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.

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.

The Mighty Susquehanna

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We scrambled into our canoes, eager to begin our journey on the mighty Susquehanna. I remember Doug imploring us to rip our eyes away from the beautiful landscape and look beneath us – what did we see? Was it the murky, contaminated waters we had been warned about before beginning our adventure? Quite the contrary – the water was clear. Had it been in a water bottle, nobody would have been the wiser, and could have thought it came straight from the tap. But I was immediately overcome with disbelief. If this was the water flowing into the bay, why does this beautiful river have such a bad reputation?

An interaction between Nature and Culture unveils itself here. Our current means of obtaining sustenance is a reflection of our culture, which inevitably negates natural cycles found in nature. Intense manipulation of the landscape is the first problem in the agricultural equation. Tilling topsoil increases the rate of erosion, which increases turbidity of the water. Normally, an increase is viewed as a positive effect, a net gain. However, turbidity is frowned upon, as it is a lack of water clarity. Now, an important point to make is the lack of farming in the area we paddled through. The upper Susquehanna consists of residential communities and strip malls, not agriculture. But the upper part of river did not always appear this pristine. Susquehanna Outfitters owner, Steve, informed us about his childhood experience on the river – which was nonexistent.

Steve shared with us some dark history of the beautiful waterway. Coal mining was an intense business decades ago, and coal dust saturated the river. Soot stained the water black; there was no life in the water. Yet another example of how our culture destroys the beauty of nature. Coal mining was certainly beneficial to society, however, annihilated biodiversity in the river. Steve informed us that many of the islands found on the river are built upon coal dust deposits. This, therefore, could potentially lend itself to contaminating the river water, as the pH level of the water would be negatively influenced by the acid leeching from this widely used energy source. Yet Steve taught us a valuable lesson – inspect the invertebrates of the water to determine its health.

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After dividing into groups, we conquered Steve’s simple assignment:  inspect the underside of as many stones as possible to fill up the immaculate dividing containers bestowed upon us. In simpler terms, put a different organism in each section of the ice cube tray. I couldn’t believe how simple this experiment was, and how crucial it is in order to determine the health of the waterway. We discovered a plethora of species, including crayfish, mayflies, and assorted worms. The importance of the exercise was not simply find the organism, jump for joy that there is sign of life, and move on. Steve broke it down a step further, organizing them by how toxic of an environment they can survive in. The mayfly was the most important, as these critters cannot survive in highly contaminated waters. But the question is, are there mayflies throughout the river, or just at the top?

Had we been able to continue to the lower Susquehanna, I’m positive we would have discovered more turbidity due to agriculture. We came across many individuals throughout Journey Two that claimed the Bay is filthy due to the Susquehanna. There must be some reason behind all of the fuss over this river. But if this is not the case, then we must go back to a smaller source. We must discover the health of the brooks and streams that feed the Susquehanna. Everybody is willing to point fingers at the larger issue in order to keep them from changing their ways.

Agriculture may not back up immediately to the Susquehanna, but to smaller tributaries that feed the mighty river. This would require tighter restrictions and regulations to clean up the issue. While on the Chester River there are buffer zone requirements, these are not always abided by. The same may be true to areas feeding to the Susquehanna. If there is no land and vegetation to deter run off from entering the stream, then obviously contaminated water will find its way to the bay. In order to solve this problem, it must become a community wide effort, and everyone must stop pointing fingers. Nobody wants to point to themselves in the mirror, telling themselves to clean up their dirty farming practices. But this is what must occur in order to see any positive result in the bay.

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Only so much can be accomplished once contaminated waters reach the bay. But if we begin at the source, minimizing the chemicals and sediment seeping into the freshwater system, then the Bay may have some hope. A cleaner Bay may be seen in the distant future. The transformation would not occur over night, but I challenge farmers along this mighty, beautiful waterway to clean up their practice. If you love the Bay, and you want clean water, then you need to be willing to take the first step. Start cleaning up your act today to ensure clean water for the future.