Case Analysis: To Save or Not to Save? Disappearing Cultural Hubs

Islands in the Chesapeake Bay have been inhabited for centuries, allowing for cultural niches to form. These areas have prospered, though have been shaken by the negative impacts their cultures have faced. The specific coastal environments that make these locations distinguishable play a key role in the development of these cultural areas. As the shorelines are receding, these areas are under threat of potential extinction, such as the fate of Holland Island. This poses a difficult question: do we defy nature, and attempt to save the culture by way of rebuilding the island? Or do we let nature take its course, destroying both the island and potentially the culture?

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These cultures are incredibly unique. Do we have a responsibility to preserve small cultures such as these? People may feel that abstaining from interfering is morally wrong; that we need to save this nearly sacred ground. If the land is lost, we lose the significance of people’s local knowledge – and what use would this knowledge be if they were displaced from their home land? Mere memories that would turn into folk tales. We perceive cultures as significant pieces of the past, present, and future. We are able to see into the past through traditions and patterns that people follow. Specific to island communities in the Chesapeake is the skipjack. These boats have been present for centuries, and invented to smoothly sail over the contours of the waterway. Presently, these cultures are celebrated annually with festivals such as the Oyster Fest. We take pride in having these individuals, keeping up family traditions and passing the watermen’s work boots down to children and grandchildren. Cultures can be projected into the future, in order to prepare us for future occurrences. For example, the oyster dredging can be seen as a positive and negative aspect of the business. While the watermen claim it helps fluff the oyster bars, removing sediment, and keeping the oysters happy, others will present information opposing this. Dredging also rips up any sub aquatic vegetation, or SAVs, which results in depleted oxygen and reduces the population of other species.   However, there is also the ethical obligation to allow nature to take its course. By adding bulkheads and extra sediment to these islands, we disrupt the cyclical nature of these environments. Some people believe that for every action is there a reaction at least equivalent to what had been done. Using this, it could be said that when we try to save these islands, just for strong hurricanes that wreak havoc on these environments, it is because they are meant to slowly disappear with time. Therefore, two conflicting ideas are apparent here, creating a complex situation.

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If we strive to save the culture, it would be beautiful to see this flourish. This culture has survived for centuries, beginning with the oyster market boom. We can see its history through the hundreds of oyster can brands that were created to keep up with the supply from years past. The small island culture is the source of character for the Chesapeake Bay. They have been able to survive in these small communities because of the fruitful harvest the Bay has provided for centuries. Skipjacks were created specifically for this region, all based around the desire to harvest oysters. The white boots these men wear are symbolic of the long hours, hard work, and dedication put into this career. Prolonging the survival of this culture presents an opportunity for their children to become involved and continue the traditions of the culture. But at what cost?

Attempting to stave off the inevitable disappearance of these islands will only produce further issues. Many methods of preserving an island ultimately destroy other habitats. It starves environments of sand deposits and other essential materials. Feeding money into methods such as bulkheads and depositing dredge material may buy more time, but it can not truly save the island. Waves eat away the shoreline for an eternity, and will not cease this behavior merely because of human intervention. And why buy more time for these individuals, just to make them ultimately move away from their homeland?

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There is no simple solution to this predicament. However, I believe the most practical solution will be to have these individuals move off of the islands. It is not easy to consider this the best solution, but there are many reasons that submission to Mother Nature’s desires is best for everyone. Attempting to save these islands is futile at best. Of course it may buy more time, but even so, would it still be the island these individuals once lived on? The answer is simply no. By adding land, it results in the opportunity to have more development pop up, and also distorts the heart of the island. It would result in changing the location of marinas, which would be a large shock to the community. In addition, this culture is already being influenced by outside forces. While the impact has been slight, they have proven themselves to be relatively resilient to individuals on the main land. Therefore, these watermen would be able to adjust to living on the mainland, with slight changes to their culture. The truth of the matter is that individuals are leaving the island for reasons other than erosion. There are no jobs here. This culture is already beginning to fade, as younger generations do not see it as a profitable field. In retrospect, moving away from these small islands sooner than later may ultimately preserve more of the culture than if they wait until the water is at their doorstep.

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People in Small Cultures

Deal Island became an excellent opportunity for meeting natives and ‘come here’s’ of the area. Our final evening here at Deal presented us with the opportunity to chat with the locals, and it was such a wonderful experience. We had been given an assignment for the day to capture moments or items around the island that portray the culture, to discuss our interpretation of how it depicts Deal Island.

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As planned, we individually projected our findings and presented our thoughts on them. Nearly everyone presented inanimate objects: churches, headstones, general stores, skipjacks. And yes, all of these certainly contribute to the character of this remote location, but they do not begin to tell the whole story. The individuals that reside on here create the culture that in turn, creates Deal Island.

The watermen shared stories of the blood sweat and tears experienced in their lifetime of harvesting oysters. You could feel the tension in the air as they described occurrences of illegal harvesting , and almost being caught. The salt exposure they have experienced was nearly palatable, as they described the harsh environmental conditions they face out on the water. Their happiness was nearly tangible as they recounted the magnificent harvests they have previously captured; their eyes shined and their smiles illuminated the bar. Even the way these watermen speak contributes to the Deal Island experience. Oysters you say? These men will correct you as “ayrsters”. And you think they went dredging today? Not these men, they were “drudgin’”.

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I consider our exchange with these men a beautiful experience. It is so hard to come across these intimate exchanges between diminishing cultures, and main stream popular cultures. I cherish this as a once in a lifetime opportunity for someone my age, and hope that there will be future experiences such as this to come.

Deal Island: The Beauty of Reconstruction

Gravel tumbled beneath the tires of our Washington College Bus as we pulled into the ship yard. We filed out into the biting cold, rushing into the reconstruction tent, to meet Professor Weist on site. We huddled like penguins in the arctic as wind whipped through the tent, listening intently to Professor Weist’s commentary. He informed us that this skipjack was constructed in 1901, and that she is recognized as a National Historic Landmark.

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Source: Coastal Heritage Alliance

Great care is taken in reconstructing this. Members of the Coastal Heritage Alliance work on this project as shipwrights would have in the past. While there may be slight alterations to the Kathryn, this is done simply to ensure their work will last longer, as technologies have advanced. I was awestruck that such dedication is given to using the same methods  of previous generations. This waterman culture found in the Chesapeake is not only on the water, as I previously thought. It extends to the land; to the methods of construction of the skipjack.

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Source: Coastal Heritage Alliance

We had the privilege to work on her ourselves, branching off into different sections. Some students were planing, some creating bungs, some painting boards already a part of the Kathryn. I was lucky enough to work with the next panel to be placed on the stern of the skipjack, tarring the board before it would be screwed into place. Our Chesapeake Semester group got to sign our names on the inside of the plank, to commemorate our hard work.  Working on this project has given me a new appreciation for this culture. I have dipped my hands into the waterman’s paint, soiled my workpants with the waterman’s tar, and rinsed my hair with the waterman’s sawdust. I feel a stronger connection to what we strive to do in the Chesapeake Bay; as environmentalists, we strive to Save the Bay, in turn saving the oysters. And the way I see it, we’ll be saving these watermen, too.

Poultry Farm Ethics

I braced myself for a horrific scene as the Ollen brothers opened the door to their poultry operation. We were asked to put plastic sleeves over our shoes, which they assured us was to protect the chickens from exposure to bacteria and viruses we could carry in on our shoes. I was a bit skeptical – the plastic casing could have also been to protect ourselves from spreading the avian manure through the rest of the facility. The door creaked open, and the sound of thousands of birds flooded my eardrums.

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The dim lighting lent itself to highlight the hazy atmosphere; dust filled my lungs with as I drew in my first breath inside of a poultry house. “Well…at least it smells better than Guano“, I thought to myself as we delved deeper into the half-acre building. I peered through the dust at the tiny birds running away from the cold air blasting through the door. I couldn’t believe my eyes. While the conditions were much better than I had anticipated, I was still disappointed with what I saw. The chickens were mangy – missing patches of feathers, exposing their raw pink skin. The chickens collapse under their own weight, waddling around until their bones cannot support their weight anymore. While I visually absorbed this site, I listened to the facts the farmers rattled off to our group.

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Allen Ollen supplied us with information regarding the growing process of these animals. Their diet consists of a combination of mostly corn, soybeans, and wheat; this concoction successfully allows chickens to grow at an incredibly accelerated rate. In addition to diet, the lighting within the poultry houses is strictly regulated in order to change their sleep patterns. For example, by the time these chickens are 28 days old, the enclosed area only receives one hour of darkness. The idea here is to keep the chickens awake for a maximum amount of time, increasing the potential for the animals to ingest more food, which will allow them to put on more weight. While each batch of 30,000 birds takes 38 days to grow to the desired size, two weeks are granted as a grace period between flock production. But while the group nodded in agreement with Allen’s commentary, I shook my head in disbelief.

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Allen disclosed that the purpose for enclosing the entire structure is to reduce stress for the chickens; they were no longer disturbed by the feeding trucks, and had “no predators”. This statement absolutely blew my mind. First of all, the conditions these chickens are in are incredibly stressful. They develop muscle faster than their bone structure can keep up with, are forced into irregular sleep patterns, and fed a diet designed to have the chickens grow rapidly. Second, no predators? This business is a predator, and a smart one at that for housing the prey itself. I have a difficult time digesting that people are willing to accept this standard of life for these beings, and claim that they are happy. Food and water and shelter is all they need, right?  Source: Google Images

These animals still suffer from neglect, having never seen the sun, and a lifespan of merely 38 days. This process is disturbing, and I am appalled that our society has allowed it to persist for so long. And although this facility is better than most, it disgusts me knowing there are poultry growing sites with worse conditions. This mass production of flesh is an unnecessary means, and will never feed the world as people suppose it can. CAFOs will only ever be the source of world hunger, starving poorer peoples of the grains that could be utilized to feed their families. I can only hope that I will see the day that large scale flesh factories are no longer in operation.

Baltimore’s Finest Environmental Damages

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We sat down in a rather sterile room facing each other, heads cocked toward the projector. Rupert Denny, a key member of the Steinweg company in Baltimore, presented information about the port’s history and the company’s involvement. I was most interested in the environmental aspects that have changed over the years with the incredible boat traffic and expansion of the Port.

The air quality is heavily affected in the area; while ship transportation is more desirable than terrestrial transport, it results in massive amounts of pollution. Rupert informed us that if all of the tracked transport ship pollution was a country, it would be the sixth largest polluter. This lends itself to water pollution, for example through rain events. First off, the pollution trapped in clouds is then deposited on the ground; this is typically falling onto impervious surfaces, resulting in pollution of the harbor. One of the largest issues for the harbor is the urban impact, especially with the infrastructure crisis currently unfolding. There are too many people in the area for the sewer systems to handle, and dry weather allows the pipes to crack, thus distributing unprocessed fecal matter into the storm water drains, polluting the harbor.

My first tour of the inner workings of Baltimore’s Port was from a marvelous tug boat, on a beautiful fall day. As we passed incredibly large vessels, Rupert discussed their purpose: container carriers, coal bulker, and coastal tanker. These three vessels in particular run the risk of wreaking havoc on the already fragile Baltimore Harbor ecosystem.

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Carrier containers supply our Dollar General and Wal Mart with our imported tchotchkes. These massive containers require large cranes to remove them from the ship’s deck, as well as the time to do so in an orderly fashion. For me, these steel tins reflect our insane consumerism desires, and our infatuation with mindless spending. Many of these containers will contain small, plastic items. After your child chews on that shiny, yellow rubber ducky, where will it end up? In the trash, which may eventually find its way back to the waters from which it originally arrived in the country.

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Coal bulkers transport tons of coal to different companies on the port. This concerns me for the local and global community. Locally, this can produce acid raid and acidic run-off straight into the harbor. Globally, I see there is great destruction occurring in order to extract this dirty energy resource. However, coastal tankers may harbor the most potential for danger. These vessels carry thousands of gallons of harsh chemicals, able to spill at any point in the journey. Rupert pointed out the large white storage units, and informed us of previous accidents they have experienced in the port, due to leaks in the storage area. This should not be an issue, as we should have the technology to prevent such catastrophes.

The Baltimore Harbor was a rude awakening for me, demonstrating first hand the level of consumerism we have as well as how close to a disaster we are at any moment in time during product exchange. I hope we are able to find a way to change our lifestyles in order to reduce the demand for such products and services, this minimizing our destructive habits on the environments around us. This may be the only way the harbor can potentially be brought back to a non-hazardous state; one in which future generations can enjoy this natural playground, swimming and fishing as they please.

Culture Shock: Peruvians and Americans

A young boy ran by, throwing rocks at his small herd of piglets. He shyly smiled at our group1393884_771692342847931_481413038_n, quickly returning to his siblings. At this moment, Becca decided to give them each one of her soles in order to repay the children for letting us take their picture. The children appeared to cower as she approached them with her charming smile, but warmed up to her as Alejandra explained what the situation was. However, they smiled through their confusion, rolling their shiny coins across their tiny, dirt-encrusted palms.

We all snapped pictures of the children with our fancy, high-tech cameras, their eyes widening at the clicking and beeping coming from the devices. After their first photo shoot, I turned the camera around to show the children what we captured. They were shocked, and I realized this may have been the first time they had seen themselves in something other than a reflection in a window, or a glassy lake. As for our little Alejanda, this two year old girl may have seen herself for the very first time. I realized we may have made a dangerous mistake by talking to these children.

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Parque de la Papa is where we interacted with these children. An incredibly traditional area; a strong belief system placed in the natural environment, generations of knowledge passed down to individuals. This region focuses on trading, not monetary gain. The little income they have can really only be used in Cusco, although we did pass a few small shops driving through the mountain range. The sad realization is, that this was such an insignificant exchange for us in the grand scheme of things. Passing a single sole onto each of these children was such a simple task for the Americans to do – it hardly amounted to anything in our minds. But to these children, it was a life changing interaction. Their mothers may never be able to do what we did. While she can supply them with endless love, patience, food, and a home – money is a twisted material that can make all of those important aspects of life appear irrelevant, unnecessary.

Had we not been present at this moment in time, these children may have continued playing with their piglets, happily enjoying the bliss that is childhood. A dastardly chain of events may have come from this simple gesture though. This single sole may intrigue the children enough to pose for more pictures from the gringos that visit. Which will perpetuate this exchange, and increase the likelihood of them jumping onto the money train. It will carry them down into the city of Cusco, with varying jobs of modeling as natives of the highlands for pictures, or perhaps establishing themselves in shops. Regardless of the specific job, ultimately they may remove themselves from their native culture. All resulting from a single sole.

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A similar shocking realization occurred at Machu Picchu. While enjoying our tour of this wonder of the world, I lost track of Sonya’s voice as my eardrums were flooded with pleading voices. I looked around, and a gaggle of young boys approached me asking for a photo. So of course I obliged, crouching down for their mother to take our picture. I was incredibly overwhelmed, laughing with the children as they put their arm over my shoulders. They thanked me graciously, and scampered off to see the rest of the ruins. This interaction left me perplexed for the continuation of the tour. Why were they so impressed by a gringa?

I began observing all of the natives milling about the ruins. While I believed they stood out, I realized it was truly us who clashed. We were adorned in t-shirts, hiking boots, khaki cargo pants, all of the outdoorsy materials that come to mind when you think ‘hiking’. But everyone else was dressed to the nines. Sporting their boxy Beats headphones, “fresh kicks”, and even high heels. This last asset completely blew my mind – wearing heels, to HIKE? And not even just hills, but MACHU PICCHU?! After a short conversation with Mike, however, everything came together and made sense.

These children are coming from poor areas within Peru. School trips come to Machu Picchu, for while we see it as a Wonder of the World, Peruvians may view it as we see a national monument. Fun to come and look at, a neat tribute to their ancestors. For others, this is a sacred area, as many Apus are reflected in many areas of the site. This presents itself as an occasion to put on your best clothing, your best smile, and show off what you have. And this certainly put everything into perspective for me.

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We are an unrealistically lucky set of students. We were easily the youngest travelers visiting this beautiful mystery site, equipped with the best accommodations offered. Although I was excited to take pictures with the children we met at Parque de la Papa, and the boys at Machu Picchu, I truly believe we left a grander impact on their life than theirs on ours. Although they appear in different forms, the Peruvian children and the American young adults really shared a similar experience. For this is easily a sliver of my life – an incredible, life changing experience  - but still just a blink of an eye in the grand scheme of where I may end up, what I can accomplish. But it has planted the traveling bug in me, and I now desire to travel around the world. For some of these kids, it could have been the highlight of their childhood. Visiting Machu Picchu, seeing truly a work of art; receiving their first sole, seeing a picture of themselves for the first time. And this may have also redirected the course of their life. That’s the power of cultural divides. This just goes to show: no matter how many miles, languages, and skin colors divide us, we are all innately human. Our experiences, though they may seem heavily divided, are truly similar while looking through the right lens.

World Wide Watermen

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Communities have been constructed around waterways for centuries. Peru has a rich, distinct connection to the water due to the Humboldt Current. This is similar to our estuary, the Chesapeake Bay. Both of these have supplied society with rich culture and delicious foods.

The Humboldt Current is an upwelling along the coast of Peru, which brings nutrient dense, cold water to the surface. This is the perfect habitat for Anchoveta, which has become an incredibly important species to more than just the ocean. As a keystone species, the aquatic ecosystem would collapse if all of the Anchoveta disappeared. Unfortunately, this fish is becoming overharvested, which threatens the ocean and the economy based around this little fish. Peru has become a crucial component of agriculture in the world, as they produce fish by-products. Fishmeal is used to feed livestock, especially to chickens and farmed fish. Also, this fish is processed into fish oil, which is consumed by humans. An entire economy has become based around this species, and not enough focus is being spent on the health of the fishery. Pollution from the processing factories wreak havoc on the health of the ocean, and this pushes Anchoveta out to deeper waters. This makes it more difficult for watermen to bring in their catch, as they remain at sea longer. In addition, not as much is able to be caught and processed because the health of the fishery is in decline. This trend has been occurring with our own fisheries of the Chesapeake, particularly the oyster.

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The oyster in the Chesapeake Bay has produced an entire culture on the Eastern Shore. Watermen have been working the waters for centuries, and pass these traditions down to their children. Unfortunately, there is just  one percent of the original oyster population left in the Bay, which creates a difficult situation to continue this tradition. Watermen focus on the profit that can be derived from harvesting oysters; they do not dwell on the health of the fishery. Meeting with Captain Wadey proved this; he declared himself that he would have extracted the last oyster in the Bay. The oyster is important to the Bay’s health too – these organisms filter the water, thus cleaning it. Having fewer oysters drastically decreases the health of the Bay. There is a vicious cycle occuring here: more people move to the area who desire these delicate creatures, which leads to more extraction. However, more people on the shore leads to more pollution, which results in needing more oysters in the Bay to help clean it up. Again, the watermen see this as an opportunity to sell more oysters, and will merely  do what is required to harvest as much as they are able to. Even with quotas on the fishery and restoration projects, there has been so much damage that a moratorium may be the only true solution to prevent a total fishery collapse.

Both locations are ecologically diverse, yet human intervention has led to similar environmental concerns. By working closely in either fishery, it may be possible to discover a solution to the declining populations, and apply to other areas around the world.