Category Archives: Travel & Adventure

Sharon Blackie’s Book, If Women Rose Rooted (2016), Inspired Me to Go to Ireland

This is partly a book review of a nonfiction book by Dr. Sharon Blackie, If Women Rose Rooted: The Journey to Authenticity and Belonging (September Publishing, 2016) and part of my own journey as an “eco-heroine,” a journey that took me to Ireland in June 2019. Dr. Blackie’s book inspired me to come into my own as an “eco-heroine.” 20190207_205421

At the time I read Dr. Blackie’s book, I was studying the anthropological dimensions of environmental policy, with a strong focus on the intertidal zone, and oceanography, at University of Maine as part of an Interdisciplinary PhD studies program. At the time, I was still getting my footing as a graduate student, having returned to pursue my degree after working in the fields of wetland science and policy for a number of years, and having reached a point where I knew I wanted to teach, write and contribute somehow to collaborative projects and initiatives involving water, wetlands, climate change–and human ecology. I was also coming to terms with the idea that I had lost a sense of my purpose (something that I don’t typically experience) and felt a little like an “Indiana Jones” / “Lara Croft” adventurer getting itchy feet, feeling my way through a quest I’d only vaguely glimpsed in a dream once, while studying human ecology at College of the Atlantic nearly two decades ago. Then, I read Blackie’s book. I cannot explain it except to say that after reading her book, I wanted to live it. Or, come as close as I could possibly get to experiencing what Dr. Blackie described so that I, too, could feel that sense of “belonging” to the land. I grew up on the coast of Maine and have always felt close to nature. That really wasn’t my struggle (being close with nature). But, I felt a little lost in my graduate study program, and somehow, this book helped me figure out how to re-calibrate my inner compass a bit better, to get a sense of direction.

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Hiking in Glengarriff Wood Nature Preserve, Co. Cork, Ireland

Become a haunter of edges: sea-swept tide pools of islands, the dark mysterious peat and depths of blanket bogs, the fertile wetlands of the “buried feminine” drench the natural and cultural landscape of Sharon Blackie’s book, If Women Rose Rooted: The Journey to Authenticity and Belonging (September Publishing, 2016). Students, readers, poets, human ecologists, nature-lovers, wetland ecology scientists and/or wetland professionals, as well as those interested in Celtic mythology, political ecology, eco-feminism, human ecology, environmental psychology and cultural anthropology—with a special interest in place-attachment, will respect the multidisciplinary, multi-species, and holistic suite of stories and case-studies covered in this book.

A 2016 Nautilus Book Award winner in the genre of “Environmental Feminism,” Dr. Blackie’s If Women Rose Rooted is a call to action. By the end of the book, it is difficult for any ecologically-conscientious reader not to identify with the journey of Blackie’s “Eco-Heroine.” The journey begins in the “Wasteland,” an internal and external manifestation of the planet in environmental crisis—climate change, fracking, the destructive effects of Alberta “tar sands” on the boreal forests, along with many deeply personal examples of women activists who found themselves at a point of personal or professional crisis—and realized they needed to make a dramatic change (or leap of faith) to return to their roots, to community, to gain a sense of place. Place-attachment evolves into an intense identification with the land, water and wetlands—with a special focus on the Celtic countries of Ireland and Scotland. The “Eco-Heroine’s Journey” delves into the cultural anthropology, sociology, psychology, Celtic mythology and ecology of the natural and cultural landscape of Ireland and Scotland—with some fascinating, liminal forays into the Celtic Otherworld through stories of myth and the Celtic Fairy Faith. Dr. Blackie invites the reader to entertain a new philosophy of eco-feminism, to put aside the patriarchal “hero’s journey,” or “quest,” and instead, to embrace a new path. The reader will be introduced to numerous real-life “eco-heroine” leaders, activists, policy-makers, crofters living “off the grid” while also advocating for forestry policy, medical professionals who have adopted new ways of healing and treating patients in remote, nature-inspired retreats, lawyers who proposed an “Ecocide” law to the United Nations (2010) and sparked a new interest in restorative justice.

Four components of the book anchor the “Eco-Heroine’s Journey.” The first component is comprised of stories from the Celtic Otherworld. Stories of selkies, Celtic fairy women, the well-maidens of ancient Ireland, the “mad women” who lived in the wild—these stories serve as metaphors, historic precedent and a prompting to rethink the dualistic argument between two groups of eco-feminists: there are those who advocate for equality to the point where they want to embark on the masculine/patriarchal “Hero’s Journey” (likened to those of the chivalric Arthurian Knights of the Round Table), and in modern society, these women strive to accomplish equal or better jobs as their male counterparts. Blackie proposes an alternative to that dualistic stance, and instead suggests that the Eco-Heroine’s Journey is completely different—not better, not equal to, not lesser than—that of the Hero’s Journey.  Blackie plunges the reader into the Celtic Otherworld, and with poetic and skillful precision, then interweaves an ethnography of environmental advocacy among women, who Blackie interviewed. These women exemplify the qualities and actions of the “eco-heroine,” often marked by unusual, charismatic and fearless quests for some area of environmental policy, or an authentic way of living closely with the land—and their way of showing others a new way of living, healing, being. Put simply, I loved this book. This book became a touchtone for me as a graduate student, as a writer, as a human ecologist. I realized, thanks to this book, I, too, am on the eco-heroine’s journey. Perhaps you are, as well. After reading her book, I joined the International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, and I registered to attend their annual conference, which was held at UCC in Cork, Ireland in June 2019. There, I attended a seminar talk on selkies by poet, artist and archaeologist Erin Kavanagh, who opened my eyes to the intertidal nature of selkie mythology. Since I’d just read about selkies in Dr. Blackie’s book, I was even more “in tune” to Kavanagh’s poetic discussion of selkies at the conference on water, climate change and spirituality at UCC in Cork. After I attended the conference, I rented a car, and traveled around southwest Ireland, and swam in the ocean in a strong current. I’m certainly no selkie; I nonetheless felt transformed and awakened in a spiritual way.

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After my swim in the Wild Atlantic, Co. Cork, Ireland, June 2019

Blackie’s observations, first-person narrative and perceptions of the “eco-heroine’s journey” make up the third component of the book, and some readers may appreciate her distinctively poetic voice. Blackie is a poet, as well as a psychologist with a background in neuroscience, and special expertise in Celtic mythology. This multidisciplinary background lends itself to an interesting exploration of woman as a shaper of the land, as a part of the natural landscape—inextricably linked to “Mother Earth” through the “Fertile Fields of the Buried Feminine.” Ultimately, Blackie proposes while the quintessential quest for the “holy grail,” which one could argue has long been considered a destination for the “hero,” can be transformed to reveal the quest for the eco-heroine: that the eco-heroine, herself, is the vessel, the holy grail. She, the “Eco-Heroine,” is the “voice of the wells,” the voice of Mother Earth, who possesses the power to lead in a different way.

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Glengarriff Wood Nature Preserve, Co. Cork, Ireland (Stetson photo)

Blackie’s book chapter titles read (at least to me) like names and classifications of wetlands. Any wetland-lover would enjoy the rich, detailed wetland ecology–and the spiritually rich discussion of human connections with wetlands and submerged landscapes in her book. While in Ireland, I was very sick with an illness, but I made the most of my time there. I hiked around in Glengarriff Wood Nature Preserve in Co. Cork, attended a workshop on seaweed harvesting and the intertidal at Reen Pier, Unionhall (Co. Cork) and paddled a kayak in Lough Hyne, a rare saltwater lake (Co. Cork) at night.

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Raheen Castle ruins near Reen Pier, Unionhall, Co. Cork, Ireland (Stetson photo)

I will post more of my adventures from Ireland in the near future.

To learn more about Sharon Blackie’s books, her work, her poetry, and the workshops she offers, I encourage you to visit her website here.

Find her book on Amazon here.

Visiting the U.S. Botanic Garden for the National Wetlands Awards Ceremony

Last week I started my new job as Editor of the National Wetlands Newsletter, a bi-monthly publication of the Environmental Law Institute, based in Washington, D.C. It was the first time I visited Washington as an adult (not counting changing planes at Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA). My grandfather, Rufus Stetson, brought me to Washington when I was 13 and we stayed at his “club” and visited the Washington Zoo. Bebop, as I called him, was a U.S. tax attorney for the federal government (Justice Department, U.S. Treasury, etc.) in the 1950s and ’60s, and so it seemed fitting to me that I would begin this new role at the Environmental Law Institute while walking in his old stomping grounds in the NW quarter.

I stayed on E Street, a few blocks from the Smithsonian museums–although I worked until after 6pm most evenings, and the museums closed at 5:30pm (except for Fridays and weekends) so I didn’t get a chance to see any of the Smithsonian museums during this trip. On May 9th, I attended the National Wetlands Awards ceremony at the U.S. Botanic Garden, which I loved exploring. Severe allergies gripped me as soon as I arrived in D.C. on Sunday evening, and I couldn’t breathe well most of the week. As I walked around the exhibits of various ecosystems in the Botanic Garden, I breathed easiest in the “Hawaii” exhibit.  I confess that I went to “Hawaii” every chance I got (a few times) throughout the evening’s activities en route to the ladies’ room or just to catch my breath. The ceremony recognized seven leaders in wetland categories, e.g. State/Tribal Program Management, Community Leadership, Education/Outreach. ELI’s President John Cruden gave the keynote address and all of the speakers, including the presenters and the award winners, inspired us with stories about protecting and restoring wetlands. Starting in a couple of weeks, I will become the Manager of the National Wetlands Awards program.  I’ll be responsible for planning the ceremony for May 2014, the program’s 25th anniversary.

If I don’t write much in this blog for the next few weeks, it’s only because I’ve taken the helm at the National Wetlands Newsletter, and I’m focused on setting up my new office. I will also be working on the two new websites for the National Wetlands Newsletter and the National Wetlands Awards in the coming weeks. If you’re an avid reader of the NWN, please reach out to me with feedback or suggestions as I work on the new website and summer issue.

From Bog to Bough: Reflecting on Wetland Trees in Winter

Scrub

If I grow bitterly,
Like a gnarled and stunted tree,
Bearing harshly of my youth
Puckered fruit that sears the mouth;
If I make of my drawn boughs
An Inhospitable House,
Out of which I never pry
Towards the water and the sky,
Under which I stand and hide
And hear the day go by outside;
It is that a wind too strong
Bent my back when I was young,
It is that I fear the rain
Lest it blister me again.

-Edna St. Vincent Millay


Today’s my birthday, so I am feeling nostalgic. I turned 18 on Kaua’i, where I drew this illustration of Norfolk pine.  Lately I’ve been thinking about trees…especially those that grow in my black ash swamp, lean over my clothesline and sway in winter storms. Sometimes they remind me of the trees of my youth, both of us growing stronger along the riverbank. I’m not the only one reflecting on old trees.  In the latest issue of Orion Magazine, Dan Shepherd shows (and tells) a story about how people’s memories of trees connect them to their lives in Draw Me a Tree. In thinking about that exercise, I pictured the trees I have drawn in pastel, Norfolk pine trees of Hawai’i—so exotic, so different from the pine trees I knew in Maine; the Norfolk pine stood out to me as symbolic of a personal milestone, the week I turned 18 (in February) on Kaua’i. Since I turn 35 today, another milestone, I thought it was a good time to reflect on trees and their impact on us as environmental professionals and as human beings.

In my high school biology class at Gould Academy, the biology teacher assigned our class to go climb a tree, then to remain sitting in its branches for an hour, recording our observations—up close. I had learned an appreciation for this kind of “close-up” observation with trees from reading Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, which eloquently balanced a trilogy of poetry, science and spirituality. There is something fascinating about trees, the kind of power that compelled conquistadors to search for the mythological Tree of Life in the Amazon during Ponce de Leon’s quest for the Fountain of Youth, and many others before and since. Trees stand as symbols in many religions—such as Celtic Trees, used in divination and the Celtic alphabet, as well as mythology, science, philosophical doctrines, genealogical (family trees) and financial illustrations.

We know that the age of a tree can be counted among its inner rings, or estimated by its diameter.  In a recent blog post on Brainpickings, writer Rachel Sussman tells the story of the Senator, the oldest Cypress tree in the world, which died last month after a fire, at 3,500 years old. Sussman compares it to some other very old trees—though not quite as old as the Senator, throughout the world. Most of the trees in her blog post are not wetland-dependent species, however, the Senator was an example of a very old wetland-dependent tree, and there are slightly younger comparisons throughout the U.S. In certain forested wetlands, where it’s a logistically-challenged area, whether inaccessible because of water and dense vegetation,  it is harder for people to access some trees—and in some cases, the trees have a chance to grow larger, causing the forest to grow even more inaccessible. I suppose it’s a kind of self-preservation tactic that protects the trees. The Pinelands, also known as the Pine Barrens, a heavily forested coastal plain in New Jersey is an example of such a forested wetland. The New Jersey Pinelands Commission serves to protect the wetlands and forest of the Pinelands.  Heavily forested wetlands among the Great Lakes are another example.Forested wetlands are the most common type of wetland in North America. For an in-depth explanation of forested wetland types in the Northeast, see ASWM’s report on restoration and mitigation practices in forested wetlands of the Northeast. (Developing Performance Standards for the Mitigation and Restoration of Northern Forested Wetlands)

In winter, I find my 1970 edition of a Winter Tree Finder handbook (Nature Study Guild) useful to identify trees and shrubs. It covers most of North America and includes all deciduous trees. The guide begins by outlining possible habitats, for example streambanks, lowlands/wetlands, high altitudes, bogs, sandy soils, edge of the forest, disturbed areas.  Then it breaks it down by climate—where winters are cold or mild, and whether there are houses, parks or cities nearby. It depicts the scars found on a twig, which offers clues as to the kind of tree.  Reading through the small guide feels like a “choose your own adventure” storybook, in which the naturalist may advance to this or that section depending on the traits of a tree, based on what’s visible in winter. There are a number of good guides available (online and in print) on identifying winter trees, but many of them are specific to a region. All you need to identify winter trees is a nose, hands, brain, seasonally-appropriate clothing, a camera or a sketch/note pad. Have fun!

A Beginning Guide to Winter Tree Identification

Michigan: Winter Tree Identification

Army Corps of Engineers Guide to Winter Tree Identification in Wetlands

Winter Tree Identification Exercise (Includes assignment to sketch a winter tree)

How to Identify Trees in Winter (wiki)

USGS: Island Trees:
http://sofia.usgs.gov/sfrsf/rooms/wild_wet_eco/tree_islands/

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

Lost Worlds, Lost Wetlands

Mesopotamia is argued by many historians to be one of the “cradles of civilization.” Historically, the Marsh Arabs depended on the marshlands of the region for 5,000 years, going all the way back to ancient Sumeria. These wetlands show up in epic poetry of early Mesopotamia:

‘Ever the river has risen and brought us the flood,
the mayfly floating on the water.
On the face of the sun its countenance gazes,
then all of a sudden nothing is there’.
– ‘He who saw the Deep’,
(The Epic of Gilgamesh, 1,200 B.C.)

Most of the marshes of Mesopotamia, including the delta plains of the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers in the Middle East, were destroyed by the year 2000. The marshes were lost to hydro-engineering for dams (flood control and electricity), canals and reservoirs (irrigation, farming), all of which reduced the annual floods, which used to renew the waters in the wetlands. The once-thriving marshlands have dried out due to a 20-50% decrease in the flow of water from the major rivers throughout the region. In addition, Saddam Hussein drained large wetlands to punish the tribes—Marsh Arabs—living in those areas and to expose the rebel hiding places, in the 1990s.http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/
Features/WorldOfChange/iraq.php

A number of international organizations pulled together to bring attention to the loss of wetlands there, including World Wildlife Fund, which recorded over 278 species of bird in the Mesopotamian ecoregion. Nearly half of those identified are wetland birds. http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/ecoregions/mesopotamian_delta_marshes.cfm A marsh restoration project through the United Nations Environment Program began in 2006. For an image of the Vanishing Marshes of Mesopotamia, go to: http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=1716 For a technical report,http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/imagerecords/1000/1716/meso2.pdf

For those who research archaeological use of wetlands for agriculture, the Mayan use of the “seasonal swamp,” known as el Bajo la justa,” in northern Guatemala is also very interesting. In the latter years of the ancient Mayan culture, archeologists surmise that the Mayans must have expanded the way they farmed the lowlands, including wetlands, in order to support a larger population. But this has been a subject of much debate: whether these “bajos” (interior wetlands) were used for agricultural purposes. A 1995 study by T. Patrick Culbert funded by the University of Arizona looked this issue: http://www.famsi.org/reports/94033/94033Culbert01.pdf

Last fall an issue of Nature featured new findings. A study identified more evidence that wetlands were used for agriculture by the Mayans: The new “research suggests that the Maya built canals between wetlands to divert water and create new farmland,” according to Timothy Beach, a physical geographer at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.. Archaeologists often explore the question of any ancient civilization, how did they feed a large population? The answer for the Mayans was wetlands.
http://www.nature.com/news/2010/101105/full/news.2010.587.html For more background information on the history of Maya agriculture and the role of wetlands, go to: http://www.authenticmaya.com/maya_agriculture.htm

Finally, I’ll leave you with something fun to ponder: the true whereabouts of the lost city of Atlantis. Is it buried in the marshlands of Spain after all?  According to a new film, Finding Atlantis, on National Geographic (TV channel), a documentary-maker from Hartford University in CT has proposed just that. To find out how to see the film, visit: http://channel.nationalgeographic.
com/episode/finding-atlantis-4982/Overview
 and come a little closer to understanding one of the world’s greatest mysteries. Yet again, the answer to the riddle could be wetlands. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/spain/8381219/Lost-city-of-Atlantis-buried-in-Spanish-wetlands.html

Chasing Storms – Don’t Try This at Home

Hurricane season is heating up. NOAA’s National Weather Service warned in May that this might be one of the busiest hurricane seasons on record with over 20 named storms.http://www.cpc.noaa.gov/products/outlooks/hurricane.shtml The bands of warm water moving from the coast of Africa to the Caribbean have meteorologists on the look-out for particularly violent storms. Tropical storm Alex is one of the most recent hurricanes being tracked
http://www.stormpulse.com/hurricane-alex-2010 right now. This means the onslaught of storm surge upon coastal areas. Bring forth the storm chasers!

Although storm chasers have varied backgrounds from journalism to meteorology, they share a passion for studying the phenomenon of storms such as hurricanes, tornadoes, monsoons, lightning and nor’easters. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/imax/weather.html An “extreme weather journalist” captures the storm on film, while a meteorologist tracks statistics used to predict future storm activity, for example, where and when the next storm will hit and any possible effects on the landscape.http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/imax/stormchasers.html Sometimes a storm chaser will do both of those things. Storm chasers are equipped with the gear and knowledge to forecast the unpredictable and go to the hotspots in high winds or other extreme weather conditions. America’s top storm chaser, Warren Faidley earned the nickname, “CycloneCowboy” for his award-winning photographs and coverage of storms. Faidley has chased category 5 hurricanes, monsoonshttp://www.stormchaser.com/ and tornadoes.

Most people think of tornadoes or the movie, Twister, when they hear “storm chaser.” The Discovery Channel’s hit TV show, Storm Chasers, features a number of “chase teams”http://dsc.discovery.com/tv/storm-chasers/ with an emphasis on tornadoes. However, not all storm chasers are among the ‘tornado paparazzi’ — and beware the media’s portrayal of irresponsible and reckless behavior, which can give the profession a bad name. Here are some exciting videos taken by professional storm chasers in hurricanes:http://www.ultimatechase.com/hurricane_video.htm Here’s Jim Edds’ extreme weather coverage website: http://www.extremestorms.com/ with videos here:http://www.youtube.com/photog481 Storm Chasing Mikey covers a nor’easter in Chesapeake Bay http://stormchasingmikey.blogspot.com/ Cyclone Jim’s page is here:http://www.cyclonejim.com/ Also check out Jim Reed’s book, Hurricane Katrina: Through the Eyes of Storm Chasers http://www.amazon.com/Hurricane-Katrina-Through-Storm-Chasers/dp/1560373776

What can storm chasers teach us about wetlands? Storm chasers offer a unique perspective; whereas most people have to flee an area under siege during a hurricane, such as Katrina, storm chasers put themselves in harm’s way to document the event.  Offshore detectors with solar panels and various sensors for tracking water levels and tidal currents are used to assist meteorologists with storm predictionhttp://www.sutron.com/project_solutions/TCOON_project_profile.html and LiDAR data is used to map and analyze coastal storm activity. Storm chasers can offer first-hand accounts to help scientists compare storm surge effects on the landscape and the role of coastal wetlands as protection against storms. A rule of thumb is that each 2.7 miles of marsh knocks down the storm surge by 1 foot.http://www.wunderground.com/hurricane/surge_wetlands.asp Here’s an interesting article from Physics Today on the science of storm surges and the role of coastal wetlands, in which the authors suggest new storm surge models that could be useful in a future that includes sea level rise and possible loss of wetlands (Resio and Westerink 2008) http://www.nd.edu/~coast/reports_papers/2008-PHYSICSTODAY-rw.pdf

Chasing storms is dangerous and sometimes life threatening. Let’s leave it to the professionals. There are ways to learn about basic storm principles safely. For classroom activities (geared for science teachers), go to:http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/imax/activity.html Everyone else can watch the exciting video footage!

Restoring Part of the Salt Lake Ecosystem & Exploring the Legacy Nature Preserve in Utah

Last week I attended River Rally at Snowbird, Utah, near Salt Lake City. A group of us rode in a shuttle van down into the valley to explore the 2, 225-acre Legacy Nature Preserve, which is normally off-limits to the public. The Legacy Highway was a controversial project. In order to mitigate for the wetland loss, the Utah DOT worked with the SWCA Environmental Consultants to create the Legacy Nature Preserve. The mission of the nature preserve is “to provide in perpetuity quality wildlife habitats for mitigating impacts to wetlands and wildlife associated with the Legacy Parkway.” The preserve is located within the Great Salt Lake ecosystem.

Our group—full of avid birders—arrived at the parking lot for the preserve’s observation deck, where everyone shed layers. It was 95° and sunny, a forty-degree difference from the Wasatch Mountains National Forest, where River Rally attendees stayed at the Snowbird Ski Resort. I was the only one dressed appropriately for the climate—a tee shirt and cropped pants. Everyone else had worn winter clothes and full rain gear. Just the day before, there had been torrential downpours on the preserve and the day after our field trip, it snowed—a major blizzard—for three days. We got lucky.

We saw 60 species of birds in three hours, wandering over the nature preserve with our guide, Eric McCulley, an environmental consultant and manager for the site. A big part of Eric’s job is managing the water in the various types of wetlands within the preserve, including playas, creeks and ponds. For a link to the Legacy Nature Preserve’s Water Management Plan, go to:  http://www.udot.utah.gov/main/uconowner.gf?n=1927752816403691464 He’s also in charge of monitoring the birds, water quality and vegetation restoration work. The local duck groups monitor the duck populations and assist with managing the duck habitat. Through binoculars and digital cameras, our group spied snowy egrets, Great blue herons, red-winged and yellow-headed blackbirds, meadowlarks, several hawks, two eagles sitting on their nest, white-faced ibis, several types of swallows and sparrows, a robin, blue-winged teal, Canada goose, marsh wrens, black-neck stilt, Wilson’s Phalarope, shrike, terns and gulls. An American avocet displayed his wings for us to capture him on film.

As part of the vegetation management plan, goats graze strategically on parts of the preserve. We also noticed evidence and scat from other wildlife—deer, foxes, vole holes, etc.  I cautiously asked our guide, “It’s too cold for snakes in Utah, right?” Eric replied, “No, there are snakes but you won’t see any.” Guess who accidentally stepped beside a rattlesnake on the trail shortly after this exchange? You guessed right. Yours truly. I am the reluctant Snake Whisperer.  For more information on the Legacy Nature Preserve, visit: http://www.udot.utah.gov/main/f?p=100:pg:0::::V,T:,2084

Move over, Mangroves!

Oh, wait, if the mangrove swamps get developed, the beaches go out to sea! Hmmm. I got the email version of a postcard from my family, who are spending a week in the Caribbean, and everyone is upset at the lack of fish and destruction of mangrove forests. My mother studied reefs and seaweeds while a college student in the Virgin Islands more than thirty years ago. She told me stories of snorkeling in creepy eel-filled mangrove swamps, marvelous for a marine biology student to observe: mangroves are nurseries for many marine species, e.g. several species of sharks and fish. Mangroves are unique habitats because the plants live in saltwater, brackish water and freshwater; they are on the fringe between the land and sea.  Those in the Caribbean have declined by 42% over the last 25 years, according to the Mangrove Action Project. http://mangroveactionproject.org/mangroves For a fact sheet on the importance of mangroves (published by Fish & Wildlife, USVI) seehttp://bcrc.bio.umass.edu/vifishandwildlife/Education/FactSheet/PDF_Docs/
28Mangroves.pdf

Negril’s beaches (Jamaica) have undergone severe damages due to mangrove destruction, according to a study by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Division of Early Warning and Assessment. See:  Final Throes for Jamaica’s ‘Hippie Paradise’?(April 2010) http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=50980

In addition to development pressure, mangrove charcoal, highly prized for its long-lasting heat, provides income for several communities in the Caribbean. Caribbean charcoal comes from two sources—mangrove swamps and dry forests. For a video on mangroves, see: http://www.channelg.tv/video.php?project_id=8

According to a recent Coastal Living article, “9 coastal wonders to see now,” mangrove forests are on the list of places to visit sooner rather than later due to the environmental pressures they currently face and their looming fate.http://www.cnn.com/2010/TRAVEL/04/06/coastal.wonders/ (Incidentally, Casco Bay, Maine is also on the list but because of nitrogen run-off problems on beaches. USM’s Muskie School of Public Service also presented a recent study on the warming of Casco Bay with another set of warnings and their potential impact on the bay area. http://blogs.usm.maine.edu/muskie/2010/02/01/report-reveals-the-warming-of-casco-bay/) Mangroves are also affected by climate change impacts: Caribbean mangroves adjust to rising sea level through biotic controls on change in soil elevation by Karen L. McKee et. al. (2007)http://www.serc.si.edu/labs/animal_plant_interaction/pubs/McKee%20et%20al%202007.pdf

Update: Vital Mangroves On The Edge Of Extinction Thanks to All-You-Can-Eat Shrimp (Book Review) – Treehugger.com August 2011

Wetland Documentary Films & Videos

Good wetland documentaries come in all shapes and sizes – from four minutes to forty minutes to feature-length films. In addition to the list below, Wetland Watchers often has links to news related to wetland films http://www.wetlandwatchers.org/ In some cases, films have been made to raise awareness about environmental challenges facing people and wildlife that live in wetland areas; in other cases, the documentary film tool has been used to teach young people about the importance of wetlands. See “Shooting wetland documentary helps urban teens go green” (Filmmaker not content to watch Orange Lake (FL) wetlands die) http://www.tampabay.com/news/environment/wetlands/filmmaker-not-content-to-watch-orange-lake-wetlands-die/1034788 (Sept. 2009)

Hurricane on the Bayou (summer 2009)
http://www.hurricaneonthebayou.com/

Iowa Wetland documentary with Ava Su (June 2009)
A Year on the Wing http://www.abc.net.au/wing/community/learningwetland.htm

Prairie Wetlands Documentary is a guided tour through the beautifully restored prairie wetlands, located just outside of Fergus Falls, MN http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7086226574538373361 (2006)

No Time to Lose – A documentary about a local heron rookery in Troy, MI, and the need for a wetlands ordinance to save it. Created by Zach Kilgore and Austin Schultz. 2008http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7086226574538373361#docid=-4754886072581651111

Great Lakes: Waterlife – at http://www.utoledo.edu/as/lec/events/Waterlife.html.Viewthe official trailer: http://campaigns.hellocoolworld.com/index.cfm?campaign_id=12Visit the official film website: http://waterlife.nfb.ca/

Houston’s disappearing wetlandshttp://blogs.discovery.com/animal_news/2009/09/shooting-wetland-documentary-helps-teens-go-green.html To watch the documentary, go to:http://www.schooltube.com/user/htv (Sept. 2009)

Cry of the Marsh – Wetlands of Minnesota documentary (1970s original and more recent re-make, Echoes of Cry of the Marsh)http://www.morris.umn.edu/cryofthemarsh/watch.html

Spike Lee’s documentary about Katrina: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0783612/

Spike Lee’s ‘Levees’ sequel for HBO covers four hours over two nights
http://www.nola.com/tv/index.ssf/2010/08/spike_lees_levees_sequel_for_h.html

The Big Uneasy – Documentary
http://www.thebiguneasy.com/

For those who are interested in making a wetland film, there are training opportunities. For example, there is an upcoming week-long workshop in Washington state (affiliated with University of Washington) called “Introduction to Scientific Filmmaking,” to be led by Jeff Morales (National Geographic Film & Television, & VONIGO Films) and Dr. Colin Bates (Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre & Department of Botany, University of British Columbia). The workshop will teach participants to communicate scientific findings, natural history information, or conservation messages by creating compelling, professional-quality videos. No prior film making experience is required. The workshop will run with a minimum of 10 participants, and a maximum of 16. Workshop will be held at Friday Harbor Marine Labs (http://depts.washington.edu/fhl/) November 16 – 22, 2009.  Cost: US$1100. Registration deadline is Sunday, November 1st.  For further information and application materials, contact Colin Bates colinba@interchange.ubc.ca or visitwww.coastalimageworks.com/filmschool/

Update May 2012: Film about Indiana Wetlands is one big, unhappy ending
http://www.suntimes.com/sports/outdoors/12460286-452/film-about-indiana-wetlands-is-one-big-unhappy-ending.html

Updated April 2013: Playas Film Screened at Texas Film Festivalhttp://www.pljv.org/news/playa-post/april-2013#story4

Endangered Vacations

Summer vacation weather is finally upon us here in the Northeast. I recently spent a couple of days in Acadia National Park, where I swam in the ocean and attended a wedding on Sand Beach. I like to think that I can visit the beautiful park anytime I wish. But some vacation spots in the U.S. might be endangered. It’s frightening to think that some of our favorite places—coastal estuaries, green space around a beloved lake, underfunded national parks and enchanting wetlands—may be diminished or lost in the years to come, so that the next generation won’t be able to enjoy them except in pictures or videos. A couple of months ago, the New York Times ran a story on the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina http://www.nytimes.com/cwire/2009/06/03/03climatewire-arranging-a-slow-farewell-to-a-coastal-wildl-84276.html?scp=1&sq=Alligator%20River%20National%20Wildlife&st=cse The USGS has begun to update wetland maps to show the losses along Louisiana’s eroding coasthttp://www.houmatoday.com/article/20090810/ARTICLES/908109945?Title=Updated-maps-help-document-wetland-loss.

ASWM asked its members for suggestions for a “top ten” list of particularly threatened wetlands and wildlife refuges which allow public access. This list could actually be much longer. Here are the wetlands that made the list of “endangered vacations.”

10.  Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in MD’s Chesapeake Bay area.  Subsidence and sea level rise in particular are leading to open-water conversion. Visit:http://www.fws.gov/blackwater/

9. Ruby Valley Wildlife Refuge in Ruby Valley, Nevada –If climate experts are right in their predictions, the western U.S. will become even more arid than it is.  There is a lot of groundwater-fed irrigation in this valley to grow hay for cattle and horses, which puts even more pressure on this resource. Visit:http://www.stateparks.
com/ruby_lake.html

8. Cheyenne Bottoms in Kansas is at risk due to water withdrawals and diversions.  The nearby Quivira NWR has oil rigs that caused some spills during the last round of flooding there in 2007.  For info on Cheyenne Bottoms, visit: http://www.cheyennebottoms.net/and http://www.kdwp.state.ks.us/news/KDWP-Info/Locations/Wildlife-Areas/Region-3/Cheyenne-Bottoms/Area-News and for Quivira NWR, go to:http://www.fws.gov/quivira/

7. Cape Cod National Seashore is under pressure from sea level rise and more mysteriously–sudden wetland dieback for the past few decades.http://www.nps.gov/caco/naturescience/salt-marsh-dieback.htm andhttp://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/fs095-02/fs095-02.pdf

6. Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in NC is threatened by sea level rise (or threatened to turn into a brackish marsh from a wooded freshwater system) Visit:http://www.fws.gov/alligatorriver/ Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge in FL is another “poster child” for wildlife refuges under siege from climate change impacts. Visit:http://www.fws.gov/refuges/profiles/index.cfm?id=41580
http://www.fws.gov/nationalkeydeer/

5. Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge in Southeast Louisiana is threatened by sea level rise and salt water intrusion. Visit: http://www.fws.gov/bigbranchmarsh/

4. Florida Everglades is dependent on nutrients (if it gets the slightest amounts of phosphorus, the vegetation turns to cattails.) Threat factors include population increases and development, sugarcane agriculture. Visit: http://www.nps.gov/ever/ and go to:http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/SouthFlorida/everglades/endangeredglades.html

3. Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge, HI The last natural wetlands on Hawaiian islands are under pressure from invasive species, e.g. mangroves.http://www.fws.gov/kealiapond/  Also see information on sea level rise and Hawai’i at:http://www.soest.hawaii.edu/coasts/sealevel/

2. Prairie Potholes – Isolated wetlands are under threat since their exclusion from federal protections post-SWANCC and Carabell/Rapanos decisions. Visit:http://www.epa.gov/owow/wetlands/types/pothole.html andhttp://www.ducks.org/conservation/initiative45.aspx

1. Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge in AK. These wetlands are drying up as a result of climate change. Visit: http://alaska.fws.gov/nwr/yukonflats/wildland.htm

Finally, the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) recently published a report (June 2009) on the country’s most imperiled refuges “Ten of the Most Vulnerable National Wildlife Refuges.” While these aren’t necessarily vacation spots, their top ten list is a relevant comparison.http://www.peer.org/docs/nwr/09_18_6_most_imperiled_refuges_2009.pdf