coastal ecosystems

I Walk the Beach in Winter

By Phil Colarusso

Empty, cold, windy, the beach in the winter. I walk down a deserted shore with the waves rumbling next to me. Little evidence of life except for a stray gull or a few eider ducks diving just beyond the surf zone. The wind whips sand particles stinging as they hit my face. Walking into the wind takes some effort.BeachinWinterpicPhil

Geographically, this is a beach I visit often, but it is a very different beach than the one I walked on in the late fall. Winter storms, wind and waves have continued with their eternal reshaping of the landscape. Large sections of sand dunes have eroded in one of the winter storms. The constant wind redistributes clouds of sand along exposed sections of beach. Sand grains collect in clam shells, behind clumps of dune grass or debris, any place that allows relief from the vigorous wind.

In my lifetime, I’ve seen nature’s reshuffling of this beach dozens and dozens of times. As I stroll along the shore, I contemplate the fate of a grain of sand. How many times does a single grain of sand get moved in its life span? How far does it travel in its lifetime? I envision the grain of sand being blown down the beach by the wind and moving in and out on a wave or with the tide. The one constant for a sand grain is motion. The one constant for most beaches is change. With climate change triggering sea level rise and more intense storms, this current rate of change will also change.

It’s time to turn back and as I retrace my steps from the way I came; the wind is now at my back. With the wind at my back, nature doesn’t seem quite as violent.  The waves coming ashore don’t look as big.  A gull floats effortlessly above me on the wind exerting no effort at all, appearing at peace. The deeper message seems pretty clear, we need to work with nature not against it. Are we as a society, sand grains being blown around haphazardly by the wind or are we the sea gull who can adapt and use that same wind to our advantage? In the distance, three wind turbines are visible on the horizon.

 

About the author: Phil Colarusso is a marine biologist in the Coastal and Ocean Protection Section of EPA’s New England office, and is an avid diver

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Lungs of the Sea

As a diver and marine biologist for EPA, I spend a fair amount of time underwater. My area of expertise is in the study and conservation of seagrass. These underwater meadows can cover vast swaths of the seafloor and they serve as important nurseries for many fish and shellfish species.

Recently, I had the great fortune of taking a family trip to France and spending some time along the southern coast. It was my first visit to the Mediterranean Sea and I was looking forward to exploring the underwater realm. We stopped in the small town of Cassis, which reminded us of Gloucester, Mass. Cassis has its own fisherman’s statue. It does not have a greasy pole to climb like Gloucester, but it does have its own unique tradition. Local fishermen mount planks on the back of two dories. Boys of about 10 years old are lifted up onto the planks wearing pads on their chests and are given lances. The boats then drive directly at each other and the boys joust until one or both fall into the water.

Version 2 DSC_0728

The local culture was interesting, but Cassis is also known for “les calanques.” Calanques are inlets surrounded on three sides by steep cliffs; they also are known as mini-fjords. Within these inlets, seagrass flourishes in the clean, calm protected waters. The French refer to seagrass as “les poumons de la mer,” which translates to the lungs of the sea. Like all plants, seagrasses produce oxygen through photosynthesis. On sunny days, it is common to see bubbles of oxygen being released from the leaves of seagrass into the water.

In Cassis, protecting seagrass is taken very seriously with a variety of rules. Boaters are not allowed to anchor or place a mooring in seagrass meadows. Boaters are required to stay in the marked navigation channels and when in shallow water reduce their speed so no wakes are produced. In our three days in Cassis, we watched many boats come and go, and not one of them broke the rules.

I approached one of the local fishermen and with my limited French asked him about the local seagrass meadows. He spoke little English. I spied a shoot of seagrass floating near his boat. He scooped it up and held it close to his heart and said “les poumons de la mer.” Posidonia

We didn’t speak the same language, but our common love of the ocean easily transcended the language barrier.

More information on EPA Seagrass research: http://www2.epa.gov/sciencematters/epa-science-matters-newsletter-how-deep-are-seagrasses

Connect with EPA New England on Facebook: facebook.com/EPARegion1

Connect with EPA Divers on Facebook: facebook.com/EPADivers

About the author: Phil Colarusso is a marine biologist in the Coastal and Ocean Protection Section of EPA’s New England office, and is an avid diver.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

A Summer Send-off at the Coast

by Megan Keegan

Enviroscape

EnviroScape – the ultimate tool for watershed education

How do you interest an audience of children, from toddlers to teens, in watershed protection? It’s easy: bring the subject down to their level – literally! That’s exactly what I did when I arrived to set up an exhibit at Pennsylvania Coast Day. By moving the timeless EnviroScape® – the ultimate tool for watershed education – from the tabletop to the ground, the children got a bird’s-eye view of a watershed comprised of several different land uses.  Parents looked on, amused, as the children helped “make it rain!” to demonstrate how common environmental pollutants make their way into our region’s waterways.

Along with EPA’s exhibition, Coast Day boasted a wide range of exhibitors with kid-engaging activities, like the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary’s demonstration of bivalve water filtration.  Bivalves include clams, oysters, and mussels. In our region, freshwater mussels are critically important because they provide valuable “ecosystem services” like stabilizing stream beds and filtering water. As we mentioned in a blog last year, an adult mussel can filter an astonishing 15 gallons of water per day. The Coast Day exhibit let passers-by see this filtration in action, with water in the aquarium tank going from cloudy to clear in a matter of hours.

The best part about the day?  It was totally free!  Although it was a cloudy day threatening to rain, Coast Day attracted a great crowd reflective of the diverse communities and family-friendly character of Philadelphia. If you missed this celebration of the Pennsylvania coast, head down to Lewes, Delaware, this Sunday for Delaware’s Coast Day – another free, fun, family event.

Find out more about your watershed – and even get involved with local watershed protection activities – by using EPA’s Surf Your Watershed website. If you’re an educator or parent looking for water education resources for children there are many fun, educational activities EPA’s water website.

 

About the Author: Megan Keegan is a new member of the Source Water Protection Team in EPA Region 3.  Her favorite state is Maine, where she enjoys fishing, kayaking, and picking blueberries. She considers Acadia to be the best National Park on the East Coast.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

The National Ocean Policy

by Gwen Bausmith

Growing up in southwest Ohio, I lived over 600 miles away from the ocean, viewing it as a vacation destination, a place very far removed from the agricultural fields and suburbs of the Midwest. It wasn’t until years later that I learned how much all of our lives, whether coastal or inland, are dependent upon and directly impact our ocean and coasts. Where I lived, my local tributaries fed into the Ohio River, which flowed to the Mississippi River, emptied into the Gulf of Mexico, and finally became part of the Atlantic Ocean. Understanding this connection was crucial to realizing my role in ocean and coastal environments.

Healthy and productive ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes regions are a significant part of our nation’s economy, contributing to untold millions of dollars a year and supporting tens of millions of jobs. The oceans are essential in international trade, transportation, energy production, recreational and commercial fishing, national security, and tourism. They also provide many ecological benefits such as flood and storm protection, climate regulation, and important habitat for fish species, migratory birds, and mammals.

My family depended on all of these services, especially for consumer goods and food. In addition, my father worked in the steel industry, relying heavily on our nation’s waters for transporting materials.

On July 19, 2010, President Obama signed an Executive Order directing the federal government to develop a National Policy for the Stewardship of the Ocean, our Coasts, and the Great Lakes, often referred to as the National Ocean Policy. It focuses on improving stewardship for our ocean and coastal resources and addressing their most pressing challenges.

It builds on over a decade of bipartisan discussions and looks toward a science-based approach for Federal, State, Tribal, and local partners to better manage the competing uses in these regions. Designed with extensive public and stakeholder input, the Policy will work to increase efficiencies across the Federal Government and provide access to better data to support multiple industries.

I am very proud to be a part of EPA’s involvement in the National Ocean Policy. EPA is committed to numerous actions and milestones in the Policy’s Implementation Plan, from improving water quality and promoting sustainable practices on land, to restoring and protecting regional ecosystems. I may not have realized it as a child growing up in the Midwest, but everyone has a stake in the future health of our ocean and coastal ecosystems. Every state is an ocean state.

About the Author: Gwen Bausmith is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education Fellow at EPA’s Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Science Wednesday: It’s Easy To Be Green (at Scientific Meetings)

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Stephen S. Hale

How green are scientific societies? The Council of Scientific Society Presidents represents about 60 organizations with over 1.4 million members. If they all flew once a year to meet together for four days, that’s collectively 2.8 million flights and 11.2 million dirty coffee cups from breaks. Travel to and from meetings pours large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. 1 For many frequent-flying scientists, air travel produces our biggest personal greenhouse gas impact, often making the carbon footprint of ecologists and conservation biologists exceed the U.S. per capita carbon footprint.  2 Many scientific societies are striving to make their meetings greener.

Recently, I helped prepare a green meeting policy for the Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation (CERF), an international scientific organization that “advances understanding and wise stewardship of estuarine and coastal ecosystems worldwide.” The United Nations Environment Program says a green meeting is one where emissions of greenhouse gases are minimized and unavoidable emissions are compensated for, natural resource consumption is minimized, waste generation is avoided where possible and remaining waste is reused or recycled, and the local community benefits economically, socially, and environmentally.

Among other things, the policy calls for meeting attendees to make voluntary donations to a carbon offset fund. Offsets are not meant to replace reducing your emissions; offsets are to be used for emissions you cannot avoid. To be credible, it is important to buy certifiable carbon offsets that result in a real reduction of carbon dioxide emissions that would otherwise not have happened. The Nature Conservancy website lists what to look for in carbon offset programs: permanence, additionality (would it have happened anyway), no leakage (the old practice just displaced to a new area), and standards of verification by third parties. Alternatively, CERF conferences can provide environmental footprint offsets for impacts other than carbon dioxide emissions (e.g., water use, paper consumption, waste products). Donations to local projects that, while not a certifiable carbon offset, would enhance other environmental values (e.g., local oyster reef restoration, small coastal vegetated buffer), serve to engage the community and provide local benefits.

The CERF Board hopes the policy will reduce the environmental footprint of CERF meetings and encourage other scientific organizations to follow down the same green path.

About the author: Stephen S. Hale joined EPA’s Office of Research and Development as a Research Ecologist in 1995. He is currently serving on the Governing Board of the Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation.

  1. H.E. Fox. 2009. Front Ecol Environ 7(6): 294-296.
  2. T.M. Hamill. 2007. Bull Am Meteorol Soc, Nov 2007. pp. 1816–1819; B. Lester. 2007. Science 318:36–38.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action; and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog post.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.