Stalking 4: My Chesapeake Ethic

Spending a semester traveling throughout the Chesapeake Bay I never would have imagined all the understanding and insight I have gained towards this treasured yet troubled watershed. The Chesapeake Semester has provided me with a multitude of wonderful opportunities to enrich myself as a person while exploring and learning about the Bay watershed and all that it entails. Reflecting back on my first blog post, I have garnered the “Chesapeake ethic” that I hoped for and so much more. Journey Four, our final excursion, has provided me with an even greater and more complex understanding of the Chesapeake region. This journey has focused on ethical and humanities perspectives regarded resource and regulation issues of the Bay, providing me with an enhanced outlook on what needs to be done and what can be done to fix these type of problems. It has been helpful in cultivating and refining my ethic, and therefore my future role in saving the Chesapeake Bay.

This Journey took us on a whirlwind trip navigating the resources and regulations of the Bay, and how those factors affect the citizens and the environment. We began by visiting the Davis brothers large poultry operation, followed by a trip the next day to two very different dairy farms. We met with the Chester River’s river keeper to discuss policy issues, and followed that by a discussion with a lawyer who had a difference in opinion. We also met with two local watermen to get their views on regulations, and ended the journey by meeting with Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, who is a non-profit devoted to conserving land and bettering the environment of the Bay watershed. I feel that the agriculture and farming operations toured on this trip truly gave me an eye-opening reminder of where our food comes from and how it effects society and the environment.

Approximately 50% of U.S. land use is devoted to agriculture. That totals to millions of acres, a fair amount of which fall into the Chesapeake Bay watershed, a 64,000 square mile area that includes six states and the federal jurisdiction of Washington D.C. Add that with the 11,000 miles of shoreline and millions of people who live in the watershed and you get lots of people who need food and lots of land to produce that resource. All of this production leads to lots of pollution, in the form of runoff, nutrient pollution, eutrophication, and dead zones. The Chesapeake Bay Program has estimated that an alarming 57% of phosphorous and 42% nitrogen was input into the Bay in 2013 by agriculture alone (Hardesty, lecture). This pollution stems from the horrible conditions that are widespread in our nation’s agriculture and food industry. We have gone from the idyllic image of a sunny red barn and silo farm to a reality of factory production and assembly lines of animals.

We now get our food from a system of uniformity, conformity, and cheapness. This “more efficient” mass production really only leads to more problems and less solutions. Cheaper food and economic efficiencies can lead to environmental degradation, a large price. Differences need to be made in the Chesapeake and worldwide in how we approach agriculture and in doing so the connection and relationship between human culture and the environment. This difference was highlighted for me while visiting the Jones Family Farm, a dairy operation with 2,700 cows, and St. Brigid’s Dairy, a farm with only 50-100 pasture raised cows. I believe that a smaller, more sustainable, and local farming operation is the best way to go. Eating is an agricultural act, and we have the chance to vote three times a day.

Overall, this Journey has highlighted for the importance of a relationship between human society and the natural world. In Wendell Berry’s essay “Renewing Husbandry” he highlights that the way we farm effects our local community, economy, and ecosystem, and the greater system as a whole. Perhaps we need a fresh start in the way we farm, and with that how we form regulation and policy surrounding our resources. In recognizing our connection to the finite and precious natural resources we still have, we can work to better sustain and conserve our environment and culture. Instilling these thoughts into my own views and “Chesapeake Ethic” have helped me grow towards being a responsible consumer, citizen, and steward of our environment and society.

 

References

Berry, Wendell. Renewing Husbandry. Orion Magazine. 2005.

Hardesty, Michael. Lectures. 2015.

Stalking Three: Conservation of Coastal Cays

Who doesn’t love the beach? We definitely enjoyed staying on the beautiful tropical island of South Water Caye during the tail end of our third journey, which took partially took place in Central American country of Belize. While going to the beach may be a favorite pastime of many, there is a much fewer number of people who truly place a value on the coast and therefore attempt to conserve it. Conservation can be defined as the act of protecting, managing, and maintaining the environment and its natural resources. Throughout the journey we were able to grasp a better understanding of the how the general conservation and management of Belize’s coastal and coral reef ecosystems matches up to the rapid degradation, similar to many of our Earth’s habitats.

Belize is home to the second largest coral reef system in the world. It is a rich place of coral reefs, mangroves, and sea grass beds and provides habitat for some of the most biologically and ecologically diverse organisms in the world. We were able to stay on an island in South Water Caye Marine Reserve, which was established by the Belize Fisheries Department in 1996 and is the largest marine protected area in Belize. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage protected site. The Fisheries Department employs only a manager, biologist, 2 rangers, a caretaker, and some Coast Guard members for the Marine Reserve, which covers a huge 117,878 acres. “The staff is responsible for enforcing the fisheries regulations, carrying out patrols, surveillance, research, monitoring, education, outreach, collection of visitor fees and overall management” (Park Rules and Regulations). This huge task in such a large area makes the Reserve’s job quite difficult. We also learned from the rangers that the system was shut down for a few years until 2013 due to strapping finances, economic issues are often a concern in the conservation world.

There are often issues with allocating budgets for conservation, but ironically coral reef ecosystems provide a major source of economic income for Belize. The World Resource Institute’s article “Coastal Capital Belize: The Economic Contribution of Belize’s Coral Reefs and Mangroves” highlights and estimates the economic advances for Belize associated with tourism, dependent fisheries, and avoided damages from the coral and mangrove ecosystems. They estimate that those three categories bring revenue of 395 to 559 million dollars annually to Belize, compared to their GDP, which was 1.3 billion dollars in 2007. The benefits that the reef ecosystem provide versus the way it is treated does not make sense.

Through this all Belize’s coral reef system remains in “poor” health condition based on the 2015 Report Card for the Mesoamerican Reef. Even the marine protected area has issues of eutrophication, overfishing, pollution, sea level rise, and ocean acidification, coupled with threats of agriculture runoff, trawling, and development (Hardesty). These alarming environmental and economic keep building, and it is hard for the small staff of the Marine Reserve to manage and police all of this, especially in such a large protected area. And what will become of the ecosystems not under conservation?

Facing these challenges and coming up with solutions will not be an easy task, especially when there are rapid increases in environmental degradation. Chesapeake writer Tom Horton discusses this in the chapter titled “Coming and Going” from his book Bay Country. There will always be a “baseline” or prior standard and measure of degradation, a level at which anything below is unacceptable. Horton claims that each new generation accepts a lower baseline, and that this can lead to less of things like management and conservation. This stigma is a huge issue for the coastal ecosystem of Belize, as well as other areas of the world like the Chesapeake Bay.

One idea for a solution to the issue of coastal conservation comes from the theory of traditional ecological knowledge, or TEK. TEK is all about the knowledge of relationships of living beings with one another and the environment in a way that is culturally transmitted through social attitudes of beliefs, principles, and conventions of behavior (Lampman). As a society we must be more knowledgeable about ecosystems and the environment, and the role we play in their survival, as well as the role they play in our survival. This is very important to consider when deciding how to conserve and manage an ecosystem like the coastal and coral reefs of Belize. The same management and maintenance issues arise in our own Chesapeake Bay. Seeing what is good and what is bad about the conservation system in Belize can be applied back to our waterway, and we can provide information to them as well. In order to keep our coasts the way we want them, we must value and conserve them.

References

Hardesty, lecture, 2015.

Horton, Tom. Bay Country: Coming and Going. 1987.

Lampman, lecture, 2015.

World Resource Institute. Coastal Capital Belize: The Economic Contribution of Belize’s Coral Reefs and Mangroves.

2015 Mesoamerican Reef Report Card.

The Maya versus Monoculture 

The Maya

versus

Monoculture

Human civilization would not be where it stands today without the succession and subsistence of agriculture. Agriculture and farming are key components in establishment and growth of societies. The story of the Mayans is a perfect example of a culture built on certain agricultural forms and practices. Our current Western practices clearly contrast this. These modern and traditional societal differences and the intersections between nature and culture have been exemplified throughout our 3rd journey to Central America, through Guatemala and Belize. 

In Guatemala we were able to get a sense of traditional Maya Mesoamerican culture when visiting the ancient ruins of Tikal, a complex system of temples and periods of which only 7% has been archaeologically uncovered. What has been discovered gives us a sense of how intelligent and technologically advanced they were for the time period of 200 BC to about 850 AD (Seidel, lecture). They implemented Swidden or slash and burn agriculture which involves cutting down forest at the end of the dry season and then burning the land before the rainy season for benefits such as returning nutrients to the soil. Unfortunately this method leaves fields fallow and out of production for several years. It also causes issues with environmental effects like erosion, runoff, and flooding from rain events on exposed soil. It is with these type of agricultural issues that the collapse of the Maya begins around 800 AD.

Much of the Mayans’ downfall was due to exponential population growth and stress and exploitation of resources, which sounds familiar to some problems in today’s society.
The population growth fueled more agriculture which further depleted the soil and lowered yields. Lack of food led to warfare which furthered decrease in farming cycles which led to even more war (Seidel). All of these limiting factors followed by a major drought led to the collapse of the civilization.  

Although things didn’t turn out so great for the Maya many of their agricultural principles are beneficial. While in Guatemala we visited the farm of our guide Slyvano. His main crop was cacao, but he implemented a permaculture system in which he also grew many other plants and fruits. This garnered many culinary and medicinal uses, as well as added economic benefits. This form of multiple crop agriculture is greatly varied from the Western practice of monoculture.

Monoculture, or the practice of growing much of one crop, is widespread in American. Examples of this can be seen in corn and soy growIng operations. In many ways this system works for farmers, but there are risks associated environmentally and economically. It is hard to tell which form of agriculture is best to implement in a modern world. It is important to think globally beyond the individual and local scale, especially when adapting our land use to our cultural ways. Whether it be in the way of the Mayans or permaculture it is important and essential to recognize and be knowledgeable as humans maintaining a working relationship with the environment.   

Stalking 2: Smith Island

“On the  islands, elements of our human and natural heritage have been able to flourish well past the time they could still exist, sullied, on the mainland” (Horton p.107).

Smith Island. The name is simple, but the stories surrounding it hold a greater mystique of the wonders of the Chesapeake Bay. Being from New Jersey, I had never heard of Smith Island until this summer when prepping for my semester studying the Chesapeake Bay and watershed. I first came across the island in Tom Horton’s great novel of the Chesapeake, Bay Country. One of my personal favorite chapters of the book entitled “Pleasures of the Islands” delves into the people and lifestyle of Smith Island from Horton’s vantage point of having stayed there. What I read described a small yet vibrant Methodist community, who was best known for their waterman business in “soft-crab central” and their famed dessert: the multi-layer Smith Island Cake. I knew that over the course of the semester I would have the wonderful opportunity to visit and stay on the island and perhaps get a taste of the culture that Horton so brightly describes. Having now completed Journey Two and visited the island I have an enriched outlook on life on Smith Island and how it has and has not changed over the 25 plus years since Tom Horton wrote his book.

Smith Island is an island located 10-15 miles off of Crisfield, Maryland, the only way to get there being a 45 minute ferry ride by a local captain. The island is quite isolated, school children have to take a boat to and from school on the mainland each weekday. That being said there are not many children on the island, which as the last inhabited island in Maryland is only home to less than 300 residents (dealing since the publication of Bay Country). The island is home to 3 communities: Ewell, Tylerton, and Rhodes Point; each of which have a strong sense of Methodist religion and a classic Chesapeake watermen culture. It was very interesting to get a sense of the island in the past before visiting it today.

Change or lack thereof is a big deal on Smith Island. This close-knit community has maintained it’s sense of culture over hundreds of years. Tom Horton justifies, “About change, the legendary resistance to it among watermen assumes a radically different look in the context of the bay environment in which Smith Island and Smith Islanders have been steeped for more than three centuries” (Horton p.116).  Somehow the watermen business has continued to survive and be successful on this island. “Similar to the species he preys on, the bay waterman has survived down the decades by being flexible enough to switch easily among whatever changing opportunities present themselves…’They are resistant to changes that would restrict their livelihood and ability to adapt to changes…watermen may be the epitome of change'” (Horton p.117).

While the watermen community may be thriving on Smith, there a current changes regarding the island’s structural changes due to sea level rise and erosion. Whether the islanders would like to admit or believe it or not, the water is rising and unfortunately it will eventually take the island with it. In 2013, there was a government offer to buyout willing homeowners on Smith Island with relief funds from Hurricane Sandy. It’s no surprise that it was not accepted and was shut down by the community. Luckily, it spurred acknowledgement of issues on the island, which has no formal government (due to the church being the community center). Smith Island United was created and along with the Smith Island Community Vision Steering Committee, the Smith Island Vision Plan was published in 2015. This document is “A vision for how Smith Island will look, feel, and thrive in coming decades” (Vision Plan). The vision’s goals are to: sustain and grow the waterman culture, increase viability and diversity of the local economy, develop and maintain infrastructure, develop reliable and sustainable transportation, and to acknowledge the “need to grow the year-round population of the island” (Vision Plan).

Mark Kitching, a waterman and member of the Smith Island Steering Committee, supports change and development of the island, but does not see any evidence on the island to support theories of sea level rise. While it may not be on their minds or visible to them, the community of Smith Island is changing along with our sea level. In Bay Country, Tom Horton predicts, “Forces are at work that probably will extinguish, or greatly diminish, the islands’ special qualities in many of our lifetimes. A number of bay islands already have vanished or dramatically receded from wind and wave erosion in the last century. That retreat will only accelerate as our profligate incineration of fossil fuels warms the global atmosphere and melts more of the polar icecaps, causing the sea level to rise at a rate unprecedented in many thousands of years” (p. 108).

Having traveled to Smith Island and seeing how passionate and rich their surviving community and culture truly is was truly valuable. Even though projections of climate change and sea level rise predict an unsightly future for the island I hope that the islanders can instill and practice their vision and goals, and that Smith Island will be sustained and kept as the Chesapeake treasure that it is.

References

Horton, Tom. Bay Country, “Pleasures of the Islands: Smith Island”. 1987.

Smith Island Vision Plan. 2015. http://www.cbuilding.org/sites/default/files/150611_Smith_Island_Vision%20Plan_Final_Draft.pdf

Changing Culture: Watermen in the Chesapeake

In Journey 2 we have continued to explore the Chesapeake watershed further, studying the ecology and geology of the Bay. Our journey from Susquehanna State Park to Chincoteague Island has shown us some of the varying landforms and waterways of the encompassing Chesapeake Bay. Throughout our trip we have had the opportunity to talk to many informed people who work and live in and on the Bay. One thing the Chesapeake is not short of is watermen. Watermen are the men and women who work commercially on the water: fishing, crabbing, and harvesting oysters to make their living. The stories and experiences that the watermen have to share can give us a peek into the various changes going on in the Bay. The Chesapeake Bay’s adjusting ecology and geology cause this watermen culture to to adapt along with the shifting environment of this watershed.

Scientifically, most of the environmental changes and issues in the Bay stem from current and impending climate change and sea level rise. This has led to increased storm events, flooding, shoreline erosion and subsidence, just to name a few consequences. Some of the Bay’s islands are even disappearing underwater. The story of Holland Island is tragic. Once a thriving community of watermen, the Island literally broke apart due to issues with erosion and subsidence. Inhabitants were forced to move away in the early 20th century. The last standing house on Holland Island unfortunately deteriorated and collapsed in late 2010. Holland Island’s fate may be a foreshadowing to other Bay communities, such as Smith Island.

Smith Island is a bay island in between Maryland and Virginia, only accessible by boat. It is known best for it’s famed Smith Island Cake, which is the state dessert of Maryland. Smith Island inhabits less then 300 residents, and is centered around it’s Methodist religion and it’s watermen culture and economy. Unfortunately, this community is beginning to see effects of land and water change. This has a direct correlation to the culture and economy of the island’s watermen. Matt Whitbeck, a head biologist at the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge, says that Smith Islanders will respond and leave if necessary, only by force. These people have an optimistic outlook on the health of their island and the Bay.

Other watermen, who may not be as seasoned, have a different approach and outlook towards the changing Chesapeake. Tim Devine owns Barren Island Oysters, a young and sustainable aquaculture farming pursuit. Instead of harvesting wild oysters, Tim aids in the reproduction, fertilization of the oysters, finally collecting the mature bivalves. While Devine believes in the reasoning behind these environmental changes, he has to uphold a glass half-full mindset towards his business and it’s flood zone location.

Kate Livie, Director of Education at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, states that as these small Chesapeake islands disappear, so does their culture and community. The watermen of the Chesapeake face many future challenges, and it is up to them to respond and adapting to the changing ecology and geology of the watershed.

Environmental Change and Wilderness

The past couple of weeks have been spent preparing for our second journey of Chesapeake Semester. In Journey Two we will further explore the Chesapeake watershed, looking at the geology and ecology of the region. Our main concentration in lectures has been on climate change, learning about the science background, as well as the environmental and political issues surrounding it. With climate change and other environmental problems, a key word seems to be “change”.

Climate change is a current and critical global environmental issue. It can be defined as “any systemic change in long term climate elements (temperature, pressure, or winds) sustained over several decades or longer” (Hardesty). Changes in climate have been natural over time, but the recent changes are what is really alarming. The recent rapid rates of increased temperatures are what is concerning The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) publishes assessment reports on the issue to inform people like scientists, the public, and the government on current standings and observations surrounding climate change. Their 2007 report stated, “Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gases” (Hardesty). This affirms that the recent increased changes in temperatures are the cause of human emission of harmful greenhouse gases.

What implications does this shift in climate have for the environment and for the human population? Impacts of climate change include sea level rise, ocean acidification, and changes in habitat and species distribution. Changes in habitat and species distribution affect our ecosystem function and services (Hardesty). Climate change has been caused by how we have affected the environment, and the repercussions will force us to adapt and change to a habitat. We may have to come up with new ways for resource extractions and food systems.

All of these new changes are caused by the changes we have made over time, altering the land and it’s resources for our own benefit using new technologies. This was great for us, but what about the environment and it’s inhabitants? And what will we do now that our doings may affect us negatively? Aldo Leopold wrote, “A measure of success is this is all well enough, and perhaps is a requisite to objective thinking, but too much safety seems to yield only danger in the long run”. He quotes Thoreau, “In wildness is the salvation of the world” (Leopold). But in a world of ever-updating technology, is wilderness truly our salvation? I agree more with William Cronon, and environmental historian and writer, who stated that there needs to be a balanced and sustainably dualistic relationship between us and the wilderness (Cronon). He writes, “My own belief is that only by exploring this middle ground will we learn ways of imagining a better world for all of us: humans and nonhumans…a world better for humanity in all of its diversity and for all the rest of nature too. The middle ground is where we actually live. It is where we make our homes” (Cronon). I think that finding this “middle ground” will be important in navigating and adapting to a world affected by climate change.

References

Cronon, William. The Trouble with Wilderness.

Hardesty. Lectures, Fall 2015.

Leopold, Aldo. Thinking Like a Mountain.

Intensification, Industrialization, and Environmental Impacts

The intensification and industrialization of the Chesapeake Bay watershed (and the rest of the world) has proven to lead to positive and negative outcomes for humans and the environment. We learned about these factors during Journey One, in which we discussed history and sense of place, as well as the following week when discussing the Chesapeake Bay environment.

During Journey One, our trip to the Baltimore Museum of Industry gave us an inside look on how industrialization shaped the Chesapeake Bay today. We learned how capture and use of energy has changed over time, highlighting a shift towards more efficient water energy since the mid-18th century (Seidel). Steam powered energy drove machinery, which led to the creation of factories. This led to the mass production, mass markets, and the growth of a consumer culture (Seidel). This caused major change in how we used the land and water to gain our own resources. People will always want more, and more in a faster time; again leading to more depletion and destruction of the now “built” environment. With all of this population grows, and we use technology to raise our carrying capacity…in turn we have made dramatic impacts on environment (Seidel).

All of these major shifts and changes regarding our land and water usage led to the U.S. environmental movement in the 1960s and 1970s. This movement helped establish acts, policies, and laws to help govern and regulate environmental quality. Since this time, society has begun to place better ethical and moral judgement and value onto the environment. This has caused a continued change in our ethic concerning the chesapeake bay, the environment, and the earth.

There are no easy answers or solutions to environmental problems for a number of reasons. Lewis Moncrief places the blame on these factors, “There is no moral direction towards the treatment of natural resources. There is an inability from our social institutions in adjusting to environmental stresses. We have a lasting faith in technology”. These factors apply to one of today’s biggest issues: climate change. Change in climate occurs in natural cycles over time, but the recent rate of change is extremely concerning. This is due to: “correlation to the rise in carbon dioxide levels, the link to the green house gas effect, and the obvious changes to the world due to humans” (Hardesty). Climate change is causing problems worldwide, and is hitting close to home in the Chesapeake Bay.

Not only does the Bay have many environmental issues (many of which may stem from climate change), there are issues with political concentration and cooperation in dealing with the watershed environment as well. “The political ecology of the Chesapeake does not support clear centralized leadership” (Hardesty). 6 states and Washington D.C. make up the Chesapeake Bay watershed and they all act as governing political bodies towards policy and regulation, making it difficult to come to conclusions on those environmental topics and issues (Hardesty). For now the best we can do is to look at the bigger picture ethically. Everything in the environment is interconnected and full of patterns. The best solution to these complex and connected issues is one that “causes a ramifying series of solutions… and solves more than one problem that doesn’t create new problems” (Berry). It is up to us solve for these patterns and then preserve them.

References

Berry, Wendell. Solving for Pattern.

Hardesty, Mike. Lectures: September 2015.

Moncrief, Lewis: The Cultural Basis for Our Environmental Crisis, 1950.

Seidel, John. Lectures: September 2015.