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.

Case Analysis: Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic

The Chesapeake Semester presents a fabulous opportunity to gain hands on field experience, as we discovered through the first twelve day journey. Prior to departure, Professor McCabe held a lecture discussing Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic. Leopold presents the notion that society must make the transition between instrumentally valuing the land and learn to value the landscape intrinsically. Instrumental value is placed on objects that individuals cherish merely for what it gives to the person. For example, cell phones are valued for what they allow us to do: contact people in different areas. Intrinsic value is applied to something for the nature of itself. Therefore, human beings and priceless works of art may possess intrinsic value. Difficulties arise once a request is made for individuals to consider intrinsically valuing the land. Nature has always been perceived as a commodity: how many crops can fit onto this plot of land, what type of structure can be constructed on these soils, how profitable are these pelts? Leopold claims, “A land ethic of course cannot prevent the alteration, management, and use of these ‘resources,’ but it does affirm their right to continued existence, and, at least in spots, their continued existence in a natural state”(Leopold, A Sand County Almanac). While traveling around the Bay, I considered Leopold’s proposal, digesting the paradoxical system we were participating in.

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The mobile classroom rolled over seemingly endless miles of impermeable surfaces, passing hectares of disturbed lands: flecked with buildings or transformed into sterile, monoculture fields. Absorbing this, I reconsidered how I viewed the entirety of the journey. Prior to remembering Professor McCabe’s lecture, I could barely contain my excitement to travel around the area and discover these interesting, new locations. However, I began to think about the impact we made during the adventure. Snaking our way around the Bay, we covered over six hundred miles. Just in this six hundred mile stretch, try to envision the amount of deforestation that occurred in order to pave the way to our destinations. How much earth was displaced while creating the quarries that provided the construction companies with stone to pave these roads?  Consider the amount of fossil fuels burned in order to cart ourselves to these various regions. Thinking back to the origin of fossil fuels, how much destruction of land and aquatic ecosystems occurred in order for us to explore these areas?  And think of the vehicle used – a large, fuel inefficient bus. This hunk of metal, rubber, and plastic was created from materials which wreaked havoc on the environment during extraction. Countless hours were dedicated to developing the quarry, from which the iron ore was extracted in order to create the steel shell of the bus. As most tires are petroleum based, that is another material that comes from the oil rigs. I will refrain from delving into the disgusting concept that is plastic, which now finds its way into everything. This paradox has left me stumped – this semester is an opportunity to experience systems that desperately need tending to in order to thrive once more, like the Chesapeake Bay. This semester sheds light on potential career paths, one which may promise a better environment for our future children and grandchildren. Choosing this phenomenal program stemmed from a similar desire to make a mark, make a change, make a difference in the world, all through an environmental lens. Yet from the get-go, we pollute the environment. The idea is there, yet our actions do not correspond with our desires.

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Dr. Schindler brought this concept to my attention one night while camping at Chino Farms. He expressed his concern that individuals walk to the local farmers market, with their reusable bag, and purchase goods directly from the farmer. Sporting a smile, they pat themselves on the back for their good deed and travel home, content with their ‘green’ action for the day. But what did this actually accomplish? The food was still grown by another individual, delivered to this community environment, and is not that much different from purchasing the vegetables from the supermarket. At first I disagreed with him, annoyed with the fact that he dismissed these people as simply demonstrating a valiant effort to be more environmentally conscious. However, reflecting on our journey, as well as his words, I now agree with his opinion. This ‘valiant effort’ concept pertains to the journeys also. Yes, it is incredible to visit these locations and I would have hated to miss this great opportunity. But it does contradict what we hope to accomplish: reducing our impact and minimizing our involvement in the cycle which negatively impacts the Chesapeake.

I suppose this is the part that becomes most painful: deciding what is most important in our current societal situation. We are always making compromises, ensuring it is always in our favor. Take the idea of a land ethic. Few have committed themselves to sustaining a lifestyle which fits this description, because it becomes inconvenient. I hate knowing my mode of transportation contributes to the unsustainable, insecure reliance on finite fossil fuels, and that it adds to the demand for oil. But I also want to travel to Peru. Our human nature is highly contradicting, and this makes it incredibly difficult to adhere to what we perceive as our moral obligations, especially when discussing the environment. Because while it is an organic, animate system, we have detached ourselves so much from the beauty of its existence, creating blinders for ourselves to see simply the extractable resources of the landscape.