Think of a food, any food. It could be what you had for breakfast, or something you’ve been craving. Once you have an image in your mind, imagine what that snack would look like without the existence of fruits, vegetables or grains. Would it completely disappear? Would only a portion remain? Now ask yourself, “What is the common link—the necessary life source—behind the production of our food?”
The answer lies in the simple act of pollination. It is nearly impossible to think of something within our diet that can exist without it. Pollination, or the transfer of pollen between like species of flowers by wind or wildlife, leads to the formation of healthy fruit and seeds. It is estimated that nearly one-third of all plants and plant products consumed by humans depend on bee pollination alone.
Educators at Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center in Millersville, Maryland, understand this fact and work to teach others about the important role that pollinators—like bees, butterflies and bats—play in our ecosystem. For the past 17 years, the center has partnered with the Anne Arundel Beekeepers Association (AABA) to provide a home for more than 80,000 honeybees each year. When needed, AABA donates bees to Arlington Echo to replenish the center’s four outdoor bee boxes and two indoor observation hives. While the outdoor apiary is used for ecological purposes—providing habitat for the bees—the observation hives are used to teach children and adults alike about insect anatomy and life cycles, pollinator survival, community roles and math.
While it started as a recreation center, Arlington Echo quickly evolved to support authentic, hands-on learning. Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center is part of Anne Arundel County Public Schools and has been for 45 years. In fact, it is visited by every fourth grader in the county. “Education facilitates change,” said Sheen Goldberg, Teacher Specialist at Arlington Echo. The volume of students they reach each year provides a valuable opportunity to plant the seed of environmental awareness in many young minds. Here, people learn to make the connection between pollinators and the food they eat.
“One of the major issues we face today… is a lack of knowledge about the environment and where things come from,” said Melanie Parker, Coordinator of Arlington Echo’s Environmental Literacy and Outdoor Education Department. “[Food] doesn’t come from the grocery store. And it’s not just our kids [who are unaware]. Sometimes, it’s parents. Sometimes, generations don’t have that connection with the land and nature. There’s not that experience or exposure. All people see is that chicken comes in a package and isn’t an animal that’s running around on the ground. There is a detachment to where our stuff comes from.”
Spreading knowledge and linking people to their natural environment is a vital part of Arlington Echo’s mission. By connecting the dots between healthy pollinators and a healthy environment, they hope to incite positive change and help pollinators overcome the challenges they face. Population growth and development have encroached on pollinator habitat; chemical contaminants harm their health; and both native and invasive pests, parasites and diseases threaten populations.
“Right now, pesticides are a really big deal. Bees are going through something that we are calling Colony Collapse Disorder because we don’t actually know what causes it,” said Heather Calabrese, Program Assistant at Arlington Echo. “There is some research that points to a class of insecticides called neonicotinoids. It’s interesting how it, and many other pesticides, work. It doesn’t actually kill the animal right away. It effects the nervous system, disorienting it, [the animal] stops cleaning itself, eating, feeding other animals, and then it starves to death or dies of disease.”
Although honeybees, like those kept at Arlington Echo, are not native to North America, they are not considered invasive. Instead, they are considered an important part of our natural ecosystem, and their decline is directly linked to habitat loss. Development fragments wildlife habitat and pushes native species out. “Because of development, we lose native plant populations. If there is not enough food for our pollinators because we have built on their habitat, then we won’t have the native pollinators,” Parker explained.
Over the past 60 years, managed bee populations have declined from 6 million to 2.5 million, an alarming number that has sparked many states and organizations to offer financial and tax incentives to encourage people to keep bees.
Parker, Goldberg and Calabrese are all enthusiastic about keeping bees and claim that once you start, you can’t help but become fascinated by the social complexities of the critters. “You can put as much or as little work into maintaining the hive as you would like,” said Goldberg. “The bees are clean, hardworking and good at taking care of the hive for the most part.”
The educators at Arlington Echo stress the importance of making connections between the natural world and human health. Many of the things that harm pollinators also pose a threat to humans, water and other wildlife. “There is the developmental part of… pollinator population decline, but also the pesticide use,” Parker said. “Those pesticides end up in our waterways. You know, everything is connected. You pull one string and the rest unravels. So, even though it seems like a small piece, it is part of a bigger issue.”
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program's Flickr page.
Sunken fishing traps are having a big impact on wildlife in coastal waters around the United States, including blue crabs and the watermen who depend on them in Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina.
According to a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the problem of derelict fishing gear—which includes lost and discarded nets and traps—is “pervasive, persistent and largely preventable.” Whether accidentally lost or intentionally tossed overboard, derelict gear can continue to “ghost fish,” catching fish, turtles and other species and damaging seafloor habitats. In some cases, dead organisms continue to serve as bait until the traps stop catching fish.
“People may not realize that derelict traps can catch not just the target species of the fishery, but also other animals, including threatened and endangered species where populations are already very low,” said scientist Ariana Sutton-Grier in a media release.
In the Chesapeake Bay, derelict crab traps impact blue crabs, diamondback terrapins and other species. Between 35 and 40 percent of derelict traps are ghost fishing, with the highest catch rates taking place in Maryland waters. Here, about 20 blue crabs per trap per year are caught and killed, which researchers attribute to gear that is not designed to allow species to escape when traps become derelict.
The loss of fishing gear has an economic impact, too. According to the report, derelict traps in Virginia waters have caught as many as 913,000 crabs in a year, with an estimated worth of $304,000, or one percent of the Commonwealth’s annual commercial blue crab landings. In addition to the impact on commercial fisheries, there is a irect cost to watermen to replace lost traps, which range from $60 to $600.
Traps with biodegradable escape panels—which are inexpensive and easy to install—have been successfully tested in the Bay, with no adverse effects on blue crab catch. These, along with boat lanes that keep propellers away from trap lines and improved outreach and education to watermen, could pose solutions to the region’s derelict fishing trap problem.
The history of the Anacostia and Patapsco rivers is similar to that of countless other mid-Atlantic waterways. At one time, these rivers served as sources of power that fueled industrialization and as sewer lines that removed human and industrial wastes from urban areas. Over time, these rivers lost their identities as “natural resources” and the values placed on them for food and spiritual renewal.
Image courtesy eutrophication&hypoxia/Flickr
Rivers were our early highways, transporting people and goods from one place to another. They bound communities together, giving people a common experience. Earlier this month, community representatives, academics and activists came together at the Smithsonian Institution’s Anacostia Community Museum to share their experiences in trying to reclaim the original values of these resources for local residents.
Image courtesy Mr. T in DC/Flickr
Historian and University of Maryland Eastern Shore Professor Emeritus John Wennersten has studied and written about the Anacostia River for decades. At this talk, he discussed the ethical responsibility we have to remedy the environmental burdens that have been disproportionately placed on low-income and minority communities. Indeed, restoring urban waterways is an important step in this process. Both the Anacostia and Patapsco rivers have legacies of industrial development and pollution, and Dan Smith with the Anacostia Watershed Society and Joe Stewart with the Baltimore Historical Society described efforts to engage the community in reclaiming and restoring waterfronts. As part of this work, Christina Bradley from Baltimore’s Parks & People Foundation described efforts to improve the grounds of city schools. By replacing pavement with plants, her organization gives students, teachers and community members the opportunity to experience the value of urban green space.
There is power in encouraging students to experience the environment. Dennis Chestnut, Director of Groundwork Anacostia River DC, has returned to the neighborhoods of his childhood to reconnect both youth and adult residents to their river. And Tony Thomas, the museum’s “Science Guy,” framed the evening’s discussion by describing his experience as a science teacher and the thrill he would feel when the “light bulb” went on for one of his students to illuminate a concept or idea.
Image courtesy Mr. T in DC/Flickr
The turnout for this event was at a disadvantage, thanks to beautiful weather and a Washington Nationals baseball game. But for those who spoke and those who attended, it offered a valuable time to share our experiences and learn from each other, driven by a common passion to reclaim, reconnect and restore our communities and our natural resources. It was a wonderful thing to witness.
Note: The opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect U.S. EPA policy endorsement or action.
With a bright yellow can and a distinct, delicious taste, Old Bay seasoning is a fixture on spice racks around the Chesapeake Bay. Named after a steamship that traveled between Baltimore and Norfolk, Virginia, the seasoning was purchased from creator Gustav Brunn’s company by McCormick & Co. in 1990. While it’s most often used to season crabs, shrimp and other seafood, adventurous eaters have added the spice to a range of dishes over the years. Looking past that classic steamed crab, here are eight Old Bay recipes we adore.
Image courtesy The Dog Mom
1. Old Bay potato chips. While some snack companies sell Old Bay-flavored potato chips pre-made and in a bag, it’s possible to make your own! Cut russet potatoes into thin slices, use a paper towel to dry the slices out and deep fry them in your choice of oil. Cook them, drain them and season liberally. Toss to coat. Check out this recipe from Kayla Black at The Dog Mom.
2. Old Bay popcorn. Or, as Courtney from Sweet C’s Designs calls it, crab corn. Let’s face it: salt doesn’t always cut it when you’re seasoning your popcorn. So ditch the traditional seasoning—and the pre-packaged products—in favor of sugar, garlic powder and Old Bay to create a summertime snack.
Image courtesy donhomer/Flickr
3. Old Bay beer. The Chesapeake has inspired a range of beers, from the Striped Bass Pale Ale by Devils Backbone Brewing Company to the Rosie Parks Oyster Stout by Fordham. This summer, the Flying Dog Brewery released the first beer (to our knowledge) that tastes like Old Bay: Dead Rise ale, which uses citrus hop notes and a tart finish to complement the region’s signature spice. We don’t have access to their recipe, but we do know the seasonal beverage is available from May through September in bars, restaurants and stores across the mid-Atlantic.
4. Old Bay biscuits. Butter, cheese and bread are three key ingredients to any good snack. Add Old Bay, and you get a knock-off of the cheddar biscuits passed out by the basketful at seafood restaurant chain Red Lobster. Shawn from I Wash You Dry has created a 20-minute recipe that yields a dozen biscuits. She dares you to stop at just one.
Image courtesy light_seeker/Flickr
5. Old Bay Bloody Marys. The Bloody Mary is a classic cocktail. Served at brunches across the region, it contains vodka, tomato and lemon juice, and a range of other condiments, from Tabasco to crushed horseradish. To serve the drink Chesapeake-style, rim the glass with Old Bay seasoning and consider replacing the traditional celery stalk garnish with a shrimp or crab claw. Saveur magazine has published the recipe used by Old Ebbitt Grill in Washington, D.C.
6. Old Bay deviled eggs. Deviled eggs are so named because they are made with a bit of spice: mustard, pepper or paprika are mixed with the yolks of halved, hard-boiled eggs and spooned back into each egg “cup.” Old Bay can add an extra kick, whether incorporated into the yolk mixture or sprinkled on top. Check out this recipe from Martha Stewart.
Image courtesy Kid Can Eat!
7. Old Bay edamame. Edamame, or immature soybeans, are served boiled or steamed and sprinkled with salt. Popular in Japanese cuisine, the pods can often be found in the frozen food section of U.S. grocery stores. Rich in protein, fiber and folic acid, the beans pack a nutritional punch. Adding Old Bay ensures the beans pack a punch to your taste buds, too. Check out this recipe from Terita at Kid Can Eat!.
8. Old Bay ice cream. In 2012, Alonso’s Restaurant won bragging rights and 70 pounds of Old Bay seasoning in the spice company’s Taste of Baytriotism promotion. It was selected because it served, among other things, Old Bay ice cream. If you can’t make it to the Baltimore eatery, you can make your own! Regan at The Tasty Kitchen created a recipe that contrasts candied potato chips—crushed and coated with brown sugar and Old Bay—with smooth vanilla ice cream.
Looking for more Chesapeake recipes? Find them on our Pinterest board!