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by Larry

December, 2017

Alabama - America's Amazon

AL has been in the news a great deal of late, and it might be easy to get too narrow an impression of this state and region. Regardless of one's politics, AL actually has a lot going for it. My wife, Valerie, recalls neat visits to the beaches at historic Fort Morgan, located on the coast and at the tip of a peninsula where in prior conflicts it could offer protection to the big harbor at Mobile. I recall staying for interesting training sessions at Fort Rucker, the center for Army aviation. We both cross AL twice, of course, each time we take driving trips from TX to visit her mom in Ocala, FL.

Much of what makes AL intriguing, though, is not so readily apparent to those there for but short stays or merely reading the latest headlines. For instance, did you know coastal AL used to be high enough above sea level it was as if there were small mountains there next to the ocean? At the foot of these, 60,000 years ago great cypress forests grew near an ancient riverbed. The ocean level rose so quickly that some of these forests were buried, still rooted in their soil foundations. They were subsequently buried in mud and thus preserved from decomposition till, early this century, strong currents generated by a hurricane exposed still intact trees, now available for scientific investigation and yielding abundant information about the geology, climate, fauna, and flora there before humans arrived.

Yet the famous entomologist E.O. Wilson has described his home state as having other major and unique qualities for naturalists, calling it "America's Amazon," as noted in an Alabama Public Television film of the same name. Here, it is pointed out:

  • The Mobile-Tensaw Delta watershed encompasses thousands of tree covered acres and waterways and virtually the entire state of AL as well as some territory in adjacent states.

  • Its biodiversity is among the richest in the world.

  • Here may be found 18 turtle species, more than in the Amazon rainforest, within the Nile delta, in the Mekong environs, near the Yangtze, or in any other river system on the planet.

  • Here too are over 350 species of freshwater fish, about a third of all such fish in the country.

  • 82 species of crawfish make this their home, over twice as many as in LA, where crawdad gumbo is famous.

  • E. O. Wilson has found several previously unknown ant species here as well.

    Mobile Bay, Alabama (1970s view from orbiting NASA Skylab Space Station)

  • Many other previously unknown species of flora and fauna are being found in this area too, among them new kinds of carnivorous plants, orchids, and flies.

  • The region is noted also for its excellent hunting and fishing.

  • The state's abundance includes countless mussels, snails, birds, and fish.

  • The Mobile Bay Basin accounts for 14% of all flowing freshwater in the U.S.

Yet AL has another distinction as well, the state having had the greatest number of recorded extinctions in the nation. Species are disappearing here at a rate about twice as great as anywhere else in continental U.S. The remaining richness of its ecology is threatened further by almost unchecked environmental degradation. The Mobile-Tensaw Delta is one of ten sensitive locations throughout the U.S. that, if preserved in conditions closer to their natural state, could protect most of America's endangered species.

Freshwater tributaries, forestlands, and the immensely diverse habitats throughout the state's delta, rivers, and bay network are harmed by a combination of neglect and active local efforts to pursue other interests. For instance, there are, among other challenges, a lack of inclusive, coordinated regional growth planning, inadequate water conservation, virtually unregulated agricultural pollution, damming and diversion of rivers whose natural flow is key to area biodiversity, contamination from untreated industrial waste, problems with increased aquifer salinity in coastal areas, and greater frequency and severity of droughts, thought connected to global warming.

Severe environmental losses will affect not only the state's magnificent and beautiful waterways but also tourism, jobs, hunting or fishing attractions, swimming, and supplies of healthy, safe water for drinking and bathing. So, AL may be at a crossroads. With greater attention to preserving the wealth of its living wonders, there is much to be gained for humankind and nature alike.

For those wishing more info or to see the Alabama Public Radio movie, "America's Amazon," please check for links using the title of this piece at your favorite search engine.

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