News: Respect for nature: Protecting fairy shrimp
Story by Lance Cpl. Kevin Crist
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. – While home to hundreds of Marines and sailors responsible for the protection of the nation, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., is also home to one species in need of protection.
The San Diego fairy shrimp is a species of fresh water shrimp that lives in temporary, or vernal, pools during the summer and the winter. When fully grown, fairy shrimp are approximately the size of a finger nail or tadpole and have an average lifespan of three to four weeks.
According to http://albanypinebush.org, fairy shrimp eat many small foods, from algae to microorganisms and serve as a sign of a vernal pool’s presence and health. So if one day there are no longer any fairy shrimp, it may be a sign of pollution.
San Diego fairy shrimp were federally listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1994.
“When an endangered species is listed, their habitat cannot be impacted unless there is a biological plan to create a new basin,” said Charles Black, an environmental biologist with environmental office aboard Miramar. “It’s very expensive - just a few hundred square feet could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
If damage is caused, a new habitat must be created with soil salvaged from the impacted basin and eggs must be collected to populate the new area. Then it has to be monitored for five years, he said.
“For an endangered species, fairy shrimp exist in very large numbers,” said Black. “I’ve seen basins that have a population of two million fairy shrimp. I sampled all of the vernal pools around Miramar a few years ago and determined there are two or three billion fairy shrimp. If something came along and wiped out their habitat, huge numbers would be lost.”
The fairy shrimp’s reproductive strategy is to start fast and lay eggs at the beginning of the season, so if predators build up or there is dry weather the eggs are already laid for the next year.
“Fairy shrimp eggs last a very long time,” said Black. “People have taken soil off a laboratory shelf that they knew was collected a hundred years prior and eggs from the soil still hatched fine. If there is a ten year drought, when it ends and there is finally some water they should hatch and be fine.”
“Probably the biggest thing someone can do to help with fairy shrimp is to drive around [the vernal pools],” said Black. “Someone can drive through them when they’re dry and they will not be impacted. The biggest problem is that people start taking shortcuts through dirt and will drive through a vernal pool which can cause a lot of damage to their habitat.”
When this happens, the environmental office must call the official wildlife service, which works to mitigate the damage from happening again.
These unique creatures come once or twice a year for a short amount of time and can be protected by simply respecting nature and going around puddles they dwell in.