Colin Christopher is the Executive Director of Green Muslims, a Washington, D.C.-based organization with the mission of helping their community live in the environmental spirit of Islam. The organization’s ‘Our Deen is Green’ Youth Outdoor Education Program offers a range of field trips to places like the Chesapeake Bay, local farms and conserved lands to demonstrate real-life examples of how Islam and the environment are entwined.
In our interview, we asked Christopher what the Chesapeake Bay means to him. Watch the video above to hear his response.
Learn more about Green Muslims and the Our Deen is Green program.
Throughout Chesapeake Bay Awareness Week, we'll be sharing the stories of people who live, work and play in the Chesapeake region. Join the conversation on social media: #HumansOfTheChesapeake
Video by Will Parson
Nestled squarely in the middle of a shipping terminal, a construction material company, a highway and the Patapsco River, the Masonville Cove Education Campus is a hidden gem in industrial southern Baltimore. Once the site of an illicit dump, Masonville Cove has been transformed into a place for residents to connect with nature thanks to almost a decade of restoration work funded by the Maryland Port Authority (MPA), a state agency whose goals are closely aligned with the stewardship of Maryland’s natural resources and well-being of neighboring communities.
Masonville Cove’s once-neglected waterfront is now home to more than 50 acres of conserved land, including wetlands, trails and a bird sanctuary. In the southwestern part of the property, the deceptively large “near zero, net energy” education center is powered in part by solar and geothermal energy. It contains a gathering room on its first floor, two classroom laboratories in the basement and a winding mural depicting the Port of Baltimore on the staircase between the two.
It’s a cool Wednesday morning in late March, and a bus full of students pulls up outside of the campus’ environmental center. These fourth-graders from Federal Hill Preparatory School are participating in the last day of the School Leadership in Urban Runoff Reduction Project (SLURRP) with Living Classrooms Foundation, which works to inspire young people through hands-on education and job training. SLURRP was originally funded by NOAA, whose grant program supports the Chesapeake Bay Program’s commitment to give every student in the region a meaningful watershed educational experience. Today’s trip was provided at no cost to the school, with support from MPA.
As part of SLURRP, Living Classrooms instructors have been visiting the students at Federal Hill one Friday a month for the past five month, teaching them about water quality issues, stormwater runoff, watersheds and much more, focusing on the Baltimore area. Today’s field trip to Masonville Cove is the capstone event of the fourth-graders’ SLURRP education.
In the morning, the gathering room was full of fourth-graders, but they were quickly split into two groups for activities. One group went to the laboratories to play trash-sorting games while learning about plastics in waterways, and the other headed outside to collect water data on the Patapsco River.
It’s a cool day, but clear and comfortable—great for outside learning. As the water quality group heads over to the river, they cross over a stormwater outflow pipe, and Living Classrooms instructor Michelle Koehler stops the kids. “Every time [our staff] come[s] out to classrooms, we talk about runoff and runoff pollution,” she says. “It just so happens that in this neighborhood where Masonville Cove is, any storm drain empties out right here,” she explains, gesturing toward the water flowing out from under their feet.
Koehler continues walking with the kids towards the Patapsco, where they collect a bucket of water from the river and measure its temperature, salinity and dissolved oxygen levels, trying out scientific testing kits and tools like refractometers.
In the afternoon, the kids again spent time both outside and inside. In the laboratory, students used microscopes to identify types of plankton in samples from the river. Outside, students used iPads to observe and document evidence of animals in the area, searching for signs such as prints, fur and feathers.
For the students, this field trip may mark the end of five months of learning about the Chesapeake Bay—but it’s far from the end of their learning about the watershed and the roles they play within it. Multiple students said that their favorite part of the day was testing water. “I like to see how the scientists work,” said Abigail Bayard, while another student, Alex Dixon, commented that he wants to go home and test the water in his house. After instructors brought out a diamondback terrapin for them to observe, Henry Lentz, watching calmly but intently, remarked, “I’ve never seen a turtle that close.” From turtles to tracks, Living Classrooms brought the Chesapeake Bay watershed to life.
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page.
Text by Joan Smedinghoff
Photos and captions by Will Parson
Native species are the key to any ecosystem, and the Virginia Living Museum is a paradise of plants and animals that are native to the commonwealth. The state’s wealth of biodiversity is condensed—perhaps nowhere else does a tiger salamander share a roof with a school of striped bass—and expertly organized according to the habitats of the mid-Atlantic. There are over 250 species of native animals, and exploring the galleries and the outdoor boardwalk gives you the feeling of traveling hundreds of miles as you pass through forests, coastal plains, cypress swamps and the Chesapeake Bay.
The Virginia Living Museum is in the middle of celebrating its 50th anniversary, and it has changed considerably over the years. What began as the Junior Nature Museum and Planetarium in 1966 has grown and shifted to the use of living exhibits to connect people with nature. The museum provides a sanctuary for injured or non-releasable animals—including an aviary.
In 2008, the museum was certified as a Virginia Green attraction, after a commitment to prevent pollution from the museum. It opened the Goodson “Living Green” House, an environmental education center, in 2009 to demonstrate sustainable building technologies and Bay-friendly practices like rain barrels and a green roof made of living plants. In the same vein, the Conservation Garden highlights alternatives to pesticides and fertilizer and shows how landscaping can keep stormwater runoff from polluting nearby streams and harming wildlife.
The result of a short walk through the museum’s varied campus, then, is to see the plants and animals that benefit from these sustainable practices, and to learn how to use those practices at home.
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page
Photos and text by Will Parson
From authors to world leaders, inventors to entrepreneurs, the Chesapeake region has been home to some pretty remarkable people. Men such as George Washington, Thurgood Marshall and Edgar Allan Poe are well known for being from the region—but for Women’s History Month, we wanted to celebrate a few of the historic women who have lived and worked in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
1. Harriet Tubman (1822 – March 10, 1913)
Harriet Tubman, the most famous “conductor” of the Underground Railroad, was born in 1822 in Dorchester County, Maryland. Born into slavery, she escaped to Philadelphia in 1849. Tubman eventually set up a home in Auburn, New York, but returned Maryland not once but 13 times to free family, friends and other slaves, earning her the moniker “Moses.”
During the Civil War, Tubman served as cook, scout, spy and nurse to black Union soldiers. In June of 1863, she guided Colonel James Montgomery and his Second South Carolina regiment, becoming the first woman to command an armed military raid. They destroyed several important Confederate sites and freed over seven hundred slaves. After the war, Tubman returned to Auburn and continued her career as an activist, humanitarian and suffragist. In 1903, she opened the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged, where she later died in 1913.
2. Euphemia Lofton Haynes (September 11, 1890 – July 25, 1980)
Euphemia Lofton Haynes was a lifelong educator and the first black woman to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics. Born into a prominent family in Washington, D.C., Haynes received her bachelor’s degree from Smith College in 1914. She then began what would turn into a 47-year teaching career, which included elementary, high school and college classes.
In 1930, after receiving her master’s from the University of Chicago, Haynes began teaching at Miner Teachers College (later the University of the District of Columbia), a school dedicated to training African American teachers. She founded the college’s mathematics department and remained its head until she retired. In 1943, she earned her Ph.D. in mathematics from the Catholic University of America, becoming the first black woman to do so. Haynes was appointed to the D.C. Board of Education in 1960 and spent her eight years there fighting racial segregation.
3. Rachel Carson (May 27, 1907 – April 14, 1964)
Rachel Carson is famous for Silent Spring, her groundbreaking book outlining the dangers of pesticides. After receiving her bachelor’s in biology from the Pennsylvania College for Women (now Chatham College) and her master’s in zoology from Johns Hopkins University, Carson went on to work first as a professor at the University of Maryland and then as an aquatic biologist at the Bureau of Fisheries (now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).
Writing was always an important part of Carson’s work, and she found early success when she began publishing her own work. Her first three books, released between 1941 and 1955, were all well-received. The third, The Edge of the Sea, became a best seller, won many awards and allowed Carson to retire from the Bureau of Fisheries to concentrate on researching pesticides.
The resulting 1962 book was the wildly successful—and controversial—Silent Spring. In it, Carson describes the effects of large-scale pesticide use, particularly DDT. While Carson never called for an outright ban of pesticides, the book caused a firestorm nonetheless. President John F. Kennedy established a committee to investigate pesticides, and Carson was asked to testify before a Congressional committee in 1963. She died a year later, but is remembered by many as someone who ignited the environmental movement.
4. Frances Payne Bolton (March 29, 1885 – March 9, 1977)
Frances Payne Bolton had a lasting impact on the Chesapeake Bay as the founder of the Accokeek Foundation. Born into a wealthy Ohio family, she attended schools in Cleveland, Ohio, New York and France. It was after her husband Charles’ death in 1940 that Bolton’s political career began, when she was appointed to serve out his term as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Bolton was heavily involved in issues of healthcare and foreign policy, becoming the first woman delegate to the United Nations. She continued to serve in the House until she was defeated for reelection in 1968.
Outside of politics, Bolton was involved in philanthropic work and was particularly fond of Mount Vernon. It was her love of the estate that led her to buy a 500-acre farm in 1955 just across the Potomac River, in order to prevent development that would spoil the view from Mount Vernon. Bolton then founded a land trust, the Accokeek Foundation, in order to preserve and protect the land forever. She served as the foundation’s president until her death in 1977.
5. Vera Rubin (July 23, 1928 – present)
Vera Rubin is a trailblazing astronomer who first proved the existence of dark matter. Although born in Philadelphia, her family moved to Washington, D.C., when she was young, and it was there that her fascination with stars flourished. She attended amateur astronomy meetings and, with her father’s help, built a telescope when she was only 14. In 1948, Rubin graduated from Vassar College as the only astronomy major. Rejected by Princeton because of her gender, she received her master’s degree from Cornell, then returned to D.C. to complete her Ph.D. at Georgetown. From there, Rubin taught at Montgomery County Junior College in Maryland, then worked at Georgetown as a research assistant and later as assistant professor. In 1965, Rubin joined the staff of the Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C., where she remains today.
In the 1970s, Rubin began researching galactic movement and found that stars on the edges of galaxies moved just as quickly as those in the center. This was unexpected, because from what she could see, there was not enough gravitational pull to keep fast-moving outer stars in orbit. Rubin’s calculations showed that galaxies must contain invisible dark matter that keeps those outer stars in orbit. In recognition of her accomplishments, Rubin was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and in 1993 received the National Medal of Science, the highest American award in science. Being all-too familiar with the challenges women face in the sciences, Rubin makes it a point to be a mentor to other women, saying once that “it is well known that I am available 24 hours a day to women astronomers.”
What other remarkable women have ties to the Chesapeake? Let us know in the comments.
On a fall morning, a lot is happening on the 120-by-32-foot steel deck of the Elizabeth River Project’s Dominion Virginia Power Learning Barge. A stream of fourth grade students from Granby Elementary School follows Robin Dunbar, the Elizabeth River Project’s deputy director of education, onto the vessel via a narrow boardwalk at the Grandy Village Learning Center in Norfolk, Virginia. After splitting into groups, they measure oyster shells, they listen to osprey calls, they find periwinkles in the wetland observation pool and they make traditional mud art in a small classroom onboard. With solar panels above their heads, and captured rainwater below their feet, students on the Learning Barge get excited about their local river—and how they can impact it—in a space that is smaller than a basketball court.
The Learning Barge launched in 2009 and has seen almost 60,000 students—about 10,000 a year—according to Dunbar. She floats from group to group as staff guide lessons on how to build a nest like an osprey or how to use buckets to collect water samples.
“All this was going to be a big wetland,” Dunbar says, standing on the partially-covered deck, which was designed by the University of Virginia School of Architecture and is organized into six indoor and outdoor learning stations for the barge’s 2015-2016 fall and spring programs. “I had a different idea and worked with U.Va. to turn it into a classroom.”
Before there was a barge to build on, the Elizabeth River Project had to grapple with the financial realities of owning and operating such a sizable vessel.
“The [Elizabeth River Project’s] board was very concerned about maintenance in the beginning,” says Marjorie Mayfield Jackson, executive director of ERP. “But the ship repair community, and the tug boats—the maritime community—has adopted the barge.”
It takes about $200,000 a year to operate the Learning Barge, but the cost would be significantly higher without all of the volunteers involved. For example, Jackson says the Elizabeth River Project has never paid for transporting the barge, which is not self-propelled. Last summer, Colonna’s Shipyard donated a paint job for the hull—a value of $40,000. And every winter, BAE Industries takes the barge into their shipyard and asks what projects need to be done.
The sum of the Learning Barge’s parts, which are powered entirely by solar and wind power captured onboard, contribute to a meaningful watershed educational experience for students in the Norfolk area—including several low-income school districts—who may have never really spent time on a river despite living so close to one.
“It’s all science but it touches on different grade levels and they’re able to go back to the schoolhouse and apply some of that to what they’re learning the classroom,” says Marquita Fulford, standing at the Chesapeake Gold station, where students trace and measure oysters. A second-grade teacher at Camp Young in Norfolk, Fulford is in her third year working with students on the Learning Barge.
“Hands on activities, they love those,” Fulford says. “And they remember them—more so than somebody just talking to you.”
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page
Photos and Text by Will Parson
Invasive species, or plants and animals that have been introduced to an area, can cause harm when they establish themselves at the expense of native wildlife. These invaders pose a threat to native species by outcompeting them for resources like food and habitat that are necessary for survival. Often, these species expand their range and population numbers at such a rapid pace that landowners and wildlife managers struggle to contain their spread.
Brian Knox is President of Sustainable Resource Management, Inc., a natural resource consulting firm based out of Davidsonville, Md., that deals primarily with managing forest vegetation. Knox has seen success in combating invasive plants by implementing outside-the-box tactics. “A lot of people these days are getting more conscious about their herbicide usage,” said Knox. “As a very small company, we’re not afraid to try anything.”
In 2007, Knox began unleashing a herd of goats—referred to as Eco-Goats—on areas overrun by invasive vegetation. The goats have proven to be a viable option for these problem areas, because they can go many places that people and machinery cannot reach, like steep slopes and hillsides. Additionally, because of the goats’ mouth shape and digestive system structure, they are able to grind up seeds in a way that ensures seeds are not returned to the soil to resprout at the end of the digestive process.
A herd of about 30 goats can work through about a half-acre of dense vegetation in 3 to 4 days. “Goats are very good at biomass reduction,” explained Knox. “Typically, a goat can eat about 25 percent of its bodyweight a day in green material. If you figure an average of 100 pounds, that’s 25 pounds of vegetation going into every goat that’s out there.”
Although the goats are fond of invasive species like kudzu, porcelain berry, wine berry and mile-a-minute and are undeterred by thorns, they do not discriminate against native species. So before committing his goats to an area, Knox surveys each site to make sure the vegetation is appropriate. “A misapplied goat is every bit as bad as a chemical spill,” said Knox. “You can do damage with a goat... I look for native species and ask, ‘Is there more here to save than there is to get rid of?’ If so, that’s a terrible place for a goat.”
Spending your day with a herd of goats may sound like fun, but managing the goats is hard work. “A lot of people think it’s just sitting around and watching the goats, and boy, that would be a great job. And then you talk to them about how it took me two days to get the fence up and I’m soaked through to my socks by eight in the morning,” said Knox. “But clearly there’s something that I really love about this. And it’s the educational aspect of it, seeing people’s eyes light up while watching the goats.”
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page.
Images and video by Keith Rutowski
Text by Jenna Valente
Resting on the northern edge of the Appalachian plateau—just outside of Cooperstown, New York—are the 1,200 acres of land that make up The Greenwoods Conservancy. Earle Peterson, owner of the property, works with the Otsego Land Trust to permanently preserve the land through conservation easement. In addition to ensuring that the land remains undeveloped, it will serve as an educational, visual and environmental resource for the surrounding community, as well as a place protect the valued plants and wildlife that are indigenous to central New York.
The seven conservation easements that make up the conservancy were obtained over time, with the first purchase in 1993 and the final plot added in 2001. “Earle has what we at Otsego Land Trust call a ‘conservation heart,’” explained Virginia Kennedy, Executive Director of the Otsego Land Trust. “Meaning that the desire to protect land and water lives inside him at the very heart of who he is. Protecting the lands of The Greenwoods Conservancy meant protecting a place that is both special for and necessary to, not just Earle, but the whole community who benefits when lands like the lands of Greenwoods are conserved.”
A diverse array of landscapes make up the conservancy: from a high elevation cranberry bog that provides habitat for many rare wetland species, to a sustainably managed forest for timber products, to meadows that are maintained for bird habitat and used by SUNY Oneonta for research and education. Conserving all of the land has taken a great deal of time, but to Peterson, it is all worth it in the name of conservation. “I told my wife [when we got married], ‘You have to understand that I have a mistress, and her name is Mother Nature. And like most mistresses, she’s very expensive,’” Peterson said.
This is the final installment in a series of three profiles of property owners that are protecting their land through the Otsego Land Trust, a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving the natural heritage of woodlands, farmlands and waters that sustain rural communities, promote public health, support wildlife diversity and inspire the human spirit.
Images by Will Parson
Text by Jenna Valente
Four partnerships in the Chesapeake Bay watershed will receive more than $150,000 through the Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration Program, which supports the restoration of urban rivers, wetlands and stream banks across the United States.
In the District of Columbia, the Earth Conservation Corps will join with several other partners to restore portions of the Anacostia River and to connect communities with hands-on urban birds programming.
In Baltimore, Outward Bound Baltimore will protect the city’s urban birds by restoring habitat, reducing collision hazards for birds and creating awareness of migratory species that travel through the city. The Living Classrooms Foundation at Masonville Cove will work with the Hispanic Access Foundation to engage local Hispanic church congregations in conservation activities focused around urban watershed issues and the Monarch butterfly.
The Alice Ferguson Foundation, Trash Free Maryland and other partners will trawl the surface of the Chesapeake Bay for samples of microplastics, to better understand and educate others about the level of plastic pollution in local waters.
Each of these projects will help support work toward achieving the goals of the recent Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, in particular those outcomes related to citizen stewardship, diversity and toxic contaminants.
The Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration Program began in 1999 as a partnership between the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Association of Counties and the Wildlife Habitat Council. In addition to the four projects inside the Bay watershed, the program will fund 60 projects in 28 other states.
The calm, mirror-like surface of Otsego Lake is the subject of history and legend. Nicknamed “Glimmerglass” by James Fenimore Cooper, the author describes the lake in his work The Deerslayer as “a bed of the pure mountain atmosphere compressed into a setting of hills and woods.” The narrow, finger-like lake runs nine miles from north to south, coming to a point at Cooperstown, New York, where it marks the start of the Susquehanna River. Hop into a boat and follow the current, and a winding, 464-mile journey downriver will eventually drop you in the Chesapeake Bay. At first glance, the lake’s tranquil surface may seem humble beginnings for a mighty river that churns billions of gallons of fresh water into the nation’s largest estuary each day. But Otsego is a flurry of activity, home to a rich diversity of critters, habitats and ecosystems.
Alongside the shores of Otsego Lake sits the Biological Field Station, a laboratory that serves the State University of New York (SUNY) College at Oneonta, where researchers work year-round to study and preserve the lake. In 1967, the field station began as a 365-acre donation from the Clark Family Foundation. Now, the field station’s facilities— which include the main laboratory, a farm and boathouse, and various research sites and conserved lands—span more than 2,600 acres. Director Bill Harman, a professor of biology, has led the Biological Field Station for the entirety of its more than 40 year existence. As resident Otsego expert, Harman oversees the monitoring, research, training, workshops and field trips at the field station’s facilities.
Hands-on learning opportunities are abundant across the waters, marshes and forests surrounding Otsego Lake. Field trips, summer internships and general research bring kindergarteners through post-graduates to the field station’s facilities. Students of SUNY Oneonta’s Master of Lake Management program—the first such program in North America—complete their studies at the Biological Field Station, sampling, monitoring and researching the waters of Otsego and other nearby lakes. Local residents and other visitors are also welcome to explore and can participate in lake monitoring alongside the field station’s scientists.
Though located far from the Chesapeake Bay itself, Otsego Lake suffers from many of the same issues threatening the estuary, like nutrient pollution and a rise in invasive species. Zebra mussels and purple loosestrife—two infamous invasive species plaguing the watershed—have overtaken much of the lake and surrounding lands. Once a rich source of shad, herring and eels, downstream dams have blocked many of these fish from migrating to the lake. But Harman and his colleagues don’t see Otsego as a closed system. As they collect their data and monitor the lake, they are actively seeking solutions that could be applied across the region.
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page.
Images and captions by Will Parson
Text by Stephanie Smith
Faith plays an influential role in the lives of billions of people in the world, with about 84 percent identifying with a religious group. As Ramadan, a month-long ritual focused on self-purification and refocusing attention to faith, comes to an end for roughly 1.6 billion Muslims around the world, it is a good time to reflect on the intersection between conviction and nature.
Green Muslims, a Washington, D.C., based organization with the mission of helping their community live in the environmental spirit of Islam, began with a conversation between a group of friends about how to ‘green’ their Ramadan. At first they took small measures, like switching to reusable plates and having zero-trash iftars, or evening meals, when they could break their fasts. Those simple actions set off a chain reaction of stewardship within the community that led to the formal establishment of Green Muslims as a volunteer organization in 2007.
The nonprofit works with a number of different Muslim communities in the D.C. area, but serves as a national resource for those across the country that are looking to tie their faith back to the natural world. “There is really a passion and a yearning for learning more about what our tradition is amongst the Muslim community everywhere, and we hope to provide those resources and incubate that energy to take it to the next level,” said Colin Christopher, Executive Director of Green Muslims.
With many youths spending an increasing amount of time indoors, exposure to and connections with the natural world are lost, often times leading to rises in health problems like allergies and obesity. In a push to alleviate nature deficit disorder, Green Muslims launched the ‘Our Deen is Green’ Youth Outdoor Education Program this year. The program offers a wide range of field trips to places like the Chesapeake Bay, farms and conserved lands to demonstrate real life examples of how Islam and the environment are intertwined.
Each trip offers themed lessons that cover subjects such as, water, food waste and renewable energy. The goal of the program is to reconnect the participants with outdoor spaces and encourage healthy behavior changes, like wiser food choices and increased awareness about human impacts on the planet. “In Islam, we understand that God has an amount of trust in us as Khalifas, or stewards of the Earth. We really see our responsibility as people who need to conserve and protect the natural environment; we are called to do so, it’s our responsibility,” said Christopher.
The final trip of the year was to Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C., where the kids toured the historic Peirce Mill and learned how the Earth’s natural processes like water flow and wind create energy that can be harnessed with minimal negative impacts to the environment. Prior to touring the mill, all eight kids sat contently in a circle making windmills out of paper and pencils while discussing where their energy comes from. “Why are we always talking about water?” asks a young boy. “Because we are made of water,” replies Christopher. A look of awe falls over the children’s faces. The importance of water is a theme that weaves through all lessons taught during the program.
The Qur’an has hundreds of verses that talk about water, animals, wind and the sun, and Sharia, or Islamic law, directly translates into ‘the pathway to the water source’—meaning that protecting water is of utmost importance in the tradition of Islam. “Every part of our natural environment is integral to the greater whole. In Islam, we talk about, if you have one limb that is unhealthy then the entire body is unhealthy and sick. So, the Chesapeake Bay is a really integral part of that entire ecosystem and we can’t afford to neglect the Bay or other parts of our ecosystem," explained Christopher.
Although the organization aims to spread awareness about the link between Islam and the environment, Christopher believes that diversity is the backbone of the Muslim community and welcomes anyone, regardless of faith, to volunteer and participate in Green Muslim events. “I think that the challenges we face relate to education. There is a lot of misinformation about Islam and what Islam is,” noted Christopher. “We are trying to bring back the teachings of our traditions within our community and explain that conservation, moderation and love for creation are core components of our tradition.”
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page.
Images by Will Parson
Text by Jenna Valente
Warm weather is upon us, and that means people will be taking to the water to escape from the heat. Soon enough, the Chesapeake Bay will be dotted with bobbing watercrafts of all shapes and sizes. For those recreating on the Bay, the bright yellow Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoy System (CBIBS) markers may be a familiar sight, but they serve as much more than eye-catching aquatic beacons: they provide key insights into the health and safety conditions of the Bay.
The first buoys were deployed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Chesapeake Bay Office in 2007—marking 10 locations along the Captain John Smith Chesapeake Historic Trail—and have been collecting and transmitting real-time water quality and atmospheric data ever since. “It’s [the buoy system] interpretive because we work with the National Park Service as a partner to interpret John Smith’s trail, so there is a bit of a historical aspect to it,” said Katie Kirk, Senior Buoy Specialist at Earth Resources Technology, a contractor that supplies support staff and assistance to NOAA and other government agencies.
“Our main mission is to keep the 10 buoys that we have up and alive and transmitting as often as we can and deliver the data to as many users as we can,” said Kirk in reference to her and the field team’s work. Routine maintenance and repairs on the buoy fleet presents a swath of challenges that keeps the small team of CBIBS buoy technicians busy year-round.
The life of a CBIBS buoy technician differs from day-to-day and can be a physically demanding profession. Some days are spent in their Annapolis, Md., warehouse—affectionately referred to as the ‘buoy spa’—calibrating instruments, cleaning buoys, swapping out parts and working with computer systems. Other times, the team braves the wind, waves and elements to do onsite repairs and buoy maintenance.
As the summer and fall wind down and cold weather approaches, the team removes the three northernmost buoys from the Patapsco, Susquehanna and Upper Potomac rivers before freezing conditions set in to prevent ice damage. But this winter, the southern buoys succumbed to the frigid conditions: wind gusts exceeding 50 miles-per-hour and below-freezing water temperatures caused ice from sea spray to accumulate on and topple over the buoys, something the CBIBS team had never seen before. “The buoys that were off location tipped over, cracked and no longer had power, so we couldn’t track them on the GPS to figure out where they were. That was a pretty intense time trying to figure out where the buoys had moved to and how we could get to them,” explained Kirk.
After winter, the team’s short-term goals were to get all of the buoys repaired, online and transmitting data. With that completed, Kirk is now striving to see the data being analyzed and produced in scientific papers. “It’s been done before, but I want to get back to that and try to reach out to more teachers and researchers and see if they want more buoys or buoys in different locations,” Kirk said. “Then we can take the time and think about how our system reaches out to those users, what they need from us and what they would prefer.”
While many people accessing the data are local sailors and kayakers looking for information on the wind speed, currents, wave heights and local conditions before venturing out on the water, educators also integrate the data into their curriculum. Utilizing the data for educational purposes is of utmost importance to NOAA, so much so that they have an entire education team dedicated to reaching out to local schools to demonstrate how the CBIBS data can be used in the classroom.
In addition to live reporting of local water and weather conditions, the buoy data provides a snapshot into what is happening around the Bay, demonstrating in a quantitative way how each part of the ecosystem is interrelated. Information on water temperature, salinity and dissolved oxygen can help researchers uncover important linkages between water quality and blue crab stocks, fish populations, bay grass abundance and more.
Despite the many challenges that the buoy technicians face, Kirk and her team exude an air of passion and commitment to maintaining the instruments that provide the most up-to-date information about the state of the Bay, all in the name of presenting the best science. For those working to restore the estuary and those interested in learning about the issues the Bay faces, the data can serve as a useful tool.
“I think we have an amazing opportunity to protect this watershed and this bay,” said Kirk. “It goes back to resources and taking pride in where you live. This is your home, why wouldn’t you protect it?”
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page.
Video and images by Will Parson
Text by Jenna Valente
On a verdant spring morning, tie-dye clad students of the Gunston School, a private high school of about 160 students in Centreville on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, gather on the dew-covered front lawn to participate in a team-building exercise. Giggling teens in conga line formations scramble around in an attempt to follow directions shouted through a megaphone by Emily Beck, the sustainability coordinator for the school. It’s Earth Day; there’s an electric energy in the air.
A one-mile access road offers the tranquility of hundreds of lush acres of farm fields, all placed under permanent conservation easement, leading up to 32 acres of campus that are nestled into the nape of the Corsica River. The rural expansiveness sets the tone for a core message that is threaded throughout everything the Gunston School does: sustainability.
Out of the 2,220 schools in Maryland, only 20 percent—or 450—of them, including the Gunston School, are certified through the Maryland Association for Environmental & Outdoor Education (MAEOE) as Green Schools. Certified schools must meet a stringent set of criteria that includes benchmarks such as school-wide environmental behavior changes, water conservation, pollution reduction, instruction on environmental issues and many more.
Certified green schools are also required to hold an annual celebration of green practices; for the Gunston School, that materializes in the form of a daylong Earth Day celebration planned and organized by the students. Instead of attending class, students participate in a morning of workshops conducted by students, faculty and outside presenters and an afternoon film session and green fair. This year’s celebration focused on the intersection of land, livestock and wildlife and offered programs such as poetry in nature; oyster restoration through the Chesapeake Environmental Center; community supported, organic and sustainable farming practices; and a number of road, campus and shoreline cleanups.
Being a green school is embedded in the core of the Gunston School’s identity. “The Gunston School has embraced being a green school; we first applied in 2011 and we reapplied this year,” said Beck. “That has really helped to inform the students, teachers, faculty and administration about what a school can be in terms of a role model in the community.”
The Gunston School’s overarching mission is to help students grow and thrive in a way that way that will prepare them for not only college, but also to be lifelong leaders. The curriculum takes a personalized approach, with instructors working closely with each student to help them develop their leadership skills and academic strengths with a special emphasis on global awareness and sustainable living. In that focus, the school is able to harness their location and pair it with lessons through their Chesapeake Bay Studies program, an integral part of the curriculum that has been in existence for more than 20 years.
Although the Bay Studies program is weaved into lesson plans throughout the year, it culminates in an annual weeklong series of experiential seminars designed to get the students in and on the Bay. By partnering with organizations such as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Outward Bound and the Sultana Project, students are directly exposed to and informed about the ecological problems surrounding the Bay and its watershed.
“Students learn in many different ways; we have students who are classic book learners for whom getting into the Bay helps to bring that book learning alive, and we have students who are more hands on learners and they transfer that knowledge that they got during their hands on experience back into the classroom,” said John Lewis, Headmaster of the Gunston School. “I think that if the students aren’t ever really in the Bay or immersed in the watershed, they’re sort of just abstract environmentalists—they’re not actually seeing the impacts and the dynamics of the Bay system and that goes for not just kids, but also the teachers.”
Patience and adaptation are the name of the game when it comes to taking students outdoors for lessons. “The biggest fear [for teachers] of taking students outside is that they will run wild, and it’s a downside of our current education system is that the only time that kids get to go outside is for recess. So, the times that you take them outside, their mentality is recess,” said Beck.
At the Gunston School, pairing lessons with the natural world means students have learned over the years that being outside means learning, and they remain engaged. If a distraction happens, like an eagle flying by, teachers are content with taking a moment to appreciate the sighting and even adapting their lesson to their surroundings if need be, because, like many things in life, it’s important to expect the unexpected and go with the flow.
Although outdoors learning is an ideal opportunity for both teachers and students, some challenges can come along with it. Not all schools have the ample space and natural resources that the Gunston School is fortunate enough to have access to. “There are opportunities to create teaching environments in the barest amount of space or make use of your indoor environment if it is not possible to get out of doors,” said Beck. “The natural world is all around us, it’s just changing your focus a little bit to see the learning opportunities.”
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program's Flickr page.
Images by Will Parson
Each spring and fall, a stream gushing from a spring in the middle of Lititz, Pa., becomes the center of attention for a group of Warwick High School chemistry students. Lititz Run starts flowing in Lititz Springs Park, mere yards from the students’ campus, where they begin a biannual field trip to measure their local water quality.
The students get a hands-on learning experience that builds their environmental literacy and also provides meaningful data to the Lititz Run Watershed Alliance (LRWA) and Warwick Township. That data helps them assess completed restoration projects and decide what they want to do in the future to improve Lititz Run, which the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection lists as an impaired stream. It takes just a few miles for Lititz Run to join the Conestoga River, but along the way it picks up pollution from urban runoff, storm sewers, wastewater discharge and agriculture.
It is up to Warwick teachers Diana Griffiths and Doug Balmer to navigate the logistics of funding, paperwork, and tight curricula needed to pull off the field trips.
“We don’t have a whole lot of time or flexibility to give lots of units on applications of chemistry,” Griffiths said. “So this gives some kids a chance to see some of that chemistry put to use out in the field, even though it’s just a day.”
The trips are a partnership between Warwick High School and the LRWA. Matt Kofroth, a watershed coordinator with the Lancaster County Conservation District, has been assisting with the trips almost since they began in 1997. He describes the relationship as symbiotic.
“I’m just very thankful that they continue to be active partners in this, because you see very few communities and watershed groups working together like that,” Kofroth said.
He said it is hard to tease out the effects of restoration, an upgrade to Lititz Wastewater Treatment Plant, tree plantings and public education, but their cumulative positive impact is not surprising.
“It might seem early, but there is a slight decrease in the nutrients [in Lititz Run] over time,” Kofroth said.
Another piece of evidence for the stream’s recovery is the return of brown trout, which need cold, oxygenated waters to reproduce. Kofroth likens them to a canary in a coal mine.
And for the students, especially those who may have never seen a freshwater macroinvertebrate before, the opportunity to learn outside is a memorable one.
“I’ve had one parent contact me one time and say this is the best field trip their child has ever been on, ever, in their whole school experience. Now I’m not saying that is true for every kid, but for that kid it was just eye opening,” Griffiths said.
“I think just the fact that it’s literally in their town, in their backyard, makes a difference.”
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page.
Images, captions and text by Will Parson
The sandy shores of Virginia Beach are no stranger to development. As the shoreline curves along the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, homes, hotels and resorts boast Bay-front and oceanfront views. And in 2008, Pleasure House Point—a 118-acre tract of tidal marshes, salt meadows and maritime forest along the shores of the Lynnhaven River—was set to be transformed as well.
Developers were preparing to begin construction on “Indigo Dunes,” an expansive development that would cover nearly every piece of the property with 1,100 condos and townhomes, including two 11-story towers directly along the water’s edge. But if you travel to the land now, no high-rise towers block your view; instead, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s long, slender Brock Environmental Center sits far back from the riverbank, huddled close to the ground and nestled among the trees and marsh grasses.
Completed in late 2014, the Brock Environmental Center represents a community effort to protect Pleasure House Point for natural use. According to Christy Everett, head of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Hampton Roads office, preservation of the land began almost as wishful thinking: “It was a suggestion that was very out on a limb—‘Hey, maybe we could stop this development.’”
After bankers foreclosed on the property in 2011, lack of funding, legal uncertainties and apprehension from the community delayed the protection of the land and construction of the Center. Many residents supported conserving the land, but some—concerned the Center would be built too close to the shore—thought it shouldn’t be developed at all. “We went door to door several times, to every house in the neighborhood, to get their feedback,” said Everett. And with the Center now open for public tours, Everett says community support is steadily continuing to grow. “Some people didn’t feel comfortable until they came to the building. But people come today and say, ‘oh, now I understand what you were doing.’”
The Center acts a hub for the Bay Foundation’s hands-on environmental education efforts. A pier hugs the shoreline, where a “floating classroom” waits to take students and teachers on an exploration of the Chesapeake ecosystem. But the building itself presents a different type of lesson to its visitors: one of energy efficiency, resource conservation and modern green building technologies.
As one of the top green buildings in the nation the Center is on track to be one of only a handful of buildings certified under the Living Building Challenge each year. The Challenge—described as the “built environment’s most rigorous performance standard”—is based on seven criteria, called petals: place, water, energy, health, happiness, materials, equity and beauty. In order to be certified, the Center must meet several strict requirements over the next year, including producing zero net waste and no net carbon dioxide emissions.
Designed to be as resource-efficient as possible, the Center uses solar panels, wind turbines and geothermal wells for all its energy needs—while simultaneously creating ways to educate visitors about resource conservation. When local birding groups voiced their opposition to the turbines, the Bay Foundation tweaked the placement and orientation of the structures. “We did a lot of research into the wind turbines we have, what kind of bird and bat kills happen from which type of turbines in the Chesapeake Bay area,” said Everett. “We keep a spreadsheet that’s monitored every day for potential bird deaths, and there haven’t been any. In that way, we’re contributing to the knowledge about these turbines.”
The Center also uses cutting-edge technology for water use and conservation, including turning rainwater into potable drinking water. “We believe we’re the only public facility in the continental United States that treats its rainwater,” said Everett. “The entire site has zero stormwater runoff. It’s really important to us that any water gets used on site instead of running into local waterways.”
While the building is newly assembled, the pieces that comprise it tell the history of the surrounding community. Bleachers from a local school, marked by carvings from students of years past, frame the building’s doors and windows. Countertops made from old art tables line the office supply alcove, and corks from champagne bottles serve as handles for drawers and cupboards. A striking mural—made from the pieces of an old, discarded oak tree—hangs against a wall in one of the Center’s few meeting rooms.
Walking along the Center’s waterfront trail, it can be hard to imagine the vast resort that nearly transformed the landscape. Though the wetland restoration is still in its early stages, signs of wildlife and new growth peek through. “You kind of want it to hurry up and restore,” Everett laughs. But with the marshes, meadows and forests now protected, the land can recover for years to come.
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program's Flickr page.
You can track the status of the Center’s energy and water use through the Bay Foundation’s Brock Environmental Center Building Dashboard.
Update July 30, 2015: The Brock Enviornmental Center was certified as LEED Platinum, the U.S. Green Building Council's highest designation, in July 2015.
Images and captions by Will Parson
Text by Stephanie Smith
A new voluntary education program aimed at increasing environmental literacy was introduced in Virginia on Wednesday.
The Virginia Environmental Literacy Challenge is intended to encourage educators to engage students with the natural world in new and creative ways, by highlighting those who excel in environmental literacy efforts. A series of lesson plans—from habitat construction to recycling projects—will accompany the challenge.
“We need to make sure that our students are graduating with the skills and knowledge they need to protect Virginia’s natural resources,” said Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe in a release. Governor McAuliffe signed the executive order creating the program.
In supporting the outdoor education and sustainability efforts of teachers, administrators and schools, the program will help achieve the environmental literacy goals of the new Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, signed last year by the Chesapeake Executive Council, the top-level leadership entity for the Chesapeake Bay Program that Governor McAuliffe now chairs.
“Environmental literacy is an important part of the Chesapeake Bay [Watershed] Agreement,” said Molly Ward, Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources and Chair of the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Principals’ Staff Committee. “A systemic approach to environmental literacy will ensure that future generations are prepared to protect and conserve our natural resources.”
Bay Backpack, a website for environmental educators in the Chesapeake Bay region, was recently relaunched with a new design, making it even easier for teachers to find resources that bring the Bay and its surrounding lands into their classrooms.
Teachers and educators can use the site’s updated design to find more than 750 lesson plans, books, curriculum guides and other teaching resources that are grouped into themed collections–including Bay animals and habitats, people and culture, Earth system science, land use and water quality. An interactive map of nearly 350 field studies allows teachers to search by location, grade level and subject matter to find hands-on learning opportunities outside the classroom. Bay Backpack also continues to provide a catalog of professional development and funding opportunities that support environmental education efforts, and the new responsive design means users can easily access resources on both desktop and mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets.
In the recent Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, representatives from each of the six watershed states and Washington, D.C., committed to providing every student in the region with at least one meaningful watershed educational experience, or MWEE, in elementary, middle and high school. Meaningful watershed educational experiences are investigative projects that allow students the opportunity to interact directly with their environment and learn about how the Bay, its rivers and streams and its surrounding lands function as a system. Resources provided through Bay Backpack help teachers from across the Bay area engage students in these educational experiences.
“Bay Backpack is a great tool to help meet the commitments of the new Watershed Agreement,” said Shannon Sprague, Chair of the Chesapeake Bay Program Education Workgroup. “It directly supports our efforts to get every student outdoors and learning about their environment.”
To learn more about what the Bay Program is doing to provide each student in the region with the skills to protect and restore local waters and lands, explore the Environmental Literacy goal of the Watershed Agreement.
Learn more about Bay Backpack and the educational resources it provides.
Forests are critical to the health of the Chesapeake Bay—they protect clean water and air, provide habitat to wildlife and support the region’s economy. However, since European settlement of the region in the 17th century, deforestation has taken a toll on the once thriving forests of the mid-Atlantic region. Human influences such as development and parcelization have reduced forest acreage from 95 to about 45 percent of historic coverage.
Deforestation in the Bay region may seem a problem that is too complex to tackle, but one man, dubbed the modern-day Johnny Appleseed, is proof that a little curiosity, passion and hard work can have profound effects on the environment. John Smucker, a Technology Education teacher at Northwest Middle School in Taneytown, Maryland, has become a catalyst for reforestation efforts, melding his engineering experience with restoration initiatives.
Smucker recalls the moment 10 years ago that sparked his interest in forest restoration. “It all started behind my house with a reforestation effort, but all of the trees that were planted slowly died. I didn’t like that so I did a lot of research to help [the trees] out and fell in love with the process, which led me to start dropping acorns into empty tree shelters,” said Smucker.
The moment created a ripple effect that resulted in Smucker spearheading forest restoration by organizing volunteer plantings and entering into a partnership with Mount Saint Mary’s University and the Francis Scott Key Center. Both locations provide space for Smucker to grow the thousands of trees he uses for plantings.
Smucker spends about 700 hours every year in all aspects of creating riparian buffers, like meeting with landowners, auguring the holes, organizing the volunteers and also conducting the most critical part of the process Smucker says, maintenance. Plantings are held on Saturdays during April, May and October – the most opportune months for tree survivability and comfortable outdoor temperatures for volunteers to work.
When choosing planting locations, Smucker explains, “Being a grower really is a game changer for me, because I can fully understand what the trees need to survive.” Once a site is selected, he samples the soil, observes what plant species are in the area, spends time in his greenhouses flagging all of the appropriate trees for the site and rallies his volunteer base around the planting.
When it comes to tree plantings, the name of the game is fun and education. Many of his volunteers are young people who are in a mindset to learn. Each planting is preceded with an ecology lesson highlighting the importance of riparian zones, stream shading and nutrient removal. “As a middle school teacher it is important to organize the event so it’s fun and rewarding, because if they get frustrated, they will associate that frustration with tree planting. If they associate it with fun, then the environmental stewardship will perpetuate a lot better. If it’s organized right and goes smoothly then it’s a feel-good thing, just like in the classroom,“ Smucker explained.
Smucker encourages his students to work out solutions to engineering problems with the tree plantings and challenges them to think up innovative ways to overcome obstacles. “Tree planting and technology education are really the same thing. It’s problem solving and the engineering design process. What is the problem? What is the solution? Evaluate and modify,” said Smucker.
Over the years, Smucker’s volunteer base and partner organizations have expanded to the point where he has been able to launch an organization of his own, Stream Link Education, a nonprofit that organizes and leads tree plantings with local community members, organizations and businesses. “The coolest thing I think we do is Natives for Nonprofits. We grow trees for giveaways to other organizations, which is great because budgets are really tight and donations are hugely welcome. It also helps establish partnerships, not because I want something in return but because it’s neat to make connections,” said Smucker.
Smucker aims to perpetuate choices and actions by providing people with hands on educational experiences. “If you’re excited about something and value it, then demonstrate the value, they [the volunteers] will see it. The excitement can be catching,” he said. He continued to explain that in addition to educating others and improving the environment, his enthusiasm for restoration remains strong because he is still able to grow as well, “I’m going to turn 50 in January and I’m thinking, ‘if I do this right, I’ve got my 50’s and 60’s and if I can stay healthy, I can do this for a long time.’ And that’s great. There is always something to learn.”
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program's Flickr page
Nestled next to Patuxent River State Park in Laytonsville, Maryland, are the 220 rolling, vegetation-rich acres of Waredaca horse farm. Husband and wife Robert and Gretchen Butts are the second generation to manage the family farm since Robert’s parents purchased the property in 1953. To them, Waredaca is more than just a business: it is their home.
The farm has evolved from a summer camp to a boarding stable for more than 80 horses, 30 of which are directly owned by Waredaca; recreational and competitive riders board the rest. The farm continues to host a youth summer camp, hold eventing competitions and offer year-round riding lessons. “To be able to make a living doing things you love—and to do it at home—is the best. This place is my life, and that’s pretty special,” Robert said.
The Butts’ connection to their land has sparked a deep sense of environmental stewardship within their family. “We’ve been here our whole lives, and plan on being here a long time. I think for a large portion of the agricultural community, that’s the case. Many have been motivated conservationists for years,” Robert explained.
A prominent part of Maryland’s environmental efforts to conserve farmland has included the equine community. “In recent years, certainly the state and Montgomery County have clarified in legislation that horses are a part of agriculture and therefore the services and outreach pertain to them,” said Robert. “Outreach to the equine community has been particularly important to [increasing] participation [in restoration initiatives].”
The Maryland Horse Council has been a strong partner with the state’s Farm Stewardship Certification and Assessment Program (FSCAP), which certifies agricultural stewards throughout the state. Since its development in 2010, FSCAP, administered by the Maryland Association of Soil Conservation Districts (MASCD), has conducted 131 reviews on 108 farms and certified 91 agricultural conservation stewards protecting 27,000 acres in 16 counties. The Maryland Horse Council has helped FSCAP certify 20 horse farms.
According to the state, any farm with more than eight “animal units”—normally defined as one mature cow weighing about 1,000 pounds and her suckling calf—is required to follow a nutrient management plan to ensure that excess manure is properly disposed of. Assessors from FSCAP are trained by the Maryland Department of Agriculture to review nutrient management plans with the same attention to detail provided by official inspectors. Assessors also inspect other “best management practices” (BMPs), which reduce pollution and improve habitat on farmland. When certified, each steward gets his or her own webpage on the FSCAP website and the landowner receives a large sign to place on their property, advertising their environmental stewardship.
“The program was created in order to provide some positive recognition for farmers that are doing a great job [caring for the land], in light of what seems like fairly constant criticism about agriculture’s role in polluting the Chesapeake Bay,” said FSCAP Project Leader Gerald Talbert. “We carefully gathered core partners for this program because we wanted both the agricultural and the environmental communities to be involved.”
"Many stewards feel that certification means more than just personal recognition; it’s also good for business,especially with farms that deal directly with the public” Talbert said. “ So far, we’ve provided 91 signs, but there are 133 signs displayed.
By working together, Robert and Gerald were able to identify and address a streamside fencing issue that thwarted Waredaca’s certification efforts. The problem has since been fixed and the farm has been certified.
The Butts follow a nutrient management plan, composting their manure and spreading it on their fields to encourage rich soil and healthy pastures. They have also put a number of BMPs in place: a manure storage facility, a spring-fed water tank and stream-side buffers with fencing to keep horses out of streams, thereby keeping the surrounding creeks and streams clean.
The Butts also practice rotational grazing. Strategically moving livestock to fresh pastures can allow previously grazed fields to regenerate, and is a preferred practice for fighting overgrazing. But many farmers do not have the space to rotate their grazing pastures, leading to field erosion and the sedimentation of rivers, streams and the Bay.
“We are very blessed to have a lot of room where the horses can roam,” Robert said. “Lack of space can be a limiting factor for many [horse-owners]. Overgrazing is a very common thing in the horse business, and will be hard to eliminate completely because of the way horses eat. Cows don’t eat the grass all the way down to the ground, but horses do,” he explained.
Through the efforts of programs like FSCAP and the willingness of farmers like the Butts to sign on to voluntary conservation programs, stewardship certification programs are gaining traction among the agricultural community. “Part of the effort here is not just to recognize those folks that have already done a great job, but to also provide incentive for someone to step up and put those one or two BMPs in place that they may have been missing to meet the standard,” said Talbert.
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program's Flickr page.
As students settle into their new school-year routines, it’s a good time to reflect on how their experiences in the classroom affect the Chesapeake Bay.
Image courtesy brucemckay/Flickr
Today’s students will play a critical role in the health of tomorrow’s Chesapeake. Making sure they understand how to critically think about evolving environmental issues is essential to the long-term success of environmental protection.
While managers are making progress in addressing the issues facing the Bay, many of the remaining challenges to a healthier ecosystem rest in the hands of individuals, businesses and communities. From decisions on how to heat and cool homes to decisions on where to live, what vehicle to drive and what to plant on private properties, individual choices can have a huge impact on the Bay. This means a successful environmental protection strategy must be built on the collective wisdom of the environment’s residents, informed by targeted environmental education and starting with our youngest students.
In recent years, a clearer picture has emerged about the environmental literacy of our students. A 2008 National Environmental Literacy Assessment and related follow-up studies showed that students who attended schools with environmental education programs knew and cared more about the environment, and were more likely to take actions to protect their environment, than students who didn’t. But learning outdoors during the school day is not common in the United States.
Image courtesy vastateparkstaff/Flickr
While our society is increasingly disconnected from the natural environment—spending more time online and less time outdoors—there is good news: states are increasingly stepping up to ensure that students have the opportunity to connect with nature. The state of Maryland, for instance, has established the nation’s first graduation requirement for environmental literacy; beginning in 2015, every student that graduates from a school within the state will have participated in a program that will help him or her make more informed decisions about the environment. Several states in the region have established partnerships for children in nature, taking a comprehensive look at how they can better encourage outdoor programs for children. Even more are recognizing the efforts of their schools to become more sustainable, ensuring that more students are learning inside buildings that model sustainable behaviors.
This momentum is being echoed at the regional level. The recently signed Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement commits the six watershed states and the District of Columbia to give every student the knowledge and skills necessary to protect and restore their local watershed. The cornerstone of this goal is the Meaningful Watershed Educational Experience, or MWEE, which should occur at least once in each elementary, middle and high school. MWEEs connect standards-based classroom learning with outdoor field investigations to create a deeper understanding of the natural environment. MWEEs ask students to explore environmental issues through sustained, teacher-supported programming. But less intensive outdoor field investigations could occur more frequently—each year when possible.
The Watershed Agreement highlights the roles that state departments of education and local education agencies play in establishing expectations and guidelines for the development and implementation of MWEEs. Indeed, plans that include strategies for MWEE implementation—coupled with outreach and training opportunities for teachers and administrators—have been effective in establishing and supporting a network for environmental literacy.
To support these efforts, funding is available: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) offers grants through the Bay Watershed Education & Training (B-WET) Program, and the Chesapeake Bay Trust offers similar opportunities. The Chesapeake Bay Program also maintains a clearinghouse of teaching resources on Bay Backpack.
Note: A version of this article also appeared in the October 2014 edition of the Bay Journal.
Author: Shannon Sprague is the Manager for Environmental Literacy & Partnerships with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Chesapeake Bay Office. She is also the co-chair of the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Education Workgroup.
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.
For many people, the summer months are an ideal time to get outdoors and connect with nature. The 64,000 square mile Chesapeake Bay watershed offers a wide range of recreational opportunities, but with the responsibilities of everyday life, some find it hard to set aside time to enjoy them. If getting outdoors is not an option, don’t fret! Here are eight ways to access the Bay from the comfort of your home or office.
Image courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
1. NOAA’s Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoy System (CBIBS) and Chesapeake Smart Buoy Application. The Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoy System (CBIBS) is a network of observation buoys managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The buoys mark various locations along the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, capturing real-time environmental and weather data such as temperature, wind speed and wave height. This information is available online and on the new “Smart Buoy” application for the iPhone and Android. It is also accessible over the phone: calling the toll-free “dial-a-buoy” number turns each buoy into a floating classroom, as a narrator offers up parcels of information about Captain John Smith’s adventures through the Bay.
We recommend: The data snapshot page for the most up to date data on all of the buoys.
Image courtesy Chesapeake Conservancy
2. Chesapeake Conservancy's Osprey Camera. Ospreys are one of the Bay’s most resilient creatures. After bouncing back from a nearly 90 percent population decline between 1950 and 1970, their growing numbers are now watched as an indicator of Chesapeake Bay health. They mate for life and always return to the same location come nesting season. This nesting habit inspired the Chesapeake Conservancy to place a camera in the nest of their “resident” ospreys, named Tom and Audrey, and stream a live feed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for anyone who is interested in getting a bird’s eye view of nature’s ultimate “reality show.
We recommend: The Osprey Camera Blog for all things Tom and Audrey. It's an informative and highly entertaining read!
3. Chesapeake Bay Program Website: The Chesapeake Bay Program website highlights the work of the Bay Program and its partners. News and feature stories shed light on our restoration efforts, while data tracks years of restoration work. The website also offers resources that are perfect for students and teachers, from a series of pages that offer an in-depth look at the issues restoration partners must face to a collection of photos and maps.
We recommend: Using our Field Guide to learn about the hundreds of critters that call the Bay watershed home!
4. From your phone! Chesapeake Explorer and National Wildlife Refuge Applications: In this age of innovation, technology is constantly evolving and changing the way we view the world. The widespread popularity of smart phones and tablets has inspired the National Park Service (NPS) and a small New York start-up called Network Organisms to create applications that allow people to explore the Bay from the palm of their hand. The National Wildlife Refuges: Chesapeake Bay application for iPhones encourages users to explore the 11 National Wildlife Refuges around the Bay, sharing wildlife sightings and connecting with other outdoor enthusiasts. Chesapeake Explorer is compatible with both iPhone and Android devices. It helps people find places around the watershed based on specific activities, trail names or types of sites. Both applications are free, so get your phone out and start exploring!
We recommend: Experiencing the region's beauty by planning a trip to one of the National Trails featured on Chesapeake Explorer.
Image courtesy National Geographic
5. National Geographic’s Chesapeake Bay Field Scope: National Geographic’s Chesapeake Bay Field Scope is a tool that promotes the exploration, sharing and analysis of the Bay. Users are presented with real-world data sets about rivers and streams, wetlands, elevation, water depth and more. The information on this site is collected from students and scientists that work directly with the Bay. The site also features a map layering tool, a set of student observations and real time data comparisons.
We recommend: Using Query Point to get instant information about any given point on a map.
6. Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network: The Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network was created in 2000 by the National Park Service (NPS) as a resource to connect people to authentic Bay experiences, sights and places. Today, more than 160 parks, wildlife refuges, museums, sailing ships, historic communities, trails and more are part of the Gateways Network. The network allows visitors to search for sites, watch slideshows, make plans to visit and learn about the Bay.
We recommend: Listening to the Sounds of the Bay. These audio excerpts from Window on the Chesapeake: The Bay, Its People, and Places take listeners on a journey through the Bay.
7. Maryland Healthy Beaches: Plan on heading to a Maryland beach this summer? Be sure to check the Maryland Healthy Beaches' Beach Notification System before you go. This application is updated with the most current beach advisories, closures, and bacteria levels. The notification system also provides rainfall accumulation data for every beach location.
We recommend: Visiting the Healthy Beach Habitats page for helpful tips about how to enjoy the beach the healthy way.
8. National Geographic’s Exploring the Chesapeake: Then and Now. Are you a history buff? National Geographic’s Exploring the Chesapeake: Then and Now puts the Bay’s past and its present at a user’s fingertips. National Geographic launched the website alongside the 400th anniversary of the establishment of Jamestown, with the intention that it would be used to compare the world that John Smith lived in to the present day. The site includes lesson plans for educators, links to stories about the Bay, travel guides, field trip suggestions and more.
We recommend: Exploring the Chesapeake Bay as if it were the 1600’s with the site's interactive mapping tool.
Environmental education is essential to restoring the Chesapeake Bay: students who learn about the nation’s largest estuary will become the next generation of citizen stewards. But without best practices in place for teaching students, training teachers or gauging the success of outdoor learning efforts, it can be hard to ensure watershed states are on the same stewardship track.
Last summer, a group of experts convened by the Chesapeake Bay Program discussed the best practices that can improve and assess environmental literacy, outlined in a report released this week.
The researchers and evaluators, supported by the Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC), described the essential underpinnings of environmental education and the practices that can drive positive results, from connecting students to the places they live to fostering the belief that they can improve the natural world.
Image courtesy Dave Harp
The Bay Program has formally supported environmental education for close to two decades. Its Education Workgroup recently published the Mid-Atlantic Elementary and Secondary Environmental Literacy Strategy, which sets forth a series of steps to reverse “nature deficit disorder” and equip students with the desire and skills needed to address environmental issues later in life.
The plan was written in response to the Chesapeake Bay Executive Order and calls for the engagement of students in environmental issues like energy use, automobile emissions and urban and suburban runoff. It calls for the increased access of educators to professional development. And it calls for the movement of schools toward sustainability, whether it is a building that has a net-zero environmental impact or grounds that have a positive effect on the health of students, staff and the surrounding community.
Maryland Public Television (MPT) will celebrate the nation’s largest estuary with a week of Chesapeake Bay-related programming, to begin on Sunday, April 21.
Image courtesy Maryland Sea Grant
During Chesapeake Bay Week, a dozen programs will explore some of the most pressing issues facing the watershed, from the future of the agriculture and seafood industries to the health of iconic critters and waterways. An hour-long special called “Who Killed Crassostrea virginica?” will take a look at the demise of the Bay’s native oyster, while a 30-minute program called “The Last Boat Out” will follow a family of Virginia watermen as they question staying in the business of seafood harvesting.
Bay history, too, will be part of the annual event: “Black Captains of the Chesapeake” will highlight African Americans who have captained on the Bay, while “Growing Up on Tilghman” will explore what it was like to grow up in this quiet watermen’s community on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
“There is really rich content within these shows,” said Betsy Peisach, MPT’s managing director for education marketing and outreach. Peisach encourages teachers, in particular, to bring these programs into their classrooms where possible. And for those who teach middle-school science, MPT has developed an online interactive that allows students to explore the Bay, whether it is through a virtual tour of the Bay’s varied ecosystems or an online cinema that features clips from Outdoors Maryland.
MPT will wrap up Chesapeake Bay Week with a concert and volunteer-a-thon to connect viewers with volunteer opportunities across the watershed.
The Chesapeake Bay Program is a sponsor of Chesapeake Bay Week this year. Learn more.
Autumn leaves are crumpling underfoot and winter coats are coming out of storage. It might be cold, but for one after-school enrichment provider, the onset of winter doesn’t mean we have to stay inside. In fact, their love of winter is what sets Elements apart!
Image courtesy Elements
Staff-members at Elements lead students through the Washington, D.C., wintertime woods, where a lot of layers keep kids warm on these educational afternoons. Running along trails and climbing up hills, students learn that even an hour spent outside can invigorate us.
Elements’ philosophy follows a growing body of research that points to the benefits of being outside. So what are you waiting for? Grab some gloves and get out there!
When Marcus Moody hears the term “rain garden,” he will smile. Not because those colorful patches of flood-tolerant plants capture stormwater and allow it to gradually sink into the ground, but because he survived seven weeks of planting 27 rain gardens in Howard County, Md., during the hottest summer on record.
For Marcus and the 29 other 16 to 25-year-olds that participated in the Restoring the Environment and Developing Youth program this summer, also known as READY, rain gardens are no longer an intangible concept or an idea to read about in guides to “going green.” Instead, rain gardens are dirty, wet and empowering endeavors that prove that a group of focused youth can make visible, lasting change. And in most cases, rain gardens are a lot of fun to create.
“We all became friends,” said Moody. “The actual experience of … getting to know new people and working in teams with different personalities—that was great.”
READY’s participants included graduate students, fashion design majors and high school seniors looking to fund their college careers. The program provided them with a resume-building career experience, a few extra dollars and a new network of friends.
Working with people from different backgrounds toward a common goal made the summer experience stand out for Afua Boateng, who moved to Maryland from Ghana six years ago.
"Sometimes I find myself thinking about things that I feel like no one in my age group thinks about, because [in Ghana] we are trained to grow up faster. Learning to work with people that have the same interest and that are willing to work together to save something we should all care about—I really love that,” Boateng said.
Image courtesy READY/Facebook
READY was conceived with two goals in mind: first, to provide jobs for young people. Second, to reduce the amount of stormwater runoff entering the Chesapeake Bay.
Stormwater runoff, or rainfall that picks up pollutants as it flows across paved roads, parking lots, lawns and golf courses, is the fastest growing source of pollution into the Bay. But rain gardens and other so-called best management practices can reduce the flow of stormwater into creeks, streams and rivers.
For Amanda Tritinger, building rain gardens brought her studies about stormwater to life.
"I studied hydrology and hydraulics as a course in school, but the theoretical doesn't stick with me at all and I don't really get it,” Tritinger said. “Seeing all this stuff hands-on was so valuable for me.”
Image courtesy READY/Facebook
READY is the brain child of People Acting Together in Howard (PATH), a coalition of faith-based organizations in Howard County, Md. READY is funded through a grant from the Howard County government administered by the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.
Like any program in its inaugural year, the leaders behind READY have learned lessons for next summer, with a number of suggestions coming from the participants themselves.
For Nabil Morad, who is enrolled in the Environmental Scholars Program at the University of Maryland, working in an environment where his feedback was valued was highly encouraging. It was also the last thing he expected from a program with the words "developing youth" in its title.
"I was a little worried we were going to be treated like kindergarteners," Nabil said. "But this feels like it's an actual job."
After working in an industry where his age and experience meant his suggestions were not welcome, Nabil said that READY's willingness to listen to its participants is refreshing.
“Here, respect travels both ways in the system. I could make a suggestion to [program manager] Don [Tsusaki], and if the day comes, he'll put it into action,” Nabil added. “Everybody here is developing toward the same goal together, which is really nice.”
That goal—curbing stormwater pollution—will become more attainable if READY continues in Howard County, and if similar programs are established elsewhere in the Bay watershed.
"We have a waiting list of people who want rain gardens for next year," said PATH administrator Guy Moody. "That's a good problem to have."
Image courtesy READY/Facebook
How do rain gardens help the Chesapeake Bay?
When rainfall hits impervious surfaces like sidewalks, roofs or driveways, or when it falls onto grass lawns, it is not absorbed into the ground. Instead, it runs off into a storm drain, collecting fertilizer, pesticides, pet waste, litter and other pollutants on its way.
Rain gardens are shallow depressions planted with sedges, rushes and other flood-tolerant vegetation that capture rainfall and allow it to soak slowly into the ground.
To learn how to install a rain garden on your property, visit Anne Arundel County’s Rainscaping page.
Kelley Cox knows what it takes to bring fresh seafood to the table—and to keep fisheries thriving in the Chesapeake Bay. Cox is part of a family of watermen that has worked for five generations out of Tilghman Island, Md. When Hurricane Isabelle destroyed 200 feet of their seafood buying dock in 2003, Cox did not want her heritage to be destroyed with it. She envisioned a place where she could preserve her family's legacy while teaching the public to steward the environment and the Bay. Two years later, Phillips Wharf Environmental Center (PWEC) was born.
Image courtesy PWEC/Facebook
Named after Cox's father, Garland Phillips, owner and operator of Phillips Wharf Seafood, PWEC now hosts educational programs and tours of the Bay. The center also coordinates a tree planting project and oyster growing program for residents of the three-mile long Tilghman Island. A marine biologist by profession but a waterman by blood, Cox makes sure the center’s educational efforts address both Bay ecology and Bay heritage.
Image courtesy PWEC/Facebook
Mobile Marine Fun
From preschoolers to third-graders, students can hold horseshoe crabs and diamondback terrapins or play predator, prey and pollution games to better understand how the Bay ecosystem works—all on board a converted school bus better known as the Fishmobile. This traveling marine science center visits schools, summer camps and even birthday parties! Other educational programs at PWEC allow students to race crabs, dress up as a waterman and cruise the Choptank River and the Bay to watch watermen work.
Image courtesy PWEC/Facebook
If you have residential or commercial waterfront property or keep your boat in a marina on Tilghman Island, you can volunteer for Tilghman Islanders Grow Oysters (TIGO)! Participants place PWEC-provided cages of oyster spat into the water and give them a shake once every week or two. After nine or 10 months, the growing oysters are transported to a sanctuary and replaced with new spat. The program has placed 200 cages in the water, but PWEC won’t stop until every pier on the island is growing spat.
Ecology cruises allow participants to see Tilghman Island in a new light—from the water! Excursions for local artists allow participants to paint or draw the island from an evening ride aboard the Express Royale.
Tree stumps to step over and drum circles to join. Slate easels to draw on and animals to meet. Hollow logs to climb through and dirt to dig in.
What kid wouldn’t love it here?
Image courtesy Irvine Nature Center/Facebook
The Irvine Nature Center in Owings Mills, Md., has joined a growing list of nature-inspired organizations that encourage kids to explore, respect and protect the environment. Thanks to a growing body of research that supports the benefits of unstructured play and child-nature interaction, places like the Irvine Center—with its trails, garden and outdoor classroom—are popping up all over, getting kids to play in fields and forests instead of on plastic and asphalt.
The idea? When given the chance to roam and run in natural places, kids will learn about and come to love the outdoors, becoming curious environmentalists and new stewards of our watershed.
Image courtesy Irvine Nature Center/Facebook
The Irvine Center’s exhibit hall, green building and 116 acres of woods and meadows are open to the public; the Irvine Center’s outdoor classroom is open to members and to those who participate in the organization’s programs.
More from Irvine:
Now that school is back in session, your student may be spending more time indoors than outside exploring his local environment. Fortunately, there are several ways to keep your little adventurer’s sense of curiosity alive throughout the school year.
Image courtesy Children and Nature Network/Facebook
Here are some of our favorite ways for parents and teachers to introduce hands-on environmental learning to the watershed’s younger residents:
1. Conduct a field study
Image courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Flickr
Look for an area where your students can observe the natural world. Whether their classroom curriculum outlines the life cycle of frogs or the benefits of pollinators, students are sure to appreciate experiencing their textbooks in action.
Field studies often take place in a park or at a nature center. But if you would rather stay close to home, consider creating a schoolyard habitat with your students to attract wildlife and serve as an outdoor classroom perfect for long-term plant, insect and animal monitoring.
2. "Green" your school
What better way to get your kids to care about the earth than to “go green” yourself! Does your school have a recycling or composting program? What about a habitat for local wildlife? Implement sustainable and environmentally-friendly practices where you can and your school could earn recognition as a “Green Ribbon School” from the U.S. Department of Education.
Wondering where to start? Get advice from the Center for Green Schools, a program dedicated to transforming schools into sustainable and healthy places. And be sure to get a tip or two from your state: Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York, and West Virginia all have green school programs.
3. Get outside
Educators and parents know that outdoor recess can encourage students to expend some of that extra energy. But time spent outside can also foster an appreciation for and fascination with the environment—not to mention prevent childhood obesity and curb attention deficit disorder (or ADD). After all, weren’t today’s biologists once inspired by the gooey worms they used to collect or the bird’s nests found in their backyards?
Encourage your kids to get outside with structured activities, from tag and hide-and-go-seek to geocaching. This latter sport is gaining popularity across the country, as a GPS-powered treasure hunt. Read more about geocaching with students or take a look at our photo slideshow of a geocaching adventure at the Accokeek Foundation. And learn more about how time outside can help your child from the No Child Left Inside Coalition.
4. Get to work
Image courtesy of courosa/Flickr
From coloring a white wall with an orange crayon to planting green trees in a barren field, kids love to feel like they’ve made a lasting, physical change to the environment around them. So why not plan a day of outdoor service learning? A number of schools and community groups hold these events on their grounds. Look for one near you this fall!
If you are an educator in Maryland, Gov. Martin O’Malley’s Stream Restoration Challenge is a great way for your middle or high school students to learn about the Bay while giving back to their community.
When a day outside just isn’t possible, a selection of nature writing or scenic websites, movies and other multimedia can still engage your students with the natural world. Use Bay Backpack to find curriculum guides and lesson ideas based on your location, grade level and state’s environmental education requirements.
6. Get money
If your big ideas for outdoor experiences stretch far beyond your budget, consider finding funding through an outside source. Some extra support through a grant, for instance, may be just what you need to get that edible vegetable garden started outside your classroom or in your neighborhood. Learn more about funding sources here.
Professional development courses can include kayaking down a river or stream, exploring island habitats or learning how to build a rain garden. These training opportunities give you a chance to connect with other educators and to hear fresh takes on how to connect your classroom with the world outside.
8. Get ideas
Connecting with other parents or educators about their teaching techniques can bring creative juice to your curriculum. Check out Bay Backpack, which features school spotlights and easy activities for kids. And to discuss the benefits of outdoor play with other parents and professionals, join the Children and Nature Network.
Drivers honk at each other, passing by layers of parking lots and shopping centers; armies of workers wait for a bus; food carts occupy every corner; and pedestrians tow their children through the cement jungle, ignoring crosswalk signals and jumping in front of cars without the slightest bit of fear.
Tucked away in this impervious kingdom called Prince George’s County is a place of natural beauty, where worms dig through compost, chickens play tag and honeybees busily buzz. Here at ECO City Farms, every inch of ground is precious; a blanket of veggies and fruits is shadowed by rows of hanging pots. The completely solar and geo-thermal powered farm located in Edmonston, Md., raises chickens and ducks, keeps bees and grows enough crops for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) operation--all on one acre of land.
Image courtesy Eco City Farms/Flickr
Also known as Engaged Community Offshoots, ECO City Farms manages land and grows food in ways that benefit the Chesapeake Bay watershed: with no chemical fertilizers, and no petro-based or non-organic treatments, pesticides, herbicides or fungicides.
Impressive, but perhaps impossible? ECO City relies on natural processes to deter insects. Did you know planting marigolds next to your tomato plants will keep insects away? These simple but natural technologies define ECO City’s farming methods and ensure that the chemicals typically used in gardening operations do not end up in our food or the nearby Anacostia River and Chesapeake Bay.
ECO City implements farming methods that are healthy for the Bay watershed and its residents, but it also understands the importance of educating and engaging the local community.
The organization's tagline is "creating a just and sustainable world," a mission statement that trumps the money-making agendas of any commercial big-box farm. ECO City understands its role to exceed the agricultural industry and remains committed to connecting community members to their food.
ECO City educates and empowers local residents, giving them the tools and knowledge they need to kickstart their own urban agriculture operation. Dedicated to keeping food in the hands of the people, ECO City is not your average farm.
Image courtesy Eco City Farms/Flickr
What's new at ECO City:
Located in the residential neighborhood of Edmonston, Md., a Washington, D.C., suburb, the farm hosts volunteer Saturday work days and tours of the farm.
The New Urban/Immigrant Farmer Training program teaches interested adults the tenants of urban farming over the course of a year, and a new DIY (Do It Yourself) Green Building Series covers how to capture and reuse rain water, how to build a hoop house, how to create a green roof and more!
A new commercial kitchen will allow the farm to offer educational cooking courses and to turn produce into products (basil becomes pesto sauce, tomatoes and peppers become salsa!)
Image courtesy ECO City Farms/Flickr
Here are some ECO City methods that you may be able to take home:
Image courtesy ECO City Farms/Flickr
In the 1930s, Smithsonian botanist Harry A. Allard walked 3,000 miles and collected 15,000 plant specimens in the Bull Run Mountains of Virginia's Eastern Piedmont region.
Eighty years later, Smithsonian scientists collect beetle specimens in the same mountains. A few miles away, volunteer naturalists explain to children and adults why beetles are central to all life; different beetle species pollinate plants (helps plants reproduce), and assist with decomposition (eats dead organisms).
(Image courtesy Bull Run Mountains Conservancy)
Such a combination of research and education is rare, says Michael Kieffer, Executive Director of the Bull Run Mountains Conservancy, a nonprofit headquartered in the southern 800 acres of the 2,500 acre Bull Run Mountains Natural Area Preserve, about 15 miles from Manassas, Middleburg, and Warrenton, Virginia.
"We have the unique opportunity to conduct both youth and adult education programs and to tie those programs to research on the mountains," says Michael.
While the Bull Run Mountains Conservancy leads research, stewardship, and education programs in the natural area, the land itself is owned by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation.
With plenty of places to search for the region's rare plants and insects, the conservancy's nine miles of trails see 10,000 visitors per year.
"It is wonderful to have public access to this state natural area, but people management is always an issue," states Michael.
Stewardship goes hand in hand with the conservancy's education programs.
(Image courtesy Bull Run Mountains Conservancy)
Programs such as "nature preschool," "herpetology camp," and even teachers' workshops, allow participants to study the ecosystem through experience, just the way Allard did eighty years ago.
When asked to elaborate on the conservancy's immersion education philosophy, Michael explained, "Just keep them outside. They need to be outside. Yes, it’s based on the research, but no we don’t have camp counselors. It's about getting kids outside with other kids. This is vital to your life."
But as any parent knows, kids learn by example. If adults are not prone to spend time outdoors, neither will their children.
"At BRMC our education programs are equally weighed between adults and children. If adults do not learn alongside their children, then the child’s experience on the mountains is diminished.”
The Bull Run Mountains Conservancy's summer camps begin in June. But nature lovers of all ages are invited to join their naturalist-led walks, trail clean up days, rattle snake surveys, and watershed workshops throughout the year.
(Image courtesy Bull Run Mountains Conservancy)
More from the Bull Run Mountains Conservancy:
A trip through the forested hills of Allegany County, Maryland may take you back to a time before interstate highways and blog posts like this one. Nestled between the largely uninterrupted landscapes of western Maryland, the Evergreen Heritage Center (EHC) honors the region’s past while showcasing environmental efforts of the future.
(Image courtesy Chesapeake Bay Trust)
The Evergreen Museum features the foundation of a home built by an early settler in the late 1700s, and the Evergreen Coal Trail traces the path of coal cars from the early 1900s.
The center’s environmental education programs encourage students to get outside and explore, rather than sit in front of their television or computer. Through partnerships with Allegany County Board of Education, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Chesapeake Bay Trust, Maryland teachers can attend workshops that introduce ways to involve their students in interdisciplinary environmental activities. Also, students can participate in on-the-ground learning projects.
The center is also working with 300 students and experts to develop a “green” site project plan that integrates outdoor learning stations, gardens, trails, nature play spaces and wildlife habitats into EHC’s 130-acre campus.
To learn more about Evergreen Heritage Center, read this blog post by EHC’s environmental education coordinator on the Chesapeake Bay Trust’s blog.
The Department of Environmental Protection is now accepting applications for environmental education grants to be released in 2012.
Schools, colleges, universities, county conservation districts, non-profit organizations, municipalities and businesses are eligible to apply for the grants, which will provide a maximum of $7,500 per applicant.
The grants provide funding to create or develop projects to support a variety of environmental topics, including watershed management, water conservation, acid mine drainage, brownfields redevelopment and Chesapeake Bay restoration.
Last April, the Department of Environmental Protection awarded 102 grants totaling more than $538,000 to groups in support of environmental education programs across the state. Since the program’s inception, the department has awarded more than $7 million in grants.
Apply online at DEP’s website or call the Environmental Education and Information Center at (717) 772-1828. The deadline to apply is December 16.
As I strode to the front of Ms. Molly Moran's second grade class at Annapolis Elementary School one June morning, I was confident in my lesson plan, so elegantly simple that I didn't even need the 3X5 index card in my shirt pocket on which I had it drawn out.
My former boss at EPA's Wetlands Division, John Meagher, had invited me to talk about what I do in my work through the ReSET program he directs. ReSET is a D.C.-based non-profit volunteer organization that partners working and retired scientists, engineers and technicians with elementary school teachers to improve science motivation and literacy. ReSET's goal is to introduce children in the classroom to science, engineering and technology as being enjoyable and exciting (i.e., fun!).
John did his lesson first. I had scoped out his topic and identified a meaningful connection between his talk and mine. He was going to teach a hands-on, desk-top laboratory lesson about buoyancy, including a key vocabulary word: "gravity." (Did you know that a lacrosse ball sinks in fresh water but floats in salt water?)
I decided that was my link. The audience would be primed. I had decided on the audience participation approach, to put the pen into their little hands.
It was my turn. On the flip chart at the front of the class, I drew a hillside – a single black line – with wavy blue water at the bottom of the hill: the Bay, just like right outside the classroom window. A stick-figure person. A lolli-pop green tree. A cloud. A fish in the water. A swimmer. Rain.
I asked the class: "Where does the water go when it rains?"
The class: "Down to the Bay!"
One smart kid got it right: "Gravity!"
"How many of you have or know people who have dogs?" All the hands went up. Another volunteer drew a red dog on the hillside.
Then the clincher: "What do dogs do when you take them out to walk in the morning?"
The entire chorus: "THEY POOP!"
Ms. Moran interrupted: "Oh, Mr. Mike, you just got them to say their favorite word!" The audience, giggling, was wrapped. "Wait!" I said, fumbling around the front desk, "There's no brown marker!" Ms. Moran stopped the lesson until she could find one.
There was no shortage of volunteers to draw the little brown pile behind the dog. It was not exactly to scale.
"Where does that poop go when it rains?" "To the Bay" "Why?" "Gravity!"
"How do you think the fish and the swimmer feel about that?" "Yech!"
"What do you think you can do about that?" They knew that answer too.
And the lesson was over. I haven't had that much fun since the last time I caught a steelhead on a fly rod in a snowstorm.
Seriously, if you like kids half as much as I do and care about the future of the world, combine the two by volunteering with John for the ReSET program. John has the lesson plans; you and the kids have the fun.
The National Park Service has developed a teaching tool about Chesapeake Bay history, geology, ecology and restoration as part of its online educational resource Views of the National Parks.
The Chesapeake edition of Views of the National Parks provides readers with a background on the Chesapeake’s natural world, from its geologic formation as an estuary to its diverse species and ecosystems. Chesapeake Views also describes the region’s human history and cultural environment, how it has changed over time, and how people can get involved restoring and protecting it.
A Visit section highlights some of the many places to experience the Chesapeake Bay. Other teaching tools include photographs, maps, a glossary and links to additional resources.
In the Chesapeake Bay region, the National Park Service administers the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network, the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, and the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail. The Park Service is a Bay Program partner, helping to promote Chesapeake stewardship by connecting people to the region’s natural and cultural heritage.
We’re all hoping that spring is just around the corner, but for now, the Chesapeake Bay region is still in winter’s grip. But don’t let the cold weather stop you from experiencing the Bay! Check out our list of six great places where you can learn about the Bay and its rivers, wildlife and history.
Located in Solomons, Maryland, the Calvert Marine Museum offers an array of different indoor activities to keep Chesapeake Bay education alive during the winter months. Explore the museum’s 29,000-square-foot indoor exhibit, which features fossils that date back 8-20 million years, a touch tank containing live Bay critters such as terrapins and horseshoe crabs, and rarely seen river otters playing in their tank!
Since tours are self-guided, you can take your time while you explore historic collections, including accounts of the region’s first settlers and artifacts from the War of 1812 pulled from a local creek.
In February the museum will hold a few special events, including conversations with Chesapeake authors featuring William Poe, a “How Animals Survive Winter” program for toddlers, and a “Slavery in Southern Maryland” exhibit.
Live in the Newport News, Virginia, area? Then you must check out the Virginia Living Museum!
The museum’s brand-new facility is equipped with five different galleries that highlight all of Virginia’s geographic regions. Walk through the “Coastal Plain Gallery” to view a 30,000 gallon tank that houses aquatic creatures native to the Chesapeake Bay. Step over to the “World of Darkness” gallery to learn a little bit about Virginia’s more mysterious critters, including pine voles, ghost crabs and moon jellyfish.
The museum also has four different Discovery Centers that display everything from working beehives to a Chesapeake Bay Touch Tank.
Located in what some consider the heart of the Chesapeake Bay, the Annapolis Maritime Museum is a piece of history itself. The museum is housed in what used to be the McNasby Oyster Company, the last remaining oyster shucking house in Annapolis, Maryland.
The Maritime Museum is known for its excellent education programs that get students out of the classroom and help them learn about Chesapeake Bay history.
Not a student? No problem. The Maritime Museum hosts a weekly lecture series that highlights topics ranging from the status of the Bay’s oyster population to discussions with authors of Bay-related books. In February, you can expect to hear from underwater archaeologist Susan B. Langley about the excavation of the ship the Scorpion from the Patuxent River.
The museum’s most popular events are photography exhibits that display iconic images of the Chesapeake Bay taken by locals who know it best. From February 5 through March 19, the Muddy Creek Artists’ Guild will display its “Chesapeake Bay Collection.”
The Great Valley Nature Center in Devault, Pennsylvania, is a great resource for teachers who are looking to bring their class to the environment or the environment into their classroom. The center offers a range of programs for varying age levels onsite during the winter. Have your class participate in the “Fur, Feathers and Fins” program to allow your students to learn about different types of animals. Or try the “Pollution Solutions” activity that not only explores the different types and sources of pollution, but how your students can help reduce it. The center even has a program on winter survival techniques of plants and animals.
Can’t get your class to the center? They will come to you! The center provides all the materials as well as a speaker; all you need to provide is the audience. Your students can learn about the animals living in their backyard without having to leave their own classroom. It’s the perfect way to bring the outdoors inside during the cold of winter.
Located on the banks of the Nanticoke River, the Seaford Museum was established to commemorate the history of the town of Seaford, Delaware. The museum is housed in a 1935 Post Office that the local community restored.
The museum includes more than 60 exhibits arranged in a timeline fashion. Topics range from the Nanticoke Indians to shipping and agriculture. You can even learn about one of the most notorious murderers in U.S. history, Seaford local Patty Cannon.
The Seaford Museum is located near the restored Governor Ross mansion and plantation. Here you can learn a little more about the lives of the people who lived in the Chesapeake Bay region during the 1850s and the mystery behind why their popular Governor Ross fled to England.
Want to experience what life on the Eastern Shore was really like 100 years ago? Then head to St. Michaels, Maryland, and visit the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. The museum is known for its summer outdoor programs, but the winter exhibits are just as exciting and interesting.
Explore the museum’s famous Maryland lighthouse, which has been restored to resemble what it would have looked like while fully operational in 1879. Or take a self-guided tour of the museum’s 10 exhibit buildings, which feature displays on the life of Native Americans, early waterman, and animals that live in the Bay.
On Saturdays from January until the end of February, the museum hosts a two-hour Kids Club, where 4 to 9 year olds participate in hands-on games, arts and crafts, and storytelling.
The museum also has special exhibitions on artwork and artifacts from private collections. One recent special exhibition featured aerial photographs of the Bay area to demonstrating how land use has changed over time in the watershed.
What are some of your favorite indoor places to learn about the Chesapeake Bay or the environment? Let us know in the comments!
On September 21, the Maryland State Board of Education voted unanimously to incorporate environmental education (EE) into all K-12 school systems, but held off on making it a graduation requirement for high school students. Maryland is now one of only three states to formally incorporate EE into the classroom.
Since there is no graduation requirement, school systems are expected to incorporate EE into existing classes, such as biology, and complete one local project that helps to “protect, sustain or enhance the natural environment.”
According to the Baltimore Sun, one of the main reasons for not passing the graduation requirement was that some Board of Education members felt that it would reduce the amount of flexibility high school students had in crafting their schedule. Board member Donna Hill Staton thought that by adding a requirement, they would have “started to overwhelm the system.” Maryland would have been the first state to require EE for graduation.
Growing up in Montgomery County, Maryland, I can only remember one instance that EE was incorporated into my lesson plans. This consisted of a 4th grade class trip to the Chesapeake Bay, where we used waders and a net to collect aquatic species for cataloguing and study. I remember being so excited that I was able to experience the outdoors and the Bay, and that trip has stuck in my memory for more than 14 years.
My other EE experiences came from classes that I chose to take during my high school years. I voluntarily took an Environmental Studies course and participated in the Montgomery County Area Science Fair for 3 years with a project that studied the ecological impairments of a local creek. Neither one of these was a graduation requirement, and if I hadn’t been interested in the environment already, I probably never would have been exposed to them.
Some critics may think that incorporating EE into already existing classes will be overwhelming and interfere with teaching key concepts. But teachers need to look no further than BayBackpack.com to see that that’s not the case. Launched in the spring of 2010, Bay Backpack was created to help teachers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed find lesson plans that include the Bay and the environment. Bay Backpack catalogues hundreds of EE lesson plans that span various subjects other than the sciences, including art, social studies, and language arts.
For instance, the “Wood, I’d like to get to know you” lesson from Pennsylvania State University incorporates learning tree anatomy and importance with sculpting and crafts. In another lesson titled “Who Killed SAV?”, provided by the Virginia Department of Education, students are asked to examine four major causes of bay grass decline, and then use their writing skills to “defend, compare, and discriminate between arguments for and against a given factor, while evaluating the level to which certain natural and human factors led to the decline of bay grasses.”
It may seem like a new EE requirement would add more pressure on teachers, but Bay Backpack shows that there are easy ways to use existing classes to teach EE. Incorporating EE into existing classes can also make some lessons more relatable and understandable by applying what students are already learning in the classroom toward a real life situation. Hands-on learning in the classroom can help students absorb more of their lessons while learning about the Bay and the environment at the same time.
Welcome to the latest installment of the BayBlog Question of the Week! Each week, we take a question submitted on the Chesapeake Bay Program website or a frequently asked question and answer it here for all to read.
This week’s question comes from Christina in Havre de Grace, Md., a high school mathematics teacher looking for ways to work the Bay into her lesson plans. “Since the Bay is in our backyard, I would like my students to analyze some of the statistics from the Bay. Where can I find teaching resources related to the Chesapeake Bay?”
With school about to start back up, tying the Chesapeake Bay into your lesson plans is a great way to ease students back into the swing of things. It’s likely that many of them spent some time on and around the Bay during the summer, so they will have some personal connection to the topics of your lesson plan.
Fortunately, there is a great resource right on the web for all your Bay education needs, Bay Backpack. Clicking on Teaching Resources at the top of the page will bring you to a handy search tool that will help you narrow down the hundreds of lesson plans and curriculums available on the site. You can refine your search by subject area, education level, type, alignment and keywords.
In Christina’s case, we could select “mathematics,” “high school” and “data,” which will bring up about 10 resources to use to create lesson plans. Data sets will become available for her students to analyze in their statistics class, and the data will actually have meaning to these students who live right on the Bay, as opposed to using “canned” data with no personal meaning.
If just looking for data in general, the Chesapeake Bay Program website has a significant amount of data available for download. However, it is probably easier to find data that is easily adapted to lesson plans from the Bay Backpack site.
Lesson plans aren’t the only thing Bay Backpack can provide educators. Field studies, training opportunities and funding resources are all available on the site, free to be used by educators at all levels.
Bay Backpack is a great resource for teachers looking to incorporate the Chesapeake Bay into the classroom in new and innovative ways. We often underestimate the ways we can instill values of environmental stewardship into the classroom beyond science classes, but this website helps to break down those barriers. Working awareness of the Bay into day-to-day lessons across all subject areas helps to establish an environmentally conscious mindset among students from a young age, ensuring that they will become the stewards of the Bay and our environment in the future.
Do you have a question about the Chesapeake Bay? Ask us and we might choose your question for the next Question of the Week!
“It was a good day!”
This was the phrase several members of the Earth Conservation Corps used to describe the June 11 service learning day on the Chesapeake Bay. The Earth Conservation Corps (ECC) is a nonprofit youth development and environmental service organization located where the heavily polluted Anacostia River runs through Washington, D.C.’s most disadvantaged communities.
As a part of a partnership formed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC), Corps members get to experience the Bay while learning about green jobs and careers.
As part of their service learning day, members aboard a NOAA vessel operated the drag net to collect blue crabs, mummichogs, flounders, anchovies and other species.
Along the shoreline of the Rhode River, Corps members did seine netting and compared the collected species to those collected from the vessel.
NOAA, SERC and EPA staff also discussed the types of habitats these species live in and highlighted the effects of upstream activities on the Bay and its aquatic life downstream.
This summer, Corps members will apply and interview for an internship program that includes more species sampling, identification and recording on the NOAA vessel, as well as participating in environmental outreach to kids who visit SERC.
Upon leaving SERC, Corps member Cory Palmer said, "That was all right!" Chesapeake Bay Program Acting Director Jim Edward, who also attended the service learning event, echoed Corey’s comment.
Other Corps members had similar positive things to say about the service learning day:
This post was adapted from the Bay Backpack blog.
Get involved in National Environmental Education Week, which runs from April 11th to the 17th. The theme this year is Be Water and Energy Wise. Water and energy conservation are a very important part of the Chesapeake restoration effort. As more and more people move into the Chesapeake region, our need for electricity and water increases while the supply remains about the same. So how can we address the needs of a growing population? The answer is simple: through CONSERVING our resources.
So how can YOUR school conserve during National Environmental Education Week?
Hold a School Water Audit
School water audits are a great way to get the entire school involved in a project for EE Week. Audits are fun, hands-on and educational. During a water audit your students will examine the ways they use water everyday and then discuss ways they can conserve water by using it more efficiently. Look through the Water Audit Teacher’s Guide to find out how to get your school involved before, during and after your water audit.
Then use the Water Audit Lesson to actually conduct an audit at your school. In this lesson students will examine the school’s water use over the past year, use flow meters to determine how much water sinks and toilets use and finally compare water use between classrooms. Once your school completes its water audit you can share your data online with classrooms around the country!
Test the Water in Your Creek
Testing the quality of the water in your local creek or river is a great way to engage students in hands-on learning about our water resources. By purchasing a simple water testing kit (about $30) you can test your stream for the following:
Using the water testing kit students can record observations about the health of their local stream. With data in hand, you can examine the land around the stream to hypothesize why the stream is healthy or polluted. Your class map pipes from stormdrains and development in the area to try to determine the source of your water pollution. Using this information students can then suggest ways to redesign development to minimize the impact on our water resources.
So get involved and BE WATER WISE this week!
A group of high school students in New York is getting real-life experience monitoring environmental conditions on the upper Susquehanna River as part of a regional program for schools in the Chesapeake Bay watershed’s northernmost reaches.
The Upper Susquehanna Watershed Project is a collaborative effort among high schools from Cooperstown to Afton, New York. Students analyze water samples and monitor stream flows at seven satellite reporting stations along the Susquehanna River and its tributaries.
A casual observer of the students who gathered in early December at the sixth annual Upper Susquehanna Watershed Project Conference to explain the results of their research likely would have thought they were listening to advanced college students, rather than high schoolers.
“The Upper Susquehanna Watershed Project offers students real world experience and engages them in locally meaningful projects that benefit local organizations,” said Rich Townsend, a teacher at Sidney High School and co-founder of the project.
One of the local organizations benefiting from the students’ work is the Sidney Center Improvement Group, a local non-profit organization guiding watershed management efforts in Carr’s Creek, a Susquehanna River tributary. The students will analyze water samples from the creek, and the improvement group will use the data to complete a watershed plan and pursue reductions in harmful water pollutants.
The project “is truly a win-win for all,” said Joe Lally, president of the Sidney Center Improvement Group.
Jeff Lape, director of the Chesapeake Bay Program, and Peter Freehafer, an official with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, attended the project conference and were impressed with the students’ work.
“Here is the next generation embracing the principles of watershed management,” Lape said, adding that it was very encouraging to see that the students “understood the science and how it affects their own backyard.”
Manassas Park Elementary School in Northern Virginia has installed a rainwater collection system and other great green features that are helping the environment and the Chesapeake Bay. Check out this video to learn more about the school's awesome efforts!
The Bay Program has launched BayBackpack.com, an online resource for teachers and environmental educators to engage students in hands-on learning about the Chesapeake Bay and its local waterways.
Bay Backpack includes:
Additionally, Bay Backpack uses a blog to feature new education initiatives and in-depth resources, such as ideas for classroom projects. Educators can share information with each other on the blog by leaving comments or writing guest entries about their own environmental education programs.
Bay Backpack provides educators with the necessary resources to give their students a Meaningful Watershed Educational Experience (MWEE), which are extensive projects that allow students to gain a deep understanding of environmental issues in the Chesapeake Bay and its local streams and rivers. Bay Program partners work with state and local education departments to ensure that all students in the Bay watershed receive three MWEEs before they graduate from high school.
Last week, a family friend who teaches at a local middle school invited me to her classroom. She wanted someone to teach her sixth graders about sediments, nutrients, and the Bay. I agreed, and took Krystal, one of my co-workers, along. We had an amazing day. All in all, I think we talked to about 300 incredibly smart 6th graders! They knew that sediment clouds the water and covers any organisms on the bottom, that the watershed is made up of six states (naming them was more challenging), and that oysters used to be able to filter the entire volume of the Bay in three days. (It now takes almost a year!) The kids had a great background of information, so we added to it a little bit.
We’ve all heard that nutrients in the Bay are harmful and cause algal blooms and dead zones. The best question of the day, however, came from a student who asked, “If plants need nutrients to grow, why aren’t the bay grasses growing a lot and providing oxygen for the animals at the bottom?” I had been waiting for someone to ask that! He was right, the plants have all the nutrients that they could ever want; the problem is that the plants don’t get enough light. Algae float near the surface, soak up sunlight and nutrients, and form a layer over the water’s surface. That layer, (plus the murkiness due to sediment), blocks sunlight. Not enough reaches the bottom to let the grasses grow. As the plants and older generations of algae die, they sink to the bottom and decompose. Decomposers use oxygen. Without plants to provide oxygen, whatever was left in the water is sucked out by decomposers, leaving an anoxic or “dead” zone every summer.
Krystal and I had a wrap-up discussion with the students, where we all listed things we could do to help the Bay. They knew the basics, like recycling and car-pooling, and that every little bit helps. They were excited to hear other opportunities, though. Some students live on waterfront property, and were eager to go home and ask their parents if they could grow oyster spat for a year. Some have yards that are fertilized twice a year, and were concerned when it was suggested that they skip the spring treatments and wait until fall. Several students even asked if there was someplace they could volunteer.
Krystal and I left that day feeling like we’d made a small impact, but apparently we did more than we thought. The next day, I was handed a hundred or so thank-you letters from the students. Most were the typical “thanks for coming,” but several got me really excited! One said that they went home and told their dad not to fertilize this year. Another said that she’ll make sure her parents clean up after the family dog. A third got permission from her parents to raise oysters and wanted more information. All of this reaction came out of a 30-minute talk! The kids were so eager to help, once they saw the real problem. It didn’t take much; an explanation of what’s happening, a picture of the Bay from last summer, and some easy tips to help out. All they needed was to know what they can do.
I sincerely hope they continue their enthusiasm through adulthood, and I hope it’s as contagious for everyone else as it was for Krystal and me!
Krissy Hopkins is the Communications and Education Subcommittee staffer with the Chesapeake Research Consortium at the Chesapeake Bay Program.
Last weekend, I, along with more than 550 other passionate environmental educators, attended the annual Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education (MAEOE) conference in Ocean City.
The conference kicked off with a keynote from Doug Tallamy, a witty, insect-loving professor at the University of Delaware. I never thought about the connections between birds, caterpillars and oak trees until Doug commented that a single oak tree is a host to over 500 different species of insects. But instead of filling our yards with oak trees, we plant them with manicured green lawns and non-native (sometimes invasive) plants.
Birds and insects native to this region view our backyardsas if they were the surface of Mars. Landscapes dominated by plants imported from around the world serve an ornamental, rather than functional, purpose. We suburbanites have crafted completely sterile landscapes, as we’ve been taught that bugs are a problem and Raid is the solution. Now, hundreds of bird species are declining in number because we have cut out their food source: the bugs we loathe.
So what’s the solution? To turn our lawns back into native habitats that benefit both the birds and the bugs. Many Maryland schools are already taking this advice and landscaping with native plants to create schoolyard habitats.
Some schools take their projects a step further to become certified Maryland Green Schools. One statistic that astounded me was that primary and secondary schools spend $6 billion annually on energy -- more than they spend on books and computers. Imagine if we could cut that cost by 30 percent, or $1.8 billion. Sounds good to me, right? But how?
As I learned in one MAEOE conference session, 30-40 percent of our energy use is at the discretion of the occupants of a building. So by simply raising awareness about our energy use, we can cause substantial deceases in energy consumed. Energy conservation isn’t just about changing light bulbs; it’s about changing behavior.
This conference reaffirmed my belief that simple solutions and engaged citizens can make Maryland grow greener.
The state of Maryland has launched a new commitment to help children throughout the state re-connect with Maryland’s mountains, forests and waterways.
The Maryland Partnership for Children in Nature will promote structured and unstructured play activities for children in the outdoors through a 21-member panel made up of representatives from public, private and non-profit organizations from across the state.
The Partnership for Children in Nature will help the state’s youths improve their environmental literacy and increase their time spent outdoors by:
The Partnership for Children in Nature complements the federal No Child Left Inside initiative, which also promotes environmental education. Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) is the lead sponsor of the No Child Left Inside bill, which will likely head to a vote in the House of Representatives next month.
According to the No Child Left Inside Coalition, which supports the bill, incorporating environmental education into core curricula has a measurably positive impact on student success in science, reading, math and social studies. Increased time outdoors has been shown to benefit children’s cognitive functioning, self-discipline and emotional well-being.
The No Child Left Inside Coalition currently has more than 640 member groups from across the United States, ranging from environmental and education advocates to businesses and public health experts. In the Chesapeake Bay region, member organizations include the Anacostia Watershed Society, the Chesapeake Bay Trust, Friends of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and the Virginia Living Museum.
Yesterday morning, a group of college students from Hampton University’s Multicultural Students at Sea Together (MAST) program came to our office to learn about the Bay Program. We the Chesapeake Research Consortium (CRC) staffers are generally only a few years removed from our Bachelor’s degrees, making us perfect candidates to represent CBP for this particular group.
As the group approached the Fish Shack, I couldn’t help but think they looked very clean and well put-together to have been sailing the Chesapeake for close to two weeks!
Everything about this group varied: one was a graduate student and another will be starting college as a freshman this coming semester. Majors ranged from marine biology to women’s studies and political science. English is not the first language of several of the students, and they allowed me to use my Spanish with them as we continued discussing CBP during the break. The students in this program create a fun and enthusiastic group — once they started talking, you could tell that they would continue talking about the summer of 2008 for a lifetime.
I and the rest of the CRC staffers were able to share with the group many of the opportunities afforded us by working here through the CRC Career Development Program: projects we have played a role in, people we have met, and volunteer activities we’ve completed. In addition to information about the subcommittees we support, we shared things from our own college experiences such as internships, research projects, study abroad…even ID pictures and school spirit. It was definitely a different feeling standing in the Fish Shack as the “seasoned veteran” passing on words of wisdom.