Category Archives: Beaches & Coasts

A Land Ethic 60 Years Later: Growth of the Land Trust Movement

A recent article in The American Spectator highlights the impressive accomplishments and growth of the land trust movement in the U.S. over the last 60 years. Census data collected by the national Land Trust Alliance indicates significant growth in land conservation by these private—and usually small—nonprofit land trusts since 2000. See Tocqueville Would Be Proud. There are more than 1700 land trusts in the U.S. that have conserved 37 million acres of land.

Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac (1949) and his other writings were highly influential to the conservation movement in the 1950s-1970s. Last week was Aldo Leopold Weekend in Wisconsin. His idea of a land ethic, a guiding principle for the actions of people and their relationship to land, evolved into some of the early visions of land trusts, now considered conservation leaders, beginning in the 1970s.

One example, Maine Coast Heritage Trust (MCHT), established itself as a conservation organization in 1970.  Through its “municipal program” (1975-77), the statewide land trust determined that conservation commissions were very important but local land trusts were also needed to perform the necessary land protection work throughout the state. “Local land trusts (LLTs) can provide response flexibility, confidentiality and credibility that is often lacking on the part of town government,” wrote Earl Ireland in an early planning committee memo to the Land Trust Program.  MCHT began to list “assistance to local land trusts” as part of its services in 1978. A number of other state-wide land trusts formed using that model in other parts of the country.

Ten years ago I conducted a research project on land trust collaboration, which continues to be a topic of discussion at the Land Trust Rally, an annual training event hosted by the Land Trust Alliance. The Land Trust Alliance is a national, nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. that provides leadership to the local, regional and state wide land trust communities across the country, as well as some international land trusts.

While I focused much of that 2001-2004 study on Maine land trusts, I traveled to meet with land trust and conservation professionals in Wyoming, California and Maryland, and attended the Land Trust Rally to learn about land trust work nationally. I also gained first-hand knowledge by working with Maine Coast Heritage Trust.

What struck me then was the difference in how people thought about “collaboration.” I had assumed that collaboration was a good thing but learned that some people saw it as “giving up” or “giving in,” while others defined it as “working together.” In success stories about local land trusts in Maine that collaborated by merging with neighboring trusts, a regional land trust could take on larger conservation easements, raise more funds, hire more staff, update/digitize maps, etc.  The Land Trust Alliance encouraged this mode of professionalizing land trusts throughout the U.S.. In success stories about local land trusts (LLTs) that collaborated in other ways—through partnerships, shared staff or shared GIS, peer-mentoring programs or regional coalitions, LLTs maintained their local identity and protected more land using ‘whole-place’ planning or a watershed approach and the benefits of working with conservation partners.

Since then, land trusts have turned collectively to the development of state conservation easement statutes and to new challenges, such as addressing climate change. LTA conducted a 2007 survey among land trusts and found that 60% of responding land trusts were incorporating climate change into their conservation action plans and 30% were engaged in influencing climate policy. Learn more about the developments of land trusts and climate change issues on LTA’s website.

ASWM posted a list of land trusts working to protect wetlands and provided a number ofpublications relevant to land conservation work on its website. In addition, visit ASWM’sLocal Wetland Programs page and its “I am a Landowner” page for related information about local governments, local land conservation programs and general information about wetlands protection for landowners.

So Excellent a Fishe ~ Sea Turtle Conservation History

Last week I received a publisher’s copy of the newly released 2011 edition of Archie Carr’s book, So Excellent a Fishe, A Natural History of Sea Turtles (University of Florida Press) with a new forward by Karen A. Bjorndal. She is the current Director of the Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research at the University of Florida. Bjorndal muses on her mentor’s good humor and the invaluable legacy that world-renowned ecologist Dr. Archie Carr left to the field of sea turtle research and conservation. She outlines the progress that scientists have made since Dr. Carr’s book was originally published in 1967, when sea turtle populations were very low.  Sea turtles continue on the endangered species list, but in the case of green turtles, the populations have somewhat recovered since Carr’s field work in the Caribbean in the 1950s and ‘60s. Carr cites the work of his predecessors, offering insights on the improvements and changes over decades of marine and coastal conservation. But what does it have to do with wetlands?

Sea turtle conservation work used to be done solely on shore. This required slogging through creeks and swamps to observe turtle nesting sites. This meant studying the behavior of wetland-dependent predators, including swamp pigs, lizards, wild dogs and jaguars in the coastal scrub, as researchers observed the success rates of the female green turtle and her nesting rituals. It included studies of sea grasses.  It also meant that sea turtle scientists worked in remote, challenging coastal landscapes, self-marooned in the jungles of islets and islands of the Caribbean and off of South America forever waiting for a locally-operated plane to pick them up, transport hundreds of baby turtles, or bring supplies. At least, that was before the U.S. Navy got involved in the mid-1960s, when a naval officer took interest in the unparalleled navigation abilities of sea turtles. Then Carr and his colleagues had assistance—including more dependable planes, provided by the Navy. The adventures and challenges presented by sea turtle conservation work may be partly why Carr uses the word “swamped” on nearly every other page to emphasize the obstacles that both the researchers endured on the landscape and sea turtles faced in their steadfast quest for survival, e.g. “swamped by predators,” which happened to descend from “swamp forests.”

What’s remarkable in reading about Carr’s field work certainly pivots on his ability to postulate and pose theories—many of which were proven true with corroborating data decades later—but notably his sense of humor. Readers learn of all sorts of fascinating experiments. For example, one scientist puts a pair of glasses with colored lenses on a sea turtle to test her preference for colors in the journey between shore and sea. Further, Carr describes the rarely-witnessed violent, near-impossible feat of the male green turtle courting with the female and maneuvering onto her smooth, wet carapace in the waves, surrounded by competing males. These observations led to changes in monitoring programs, in which researchers had previously tagged the carapace, not fully understanding the violent nature of courtship and the likelihood of the male sea turtle removing the metal tags from his mate. In other observations, female green turtles drag logs and marine equipment to shore. Anything that happened to a turtle offshore remained a mystery for the time being. This brought about a new tagging program to help sea turtle conservation researchers gather clues.

In a chapter entitled, Señor Reward Premio, it’s a delight to read the letters Dr. Carr received by fishermen who found tagged sea turtles that were part of a monitoring program. The sea turtles had metal tags with return instructions (in Spanish and English) with the promise of a $5 reward—paid by the U.S. government. The $5 reward program for collecting the tags was very successful, returning far more tags to Carr and his colleagues than prior tagging programs that did not offer a reward. Because of the language barrier, fishermen misinterpreted the directions on the tags and directed letters to Señor Reward Premio, and the University of Florida’s mail system had to get used to Carr’s new alias.  What’s neat about the letters and the eager response of the fishermen is that the value of a sea turtle, especially when poached, at the time exceeded the $5 reward, and yet the fishermen who returned tags wrote of their great interest in the project. They seemed rather proud in participating. The $5 reward program, in essence, swayed the behaviors of some fishermen and sea turtle poaching activities decreased as a result. In general, the presence of sea turtle researchers on Caribbean islands and off the coast of South America (especially Columbia) in the 1950s and ‘60s made poaching less popular, or more readily observed and therefore, less convenient for poachers.  In fact, the title of Carr’s book, So Excellent a Fishe, is a phrase borrowed from a sea turtleconservation law passed by the Bermuda Assembly in 1620.  Considering that sea turtle conservation had been ongoing for over 300 years by the time Dr. Archie Carr and his colleagues began researching green turtles and hawksbills, among other species, it’s fair to say that Carr’s work was groundbreaking.

But he would have put it differently.  He admits that sea turtle conservation researchers are an insecure bunch, especially when asked about the number of sub-species of sea turtles.  Sure, there are seven species of sea turtles: the Loggerhead, the Green Turtle, the Leatherback, the Hawksbill, Kemp’s ridley, Olive ridley and the Flatback.  But the jury is still out on the number of sub-species.  The reader will enjoy Carr’s sense of humor and humility, even when he makes remarkable discoveries. In one discussion on the magic number of eggs that a female green turtle lays—100 eggs, not more, not less, Carr says this number is “packed with ecology and evolution.” He further ponders why natural selection did not build “child care” into the ancient sea turtle, as the adult neither cares nor knows the fate of her offspring, to the single-mindedness degree that wild dogs will stand around a nest and eat the eggs as the female is laying them. Perhaps among the most fascinating descriptions in the book is an experiment in which Carr and his colleague set up a glass pane on one side of a sea turtle nest and observed baby green turtles erupt from their shells and climb to the surface in a synchronized phenomenon that Carr calls a “brotherhood” acting as a survival group. They proved that a sea turtle nesting by itself had a dismal fate—and would not make it to the surface. But a hundred eggs in a nest meant dozens of sea turtles used each other instinctually to guide each other out of the nest and to the surf.

Carr credits many of his colleagues with their contributions to sea turtle conservation. Fused with the natural history of sea turtles is the evolution of certain conservation groups, such as the Brotherhood of the Green Turtle, which later became known as the Caribbean Conservation Corporation (founded in part by Dr. Carr), and is now called the Sea Turtle Conservancy. This group and several others work to protect sea turtles, including protection of nesting sites on shore. In particular the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, a 20-mile stretch of beach on Florida’s east central coast, was established in 1989. For more information about the book, visit the Wetland Bookshelfor the University of Florida Press.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries just announced new populations of sea turtles (namely the Loggerhead) under the Endangered Species Act:http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/turtles/loggerhead.htm

Mating sea turtles in the Pilbara (Australia Dept. of Conservation)http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-09-02/mating-turtles-in-the-pilbara/2868086

Fact sheet on the Green Turtle:http://www.fws.gov/northflorida/SeaTurtles/Turtle%20Factsheets/green-sea-turtle.htm

Update: NOAA Designates Critical Leatherback Habitat Along West Coast

On January 23rd, NOAA announced the designation of additional critical habitat to provide protection for endangered leatherback sea turtles along the U.S. West Coast.  NOAA is designating 41,914 square miles of marine habitat in the Pacific Ocean off the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington. The regulation, formally published in theFederal Register on January 26th, will become effective on February 25, 2012.

Tortuguero:Epicenter for Sea Turtle Conservation

Fringe Corals – Wetlands at the Outer Edge

Fringe. It’s the outer edge. Peripheral. Fringe, or fringing, reefs are connected to land and point toward sea; they occur in shallow water along coasts all over the world. Some wetlands are the boundary between land and deep water habitat; fringing corals fall into this group. Corals form in shallow, warm salt water habitats, usually tropical waters. Thousands of hard coral polyps grow together in masses and create a reef, whereas soft corals, like sea fans, do not form reefs. Fringe corals are similar to fringe mangrove ecosystems in that they grow at the edges of the land; sometimes the fringe coral and mangroves are neighbors in a closely-entwined habitat that provides a nursery for many marine animals. What lives in a fringe coral reef? Brittle stars, horseshoe crabs, sea anemone, sea urchins, snails and mollusks inhabit this strange ecosystem.

Darwin asserted that fringe reefs were the first kind of coral reef to form around a landmass in a long-term reef growth process. Until 1753, people did not know that corals were living organisms. Darwin’s Subsidence Theory, which focused on fringing reefs as an explanation for atolls and barrier reefs in the deep ocean, (aka the“coral reef theory”) is still the basis for the understanding of coral reefs today.http://www.darwin-literature.com/Coral_Reefs/1.html

Fringe coral communities are unusual. For instance, finger coral (Porites furcata) and coralline algae grow interspersed with sea grasses in less than one foot of water. The two types of coral reefs that are most commonly known—atolls and barrier reefs—live in deep ocean water. Sponges, echinoderms, crustaceans and mollusks may also be found living in the fragile habitat of fringe corals, which are easily damaged by boats that drop anchor or people who walk on them.

Right now marine scientists are calling a “code blue” on coral reefs worldwide. Fringe reefs are threatened by coastal development, dredging and run-off, while all types of corals are stressed by warming sea temperatures as a result of climate change, a phenomenon called “coral bleaching.” The warming sea temperatures kill the algae that give the corals their color. http://coralreefwatch.noaa.gov/satellite/index.html Another problem is acidification of sea water, caused by run-off, certain algae and pollution from dredging or other human activities. Sediment discharge from coastal development can have a very negative impact on coastal wetlands including fringe reefs and mangroves.

In southwest Florida, the Department of Environmental Protection is currently dealing with enforcement issues on a boat lift in a canal, which city developers dredged to build Cape Coral the 1970s. The city developers dredged the canal through fringe mangroves. The original design of the canal allowed the fresh waters to be trapped and prevented that water from flowing into the saltwater estuaries of Matlacha Pass Aquatic Preserve. The preserve is home to four species of sea grasses, three species of mangroves, over 100 species of invertebrates, 200 species of fish and 150 species of shore and wading birds.http://www.dep.state.fl.us/coastal/sites/matlacha/ The barrier lift protected the saltwater mangrove habitat and preserve. In the 2000s, the city developers removed the lift, initially with the intention of replacing it—but several years after-the-fact, there is still no barrier lift protecting the estuary. http://www.pineisland-eagle.com/page/content.detail/id/511072/Stakeholders–votes-being-tallied-on-Cape-spreader-barrier.html?nav=5048

Hawaii’s Conservation Resource Enhancement Program’s strategy involves converting marginal pastureland into native grasses and wetlands. The state seeks to improve water quality and near-shore coral reef (fringe coral) communities by filtering agricultural run-off. http://hawaii.gov/dlnr/
dofaw/forestry/crep/crep/?searchterm
=coral%20reef
 Additionally the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources has identified a way to use sea urchins to manage invasive algae in coral reefs. State aquatic biologists vacuumed the invasive seaweed off the coral with a “Super Sucker,” and have planted sea urchins to take on the job of eating the seaweed. http://hawaii.gov/dlnr/chair/pio/nr/2010/NR10-105.pdf/view?searchterm=coral%20reef For pictures, go here: http://hear.smugmug.com/Press-releases/DLNR-20100817/13368297_NJS3z#972086826_sRNE7 Besides invasive algae, two other threats to coral reefs are hurricanes and overfishing, which have an impact on all types of reefs.

Other interesting links on coral reefs can be found below:

EPA Office of Wetlands & Oceans:http://water.epa.gov/type/oceb/habitat/coral_links.cfm
http://www.usgcrp.gov/usgcrp/Library/nationalassessment/overviewcoastal.htm

A Return to the Reefs: Smithsonian article by Gordon Chaplin (2006) on the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network
http://www.smithsonianmag.com/specialsections/ecocenter/oceans/reefs.html

Coastal Living Habitats:http://www.heinzctr.org/ecosystems/2002report/coastal/habitats.shtml

Wetlands International – Coastal Wetlands (Coral reefs, mangroves, sand dunes, beaches)http://www.wetlands.org/Whatwedo/Adaptingtoclimatechange/Workonadaptationto
climatechange/Coastalmanagement/Aboutcoastalwetlandsandreefs/tabid/1204/Default.aspx

Florida DEP coral reefs http://www.dep.state.fl.us/coastal/habitats/coral.htm

Florida’s Coupon Bright Aquatic Preservehttp://www.dep.state.fl.us/coastal/sites/coupon/

Reef Check (a nonprofit organization)
http://www.reefcheck.org/

Code Blue: A possible new coral reef in the Sargasso Sea? – Sylvia Earle’s research (2010)http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2020806_2020805_2020
796,00.html

NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program http://coralreef.noaa.gov/

Coral reefs in a climate change context – Climate Change Impacts on the United States
The Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change (2000)http://www.usgcrp.gov/usgcrp/Library/nationalassessment/overviewcoastal.htm

Not Exactly a Day at the Beach

Yesterday I cooked out with friends from the Appalachian Mountain Club at Fort Williams State Park in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.  Our group shivered in the cool mist and watched a few tourists attempt to swim. It was the first time I’d been to the beach all summer; the last time was in April, on that freaky Sunday when it was in the 80s and people stripped down to swimsuits at Scarborough Beach. I took pictures of surfers and waded in the cold foamy water. But this summer has been so rainy—60 days and nights of rain at least—that many Maine residents and visitors haven’t had a chance to enjoy the beaches. What’s worse, even on the occasional sunny day, numerous state beaches have been closed throughout the nation because of run-off. Those who go despite the warnings and “closed” signs, deal with stinky streams of run-off, dead things, dirty water. Not exactly a day at the beach, folks.

But is the run-off bad for beaches because of the pollution that comes along with it, or is the amount of freshwater run-off the main problem, with effects of erosion as a side-effect?

The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) just released a report about this very phenomenon: New Report Offers 5-Star Rating Guide for 200 Popular U.S. Beaches and Analysis Revealing Climate Change to Make Water Pollution Worse For press release, go to: http://www.nrdc.org/media/2009/090729.asp
For the full report, visit: http://www.nrdc.org/water/oceans/ttw/titinx.asp

The run-off problem affects people and wildlife. For example, a recent report by the U.S. Geological Survey shows that the sea otter population along California’s coast experienced the most alarming decline in a decade. Laboratory tests show the otters are dying off from bacteria, viruses and parasites from urban sewage and agricultural runoff that pollute creeks and coastal waters. See USGS’s June 2009 report here http://www.usgs.gov/newsroom/article.asp?ID=2247 and a related NOAA article from 2003, http://www.magazine.noaa.gov/stories/mag72.htm

On top of the run-off problem, beaches are under another set of pressures from climate change, including sea level rise. For various studies and reports on sea level rise, visit ASWM’s climate change webpage, at:  http://aswm.org/wetland-science/climate-change
To visit an interesting blog on this topic, visit:
http://carbon-based-ghg.blogspot.com/2009/07/threat-to-maines-beaches.html

Check out these related links to stories about beach closings around the country and information on some state beach quality monitoring programs.

Maine Healthy Beaches Program
http://www.mainehealthybeaches.org/science.html

Coastal Alabama Beach Monitoring Program
http://www.adem.state.al.us/fieldops/Monitoring/BeachMonitoring.htm

Rhode Island Beach Monitoring Program
http://www.ribeaches.org/

Iowa Beach Monitoring Program
http://wqm.igsb.uiowa.edu/activities/beach/beach.htm

Oregon Beach Monitoring Program
http://www.oregon.gov/DHS/ph/beaches/index.shtml

Mississippi Beach Monitoring Program
http://www.usm.edu/gcrl/msbeach/index.cgi

Michigan Beach Monitoring Program
Beach Closings in California
http://yubanet.com/california/Beach-Closing-Days-in-California-Reached-Over-4-100-in-2008.php

Beach Closings in Wisconsin
http://www.madison.com/wsj/home/local/459553
And for related information, go to:
http://www.cwac.net/beach_closings/index.html

Beach Warnings in Boston, MA area
http://www.wbz.com/Bacteria-warnings-posted-at-4-Boston-area-beaches/4881854

Beach Closings in New Jersey
http://www.kyw1060.com/pages/4836964.php?

Testing the Waters in CT
http://www.hartfordadvocate.com/article.cfm?aid=13902