Posts Tagged 'coastal cleanup'

Thoughtful Thursday: International Coastal Cleanup

Blog-Header-ConservationExp

The International Coastal Cleanup is an annual coordinated volunteer effort to remove debris that has accumulated in our oceans and on our coasts. It is a chance for world citizens that are concerned about the health of our oceans and waterways to participate in meaningful action that will make a difference. In 2012, more than 560,000 volunteers from 97 countries picked up more the 10 million pounds of trash. This year’s efforts begin this weekend and will last throughout the coming weeks.

ft. mchenry cleanup

All types of volunteer groups will join forces over the next couple of weekends to remove and quantify the trash ending up in our waters. Because this is a coordinated effort led by the Ocean Conservancy, each volunteer will be asked to fill out a standard data sheet. This allows event coordinators to track the amount and types of trash that end up on our coasts every year and to make comparisons across the globe and through the years. Ultimately, it informs and focuses the efforts being made to change behaviors that will benefit our natural world.

The top ten list of items found on our beaches during the cleanup should come as no surprise to anyone. The list includes cigarettes, plastic bottles, plastic bags, food wrappers and straws – all single use items that we’ve come to rely on in our society of convenience. With the exception of cigarettes, the global list closely mirrors the list the National Aquarium has been tallying at Fort McHenry over the past 14 years. Of the 600,000+ items collected in this area over the years, more than 95 percent has been plastic or foamed plastic.

These items weren’t born in the ocean or the harbor, they were carelessly discarded on land and delivered to the nearest stream (often via storm sewers). From here, there are carried downstream by the tides and water flow until they end up on a shoreline somewhere.

Plastic debris at Ft. McHenry National Monument and Shrine here in Baltimore. Plastic pollution is seriously hurting the ocean and its inhabitants!

We know, if we want to make a difference, we need to stop the debris at its source – cleaning it up after the fact is not a long-term solution! We need to look at our own behaviors and determine how to eliminate the flow of debris from our homes to our streets to our waterways. We thought that if we focus on the 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) we would be successful.

For many years, the emphasis has been on recycling. In truth, recycling should be our last choice. Our ultimate success will depend upon how well we can assimilate the fourth R into the equation – Refuse. This world does not have unlimited resources and we need to stop acting like it does. We need to be thoughtful in our everyday consumer decisions so that we look beyond the gratification of that warm cup of coffee or cold soda and begin to consider the real-world costs of the decisions we make. The real-world cost of using non-degradable, oil-based, disposable drink ware instead of carrying a reusable coffee mug.

In the mean time, while we are figuring out how to turn our consumer society on it’s ear, we have a big mess to clean up. In my job, I get to see much of the Chesapeake Bay. I get to travel to it’s islands and remote wetland habitats and enjoy all of the benefits our natural world has to offer. In all of those travels, I have never seen a shoreline unmarred by the sight of trash. It’s everywhere. Baltimore and the more populated areas of the watershed are admittedly more affected by debris, but there is no place that is immune. If we want to truly champion a healthy Chesapeake (healthy for humans and animals alike), we need a trash-free environment. It is possible and we can start today.

If you haven’t already, register to join us at our October 5th Fort McHenry event in Baltimore or find another International Coastal Cleanup event near you!

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Inspiring Conservation in the Classroom and in the Community

National Aquarium’s mission is to inspire conservation of the world’s aquatic treasures. We incorporate this mission into every aspect of our organization’s work, both inside the building and outside in the community. Here’s a look at some of the many ways we work with the community to conserve:

Local students (from elementary school through college) are involved in a wide variety of programs including our Wetland Nursery and Terrapins in the Classroom programs. Community volunteers assist in cleaning up debris and planting native grasses and trees at several wetland restoration areas.

The Wetland Nursery program involves students potting and caring for wetland plants and trees in wet frame ponds, throughout the school year. A few schools have an extended wet frame pond system linking their ponds to a tank with striped bass.

Students learn valuable planting and resource management skills by building wetland nurseries from scratch!

Students learn valuable planting and resource management skills by building wetland nurseries from scratch!

At the end of the school year, the students travel to sites around the Chesapeake Bay watershed to plant the grasses and trees and release the fish into tributaries. Teachers utilize the plants and fish as teaching tools in lessons as they track their growth and study the model as an example of actual wetland processes.

Our Terrapins in the Classroom program gives hatchling diamond-back terrapins a head start on life in the wild by having students raise them in the classroom. Caring for the terrapins becomes an important part of student life, as one student reflected, “Thank you very much for allowing us to be a major influence in Leo’s life. We have prepared him for the new journey he will embark on.”

A terrapin hatchling

This terrapin hatchling will be released later this year and tracked by the class that took care of it!

Teachers and students track the growth of their terrapin and study the brackish wetland habitats where they are naturally found, linking the impact climate change is having on these areas and the future of these reptiles.

In addition to working closely with students and the local education system, the Aquarium’s conservation department held restoration plantings reaching as far south as Virginia Beach and as close as Baltimore City.

The Masonville Cove shoreline after our summer planting!

The Masonville Cove shoreline after our summer planting!

Along the Patapsco River at Masonville Cove, approximately 100 volunteers came out to plant a half acre with 21,000 native wetland grasses, creating a fringe wetland. This increased the amount of wilderness habitat in the surrounding area, which is largely urban and industrial.

At the nearby Fort McHenry wetland, over 200 species of birds have been counted over the years and they will now benefit from the added habitat in the area. We have been picking up marine debris for over 10 years at this wetland area…it’s one of our most popular volunteer events!

Volunteers out on the beach restoring sand dunes!

Volunteers out on the beach restoring sand dunes!

Sand dunes were restored along the Virginia coastline, as volunteers planted two species of dune grasses along a stretch of coastline at a naval base. During two separate plantings this year, 55,000 grasses were spread over an acre and a half of dunes. Dune fencing was installed to protect the new grasses and give them time to establish a healthy root system, protecting the dunes from eroding or breaching during hurricanes or other strong storms.

Another restoration planting occurred on a naval base just outside of Washington, DC. Almost 46,000 wetland plants and 2,000 trees were planted during separate events along the Potomac River. Since 2008, over 87,000 wetland grasses and trees have been planted at this location!

Conservation Highlights in 2012 by the Numbers:

  • 760 community volunteers
  • 10 acres of wildlife habitat restored
  • 122,597 native grasses and trees planted
  • 21,000 pieces of debris collected and removed
  • 1,642 school children participated in wetland restoration

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