|Meadow Spittlebug (Philaenus spumarius)
For most of the year, Eki sits at his supercomputer and edits. Or he goes out on a shoot. But for two weeks in July, he works in the HALKKA family business: TVÄRMINNE – seven islands in the Finnish archipelago where his parents started their research around the time he was born, late 1960's. As soon as he could walk and begin to comprehend what was going on Eki joined in. Today he mostly takes care of the boat, collects insects and helps document. His brother Antti's whole family and his sister Sara work there too. When we were shooting 'El gaucho de Högsåra' he showed me the SPITTLEBUGS his dad Olli and mom Liisa were researching. It was the size of a small dot. For someone who jumps from job to job and project to project I thought, how was it possible to work on the same small insect year in, year out.
The crew gets up early and starts collecting insects. As many as 3000 a day. I saw a video of them working. Someone was swinging a white bag on a long stick back and forth. You have to be dedicated to do that for many hours. Especially on a hot day when it stays light till late. His dad had a plastic tube holding a bunch of bugs and was dictating to someone who wrote down the info.
Eki has done helicopter shots of each island so the researchers can see the changes in the meadows. His mother also did a study of shrews in Eastern and Western Finland. And found they had a significantly different genome. The edge of the ice-age glacier can still be seen in the shrew's biology.
Scientists must be frustrated that more action isn't being taken by governments around the world regarding climate change. Eki says, as far as he knows the planet is in its 6th mass extinction. And this year the spittlebug population was smaller than last year. The US has gone backward since Donald Trump was elected. He not only took the US out of the Paris Climate Accords (the only country in the world to do so) but appointed a climate change denier as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, who has cut regulations put in place by President Obama. I heard (on the internet, so the info should be checked), that 1,600 scientists and other personnel have quit the EPA. Climate change news is bleak and the future looks bleaker. But the Halkka family go back to Tvärminne year after year. Now a third generation has joined the family business.
Sources: Eki, the net
Next week: FEAR: BOB WOODWARD's tell-all book should scare everyone who cares about international order
Note: We currently still study seven islands at Tvärminne Zoological Station each year, but that used to be many more. Only the core islands remain in the long-term follow-up study.
The video Maggy saw was from 2007. Since then, my dad who led the study has passed away, and my brother Antti has taken over the helm. My mother still has a big role too, i'd say she's still the co-captain of the ship. Also, Kaisa Roukka, my dad's spouse since my parents divorced in the 80's, still helps on the study too - and over the years, especially early on, there have been many others.
The Finnish archipelago has been in a constant state of change for thousands of years. During the ice age, there was a huge mass of the glacier pushing down on the ground, and we're still bouncing back from that. In the Baltic sea, the land has risen about half a meter per century since the ice age. So, the water level is now about 25 cm lower than when we started 50 years ago. The meadows, especially those that are low on the shores of the islands, were much younger back then, just been revealed from under the sea in the previous decades. Those meadows have matured during the course of our study - on some of them, there's not much of a meadow anymore - trees have grown, they have almost become young forests rather than meadows.
Due to climate change and the global rise in ocean levels, this glacier-caused land rise effect is about to be canceled, and the sea rise will start to win by the end of this century.
The health of the Baltic ocean has varied a lot over the years. Sometimes the water is clear and rich on oxygen, you can see the bottom many meters deep. In other times (like this year), it's like green porridge due to blooming algae. The algae are the result of hot weather, nutrient-rich wastewater from agriculture, combined with a lack of salt water influx pulses from the Danish strait lately.
Attributing this change to human vs. natural is hard, and so is telling whether there's a robust trend in the quality, or if it's just natural fluctuation. Likely both.
And to get back to the spittlebugs, the small catch this year was the result of unusually dry and warm weather - which also is a part of natural variation as well as an overall trend. The yearly variation is huge, and this year was a harsh year for the spittlebugs, populations were very small, but they are going to bounce back again for sure. If not next year, the year after that. The 6th mass extinction has not reached our islands yet.