July 12, 2013
Many of you know I am a huge L.A. river fan. As a fan of the river and an advocate for river access, I was of course shocked and worried to hear about the fire that took place in the pilot recreation zone last Saturday.
The fire raged on a sandbar adjacent to the river bike path (image courtesy of Anthea Raymond). The fire was caused by a gasoline tanker that crashed in the interchange tunnel between the 2 freeway and Interstate 5 (incidentally causing some of the most heinous traffic some of us have experienced in a long while). After it overturned, some of the 8,500 gallons of gas it was transporting leaked into a storm drain and traveled about half a mile into the river. The resulting fire was thankfully constrained to a sandbar located at the terminus of the storm drainage system, and according to California Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesperson Andrew Hughan, "There's very little to no environmental damage to the L.A. River." YAY! This news makes me particularly happy as this is one of the most wildlife-rich stretches of the river, and consequently one of my favorite spots to enjoy it. Literally, I was enjoying it only a week earlier, as I paddled by the area that caught on fire with the folks from L.A. River Kayak Safari.
Posing for a picture at the end or our kayak adventure! Not only was this one of the most fun things I've ever done on the river (sorry Mummy, but going down rapids in a kayak was way more fun than the Mother's Day picnic we had there), I also got to experience some wildlife I'd never seen in this urban riparian area before. The highlight of the trip was seeing my first Mexican Amberwing dragonfly, Perithemis intensa:
Male Mexican Amberwing, image courtesy of Bill Bouton. This dragonfly is one of the smaller of our region, with a wingspan measuring just over an inch and a half. Just like other dragonflies, it relies on water sources such as ponds and slow moving rivers to lay their eggs in. Female amberwings lay eggs in jellylike masses just above the waterline, as soon as water touches the eggs they literally explode out in different directions. This helps out, as after hatching dragonfly larvae can be cannibalistic on their bretheren. So much for peace and harmony on the river! The larvae spend a few months developing in the murky waters, eating what they can catch with their bear trap-like jaws, and in turn, escaping from predators like fish and frogs. When they're ready, the larvae emerge from the water and find a nice reed or stick to hang out on. They slowly crack open their exoskeleton and the adult dragonfly emerges, soft and drably colored. In a few hours they inflate their wings, harden their exoskeleon, and develop their more colorful selves. Then they'll zip off looking for a mate to repeat the whole cycle— provided they don't get eaten by a bird or an overly acrobatic fish! As you can imagine fire, gasoline, and dragonflies don't mix very well. Let's keep our fingers crossed that next time an accident like this happens the river will be just as lucky.