Science and Environment

Hurricanes, oil spills, and the latest efforts to manage them.

When Wildlife Documentaries Jump The Shark

Aug 30, 2014

This summer's Shark Week on the Discovery Channel was the highest-rated in the special's 27-year history. But that success has also brought complaints.

The network has been criticized for pushing entertainment at the cost of science, with "documentaries" that advance dubious theories — or are entirely fake. Discovery Channel has aired specials about everything from mythical monster sharks in Louisiana's rivers to long-extinct Megalodons supposedly still swimming the seas.

The best way to understand Louisiana’s rapidly changing coastal map may be to look from above. That’s how you see the small highways headed south, slim like bony fingers, disappearing into a blue backdrop. What a map can’t express are the histories, hopes and desires of communities along the bayous of the Gulf Coast.

A big part of Louisiana’s coastal Master Plan centers around something called “diversions.” Fresh water from the Mississippi River is diverted so that the water, and the silt it carries, can rebuild the sinking coast. But this technique, a centerpiece of Louisiana's coastal Master Plan, is contentious.

The best way to understand Louisiana’s rapidly changing coastal map may be to look from above. That’s how you see the small highways headed South, slim like bony fingers, disappearing into a blue backdrop. What a map can’t express are the histories, hopes and desires of communities along the bayous of the Gulf Coast.

A giant algae bloom is still making the waters in the western part of Lake Erie look like a thick, green pea soup. Toxins in that muck seeped into the water supply of Toledo, Ohio, last weekend, forcing officials to ban nearly half a million people from using tap water. A big cause of the algae proliferation isn't a mystery — it's crop runoff. And local farmers are on the defensive.

Six miles from Lake Erie is Ron Schimming's 400-acre soybean and corn farm.

Melissa Block talks to Abe Davis, a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Davis helped author a paper on a visual system to detect sound, which can recover intelligible speech from the vibrations of a potato chip bag photographed through soundproof glass.

New Orleans native and local fine arts photographer Michel Varisco developed a curiosity about the Gulf Coast region at a young age. With a mother who is a former biochemist, and engineer dad, she started learning on family road trips. Her dad would explain the Bonnet Carré Spillway, or point out dead trees while driving down LA1 to Grande Isle. 

Small fatty fish like mackerel, herring, sardines and anchovies are high in omega-3s, vitamin D and low on the food chain.

A class of insecticides called neonicotinoids, which are used on a lot of big corn and soybean fields, has been getting a pretty bad rap lately.

South Louisiana’s Terrebonne Parish has low unemployment — there are lots of jobs in offshore services. So many that there could be a shortage of locals with the skills needed. The Working Coast summer camp in Houma teaches kids about the big industries in their area, and aims to get them excited about those career paths.

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