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Ocean friendly choices for the consumer

Guest post by Mark Southerland, PhD

edible 6 packWe are all familiar with the pervasive effect of electronic devices on communication worldwide. Nearly everyone uses texts, emails, digital documents, e-books, and social media as their primary means for conducting business and personal affairs. This has allowed communication to grow exponentially without a concomitant increase in paper production. It is now common knowledge that everyone can make specific consumer choices to save paper, and the forests that produce it, such as by receiving financial statements and medical records electronically.  There are, however, many other inventions that provide consumers an environmentally friendly choice. Here are two recent inventions where the consumer can choose to reduce their impact on our marine ecosystems.

  1. Reduced, recycled, compostable, and edible packaging – six-pack rings that fish can eat

The change to more environmentally friendly packaging for consumer products has been a more gradual evolution, often associated with advent of environmental brands of products and stores. The most recent innovation in packaging is the creation of an edible six-pack ring from barley waste produced in beer brewing .This product addresses the tragic effect that six-pack rings have on sea life through entanglement and ingestion, resulting in thousands of deaths of fish, birds, and sea turtles each year.

  1. Guilt-free seafood — removing invasive species by eating them

Lion fishRecognition of the declines in fish populations and other seafood species spawned the sustainable seafood movement in the 1990s, producing lists of sustainable seafood that has been caught or farmed in ways that protect the long-term vitality of harvested species. While many consumers make their seafood choice based on these lists of sustainable alternatives, such as Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, there is now the opportunity to seek out invasive species for your dinner plate. Wegmans in Columbia (and at other stores throughout the country) has recently added lionfish to their shelves. The red lionfish of the Indo-Pacific, whose populations have exploded in the subtropical waters of the southeastern U.S. and Caribbean, is devastating local coral reef ecosystems. Let’s work together and help remove these fish by eating them.

Take-a-way: These are two easy steps that you can take to make a difference and to encourage more innovation like this.

Walking with Eagles

One That Almost Got Away...The Eagle, Not the Fish Like many others, I have been dropping by Wilde Lake here in Howard County to watch the eagles. I have counted as many as 8 bald eagles at a time. They have been hanging out here for the past two weeks! That is a rare event for this area. They perch in the tops of some of our largest trees, such as the champion Swamp Oak at the west end of Wilde Lake. They also fish and soar back and forth over the lake at both low and high elevations. It’s a blast!

My enjoyment has continued online through Michael Oberman’s photographs. Michael is a world class photographer who lives locally and spends a good deal of time photographing wildlife around the nearby lakes. If you like the images shown here, check out his Flickr site.

Juvenile Bald Eagle...Classic Fishing PoseOn our walks we are treated with great views of mature bald eagles with their bright white heads and tails as well as immature eagles who had not yet developed the white plumage – it takes up to five years. They are all fun to watch and we point them out to everyone we pass. A number of photographers patiently wait on the banks of the lake, trying to get the perfect shots to document the unusual sightings of so many eagles here on these suburban lakes.

Today we saw two eagles over Lake Kittamaqundi, and on Friday I saw one over Lake Elkhorn. What a joy! Many of the people I have encountered around the lakes are wondering where these great birds come from. I have heard a range of explanations – I love multiple working hypotheses. They could have flown over from the nesting population on the nearby reservoirs – especially since one of them has very low water levels at present. There evidently has been a fish kill recently in Wilde Lake as well – which would attract these scavengers. In addition to the resident eagles that spend the entire year here in the Chesapeake Watershed, others that summer in Canada come here for the winter. Maybe they are finally showing up now that the north country is getting snow and colder weather.

Fishing at Wilde LakeThe presence of so many of these great birds is a testament to how we as a society have learned to coexist with other forms of life on this planet. Thanks to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, published in 1962, as well as a loud outpouring of voices from across the country, and a responsive, bipartisan Congress, we collectively took the steps that reduced the indiscriminant use of pesticides that was causing a decline of our great raptors and a host of other birds. We owe those people back in the 1960s a major debt of gratitude for speaking out and changing what was our accepted but misuse/uninformed use of chemicals. By taking action over the past 4 decades, the eagles have come back.

One day last week, right after a rain, I did not see any of the eagles feeding. This may have been due to how brown the water was after the storm. I wonder what eagles do when they cannot see fish in dirty brown water. A lot of debris and silt must have washed off our backyards and into the streams. The silt made it hard to see into the water and the debris covered the surface of the lakes with a wide range of plastic bottles and trash – some of which must have looked like fish…..

I found this to be another reminder of how each of our actions do impact others and the environment that we live in. It is important for all of us to realize this and take actions like putting in stormwater controls in our backyards and controlling all of our trash so it does not end up floating on the lakes and in our rivers. I hope these eagles flourish and hang around so all of us can enjoy their majesty. I also hope all of us appreciate them enough to go the extra mile in protecting their habitat.

Take-a-way: Consider putting in rain gardens and reducing the stormwater runoff from your land. Carefully manage your trash. Go out and enjoy the eagles. Best time for viewing the eagles is 7 to 9am and 2-4pm.

Pack It In/Pack It Out

pack it inMore and more parks across the country are moving to a policy of encouraging people to take their trash home with them. This is always a good policy. In the case of the parks it is also a cost saving measure resulting from the decision of many local, state, and national jurisdictions not to fund our parks sufficiently. It is also partly due to the increasing volume of trash we generate. Keeping our parks clean has become a major challenge. (more…)