A Public Pacific?

The coastal environment of Peru is full of marine life because of its location on the Pacific Ocean. A micro environment is created by the Humboldt Current which provides the Peruvian Cities with valuable resources, but this environment is delicate. Just as the Chesapeake is susceptible to negative human interference, the Peruvian coastal environment has become threatened because of the easily accessible resources of the Humboldt Current.


The people of Peru have over one thousand miles of waterfront that provides almost unlimited access to the resources of the Pacific. As long as some one has access to basic equipment, the area of extraction of resources is endless. By nature, a body of water is more difficult to regulate. One can not claim acres and acres of ocean and fence it off as you could with farmland. Regulations can be put in place in the form of liscencing and catch limits, but it seems that the enforcement is a little lackadaisical. Because access to this resource hub is easy, and extensive enforcement is not in place, the marine environment of Peru seems to follow in the Chesapeake’s footsteps.

The early Chesapeake Bay resource extraction is very comparable to the extraction from thePeruvian coast. The resource is not privately owned and it is very easy to illegally extract. Access to the Chesapeake and the Pacific is never fully restricted. There are no locked doors or twenty four hour security guards to keep a fisherman from harvesting a resource, so what is the solution? The Chesapeake has tried many techniques in the past, but have now begun to privatize the bay. Individuals have bought access to a specific area which gives them the incentive to monitor and enforce that area on their own.

The differences in environments of the Chesapeake and the Peruvian coastline make this solution more complex than just divvying up sections of the Pacific Ocean, but privatization of resources can still be put in place and may help decrease illegal harvests. Restricting access is a realistic approach to monitoring resource extraction and Peru may benefit from the lessons learned in the Chesapeake.


City Sounds

1453536_771636556186843_1604535677_nWithout looking I can tell that the streets are crowded with cars and plenty of buses. I can hear the manual transmissions as they pass very close to the sidewalk. The honking of horns is most noticeable and very often. It leads me to believe there is heavy traffic. If I didn’t already know, I would have thought I was in New York not Lima. The air does not smell of trash or sewage, but of exhaust and Chinese food. Lima is very comparable to any other U.S. city except for one small aspect. I do not feel any dirt or trash beneath my feet and as I open my eyes I see flower boxes upon the guard rails and semi impervious surfaces and recycling everywhere. It is very noticeable that the city is environmentally conscious.

The stark difference between Miraflores, a district of Lima, and the rest of the city is the change in noise and pollution. Driving out of Miraflores the traffic is more abundant, garbage is lining the streets and buildings become more like shacks. Just outside the heavily populated and developed section of Lima, though still within the city limits, these two aspects are entirely opposite. I am standing on a crumpled piece of plastic and can hear only this and a few large trucks passing by. The wind is the main producer of noise here. It feels very ominous and although people are standing with me I feel very alone.


I begin to think about this drastic change in environments while all are considered Lima. Is it just a show that they put on in Miraflores, because I know they are not as clean as they seem. They have a very poorly developed waste water treatment plan and it this waste can be seen in the ocean just south of a popular surfing beach. This leads me to a question: which is better: waste water treatment or best management practices? In the states it seem that we have more governmental programs and waste water treatments, but not as many best management practices. I think the states could benefit from the best management practices like those in Miraflores, but more so it think that Lima would benefit from a well developed waste water treatment plan. With 9 million people living in one city, I find it to be more beneficial and perhaps easier to facilitate more waste water treatment. Many best management practices are expensive and require individuals to agree and pay out of pocket. I hope to see a change in the city regarding their wastes and I think it will have tremendous benefits for the Peruvian coastal environment as well as for the people of the capital.

Perfect Guano Environment

Perfect Guano Environment
1. Seclude land
2. Add water
3. Wait for birds ( finished product will be white)

Punta San Juan is the optimal location for Peru’s marine animals. Just south of Lima, this peninsula provides an ideal habitat for the wildlife of the Humboldt current. The beaches are full of fur seals, sea lions, and Humboldt Penguins, but the most characteristic aspect of this environment at Punta San Juan is the guano ( bird poop). This is also the most controversial aspect on the peninsula. The guano is the connection between ecology and economy. For over a hundred years guano has been a resource for extraction. Traditionally guano has been used as fertilizer and this practice has continued on today. The process of extraction invades the habitats of the birds and the relationship between the ecology and economy of this peninsula is very parasitic. The guano birds provide the harvesters the resource, but the birds are disrupted and often are forced to move towards the during the harvesting process.DSCN1215

The issue has started to be reconciled through a third party. The harvesters are not biologist, ecologists or environmentalists, but are by no means unwilling to help the ecology of the peninsula. Projecto Punta San Juan is this third party. They mediate between the wildlife and the harvesters. The project has set up guidelines for how to extract with minimal habitat destruction by doing so in non breeding months and with the use of barriers between the workers and the birds. For the most part the workers are compliant and are naturally or culturally environmentalists. Even without the project’s guidance, they are resourceful and use wastes to their benefit. They make their roads from the feathers collected from the guano and reuse their guano bags and sew them together to make tarps. I think that often these industrial groups are seen as just another piece of the economy where they want to make their money and they don’t care how they do it. In reality these people are very conscious of their environment and they understand the importance of the ecology they are working with. This system at Punta San Juan should exemplify the way ecology and economy should work together. I think there I much to learn here and this type of relationship should extend to the states. There should always be mutualism or at least commensalism between the two parties and Projecto Punta San Juan exemplifies that this is a very possible ideal.

Sense and Sensibility

DSCN0973I am swaying slightly as the boat rises with the waves. The wildlife is unmistakable and the atmosphere is comforting as I am weaving through the Ballestas Islands by boat. As the saltwater sprays upon my face I close my eyes and begin to let my senses tell me a story.

As the sun warms my shoulders, the cool breeze washes over me, but is refreshing not cold. It is a calm afternoon on the water though the island is not quiet at all. Approaching Ballestas, I can begin to hear the birds in large groups descending on the island. They are echoing each other and create a chorus of caws. Without even opening my eyes I understand the vastness of hue he populations of guano birds. And I now know that they are guano birds.Why? I can smell them. It hits you instantaneously as a wall of foul smelling air. I open my eyes and confirm my senses. Thousands upon thousands of birds are perched upon this guano laden, jagged island. They consume the area along side sea lions and mussels and starfish and crabs.


To me, this abundance of wildlife is striking. It seems like the populations are thriving. Contrary to my initial thought, these populations are incomparable to those of the guano reserve in Punta San Juan. The nature of this tourist attraction is the very reason for its unnatural state. It makes sense. I look up and I am twenty feet from a sea lion and so are three other boats full of tourists. This is very unnatural for these species, but it is a way for our human culture to develop a relationship with this environment. By experiencing the beauty of the area, we may begin to see it as an important component in our environment. This is beginning of the relationship between environment and society.


Case Analysis: Smith Island

The issue surrounding the fate of Smith Island, the last inhabited island of the Chesapeake By is controversial at heart. In response to the damage caused by hurricane Sandy in October of 2012, the state government considered using two million dollars of their allotted federal disaster aid to begin to buy out the inhabitants of Smith Island. In this proposed situation, the government would buy houses from the Smith Islanders, tear them down and ensure that the land would remain undeveloped. In theory, this would reduce the population of Smith Island as the island continues to be a target during natural disasters. According to Rev. Richard Edmund, the minister of Smith Island, a few inquiries were voiced in reference to the potential buyout, but no individual definitively committed to the proposal. Smith Island United, a group focused on the preservation of the island, banded together to fight this proposal, wrote letters and created social media attention. The end decision of the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development  (DHCD) was against the buyout due to the overwhelming opposition from Smith Islanders.  Visiting the island and listening to the people talk about this specific event, one can begin to understand the specific relationship these people have with their land. Many are vocally opposed to leaving the island even as others encourage it. The underlying issue for the fate of the island seems to be rooted in the struggle for the people to remain living on Smith Island in spite of outside opposition.

In proposing a buyout of Smith Island, the Maryland DHCD may not have taken into consideration an important ethical aspect of such an event. Although this program would have been voluntary, it would have been in place of other financial assistance for damage from the hurricane. Those who could not afford to rebuild or repair their homes may not have had a choice other than selling their home and leaving the island. Uprooting these people from their home could be seen as morally unjust. These people have lived on this island for generations and have created a very cohesive community, one that is noticeably different from communities on the mainland. If these people were displaced from Smith Island it would likely not be an easy transition.  Transitioning watermen into a more modern and structured lifestyle would be difficult due to the nature of such a job. The watermen work on their own time. They are their own bosses and changing this type of lifestyle while ripping them from their home and their community may seem unjust to some. Aside from the watermen, the others living on the island have become accustom to the security of the community. Moving these people in to areas of higher population and higher crime rates would be morally unacceptable.

Many are beginning to see the potential danger in keeping a population of people on a naturally changing island. The demise of other Chesapeake Bay islands shed light on a possible future for Smith Island. If this island is fated to demise like the other islands of the Chesapeake, should the people leave now or stay on the island to watch their home get destroyed over time? The argument may be that the island still has time and may never be completely destroyed, but the people have already seen the degradation of their land and of their economy over a generation or so. If the people of Smith Island stay, they may be forced to watch as their livelihoods get swept away by natural disasters, economic depression. Some may find it unethical to keep these people on an island that may cease to exist in another generation.  Others may argue that the island might be able to recover and resist the effects of sea level rise and erosion using technology. At what point will this option fail? If sea levels are eventually going to rise, there will have to be major implements in place to counteract such an event. The fact that there is a possibility that the island could exist for another three hundred years may be enough to keep people there. Ethically, others should consider these possibilities for the people of Smith Island. If there is even a slight chance that the island could survive, the people should not have to unhappily live elsewhere.

The most ethically acceptable course of action is to keep the people of Smith Island in their homes. These people have the right to a happy life in the location of their choice and should not be forced to leave. One must consider empathy when assessing this situation. If this were our own community that was being targeted and coerced into moving, there would be the same opposition. Naturally, people are creatures of habit and often do not enjoy change, so in this case, it would be unethical to cause these people misery over leaving their home. It has been predicted that the entire Chesapeake region will eventually be subject to the affects of sea level rise (Earth Under Water), but these people do not seem to be targeted as the Smith Islanders have been. Those who wish to stay on the island have the right to live there and should continue to receive the support of the rest of the community in times of need. These people are continuing to take precautions against these disasters by means of evacuation and technologies protecting the island itself.  They are not putting themselves in any more danger than the rest of the area. These people may need to find other alternative courses of action to prevent the destruction of their island, but it seems that it will be no different than the course of action our entire area will need to take in the long run.  The decisions of the Smith Islanders should be respected so that they can live happily on their home island rather than be forced to flee to an area that may have the same issues as the place they fled.


 Earth Under Water. Dir. Tilman Remme. National Geographic, 2011. Film

Giles, Ben. “Scientists Warn of Smith Island’s Demise, Residents Are Skeptical .The Philip Merrill College Of Journalism, 20 Apr. 2010. Web.

 Smith Island Environmental Restoration. US Army Corps Of Engineers. http://www.nab.usace.army.mil/

State of Maryland Action Plan for Disaster Recovery Community Development Block Grant Program. Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development.  http://dhcd.maryland.gov


During the last leg of our journey, there has been an overwhelming theme of preparation for the future. How do we plan for diminishing coastlines? What seems to be the resounding answer from our society is that we’ll deal with it when the time comes. When houses are destroyed by hurricanes, they can be rebuilt and as the land of Smith Island is eroding, we build bulkheads. What seems to be absent from the minds of those affected is that there will come a time when these tactics will not work. One day there may not be land on that waterfront property to rebuild the house and the bulkhead keeping the water from eroding the land will need to be a wall. Nature is ever changing and the proof is in the past.

ocean city

Photo Credit: Jane Thomas

As we looked out across the Ocean City Inlet, we were able to see a drastic change that had occurred over time. The non developed beach of Assateague sits further inland than that of Ocean City, but why? The two were once the same barrier island before a hurricane created the inlet, so they should line up. The answer is the inlet. The very structure intended to preserve the Ocean City inlet, is destroying the Assateague beach. The jetty will hold the inlet in place. It will protect it from being moved south as it would naturally over time. Assateague is then deprived of the sand that would naturally be carried from Ocean City and deposited on the beach south of the inlet. Our need for convenient access from bay to ocean seem to hold precedence over the preservation of a natural barrier island. The preservation of this uninhibited island may seem unimportant, but the underlying issue is not in the destruction of Assateague. It is the build up of Ocean City that will be the issue in years to come. Nature will continue to run its course. No amount of construction will fully protect the city from hurricanes and storm surges. The development has only given the city the ability to stay in place. Unlike Assateague, it will not reshape itself after storms. As sea levels rise, Ocean City will be pummeled by nature and because it is no longer a natural barrier island, it will not be able to comply with nature.

The situation here on the coast of Maryland is surely not the only of its kind. Much of our development is along coasts and waterways. We need to be aware of the future and aware that we need to plan for it now, not when the next big catastrophe occurs.

Stuck In Time?

The experience of visiting Smith Island is unlike any other tourist attraction, if you can even call it that. It is quaint town, but rough around the edges. The streets are quiet and the people chatty. Though many describe this island as stuck in time, I would beg to differ. I do not feel as if the people of this island are living in the past. The mere fact that they are living on such a secluded piece of land surely hinders the influences of the outside world, but it seems to only slow the process of modernization and it also seems to be the choice of the inhabitants.

20131006-173857.jpg As soon as you step off the ferry from Crisfield, you begin to notice the slow nature of living. The people seem to have a set of unwritten rules as everyone on the island is unnaturally friendly, selfless and generally excited that we were visiting. Contrary to what I expected a waterman’s town to be, Ewell was very inviting. I find this to be a result of the isolation. By secluding themselves from modern negative aspects of society such as crime and drug use, the islanders have created this safe community, something comparable to a 1950s “American Dream” neighborhood. This seems to be the reason behind many trying to stay on the island. There is such a cohesive community of people at work on the island and over time this has remained. Perhaps the only aspects of the island community that are stuck in time are the ones that’s in the modern world desire.

Many generalize the island as being so secluded that they don’t keep up with modern technology and pop culture. Visiting the island and experiencing the culture first hand, I can honestly say that this is a myth. They are not living in the dark ages. They have internet, TV, relatively modern architecture and they drive around in golf carts. Many seem to be just as lazy and dependent on fried food as the rest of the world. The people of Smith Island have found a way to preserve their quaintness, while keeping up with the rest of the world.


Photo Credit: Rebecca Potochney

Photo Credit: Rebecca Potochney

Yesterday began our first in depth look at the ecology and geology of the Chesapeake’s watershed as we paddled down the Susquehanna River. Our tour guide, Steve, had requested from us one simple thing: be observant. While on the river, on what I would describe as the most perfect day for such an activity, it was almost impossible for one to not be observant. Throughout the paddle I found myself, watching the wildlife, listening to the flowing of the water down the ledges and comparing these waters to the bay. The only thing I failed to do at first was let this scenery tell me a story, something our professor, Doug Levin, had taught us.

The landscape of an area can give so much information about what is and has happened in that ecosystem. We had lunch along the river on a rocky shoal just down river of the Rockville bridge, the longest stone arch railway viaduct in the world. As we walked towards the shore, you could notice sediment dried up all along the bushes and trees, just at the bottom. There were large dead tree limbs stuck about six feet up on the branches of the trees here. Larger pieces of debris and trash was wedge under bushes or lying in the sediment among which was a bowling ball and a large trash can. We were asked to tell the story. Why was this all here and how did it happen? Just by being observant, we were able to tell that story.

The rainfall in the area was high enough that the river was flooding. The waterline was at least six feet higher than what it was when we were observing because debris was stuck that high up in trees. We know that the water was fast moving, but was slowed by this vegetation enough to deposit sediment on the bushes and grasses. We could tell that this was fairly recent because the sediment was still dried on the vegetation and had not been washed off by a rainstorm yet. After our conclusions had been made, we asked Steve if there was a large amount of rainfall that could have caused this. He confirmed our observations. A large accumulation of rain in July had caused this flooding of the River.

Photo Credit:Rebecca Potochney

Photo Credit:Rebecca Potochney

There is so much that we can learn by looking around us. Everything around us had to have been put there by someone or some event and these things or events will leave behind clues. All we have to do is observe these clues and we can put together that storyline. This is something that I will be conscious of from this day forth.

Just Jump In

As my experience at the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Forum comes to an end, it is becoming clear just how beneficial these few days have been. Just yesterday, I was being encouraged to introduce myself to strangers, ask questions and try to network within a group of people I felt I was not exactly a part of. Walking into the Forum and the professional world it seemed akin to a culture shock and I was just supposed to jump in and become a part of it. Little did I know at the time, but this experience is the most invaluable experience (thus far) to me as a student, as a member of the environmental community, and even just as a member of society.

There is a large sense of intimidation as I walked into a room of two hundred experienced professionals, forgetting the fact that these people may be the very ones hiring me, two years from now. As this thought finally made it into my mind, the intimidation factor rose, but it shouldn’t have. The fact that there were two hundred possible bosses in the same room as me should have been exciting. I have this chance to make an impression, show everyone why in the world they would ever want to hire me. Thankfully, this intimidation factor only lingered with me for about an hour. After I came to my senses, I just jumped in and hoped for the best.

I listened to presentations from the directors of the Chesapeake Bay Program, The Nature Conservency and the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. I spoke with Riverkeepers from three different rivers, young and old professionals of environmental agencies with confusing acronyms, and countless volunteers. I have a notebook of endless information, but more importantly I have started relationships with some of these professionals and have obtained their ever invaluable contacts. What comes to an advantage is that many of these programs are located in my hometown. The number of job and internship possibilities in my area are far larger than I initially expected.

This experience has taught me to be more curious about my community and more actively involved in the opportunities that my community has to offer. I have been inspired to write letters to my local government, volunteer for the riverkeepers in my area and be mindful of local policies. Two years from now I can only hope to have some confusing seven letter acronym below my name.

Stalking #1

Throughout our travels around the Chesapeake, the relationship between environment and society has been well depicted. It is apparent that our society is very fragile in a sense because a society is dependent on factors that are constantly changing. A seemingly small change in the environment can affect our society immensely. Because of this fragile relationship, our environment often dictates what we can and cannot do as a society and can force us to comply with its constraints. Simply stated, we are shaped by our environment. But there is another side to the relationship. As a society, we are able to shape the environment we live in. Does one have a stronger effect on the other? An interesting contrast of the relationship between environment and society was unmistakable with our visits to Jamestown, Annapolis, and Baltimore.  Using these three experiences from our first journey, one can compare the progression of this relationship in different locations as we move forward through history.

Visiting Jamestown, it became easy to understand just how large of an effect the environment had on the settlers in the early seventeenth century.  The colonists of Jamestown had to comply with their environment the minute they entered the James River in 1607. A drought restricted their agriculture, the river water was too saline to drink and this new environment was laden with disease unfamiliar to the Englishmen. All of these constraints lead to a steep decline in the population of the colony. Most of the major causes of this decline were environmental. What is interesting is that these colonists were fairly intelligent Englishmen who were very capable of surviving within their environment in Europe. One problem was that they were so well adapted to one specific environment and when that environment was changed they suddenly became unfit to live under these new constraints. The environmental limitations in this new colony were too great and the colonists were forced to change aspects of their society.  As we learned at the archeological site in Jamestown, a fairly civil group of people turn to cannibalism and their society alters into a society of survival. The remains of a young woman were excavated at the site of Jamestown and confirm the beliefs that these settlers did resort to cannibalism. The history of Jamestown solidifies the idea that the environment can have a large impact on the workings of a society.

As we travel one hundred miles up the bay and one hundred years later in history, we arrive in Annapolis in the eighteenth century. This environment was very well suited for tobacco and so it drove a society operated essentially through the use of slave power. The men of Annapolis, with a need for labor, acquired slaves to work their tobacco fields and throughout the eighteenth century they accrued wealth, built large Georgian houses and imported more slaves. While visiting the Maryland State Archives, it was brought to our attention, just how many slaves there were in this time period but also how valuable they were to their masters. The masters of the runaway slaves would take ads out in the Maryland Gazette and offer rewards to those who found or returned their slave. In 1695 three thousand African Americans were imported to the Chesapeake region and all because of this environmental asset. It seems odd to think that the introduction of slaves into the Chesapeake region was all because of good soil for tobacco, but if the Chesapeake had depleted soil, would Englishmen had settled in this area in the first place? Whatever the answer may be, one cannot deny this link between the supreme environmental conditions and the building of a society with the use of slave labor.

Our visit to the Baltimore Museum of Industry brought us into the industrialized nineteenth century. In this place and time it is evident that the society is affecting the environment more so than the converse. The society was demanding oysters and with the introduction of refrigeration, the oyster market is larger than ever.  The environment is clearly affected.  Aside from the canneries, there were many other factories often coal burning ones. Air quality was noticeably worsened throughout this time period and there was so much particulate matter in the air that the fabric factories would have to keep their windows closed as to not ruin the clothing that was being produced. Many wealthier families refused to live inside the city because of the smell and the waste from the factories. A few hundred years earlier men were dying because of the effects of the environment. In the nineteenth century it is the opposite. The environment is dying, in a sense, because of the effects of man.

Over time, it seems as if we have a stronger effect on our environment than our environment has on us. We have the ability to manipulate the environment in ways we could not three hundred years ago. Today, we have become comfortable with our way of living and this way of living is not beneficial in the long run.  As a society, we have been dealing with the repercussions of our previous generations when we could have been monitoring how we interact with our environment. One may think that we have these issues because we view our environment with only instrumental value. We see our environment for what it can produce and how it can help us make money. It might be beneficial to start looking at our environment with intrinsic value. Then maybe the relationship between environment and society could be balanced.