The Susquehanna River and the Conowingo Dam

Yesterday my group and I went canoeing on the Susquehanna River in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania with Dough Levin and Stephen who was our tour guide. It was quiet an amazing trip considering we had expected fall weather, instead the sun came out and there was a cool breeze. We drove to the Susquehanna Outfitters which is owned by Steve Alephant and his good friend, Billy. They both have grow up by the river and know some really amazing things about its history and the problems it could be facing. After we had gathered what we needed for this trip, we all gathered and discussed about both the Susquehanna river but mainly about the Conowingo Dam and what’s happening to it. He gave us two different types of map that gave us an idea of where are and while looking at them, our professor – Dough – helped us understand the formation of the river and of the mountains surrounding it.

While paddling, we reached the oldest and longest railroad called Rockville Bridge which was built between 1900 and 1902. it was a beautiful sight to look, almost majestic but ancient by its old stone structure. Another bridge was suppose to be built alongside it but it never was completed, all that is left is the broke stone columns. When paddling through one of its arches, not only was it somewhat uneasy if it decided to crumble and fall upon us but also looking at where the sea level was at different times. What ensured afterward was pretty funny but also neat and that was the search of a wedding ring that was glimpsed from one of my peers. She had caught sight of it at the bottom and with a group effort, we were able to recover it. We’re not sure what we’ll be doing with it

We reached a small gravel beached island and made our resting spot there for lunch and an exciting activity. What Steve had us do was in groups of two and threes, we collected small critters from the rock bottom. I had never done this sort of exploration before and I found it to be so intriguing and fun to do. My partner and I were able to collect two crawfish, a snail, and multiple tiny organisms of which the names of them I’m not able to recall at the moment. When we had all collected our samples, Steve explained to us that just by looking at what types of organisms are living here, it is possible to figure out if the body of water is in good health, medium, or poor. He said its easy and important to do this if you want to understand your surroundings. The cool part was that he took one of our crawfish and said how to distinguish between a female and male the proceeded to hang it on his ear like a earring. Though it looked painful he said the bigger ones are so but the fellow he had didn’t have big pinchers so not so much. I was completely captivated by this activity and will be sure to do this again when I get the chance. After eating a good lunch, Dough had taken us a bit further into the island where there was evidence that something had occurred not so long ago, all the trees and brushes had dried mud covering the base and some of the branches. It was a startling look, one I had never seen before and I was very curious as to what had caused it. It turns out that there had been a recent and powerful flood that had swept through the island and smothering practically everything in its path. Huge branches and other human waste had been swept into piles by the sheer force of the flood. The height of the destruction appears to say that the flood had been 6 to 19 feet which is pretty big. I thought it was pretty amazing to figure out what kind of natural disaster happened just by looking at the evidence it left behind. A small note that must be said is before we left to paddle more was finding a bowling ball that had heart-shaped chipped into it. We named it Muriel and have taken it with us to our next destination. It appears that we have a new companion with us for the rest of the journey.

The last stretch of our trip was fantastic between play fighting amongst us, believing that a pile of tires were huge turtles, and racing to the very end. What I found to be amazing was always being able to see the bottom of the rivers throughout the entire trip. It was that clear and for the most part, the bottom was made up of different sizes of rocks from cobble to boulders. No matter how shallow or deep it was, you could still see all the way down. It was perfect weather and I had learned so much while paddling about my surroundings. As I said before, we had talked about the Conowingo Dam and what’s currently happening to it. This dam has a 14 foot long sediment buildup that is causing problems for the Chesapeake Bay and the Susquehanna River. However people downriver don’t think that they need to fix anything because they believe that nothing will work until the dam is fixed. Mostly people think that the dam will not last for long because of all the sediment but others want to take action and do something about it before it too late. It’s just that its easier to blame another party than to face one own’s problems and that is what’s going to be the biggest problem. When paddling the Susquehanna river, it seemed that there isn’t problem with it because of the clarity it had but I fear that it will get worse if there is nothing done. Doing this trip was such a great experience for me and has taught me to really observe my surroundings and continue to find ways to make an environmental problem better or solved. I can’t wait to learn more as my journey continue with my friends.

Our Different Reactions (Stalking)

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On this journey I’ve observed that there are different responses whenever people are confronting an environmental issue(s). Sometimes it’s making national parks or refugees, others are learning about the hardship with living alongside such a pressing problem, and even attending a conference where policies and methods are being discussed. All these different reactions helped me to be exposed to what people do as a community to address and fix environmental crisis that are occurring locally and globally. What is great about having these real-life moments was to discover that I had the opportunity to be apart of it all because of the program I’m in. The Chesapeake Semester and programs like it can really inspire young students to become more aware of the efforts being made to finding solution for our environment in the most interesting ways possible.

The first kind of response which I had mentioned when facing any type of environmental problem was establishing national and federal parks by the government. By doing this, it means that acres of land are preserved so that species of plants and animals can thrive in their ecological habitats. The last place that my group and I had visited on our journey was Chincoteague which has the National Wildlife Refuge. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see the preserve because the government had shut down at the time. So to make up for it we visited the barrier island of Assateague and Ocean City to learn more about the geography and future of such a tourist place. Still this preserve has a huge range of habitats that are maintained and regulated; including maritime forests, dunes, salt marshes, and freshwater. This place is well protected from any kind of destruction and prevents displacement of organisms, it is even home to the famous Chincoteague ponies. We did get to play at the beach and while there, we caught sight of the elusive ponies which was neat to see. I think it’s really important to have national parks and refugees so that people can be educated about the importance of saving the environment and it’s inhabitants.

During the journey, we traveled to Smith Island where the community there is still trying to live despite the pressing environmental issues of erosion and sea level rising. While sediments are being washed away by strong storms and boat waves, climate change has caused the water to rise and expand further inland. This island will eventually disappear completely underwater however one would never think there is a dying community as a result because of these problems. Somehow everyone there has continued to live their daily lives by adapting to the changes of the island. In fact, nothing much has changed since the first time people came to Smith Island for the crabs, oysters, and fishes. There are no more oysters and the crab population has declined but the crab-picking and packaging business is still being run, now by three families. Since the town is small; most hospital emergences, high school education, and grocery shopping is done on the main island. Even though their home isn’t going to be there in the near future, the people really want to keep the Smith Island culture alive by staying. Coming to this island helped me understand a different way of responding to an environmental crisis and that is by just trying to continue living and adapting.

One of the more unique experiences on this journey was at the beginning when I got the opportunity to attend the Alliance for the Chesapeake Watershed Forum. In this conference, 200 conservation programs were brought together and the representatives discussed the environmental crisis that the Chesapeake Bay is currently facing. Listening to what they’ve had to say and the efforts towards making a more sustainable approach to save the Bay, gave me a new point of view of how environmental problems are being addressed. One of the ideas that I really loved was using an ecological, political, and ethical approach when talking about any environmental issues. All three have significance and should be considered in the context when trying to find a solution. The speakers were trying in part to promote that being sustainable was a “cool thing” to do and that it’s very important we start now. This idea was again supported when I got to meet recently graduated student during the poster session at the end of the conference. I got to learn about their individual projects and where in their career they would like to head towards. This whole conference allowed me to discover a different way of reactions when facing environmental crisis and that was finding new ideas and policies that can reach a possible solution or more. I hope that in the future as I also help conquer the number of environmental problems we’re facing, that I can take a number of different approaches and find the most suitable answers.

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Is your life Insignificant?

“Whatever you do in life will be insignificant, but its very important that you do it.” I sometimes wonder what Gandhi meant by that. He is correct about the first part – our lives are just a blink in the long history since the creation of Earth. At some point we, as a race, will become extinct similar to any other species. It was this past week that I had felt as if I was insignificant while looking up at the Milky Way with my friends. Standing there made me realize yet again how vast this world really is, something much bigger and more complicated than I could ever know in my lifetime. It was nice though, feeling unimportant, while seeing all those brilliant stars. What confuses me is that I’m suppose to believe that whatever I do will be very important in this insignificant life. What is he saying exactly? I think whatever I do is important to me but I want it to also have a positive influence on others. For example – I know that getting an education and finding work will be very important in my life. Or that if I help my family, friends, and perhaps even strangers from the goodness of my heart – that too will be very important. Sometimes though what I do may not have any influence and could be consider insignificant. Whenever I walk into town, I always pass a spot near the busy road where it is littered with bottles, beer cans, plastic bags, etc. It makes me wonder if I picked up the trash every single day – would people notice and stop or continue to litter and ignore my efforts? It would be important to me because I’m cleaning the environment and making it a better place. However, if it goes unnoticed by others, what difference does it make if I clean up or not? This isn’t the best example but what I would hope that whatever I do such as picking up trash – that other people would want to do the same.

I’ve come to understand a bit more of what Gandhi was saying while doing this Chesapeake Semester Program. The idea is that even if my efforts to help save the Bay isn’t having any immediate effects now, there is still significance in doing what I can to help out. It may take hundreds of years before our work pays off and the Bay is restored but what is done now will have some sort of influence in the future. Being in this program has given me opportunities to really understand the environmental issues that are surrounding the Bay. I’ve learned that there are several folds to this crisis both politically and environmentally. What’s clear is that people want to blame others for the problems of the Bay instead of fixing their own. There has always been a constant debate of who owns the Bay and it’s goods – the watermen or the recreational men, the industries for fishers, crabs, and oysters or no one? People believe that God put all the crabs and oysters there for mankind to take as much as he wants however they do not realize that over-harvesting can have deadly consequences. Farming and damming also have drawbacks for the Bay among many more things, the list just continues on. What’s important is looking at the bigger picture, the Chesapeake Bay is suffering because the Chesapeake Watershed is being affected by all of these factors. Whatever happens upstream will have some sort of influence downstream. Since the beginning of this program, it’s been a real eye-opener for me to discover what the possibles are to save the Bay. The efforts and conservation programs that I’ve learned about have really inspired me to continue down this road where my efforts could someday have an impact of restoring the Bay.

I believe that this is a life lesson that can be applied anywhere and in any situation which makes it more believable that in this insignificant life – whatever I do will be very important. I’ve always had a fierce desire to save and protect nature and the animals from the destruction we do to them. The way in which we use them is horrific in most instances because we see them as instrumental for our survival instead of having intrinsic value. We have polluted the waters and atmosphere with CO2 emissions and sewage waste as well as over-extracted natural resources causing huge depletions in the environment. We do the same for animals by pushing species out of their natural habitats for the purpose of agriculture and infrastructure. Not to mention we over-harvest many populations and slaughter thousands in our poultry industries in awful conditions. Point blank, we abuse both the land and animals in cruel ways. I’m not saying everyone treats them like this, not at all, but what I am saying is that we need to be more conscious of our actions if we want to stick around for a bit longer. Whatever we do in this insignificant time lapse of our history, it’s important that we do it because there will be consequences for both the planet and ourselves.

Coastal Communities in Danger

On this journey, we learned about sea level rising in coastal communities and the implications it has for our future. I’ve heard many things about this phenomena that is truly happening but never have I fully understood the serious impact it will soon have around the world or witness a degree of it first-hand. We learned about disappearing islands from Kate Llive at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, we also watched a National Geographic video that discussed what our coastal cities will become in the next few centuries as sea level continues to rise. It revealed some options which could possibly save these cities from being completed submerged but at a costly price. Lastly, I got to witness what sea level rise is doing at Smith Island, the only remaining inhabited island near Crisfield. All of these experiences have taught me a great deal more about what is occurring and why it is rearing its ugly face now.

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We returned to the Maritime Museum to learn why islands are disappearing due to sea level rise and how it affects the culture of that place. Our speaker, Kate, is an educator at the museum and was very knowledgeable about this. She talked about three different islands – Smith Island, Holland Island, and Lower Hoppers/Barren Island. As I’ve mentioned before, Smith Island is the only one that hasn’t completely been submerged but there is evidence that it will soon. Both Hoopers and Holland Islands had been prosperous communities before disappearing however Holland Island was recently brought back using dredgers. Though it was successful it couldn’t inhabit any humans so it was left alone to become a bird sanctuary. Kate briefly mentioned about how the marshes are often loss once an island becomes part of the sea, usually because there is a flat landscape which allows mild floods to reach further inland. After hearing what Kate had to say, I was really interested to see what Smith Island was like since it will no longer be around in the near future. There were a number of ideas and question that were brought up concerning about future disappearances of landmarks. Whether it would be worth the energy and money to keep these landmarks and islands from sinking below or to let nature take them. I believe if islands and similar landmarks are going to be submerged no matter what, to let that happen and focus instead on our coastal shorelines and communities.

The next day before leaving for Smith Island, we watched the National Geographic video called “Earth Under Water.” In this documentary, it focused on the concern of how fast will our oceans rise due to global temperatures and how much of the world countries will be affected in the coming years. It duly noted that this phenomena has happened before during the last Ice Age and now it is reoccurring. It provided three different scenarios demonstrating the kind of damage if all of Antarctica and Greenland ice sheets were to melt. The first was sea level rising up to 6 ft. by the year of 2100 and what would happened to Miami, Florida. In the second example the water had risen up to 16 ft. by 2200 and both Miami, New Orleans, and the San Francisco Bay would have been completed flooded. The worst case scenario would be if sea level rose to 50 ft by the year of 2300 and by then it would overwhelm large parts of continental Europe. Places like Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, and France would all be flooded leaving some famous landmarks such as the London Bridge and Eiffel Tower standing alone. The reason why global temperatures are climbing so fast is because the CO2 emissions that we put into our atmosphere has tripled. If this continues, they could quadruple and that will seriously have a major impact on global temperatures and ultimately melting ice sheets. The cold hard truth is that the warmer global temperatures are by sprouting more emissions means that the sea level will rise quicker.

At the end of this video, there were several options to be considered as a solution to save the coastal communities from rising sea levels. Most of them would be on a massive scale which requires a huge labor force and money. Building stronger and more efficient levees/locks to create sea walls and dams would help prevent sea water from entering certain cities such as New Orleans, inner London, and even the Mediterranean Sea. Doing these projects may not always work out whether its because of financial difficulties, location, or just time limit. As a result, there will be some cities that can be saved by using these sea defenses and others that will be completely gone. The last and final option would be to create floating cities, this has already been done in the Netherlands but it could work in other places such as Manhattan, New York. The concept is to build on the water by using concrete sponges to construct the cities and districts. Once done, they will be living on top of the water without being damaged or flooded. It may be the solution for hundreds of coastal cities that will certainly be facing inundation of sea level rise.

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Taking into consideration of those options to save coastal communications, we headed to Smith Island. This place is slowly disappearing because obviously sea level rising but also due to erosion. At one time it had 800 people but now-a-days it only has 200 left and still counting down. Many families and individuals have a strong intrinsic feeling towards this Island because it has a unique culture and do not wish to part from it. However, they are slowly realizing that their livelihoods are in jeopardy if they do not move. The erosion is caused by watermen scrapping the seagrass beds from the bottom when collecting soft shelled crabs. Seagrass is really important because it keeps the island which is made up of sediment in place from being washed away by the waves. Most of the seagrass are no longer there making it easier for waves from hurricanes and storms to regularly flood the island and take away the sediment. It’s only a matter of time that the entire island and the three remaining cities will be gone.

Learning more about our oceans rising and flooding all coastal cities gives a new meaning to how serious our future could be. Billions of people will be displaced and thousands of dollars will be lost through real estate or infrastructure. The fact that sea level rising is happening is a scary concept but in many ways I don’t think it should have been such a surprise. It’s frustrating because we knew that this had happened before and we ignored all the signs that were pointing to the same outcome today. Simply put we have caused sea level to rise because we are sprouting so much CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. Until we reduce it, this catastrophe will only escalate. The fact of the matter is that we always believe that the problem will fix itself either through nature or technology. So we don’t put any efforts into making it better before it gets worse and then we are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Personally I wish we didn’t have to build massive dams or sea walls because I don’t think they are that sustainable and they cost so much to build. But I also am not fond of floating cities, that concept is hard to grasp. Eventually though we will have to make a big decision on who will stay afloat and who will sink to the bottom.

The Alliance for the Chesapeake Watershed

These last two days I attended the Alliance for the Chesapeake Watershed Conference in West Virginia with the rest of my Chesapeake Semester group. This was the 8th annual forum and held the largest congregation yet with 200 different programs of which over 430 individuals came to represent their work. This conference is held to share and discuss the efforts being made for the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay. The question always being how can the Bay be more sustainable? Alongside this continual push for conservation, it also focuses on promoting citizen stewardship, building leadership, and making strong networking amongst people. Most of the representatives are well established in their careers and very acknowledgeable about the issues surrounding the Bay. There were a few youths who are making themselves known in the environmental business, however, we had been the youngest group attending.

Throughout the two days, I listened to several different tracks which focus on a specific topic. Within each session there had been 2 to 3 speakers talking about their program and what it does to hep the Bay. Of these few sessions that I gone to had some really interesting facts about healthy watersheds or improving water quality using efficient data monitoring systems. Each ranged from discussing critical issues of the watershed or fish population while others focused on marketing or policies. While only a few were really interesting to hear, there was an overriding feeling of a huge gap between my knowledge about certain fields and the speaker’s knowledge. It was difficult at times to understand any of what the speaker was saying and it’s because they are expecting to address an audience who have a higher education than us. We are just college students who are not familiar extensively with any or all fields that these speakers know about. However the few things that I did understand were just as fascinating to hear from them.

There had been a few discussions that really resonated with me and those were the two opening plenaries and how to have effective communication. Yesterday there was a panel with three speakers and they informed us that global warming is a real phenomenon that was caused by human doings. They used three distinct questions to base their discussion on and that was how climate change is likely to alter the ecological, political, and the moral/ethical context of the bay restoration. All three I feel have relevance to how we are approaching the problems we’re currently facing not only in this conference but also in our program. We are using this semester to learn about the ecology of the Bay and the different parties that are affecting it in either a good or bad way. To do this, I think we have to use all three parts to figure out the whole picture and come up with a solution. Though they were using these three factors mainly for climate change and the Bay restoration, they should be part of any kind of discussion such as global problems or policies. The other session that I listened to and which I think also has relevance to our program was effective communication: words that matter. It was here that I learned more about how to become a good storyteller whenever I want to “sell” something (a project, idea, program, etc.) to an audience. It was amazing how specific certain things were such as what you say and how you would convey it meaningful to the listeners. If you want to make a good speech then you have to want the audience to believe in what you are saying and future more participle and share with others afterward. If we could use these techniques for our program whenever we are representing ourselves during our journeys. I think it would also help when networking in the future.

At the end of this conference, I thoroughly enjoyed attending the poster session in the evening where I was able to meet a great number of the youths sharing their different projects. Some of these were Washington College graduates, everyone I met were very friendly and had amazing projects. There was one project about having floating wetlands in the Baltimore harbor, another was reusing vacant lots to plant trees and build mini parks, while others talked more about environmental education for younger kids. It was neat listening to their stories and what made them inspired to do such projects as these, they were passionate and eager to share with other professionals and us. It made me inspired to find such a project that could help save the environment and become more sustainable. Coming to this conference was such an eye-opener for me, to be able to sit in the same room with professional who are working directly on the issues of the Chesapeake Bay was something incredible to me. I definitely would love to come back next year to meet and network with others, and perhaps contribute a new idea or project as well. It’s been an fantastic time and I hope to continue finding new ways to save the Bay and environment as my semester goes on.