FERN’s Friday Feed: Shutting off the spigot

Welcome to FERN’s Friday Feed (#FFF), where we share the stories from this week that made us stop and think.

The oceans are missing their rivers


“In a rhythm that’s pulsed through epochs, a river’s plume carries sediment and nutrients from the continental interior into the ocean, a major exchange of resources from land to sea,” writes Erica Gies. “More than 6,000 rivers worldwide surge freshwater into oceans, delivering nutrients, including nitrogen and phosphorus, that feed phytoplankton, generating a bloom of life that in turn feeds progressively larger creatures. They may even influence ocean currents in ways researchers are just starting to understand. But today, in rivers around the world, humans are altering this critical phenomenon.”

How mangos became hallowed objects in Maoist China

Aeon (video)

Mao’s Mango Cult provides a fascinating slice of the history of China’s Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s. The short chronicles the peculiar story of how mangoes became a venerated item in the country after Mao Zedong regifted a box of the titular fruits to factory workers. Eventually, mangoes grew in the public imagination to become a symbol of Mao’s affection for and generosity towards the working class, and even resulted in a death sentence for a man who dared to publicly disrespect the fruit.”

Why manta rays are chopped up in Sri Lanka

The Guardian

“Dried gill plates are indeed often sold in medicine and dried seafood markets across east Asia, but are not used in traditional Chinese medicine. The growing demand for ray gill plates stems from market vendors using them to make soup that they tout a remedy for various health issues,” writes Zinara Rathnayake. “The conservation charity Manta Trust calls these gill-plate concoctions ‘a pseudo-remedy’ that has ‘no basis in medical science.’ The demand for gill plates has generated a sprawling cottage industry. Small-scale fisheries across Sri Lanka kill manta and devil rays … including endangered and vulnerable species, just to export their gill plates.”

A writer reconnects with the natural world via an apiary

Texas Highways

“At first glance, the inside of a beehive is chaos. Each hive box contains removable frames, which a beekeeper can pull out to inspect in order to verify the health of the hive. But bees build to their own designs, constructing bridges of wax between adjacent frames or gluing frames together with propolis—an anti-microbial paste made from plant resin that forms part of the immune defense of a colony. In the darkness of the hive, bees build their combs with just enough space between them to let two bees on adjacent frames pass each other,” writes Celia Bell. “I pulled a frame loose and some took flight, while others made hanging festoons at the bottom of the frame. The hum of the hive vibrated upward from the open box. For the first time since the pandemic started, I felt like I was fully present, as if some invisible screen separating me from the world had been removed.”

Native fishing culture on the Columbia River

High Country News (audio/slideshow)

“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built the [Dalles] dam in 1957, drowning nearby Celilo Falls — one of the Pacific Northwest’s most important spots for fishing and commerce — and driving away most of the Indigenous population,” writes B. ‘Toastie’ Oaster. “Only a few communities remained at the treaty fishing sites on the riverbanks … One of them is the Lone Pine community, near The Dalles, Oregon. Lew George, a longtime resident, is a tribal fisherman … George described his village as ‘the Fourth World,’ meaning it falls short of even Third World conditions … the people live in trailers and have to share a single bathroom, relying on bottled drinking water and whatever precious salmon the river continues to provide.”