Understanding the importance of cryptobiotic soil crust in and around Moab could help prevent unnecessary damage to a sensitive and beautiful ecosystem.
Impact of tourism
Every spring in the sleepy town of Moab, this tiny agricultural community’s population of 5100 can swell by the thousands. Moab, Utah is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations with visitors and part time residents growing exponentially each year. The tourist season typically begins the first week of April and can continue into October with a minimal number of tourists visiting year round.
It’s not surprising that Moab receives the attention it does. The geology of the area is unique and glorious to behold. It is arid and unforgiving with vast stretches of mountainous desert and sandstone formations. The Colorado Plateau in Southern Utah abounds in National and State Parks and the influx of tourism in the region has vastly improved the infrastructure as well as provided opportunity for local economies to flourish for at least part of the year. The soil is dry and given to erosion, making it extremely difficult to cultivate plant life without proper irrigation. The terrain in the area mimics an off-road theme park and tourists can’t resist exploring its hidden wonders. Often times, unwittingly, the exploration of undesignated areas can lead to the destruction of ecosystems which support developing plant life and prevent erosion and flooding.
What is Cryptobiotic Soil?
Many who visit Moab end up hearing about cryptobiotic soil crust within days of arriving. Locals and BLM representatives work together to inform hikers, bikers, campers and off road enthusiasts of the delicate layers of biological soil crust they may inadvertently destroy during these activities. Most people who haven’t traveled through the desert southwest don’t understand the importance of these soil crusts.
<em>Keeping it simple
In laymen’s terms, cryptobiotic soil crust is one of several biological soils that are made up of living organisms. It’s dirt that is literally alive! It’s made up primarily of cyanobacteria (formerly referred to as Blue Green Algae), and can include other life forms such as mosses, lichens, fungi, and other bacteria. It is believed that blue green algae was quite possibly responsible for creating the oxygenated atmosphere on our planet that supports all life today. Cryptobiotic soil crusts are also responsible for the development of plant life in areas it would otherwise not be supported. They literally create life from nothing! These crusts support soil structure underneath and prevent erosion. They also absorb moisture and prevent flooding.
The delicate life
Cryptobiotic soil crusts can take hundreds of years to form a thin layer usually less than eight centimeters thick. Unfortunately, it is extremely delicate and can be destroyed by something as innocuous as a footprint. The crust itself is usually a dark bumpy layer resting atop the soil and can be easy to miss if you’re not looking for it. This is why it is so important to stay on designated trails while recreating and always camp in designated camping areas.
Moab and her surrounding areas are truly an awe inspiring place to visit. The geography provides a plethora of opportunities for recreation and excitement. The geography is also ideal for rare and essential life forms who must evolve to meet the conditions of their environments. Disturbing this process can have dramatic effects that ultimately may destroy their ability to survive altogether. Often, visitors are unaware of the delicate nature of ecosystems they encounter along their travels. Taking the initiative to listen, learn, and educate others on these ecosystems can help prevent the decimation of them.