Ocean Science

Surf’s Up

Great-Lakes-Beach-MeasureThe summer beach season is in full swing!

Although we’re not buff lifeguards perched on lookout stands, EPA and the coastal states play a critical role in making your day at the beach a safe one.

There are three basic ways EPA and the states keep you safe from pollution at the beach:

 1.    preventing pollution from getting on the sand and in the water,

2.    measuring beach water to learn how clean it is, and

3.    telling people about actual beach conditions.

The U.S. enjoys some of the world’s best beach quality.  For the past six years, America’s beaches have been open and safe for swimming more than 95 percent of the time.

For that other 5 percent, EPA provides the states with beach grants to monitor beach water and make sure to notify you if conditions are unsafe for swimming.

In a single year, an estimated 96 million people visited a U.S. beach. Are you among that group?  How many times do you visit a beach during the summer?  What’s your favorite stretch of sand?

For more information, visit our site about Mid Atlantic beaches, oceans, and estuaries.  You can also listen to this recent Environment Matters Podcast to learn more about the deep blue sea and the ways it’s being protected.

And check out these posts we had earlier this summer about Adopt-A-Beach programs and BEACON notifications.  And finally, make sure you don’t fry at the beach – for ways to protect yourself from the sun, check out EPA’s SunWise tips.

See you at the beach!

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 Life of a Subway Car: From Mass Transit to Aquatic Habitat

diveblog1Do you ride a subway to work? Do you know anyone who lives in a city where subways or other rail mass transit systems are used? Subway and rail mass-transit systems are a very efficient and economical way to travel in a city.  Some of the largest mass transit systems in the U.S. are in the Mid-Atlantic and New England Regions of the EPA:  Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority (WMATA), and Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).  Each of these transportation agencies utilizes dozens of subway and regional rail cars, replacing their fleets as they age.

As cars are removed from service, you may wonder: “What happens to the rail cars after they’re decommissioned?” The answer is that some go to scrap yards to be dismantled and re-sold to manufacture other metal structures.  Others, such as the Red Bird fleet of New York’s MTA, have been used to form artificial reefs.  Several of MTA’s Red Bird decommissioned cars were sunk off Delaware’s coast, approximately 16 miles from the mouth of the Delaware Bay, to serve as an artificial reef.  This reef was first examined by EPA’s Dive Team in June 2009 as part of an ongoing effort to determine its benefits and status.  Artificial reefs can be colonized by organisms like corals and sponges and provide nursery habitat for wide range of finfish and shellfish, which can increase regional aquatic biodiversity and coastal tourism through fishing.

With these benefits in mind, the question remains: What man-made structures create the best artificial reef habitat?  In addition to subway cars, decommissioned boats and ships have been used as reef structures.  EPA is currently determining whether subway cars remain intact as solid, sustainable structures for aquatic life.  Specifically, we’re examining whether there’s a difference in the structural integrity and aquatic life use between carbon steel cars and stainless steel ones.

diveblog2EPA completed its second survey of Delaware’s Red Bird reef site on June 2 – 9.   I was one of fifteen EPA scientist/divers who surveyed the condition and function of the subway car artificial reef.  This was my first dive survey since joining EPA’s Dive Team in May of 2010, and it was an exciting experience.  At first glance you may think that such dives are easy – after all, how difficult could it be to dive and look at a bunch of subway cars?  The reality is that these cars were sunk in 85-95 feet of water, the temperature at the bottom is 48º F, and the visibility was only about 10 feet in any direction.  This means that first we had to locate individual cars from the surface and dive to them. Once anchored to the car, we used a wreck reel and swam in each direction to find other cars, all without losing track of the anchor line.  Having been through EPA Diver Training, I found that swimming in such an environment wasn’t too difficult, but it definitely took some getting used to. Throughout the week-long survey, the team collected information on the structural condition of the cars, percent cover of encrusting organisms, and height of aquatic growth on the cars at six specific reef locations.  The team utilized video and still photos to document findings.

The data we collected will build off of initial information EPA gathered during the first visit to the sites in June of 2009.  This data will be analyzed by EPA and its partner agencies and will ultimately contribute scientific data to the question of whether more artificial reefs, using subway cars and other clean, steel structures should be created. Click for more information about the concept of artificial reefs, and about EPA’s Dive Team.

Also check out this post about other research being done on the OSV Bold on the newest EPA blog – Region 2’s “Greening the Apple.”  We’re excited to welcome them to the EPA blogosphere!

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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Region 3 Middle Schoolers Grow Greener in the Summer

some SEDP students

By Christina Catanese

While typical city kids spend their summer vacations far away both from school and nature, this year more than seventy students in three cities in the Mid-Atlantic Region participated in EPA’s Student Environmental Development Program (SEDP). This six-week program held every summer provides environmental and leadership training to eighth-grade students in the Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington DC metropolis areas.

The students (a diverse group of high-achieving rising 8th graders) had classes taught by experienced professionals from EPA and their local communities, providing the real world perspective of a college course at a much younger age. They covered a wide variety of environmental issues (from air pollution to lead to children’s asthma) and emphasized those directly relevant to the students’ communities. On the water side, students had modules on groundwater pollution, ocean science, and learned about the condition of the watersheds where they live. Field trips supplemented the classroom learning and provided firsthand experience with nature to kids who don’t get the opportunity on a regular basis. They also had workshops to cultivate leadership skills, such as public speaking and team building, so that they could better share the environmental knowledge they gained with others.

At the end of the program, the students perform self-developed skits on a topic of their choice at EPA Headquarters in Washington. This year, students presented their skits for EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe (in the past EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has also participated in the event). It was thrilling to watch the students transform from talking quietly and nervously in front of the group at the beginning of the program, to speaking with poise in front of such high level EPA officials – a great opportunity for growth!

Since SEDP began in 1993, 1,140 students have completed the program. And with the knowledge and excitement the students have brought back to their communities, the ripple effect has surely been felt far beyond just the students who directly participate.

I know I would have loved a program like this when I was in 8th grade, so if you know an aspiring middle school student who would enjoy participating in SEDP (or if you are interested in learning more about the program yourself), visit the program’s website for more information: http://www.epa.gov/region03/ee/sedp.htm

EPA thinks it is crucial to educate the next generation of environmental leaders, as well as learn from their fresh ideas and perspectives. What are your children or other young people in your community doing to help the environment? What can they teach you about environmental protection?

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, and her work focuses on data analysis and management, GIS mapping and tools, communications, and other tasks that support the work of Regional water programs. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Political Science and an M.S. in Applied Geosciences with a Hydrogeology concentration. Trained in dance (ballet, modern, and other styles) from a young age, Christina continues to perform, choreograph and teach in the Philadelphia area.

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.