bare feet in the sand

the beauty of nature in a consumer economy


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Seagrass Restoration

I belong to a group called Women Working for Oceans. The mission is education and advocacy in partnership with the New England Aquarium. I went to a members only event this week. It was a Seagrass Restoration event in Essex, Massachusetts. We were led by two guest experts, Dr. Alyssa Novak from Boston University, and Peter Phippen from MassBays Natural Estuaries Program.

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The first thing that happened when we arrived was that we were taken by boat out into Essex Bay and deposited on what was essentially a sand bar. Once there we met Alyssa who first explained to us how we were going to be replanting eel grass in the bay. This involved standing in knee high water, leaning over to dig a small hole, burying a small amount of root and then adding an iron staple on top. We asked her about the metal staple; apparently in calm water bamboo is used which decomposes relatively easily, but in this bay the water is too strong. The staple will rust and give iron to the plant. And since they work there a lot they do find them and reuse them as much as possible. Eelgrass provides food and shelter for many organisms in the bay, as described by Save the Bay.

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While we were doing that Peter went out and brought back the crab traps that they had set out. So as the tide made our little sand bar smaller and smaller we moved on to the crabs. We had mostly caught rock crabs and green crabs. We counted the rock crabs, and then let them go. But the green crabs are an invasive species. We counted them, measured them, checked their sex and then put them in a big bag. They were going to be given to someone who uses them in cooking. All in all, not a bad day’s work.

 

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Brazil

Brazil was in the news a lot recently because of the Rio Olympics. A lot of the press around the Olympics was negative, including some environmental issues. However, the closing ceremonies showed that they are willing to deal with the problem, or at least that’s what I saw. While the history in Brazil isn’t great, they are making improvements. Brazil has a history of deforestation, often due to agricultural crops like soy beans. The rainforest has shrunk quite dramatically, but deforestation has declined by 70% in the last decade (see article in The Economist).  One of the things that happened was Brazil passed regulations and restrictions, including a Forest Code, and recently studies have shown that they have worked.

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Picture from Azo Clean Tech.

Brazil has also started to tap into renewable energy sources, such as wind power. They are revising energy efficiency standards and have become a big proponent of green building standards and certifications (see article in GreenBiz). From what I’ve read Brazil is turning things around. They can’t suddenly make the Amazon rainforest reappear but they seem to be getting onto the right track.


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Coral Reef Photos

I had the pleasure a little while ago of seeing some photos of coral reefs up close and personal at the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard. It was a pleasure to see the photos, but what is in the photos is not very uplifting. They are pictures taken by photojournalist David Arnold in the same spot as several underwater photographers took as early as 1970. It is called Double Exposure and really highlights how things have changed in the last decades. The website is really worth looking at: http://www.doublexposure.net/about-us/.  Here is an example:

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The left is 1980 and the right is 2011 in South Carysfort Reef in South Florida. It is really worth going to the website to see all the images and move the center line so you can see the entirety of both pictures and how it has changed.


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China’s environmental issues

I think everyone has heard about China’s problem with smog.  There are days when people don’t go outside because it is so bad.  This is one of the problems caused by the rapid industrialization and the amount of coal plants in China.  It is not their only problem.  They have water pollution as well and the contaminants are often very harmful to humans.  LiveScience has an excellent, succinct article here:  China’s Top 6 Environmental Concerns.  China, of course, doesn’t want to talk about its environmental problems with outsiders and it doesn’t really like to admit problems to its own people.  However, many of these problems affect the economy and that may move the government to act.  Unfortunately public health problems have not.

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China’s rapid industrialization has also led to an increasing deforestation and overwhelming use of all land resources including water.  Having 1.3 billion people isn’t making the situation better.  It is the largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions.  However, it is also now investing in renewable energies and has agreed to up their use of them and cut their reliance on coal.  The Council on Foreign Relations has an excellent article on China’s relationship with environmental issues: CFR Backgrounders.


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Ocean Noise

I attended a lecture the other day at the New England Aquarium.  It was an event put on by Women Working for Oceans, which I have joined.  It was on a subject I knew very little about – ocean noise pollution.  Scott Kraus, who works at the aquarium, spoke about studies done on right whales that show their stress levels go up with increased ocean noise.  Chronic stress causes reduced reproduction rates and lower immunity.  The key speaker of the day was Christopher Clark, who works at Cornell and has done a lot of research on the noise in the ocean.  As early as the 1960s it was discovered just how far noise travels, especially low frequencies.  An explosion off the coast of Perth, Australia was heard on the east coast of the United States.  Even small explosions travel for hundreds of miles.  Clark kept talking about how the scale is different when it comes to the oceans and large ocean animals like whales.  Noise travels different, whales move around a huge area of the ocean.

As far as we know, all marine mammals make noise and hear noise.  It is used as a social network among a species, and also for finding food.  The noise of a large cargo ship can drown out all the noise made by the animals they are cut off from each other and their ability to hunt.  Below, the small dots are whales and large splotches with red centers are ships.  (This gif was shown as part of the presentation.)

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Source: National Oceanic Partnership Program via NPR

While recent oil drilling off the east coast has been banned, exploration for oil with seismic air guns is still going ahead.  I was glad to see representatives of both of my state senators there to hear about this issue.  Technology also exists to make engines quieter, but little is being done.  This is an environmental issue that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention or press.


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Environmental Economics

I love to shop.  I really do.  Recently I was scraping ice off my car, or trying to.  It wasn’t really working.  I thought, well I guess I should go buy a new scraper.  I thought, I can look around and maybe find a better version.  I’m trying not to buy things unless I’m really going to use them, so every time something like this happens, I’m kind of excited.  (Perhaps that makes my life a little sad, but mostly I’m just poor and like to shop.)  After being excited I realized something.  What I have isn’t working and I need an ice scraper that works in New England in the winter, but buying a new one means I’m going to be throwing out the old one.  It will be put on the curb, dumped in a garbage truck and taken to a landfill where it will stay for decades, maybe centuries.  The thing about it is there’s almost nothing I can do about it.  If I took my scraper to a hardware store and asked them to sharpen it and fix it for me, they’d look at me like I was nuts and tell me to buy a new one.  Our economy isn’t based on making things that last a long time and getting them fixed if anything happens.  Mass production has created an economy where we buy things as cheaply as possible and replace them when they break.

In order for this post not to be a total downer, I’m going to give a few pieces of advice, based on The Green Book by Elizabeth Rogers and Thomas M. Kostigen.  Try to buy things with minimal packaging, and as much recycled and recyclable packaging as possible.  Shop local because they won’t have spent a lot of energy to get the products there from far away.  Shop at secondhand clothing stores first.  Consider buying clothes made from organic cotton and natural dyes.  Use rechargeable batteries (4 rechargeable batters can replace 100 regular AAs).


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Monterey Bay and marine biology

I have spent a lot of time recently thinking about how I want to make a difference to the environment.  Little things that we do everyday are certainly a part of it.  Being aware of the impact we have is important and I will continue to write about various ways to do that.  But I’m beginning to think that my road to feeling like I’m making a difference lies in a new career.  And that new career has to do with the ocean.  In fact, I’m back to where I started.  I began writing this blog because I was looking into environmental issues and wanted to share what I was discovering.  My first post was about my love for the beach which is where my concern for the environment started.

The beach is what I want to study, or rather coastal ecosystems.  They are being broadly affected by humans – fishing and littering, by climate change – warming oceans, rising sea levels and they are some of the most beautiful places on Earth.  I think I can find a way to help.  I’m looking into programs in marine biology.  It’s quite a change from theater, but it means a lot to me and interests me.  I read a book recently that inspired me.  It is called The Death and Life of Monterey Bay and I would recommend it to everyone and anyone.  It chronicles all the ways that humans hurt the ecosystem of the bay, but then also tells the story of how the bay has been restored.  Change is possible.  A lot of what I’ve read has only spoken of the problems that exist, and maybe hypothetical ideas on what to do about them.  Monterey Bay is a success story.  I hope similar successes can happen elsewhere.