Archive for July 2015 | Monthly archive page

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By Tamara Toles O’Laughlin

As an urban environmentalist, I often find myself engaged in a hyper-conscious balancing act where I strive to prioritize meta issues of ecological import with the growing demands of the built environment. It requires a melding of world views and a mindful way of seeing, which mirrors the topography of any major city, layers upon layers of organic matter organized into neat and surreal spaces by use and design.  It’s a constant deconstruction of norms and assumptions in the service of holistic life.  Today, I’m curious about bees and what their survival means for the concrete nooks I call home.

Why should you care about pollinator protection?

The news is flush with information on the decline of bee colonies. Bees are dying off at an alarming rate thanks in no small part to insecticides and fungicides used on plants to prevent crop losses.  In particular, there is evidence that chemicals applied to signature US crops of modern American diet are linked to bee colony collapse.

What’s the big deal with bees?

bee-in-sweetpeaBees aren’t just the scourge of allergy allegory or the worry of weekend trips to sandy and grassy spaces. Bees are a landmark species. They are a marker of ecological health and an essential link in the food chain. Bees support hundreds of thousands of flowering plants through pollination and increase the yields of over ninety crops including but not limited to apples, blueberries, and cucumbers. Bee pollination forms the basis of growth for plants that quite literally provide us with lifesaving medicines. They cross-fertilize to give us a third of everything we eat.  Bees are the invisible engine of our agricultural system, which makes them kind of a big deal.

Predictions

The threat of a world without bees isn’t an abstract danger. A loss of wild and domestic bee colonies would affect the diversity and availability of foods available to the world population of roughly seven billion humans, which would feature approximately fifty percent of the fruit, vegetable, and agricultural food stores it now possesses. In short, what happens to them happens to us. Bees die off due to mass infections, susceptibility to poor nutrition, and illness from chemical exposure, and we do the same.

Responses and Solutions

Despite the bleak and dire forecast there are some plans in the works to address this issue and develop strategies to promote health of honeybees and other pollinators.  Our government is looking at the effects of large scale agricultural operations and related federal activities through the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs. In collaboration with public and private partners EPA has developed a proposal to protect bees, bats, and monarch butterflies which aims to reduce colony losses over the next ten years and restore or enhance lands for pollination.

albina-34431284019348nlf4In particular, the EPA Plan looks to mitigate losses by focusing on commercial pollination through label restrictions which warn of effects, and pesticide application engagement programs which are administered through managed pollination protection plans aimed at farmers and food growers.  These plans focus on the operational relationships between beekeepers and landowners who work together when bees are brought onto big farms to pollinate commercially (raise your hand if you knew they did that!) where pesticides have been applied.

EPA’s plans for mitigation are designed to better assess risk to pollinators, reduce potential risk from toxics, engage state and tribal partners, and expedite review of the managed plans.

What can you do to help the bees?

This effort will take more than federal interagency input and cooperation. The EPA is looking for public comments on its plan.  In fact, the public comment period was recently extended to July 29, 2015, from the original closing date of May 29, 2015. So, Ecowomen take a look at the plan and submit comments on the overall proposal, make your voice heard on landowner and beekeeper local agreements, and ways to evaluate plans effectiveness to reduce risks to bees. Additionally, the EPA needs more information on systemic pesticides, microbial pesticides before it advises on label changes on the affected chemicals by 2016.

Additionally, if you too are an urban environmentalist you can do a few things in your local community to support pollination. On your next trip to the farmer’s market support and purchase honey from your local bee man or woman.  At home, you can make your green space, yard or terrace and pots friendlier to bees by planting rosemary, and flowering plants such as the Black Eyed Susan, and avoid using pesticides to grow them during the warmer months. And if you are really feeling the call to action call upon your local government, council or representative to push for wholesale bans of toxic chemical applications in your local, municipal gardens and greenspaces.

Tamara is an environmental advocate focused on social and environmental justice issues. She holds degrees from The City College, City University of New York and Vermont Law School.  Tamara has been a DC EcoWomen Board Member on the Professional Development Team since August 2014. Her hobbies include reading boring books about politics and neuroscience, writing diatribes about what she reads,  travel, and yoga. 

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By Meg Hathaway

Hello Ladies!  Everyone knows that the best way to keep cool in the summer is to head for the water.  This year I decided to up my game and become a certified SCUBA diver.  It’s a lot of fun, and I hope to see some of you soon under the sea!

First of all, no, you won’t have to go diving in the Potomac.  It would be dangerous with all the boat traffic, and there’s too much sediment to see clearly down there anyway.  Dive shops in the DC area have arrangements with hotel, university, or rec center pools where you will do your initial training.  For your final certification dives, you can use a local quarry (that’s what I did), or get referral paperwork and fly to the exotic SCUBA destination of your choice.

There are three basic steps to becoming certified as an open water diver, or entry-level SCUBA diver.  In addition to completing four “confined water” (i.e., pool) dives and four open water dives, you’ll also need to do some reading and pass a written exam.  Most people do the pool work over one weekend, and the open water dives over a separate weekend or on an upcoming vacation.  Your dive shop will walk you through the process.  How do you choose a dive shop?  Google it, and trust me on this, pay close attention to the Yelp reviews.  I won’t name names, but there is one local dive shop in DC that has a reputation for pushing beginners to buy way more gear than they need.  I went to a meet-and-greet at that place and promptly made plans to do my training elsewhere.

That said, there’s no getting around the reality that you’ll need some start-up cash to get into diving.  You’ll be expected to buy your own “personal gear” prior to taking an intro to SCUBA class, which includes your mask, snorkel, fins, and special booties designed to be worn with the fins (like socks).  I wear glasses, so I paid extra to get a SCUBA mask with prescription lenses.  It is awesome!  Contacts also work with SCUBA masks, but be forewarned that a required emergency skill in SCUBA class is how to remove and replace your mask underwater.  This is a prime opportunity for your contacts to wash away, which stinks because you need to see clearly in order to read your gauges.  Bring extra contacts if you decide to go that route.  One final note on gear – the SCUBA community is very good about accommodating people with different needs.  Divers with limited or no leg mobility, for instance, can propel themselves with special underwater scooters or webbed gloves instead of fins.

If you aren’t sure SCUBA is for you, I highly recommend signing up for a Discover SCUBA session before you commit to a full introductory class.  In Discover SCUBA, you pay around $80 to spend a few hours in a pool learning the very basics of SCUBA, all gear included.  Some dive shops will credit the price of the Discover SCUBA session towards an intro class if you decide to continue.  This is the route I went.  For me it worked perfectly because I was able to spend my Discover SCUBA time getting over the initial weirdness of breathing under water, then pay closer attention later on during my Introduction to SCUBA sessions.

What will you do in an introductory SCUBA class?  You’ll familiarize yourself with how to set-up and break down your gear; stuff yourself awkwardly into a wetsuit; jump in; work on the proper techniques for diving, swimming, and ascending; and then run through how to handle various emergency situations.  A few key points will be drilled into your head.  There’s the cardinal rule of “just keep breathing!” which seems incredibly obvious until you get distracted fiddling with all your gear underwater.  There’s also the importance of safety and the buddy system.  The person next to you in the water is your auxiliary air supply if anything goes wrong, so it’s in both your interests to be respectful and stay close.  Your buddy is also there to help you plan a dive that you both agree will be interesting yet safe, double-check that your equipment is rigged properly before entering the water, and of course, be there back above water to verify your wild tales about all the cool things you saw.

For me, SCUBA diving so far has been a great experience because it pushed me out of my comfort zone, taught me new skills, and opened up new possibilities for places I can see around the world.  I’m just starting out with diving, but ultimately I’d love to go on a conservation mission-based SCUBA dive trip.  There are programs out there where you can help scientists photograph and track marine life, capture invasive lionfish, or rebuild coral reefs by hand.  How amazing is that?

Meg Hathaway is a Chemical Review Manager for the Office of Pesticide Programs in the US Environmental Protection Agency. She enjoys contra and swing dancing, studying international environmental policy, flipping merchandise online, and telling herself she practices guitar every day. She’s also on the DC EcoWomen executive board. 

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By Robin Garcia

Last month I attended Capitol Hill Ocean Week (CHOW) – a three-day conference hosted by the National Marine Sanctuaries Foundation (NMSF) where hundreds of people from various levels of government, nonprofits, the business sector, and Capitol Hill come together to discuss marine and aquatic policy issues. NMSF also holds an annual Ocean Awards Gala in conjunction with CHOW to recognize leaders with a commitment to a healthy ocean. With my background in marine biology, current position in science communication, and interest in environmental policy, I could not pass up the opportunity to experience such a meeting.

"Changing Maritime Commerce Space: The Direction of U.S. Shipping" panel.

“Changing Maritime Commerce Space: The Direction of U.S. Shipping” panel.

While I felt very much at home in the audience among women my age, I couldn’t help but notice that there were few women – literally – to look up to on the panel platform. Women are increasingly participating in the marine science workforce and in academia: my own graduate program is mostly female. But no one could figure that out by looking at the panelists. Women made up only 30% of the panels, and 35% of them served as panel moderators instead of panelists. CHOW’s online OceansLIVE sessions were marginally better with 55% female representation, yet like the panels managed to include a session featuring only men. Women as a whole were underrepresented, but women of color were frightfully scarce. CHOW included only three women of color throughout the entire week. Women were similarly misrepresented at the Ocean Awards Gala. Of the four individuals that were presented with a top award, one was a woman – Laura Bush, who was awarded the Leadership Award in partnership with former President George W. Bush.

"Commanders of the Sea: Women Leading the Way in Ocean Stewardship" OceansLIVE session.

“Commanders of the Sea: Women Leading the Way in Ocean Stewardship” OceansLIVE session.

There were one specific situation in which women were front and center. The last OceansLIVE session was “Commanders of the Sea: Women Leading the Way in Ocean Stewardship”. The session featured women from high school to well-established in her career, and explored the roles that women have played in ocean leadership and stewardship. It is worth noting that while the gender representation in CHOW was similar last year, this session was a clear effort to increase recognition of women in the field.

Overall, CHOW was a wonderful experience. There were lively discussions on topics ranging from sustainable seafood, to collaborative marine conservation with Cuba, to what the American youth think of the future. It was exhilarating to hear the passion behind comments such as “We must accept the science” from a senator and “I am sick and tired of pervasive myths about aquaculture in this country” from a university professor. The material was engaging and exciting, and I hope that CHOW builds upon this year’s efforts and continues to support women in marine and aquatic fields, specifically by inviting more female panelists. There is a wealth of female environmental champions on Capitol Hill to engage with during a future CHOW, including Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, Rep. Nita Lowey of New York, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, and Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio. There are many female scientists that could contribute to CHOW, including Nancy Knowlton, the Sant Chair for Marine Science at the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History; Jackie Savitz, the Vice President for U.S. Oceans at Oceana; Deborah Lee, Director of NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory; and Kimberly Reece, Department Chair of Aquatic Health Sciences at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. These lists are of course not all-inclusive, but they would be an excellent place to start.

Dr. Dionne Hoskins with a group of Savannah State University students at NOAA's 2014 Education and Science Forum.

Dr. Dionne Hoskins with a group of Savannah State University students at NOAA’s 2014 Education and Science Forum.

I would also like to see more diversity in the panelists, for both women and men. Female marine biologists of color that could be featured during CHOW include Dionne Hoskins, a fishery biologist at NOAA Fisheries’ Galveston Laboratory and an Associate Professor at Savannah State University; Danni Washington, Founder of The Big Blue and You; and Shuyi Chen, Professor of Meteorology and Physical Oceanography at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. The need to increase diversity in the marine science community could also be a topic for discussion at a future CHOW and has been addressed by some of these women.

CHOW must remain on the cutting edge of the scientific and social implications of marine and aquatic issues in order to remain relevant to Capitol Hill and to the nation. Over half of the U.S. population is female. The Hispanic population has increased by over 40% in ten years, and U.S. citizens of color support environmental protection at a higher rate than Caucasian citizens. It is time for CHOW to reflect those trends. Next year’s CHOW has already been scheduled for June 7-9, 2016, and I will definitely be attending again and looking to see whether NMSF increases its encouragement of women in this important discussion.

Robin is a Communication Specialist at NOAA and a DC EcoWomen board member. A DC native, she enjoys exploring her hometown, developing her yoga skills, and getting out on the water as much as possible. She is also waiting to see what Shark Week replaces Megaladon with this year.