Liquid Lines

Mutated Mosquitoes on the Horizon and Breaking Down Skunk Swells

By JON COEN | Oct 23, 2019
Courtesy of: NOAA Last week’s bomb cyclone ... which actually resulted in no waves.

Not sure if you caught the news this week, but National Public Radio did a really interesting piece on a controversial project of mutating mosquitoes.

Before I get into the whole bug bite bit, I have to say that I love NPR in these times. They are very fair in their coverage, and they provide a balanced view of the current events no matter how wild our politics get. I mean, I’m sure the whole Build the Wall crowd will call it “fake news,” but NPR really is truly refreshing. While Fox News paints our Twitter President as the greatest mix of George Washington, Henry Ford, Mike Ditka and Jesus, every three minutes CNN has a breaking story about the smoking gun that will oust him from the Oval Office. He’s a trust fund, draft dodging, former reality TV star with unmatched ego and impulse – the exact opposite of the qualities we all try to teach our children. But as dramatic as Chris Cuomo gets, Orange 45 is not leaving office anytime soon.

But back to the mosquitoes … When I first read the headline, of course, genetically modified mosquitoes was what hit me like a swarm of summer blood suckers. Are we really genetically modifying a race of super-skeeters?

I’m convinced that it’s already been done. I once lived in a spot on the mainland that was in the woods, but a few hundred yards from the tidal marshes, basically the most romantic insect breeding ground. By the end of every summer, there would be Barry White playing in the wetlands, and mosquitoes would be soooo ready to go. If you went outside at dusk, you might not come back. The first fall, I raked up all my leaves into a pile and set them on fire, letting the pile smoke out as long as I could for some respite.

The Ocean County Mosquito Extermination Commission (a group that was formed in 1913 and gets little credit around here) would send the “fogger” down our street. Most of my neighbors were fairly health- and eco-conscious folks who enjoyed nature. After all, we lived in the woods near the water. But when that truck came through the neighborhood in the evening, spraying that toxic fog, we’d go out there and bathe in that stuff, rubbing God knows what kind of carcinogens into our skin for relief. Island charger Mike Roth was my neighbor for a time. He used to name the skeeters. They’d land on his arm, and he’d just pet them.

So what the hell is this about intentionally modifying mosquitoes? And what about other insects? Assuming that these scientists aren’t trying to kill us (after all, we’re not talking about the American food or pharmaceutical industries here), you have to wonder if there’s some way they could make human/bug relations a little better. Perhaps they could alter the DNA in black flies to stay on the marshes when the wind blows west in the summer instead of invading the beaches on days of clean surf. Or maybe this Dr. Buglove could create a friendlier Holgate greenhead – like one that helps clean houses on rental turnover Saturday instead of leaving golf ball-sized welts all over your back if you even think about the Wooden Jetty. How about genetically crossing lightning bugs with no-see-ums? That way we could at least see ’em, and have a chance of avoiding them before the wind comes up on those otherwise perfect boat days.

Turns out these scientists in Italy are trying to “control” mosquitoes in Sub-Saharan Africa by creating a new mutant breed. Knowing that male mosquitoes actually can’t bite, the mutation turns the female skeeters into half male/half female with the mouth of male and deformed reproductive system. The process is called a “Gene Drive” in which when released into the environment, the bugs to spread their mutations. The ultimate goal is to fight the spread of malaria in Africa.

This all sounds like a very interesting idea. Obviously other scientists and ecologists are a little worried. We all know there could be unintended consequences if you cripple a population of any animal. What happens to the fish, frogs, birds and mammals (bats eat bugs, bro) that feed on mosquitoes and their larvae? Would you then have asexual toads? What if they were horny toads?

I’m not smart enough to know the answers to any of this. I’m the guy that scratches bug bites with a fork and walks around with open wounds for a month. But I am sure that if science can build a more vicious mosquito, it will find its way to Southern Ocean County.

SKUNK SESH: I think it’s fair to say summer is over. Local summer, second summer … (guess there’s still a chance of some Indian Summer). It’s all done and dusted. Fall is upon us and it’s certainly glorious, even if some of the less appealing aspects of winter have come into our seasonal picture. And that was most evident last week with the passage of an autumn front that went and turned into an atmospheric bomb.

We’re talking about last Wednesday through Friday. Now, taking the next six paragraphs to explain how we didn’t get waves may seem excessive, but I assure you there is a bigger point to be made.

On the heels of Subtropical Storm Melissa, we were all generally fired up for more waves. And a passing front south swell would do just fine. The forecast called for moderate southerly flow on Wednesday resulting in waves for Thursday morning with an offshore wind, dropping through the day with offshore winds.

Everything was going as planned until Wednesday afternoon, when the onshore winds proved to be a bit more than moderate. By the time the wind came whipping up and the rain fell in the late afternoon, there was that positive feeling that the surf just might be a little better than the waist-to-chest we were originally expecting. Hey, it had been a consistent fall; maybe the run would continue. Plans were made for early sessions, dawn meet-ups and layback turns before the high tide.

But no sooner had we allowed ourselves a bit of optimism than we literally heard our dreams of peeling rights shatter. At about 9 p.m., the front passed through with a vengeance. This was probably the strongest offshore wind we’ve had since last winter (and when I say winter, I mean May).

If you live on the Island, you know the sound. It’s like a train hitting the side of the house. That wind comes blowing off the mainland and goes unimpeded across the bay. There is literally nothing to slow it down. It’s hit full fury by the time it hits the Island, and you know that the next day you’ll be out trading garbage cans and deck furniture with your neighbor.

“Hell of a storm last night, eh, Bob?”

“It sure was. Hey I think your grill is in my yard. And have you seen a hot tub anywhere?”

“Yeah, I think the Wagners had a hot tub in their yard. It could have been Manny’s, though. I was out trying to help them find their dog earlier. Poor little guy blew up into the dunes.”

And did that wind ever blow, with gusts up to 40 mph that night! And we all know what a stiff wind means. It means the surf will be beaten down significantly. And with about nine hours until sunrise, that meant nine hours to knock the crap out of our little windswell. I woke for an early check, and there was no one in the water anywhere. The wind was actually southwest, which is the devil’s wind here. And just to drive a final nail into the coffin of fun, the wind actually picked up, with gusts in the mid-40s.

We had massive west swell. And we had blowout tides and dry sandbars. But we did not have any surf.

And we didn’t even get the worst of it. This system, which looked so benign earlier in the week, actually morphed into what we’ve come to know as a “bomb cyclone,” or an otherwise average storm that undergoes rapid intensification and blows up with quickly dropping pressure. We usually know these as nor’easters, but this low actually moved up the coast on an inland track. Winds up on Cape Cod hit 90, and some are calling it the strongest ever recorded for the month of October. Half a million people lost power in New England Thursday and Friday.

Our surf was flat on Friday and Saturday and didn’t even stir until Sunday’s snot weather came in and started to build up a little onshore wave. The surf got up to head high on Monday, but even with moderate north and northeast wind, it was never terribly ridable.

The point I am making here is that LBI’s surf was mostly unridable for 10 straight days in what we consider our most prized time of year. And that’s a sure trait of winter. Sure, summer waves are small and mostly unexciting. But in a span of 10 summer days, you can find a clean little line, or at least a longboard wave. Winter’s extremes can bring us serious surf, but it can also create a lot of situations where we get awfully skunked.

WAVE TO YOU: The weather we had earlier this week wound up absorbing Tropical Storm Nestor, a system that formed in the Gulf of Mexico and plowed into Florida on Saturday. I'll spare you six more paragraphs, but landfall brought tornadoes and tossed RVs onto houses.

That extra juice was responsible for the jump in the surf size early and midweek. Today (Wednesday) as the storm pulls out and a cold front moves through, we should see cleaner surf. Hopefully you get on that. If you’re looking for a weekend slide, I have a feeling Saturday might have a small longboard wave with offshore winds if you find the right spot. Just beware of that super early-morning high tide. It will also be chilly. Maybe an 8 out of 10 flannel rating Saturday morning. Fortunately, we get back into the 60s next week to close out October. The water temp is also in the 60s, and you should be able to get through without boots another two weeks. Then it’s time to start talking real rubber. We’ll get to that in the coming weeks, and perhaps some talk on weight of surfboards for dealing with winter winds.

HAYRIDES, REGGAE AND FACIAL HAIR: In the local events category, it seems most of the actual watersport-based gatherings are finished for the season. Since Halloween falls in the middle of next week, most of the associated fun will happen this coming weekend, and there is certainly something for all ages. If you have kids, try to get to the Tuckerton Seaport Saturday for  the Little Egg Harbor Harvest Festival, or to Bayview Park in Brant Beach for Long Beach Township’s Harvest Hayride on Saturday afternoon.

One other interesting happening I want to make mention of is The Elovaters show at Folk Across the Street’s Barn in West Creek on Nov. 11. This is one of the most unusual venues in the area, essentially a small farm that offers touring and local original acts a place to play. The Elovaters are a reggae band from Boston that have had some No. 1 songs on the Billboard reggae charts. (I actually didn’t know that existed, but it’s a metric for getting people’s attention.) They are in the midst of a pretty comprehensive East Coast tour and will be rocking The Barn. Many of their stops indicate they are big with the coastal/surf crowd, and they are definitely worth a listen. This event is a pot-luck dinner starting at 6 p.m.; the show is at 7. With the nature of the event and venue, you buy tickets by calling 609-296-9150. Part of the ticket goes to charity.

Monday night reggae. Why not?

David’s Dream & Believe’s annual Shave the Date Movember Movement has begun to raise awareness, funds and hope for male patients battling a cancer diagnosis. Swing Graphics is a sponsor. Male Ambassadors are already lining up to grow beards, raise pledges and give haircuts. The event culminates at The Arlington on Friday, Nov. 29. Learn more if you want to donate or grow some crazy facial hair.

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