New England Beacon

Conservation Moorings

Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Phil Colarusso

As summer slowly approaches, the boating season begins. Boat owners spend countless hours and lots of money readying their vessel for the season. They generally spend very little time thinking about the mooring which holds their boat in place all season. They generally spend even less time, if any at all, thinking about the environmental impact their mooring may be causing.

In New England, moorings tend to be a simple block and chain design. A heavy granite block is placed on the seafloor with a metal chain running from the block to a surface buoy, which the vessels ties up to. The size of the block varies with the size of the boat it is supposed to hold. Bigger boats equal bigger blocks. The size and length of the chain also varies, depending on the size of the vessel, the range of the tide and potential exposure to storms. In general, many boaters live by the adage of more chain is better. This often results in long stretches of metal chain sitting on the seafloor. Changes in wind direction and tides cause the chain to be dragged across the bottom. This dragging has a scouring effect on the seafloor often resulting in the loss of seagrass or macroalgae and the resuspension of bottom sediments back into the water column. The resuspension of sediment results in the water appearing cloudy and reduced light penetration, causing further problems for light dependent plants. This becomes especially problematic in crowded mooring fields where tens or hundreds of boats may all be contributing in a small way to a larger problem.

Fortunately, there now exist multiple mooring designs, generally referred to as conservation moorings that will eliminate or reduce many of these impacts. Helical or screw anchors are twisted into the bottom to eliminate the large granite blocks. Chains are replaced with either retractable elastic band systems or have internal floats placed on them to prevent them from contacting the bottom. The price of the conservation moorings vary based on the design and the size of the boat, but generally are in the range of $1500 to $3000. Boaters, who may be willing to spend just a small portion of their boating season budget on their mooring, can make a large difference in the health of our coastal waters.

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About the author: Phil Colarusso is a marine biologist in the Coastal and Ocean Protection Section of EPA New England, and is an avid diver. He’s living the dream in Wenham with wife JoAnn, two kids, dog and white picket fence.

 

 

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.

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Where Do Your Garden Plants Come From?

Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Amy Miller

Did you know that our plants are grown right near here, my local greenhouse guy asks me. No I did not, I say. And?

And, apparently it’s time to get on board with locally grown plants.

I already know it’s good to buy from independent, local shopkeepers. I am well versed in how I should shop with the local grocer who keeps his money in the community bank and buys my son’s blackberries.

I even know it is a high cause to be a locavore, eating strawberries in June from the farm down the street and apples in autumn from trees in a nearby orchard. This saves on gas to transport the food, helps local farmers, protects the environment and nourishes your family with food that has a known provenance.

But I never really considered the origin of my basil, bulbs or bee balm.

This must be a hot new trend, though, because locally evolved, locally grown, and locally distributed plants already have an acronym of their own – LEG’D.  (Anyone know how you pronounce this?) And the benefits are many.

Flowers grown far away, in South America for instance, might be sprayed with chemical preservatives and refrigerated so they can be shipped thousands of miles. But the shipping and the refrigeration use significant energy. And the chemicals to make sure the flowers last also must be manufactured and shipped. Local flowers aren’t likely to need refrigeration or chemicals to get to us fresh.

The flowers from my local greenhouse also fuel the economy of my community. These purchases create jobs and since they involve fewer middlemen, they are either less expensive or at least the profits are staying nearby.

Some people say that LEG’D flowers and plants are naturally fresher. Some groups advocate having all decorative plants be locally evolved, grown and distributed.

Indigenous plants are more likely to tolerate the soil and weather in New England, where lows can range from 0 in Connecticut to -50 in parts of Maine, putting New England in Planting Zones 3 to 6. Native species have also evolved for other location conditions and are less likely to attract new exotic insects or diseases. Finally, native species often need less water or fertilizer.

The down side may be that deer or other animals eat local plants. A farm store can tell you what to do about that. I just had my dog mark the territory around the plants. But just in case, we built a double fence around the vegetables.

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, eight chickens, dusky conure, chicken-eating dog and a great community.

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.

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Love that Dirty Water?

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Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Phil Colarusso

Since 1966, when The Standells recorded “Dirty Water”, millions of fans each year at Fenway Park have sung along to the chorus “love that dirty water, ooh Boston you’re my home”. For decades, those lyrics accurately portrayed the condition of Boston Harbor. Bostonians almost seemed to view the condition of the harbor as a badge of honor and a reflection of the city’s blue collar grittiness.

After a tremendous effort by literally thousands of people and the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars, the recovery of Boston Harbor) is an amazing success story. At one time people were advised to get tetanus shots if they came in contact with the water, Boston Harbor now hosts International Cliff Diving competitions and swim races. At one time, fish were covered with obvious tumors and lobsters suffered from black shell disease, now a diversity of marine life exists. Deer Island Flats, once considered one of the most contaminated sites on the planet, now supports eelgrass, one of the most sensitive marine species in our region.

The EPA dive team has recently been documenting some of these positive changes. We’ve conducted dives around a number of the harbor islands and off of Runway 33 at Logan Airport. Improved water quality has allowed a plethora of marine life to flourish. Most Boston residents do not realize that they live on the edge of a true wilderness. A quick peek below the surface reveals sharks, striped bass, harbor seals, lobsters, harbor porpoises and even the occasional wayward humpback whale. Perhaps it is time to retire the iconic Standells hit in favor of The Beatles song Octopus’s Garden. Not quite as catchy for the Fenway faithful, but in 2013 much more accurate.

More info on visiting Boston Harbor islands

About the author: Phil Colarusso is a marine biologist in the Coastal and Ocean Protection Section of EPA New England, and is an avid diver. He’s living the dream in Wenham with wife JoAnn, two kids, dog and white picket fence.

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.

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Earth Day with the Home Team

Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Dave Deegan

Happy Earth Day!

The first Earth Day was held in 1970. It was organized as a series of “teach-ins” to hold conversations about the serious environmental challenges of the day. Here at EPA, celebrating Earth Day on April 22 sometimes feels like the biggest holiday of the year.

Today, our celebration will be especially memorable as several dozen EPA employees will volunteer their evening hours to be the recycling “Green Team” at Fenway Park.

Since 2008, I’ve been one of dozens of EPA employees from our local Boston office who have occasionally volunteered to help with the Red Sox’ recycling efforts. And the results are impressive – this goes way beyond the novelty of being at a game from a different vantage point. For example, in 2012 alone, the Red Sox averaged recycling approximately 3.4 tons of plastic and other items, and donated or composted 1.4 tons of food waste – at each game. That’s a lot of material being kept away from landfills, especially when you consider that there are 81 home games per season.

But wait. Isn’t climate change the biggest environmental issue? How does recycling relate to that? Building, moving and using the products and food we rely on in our daily lives – and then managing the waste left behind – requires a lot of energy.  This energy mostly comes from burning fossil fuels, which are the largest global source of heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions.

Recycling everyday objects, such as paper, bottles, and magazines saves energy and helps to slow climate change. The materials that you recycle are used to create the products you buy. This means less virgin material need to be mined or harvested, processed, manufactured, and transported—all of which consume energy.

To make tonight’s game even more green, the Red Sox this year are actually undertaking a carbon-neutral game in addition to promoting recycling of all plastic bottles, cups and containers.

On Earth Day, people often ask us how they can make a positive difference for a clean environment. Recycling is actually one of the best things we can all do in our daily lives. Just as Earth Day in 1970 led to creating major laws including the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, maybe the activities held on this year’s Earth Day will spur greater action on the biggest environmental challenge facing us today: climate change.

What will you do to make an Earth Day difference?

About the author: Dave Deegan works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. When he’s not at work, you might find him working in his yard or being outdoors in one of New England’s many special places.

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.

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Making Powder on My Town’s Big Hill

Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Amy Miller

My town has a ski hill, the best darn ski hill in America. A rope tow drags people up the 175 vertical feet for $5 a day.

Of course, when the winter is warm, or dry, we can’t ski. Some years we are open only two days and some years we are open most of the winter, which for us means 12 hours a week on Wednesday and Friday nights and weekend days.

Powderhouse Hill, as this town-owned resort is called, made snow a few times this year. We borrowed equipment from a Big Hill up north. Some hill volunteers reason that if we made snow just a few times we could stay open more days and make better use of this local treasure. Other volunteers think making snow on Powderhouse Hill is like trying to turn your kids’ splash pool into a Hawaiian beach, and we should let the little hill be.

While Powderhouse Hill, with its volunteer staff and town owned land, can afford to debate the question, the big ski resorts (everyone but us) all depend on snow making.

According to one manufacturer of snow makers, it takes about 75,000 gallons of water to cover an acre with six inches of snow. As far as the environmental damage, most resorts pump from reservoirs at low ground and the runoff from the slopes goes right back into these reservoirs, which is basically the story at our little hill. Although the water goes back to nature, it still gets moved around in a way that may not be good for plant and animal life.

But according to BioOne Research, the bigger environmental and financial cost is the energy it takes to pump the water. Energy is second to labor in the cost of operating a ski resorts, the organization says.

Although the equation is different at Powderhouse, we join other resorts in trying to balance costs and benefits. If we make snow one cold day and the next two days are balmy, the power and effort may be wasted.

Under a variety of climate change scenarios, the average ski season will be reduced by 37 to 57 percent by 2050, BioOne says. Taking into account current snow making technology, the season should only be reduced by 7 to 32 percent.

Last year, Powderhouse Hill was open only a couple of days, I think. This year, the rope tow was spinning more weeks than not. For us, that was a very good year.

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

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.

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Wearing a Mask

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Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous postsBy Amy Miller

In some Asian towns an estimated one out of five people wears a face mask. Until you see it, though, that’s just a statistic from afar. In the last five years in Boston, New England’s largest city, I don’t recall ever seeing a face mask outside a doctor’s office.

But sitting recently in a Bangkok café, riding a “tuk tuk” in Luang Prabang, Laos, and touring the ancient temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, I saw the reality. We, residents of Planet Earth, have begun to build our bubbles – bubbles protecting us from the world we are polluting.

My journey to Southeast Asia began during Chinese New Year, when millions of Chinese tourists filled the streets. The month before had seen a national health emergency in Beijing – the second most populous city in China. As the city experienced 19 days above acceptable air pollution levels that month, many of them way above, companies gave masks to employees, residents were told to stay home, factories were closed and government cars were ordered off the road.

At the height of the smog, readings for PM2.5 – particles small enough to penetrate the lungs deeply – hit 993 micrograms per cubic meter, almost 40 times the World Health Organization’s safe limit. According to EPA, levels between 301 and 500 are “hazardous,” meaning people should avoid outdoor activity.

Many of the masked tourists were coming off the heels of this.

But the reasons to wear a mask can range from fear of getting sick to fear of infecting someone else to protection from air pollution. On dusty roads masks make breathing easier. Masks are even becoming fashion statements, I read.

The masked included police officers in Chiang Mai, Thailand; construction workers in Angkor Wat, Cambodia, and residents on motorbikes in Laos. And of course Chinese tourists everywhere. All protecting themselves from the world around them.

On the same trip, I visited a village in the mountains of northern Laos where the men still weave bamboo walls for houses, women head to the fields to reap grass for making brooms and night falls in a world devoid of electricity, letting the stars in the sky light the way to the loo.

I am not prone to sentimental musings on sunsets or dewdrops. But confronting so directly the human cost of pollution, set starkly against a backdrop of unspoiled beauty, I greatly appreciated stepping off the plane into Boston, where the AQI was, oh, about 35 on the day I landed.

http://airnow.gov/index.cfm?action=airnow.local_city&zipcode=02138

About the author:  Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

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.

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One Man’s Trash Another Man’s Treasure

Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Phil Colarusso

A shelf in my home holds old bottles, pieces of broken china and a porcelain imported mustard jug, treasures I found while diving. If I had found any of these objects on the street, I would not have bothered to pick them up. The fact that they were underwater added mystery and value to each of them.

In the sea, sunken vessels, railway cars, surplus army tanks, airplanes and a whole host of other things very quickly turn into artificial reefs. The sea and the life in it quickly claim as their own just about anything that humans have placed in it. I do not advocate dumping trash in the sea, but the ocean does seem to possess a remarkable redemptive quality.

The Atlantic Ocean has more than its share of discarded tires, which eventually become home to a variety of creatures. Lobsters, crabs, sea stars, sea urchins and a variety of small fish will happily live in the steel belted radial. The tire no doubt provides refuge from predators, waves and currents.

The most unique use of a tire I‘ve seen was by a male lumpfish (Cyclopterus lumpus). The cartoonish lumpfish is about the size of a football. With seemingly undersized tails and pectoral fins, they resemble miniature Goodyear blimps. Large suction disks on the belly allows them to adhere to surfaces. They are awkward, slow swimmers, and come in a variety of colors. Lumpfish, predominantly found among large rocks that support macroalgal and kelp growth, spend days moving as little as possible among the kelp looking for worms, crustaceans, mollusks and small jellyfish. On occasion they actively forage, but generally prefer to ambush prey. They will remain motionless, securely attached to a surface until some unsuspecting creature comes within range.

While collecting samples in an eelgrass bed, I saw a tire in the meadow. On the edge of the tire sat an adult lumpfish, a surprise since adult lumpfish aren’t normally associated with eelgrass. The greater surprise was the large clutch of eggs found inside the tire. Female lumpfish lay up to 150,000 eggs, then leave them with the male until they hatch. The male guards the nest and blows water over the eggs to aerate them. We backed away and allowed the male to maintain his vigil undisturbed.

Back in my office, I Iearned scientists have not identified the preferred spawning habitat of lumpfish in the Gulf of Maine. I envisioned my next scientific paper: “Goodyear blimp fish found to spawn in Goodyear tires”. I decided the lumpfish’s secret was safe with me.

About the Author: Phil Colarusso is a marine biologist in the Coastal and Ocean Protection Section of EPA New England, and is an avid diver. He’s living the dream in Wenham with wife JoAnn, two kids, dog and white picket fence.

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.

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It’s Not Always About You – or – Environmental Gratitude in my Work and Life

Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Eric P. Nelson

Having recently emerged from the holiday season that now runs from the day my Jack-O-Lantern takes up its position on the compost pile to the day my Christmas tree gets tossed onto the grim-faced Jack-O-Lantern, I feel rather drained from all the sentiments of gratitude and goodwill that I have both expressed and received during this extended season. They’re genuine, mostly, and seem appropriate at the time, but I’ve now shifted into New England-style winter survival mode, and quite prefer it after a long season of excess.

Recently, I read an article about “environmental gratitude.” The term was new to me, but after I read the article I realized I had discovered what motivates and guides me at work, and in many aspects of my life. Environmental gratitude was defined as, “a finely tuned propensity to notice and feel grateful for one’s surroundings on a regular basis, which generates pervasive attitudes of concern for planetary welfare and commitment to contribute ecological benefits to the extent of one’s ability.” It’s a bit dense to digest, but the article goes on to describe the phrase in simpler terms.

Unlike the gratitude one may feel during the holidays, environmental gratitude is not beholden to particular benefactors, does not require mutual intentionality (Thank you for that 2,000-calorie holiday meal!). Instead, simply recognizing and appreciating the very existence of the natural world and your connection to it can instill a sense of gratitude that can, in turn, influence your general attitude about protecting nature and motivate you to take action.

This has happened to me over the course of my life, and it’s how I approach my work at EPA, at least most days. No thanks sought, or needed, from those living things in the watery world that hopefully benefit from my actions. In truth, though, I do get thanked through my interactions with the natural world. And while I’ve seen nature in some of its most impressive forms, I’m just as enchanted by brief encounters close to home: a passing glimpse of a hawk flying through Boston Common; a hummingbird pausing on a branch above my shed; crows calling, winter quiet in snowy woods; a pungent whiff of exposed mudflat on a lonely beach; the jewel-like stars overhead at my bus stop on a clear, dark winter morning; the iridescent beetle that landed oh so briefly on the back of my wife’s neck. Such encounters are everywhere for all those who care to take notice. And to me, they matter.

The article, “Environmental Gratitude and Ecological Action,” by Richard Matthews, was featured on the website.

About the author: Eric Nelson works in the Ocean and Coastal Protection Unit of EPA New England in Boston, but prefers being underwater with the fishes. He lives in a cape on Cape Cod with his wife and two daughters, and likes pesto on anything.

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.

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The Blizzard Blackout

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Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Dave Deegan

We’re all becoming accustomed to seeing the latest news images of a natural disaster touching the lives of our friends and family across the country. Then, one day, it’s your own community and family.

I live in one of the towns south of Boston hammered in last week’s blizzard that dumped feet of snow across a large swath of the Northeast. Hundreds of thousands of families in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts went into a blackout in the middle of February. No lights, no TV, and in many cases, no heat or warm food.

The first morning we awoke without power or heat, our home was already down to about 55 degrees. The second morning, it was 41 degrees and I couldn’t get my mind off the thought that, if it got 10 degrees colder, our pipes would freeze.

Even the cat seemed freaked out by our circumstances.

I work at EPA, and yes, I care deeply about the environmental impacts of my lifestyle. During our power depravation, I kept considering how much we rely on electricity so we can lead comfortable, healthy lives. And that generating electricity has impacts on clean air, clean water and greenhouse gases. But I wanted my heat and lights back on.

We were fairly well prepared, though not completely or as well as we should have been. The car had a full tank. We had flashlights and batteries, plus plenty of bottled water. We had food that wouldn’t go bad, if we needed it in a pinch. Like good New Englanders, we were dressed in many layers. A battery-powered radio was handy, so we could get local news (and have something to listen to once it was dark, but too early to fall asleep for the night). Cell phones were charged, but turned off except for occasional checks of the news.

Access to social media was a plus: following Twitter updates from state and local emergency responders, and the power company working around the clock to get power restored, helped us feel less isolated in our chilly abode.

In the midst of the continuing storm during the second day, my wife said to me, “A blizzard is much more fun when you can watch a movie and make popcorn.” Yes it is.

There are many good resources to keep in mind, especially seeking ways to be better prepared:

Ready

Connecticut
Maine
Massachusetts
New Hampshire
Rhode Island
Vermont

About the author: Dave Deegan works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. When he’s not at work, he loves being outdoors in one of New England’s many special places.

 

 

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.

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My Sister, Car-less Linda

Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Amy Miller

My sister Linda was feeling left out recently because she never makes it into my blogs. And really, she is quite deserving. After all, she gave up her car more than two years ago. As in no car. As in buses and bikes and walking and car-sharing. Oh, and her husband’s car for late night trips to the hardware store.

Only 5 percent of adult Americans live without a car. I venture to say most of them live in New York City, where only half the people own cars. Which makes Linda, who lives in the almost urban suburb of Brookline, an anomaly.

According to government statistics, we in the US are the densest car-owning population in the world, except the tiny country of Monaco. And the countries right behind us are Luxembourg and Lichtenstein.

Linda came by this way of life when she traded her old wagon to a contractor in exchange for construction work. He really, really wanted her vegetable oil car. And she was sick of worrying she would destroy the thing by pumping regular gas instead of diesel.

So Linda admits she uses a car sharing service about three times a week at $7.50 to $9 an hour. And that this may amount to as much as owning a car. (I kind of doubt it.) But she is still committed to the beauty of this carless life.

“I don’t want to figure it out because it might be more expensive this way but it makes me happier,” she said.

Like the other night, she considered walking the two minutes to Cypress Street to get a car to go to Jamaica Plain for takeout Cambodian food. Then she nearly changed her dinner plans to avoid the drive. But in the end she jogged around Jamaica Pond for her dinner and came back smiling.

“I was in the best mood. It was snowing and it was beautiful,” she reported. “But if I had a car I certainly would have gotten in it and that would have been that.”

Furthermore, said this mother of a ninth- and fourth-grader, “The kids even talk more if we’re walking.”

And to justify the economics, Linda has a foolproof fallback thought.

“The other day when I was speed walking I thought, you know, I really don’t have to go to a gym, so I am saving money there. I am getting so much more exercise.”

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

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.