Posts Tagged 'thoughtful thursdays'



Thoughtful Thursdays: 2012 Youth Ocean Conservation Summit

From National Aquarium education specialist, Maria Madero:

On a cold November morning, four Aquarium on Wheels (AOW) students, De’Quan, Asia, Paul, and Dana met Aquarium staff supervisors, Nancy, Maria, and Jeremyat BWI airport to begin their weekend adventure at the Youth Ocean Conservation Summit at the MOTE Marine Lab in Sarasota, FL. From the moment we stepped into the airport, there was an air of excitement. For some of our AOW students this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. In fact, it was Asia’s first time flying! Once up in the air, she was glued to the window, amazed at the sights below just as the rest of the students.

On the way to Tampa!

We flew into Tampa and had a gorgeous coast line drive to Sarasota, FL (filled with many sing-a-longs).  The summit began that evening with a Community Ocean Conservation Film Festival featuring the short film, This is your Ocean: Sharks by Jim Abernethy and George Schellenger! The festival also featured student produced ocean conservation short films showcasing how youth of all ages are taking action to protect our marine environment.

The festival inspired our AOW students greatly. They want to continue the mission set forth by Jim Abernethy by creating their own video!

Exploring the beautiful Sarasota beach

On Saturday, our group attended the full day summit at MOTE Marine Lab. We learned how the youth of Florida are making a difference in their community and beyond. Our AOW students were inspired by the personal stories of successful action plans and could not wait to make their own! Thankfully, our next session was all about action planning. We had time to brainstorm ideas and come up with an action plan that we could take back to our community and make a difference! Our group hopes to focus on a Chesapeake Bay-related issue, such as overfishing and harvesting, for the play they’ll be performing  at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore. They will also be creating a film that highlights this issue in hopes to spread the word even farther than Baltimore!

The group after a successful day at the summit

We spent the remainder of the summit in workshop sessions building the foundation and gathering the skills needed in order to implement our action plan. Workshop session topics included fundraising, plastic pollution, public service announcements, conservation through art, branding, and marine debris prevention. This diverse array of topics allowed for our students to develop a broad knowledge base to bring back to others in their program to make their project a success.

On Sunday morning, we had the wonderful opportunity to go kayaking in the mangroves with MOTE Marine Lab educator Brad Tanner. This was definitely one of the highlights of the trip for our students; they had never seen an environment like this! Not only was the location gorgeous, but we had the rare chance to see and interact with manatees! It was an unforgettable experience.

Paul and De’Quan were amazed to be so close to a manatee!

As a supervisor, getting a chance to see the students you work with on a regular basis have such a great experience is an invaluable thing. This summit inspired our students, who are now brainstorming and excited about implementing their action plans for this year. I could not be more proud of them! The attention, participation and drive of our AOW students as well as Sean has inspired all of us. A huge THANK YOU to Nancy, also known to our students as “Aunt Nancy,” who made this whole trip possible!

For more information on The Youth Ocean Conservation Summit and Sean Russell’s efforts, please visit www.stowitdontthrowitproject.org. Sean and our AOW students are proof that everyone, no matter your age, can make a difference!

Thoughtful Thursdays: Chesapeake Bay Lined Seahorses

Many people don’t realize that there is a species of seahorse that calls the Chesapeake Bay its home.  The lined seahorse, hippocampus erectus, lives in shallow eel grass beds during the summer and moves to deeper submerged aquatic vegetation during the winter.  It can typically be found in the lower to middle Chesapeake Bay and, in particularly dry years when the water is saltier, as far north as Kent Island and the Bay Bridge.

Lined Seahorse

Lined Seahorse at National Aquarium, Baltimore
Photo courtesy of Michael Bentley

The lined seahorse varies drastically in both coloration and ornamentation.  Individuals can range from a yellowish color all the way down the spectrum to a nearly black color.  Some may have intricate ornamentation on their backs and their heads.  Additionally, they can change color slightly to match their surroundings.  As with all seahorses, males carry a pouch which they use to hold their young after breeding.  Breeding itself is complicated, it includes a drawn-out ritual of dancing and clicking between the male and female.  At the end of the courtship, females deposit their eggs into the male’s pouch where they are fertilized and held until ready to be released (about 2 weeks).

Lined Seahorse

Lined seahorses vary in color, pattern and ornamentation

Seahorses as a whole are ineffective swimmers.  They only use three of their fins (two pectoral fins and one dorsal fin) to swim.  They beat these fins rapidly to provide propulsion, but it is not enough to keep them stationary in even the most gentle of currents.  It is because of this that they require something to hold on to.  For our local lined seahorses in the Chesapeake, that something is often eel grass, as well as other submerged aquatic vegetation.  These grasses are vital to the seahorses’ ability to hunt, breed and just plain survive.  Seahorses are ambush predators and so they need something to anchor themselves to while hunting.  As they hide, prehensile tails attached to the eel grass, they wait for prey to float by their snouts.

lined seahorse

Lined seahorses have very small fins, making it hard for them to swim.

Unfortunately, eel grass is in trouble in the Chesapeake Bay.  Nutrient pollution from farms, sewage and other human activities often leads to large algal blooms, which grow near the surface of the water and block light that the grasses need to grow. Additionally, destructive fishing techniques like bottom trawling can rip up huge swaths of submerged aquatic vegetation, causing wide-spread loss of habitat.  Because they are so specialized in their habitat needs, lined seahorses have little hope of successfully hunting and breeding without the grasses.  These pressures are threatening seahorses worldwide. As a result of these and other conservation pressures, it is estimated that the world’s lined seahorse population has declined by at least 30 percent in the past 10 years. We must begin to take steps to preserve the local habitat, or we risk losing this very interesting and important Chesapeake Bay species.

What you can do to help:  Reduce waste runoff, which pollutes waters like the Chesapeake Bay.  

  • Control insects using natural controls instead of pesticides. Americans directly apply 70 million pounds of pesticides to home lawns and gardens each year and, in so doing, kill birds and other wildlife and pollute our precious water resources.
  • Dispose of motor oil and anti-freeze through a local service station or recycling center. A one-quart container of oil disposed of at the local landfill can contaminate up to 2 million gallons of drinking water and the water home of our seahorse friends.
  • Don’t pour anything down storm drains because they lead to the bay, which connects to the ocean. Most sewer systems and wastewater treatment plants do not remove poisonous cleaners, and yard and car-wash chemicals make their way into local waterways, and, eventually, into our ocean, harming animals along the way. You wouldn’t want to swim in those chemicals, and neither do animals!
  • Learn more!
    To find out more about the lined seahorse and the troubles threatening them in our area, listen to this special seahorse edition of WYPR’s Environment in Focus with Tom Pelton

Thoughtful Thursdays: 7th Annual Chesapeake Watershed Forum

In late September, our Chesapeake Conservation Corps volunteer, Stephanie Pully, and Conservation Technician Maria Harwood attended the seventh annual Chesapeake Watershed Forum.  The forum, held by the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, took place at the beautiful USFWS National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.

An aerial shot of the incredibly lush Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Photo courtesy of the Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Services

At the forum, watershed organizations and local government agencies provided updates on current Bay conservation initiatives and provided informative sessions on the current state of the Bay. The forum also included sessions on the latest in conservation research from other organizations that have been successful in the Bay watershed.

During the forum, Stephanie presented a poster, sponsored by the Aquarium, entitled “Protecting Valuable Habitat with Living Shorelines” as well as an update on the National Aquarium Conservation Department’s work and research in creating living shorelines.  Both Maria and Stephanie enjoyed the great opportunity to engage with members of the community trying to save the Bay!

Click here to learn more about our Chesapeake Bay conservation initiatives! 

Poster presented at Chesapeake Watershed Forum

In support of the Conservation Department’s efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay, we held our annual “Rock the Boat” fundraiser last night. On behalf of everyone here at the National Aquarium, thanks to everyone who came out and made last night such a success! We can’t wait until next year!

Thoughtful Thursdays: Students Help to Restore Atlantic White Cedar Population

As part of this year’s Wetland Nursery Program, our Aquarium Conservation Team (ACT!) is working with schools along Maryland’s Eastern Shore to repopulate Atlantic white cedar trees.

This project teaches students sustainable methods of raising tree saplings in an indoor ‘greenhouse’ and how to transplant them into nature, with the hope that we can slowly but surely bring back the species!

Juvenile Atlantic white cedar trees

Once common in freshwater wetlands, Atlantic white cedars are now rare. Lumber from these cedars is water-resistant and highly valued for use in boats, furniture and houses. Overharvesting of this natural resource has decimated the population and the species is now on the Maryland Department of Natural Resource’s Watch List.

After learning about the history of Atlantic white cedars and the need to restore them, students used clippings from older trees to propagate 500 new trees and helped to re-pot 200 trees that had outgrown their planters and were ready for transfer.

Students show off their healthy juvenile Atlantic white cedars!

All year, our group of students will continue to regularly monitor the trees’ growth and, with the help of their teachers, learn more about freshwater wetlands. In the Spring, the students will join ACT! at Nassawango Creek Preserve to plant their trees.

Owned by the Nature Conservancy, the Preserve encompasses more than 10,000 acres and is home to cypress swamps and upland forests. The planting will take place in a newly cleared 8-acre plot adjacent to Nassawango Creek!

This project would not be possible without the support of our partners: The Nature Conservancy, Chesapeake Bay Trust, The Munson Foundation, RBC Wealth Management, and the Chesapeake Conservation Corps.

Thoughtful Thursdays: Climate Change is Killing our Coral Reefs

A Majority of Coral Reefs Will Be Damaged By 2030 Due to Rising Greenhouse Gases

The negative impacts of climate change have been widely reported. Temparatures continue to steadily rise, weather patterns are increasingly erratic and greenhouse gas emissions are causing alarming rates of CO2 to linger in our atmospheres. The ecosystem in the most immediate danger of total degradation from this changes is the ocean.

Orange mushroom and other various corals

Specifically, climate change impacts are wreaking havoc on our coral reef ecosystems. As temperatures rise, mass bleaching and infectious disease outbreaks are becoming more frequent and impossible to contain. The CO2 that lingers in the air above ground is also being absorbed into the ocean, altering the sea water chemistry in a process called ocean acidification.

“Think about putting your blue jeans in the laundry and putting in too much bleach. Well, they come out white. That’s what happens to these corals. All these beautiful colors of this coral that you’re looking at … now what you would see is a field of white,” said Brent Whitaker, National Aquarium Director of Biological Programs .

A vibrant sun polyp coral

The bleaching of coral reefs is usually brought on by unusually warm waters and stress. Shallow-water reefs, like those along our Atlantic coast and in the Caribbean, have been particularly harmed by prolonged periods of warmth – an estimated 16 percent of those reefs have been killed worldwide.

Queen Angel fish in our Atlantic Coral Reef exhibit

After closely montioring the effects these changes are having on ocean life, scientists have determined the rate at which the damage is happening. At least 70 percent of coral reefs are projected to suffer from degradation by 2030 without a dramatic change to carbon emissions, according to a Nature Climate Change study.

There is so much that we can do to protect our blue planet. To learn more about the National Aquarium’s efforts to preserve our coral reef ecosystems and how you can get involved, click here.


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