Posts Tagged 'John Racanelli'



A Blue View: Bringing Oysters Back from the Brink

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

August 21, 2013: Bringing Oysters Back from the Brink

A Blue View podcastClick here to listen to John discuss the critical role
oyster reefs play in maintaining a healthy
Chesapeake Bay! 

Oysters are a huge part of the Chesapeake Bay culture—its past, present, and future. Even the name “Chesapeake” means “great shellfish bay” in Algonquin. Yet since the early part of the 1900s, oyster populations have been in crisis.

The health of oyster populations in the Bay is critical to providing habitat for aquatic animals, supporting feeding grounds for migratory birds, and enhancing water quality as oysters filter their food from the water. An adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day. To put this in perspective, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration points out that oysters once were able to filter the entire Chesapeake Bay in a week. Today, it takes a year.

Researchers are beginning to understand the importance of oyster reefs in protecting coastal areas. Along with coral reefs, wetlands, dunes, and other coastal habitats, oyster reefs actually help prevent erosion, reduce the impact of storm surges, and protect against sea level rise. In fact, part of New York City’s $19-billion-dollar plan to combat the effects of climate change includes building large underwater oyster reefs around the harbor.

Over time, oyster populations have been devastated by overfishing, disease, pollution, habitat destruction, and urban runoff. NOAA reports that the oyster population of the Chesapeake today is less than 1 percent of its historical level. In fact, oyster harvesting peaked in the 1880s, when 20 million bushels were harvested in a single year. In 2012, only 135,000 bushels were harvested from the Bay…less than one percent of those historic levels.

Still, all hope is not lost, and efforts are underway to solve the Chesapeake Bay’s oyster problem. These include an ambitious plan to restore oyster populations throughout the area by spreading hundreds of thousands of tons of granite and old oyster shells along Harris Creek, a tributary of the Choptank River. Shells seeded with baby oysters are then placed on this substrate using a high-pressure hose. Then, nature is left to do its work. Watch this video to learn more about the project:

The Chesapeake Bay region isn’t the only one looking to improve the prospects for oysters. In New Jersey, for example, an advocacy group called ReClam the Bay is caring for seven oyster nurseries in the hopes of helping populations in Barnegat Bay to recover. Protected nurseries allow the oysters to grow without the risk of predators dining on them. Visitors are welcome to come by these nurseries and get their hands wet in what ReClam the Bay hopes will be an educational opportunity that will encourage people to make better choices for the health of the shellfish populations and the bay.

Out on the West Coast, efforts to save Oregon’s only native oyster species, the Olympia, have proven largely successful. Though previously declared “functionally extinct,” after 8 years of work by the Nature Conservancy and watermen, the 1.5 million oysters now inhabiting Netarts Bay seem to be reproducing successfully.

In Maryland, a “No Shell Left Behind” oyster recycling tax credit of one dollar a bushel became official on July 1. Its aim is to encourage the recycling of valuable oyster shells to help restore oyster populations in the Chesapeake Bay. Empty shells, which are necessary for hatcheries to replenish the oyster population, are extremely valuable, as each shell can host up to 10 young oysters, known as “spat.”

You can play a part in this, too! Whether by recycling oyster shells, participating in Chesapeake Bay conservation events, or even running in next year’s “Sprint for Spat” 5K race, sponsored by the Oyster Recovery Partnership, get involved! A healthy oyster population helps us all.

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A Blue View: Jellies – Oceans Out of Balance

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

August 14, 2013: Jellies – Oceans Out of Balance

A Blue View podcastClick here to listen to John discuss how the rapid increase in jellyfish
populations has 
negatively impacted the health of our oceans. 

Beautiful, eye-catching, and otherworldly, jellyfish are dazzling creatures to look at, though not something you want to run into at the beach.

Not technically fish, jellies have drifted through our seas for more than 500 million years. They range in size from that of a pinhead to more than 8 feet in diameter, with tentacles 130 feet long. Most species have tentacles that sting, even when they become detached from the jelly’s body. And, as many a beach-goer can attest, those stinging cells can make for some less than pleasant experiences when our paths accidentally cross.

Related to sea anemones and corals, jellies have no heart, brain, blood, or bones, and are 95 percent water. Contrary to popular myths, jellies are not out to get you. As ocean drifters, they are carried along on ocean currents. But their vast numbers in certain places have made them a menace, and their unique ability to thrive in less-than-ideal conditions has scientists keeping a close eye on these fascinating creatures.

Jellies seem less susceptible to algae blooms, pollution, warming waters, and reduced oxygen levels, meaning that the more the environment deteriorates, the better it is for jellies. In an alarming phenomenon dubbed “jellification” by some scientists, jellies in some areas of the world are literally taking over the seas.

The role of jellies in the ocean ecosystem and whether or not their increasing numbers are displacing other ocean inhabitants are both matters of active debate in the marine science community. There are several reasons attributed to the rise of jelly populations. In addition to their ability to thrive in inhospitable conditions, jellies benefit when the fish, turtles, and other species that normally eat them are overfished. Then, as jellies eat zooplankton, fish eggs, larvae, and even fish, they further impact the food chain, perpetuating an imbalance that’s difficult to correct.

An overabundance of jellies isn’t good for tourism around the globe, particularly when they wash up on beaches. Depending upon the species, a jellyfish sting can cause anything from mild discomfort to severe pain and in rare cases, like the box jellies of Australia, even death. Jellies also affect fisheries—and fisherman—when they collide with nets, sometimes even killing the catch with their toxins. Jellies can also cause power outages and equipment damage at power plants by clogging cooling intakes.

Considered a delicacy in China, some see dining on these unique creatures as a creative and efficient way to control the jellyfish population. The European Union has embarked on an international research program to evaluate the spread of jellies in the Mediterranean and other regions and develop a coastal management strategy accordingly.

For all the issues that jellyfish blooms can cause, they are essential and active participants in the ocean ecosystem. They belong there. The best way you can keep bays and oceans healthy is to make smart choices at home. One important place to start is in your yard. Avoid overfertilizing your lawn and garden. Excess fertilizer washes into our waterways, reduces oxygen, and contributes to harmful algae blooms—conditions that are great for jellies but terrible for fish populations. You might even consider opening your mind to a new delicacy when jellies show up on a restaurant menu near you.

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A Blue View: Stormwater – A Search for Solutions

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

July 31, 2013: Stormwater – A Search for Soluations

A Blue View podcast

Click here to listen to John and Halle Van der Gaag
from Blue Water Baltimore discuss stormwater runoff!

John: We hear a lot about stormwater, but many of us still don’t exactly know what it is and why we should care. In Baltimore and all across the country, however, stormwater runoff is a major problem. To help us understand what this issue means to our community, Halle Van der Gaag, executive director of Blue Water Baltimore, is with me in the studio. Hi, Halle.

Halle: Hi, John. Thanks for having me.

J: There’s a lot of misinformation out there about stormwater, but at its most basic, what is stormwater, and how does it relate to our community and our waters?

H: Stormwater runoff is actually rainwater that hits our pavement, roofs, and parking lots, and flows downstream, carrying pollutants, animal waste, fertilizer, and pesticides. What a lot of people don’t realize is that it actually carries air pollution that lands on our pavement, and washes that downstream as well.

J: Why is our stormwater situation so critical here in Baltimore?

H: For a long time, no one paid attention to stormwater. We were focused on industrial pollution and agricultural pollution. The reality of it is that pipes that carry stormwater are old, deteriorating, and breaking. They have not been maintained and they need an infrastructure overhaul.

J: Do we have a lot of impervious surfaces here? Describe what those are.

H: Impervious surface is just a term for hardscape or pavement – hard surfaces where you get no infiltration of rainwater. If you look around Baltimore, you’ll see that we have lots and lots of pavement. Not all of it is actually being used. Some of it is streets, but some of it is parking lots.

J: How does this whole situation manifest itself in our city these days?

H: What we’re seeing a lot is pipes bursting, streets collapsing, pollution in our waterways and in our harbor. It’s a real problem, not just for our waterways but as an inconvenience to commuters and people who are living and working in Baltimore.

J: It’s obviously a very costly and labor-intensive problem to solve, but what kind of work is being done now to help with this issue?

H: Recently, people have probably heard about a stormwater utility fee that has been passed in Baltimore and across the state. This allows Baltimore to finally be proactive and actually have the resources it needs to fix stormwater pipes before they break.

J: I know this is a really important issue, and some people have mis-characterized the stormwater fee as a rainwater tax and things like that. Help us understand more what these fees will help accomplish and how that might help the Chesapeake Bay.

H: In addition to fixing pipes, we also see lots of opportunities for green infrastructure, for opportunities to create stormwater practices that will help beautify the city, but are actually functional, beautiful spaces where you’re using plants and trees to filter and slow down stormwater before it hits the streets. It can be happening on public right-aways and in parks, but there’s a lot that people can do in their own backyards – installing rain gardens, rain barrels, planting conservation landscaping, lots of things that folks can actually do. Then they can offset and ask the city for credit for the stormwater fee. The goal here is to reduce pollution, not just collect fees that go into a big giant pipe.

J: Reducing pollution is something that’s good for all of us. Thank you so much for joining me, Halle. To learn more about Blue Water Baltimore and how you can reduce your stormwater impacts at home, visit aqua.org/ablueview.

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A Blue View: Rainforests of the Sea

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

July 24, 2013: Coral Reefs: Rainforests of the Sea

A Blue View podcast

Click here to listen to John discuss the importance of 
protection coral reefs.

Sometimes called the rainforests of the sea, coral reefs are colorful, intricate ecosystems—among the most incredible natural wonders in the world. Their brilliant hues and diverse inhabitants make them a favorite of scuba divers and ocean enthusiasts around the world. But, coral reefs are also in grave danger—and saving these ancient splendors is both a necessary and feasible goal.

blacktip reef

Our newest exhibit, Blacktip Reef, is the re-creation of a vibrant Indo-Pacific reef!

According to a report by the World Resources Institute, 75 percent of the world’s reefs are considered threatened due to a combination of risks. Climate change has made bleaching, which is a massive die-off of coral polyps, and disease outbreaks more common. Increased carbon in our oceans results in ocean acidification, which, in turn, destroys the very structure of the reef. Overfishing and destructive fishing practices are disturbing the balance of these complex ecosystems. Coastal development, pollution, coral mining, and unsustainable tourism activities are adding additional stresses to an already challenged habitat. Some scientists fear that at this rate, living coral reefs could vanish from earth within a generation unless drastic action is taken.

Surprisingly, while coral reefs make up just two-tenths of a percent of the ocean floor, they support about 25 percent of all marine animals. They are critical spawning, nursery, breeding, and feeding grounds for thousands of species.

Many people don’t realize that corals are in fact animals, closely related to jellyfish and anemones. There are both hard and soft corals, and all live together in colonies, creating a foundation for all the other inhabitants of the reef, from tiny darting fishes to large apex predators like sharks and everything in between.

There’s no question that these ecosystems are environmentally critical, but they are also important economic drivers, creating millions of jobs and providing a sustainable tourism resource when properly managed. Coral reefs also serve as natural barriers for islands and other communities, helping to prevent erosion and minimizing the impact of waves and storms. In fact, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, up to 90 percent of the energy from wind-generated waves is absorbed by reefs.

NOAA also estimates that ocean temperature will rise nearly two degrees within this century from the greenhouse gases already released, which will undoubtedly threaten these critical ecosystems even more. As marine scientists explore just how coral reefs will cope with increasing acidity in the world’s oceans, it is abundantly clear that we must act to save these oceanic treasures.

Scientists are now studying coral reefs along Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, where underwater springs naturally lower the pH of the surrounding seawater. There, researchers are learning how corals respond to higher acidity in a natural setting. On the other side of the world, a U.S. climate scientist is conducting an experiment on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef to see whether antacid could boost coral growth by slowing seawater acidification.

These researchers are taking threats to our coral reefs seriously, and we need to do the same. The single biggest thing you can do to slow the deterioration of reefs is to reduce your own carbon footprint by driving less and conserving energy at home. We can also to make sustainable seafood a priority and vigorously support steps to enforce proper management of these resources. We do well to remember that our actions on land—our stormwater, trash, and yard runoff—all eventually work their way to the sea and impact coral reefs. We can all keep coral reefs in mind as we go about our daily lives—and remember that water connects us all.

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A Blue View: Clean Water Starts on Land

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

July 17, 2013: Clean Water Starts on Land

A Blue View podcast

Click here to listen to John and Halle Van der Gaag
from Blue Water Baltimore discuss how we can
improve the health of Baltimore’s water supply. 

It’s not just about what we can do in the water that’s important. Clean water starts on land. The fact is, people in the community can make a major difference for the health of the water supply.

Below is the transcript from John’s interview with the executive director of Blue Water Baltimore, Halle Van Der Gaag:

John: What are some common misconceptions people might have about their relationship to the Bay?

Halle: In Baltimore because we’re in such an urban area, it’s easy to forget that we’re connected to the Chesapeake Bay. The Inner Harbor is actually the northwest branch of the Patapsco River. Unforunately, the Patapsco is one of the dirtiest rivers heading into the Cheaspeake Bay, consistently rated at a D-/F. Streams like the Jones Falls, Gwens Falls and Herring Run, where people  play and walk their dogs, also feed right into the Patapsco River.

John: Give me some examples of things that can be done in a community that can help make a difference to water quality.

Halle: Everyone can make a difference to improve water quality. We do some really simple things that are a lot of fun. Get out and plant a tree with organizations like Blue Water, the Aquarium, or Parks and People Foundation. Believe it or not, trees really are the answer. They help not only with water quality, but they also help improve air quality and provide shade and heating and cooling benefits. We call it the multiplier effect. Baltimore has only 23 percent tree canopy, so we have a long way to go to have a greener, more vibrant city.

John: We have a great chance to green our environment here. What other projects does Blue Water Baltimore encourage communities to embrace?

Halle: A lot of things we encourage folks to do is  think about pavement and hard surfaces in their communities. In your backyard, where you work or where you worship, do you need all of that pavement, or are there opportunities to use things like permeable pavement? If parking lots aren’t used, could we create a bioretention or a filter system where you’d actually be treating and managing rainwater on those impervious surfaces? Sometimes people can simply do things like redirect their downspout or install conservation landscaping, which requires less maintenance, less water and less mowing.

John: Prettier and easier. You can’t beat that. What do you find is the most effective way to get people in the community involved?

Halle: We find that a lot of folks, once they get information about this and they understand the problems, they’re really willing to dig in and take action. We spend a lot of time at community meetings and working with communities to spread the word on what they can do. We help folks raise money for projects and installation. We really people to get active, to get out on the land, and do a trash cleanup, plant a tree, identify a spot for a rain garden. Bring your friends. Bring your family.

John: So there’s really something for everyone if they want to chip in.

Halle: Absolutely.

John: Where do you think is our biggest opportunity for positive change in Baltimore and the communities surrounding us?

Halle: Thinking holistically, there are opportunities that folks can be doing where they live and work and worship. We want to see that folks are seeing that everybody’s part of the problem and everybody’s part of the solution. We’re all polluters and we all need to do our part. So whether it’s paying a stormwater fee or getting active in your community, we’re really encouraging people to just do a little bit more to help our environment.

John: Do our part. That seems so simple but I know it’s easier said than done. Thank you so much, Halle.

Halle: Thank you for having me.

About Blue Water Baltimore
Blue Water Baltimore’s mission is to restore the quality of Baltimore’s rivers, streams and harbor. From organizing trash cleanups and planting trees to monitoring streams and advocating for stronger clean water laws, Blue Water Baltimore is hard at work in communities around the state. Learn more at bluewaterbaltimore.org.

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