fish with a line of black dots along its flank. Menhaden lay their larvae in the open ocean, which are then washed into the Neuse Estuary, where the fish hatch. From there, young menhaden migrate up to the river basin’s shady creeks and backwaters, where they spend the next several months feeding and growing. Most reassemble in September to swim back out to sea, where they live, spawn, and die. For small fry, they are unfathomably fertile: One mature female can produce over 350,000 offspring.

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Animal Factory by Kirby, David

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