CERFing the West Coast!

TIDES students (Natasha, Will, Cristina, Abbie, and Christos) are concluding their internships with National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) sites around the country. They are also beginning to share their work with scientists and professionals from all over the world. Last week, Natasha (Natallia) Leuchanka (Chesapeake Bay NERR) and Cristina Bourassa (Tijuana River NERR) had the honor of sharing their research, experiences, and collaborative projects at the 22nd Biennial Conference of the Coastal Estuarine and Research Federation (CERF) in San Diego, California.

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Getting to change: from dumping grounds to prized possessions

This string of lateral pilings once supported a sewage pipe.

This string of lateral pilings once supported a sewage pipe.

When you’re standing in the middle of the salt marsh at the Tijuana River Estuary Research Reserve (TRNERR), aside from remaining wooden support pilings, it’s hard to believe that a sewage pipe once disposed city waste here. Like most wetlands, the Tijuana River Estuary was not always considered important. Reserve staff work together with California State Parks and the Southwest Wetlands Interpretive Association to continuously restore, enhance, and preserve the estuary. Today the region is preserved as a National Wildlife Refuge, a State Park, and a national estuary of importance through the National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS).

path1The NERRS approach restoration through a blend of scientific research, practitioner training, education, and stewardship; these are expressed through core sectors that exist at every reserve. What’s really interesting about the diversity of reserves around the country is that  sectors have opportunities to work together differently, drawing from each other’s expertise. Sometimes, I think of these engagements as mini-collaborative projects.

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Happy National Estuaries Day!

IMG_0204This Saturday September 28th is National Estuaries Day; a day dedicated to promoting the importance of estuaries and the need to protect them. You may be asking yourself, “what exactly is an estuary anyway?”. Many of us have heard the term but might not know exactly what makes an area an estuary. An estuary is defined as a partially enclosed body of water where two different bodies of water meet and mix. More simply, estuaries are where rivers meet the sea. They are some of the most productive habitats on the planet and support a vast range of plants and animals from vegetation that protects our shorelines against storms to the striped bass on your dinner plate.

There are a number of events going on this weekend across the country in celebration of National Estuaries Day (click here to find an event near you). So no matter where you are, from California to Texas to New Hampshire, get outdoors this Saturday and explore all that your local estuary has to offer!


Can the grass be greener on both sides of the fence?

Unstable sediment migrates during heavy rains, yet in Tijuana, these lands accommodate homes and townships.

The role of sediment is different depending where you are in the watershed. (Photo: Colonia De San Bernardo Project)

And by fence, I mean the border fence separating Mexico from the United States. Within the my first week in New Hampshire, I quickly learned about two natural resource management issues that nearly every one was aware of: excess nutrients and wastewater. Within one day at the Tijuana River NERR, the buzz terms became “sediment” and “trash”; two critical components in an already dynamic system. Complex environmental issues in Southern California are shaped by land uses and management practices on both sides of the border, thus it is important to understand how and why these systems work to take care of them the best we can. Continue reading

Rise of the Dead, Concerns of the Living

Imagine watching your grandparents’ house disappear into the sea… Imagine witnessing the graves of your ancestors excavated from the earth by powers of ocean currents, coastal storms, and rising sea levels… Imagine wondering if your house will still be there when the next storm hits… wondering if your family should abandon this place that you call home. Such has been the case in more than a few Chesapeake Bay coastal communities.

Last house falls on Holland Island. Photo by: Shawn Ridgely of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Last house falls on Holland Island. Photo by: Shawn Ridgely of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

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The Sahara Desert Visits Texas

Dust from the Sahara Desert caused hazy skies in coastal Texas during the beginning of August.

Hazy skies envelop Port Aransas in early August as a tanker waits just offshore for its turn to travel through the Port Aransas Ship Channel. The haze is the result of the Saharan Air Layer which carries dust from the Sahara Desert across the Atlantic Ocean.

Last week, the air in Port Aransas was noticeably hazier than it has been since I arrived here in early June. I assumed that it was just typical haze from the Gulf of Mexico or perhaps the result of prescribed burning or air pollution. However, what I was seeing was far from the usual coastal haze; it was dust all the way from Northern Africa’s Sahara Desert.

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“Litmus Paper of the Environment” – Thank an Osprey

 Ever wonder why scientists do what they do? Why is it that a scientist will study one species of ants in the middle of a dense tropical rain forest, spend all of his/her career looking at how much light certain types of leaves reflect, collect soil samples from a remote swamp, excavate the Earth in search for ancient artifacts, or search for extraterrestrial life in other solar systems?

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No-Sky July

California: Palm trees, sun, beach, fish tacos, more sun and more tacos. However, California offers much more than its seemingly endless number of sunny days. New San Diegans (as the locals are called) might find themselves surprised by a fairly consistent foggy morning and say, “I thought California was always sunny”? You’ll hear people say, “It will burn off” and be a little suspicious when they’re right, every time. Eventually a true local will tell you that this fog, which you’ve perceived, until now as a beach buzz-kill, is actually called marine fog or the marine layer.

The Marine Layer hovers above freeway 5 enroute to Carlsbad, CA

The Marine Layer hovers above freeway 5 en route to Carlsbad, CA

The marine layer is not as peculiar as it sounds, despite the flat and uniform blanket it casts upon land and the blue sky that is just out of reach. Normally, fog would form as cool surface water rises into warmer air, expanding, cooling and eventually condensing to form a humid fog.

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Estuaries as Special Places

How many of you had a meaningful experience in the outdoors when you were a child? I am talking about an experience that may have impacted you in a way like no other… an experience that changed the way you view the environment and the world around you.

Maybe you grew up in a place where the natural world is in harmony with human development, or to the contrary, where outdoor scenery is a mere media experience. Whatever the case, many of us may have had a time where a parent, a teacher, or a friend familiarized us with a special experience in the midst of nature’s wonders.

You may have grown to become intimate with the natural world and its astonishments. You may have even grown to establish a career in the field of natural resources and the environment. Even if you are establishing or have established your career in a field that is not directly affiliated with the environment, you may still have an appreciation for its serenity, diversity, and its ingenious, panoramic landscapes.

Whoever it was that has had this impact on you played a role in helping you become a steward of our planet. You may remember my Field Day at Jug Bay post from a few weeks ago, where I played a small role in assisting with the Data and the Estuary Professional Development Workshop. Last week, I was lucky enough to witness this event, where middle school and high school teachers collaborated with each other, as well as governmental and non-governmental agencies in Maryland, to bring meaningful experiences to school children. Take a look at the video below to get a synopsis of how through this workshop, teachers were enabled to teach future stewards about the special places of our estuaries and their waterways.

On the Bays of the Mission-Aransas NERR

Mesquite Bay

Mesquite Bay, Texas

This past week, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to assist Rae, Shanna, and Joe, three of the Mission-Aransas research assistants, in the field with work related to the System-Wide Monitoring Program (SWMP). SWMP is a monitoring program that focuses on water quality monitoring, biological monitoring, and mapping of habitats and is in place at all of the National Estuarine Research Reserves. The program generates long-term data that is made publicly available in real-time for use by a range of people including researchers, decision-makers, and students. The Mission-Aransas NERR has five SWMP stations located throughout the Reserve.

A Mission-Aransas researcher changes data sensors at one of the SWMP stations in the Reserve.

A Mission-Aransas researcher changes data sensors at one of the SWMP stations in the Reserve.

Our day in the field began bright and early as we loaded equipment onto a boat to prepare for the “SWMP trip”. As we left the dock and headed out to the first SWMP station in Aransas Bay, I was excited for my first look of the Texas bays that make up a portion of the 185,708 acre Reserve.  The day brought beautiful scenery of the Aransas, Copano, and Mesquite Bays as well as a variety of wildlife including brown pelicans, bottlenose dolphins, moon jellies, herons, and egrets. As the Texas sun beat down on us and the day went from hot to hotter, we traveled by boat to each of the SWMP stations to change data sensors, monitor water quality, and conduct zooplankton tows. Data that is collected on trips such as this one, and from the Reserve SWMP stations, are so important because they allow changes in Reserve conditions to be tracked over both short-term and long-term time scales. This information can then be used to inform decisions and policies that relate to land use and natural resources in Texas and throughout the country.