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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Northeastern University

I just finished my first course on the way to my new career.  I took Biology 101 at Northeastern and I think I chose a good university for me.  They offer courses that are part on-line and part in the classroom over 6 weeks.  And they are very environmentally aware.  On my very first day I noticed this:

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It is an incredibly sanitary, almost waste-less way to encourage people to use refillable water bottles.  They also have dual-flush toilets, up for liquid waste, down for solid waste, another way of reducing water waste.

A little more research and it turns out I was even more right than I knew.  Northeastern was a founding member of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment.  It has really committed to sustainability, as shown in their website, and I see the proof in the buildings.  I found one more thing on their website that I’m really excited about.  It’s called INSHORE and it sounds like exactly the work I want to be doing.  I don’t know if I will stay at Northeastern for a long time, but it’s working for me now and it’s good to know that I what I want is out there.


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Happy New Year

I think everyone finds it challenging to be truly environmental during the holiday season.  We light fires, cut down trees, wrap presents in paper and go shopping.  I have started making gifts for my friends – this year, flavored olive oil in a reusable bottle.  My family still gets whatever they want – although I’m always more inclined to buy useful things.  But the season is over, the trees and boxes have been put on the curb and taken away.  I wanted to make new year’s resolutions this year, but the ones I could think of were the classics – save money, exercise more, keep a journal.  And they’re all unlikely to stick for more than a couple of months.  So I heard several people suggest that resolutions aren’t the way to go.  One person suggested trying to think of a word that you want to describe your life for this year and use that word as inspiration whenever you need it.  One person suggested thinking of small things that you can do often that added up could make a difference – for instance, take the stairs instead of the elevator.  I think that’s how I feel about working to become more environmental.  Maybe this year is the year to bring bags or recycle paper bags when grocery shopping.  Since I think it’s important, periodically I’m going to keep suggesting small ways to make a difference.  I’m going to keep reading (mangroves is the next topic) and trying to keep up with everything that’s going on.


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Composting

I was so surprised to find out that even food and other compostable items don’t decompose when put in a landfill (see my post on Garbology by Edward Humes).  Since then I’ve been thinking that there must be an easy way to compost.  This was brought home to me in my visit to New York City this past weekend.  I went to see the tennis at the U.S. Open but found myself thinking about compost.  At the U.S. Open itself, there were compost bins next to the recycling and trash bins.  In the ladies’ room, the only bin by the sinks was composting because the paper towels were compostable.  That made me think that the napkin I threw in the trash was probably also compostable.  The U.S. Open also had signs on the beds of flowers saying that they used the compost from last year to make this year’s Open pretty.

The other place I went while in NYC was the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.  They had a composting exhibit that made it seem really easy.  It also showed that you can grow things in a compost pile before it is done composting.  compost

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I then looked into what someone would need to do in order to compost their food waste.  Obviously, if you have a yard and/or a garden, you can make compost piles outside.  But if you don’t have a place to do it outside, there are still things you can do.  Here are two sites I found about composting in a yard:  Planet Natural and EarthEasy.  Basically, it works better if you have a bin and make sure you have a balance of different materials.  Moisture and the occasional stir helps too.  If you don’t have a yard, there are buckets you can buy (like this one at the Container Store) that can stand by your sink.  Having charcoal filters in it is an expense but helps with the odor.  A lot of towns, at this point, have places you can drop off your scraps, and so do some grocery stores like Whole Foods.  This is the site for Cambridge, MA.  They point out several things – you can freeze the scraps to avoid odor, you can buy compostable bags so you don’t have to dump it when you drop it off.  It turns out there is a lot of information out there and a lot of relatively simple ways to create useful compost and keep food scraps out of landfills.  I hope this inspires you to find the easiest way for you to compost.

 


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Is Suburbia Sustainable?

In my continuing love affair with my library, I recently took out a book entitled Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs by Ellen Dunham-Jones and June Williamson.  I did not read the entire book because it goes into technical details about urban design and planning.  It did make me think and made me want to share what I’ve been thinking about.

I grew up in a suburb of Boston on a street with no sidewalk but plenty of trees.  Most of what they talk about directly relates to my home town.  I rarely used public transportation except on the rare occasions I went into Boston – which required a drive to the closest subway station.  There is a bus that goes from that subway station, passes not too far from the house and continues to the center of town.  I knew no one who used it.  It is a town build around people who have children, yards for them to play in, and drive everywhere.  I am sure the carbon footprint of the average resident is high.  My parents’ neighborhood used to be farmland and was built into a neighborhood after WWII, a time when many similar suburbs were being constructed.  Not much has changed, except some additions to houses.  Some new families have moved in, but many of the residents are ‘aging in place’ including my parents.  I now live in Cambridge, but work at my old high school.  Not much seems to have changed for the high schoolers growing up there now.  They can’t wait to get their license and partly depend on each other to drive them around.  This dependence on cars, or at least gasoline cars, is not sustainable if we want to drastically cut our use of fossil fuels.

There are other ways in which the culture of suburbs doesn’t make as much sense as it used to.  For a long time, each generation was expected to be more educated, get a better job, earn a higher wage, live in a bigger house.  This was the American dream.  It doesn’t apply as well as it used to.  More and more households don’t involve 2 parents, 2.5 children, a dog and a picket fence.  Single parents, couples with no children and various alternative families are more and more common.  Bigger houses surrounded by yards and swing sets may not be what they need.  Wages are increasing, but the lower wage jobs aren’t increasing as fast as the higher wage jobs creating greater income disparity and leaving the poor behind.  Living near where you work may be more important to these people, as well as having easy (and no car necessary) access to shopping centers.  This would mean having housing options for janitors, secretaries, CEOs and managers with or without families all in the same area.  That’s not really how suburbs were built, but maybe it’s time to change.

Changing suburbs could decrease our reliance on cars.  Heating smaller houses could help cut our fossil fuel consumption.  Consolidating workplaces, shopping centers, cutting down on the amount of acres per house could allow us to have bigger parks and wooded areas.  It’s possible to imagine a greener, healthier, happy kind of town.  Change, however, is inevitably slow, painful and difficult.  People don’t like the idea of altering their way of life or the way of life they have dreamed of for their children.  But it’s something to think about.


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Environmentally Friendly Jewelry

I haven’t written much since the new year started.  However, I did have a birthday, a very important birthday.  At least, 30 seems important to me.  It makes me feel like I haven’t done enough with my life.  But for right now I want to talk about a present I received for my birthday.  My mother gave me a diamond ring that has been in her family for generations.  I’m not engaged and it seems unlikely that I will get engaged any time soon.  I knew about the ring and that it would become mine eventually, but now it lives in my apartment or sometimes on my finger.

DSC_4026The ring isn’t really my style – I tend to wear simple gold jewelry – but it is an heirloom.  Regardless I was glad it was there because it meant I would never have to deal with buying a diamond.  Most people are aware of the terrible conditions that exist where diamonds are being mined.  You can buy ‘conflict-free’ diamonds, but it’s not clear to me what guarantees there are that those diamonds are truly free of all human rights abuses.  As I was thinking about diamonds I remembered my sister’s experience when she got engaged and married.  My mother, luckily, also had a diamond heirloom for her.  But she and her husband had to find gold wedding bands (gold to match the ring).  He had read this article:  The Real Price of Gold in National Geographic and didn’t want to support the human rights abuses and environmental devastation that the gold industry is involved in.  They looked at vintage jewelry, respected sites like Brilliant Earth, but in the end went with an artisan who dealt in recycled gold.  The good thing about gold is that it is easily melted down and reused.  Precious metals and gems are rare and people will therefore go to great lengths (and sometimes do terrible things) to get them and make money with them.

Have you ever found that once you start thinking about something, suddenly it appears everywhere?  I was listening to NPR in the car (as usual) and heard a story about a wildlife summit that is occurring in London.  One of the major issues is the demand for ivory that makes poaching so profitable.  I own a scrimshaw pendant and I’m happy to say that it was made on recycled ivory (probably an old piano key).


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Much Ado About Nothing and its trash

The play is over.  The performances went really well and I’m very proud of all the students involved.  The day after the last performance we had strike.  We took down the entire set in less than five hours.  Unfortunately, it goes faster the more you throw away.  Taking things apart and storing them takes more time, more effort.  Of course, I would happily take that time and effort except I don’t have storage space.  The set looked like this:

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 The dumpsters at the end of strike looked like this:

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A lot of materials went to a trash dump at the end of the day.  And yes, I feel badly about it.  I hope that thinking about the environmental impact through this process will mean that future shows will end up with less in the trash.