Posts Tagged 'thoughtful thursdays'

Thoughtful Thursday: 2013 Shark Tagging Re-cap

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Every August, the National Aquarium invites our members and the general public to join us on shark research trips We work with Captain Mark Sampson to collect data from several species of sharks off of our Maryland coastline for a variety of ongoing research projects. Trip participants actively engage in catching the sharks, reeling them in, measuring them once on the boat, and tagging and releasing them. It’s a once-in-a lifetime experience that provides valuable species and population data for several researchers around the country and exciting educational experiences for participants.

Captain Sampson works with several researchers to study the migratory patterns, growth rates, population data and species data of the sharks he catches. Every shark that is brought on board is measured and its sex determined. The data and location is noted and a small piece of dorsal fin is clipped and preserved for DNA analysis. Each shark is also given in injection of oxytetracycline, an antibiotic that stains the vertebrae and provides a baseline for growth data if the shark is ever recaptured. Finally, if the shark is big enough, it is tagged.

This tagging is part of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Cooperative Shark Tagging Program. This program, started in 1962 was developed to provide information on the life histories and migratory patterns of Atlantic sharks. According to NMFS, between 1962-2010, over 221,000 sharks of 52 species have been tagged and more than 13,000 sharks of 33 species have been recaptured. Distances traveled for the 33 species ranged from no movement to 3,997 nautical miles (nm) (blue shark). The longest time at liberty for any shark in the program is 27.8 years (sandbar shark).

Our team took eight trips with Captain Sampson in August and caught 48 sharks total! The species tagged included sandbar, dusky, spinner, Atlantic sharpnose and smooth dogfish.

It’s obvious to anyone that steps aboard his vessel that Captain Sampson has a great respect for these animals and is passionate about conserving shark populations through research and education! If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, check back with us next Spring for our 2014 shark tagging trip dates.

In the meantime, there are several things you can do right now to protect the sharks off our coast and worldwide. Please make sure you are choosing seafood that caught without harming sharks and do your part to help keep our oceans clean.

Hope to see you on the boat next August!

Blog-Header-LauraBankey

Thoughtful Thursdays: The Chesapeake Conservation Corps

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For the fourth year in a row, the National Aquarium has been chosen as a host site for a Chesapeake Conservation Corps (CCC) volunteer. This program, developed by the Chesapeake Bay Trust, matches young people (volunteers, ages 18-25) with environmental organizations throughout the region; providing leadership and career training experience for the intern and additional program capacity for the host organization. The program provides service-learning opportunities and green job training to its volunteers through hands-on environmental, leadership, and technical training opportunities for a paid, one-year term of service.

As a host organization, the Aquarium benefits by gaining an energetic volunteer whose one year commitment translates into meaningful improvements in program capacity. Because CCC is not designed to replace full-time staff, there is a real opportunity to use the time and talents of the volunteers to expand upon and improve programs already in place. Stephanie Pully, our 2012-2013 volunteer, used additional grant funds from Chesapeake Bay Trust, to enhance our Fort McHenry Wetland field station for educational programs surrounding the theme of BayScaping.

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Funds from CBT’s mini grant program for CCC volunteers made it possible to improve the native gardens at our field station and install different educational amenities. In addition to the installation of native plants, plant ID markers, a butterfly box and watering stations, Stephanie also lead the effort to install an outdoor white board next to the rain garden to help use the gardens as an educational station for students on field trips.

After a very successful year, I’m happy to report that Stephanie officially graduated from the CCC Program on August 13th! With a B.S. in Environmental Science from the University of Maryland under her belt, Stephanie hopes to continue developing initiatives that help to conserve and protect the Chesapeake Bay Watershed!

Applications for the 2014-2015 Chesapeake Conservation Corps Program can be found on the Chesapeake Bay Trust’s website beginning in the Spring of 2014.

Blog-Header-LauraBankey

Thoughtful Thursdays: Eco-Friendly Ways to Beat the Heat!

With temperatures rising, it’s tempting to turn up the air conditioning to stay cool. We have some better ideas that won’t hurt your wallet and will help keep our environment healthy:

  • Go to the local farmers market - Fresh food is always good, but it is especially refreshing when it’s hot out and you want to stay cool. Go to your local farmers market and get fresh veggies and fruit. It will be a fun outing and you’ll be supporting your local markets.
  • Plant some trees - Planting trees near your house is not only good for the environment, but they provide shade to keep your house cool. This could lower your electric bill and help save the environment at the same time!
  • Go somewhere with air conditioning - When it gets too hot to bear, take advantage of a place with air conditioning so you don’t have to run your air at home. A library or grocery store will keep you cool and you’ll be able to do some shopping or relax with a good book.
  • Make some BBQ! - Invite over family and friends and grill out instead of using your oven. Using the grill will save you on your energy cost and also keep the heat of cooking outside and not in your kitchen.
  • Drink the right water - Drinking water is refreshing when it’s hot and you’re thirsty, but using plastic bottled water is bad for the environment. Get some re-usable water bottles, fill them up with tap or filtered water, and stick them in the fridge or freezer. You’ll have a nice, cool drink waiting for you when it gets too hot, and it will also be environmentally friendly!

Got an favorite eco-friendly ways to beat the heat? Share them with us in the comments section! 

Thoughtful Thursdays: Plastic Free July

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Plastic Free July, an initiative started in Australia in 2011, is making its global debut this year. It’s a campaign designed to make us think about how we use plastic in our daily lives in an effort to get us to eliminate single-use plastic from our routines. There is no doubt that plastics play a significant role in improving our quality of life (i.e., bicycle helmets, hearing aids, etc.), but our growing reliance on single-use plastics is not only creating environmental problems (six of the top 10 items found during the Ocean Conservancy’s 2012 Coastal Cleanup were single-use plastics), but it’s perpetuating this myth that there are unlimited natural resources on this planet, so therefore we can feel free to use and dispose of them as we wish.

We know this is not the case, but our routines continue to support the disposable lifestyle – and many of us find it difficult to break bad habits. The Plastic Free July intiative challenges people to make a commitment to eliminate single-use plastics from their lives for one day, one week, one month or longer. If it becomes too difficult to go cold turkey, they suggest that you tackle the top 4 (straws, plastic bags, plastic bottles and coffee cup lids).

Marine Debris - Plastic Bags

During last year’s International Coastal Cleanup, approximately 1,019,902 plastic bags were retrieved. If you ate jellies, could you tell the difference?

Any contribution to the effort, they say, is a step in the right direction. They are right. As the Director of Conservation at the National Aquarium, I’ve been involved in our cleanup efforts at Fort McHenry for more than a decade. More than 95 percent of the debris we remove from the wetland is plastic or foam and an overwhelming majority of that is single-use. This debris affects the health of our waterways, the health of our wildlife and the health of our communities – and it’s preventable. On one end of the process, we can get much better at waste disposal and recycling in our region. At the other end of the process, we can take steps to dramatically reduce the amount of single-use plastics that we use, keeping it out of the waste stream altogether.

There are several good resources out there if you would like tips on how to take the first step, like living plastic free, My Plastic Free Life and the Ocean Conservancy’s smartphone app called Rippl. A couple of years ago, I began my own journey to eliminate the top 4 from my daily routine, and while it has been mostly successful, it hasn’t always been perfect (hint: you can’t take a stainless steel water bottle into Camden Yards to watch an Orioles game). I have reusable shopping bags stashed in my car and my purse and carry an insulated mug with me just about everywhere I go, but more than half the time, I still forget to inform restaurant waiters that I don’t need a straw before one is automatically plopped down on the table. I know changing habits takes time, so I try to give myself a break. More importantly, I know that the real success is not so much when you reach your goal, but when you start making conscious decisions that rely less and less on convenience and more and more on responsible consumerism.

Have you gone plastic free? Are you participating in the Plastic Free July challenge? Share your experience with me in the comments section! 

Blog-Header-LauraBankey

Thoughtful Thursdays: Becoming a “Master Naturalist”

On February 2, the National Aquarium and Living Classrooms Foundation welcomed 18 new trainees into the Maryland Master Naturalist Program. Volunteers from the Aquarium Conservation Team (ACT!) and the Friends of Masonville Cove will work collaboratively to sharpen their outdoor skills and boost their knowledge of Maryland’s natural environment. The program’s mission is to engage citizens as stewards of Maryland’s natural ecosystems and resources through science-based education and volunteer service in their communities.

Throughout the program, Master Naturalist trainees will learn about various environmental topics in Maryland, specifically tailored to our coastal plains region and the Chesapeake Bay. Topics include ecology, flora and fauna, natural history, interpretation, and many more.

Master naturalists students learning how to properly identify local species of fish.

Master naturalist students learning how to properly identify local species of fish.

Upon completion of their training, Master Naturalists pledge to complete 40 hours of conservation-related volunteer work per year! The extensive training will give them the skills and knowledge to interpret natural settings for members of the public and hopefully inspire our community to conserve our natural resources.

Thus far, our volunteers have learned about interpretation, ecology, botany, science, and fish. Instructors range from nonprofit professionals, to Maryland Department of Natural Resources biologists, to biology professors from local universities. During the botany training, students learned about common plants in Maryland and how to identify them, and why all of the different Maryland species of plants are important. Perhaps most importantly, they discussed the common invasive plant species in Maryland, and how to help manage them. Trainees closely examined flowers to learn about plant parts, which can be useful when following a field guide to identify flora in the field.

The Aquarium’s first class of Master Naturalists will graduate in May and plans are in the works to host another training session in 2014! For more updates on our many conservation initiatives, click here to sign up for our Aquamail newsletter!


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