“Ocean Soul”…Listening to Brian Skerry at National Geographic Live

By Neva Knott

I’ve always lived near water. The home I was born into sat on the shore of a lake in a town surrounded by the Puget Sound. As my world expanded, I learned rivers and the ocean’s shore. When I was six, my father moved my family to Saipan, a small island in the South Pacific. Small, as in 14 miles long and five miles wide. It was there I fell in love with the ocean. I learned to swim and snorkel there, was stung by many man-o-war jelly fish. My father was an ecologist, so it wasn’t enough to witness the fish in the coral habitat; I learned their ways.

The ever-morphing boundary of earth and sea, that line that changes each day, minutely, as the water crashes on the sand and ebbs outward is fascinating. Power and grace.

As an adult, I lived on Maui for a year, another Pacific island, larger, but still small enough that I saw the ocean from every vantage point. I’d often look out across the water and marvel that it was the same body of water that touched my home shores in Washington and Oregon. The Pacific, it seems, connects all the places of my life.

The pervasive connectedness of the oceans underpinned the tone of photographer Brian Skerry‘s recent talk, “Ocean Soul,” given here in Olympia as part of the National Geographic Live series. Skerry has spent over 10,000 hours under water, photographing wildlife and habitat there. His images are saturated in the colors of the sea–deep blues and greens, brilliant oranges and yellows, shadows and darkness in the depths. Much of his work illustrates and promotes the vast beauty of the world beyond that magic shoreline. Skerry has photographed is unique and remote locations. In his book, Ocean Soul, he tells the stories of Leatherback Turtles on Matura Beach in Trinidad; Right Whales in Canada’s Bay of Fundy; Harp Seals in the Arctic Gulf of Saint Lawrence. In his journey to find these stories, Skerry explained in his talk, he began to notice environmental problems under water.

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Photograph courtesy of The Smithsonian.

The images for his talk in the speaker series included photographs of seal hunting, the over-fishing of blue fin tuna, the by-catch of trawling for shrimp, and the dangers to sharks of entanglement in disposed fishing nets. He also gave the example of critical mangrove habitat in the everglades being destroyed to make a golf course. Skerry explained that his intent is to use his [beautiful] photography to raise awareness of the interconnectedness of the ocean’s ecosystems and the interdependency between species in these habitats. During his talk he admonished that we can no longer look at species and habitats a separate. The aim of his photography of environmental problems is to make this point.

As I listened to Skerry, his beautiful images on the large screen in front of me–and yes, even the images of the problems are beautiful–I once again saw that the environmental problems stem from human over-consumption…or just plain wrong thinking, like the idea of filling in a mangrove estuary to make a golf course.

Skerry’s images and talk took the audience’s attention well beyond the charismatic species approach of garnering awareness. He is a man who knows the world’s oceans intimately. He promotes the beauty and the need for consideration of these huge bodies of water that connect our worlds.

Hope for Mitigation of Ocean Acidification

By Neva Knott

I teach at a small college in Washington, Centralia College. Even though we only have 2,600 students, the college has a strong STEM focus. As an extension of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math programs, the college hosts speakers for the Rising Tide Seminar Series. The speaker for the January 2015 seminar was Dr. Christopher Sabine, Oceanographer and the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory of NOAA. He opened his presentation at Centralia College with the message that climate change is undeniable and serious, but it’s not too late.

Dr. Sabine gave the following five take-home points:

1. The profound impact of humans on the earth’s climate is “unmistakable at this point”

2. Carbon dioxide released into the climate has fundamentally changed the chemistry of oceans

3. The current amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will impact climate for thousands, if not 10’s of thousands, of years

4. Even though the rate of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been higher in the past, the rate of increase is 10-100 times faster than ever before in the geological past; this rapid rate of increase has a real, negative impact on adaptation–the ability of species, including humans, to change enough to exist in the changed biotic system

5. That there is a way out

Dr. Sabine’s presentation was largely based on the International Panel of Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report (2013), on which he consulted. The latest findings are that the evidence substantiates a better than 95 percent likelihood of human influence as the driver of climate change. In referencing the work of IPCC, Sabine explained that there are “multiple lines of evidence” to support the unequivocal warming of the earth’s climate system, evidence that he suggested climate deniers can no longer avoid. These lines of evidence are: increasing air temperature; increasing atmospheric water vapor; increasing temperature over oceans; increasing sea temperature; increasing sea level; increasing ocean heat; decreasing sea ice.

The statistics behind these factors are staggering and somewhat unfathomable. Dr. Sabine explained that, as the climate has warmed in the last 40 years, 275 zeda jewels of additional solar energy have accumulated in the earth’s system. To illustrate–one zeda jewel is enough energy for the needs of the entire human population for two years. About seven percent of this accumulated energy is stored terrestrially, on land, in plants and soils. The rest is going into the oceans.

Carbon emissions into the atmosphere are measured in parts per million (ppm). Pre-industrial revolution the atmosphere measured 228 ppm of carbon dioxide, whereas today the measurement is 400 ppm or more.

Dr. Sabine illustrated the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide with another measurement, the petagram. The current rate of release is right around 10 petagrams per year. The image Sabine offered in order for the audience to wrap our minds around this huge number was this: a 156,500 mile-long hopper car of coal would release one petagram. Thus, the current 10 petagrams would equal that hopper car of coal circling 70 times around the earth at the equator. To further illustrate, Sabine explained that the annual rate of 28,000 square miles of deforestation equals one petagram of carbon dioxide emission.

The culminating effect of the increase in carbon dioxide in the oceans is that the oceanic carbon cycle has been reversed. Pre-industrial revolution and climate change, oceans were a carbon source. Through their natural processes, they released carbon into the atmosphere that was, in turn, taken up by leaves, which then degraded into the soil system, where the carbon was stored. Now, oceans are a carbon sink. This increase is the cause of ocean acidification–because carbon dioxide is an acid gas. Dr. Sabine stated that pH balance is “very important for ocean ecosystems.”

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Corals of The Great Barrier Reef. Courtesy of wiki commons.

Acidification makes it difficult for organisms to form shells, using reefs to weaken and bleach. In the arctic, shells are dissolving off snails. The Great Barrier Reef has lost 50 percent of its coral over the last three decades. Not only is ocean acidification problematic to marine species, one billion people globally rely on the oceans as a food source, some for 100 percent of their dietary protein.

NOAA has several programs to help coastal communities mitigate the effects of climate change. One of the organization’s goals is to create a “climate literate” public. In addition to these public support programs, NOAA offers a Climate Stewards Education Project. NOAA’s efforts are also linked with President Obama’s Climate Action Plan. The solution to ocean acidification is at once simple and enormous–humans must decrease carbon emissions. The time is now.

Cold-stunned Turtles Find Friends Across the East

By Christine Harris

Most people think of sea turtles as exotic creatures you encounter while snorkeling off the shores of tropical islands, but many sea turtles will journey as far north as the Gulf of Maine. In fact, leatherback sea turtles will travel as far north as the Arctic Sea in pursuit of jellyfish. Like all reptiles, sea turtles are cold-blooded and abrupt decreases in water temperature can leave them stunned. This is what happens to dozens of sea turtles that wash ashore on the beaches of Cape Cod Bay each fall in Massachusetts.

An adult Kemp's ridley sea turtle.  Photo courtesy of USFWS.

An adult Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. Photo courtesy of USFWS.

This fall has seen the most stranded turtles of any fall on record. The turtles are juveniles that rode the jet stream northward and have been foraging in the area during the warmer summer months. As the temperatures cool the turtles begin to head south but many of them become trapped in Cape Cod Bay. A cold snap in early November quickly cooled water temperatures cold-stunning many turtles. When they become stunned the turtles can no longer swim and are carried along by wind and currents. Fortunately, coordinated efforts from volunteers, non-profit and government organizations, and numerous facilities in Florida, North Carolina and beyond have saved hundreds of these doomed turtles.

Between November 3 and November 26 the Mass Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary with the help of countless volunteers and the Cape Cod National Seashore recovered over 1,000 sea turtles, both alive and dead. Of those turtles, around 600 were found alive. About eighty percent of the turtles recovered were Kemp’s ridleys, the world’s most critically-endangered sea turtle species, while the remainder were green sea turtles and loggerhead sea turtles, also endangered species. Even a couple of unusual hybrid sea turtles have been found. Scientists are hopeful that the fact that such large numbers of juvenile Kemp’s ridleys have washed up could be an indicator that the species is being protected on its nesting grounds on the Gulf of Mexico.

A Kemp's ridley sea turtle hatchling on a beach in Alabama. Photo courtesy of USFWS.

A Kemp’s ridley sea turtle hatchling on a beach in Alabama. Photo courtesy of USFWS.

With such a large number of turtles, the small Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary was soon teeming with chilled turtles. Typically stranded turtles found by the Sanctuary are brought to the New England Aquarium’s Rehabilitation Facility in Quincy, Massachusetts to continue their recovery. With the unprecedented influx of cold-stunned turtles this fall, the New England Aquarium facility quickly filled and other rehab options were needed. Fortunately for hundreds of turtles, aquariums and rehab facilities across the East stepped up to take them in.

In the early morning hours of November 26, 193 Kemp’s ridleys that were at the New England Aquarium’s Rehabilitation Facility were loaded into padded boxes and driven to Joint Base Cape Cod. There the turtles were loaded onto a Coast Guard HC-144 aircraft that flew them to Orlando, Florida. After arriving in Orlando the turtles were distributed to seven marine animal rehab facilities in Northern and Central Florida. The same morning another fifty Kemp’s ridley and green sea turtles were brought to Norwood, Massachusetts where a private pilot met them and flew them to North Carolina to be distributed to aquariums.

A green sea turtle. Photo courtesy of USFWS.

A green sea turtle. Photo courtesy of USFWS.

Though the influx has slowed, turtles are continuing to be found on Cape Cod Bay beaches regularly though at this point most that are washing up are dead. A dedicated group of people continue to survey the beaches daily in search of any survivors.

Along My Goat Path to My Bioregion

Text and Photographs by Neva Knott

As I make lunch, pondering the blog post I need to write today, a crazy rain begins. Moments ago it was sunny. I had the slider to the back yard open for the dogs, and all of the windows open to let in the clean fall air. Now, rain comes down in a fury. Large drops plash and make wide rings that jump back up off surfaces. Water flows over my gutters. I rush to shut the slider, only to find a stand of water on the floor. I mop it, and then move around the house, shutting windows and wiping floors–rainwater has come in through each opening. As I throw the wet towels into the washing machine, I remember reading something in my Facebook newsfeed about a typhoon that will sit off the west coast this weekend. I conduct a quick google search, and I find Typhoon Vongfong, headed for Japan, the biggest storm to hit the planet this year. One report suggests the west coast will get some blowback from Vongfong. I concur.

An hour later, as I sit down to write this post, the third wave of the storm hits. I had planned to write about bioregionalism, that intense commitment to living where one lives, but Vongfong has reminded me of the interconnectedness of all things, and the importance of global awareness. When I read of storms like this one, I am reminded that we’re all facing environmental disaster and that we’re all in it together. We–and by this I mean all humans on this planet–have got to find a way to change how we live in relationship to the natural world. Super-storms are going to blow and humans are mere mortals in the face of them. But the poisoning of the ocean from nuclear waste leakage from reactors at Fukushima or the desecration of the ocean via an oil spill like the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico are within human control.

So, even though global awareness is important because the interconnectedness of the planet’s life-sustaining systems is undeniable, bioregionalism is a fail safe in the face of today’s environmental threats.

Peter Berg, a Haight-Ashbury activist, is credited with coining the term “bioregionalism.” The website for his foundation, Planet Drum, gives this definition:

“A bioregion is defined in terms of the unique overall pattern of natural characteristics that are found in a specific place. The main features are generally found throughout a continuous geographic terrain and include a particular climate, local aspects of seasons, landforms, watersheds, soils, and native plants and animals. People are also counted as an integral aspect of a place’s life, as can be seen in the ecologically adaptive cultures of early inhabitants, and in the activities of present day…attempt to harmonize in a sustainable way with the place where they live.”

In my last post, I mentioned wanting to get to better know where I live, Olympia, Washington. I was born here. Then we moved overseas. We returned when I was in the eighth grade. I graduated high school here, spent about a year after working at a pizza joint, and then moved to Portland, Oregon, just two hours south. I lived in Portland for most of the next 32 years (except for a short stint back in Oly to finish my undergrad degree at The Evergreen State College).

But where to begin here? I know I live in the Cascadia Bioregion and in the Puget Trough ecoregion. Yet, as I sat down to write, my bioregion seemed too big to break down into a blog post. I looked through my graduate school texts and papers. I traced my steps to knowing Oregon, and I realized so much of my Oregon study was a continuation of the experiential knowledge I had of those landscapes, gathered over 30 years of road trips, hikes, camping, and beach walks. In that realization, I found my plot for this writing.

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Image: wiki commons

I decided to follow my goat path. My mom coined the term “goat path,” that route each of us travels daily from home to work, barn to fodder…

***

It’s Saturday. I begin the day by walking the dogs in the middle school sports field below my house. A buffer of mature Douglas fir, Big Leaf Maple, and Alder–all indigenous species–separate the row of homes from the track, baseball diamonds, and soccer pitches. As the dogs go on, sniffing for scents from deer and coyote, I look back at the trees and ponder subdivision development then and now. My whole neighborhood was build with tall trees left standing, whereas today’s developers clear-cut, leaving nothing but dust on the plat before they begin to build. Crows, jays, robins and bats live in my trees and killdeer find habitat in their understory. There’s a slight downslope between two parts of the field. In the rain it fills enough that Mallard ducks and Canadian Geese stop off to rest and swim.

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After the dog walk, I make a cup of tea, don my yoga clothes, and head down town to The Yoga Loft. En route, I stop at the co-op. I’ve had a membership there since college, since 1987. I grab a nut and seed cookie, chat with the volunteer cashier, pay and keep on. As I leave the co-op, which is just a mile from my house, on the corner in a residential neighborhood (but nonetheless a hub), I decide to take the back route down the hill.

I like the view–a part of the Port where lumber awaits shipment. Though deforestation is a significant environmental concern, logging is part of the cultural and economic reality here and, thankfully, the ways of the industry are changing in favor of sustainability, albeit to varying degrees.

Then it’s across the bridge over the confluence of Capitol Lake and Budd Inlet, both of which form the mouth of the Deschutes River as it flows into Puget Sound.

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Image: DERT

The salmon run just passed through these waters a couple of weeks ago on its way up the Deschutes to spawn. Each year, at least now, someone puts letters on the bridge rail, S-E-E T-H-E S-A-L-M-O-N H-E-R-E, an attempt at community environmental education, I guess. When I was in college, it was legal to fish on the Sound side of the bridge when the salmon were running, but not on the lake side. That’s how we ate one winter; each day, my housemates and I stood on the bridge and fished until we had the day’s limit.

I park along Water Street, and walk down to the lake. Mallard ducks fly over the water. Runners run, walkers walk–some with coffee. Dogs sniff. The wind blows. On occasion, I’ve seen a Blue Heron fishing off the shore. And, unfortunately, trash floats long the surface of the water.

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Of current debate is the proposal to remove the dam that makes Capitol Lake a lake rather than the estuary for the Deschutes as it enters Budd Inlet. It’s a man-made lake designed to be the reflection pool for the state capitol building that sits on the hill above it. The lake is currently closed to swimming and boating because of several ecological problems such as high levels of river sediment, fecal coliform bacteria, infestation by Eurasian milfoil the New Zealand Mudsnail. I swam in this lake as a child.

The Yoga Loft is in the old American Legion building. I don’t always know how yoga fits within my sustainable perspective, but today I am reminded. As class begins and the teacher reminds everyone not to go to the place of pain, she references the yogic principle ahimsa, do no harm. She actually says, “Usually we think of doing no harm to others, animals, and the environment…” and that’s when I connect.

After class, I pause before getting in the car, looking around my immediate surrounds. Much of the time I find Olympia to be boring. I’m used to the bright city lights, literally and metaphorically, and to the easily accessible Oregon natural landscape. As I pause this morning, I realize that this landscape–Olympia–is where I learned about the natural world, where I learned, from my dad, about living in accordance with nature’s rhythms and the planet’s natural resources. I vow to get to know this place better, in the here and now.

I take the main road back up the hill. Westside Central Park sits at main intersection before I turn right toward home. This corner plot stood abandoned and derelict for years. Last spring, someone bought it and donated it to the community. It now blooms and is slowly becoming a little respite in the flow of goat paths.

So back to this idea of the bioregion. It’s a place that shares biological features. Those features support life for all of its inhabitants. The inhabitants, in turn, promote the health of the bioregion by caring for it and by living within it. In a simple sense, my goat path carries me through my bioregion: through the trees left standing when my house was built, to the corner store where most of the food comes from local farms and all of it is made as sustainably as possible, past the waterways that carry the salmon that feed all the peoples of the Pacific Northwest. All points on my goat path intersect with like-minded, friendly people doing their parts to live more lightly on the earth.

***

When I first read this passage from Brian Doyle’s novel, Mink River, I thought, that’s my bioregion, spelled out:

“Neawanaka has been a settlement of one size or another for perhaps five thousand years. Human beings lived here for all the normal reason you can name: it is well watered, with small but persistent creeks to the north and south, a small but serious river running right smack through town, and an Ocean. There are trout in the creeks, salmon and steelhead run up the river and creeks seasonally, and perch and halibut and cod and such swim not too far offshore; there are so many fish of so many kinds in and around the town that for perhaps five thousand years the name of the town was So Many Fish in the native tongue spoken here. There are deer and elk in the spruce and cedar forests. It hardly ever snows in winter and hardly ever bakes in summer. It does get an unbelievable amount of rain…and the rain starts in November and doesn’t really end, as a continuous moist narrative, until July, but then those next four months are crisp and sunny and extraordinary times, when every living creature, from the pale cloudberry close to the eagles the size of tents floating overhead, is grinning and exuberant.”

After reading this passage, I thought, no need for anything from elsewhere–this place can support itself. This is the point of bioregionalism–it precludes reliance on goods and services from outside. Bioregionalism is steeped in regional relationships that support sustainable use of natural resources for  all the needs of all the region’s inhabitants. And this is why I call bioregionalism a fail safe for the resource-depleted times to come.

***

They say, when the worst happens, that climate refugees will come here to the Pacific Northwest, largely because we’ll still have water. Though the sky has turned back to crayon blue in the time I’ve been writing and the clouds are once again puffy and white, today’s storm is a reminder that climate change is upon us, and that nope, we’ll not run out of water in these parts any time soon.

And as the world continues to change, here in Olympia, we’ll continue to adapt. We’ll better understand that man-made lakes might make pretty mirrors for man-made buildings, but that clean water and viable habitat is more important. And I’ll continue to hope that all the climate refugees will not come here. Instead, I hope everyone begins to understand how to live bioregionally–to find find their own versions of a healthy salmon run and their own versions of an inhabitable, clean-water estuary, so that they can feed themselves from the bounty of the places they live.

The Last Straw

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Photo courtesy of the Wiki Commons.

By Christine Harris

Two years ago the National Park Service visitor center where I work held a public screening of the documentary film Bag It! followed by a panel discussion. Bag It! tells the story of Jeb Berrier whose decision to stop using single-use plastic bags leads him to delve into the complicated world of recycling and the impacts that plastics have on our oceans and our health. The panel discussion was to focus on recycling and plastics in our oceans.

As the panel members took their seats in front of the audience after the showing I was surprised to see a ten-year-old boy among them. The boy was Milo Cress founder of the Be Straw Free campaign. At first I thought, why focus on straws? Don’t we have bigger issues to face? Yet after hearing more from Milo about his campaign I better understood how his message fits into the much larger issues of disposable plastics and plastics in our oceans.

Straws are one of the top ten marine debris items. In 2013 COASTSWEEP, an annual volunteer-based cleanup of Massachusetts’ beaches, found straws and drink stirrers to be the fifth most common type of trash collected with over 5,100 collected during the event.

Photo courtesy of the USFWS.

An albatross with a stomach full of plastic debris. Photo courtesy of the USFWS.

In the United States 500 million disposable straws are used each day. Though most straws are made of recyclable plastics like plastic #2 or #5, plastic drinking straws present a problem for single stream recycling and most communities will not recycle them. Straws can jam up the large sorting machines used at single stream recycling facilities.

Milo Cress’ Be Straw Free campaign, which he started when he was nine years old, invites people to take the pledge to go straw free by asking for no straw when at restaurants or when getting drinks to go and by not purchasing them for use at home. For those who like to use straws he suggests buying a reusable straw. His campaign also encourages restaurants to adopt an Offer First policy. Instead of automatically giving each patron a straw restaurant employees first ask customers if they want one.

Milo, who hails from Burlington, Vermont, has brought his movement all over the country. In his hometown Mayor Bob Kiss issued a proclamation declaring the tenets of the “Be Straw Free” as best practices for the city. In July of 2013, after meeting Milo, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper declared a statewide “Straw Free Day.” On Earth Day in 2013 Xanterra Resorts, a concessionaire responsible for running lodges and restaurants in many national parks including Yellowstone, Zion, and the Grand Canyon, partnered with Milo to bring the “Be Straw Free” campaign to their facilities.

Grand Canyon Lodge. Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons.

Grand Canyon Lodge. Managed by Xanterra Resorts. Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons.

Milo has also visited countless schools in the United States, Australia and Europe where he encourages schools to stop using plastic straws and raises awareness about larger issues like single use disposable plastics and plastics in our oceans. Not bad for a kid who’s twelve years old.

Restoring the Herring River

The Herring River Estuary. Photo by Christine Harris.

The Herring River Estuary. Photo by Christine Harris.

By Christine Harris

In 1908 the Herring River Estuary in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, a system supporting 1100 acres of salt marsh, was diked off, restricting normal tidal flow and eliminating all but 10 acres of the marsh. The reasoning behind the construction of the dike seems ludicrous in light of modern ecological understanding. Today an effort is being made to restore salt marshes throughout the country, including those of the Herring River Estuary.

At the turn of the twentieth century the quaint coastal town of Wellfleet, Massachusetts was becoming a popular resort area to which many wealthy city-dwellers flocked. One popular hotel, the Chequesset Inn, located near the mouth of the Herring River, attracted an elite clientele. Guests at the Chequesset, and other area establishments, enjoyed spending time relaxing by Wellfleet Harbor, but complained about the mosquitoes. At the time it was believed that the source of the mosquitoes was the Herring River, and it was thought that if the salt marshes of the estuary were eliminated, the mosquito population in the area would decrease significantly. Thus the Chequesset Neck Dike was constructed by the state in 1908, reducing the mouth of the river from a width of several hundred feet to six feet, and effectively cutting off tidal flow beyond the dike.

Cutting off tidal flow to the Herring River significantly affected the health of the ecosystem it supported. In place of native salt marsh plants the Herring River now hosts a number of invasive plant species, including a large amount of the invasive reed phragmites. Furthermore, without the flushing of the tides and the presence of saltwater minnows such as the mummichog, a type of killifish that feed on mosquito larva, the Herring River likely provides breeding grounds for more mosquitoes now than it did before it was diked off.

Once considered to provide little more than foul smells and insects, salt marshes are now recognized as biologically significant ecosystems on which many species, including humans, depend. Peat, the spongy layer of decomposing plant material which is the base of a salt marsh, has been recognized to provide a buffer from storm damage. When storm surges threaten coastlines, peat absorbs flood waters and reduces the height of these surges, protecting coastal communities from the impacts of severe flooding.

Salt marsh peat. Photo by Christine Harris.

Salt marsh peat. Photo by Christine Harris.

Another beneficial feature of salt marshes is their role as the nurseries of the ocean. Over two thirds of all commercially harvested seafood species, including shellfish, finfish, crabs, and lobsters, depend on the salt marsh for part of their life cycles. Salt marshes provide cover and camouflage for many of these harvestable species when they are young and most susceptible to predation, and provide a safe place for breeding and foraging. Salt marshes also have recreational value as popular places to fish, kayak, and contemplate the natural world.

With knowledge of the benefits which marshes provide, local communities, the state, the county and the Cape Cod National Seashore have taken on the task of restoring several previously degraded salt marsh systems on Cape Cod, including that of the Herring River. Most of these restoration projects focus on the use of gradual tidal restoration to reintroduce saltwater, along with the species of plants and animals it supports, over the course of many years.  The Herring River restoration project centers around the reconstruction of the Chequesset Neck Dike. The proposed structure would provide access to the public for fishing and boating and have a series of sluice gates that could allow for incremental tidal restoration across a width of 100 feet. Construction of the new dike is set to begin in 2016.

Last preserved area on the banks of Lake Geneva

Reserve

Story and Photographs by Aurora Luongo

Near the area where the River Rhône enters Lake Geneva, there is a peaceful place for many species of animals and plants. Réserve des Grangettes, a wetland and natural reserve, is an important resting and hibernation place for migratory birds. The site is included in the Ramsar Convention List of Wetlands of International Importance, since 1990.

In 2011, after an extension of the site from 330 ha to 6,342 ha, the Réserve des Grangettes became the largest reserve in Switzerland to be listed in the Ramsar Convention.

The Foundation that manages the reserve, the Fondation des Grangettes, is 25 years old this year and makes a positive assessment of its activities. Indeed, its conservation programmes demonstrate having successful outcomes on biodiversity.

Many migratory birds stop in the reserve during their journey between Africa and northern Europe at spring and autumn. Moreover, 70 birds nest permanently in the area.

Birds

The site is partly accessible to humans, enough so that patient hikers can observe herons, kingfishers and several migratory birds, dragonflies (of which the site lists 36 species), green frogs and grass snakes. At dusk, it is also possible to observe beavers.

As for flora, the Réserve des Grangettes is home to 400 species of plants and its landscape is composed of reed beds, ponds, swamps and alluvial forests.

Although it is called natural reserve, the site is carefully maintained by the hands of humans, through actions taken by the Fondation des Grangettes. Human intervention is crucial, for example, to avoid the disappearance of marshes under bushes and forests.

Reserve manager Olivier Epars explains that the Foundation was created in 1989 to manage the Réserve des Grangettes, which is the property of Pro Natura, the largest organization for nature conservation in Switzerland; its actions include the development of a national network of protected species.

“The Fondation des Grangettes is also responsible for monitoring the site and raising public awareness,” Epars says. “It has allowed the building of installations for the public, as well as information panels, fences, an observation tower and the holding of exhibitions.”

As explained by Epars, the measures taken by the Foundation to limit the human impact in the reserve have had positive effects, particularly for birds.

“The creation of new habitats (ponds, lagoon, island and rafts) helped to bring back disappeared or new nesting species, like the little bittern and the black-necked grebe,” Epars explains. “We count about eight percent of additional species,” he adds.

The little bittern (Ixobrychus minutus), which is a kind of heron, is a species reported “endangered” in Switzerland and listed on the Red List of Threatened Animals. This bird disappeared from the Réserve des Grangettes in the 1970’s due to the decay of reed beds. Since 2013, thanks to the Foundation’s conservation program, a small population of this species is breeding again in the reserve. Currently, between 120 and 150 pairs of little bitterns nest in Switzerland.

A few months ago, a new nesting mast was erected to facilitate the return of another bird, the osprey (Pandion haliaetus) in the reserve.

New nesting mast

The osprey is not threatened, but its presence remains rare in Europe, whereas it was once a widespread nesting bird across Europe. In Switzerland, this species was exterminated one century ago. The disappearance of this bird is due to human persecution: the osprey was shot, its eggs were looted and its nesting trees were knocked down.

The European tree frog (Hyla arborea) is another species which benefitted from conservation activities carried out by the Fondation des Grangettes. Thanks to the creation of new biotopes, the Réserve des Grangettes is now the only place of the Rhône Valley in Switzerland with a population of European tree frogs.

As for the future evolution of the Réserve des Grangettes, Epars explains that new habitats will be created, and that the Fondation des Grangettes would like to create a venue for the public in the reserve.

 

Cultch is Clutch in Wellfleet Harbor

Wellfleet Harbor.  Photo by Christine Harris.

Wellfleet Harbor. Photo by Christine Harris.

By Christine Harris

For seafood aficionados the town of Wellfleet, Massachusetts is synonymous with one thing: oysters. These briny morsels have been a staple of the town’s economy since the 1700s and are known far and wide for their unique flavor. The decline, recovery, and cultivation of oysters in Wellfleet follows the ecological understanding of these animals and has led to an innovative recycling project in the town.

First called Oyster Bay by Samuel de Champlain when he explored the area in 1605, Wellfleet Harbor has been a hotbed of oyster harvest and cultivation for over 300 years and was likely harvested by the native Wampanoag people for centuries beforehand. However, by the beginning of the 1800s the oysters in Wellfleet Harbor were gone. The disappearance is likely due to a combination of overfishing and a lack of cultch in the harbor. Cultch is a term used to describe broken shells used by baby oysters or “spat” as a substrate on which to grow. The spat attach to cultch and grow and live affixed to that substrate.

Oyster. Photo by David Monniaux courtesy of Wikicommons.

Oyster. Photo by David Monniaux courtesy of Wikicommons.

During the 1700s the shells of oysters and clams that were harvested from the harbor were used to make shell lime for mortar for construction and thus not returned to the water. Without the return of shells to the harbor spat had no cultch on which to grow and over time the oysters disappeared. With little understanding of the life cycle of the oyster, many of the people of Wellfleet believed that God was punishing them for their sins by taking away their most valuable food and economic source.

With the loss of its native oysters, the people of Wellfleet began to bring in oysters from the Chesapeake Bay to grow in the waters of Wellfleet Harbor and later be sold in markets in Boston. Though the oysters may have originated elsewhere, the flavor of an oyster comes from the waters in which it lives, so these imported oysters still tasted like Wellfleet oysters. Today the cultivation of oysters in the harbor continues to thrive.

In celebration of the importance of the oyster to Wellfleet, an annual Oysterfest is held in October each year. The event has grown in recent years and in 2013 an estimated 25,000 people descended on the small town to indulge in a variety of oyster dishes, listen to live music, browse products from local artists, and have a good time. With so many people consuming oysters many shells are left behind. At the event in 2012 an estimated 100,000 oysters and 10,000 clams were consumed. Five tons of oyster shells were collected and recycled, amounting to 43 percent of the waste stream from the event. These shells, and others collected since, are now being used as cultch in Wellfleet Harbor and are providing habitat for future generations of shellfish.

It is estimated that in the three years since the shell-recycling program began enough habitat has been added to Wellfleet Harbor for 60 million new oysters which is 15 times the annual harvest rate. The oysters also improve the water quality in the harbor by filtering 3 billion gallons of water a day. In 2012 Shellfish Promotion and Tasting (SPAT), the organization behind Oysterfest, and the Town of Wellfleet won the Municipal Innovation Award at the annual Mass Recycle Awards.  This innovative program holds promise for the future of oysters in Wellfleet Harbor and beyond.

Boundary Stream Scenic Reserve

By Jenna Gersie

After living in the tropics for nine months, traveling for a week on the North Island during New Zealand’s winter had me shivering, layering, and seeking warmth indoors. I spent as much time outdoors in the middle, and warmest part, of the day as I could. When I drove the twelve kilometres of winding, gravel road to Boundary Stream Scenic Reserve on the eastern coast of the North Island on my way from Gisborne to Napier, I stepped out of the car to very cold weather; it almost felt like it might snow. I grabbed an extra layer and my binoculars and set out on a walk.

For how cold it was (to me, at least), I was surprised to hear so much birdsong. All around me I heard the chirps of Fantails and the distinctive melodies of the Tui, a black honeyeater with an iridescent sheen and two white tufts of feathers at the throat. Almost as soon as I entered the trail, I heard a rustling above me, and raised my binoculars, expecting to see a Tui or another common bird. But feeding high in the tree was a very large bird. The shade from the tree prevented me from seeing the olive and crimson colours of some of the feathers, so it just seemed black. But as I watched, I suddenly saw through my binoculars a huge, parrot-like beak, picking fruit from the tree. I breathed a “wow” to myself when I saw the size of this beak, never having seen such a large parrot before, and certainly not in the wild. The bird above me was the Kaka, an endemic forest parrot.

IMG_2131A taxidermied specimen of the Kaka at the Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Boundary Stream Scenic Reserve is a home for rare endemic New Zealand birds like the Kaka. It is one of six original Mainland Islands set up on the New Zealand mainland in the 1990s. These Mainland Islands have been set up to intensively manage introduced pests in order to restore native species and ecosystems. By continually removing introduced predators, this ongoing project creates islands of native habitat and species on New Zealand’s North and South Islands. Encompassing 802 hectares, Boundary Stream was established in 1996. It is located in the Maungaharuru Range, which is fitting, because Maori legend tells that the name Maungaharuru, meaning “rumbling mountain,” was given after a priest thrust a staff onto the mountain range, and as the staff fell, the range erupted with the song of thousands of birds.

Sadly, as the forest was converted to farmland beginning in the 1870s, many of those birds began to disappear. Herbert Guthrie-Smith, a naturalist and farmer who moved to the region in 1882, kept copious notes on the environment and species present in the area for nearly sixty years. His notes have given scientists great insight as to what Boundary Stream should look like, and this has helped with both pest control and native species reintroduction. His records have also been inspiring for local people to restore the forest to what it once was.

Guthrie-Smith recorded comments by local Maori elders, stating that the endemic Kokako, Saddleback, and North Island Robin were once common in the area. By the time Guthrie-Smith arrived in the area, however, only the robins still existed, and they were few in number. These robins were the first birds to be reintroduced to the area. In 1998, twenty-eight robins were set free in the reserve. The robins are now dispersed throughout Boundary Stream and are breeding happily. The reintroduction of the robin offered the first proof that pest control is a successful means of re-establishing native habitat and species. As I walked along the trail, I noticed a gray bird hopping right in front of a sign explaining the reintroduction of the robin. As I got closer, I saw that it was indeed a North Island Robin, prancing about and showing off the sign dedicated to him.

IMG_1857In the bottom right, a North Island Robin stands at the base of the sign dedicated to him.

In 2000, New Zealand’s national icon, the Kiwi, was introduced to the reserve, and in 2001, Kokako were introduced. When the project began in 1996, the Kokako had not been seen or heard in more than 100 years. In 2001, five pairs of Kokako were brought from Te Urewera National Park. The pairs were settled into an aviary at Boundary Stream; the birds were kept captive because they have a very strong homing instinct. When these Kokako bred, the offspring were released within Boundary Stream to establish new wild populations. In addition to the populations of North Island Robins, Kiwis, and Kokakos, native Whitehead and Rifleman populations are also doing well in the area.

Rangers and volunteers trap introduced predators such as cats, possums, and rats. They also remove unwanted animals like goats and deer to protect the forest understorey. In the first few years of the project, when an understorey was nearly non-existent, 2,000 goats were killed; now a healthy sub-canopy supports the forest’s tall trees. Seedlings of native plants like Kaka Beak (Clianthus puniceus) and Yellow-flowered Mistletoe (Alepis flavida) are planted. This type of land management and predator control has offered birdlife the chance to live in a habitat similar to that which covered the North Island before the arrival of introduced species. With continued efforts by staff and volunteers, New Zealand’s native wildlife will continue to thrive.

World Oceans Month: Western Governors Alliance on Ocean Health

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Driftwood on a Washington beach. Photograph courtesy of wiki commons.

By Neva Knott

It’s still World Oceans Month, and to celebrate, I’ve continued my investigation into ocean health in my home state, Washington, on the US West Coast. I began by looking at agency websites–Department of Ecology, Fish and Wildlife, and Washington Sea Grant, most specifically. I also took a closer look at the Marine Resource Committees and Marine Spatial Planning programs I found via Surfrider and wrote about last week. While reading these sites, I was impressed and enthused by the thought, concern, research, expertise, and collaboration drawn upon to create the protection programs for Washington’s oceans and coastal ecosystems.

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Marine Spatial Planning map. Image courtesy of NOAA.

When I read all the policy stuff, I keep my eye open for the action piece–I want to know what’s happening on the ground, after policy is set and administrative groups have been formed. On the agency websites, I noticed a gap in action between 2007/2008 and now, presumably due to recession-driven budget cuts, but I pushed on. Finally, I found the West Coast Governors Alliance on Ocean Health, an organization committed to collaborative efforts between California, Oregon, and Washington. Such collaboration is an effective strategy for agencies when individual budgets are slashed. This alliance was formed in September 2006, to promote:

  • Clean coastal waters and beaches
  • Healthy ocean and coastal habitats
  • Effective ecosystem-based management
  • Reduced impacts of offshore development
  • Increased ocean awareness and literacy among the region’s citizens
  • Expanded ocean and coastal scientific information, research, and monitoring
  • Sustainable economic development of coastal communities

What I find encouraging about this list of goals is the ecosystems approach in combination with the realities of ocean/coastal usage and problems. When an ecosystems approach is truly implemented, people, other species, place, culture, natural resources, and economics dependent thereupon are sustained. Simply put, taking the ecosystems approach promotes the triple bottom line and supports people, profits, and the planet.

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Triple Bottom Line. Image courtesy of wiki media.

Here in Washington, our culture of place and many livelihoods are dependent upon the sustainability of natural resources. We boast one of the healthiest salmon fisheries in the world, and are one of the best shellfish growing regions. Crab fishing is a viable industry, and clam-digging a regional pastime, one I’ve enjoyed since I was old enough to walk.

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Digging for razor clams. Photograph courtesy of WDFW.

While California, Oregon, and Washington each relate to the Alliance’s goals in a regionally-specific and ecosystems-specific manner, there are common factors that affect all three states. These include sea level rise, algal blooms, marine debris (tons of stuff floats our way from the Fukushima disaster), oil spill prevention and response, marine vessel emissions, marine invasive species, offshore drilling, ocean energy as renewable energy source, working waterfronts and sustainable coastal communities, and habitat for marine species.

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Cannon Beach, Oregon. Photograph courtesy of wiki commons.

As a way to keep the public informed about our oceans, the WCGA has created the West Coast Ocean Data Portal. The Portal is quite user-friendly and the information found there discernible. It is research-based data, categorized as biological–habitats, species, and taxa; human–boundaries, economy, infrastructure, and management; and physical–atmosphere, earth, and water. The Portal is kept current and elucidates the interconnectedness of the systems that create the triple bottom line.

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California’s Pacific Coast Highway. Photograph courtesy of wiki commons.