Case Study: Environmental Mentality

Throughout Journey 4, we learned about resources and regulations of the Chesapeake Bay by visiting a number of places that portrayed the hardships of maintaining family businesses. We started out by meeting poultry and dairy farmers who discussed their problems with regulations and expenses that are involved to keep the farm running. I had never been to any sort of operation before and it was interesting to see how they do things and their views on sustainability and efficiency. We then took a bus ride to the Port of Baltimore where we got the behind-the-scenes tour at the Steinweg Facility Port with Rupert. It was fascinating to learn just how much consumerism take part in our world because it reflected a great deal in the work that Rupert and others do at this port. Lastly we headed to Deal Island where the local watermen told us great stories but also how their culture is slowly disappearing. While on this journey, I’ve decided that the crux of our problem is how we consume so much of everything from metals, commodities, to food. We seem to not acknowledge the consequences of our actions that have on our producers and the environment. Instead we accuse others for the environmental issues of the Bay instead of working together to regulate and manage ourselves as consumers and the producers.

When I visited the Davis’s and Jones’ family, it was evident that running a family farm isn’t an easy thing to do. Despite how a poultry and a dairy farm run differently, the energy and work that are put in to take care of the chickens and cows amounts the same. Within each farm, there had been more than a thousand chickens in each coop and cows to be milked daily. It was really impressive how efficient their system of getting the job done was however to work for 24/7 constantly is hard to imagine. I really felt some respect for the Davis’s brothers and Shawn because they are dedicated to their job even though it’s a hard one. Not only do they care about keeping the farm running but also making sure that their animals are healthy and happy. As I’ve mentioned before its been stated that agriculture practices have been the main cause for environmental problems – mainly water pollution – because of the excessive amounts of nitrogen and chicken litter running into the waterways. This is why so many people blame them for what is happening to the Bay, while that may be true it isn’t entirely their fault. As our population increases so does the demand for mass production and that often means extra work for the Davis’s and Jone’s to keep up. People don’t seem to be aware of what they must do in order to grow their chickens to market size or ship a truck full of milk every 10 hours daily. The Davis’s and Jone’s will do whatever they can at a cheap cost to keep their farms running without or without being sustainable. The consumers of food and milk need to be more aware of their actions because as they continue to buy, they must face the consequences of high costs and environmental problems similar to what the farmers deal with.

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Going to Baltimore and having a tour around the Steinweg Port Facility was another great experience because it proved once again that consumerism is a serious problem. Rupert had shown us the variety of warehouses that were full with non-ferrous metals and soft commodities such as lead and cocoa beans. He said that each day there are always carrier vessels that come to unload tons of material at that port, that’s why they have humongous cranes and a loading dock set in place. What was really a shocker was during our boat ride, we passed a spot that had stacks upon stacks of storage units just sitting there waiting to be shipped. The vessels that Rupert mentioned to us were far bigger than I had thought after passing a few on our ride however they do cause some hazardous environmental issues such as acidic rain or chemical spills. Efforts are being made to further prevent these catastrophes but for it to really work, the urban community must pitch in and help out. Most people including myself would have thought it be completely ridiculous to have such humongous carriers to ship mass productions around the world. However it is again all driven by consumerism and the need to always want to buy and own things. At some point we have to face the reality that as we increase our “utility of happiness” so does the environmental hazards that come with these huge carrier vessels that bring our products to us.

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Our time on Deal Island had also been a real eye-opener for me because I got to hear from the watermen community. In this place, the oyster population is doing much better than any other place on the Bay which has allowed the watermen to “catch their limit” almost all the time. It seemed certainly true because I watched a crew of 7 men unload their boat filled to the brim with oysters. However upon interviewing some of the older generation, they admit that probably within a 10 or 20 years – the watermen culture will disappear completely. It seemed unlikely because of the good harvest here but I learned that the younger generations are not going into the same business but searching for work off the island. The permits for becoming a watermen is very expensive now-a-days and if you are not one then there really isn’t any other good work. So now there are only a few skipjacks working the water and they are usually run by family generations. Most of the watermen blame other people such as farmers because of the input of excessive fertilizer or the recreational fisheries because they take most of the fishes just for sport. A few have said that their watermen community is also at fault because they have over-harvested the oysters or crabs in past years. Any waterman will take whatever catch they will get though to make profit, even if that means taking the last one out of the Bay. Without anything to catch, the watermen are left with nothing because they solely depend on what they catch. It’s a harsh life because of the independence on an ever-changing resource and much harder if that particular resource is declining rapidly. Whatever factors are contributing to the environmental crisis of the Bay, it has directly affected the watermen and their culture.

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If we ever want to really address and solve our environmental problems then we have to start working a nation and have a long-term commitment to fixing our mistakes. Instead of blaming someone else, there needs to be a national consensus that as long as consumerism (both food and everything else) escalates, there will always be higher costs and more environmental issues. By instating stronger regulations for fisheries and farmers and managing our consumption, we may have a chance of improving our environment. This means that fisheries and watermen need to accept the policies that are regulated such as the number of bushels they can harvest and the sanctuaries that are off limits. Many watermen are furious that they can’t go into these sanctuaries to harvest and believe that all of the oysters will just die. However to always harvest means that eventually there won’t be anything else left to catch. If they can somehow find a balance of how much to harvest each season, then there would always be more the next year and the following years after that. This way their culture wouldn’t be disappearing like it is now. The regulations and requirements that farmers must meet to keep their farms running is a tall order because it’s always so expensive to buy the necessary feed and machineries. Nevertheless there are still environmental hazards of nitrogen/phosphorous and chicken litter that leak into rivers connecting to the bay. Standards and more regulations should be made to help clean that act up and avoid further water pollution. As consumers we need to have a better understanding of why there are high costs of our products and the impacts on the environment. As our demand increase so does the need for our supply and that has a big influence on our producers. So we should be finding way to make agricultural practices more sustainable so that we can get the cheapest produce. In short I believe that as we grow in population, we are at a very high risk of over-expending our supply and demand which will in turn impact the environment in a devastating way. To try and avoid that we have to accept our limitations through regulations and management and work as a nation to fix our mistakes.

Island Communities

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During our last part of Journey 4, we traveled to Deal Island in Somerset County, MD to help with a restoration project on the national historic skipjack, Kathryn, with Mark Wiest and Zach Hall. It was neat to visit another island community similar to Smith Island with the exception that Deal Island does have a bridge that connects to the main land. This place isn’t very big with a population of 500 people, only half of them are considered permanent residence while the others live off the island and come in for work. Methodism was strongly rooted there after Joshua Thomas, a waterman, had visited and help convert the Presbyterian chapel there. Today the chapel is named after him with his gravestone resting next to it, he had fundamentally changed the island’s culture by bringing Methodism to the community. We had spent a few days on Deal Island working on the skipjack but also having a chance to explore the island and meet some of the locals.

I remembered earlier in the semester we had gone to the Maritime Museum at St. Michaels where they were working on a similar restoration with a skipjack named Rosie Parks. Getting the opportunity though to actually work on Kathryn was a lot of fun and interesting because I got to experience new things. Wiest and Zach were very helpful when teaching us different techniques and allowing us to use machines such as the planing and the bung with a drill press. Other chores that I did were screwing in nails and tightening them with a washer and bolt, painting, and clamping into place the boards. All of it was hard work and at times it was a bit scary that they were letting us do such important things. We had the opportunity to meet Mike Vlahovich and Captain Stoney (owner of Kathryn) both of whom had a great sense of humor and a dedication to their job. The one thing I loved the most out of all of it was the team work that we shared and the joy in our tiny contributions to this restoration project. We even got to sign our names and Chesapeake Semester ’13 on the back of a board that was then drilled onto the front of the skipjack.

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On our last day we got to explore more of the island and visited a number of places, two of which were the convenience store and their local pub. Arby’s and Lucky’s were great places to meet with some of the locals and hear about their time on Deal Island. Some of them were born and raised there and would never consider moving away because they love the close-knit community and culture there. However when asked if they would continue to stay if there wasn’t a bridge, a few of them said they would leave. It’s because they don’t like being cut off and isolated from everyone, also, that form of transportation is too important for them. At different points of our visits we met watermen and got to see them dump a whole boat full of oysters into a truck. During some interviews we learned that most of them believe that the watermen culture is a dying one because it’s not common for the younger generation to take part in the family business. This is mostly because of the very expensive permits that they must have but also there is simply no other work on Deal Island which is why they move away to find other jobs. It’s a bit odd because right now the oyster population there is the highest in any part of the Bay and the watermen are able to “catch their limit.” They fear though that the oyster bars that are protected and not harvested will die because of diseases or suffocation due to sediment. What I’ve heard repeatedly was that if the watermen could go into these sanctuaries and use power dredges to clean the oysters, then the health of the oyster bars will be much better. The last evening was extraordinary because they served excellent food and we heard more wonderful stories from the residences – a lot about how Deal Island has changed in the coming years.

My time on Deal Island was amazing in all the ways that I had never thought of because the people there were so welcoming and I learned so much from the watermen community. I was surprised that this place was very similar to Smith Island, even some of the locals mentioned visiting it or having friends and family living there. It’s clear that even with the isolation that they experience, their culture is very rich and surrounds itself with their religion and oysters. I believe after visiting both island communities that each one and others like them must have distinguishable traits that are unique and special. Though I wouldn’t consider living on such islands as these, I must admit that seeing them was a wonderful experience for me.

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The Steinweg Port in Baltimore

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At the end of last week we had gone to Baltimore to meet up with Rupert Denney who is the general executive of the Steinweg Port Facility which is part of Baltimore’s Port. It was established in 1989 and has globally transported non-ferrous metals and soft commodities. They own several different vessels but only three were mentioned in great detail. The container carrier, the coal bulker, and the coastal tanker – all of which have cause tremendous environmental issues. Rupert talked about the Baltimore Sustainability Plan that focuses on the improvement of air quality pollution and water pollution that these industrial boats make. After his discussion he took us all on a boat ride that went around the Baltimore Ports which was fascinating to see. Upon our return he showed us around the facility and explained some of the procedures of foreign trading.

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I was very excited about this particular trip because I wanted to learn more about what industrial barges are used and how products are traded and shipped on a huge scale. Time and again I would see these huge boats on the Chesapeake Bay while crossing the bridge and it bothered me that I didn’t know what they were or their purpose. I also could remember the times I went to shop at Wal Mart or Sam’s Club and be surprised by the big packages of products that were stored there. How did they get there, why so many of them, was it really true that so many people consume so much? All of these questions I had hoped would be answered on this trip. What I learned was far more than I had anticipated. First of all Rupert explained what each of the three vessels are used for and their environmental ramifications. The container carrier supplies the products that are imported to be sold at our big stores such as Wal Mart and also the Dollar General. Coal bulkers are designed to ship tons of coal for a number of companies and the coastal tanker is used to carry hazardous chemicals. All of them are under the category of boat trafficking which can cause serious water pollution. Coal bulkers may cause rain acid and runoff and the coastal tankers have been known to cause some serious damage to the marine ecosystem because of a spill or leakage. These types of environmental problems must be solved somehow because it is degrading the Baltimore Harbor in ways that are similar to the Chesapeake Bay. It was disconcerting to learn about these facts because I know we could do much better at being sustainable and fixing these simple yet catastrophic problems.

Rupert then talked about the Sustainability Plan to address these issues and other to improve the quality of our air and waterways. One of the biggest problems is when transportation machines whether they are vessels or trucks are idling too much which causes air pollution. A few examples to counteract that is having low sulfur fuel, slow steaming (reducing the speed), or shore power. All of these are ways to save energy and avoid unnecessary puffs of black smoke rising into the atmosphere. Water pollution is probably even bigger because of the undeveloped infrastructure of sewage pipes and large areas of impervious surfaces. There are a few simple things that can be done to avoid unclean water from entering the harbor such as making vegetation barriers, rain gardens, and create more pervious surfaces. Currently the Steinweg Port is working alongside the Blue Water Company who try and implement BMPs around the urban areas. One of the crucial practices that is underway is to improve and maintain the sewage pipes. Right now almost all of them are fractured or broken and are causing raw sewage to enter the waterways without any sort of processing. Rupert stated that the sewage pipes are not functioning as they should be because of the increase of population in the urban areas of the harbor, there is simply too much waste for the pipes to handle. In all aspects, this Plan is trying to reduce air and water pollution by addressing the main causes from vessels and sewage pipes. After hearing about this plan I was a bit relieved, it appeared that they knew what the major causes were and finding the best solutions. I just wondered though if it was enough for such a huge industrial port and the ever presences of a growing population in that part of Baltimore.

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The boat ride was fantastic and the tour around the facility was amazing, Rupert did a great job of explaining how the procedures of trading and shipping the products. On such a large scale and having ships come in all the time, they must unload and store everything in timely order or else they are charged if the job isn’t done quickly enough. Interestingly enough, some of the materials (mostly metal) are kept in storage even though they are being traded and bought by different companies. They often stay in a storage warehouses for long periods of time, sometimes over a year or more. It was a fun experience to learn about these things and I was certainly impressed by how much of any one thing is stored there. Not only did I get the opportunity to pick up a single brick of lead (which by the way was incredibly heavy!) but I also got to taste a cocoa beans on our last stop. Everything that I learned on this trip helped to answer some of my question that I had before but in place of those answers, I had more questions that consumed me as we left. It struck me the sheer amount of products that are shipped daily to reach our big companies and be put on shelves so that we can buy whatever we want. Consumerism is no joke at all, it’s actually very frightening. How did we get to this point? The most simply answer would be population growth but of course it’s much more complex than that. It’s important now than ever to try and reduce this phenomena where we are consuming more than we need. It’s a detriment to our environment.

Here come the Cows!

Continuing our journey we visited two very different dairy farms on the Eastern Shore and learned about the process of milking the cows and the environmental regulations. It was my first time on a dairy farm and I was looking forward to seeing how they run their operation and getting the chance to perhaps pet a few cows. We first met Sean John who helps run the Jones Family Farm, a humongous corporation that has about 2700 heads of cattle. He was an excellent tour guide who explained what he thought about being a farmer and the difficulties of meeting environmental standards.

To start we entered where they milk the cows in a rotated formation, there are cows waiting to be milked, cows that are being milked, and ones that are finished and heading back to their pens. What’s incredible was that all of their cows are milked three times a day otherwise the heifers are in discomfort or pain. This means that their operation is constantly running 24/7 without so much as a break. As I watched the workers bring in the next group of cows to be milked, I was impressed by how efficient they were in getting the job done. They first wash the teats and apply a disinfect medicine before hooking up the suction tubs. It takes about four minutes for milking, there are two basements below that collect the milk and freeze it. With each rotation they collect about 10 gallons of milk that will be picked up by a truck every 10 hours and is processed and ready within 2 days. We learned about how they keep tabs on the reproductive cycle of each heifer by using color-coded tags and a device around the neck. What surprised me slightly was hearing that all of the heifers are constantly producing calves and only have one month of “rest.” It was difficult to imagine putting ourselves in that position, so I felt sympathy for them. One thing that disturbed me a bit was the fact that Sean only wanted the cows to either milk, feed, or lay down. If they moved about it would defeat the purpose of fattening them up. He did though take good care of trimming the hooves so that they can stand up without difficulty. If there is something wrong with one individual, he will separate her from the rest and take care of her until she is back to full health. When a heifer can no longer reproduce she is sold for beef.

Sean showed us the rest of the farm explaining how they raise the calves to reproductive stage and where they store the feed for the cows. They have approximately 2,000 acres to support the dairy cows, mostly they grow corn and small grains. An interesting fact that we learned was that the cows actually love cold weather because their body temperatures are already very high. During the summer times they have to use fans to keep them cool or else they will overheat. The day we visited was bitterly cold for us, our toes and fingers turned quiet numb because of the wind blasting in our faces. But we were happy that at least the cows were loving it. Sean explained to us that he is constantly trying to be a step ahead when becoming sustainable, he showed us his phosphorous processor and the three lined lagoons he made. He always wants to be ahead of the environmental regulations even those that are not in placed yet. One thing he wasn’t able to jump ahead was a new phosphorous management tool that requires zero phosphorous discharge. He believes that’s a bit out of reach and is frustrated that it means more work on his part to distribute the phosphorous he already collects. Seeing the entire farm and the operation on such a big scale really was fascinating to me and I was shocked that they were able to keep it running so well. It was a real eye-opener for me and I became more grateful for the work that they do to supply milk for much of the growing population.

The next stop was visiting Judy Gifford who owns St. Brigid’s Dairy Farm which is a much smaller operation than Jones’s Farm. She operates very similar but the location really felt like a farm instead of a huge dairy facility. After having scrumptious chili for lunch, Judy talked a great deal about the environmental issues that are caused by poultry farms and what her role as a farmer entails. She told us that a farmer needs to accomplish three things to have a successful business. The first is to have an abundance of whatever they are growing whether that is chickens or cows and that they are inexpensive to buy. The other factor is that they are safe for human consumption meaning there have been tests done for diseases or bacteria. She explained that there is a fourth part that is very difficult for any farmer to fulfill and that is making their operation environmentally friendly. It’s easy to do three of the four but almost impossible to do all. Her opinions about global warming and the environmental issues are very different from her neighbors who just want to farm and make money. However it’s clear that she is aware of the negative impacts of excessive waste and nutrients/phosphorous on the environment and that she wants to change that and make it better. Judy showed us around her farm and we had an opportunity to pet some of the cows! It was fun watching them be so attentive and curious about our presence but were hesitant to approach us. With some patience though, a few did come forth and touched our hands with their wet cold noses. We also got to meet Maggie, the Border Collie Shepard in charge of herding the cows and she displayed some nice skills but mostly to show off. What was so interesting was that Judy named her cows and for the most part knows who is who – daughter to mother and mother to grandmother. A fun anecdote was that while I was petting the cows, I happened to step in dung with both feet. Not the best move but luckily I had the chance to get my shoes rinsed off before leaving.

I really enjoyed visiting these two magnificent places and I have a better understanding of how dairy farms operate. It was neat to hear from Sean and Judy about what being a dairy farmer means to them and how they are striving to become more sustainable. Similar to how I learned a new perspective about poultry farms, I also learned a new story coming from dairy farmers themselves. I’m glad that they are at least trying to reduce the environmental issues of waste and phosphorous discharge but I feel that there needs to be a more community effort to accomplish this feat. I just hope that in time poultry and dairy farmers can work together with the government to subsidize costs and benefits towards a more green operation as a whole.

A New Perspective

For Journey 4 we are learning more about resources and regulations of the Chesapeake Bay by watching documentaries and visiting poultry and dairy farms. It has been stated several times now that agriculture is the main source of pollution because of the excessive amount of nitrogen and phosphorous discharge. Currently the Bay is facing an environmental crisis because it’s not able to function at the most basic level to provide activities such as fishing or swimming for the community. Water pollution is becoming more hazardous for people’s health with any sort of contact even through drinking the water. There is an increase of algae bloom which is causing dead zones around the Bay killing the marine ecosystem and it’s inhabitants. Poultry farms are often the ones blamed for this because of the enormous amounts of chicken litter/waste that is produced per farm which is leaking into the streams and rivers connected to the Bay. Commercial chicken farms such as the David Family Farm works for Perdue, one of the biggest poultry industry that sells more than a million chickens. Perdue owns all the chickens and provides the necessary feed and health inspections while the farmers only grow the chickens to their market size. What is quiet odd is that even though Perdue owns the chickens, they do not take responsibility for the waste. In their defense, they say that the farmers need it to fertilize their fields. This may be true to some degree but there is simply too much of it to be used so instead it becomes an environmental hazard. My group and I had the opportunity to visit the David Family Farm and hear from Allen and Ollen who are identical twins and the 6 generation to run the farm. They showed us one of the chicken houses and discussed about their difficulties with meeting the regulations that the government has been enforcing.

The idea of visiting a poultry farm of any type whether its chickens, cows, or pigs – I would never do it because of the horrific images that come to mind of animal cruelty and unsanitary conditions. I’m too much of an animal lover and I could only imagine the animals caged or in very cramp spaces with no ability to move. TV advertisements and watching the documentary “Food Inc.” had only proved my point and furthered my hesitation to see the David’s Farm. However I couldn’t have been more surprised and happy upon visiting and seeing the chickens. When I walked into one of their coops, I immediately saw that they were all spread out roaming freely with lots of space instead of caged up. Also what struck me was how relatively clean the place was in terms of no dead chickens laying around, feathers everywhere, and fresh piles of poop dotting the place. I’m positive that they had cleaned up the dead chickens before our arrival but it was just nice not having to see them. In truth we were standing on chicken poop but it had been “cleaned” and smoothed out to provide a layer of dirt. They showed us the different parts of the chicken house from the feed/water system to the ventilation of air and heating appliances. What they stressed the most during our conversation was that they wanted to be sure the chickens were happy and healthy. If something goes wrong, they’ll know about it and fix it. They continued to show us around the farm and explained to us that it’s difficult to find the money to pay for all of the permits and machines that are necessary keep the farm going. Some of the agricultural machines cost more than $3,000, I was certainly impressed by how big they were. New tools are highly advanced now with specific mechanism for measuring how much manure is deposited or the amount of chemicals being sprayed, etc. There was a new perspective of how much it takes to run a farm because of the demand and costs, it’s no longer simple to do it the traditional way.

It was an incredible experience to meet with Allen and Ollen and hear their side of the story which isn’t often portrayed correctly hence what I had expected when coming to their farm. I found it interesting to learn about the constant struggle to keep up with the market demand which often puts environmental problems aside. There shouldn’t be any excuse to find an efficient management for the excessive chicken waste at least one that will make sure it doesn’t runoff into the waterways. Poultry farms have other environmental issues such as the mega fans that blow tons of dust into the atmosphere and which can affect our breathing. This has been addressed but never fixed because of the lack of scientific concrete evidence. These and other like them need to seriously be confronted personally and as a whole if there’s ever going to be a chance to find a solution and save the Bay. It’s childish to continue playing the blame game when everyone needs to instead step up to the plate and contribute.

Stalking – The Act of Preservation

It was amazing that I had the opportunity to see Peru with my Chesapeake Semester group for two weeks as part of our Journey 3. One of the main reasons for going was so that we could learn about their ecology, socioeconomics, and culture. The Peruvian system is quiet different from the Chesapeake Bay however we’ve discovered a number of similar themes during our visit. We looked more closely at their environmental issues and how they were being addressed with the hope that we could try using their strategies to solve our problems with the Bay. It was clear to me that one of the main themes in which we both shared was stewardship, having the responsibility to protect our environment by using conservational and sustainable methods. During out visits to Punta San Juan, Parque de la Papa, and Machu Picchu; we learned a great deal of how they were trying to preserve their environment and culture. For each strategy that we learned about, there was always some good and bad implications from it that we discussed further in detail after our trip.

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The Punta San Juan Project was an effort made by the CSA (Center of Environment Sustainability) to have a better understanding of the Humboldt Upwelling and to promote conservation of biodiversity. The Humboldt Current has the most productive marine ecosystem which supports a great deal of marine life and helps the Anchovetta fisheries. This project is implemented at the Punta San Juan reserve where we stayed for three days learning about the guano harvest and it’s inhabitants such as the fur seals, seals, and penguins. At this reserve which is 6 kilometers wide, volunteer workers come to harvest the guano poop and monitor the population of the marine residence. Susana Cardenas informed us about this project and introduced us to many of the workers who shared their experience working in the field. We got the chance to see the fur seals, seals, and penguins from a distance which was probably the most exciting thing I’ve ever known because it was only my second time ever seeing them in the wild. There was a great deal of talk about the implications of guano harvesting and what environmental problems they are facing. Guano poop is an excellent fertilizer and there is an international demand for it which is increasing each year allowing little to no time for the guanos to produce a suitable proportion. Harvesting is a labor intensive job that requires cautionary measures so as to not disturb the guanos during their breeding season. However, it’s becoming more difficult to recruit volunteers to do the job at the right time.

They are also experiences an influx of population sizes of the guano, seals, and penguins due to the slow decline of the Peruvian anchovy which has been over-harvested for fishmeal and fishoil. Steps to fixing this problem is the PSJ project but also turning the anchovetta into a gourmet food that can be served in homes and at restaurants. This is a means of becoming sustainable and improving the marine ecosystem. I was able to learn all about this in the confines of the reserve which is protected by a wall that was built in the 1930s to prevent illegal harvesting and/or poaching. This wall does not allow any sort of working relationship with the outside communities who should have an educational tour of why this reserve is so important. In my previous blog I had mentioned that it would be more ideal if there was some way to not have this wall because it has negative ramifications. However after discussing about it’s purpose there, I realized that the reserve would no longer exist like it is now with it’s marine inhabitants and guano harvest. There would be too many people who would try and harvest or poach to feed themselves or their family. After remembering the sheer population sizes of the fur seals and seals, it wouldn’t have been possible if not for the wall because it prevents human disturbances/contacts with these marine creatures. In short, the wall helps protect this reserve and it’s biodiversity.

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Later in our adventures, we traveled to Parque de la Papa which is a bio-reserve potato park managed by the Quechua indigenous people. This place is located in the highlands of the Andes mountains, specifically in the Sacred Vally of the Incas. Six Quechua communities live in this valley and have for centuries been growing the potatoes and managing the Potato Park’s resources. Here there is very rich fertilizer which is excellent for growing the potatoes and the high altitude helps keep them cold. We had the chance to sample a few potato-based dishes from soups to salads and they were all scrumptious. It was evident that their culture is centered around the production of potatoes, it’s in their traditions and religion. However they do believe in science and know that global warming is happening. They’ve seen the minute changes in their agricultural practices where they are now growing their potatoes at different altitudes that were not possible before.

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The Potato Park was one of the many conservational project underway that allowed the indigenous people to manage and protect their resources and their traditional knowledge. The CIP (International Potato Center) was a group of scientist who studied the native potatoes and helped to increase the variety of them by using scientific techniques. Currently the reserve has over 3,000 different kinds of potatoes, some of which are only unique to the highlands. A collaboration with the locals focused on promoting the crop and its uses in a sustainable way, on the one condition that their local knowledge, traditions, and property rights still belonged to the people. The ANDES was another group that worked with the CIP to promote market niches that would add value to the native potatoes being sold nationally and internationally. This would provide new income for the local people in Parque de la Papa. ANDES also helped to promote other commodities that were made without chemicals such as bars of soap, tea, and lotions. Of course we also had the chance to buy clothes and bracelets that were hand-made, all of them were beautifully woven with brilliant colors and patterns.

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We had the extraordinary time visiting Machu Picchu and climb Hauyanapicchu towards the end of our trip. I had an amazing experience and learned so much about the Incas and their culture from our tour guide, Sonia. The architecture stonework that was done to the walls and arches of this once flourishing city was very interesting to see, everything from the stone steps to the lock systems. Looking at the stone temples that the Inca’s used to worshipped their gods was fascinating because they were exact replicas in shape of the surrounding mountains such as Hauyanapicchu. There were so many beautiful scenes that I saw as I hiked Hauyanapicchu and explored the terraces of Machu Picchu, I even got to see and pet some llamas. In those two days that I spent there, I couldn’t help but wonder about how tourism is possibly destroying this special place. It was stated that Machu Picchu in 1983 was declared to be a World Heritage site and has since then been cared for to preserve it. Around the clock there are workers maintaing the grounds of this city while regulations are put in place to keep the number of tourists from entering to minimum. This place is certainly a magnet for people to come and visit but it’s plausible that the business of tourism may help further degrade Machu Picchu. Not everything can be saved or controlled such as the number of people wearing away the stones steps each day. If Machu Picchu was never discovered though, it may have become lost to nature due to the overgrowth of vegetation and natural weathering like climate changes. For now we are simply prolonging the inevitable end where these ruins will disappear but it may not take long for this to happen.

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The kind of stewardship that I saw in Peru is very similar to how we feel about the Chesapeake Bay. Right now it is facing an environmental crisis because of our actions from over the years, it’s been degraded so badly and populations of marine life have dwindled rapidly. Between over-harvesting the blue crabs and oysters to excessive nutrient pollution, we are in need of desperate measures to save the Bay. We’ve learned a lot about the different tensions that surround this environmental issue and how people would rather blame someone else instead of helping to preserve the Bay and the watershed as a whole. We need to find different sustainable practices that can bring everyone together so that the Bay can fully recover. It’s our responsibility to do this and we should try everything in our power to restore the marine ecosystems and clean the water.

A Collapsed Culture

Within the same conversation about food shaping isolated islands into unique cultures, we also discussed the degradation of a culture in two seemingly different communities and hemispheres. The concept that when a island disappears so does the collapse of the culture that has been there. One of the reasons why this may happen is because there is simply a lack of food production or access that can support the society living there. For Parque de la Papa, the production of potatoes may seem to always be able to provide enough food. However if climate changes continue to increase, it may be more difficult to have the right kind of conditions to cultivate the potatoes. Already this is occurring where certain potatoes that use to grow in low altitudes are now being harvested in higher elevations. Due to the topography in which the potato farm is situated, some of the younger generations may wish to leave to find a better place where there is more accessibility to jobs and a stable economy. It’s the same for Smith Island, they are experiencing a decline in the crab population. Harvesting crabs in abundance isn’t like it use to be, now they may harvest nothing during the season. There is uncertainty now of whether the younger generation should become watermen or move on and make a living elsewhere.

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Whenever a culture is disappearing there is always a question of whether it should be preserved or not and if its even possible to do so. It’s particularly hard when looking at isolated islands because of their location. The economic, ecological, and geological aspects of a society can maintains and evolve the culture. However a culture will begin to degrade or fade away when these three collapses and after that, it’s hard to bring it back. For both Parque de la Papa and Smith Island, food surrounds all three aspects that make up their culture. Economically there may not be enough food production to be exported to provide the means of financial support for the potato farm. The ecology is already changing because of global warming and in the near future, it may be difficult to find fertilized soil to use. The topography of this place makes it extremely difficult to travel from one place to another to trade goods or find new jobs.

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Smith Island and the culture is slowly dying because there is a steady decline of the crab population. Harvesting crabs had once been the main source of economy but now it’s tourism. The ecology has changed drastically because of over-harvesting and the disappearance of sea grasses. Soft-shelled crabs lived in these sea grasses and are no longer able to because they’re all gone. Smith Island is going to disappear in the near future due to coastal erosion and sea level rising. If we want to try and preserve these cultures we have to find models around the world that have been successful in keeping the culture alive. Some people want to intervene and prevent such a loss but other mays just let it happen naturally. The effort and money it would take to preserve a culture often comes from the stance of personal attachment or importance on a global scale. A crucial question to consider is where will the people go if their home is disappearing? The displacement of a population has huge drawbacks and can disrupt other places and sometimes even the environment in a negative way. We have to be mindful of whether is really important to keep a culture alive or to let it go.