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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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.

Conceptual Island Comparison: PDP and Smith Island

While an Island is typically defined as land surrounded by water, I declare that it is much more than that. An island is an isolated area with distinct cultural aspects. Parque de la Papa is an island of the mainland, with a special distinction based around its main food source: the potato.

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Parque de la Papa depends 3,600 varieties of potatoes for nourishment, and it has also become a very important part of the culture here. The starchy vegetable supplies the caloric needs of individuals working hard in the fields here, as agriculture is the main source of jobs in the highlands. The cultral signifigance can be seen with just one example of a potato, with a name that translates to “That which makes the daughter-in-law-cry”. This knobbed potato determines whether or not a woman is ready to be wed, depending on whether or not she successfully peels it with little damage to its flesh. There is very little outside influence on this culture, as they are tucked away 10,000 feet above sea level. However, there are environmental factors affecting the success of this culture. As temperatures and conditions are changing, the land area suitable for crops diminishes. This results in the younger generation to move to other areas, such as the city of Cusco, to make a better living. A smilar issue can be seen with Smith Island, located in the Chesapeake Bay.

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Smith Island fits the stereotypical definition of an island, but also falls under the isolated cultural aspect. This small landmass is centered around the watermen culture, with crabbing as its main source of income. This is a family tradition, as the profession is taught to family members at a young age. However, environmental change is making it more difficult to successfully make an income in this fashion. Crab populations are declining, which makes it less profitable to become a waterman. Even though fewer crabs results in higher prices, the price of equipment has gone up as well, and ends no longer meet. Children have left the island to find better opportunities to support themselves on the mainland. This small island will eventually become a memory, as the average age of individuals living here is steadily rising.

Both of these locations are distinct in many cultural and geographic ways. However, they face the same issues, as they are both isolated environments. Hopefully one day there will be an effective way to preserve the cultures here, and the success story can fuel the future success of other island-like communities.

Lima: Development and Sustainability

We departed from the international airport, naïve travelers as we drove through the streets of Lima. The traffic is unbearable in the heart off the city – the only traffic patterns followed are stop signs and traffic lights, and even these are enforced liberally. The streets are packed with vehicles much like Anchoveta in a can. Car horns blaring, break lights flashing, billboards sparkling: these were all aspects of the night drive to Casa Andina.IMG_1973[1]

The next morning we had the opportunity to tour a shopping center in Lima with our friends Alejandra, Chio, and Alejo. The walk there consisted of touring a calmer portion of the city, a residential area. We passed though a park, equipped with trash cans and recycling bins. I noticed very little litter on the streets, which I believe is due in part to the quantity of individuals who work as street sweepers. On every street it was possible to see at least one individual adorned in blue, broom and dust pan in hand. After commenting on this, Chio informed me of how clean Lima is, one of the reasons why she enjoys this city compared to others. However, I question her standard of cleanliness for a city.

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While there may not be trash strewn about the streets, there are arguably more dangerous pollutants in this city of 8 million. Poorly processed or raw sewage is funneled into the Pacific Ocean, which wreaks havoc on more than just the aquatic environment. Residents still swim in discharge areas which is a toxic bath for these individuals. This pollution may lead to overnutrification of areas with little flushing action, thus leading to dead zones. In addition, this toxic water makes contact with the shore, contaminating water supplies. This may be a contributing factor to the use of bottled water opposed to tap water. While this is a pressing issue, there does not appear to be much in place to update their human waste disposal program, which has inevitable consequences.

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Lima is an expanding city. While it is densely populated centrally, there are branches reaching out to become squatter settlements. Simple wooden shacks pop up and create city-like environments, strewn along main roads. This results in more land and house development, more people, and more pollution.  The carrying capacity is going to cap in the future, as the government focuses on making a profit and not the environment. It is more importatnt to bring money into the country than it is to ensure the country is not unnecessairly polluting waterways. Few sustainable practices are implemented for this particular issue, and a push for the cross-disciplinary approach of development of the city and use of sustainable technologies needs to be made.  Part of the issue is the economic status of Peru and the modes of obtaining income, which we discussed prior to arriving in Peru with Dr. Wade.

Peru has become an upper to middle class income country, with more than half of Peru’s gross domestic product derived from services. We greatly contributed to this throughout our two weeks, as tourism is a large portion of this employment sector.  The country has also decreased its poverty rate immensenly, yet there are still many inequalities between rural areas and cities. For example the overall poverty rate is around 54%, while in Lima it is just 15.7%. This makes it difficult to implement environmental laws, becuase not all areas could abide by it, or afford the technology required to help solve the environmental issue. Using the sewage example again, it would be incredibly difficult to fund the installment of proper sewage treatment plants in Lima, and even more difficult to implement them in rural areas. Yet if it was affordable, this would create new job sector and bring more individuals out of poverty.  This conversation must be brought to the table in order to help elevate Peru’s status as a country, in respect to development and sustainability.

Desert Observation: Soundscape and Landscape

The bus slowed after hours of traveling, pulling onto the imaginary shoulder on an endless stretch of road. Filing out of the bus, we dispersed in order to capture the unique sounds of the landscape. I slipped off my sandals, digging my toes into the sand while closing my eyes. Wind whipped through the valley, strong enough at times to hear grains of sand scratching nearby stones. I occasionally mistook vehicular traffic as an airplane; the stillness of the desert allowed sounds to travel much further distances than I am accustomed to. As I considered the lack of life in the area, a fly buzzed by for a fleeting moment. This demonstrated that the environment creates a challenge for organisms that wish to live here; even the fly just passes through. As the variability in sounds diminished, I allowed myself to open my eyes and absorb the scenery.

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And we sat. We baked in the sun, burning as the sands and rocks do for eternity. We are forgotten here, unfamiliar entities in the barren landscape. The skeletal remains of an animal reminds us of how misplaced we are, strewn about this desert. Looking off into the distance, I see a band of mashed potatoes floating behind mountain remains, too lazy to scale these massive obstructions and supply rain to this wasteland. Heat dances on the horizon, blurring my vision. But observing what is close to me, I am overwhelmed.

I am surrounded by colors, while there is no sign of life for miles. But I still experience red, blue, orange, purple, tan, green, gray, and white. There is a natural spectrum found among the desert stones and sands that typically sneak by us, no we let them. They are unique as the biota found in the rainforest. Each stone has its own story, how it found its way to this unseemingly beautiful landscape. They are under appreciated and heavily misunderstood. Stones give character to this desolate land, unveiling the timeline of this Peruvian desert.

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The small details of these stones tell components of their life story. Simply the color unveils what their makeup is; it reflects the minerals within each stone, which may be portrayed differently depending on the natural elements causing the minerals to oxidize and react. The size of the stones in this case may be deceiving. Typically, the larger the stone, the closer to the source it is. However, winds and sand create a polishing effect, acting as sand paper, wearing away the stone.

My observations were disturbed by reaching our time limit, and everyone meandered back to the bus. Everyone stopped to pick out a few neat rocks as souvenirs. Had we not removed these small pieces of the landscape, I wonder how long it would have taken for them to erode. Years? Decades? And how many people have stopped there to appreciate the beauty of the desert? Far fewer than there should be. I hope to get back to a similar environment in the future and see what else I can interpret from the landscape, and to absorb the uncommon beauty that can be found in these desolate environments.

Paracas Soundscape

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I scarcely allow myself to blink as we motor to the Ballesta Islands. We pass beautiful mountains of color: red, brown, gold, black. Words and still frames are inadequate measures to portray the images which I have burned into my memory; rolling hills of sand, rock carved by oceanic power, and incredible organisms inhabiting this unforgiving environment. The marriage of these components paint a paradoxical picture: an oasis desert, an animal sanctuary tangent to inhabitable land.

Languages flooded my eardrums as our tourista boat cruised along the shoreline. On the boat there was an overwhelming competition between English and Spanish, describing the breathtaking scenery.

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Rock formations frosted in guano towered over us, a sanctuary to much wildlife. Birds fluttered about us in a whirlwind, landing precariously on ledges overlooking the sea. I could hear cries of Humboldt Penguins clamoring about their rocky habitat. Red-eyed Cormorants circled from above, returning from a feeding trip. They chirped and cackled amongst themselves, descending to the island, discussing their lunch for the day. While it became difficult at times to distinguish animal tongues over the boat motor, sea lions certainly announced their presence on the island. They bellowed to each other, barking over the plunging waves breaking on a reef. The roaring waves settled out onto the cobble beach, a subtle rushing heard as water escapes back to sea.

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The geology of the island was also impressive, which assisted the acoustics of the landscape. Hollows allow for amplification of the sound waves the animals and environment produced, creating a fuller soundscape. While we departed, a consistent thud accompanied us on our journey back with the rise and fall of the boat against the waves. The wide range of sounds experienced on this short trip represents the diversity found on the Ballista Islands.