Sunday, October 28, 2007

Chesapeake Bay - Oysters = ?

Smith Island was one of our many adventures on the Alternative Fall Break that was extremely interesting. About half of the group went to Smith Island on Monday October 8, 2007. Smith Island is located in Maryland and made up of three small towns. These towns have not experienced as much growth or prosperity as seen in the rest of the United States. This Island has relied on watermen as their sole livelihood for as long as they can remember. These watermen were people who cultivated oysters from the Chesapeake Bay and sold them. However, with the massive drop in the number of oysters inhabiting the Chesapeake Bay today, Smith Island has definitely felt the effects.

Upon entering the island there was an immediate visual impact that I was not expecting. Usually when I think of an island I think of beautiful beachfront property or small well kempt houses sparingly placed throughout. This was not the case on Smith Island. As the small mail boat entered Ewell’s small harbor, the first thing I noticed was a bunch of extremely weathered and run down boat houses or what looked like sheds. After exiting the boat our group split up into groups that ventured different ways.

As we walked down the narrow one lane roads I remember thinking, ‘this must be a ghost town’. There was no one to be seen. It amazed me how mailboxes were wide open and every house looked empty. The road we were on looped around to the back sides of the houses. There was a creek that ran along the left side of the road between the backyards and the road. This poor creek was filled with beer cans, plastic bags, and all sorts of other types of trash. This was almost painful to see because the town had its own charm to it until you looked down and saw the litter everywhere.

As we entered the main part of town we say this beautiful church. The Ewell Church was a majestic building with a beautiful cemetery behind it. This looked like it was the center of town because the “Smith Island Center” and “Rukes General Store and Seafood Deck” were both across the street. At that moment is when we started to see livelihood. I talked to the cook at the general store and learned that there were about 300 people that lived on the island. Later on this fact would become blurred when we regrouped and discussed the many different answers heard by the citizens of the island.

There were many events that took place on the island that day. Some of us were invited to stay with a resident for free whenever we wanted to, some rented golf carts and explored more of the island, some got to hear small town gossip, while others got free soy smoothies from the ‘New York Experience’. All of these events that happened that day have many exciting stories attached. However, the most amazing thing was that through all of the fun and strange experiences there was an ability to learn and see, first hand, the effects of watermen loosing their jobs in a society that solely relies on their income.

poem for the ocean.

The picture of an ocean is a vision of many wonders. A picture reveals a single moment in time where its setting were once still and at peace. A moment in the present, and the past. simple observations are often over looked even in the most detailed image. The peace of the sea can be seen in all perspectives of those who are a witness to its presence. Within time this picture will remain as it is, but amongst its presence on earth it will go through a gradual change. Transformations of the ocean will evolve as it drifts off into the waves of time. Soon we all come to the conclusion of realizing our truths and values to the oceans gift. the plentiful resources and life that it has created are in connection to us all. everything flows and is created by the sea, for the sea is life and is the gift of creation. Let not our eyes decieve us with the perception of a beautiful picture, for pictures are moments entrapped within time. Let the remaniss of our beautiful enviroment carrie on in our perceptions of the ocean images we see before us everyday.
This poem is dedicated and inspired by Rachel Carson....

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

My interview with Shippensburg University's campus newspaper, The Slate

What was the project exactly?
The Alternative Fall Break trip to Wallops Island, Virginia was a trip sponsored by the Women's Center which included many majors. For me it fulfilled a service learning project for my Women's Studies Seminar course, but for other students it was a required field trip. The trip linked to women's studies through the focus of Rachel Carson who was a writer and biologist who focused on appreciating and preserving nature. It was the centennial year of her birth so my service learning project will deal with her book "The Sea Around Us", and will focus on her life achievements and how we, as students, got to help her conservation efforts throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

How did you get involved?
I got involved through Nicolette Yevich who works at the Women's Center on campus. She came to speak at my women's studies seminar class. I thought it sounded interesting to be able to get out in nature and explore different animals and regions all while learning to conserve the area around us, and since it fulfilled my service learning project I was getting the best of both worlds, among two different majors (Biology/Earth Science and Women's Studies).

Where did you go?
Friday Oct. 5th, we stopped in Baltimore to visit the aquarium and explore Inner Harbor, then we stayed the rest of the trip in Wallops Island, Virginia at the Marine Science Consortium. On our day trips we visited Assateague Island, Deal Island, MD, as well as spending time on the Chesapeake Bay and Tom's Cove.

How long were you there?
The trip was Friday October 5th to Tuesday October 9th.

What were the tasks you did while there?
On Saturday, the group took kayaks out from Chincoteague Memorial Park to learn about coastal exploration and environments. Once there, we explored different species of crabs, fish, and even got the chance to see a bald eagle. In the afternoon we returned as a group to be part of the Chincoteague Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center's exhibit on Rachel Carson as we told visitors why we were there as well as helped staff different stations and booths of activities.
On Sunday we did marsh reconstruction around Tom’s Cove and were overwhelmed by the garbage and litter the group compiled. In the beginning we were skeptical of what we would actually recover, a few soda bottles, a plastic bag, but it soon turned into hundreds of feet of netting, used by locals to keep their clam harvests under control. We also found many old shoes, paper items, and used fireworks. We even rescued a baby terrapin turtle under the netting that was tangled among vegetation. Among all the students we accumulated over 40+ bags of garbage in just a few hours.
On Monday we spent time on Deal Island and got the chance to talk to different men who all contribute to the oyster population. There was an oyster surveying boat that took students out on the bay to look at the oxidation states of the water as well as a firsthand look at how they fish for the oysters and what a "sick" oyster looks like among the rest. We learned the importance of the oysters in the Chesapeake and how fast they are declining. Oysters are filter feeders so they help in a sense to clean up the bay, with their population declining and more and more pollution and farm run off from our area going into the bay, the life of the bay is becoming overly populated with nutrients and it has become a huge problem. The problem also affects the local fisherman who make their living harvesting oysters. We got the chance to go onto their boat as well as we chatted about the harsh effects and how it is damaging their career. (Aboard these boats, we got the chance to eat raw oysters!!)...some say it was sick, but you just have to swallow it!
On Tuesday before returning back to SHIP we stopped at the Myers Brothers Dairy Farm in Franklin County. It was awarded Best Management Practices for farm runoff. We got to see how they milk the cows and how all the manure and run off from the cows is controlled and does not damage the water that eventually runs into the Chesapeake Bay. It was shocking to see the potential damage just one farm could cause, luckily we saw the good way to control runoff, however many farms throughout Pennsylvania and other states are not awarded with BMP.

I know it was community service, but for whom?
It was supposed to be community service for a business or company dealing with women or a women's issue, but for me and my roommate who partnered on this project, Dr. Horner said we did our community service through actual conservation efforts as well as learning about the groundwork that was set by writer and biologist Rachel Carson.

Are you planning on going back?
Since I am a senior, I will probably not be around for the next trip, however, the teachers and faculty were talking about another trip back to Wallops Island Virginia next year. Hopefully, I will be able to come along, it was a once in a lifetime experience to do and see all the things we got to do first hand. Not many students can say they kayaked to and from an island or went with local fisherman to eat raw oysters, or even climbed the Assateague Lighthouse (142 feet high, with even more steps!)

Or are you planning on getting involved in community service projects in the future?
Yes. I've always been interested in volunteering even throughout high school through food banks, animal shelters, rescue missions and assisted living homes. Although it is not paid work, you always get to do and see things other people are missing out on. I hope to have many more volunteering opportunities in the future, including eventually completely a 2 year term with the Peace Corps.

Had you ever done anything like this before?
Not to the extent to which we accomplished what we did. The marsh clean up as well as the combination of exploring new places, learning and finding different marine species as well as meeting some fascinating people, was definitely an experience to remember.

Thanks for reading!! Hopefully I will get the chance to scan in the actual article when it gets published in The Slate, until then I hope this either brought back some great memories for those who went on the trip, or inspired the rest of the readers to actually take time and get involved in conservation and/or volunteer opportunities.

-Holly Reynolds
Shippensburg University

Monday, October 22, 2007

Pictures are worth a 1000 words!

Please take a moment and visit the photo gallery from the field experience. The link is located to the right hand side of the blog under the link to the Rachel Carson Centennial Blog.

These photos were taken by various faculty participating in the program and represent various views and vantage points of students in action and other vignettes of inspiration encountered on the trip.

Although these represent a subset of the total number of photographs taken - their selection was based only on representative coverage of activities over the 4.5 day program. Nonetheless, it would be interesting to hear from all blog participants as to what questions, ideas, thoughts, insights these photographs bring to mind for you.

As we also had numerous contributors during the field experience (to whom we owe a great thanks), we particularly encourage all of you to comment here as well.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Beginnings of a Great Fall Break

As a student in Dr. Sara Grove's Honors Colloquium class, I was at first a little leery and just a bit apprehensive of the Wallops Island experience. Oyster census? Cleaning? No air conditioning? Bad food?!

Well, I said to myself, I can handle the lack of air conditioning and bad food...years of summer camp in cabins with the bare minimum (i.e. floors, walls, roof, bunk beds, electricity, and not much else) toughened me up, ha. Perhaps what was trying to hold me back was the fact I was "giving up" my whole fall break. No sleeping fact, every day I would have to get up early in the morning! Despite this, I still decided to go because it was something different, something I never did before. Plus, it couldn't be worse than my spring break trip to New York City during a snow/wind advisory where everything shut down...

So there I was with my luggage and sleeping bag waiting for the vans to come. I believe it was here when I started to get excited. It was something new, something good, and, yes, something educational (because I am a nerd). When we got down there, I was actually surprised because it was a little better than what I had expected. What got to me were the spiders, but they are killable, so that's ok.

Saturday was the start of our class' excursion as we presented our poster board depicting the life of Rachel Carson at the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. We received much attention from those passing by and even attracted the interest of children. We wanted the public to see and understand how dedicated Rachel Carson was with the environment and in trying to shine a light on the harmful effects of the government's use of DDT. I was surprised to see how many people showed up to the refuge because before this class, I had never heard of Rachel Carson. As I talked to some of the individuals I met, it was refreshing to be reminded that there still exists people who realize the importance of maintaining our environment for the benefit of ourselves and posterity.

Rachel Carson paved the way for us to become more environmentally friendly and conscious...not just to help out nature, but to help ourselves! Chemical companies tried to hush her words concerning DDT, but did that stop her? Obviously not. She was passionate in what she not only believed, but knew. She is an example of what we should be. We know not recycling is bad. We know guzzling gasoline is bad. We know dumping toxic chemicals, including hormones like estrogen, into our waters is bad. Are we passionate enough to do something---anything---about it? Maybe we need to be more like Rachel Carson. This is what I have learned from the experience. We all need just a little bit of Rachel Carson in us.

More about the trip later!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Critters! Some large, many small.

Pictures from the field:

Date: October 6, 2007

Specimen ID:
2 specimens of Large Hermit Crab,
Pagurus pullicaris

Front specimen hermitting a medium to large Moon Snail shell (Lunatia heras)

Rear specimen hermitting a medium to small Channeled Whelk shell (Busycon canaliculatum)

Collection Location:
Specimens were collected in the shallow subtidal zone during low tide from southeast side of Assateague Channel at Assateague Point. Specimens were taken back to the laboratory where they were observed and studied in aquaria.

The large hermits are usually identified on the basis of their larger size, the dominance of the right claw (also used as the door when it retreats into the shell) and by the presence of tubercles.

Many hermits- including the one in the Channeled Whelk Shell are often encrusted by a number of different epibionts (organisms that live on top of other organisms) ranging from algae, to bryozoans, cnidarians, bivalves, barnacles, etc.

During the night after collection, the large hermit crab underwent ecdysis and shed its exoskeleton in the aquarium. The following morning the crab was pale white and by late afternoon the greenish brown color had returned to its carapace indicating that the exoskeleton had become harder. Moreover the crab was noticeably larger in size.

Specimen ID:
medium sized male Blue Crab, Callinectes sapidus

Collection Location:
This specimen was collected in the lower intertidal zone in a small pond isolated from the main channel. Locality info as above.

Along with several larger live specimens, students collected a number of dead and molted specimens ranging in size from juvenile to large adults. Most crabs were evidently males although one dead female crab was discovered.

Several specimens were collected and returned to the lab for observation. During this time, the larger crabs were isolated from other species and smaller individuals. Nonetheless, one small blue crab was put in an aquarium with several other species of aquatic crabs including a Green Crab (Carcinus maenas) and several Rock Crabs (Cancer irroratus). Even though they were about the same overall size ~ 2 inches in carapace width, after the first night, two of the Rock Crabs were found to be missing from the aquarium. Later that day a third rock crab as well as a Green Crab were found to be clutched in the claws of the Blue Crab. Although it was not expected it was evident that the crab had successfully preyed upon the other crabs. Remarkable predator indeed.

Specimen ID:
Young Diamondback Terrapin, Malaclemys terrapin

Collection Location:
This specimen was rescued by students during the cleanup of Tom's Cove Marsh. This turtle had become entangled in the commercial predator netting that had been washed into Tom's Cove.

This specimen is perhaps two years old based on its smallish size and the appearance of the growth rings on its back. It would not have lived to see another year. The turtle was already emaciated and somewhat dehydrated by being caught in the netting material obviously for some time. This specimen could have been a female as its head was fairly blunt, although as it was a younger turtle it is still not conclusive until it is of reproductive age when the body shape becomes much more pronounced between males and females.

This turtle species is making a recovery after having been significantly depleted as a food resource. Although it is still consumed in some restaurants as a delicacy, the biggest threat to terrapins is coastal development in hatching grounds, and automobile related deaths as they are run over during the migration to breeding grounds and hatching areas.

Specimen ID:
Eastern Mud Whelk aka Eastern Mud Nasa
(Ilynassa obsoleta)

Collection Location:
Tidal flat northeastern side of Assateague Point, Assateague Island.

This photograph shows large numbers of the small gastropods and their trailways as they move around on the exposed tidal flat during low tide. Classified mostly as herbivores, these snails are grazing on bacterial and algal mats which are growing on the silty sediment grains. It was also found scavenging on small pieces of organic detritus and in one case small pieces of crab.

Specimen ID:
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) sitting in the crook of a maritime pine tree Pinus serotina

Photograph Location:
North fringe of the maritime forest at Assateague Point facing Assateague Channel.

Students discovered this eagle sitting in the crook of this tree. Close inspection showed a few small bits of fish were still hanging on the branch of the tree where it was sitting. Undisturbed by the students, this Eagle was not feeding when it was first observed and it appeared to have been resting. Upon later communication with an ornithologist on the island, it appears that this bird was not one of the three pairs of eagles nesting on Assateague as they have already left for their migration. It was his speculation that mature adult bird was also in migration and stopped for a brief rest in the refuge.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Clean up... It is done.... or is it?

October 7, 2007...

Shippensburg University Rachel Carson Alternative Fall Break Service Project

Salt Marsh Cleanup at Tom's Cove, Assateague Island, Virginia.

After just 3 hours and a few lost shoes, some sticky situations, a few bug bites, and after a lot of blood, sweat, and yes some tears, as a group we had accumulated two piles of rubbish from the salt marsh including the one shown in the image.

Although we picked up the usual obnoxious suspects including plastic bottles, aluminum cans, cigarette buts, shot gun shells, styrofoam containers, plastic bags, pressure treated lumber, pvc pipes, old crab pots, sneakers and other footware, etc., we were surprised upon reaching the north edge of the marsh closest to Tom's Cove by the amount of commercial netting materials that were washed into the marsh and left to become tangled in the chord grass. Given the discovery of significant quantities of this netting, the majority of our energies became focused on removing these netting materials. It was indeed all out war... this job required more time and was energy intensive. Everyone chipped in with strong backs, great hearts, and sacrificed their nice clean clothes in an effort to remove these materials.

Given the types, colors, and overall amount of netting present, it is apparent that there have been multiple instances (seasons?) where these materials have been deposited in the marsh during high tides. After numerous trips back to the parking area, and seeing the pile grow with each contribution, it gave us renewed energy to go back out and collect more. Before long we had accumulated more than 4 truckloads full of debris and netting!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Beginnings are apt to be shadowy....

The Environmental Sociology class is anticipating the trip and wondering what adventures are before us. We hope that our field notes will be inspired by the memories of Rachel Carson and C. Wright Mills, both of whom were pioneers in their field and understood the intersection between science, the soul, and activism. Each student in the class will contribute their thoughts to this thread: their hopes for the trip and their worries - before we begin. As Carson wrote in the first page of The Sea Around Us , "Beginnings are apt to be shadowy...." And so it is with the beginning of our adventure.


This key hole sand dollar was photographed on the beach at Wallops Island. Although a recent addition to the beach (it was washed up and stranded during a storm), it has already begun to break apart as part of a series of taphonomic processes that will eventually yield particles of calcium carbonate sediment grains. The story of the irregular, infaunal urchin, has inspired me to write the following. Good, bad, or indifferent - I hope it will inspire you to take what you see for more than its face value and extend your own experiences and ideas.

Once plankton and benthon, now urchins tossed ashore
by wind and waves and tides galore
come dollars from the sea.

On the beach their time is fleeting in their best
away go their spines and tissues and then their test
away go dollars from the sea,
it is but sediment they shall be!