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By Cara Blumenthal

You just finished lunch at your favorite salad hotspot. You get up from the table, gather the plastic bowl and lid, plastic fork and knife, and flexible plastic packaging (that previously packaged the fork and knife) and head over to the trash and recycling bins. Quick! What do you do? Do you stand there, for longer than you are proud of, contemplating into which bin to sort your waste? Perhaps you use some haphazard decision-making process that draws on hearsay and a recent conversation among your coworkers about what is and is not recyclable? If so, welcome to the club.

As an avid recycler, I am often the person to whom my family and friends turn to ask the question, “Can this be recycled?” I am the first to admit, however, that I don’t always know the answers. Recycling rules can be outright confusing. What constitutes narrow-neck versus wide-mouth? What do the plastic identification numbers 1 through 7 mean? To complicate the matter, recycling dos and don’ts vary widely from place to place depending on regulations and the capabilities of the local recycling facility, among other factors.

unnamedBut following recycling rules may be more important now than ever. Recently, the news has been littered (pun intended) with articles about the financial struggles of the recycling industry. A medley of recent trends have contributed to the recycling industry’s crisis—including declining oil prices, low commodity prices of recycled materials, a changing waste stream (most notably “lightweighting” of materials), a quickening trend toward single-stream recycling, and increasing processing costs.

At the same time, there has been a noticeable increase in interest around waste over the past few years. Some trending waste and recycling news stories include Adidas’ sneakers made from recycled ocean plastic and a spike in interest around outrageous food waste statistics. Moreover, an increasing number of cities (including Washington, D.C.) and corporations (such as Procter & Gamble and Sears) are committing to zero waste goals. These zero waste goals should be pursued through waste reduction and reuse first, but they will be achieved largely based on the success of recycling initiatives.

So what can the average citizen do? According to the June 20, 2015 Washington Post article on recycling, one of the biggest challenges with recycling in DC is the problem of “contamination.” Contamination is a somewhat jargony term used in the waste industry when non-recyclable material is sorted incorrectly with recyclable material. When this happens, it can degrade the value of the entire recycling stream, or worse, it can render the entire batch of recycling non-recyclable. In other words, contamination can cause your recycling to end up in a landfill or, for the majority of DC’s waste, to be sent to an incinerator.

To echo the letter to the editor response to The Washington Post’s June 2015 article, consistent messaging and education are needed to solve this problem. Explaining “the why” of correct recycling sorting is a crucial component of this much-needed educational process. People should not just be told what to do and what not to do when sorting their waste. People should be told the reason behind these actions.

Paper_recycling_in_Ponte_a_SerraglioTake for example the recycling of plastic bags. According to the D.C. Department of Public Works (DPW), plastic bags can be included in your residential recycling—with a very important caveat. The DPW website states, “Please put your plastic bags into one plastic bag then place it in your recycling container.” However, there is no mention of the reason why this request is made. (Pssst! The reason is that single plastic bags clog and tangle around the recycling equipment!)

A quick Google search revealed good examples of simple educational tools that municipalities and waste companies have used to educate the public of “the why” in order to influence recycling behavior. Clark County, Washington, for instance, has this simple one-pager with pictures and arrows to show why plastic bags are not allowed in the county’s recycling carts. Similarly, the city of St. Louis, Missouri has an entire webpage dedicated to the details about why plastic bags are not accepted in its recycling stream and tips to reduce plastic bag use.

Simple fliers, websites, videos and other educational tools will be vital to decreasing contamination and supporting the success of recycling in D.C. The recycling industry has the potential to contribute to the D.C. economy through revenue from material sales and job creation in addition to contributing to a cleaner environment and saving natural resources. Let’s give the recycling industry a fighting chance once more. Let’s both educate ourselves and call on our local government to educate us about “the why” so that we have the tools and knowledge to recycle right.

Cara Blumenthal is a graduate from the Masters in Sustainability Management program at American University. She recently started working for the D.C. Department of General Services on recycling and waste management implementation.

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By Sonia Abdulbaki

Science is often regarded in mainstream culture as cold and calculating, a subject unappealing to the majority because it is challenging and incomprehensible to the average Joe. On the contrary, science is far from being cold (and quite literally too, demonstrated from subjects like global warming.) Science holds meaningful equations to the many wonders of the world that are overlooked because of their complexities. It is also an essential tool to our everyday lives and effects our progression, health and safety.

Communicating science to the public is a difficult but imperative task. Every discipline has its jargon, but science is immersed in a technically complicated one that the general public cannot understand without further simplification. The key to communicating and improving the rapport between science and the public lies with journalists, scientists, education and entertainment.

World Science Festival

Forest Day Panel

Media Matters. One of the key players in helping the public understand science is the media. They are the most immediate and general source of information given on a largely public scale, be it local, national and global. Journalists’ job is to speak to the scientists for us and then break it down in simplified, every day English.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, journalists expressed four barriers in interviewing agency scientists:

  • Journalists need a required preapproval
  • Interviews are often denied
  • If interviews are allowed, they are closely monitored
  • Difficult questions are avoided, preventing journalists from obtaining a better understanding of the subject matter.

Another obstacle includes the oversimplification of certain topics, losing the details or bigger picture of the study in the process.

Let the Scientists Talk to Us. A difficulty of communication between scientists and the media can be tackled by the direct communication of scientists to the public. This can produce a doorway to important studies and give the masses and journalists a sense of inclusion that will help overcome the barrier. A facilitation of talks through forums, conferences, festivals and podcasts are always an effective way to reach out to the public, such as with The World Science Festival and The Green Festival. These types of events produce interactive and first hand experiences through simplified language.

Being a part of something means understanding it more and at these sessions, scientists are able to create a relationship with their audience, putting a face to important subject matters. This can also increase awareness, level of importance in the minds of the public and therefore increase the chances for funding projects.

World Science Festival

World Science Festival

Educate Me. Everything starts with education and there is a need for a stronger approach to science education. According to the Pew Research Center, “an overwhelming majority of scientists see the public’s limited scientific knowledge as a problem for science”. And although the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the public share views about the positive effects of science in America, there are conflicting differences in the views on scientific concepts.

Education means scientists can learn the basics of humanities and communication, and vice versa. Science is an important factor in making informed decisions, such as with fossil fuel emission or alternative energy sources yet the level of public attention and acceptance of science depends on communication.  According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, some techniques to help improve the process is to teach communication in basic science, apply coursework through real-world practice and train in oral communication.

The Enchantment of Entertainment. Psychological thrillers and natural disaster movies are always a public fascination, proving their worth with box office numbers. Other movie genres that take the stage include science fiction – classics like Star Wars and Star Trek among them, and the more recent epic, Interstellar. Notably popular science-related entertainment includes The Big Bang Theory and childhood favorites like Bill Nye the Science Guy, The Magic School Bus and the Osmosis Jones movie. The Newsroom did well on one episode by presenting environmental facts and giving it an entertainment value with the Environmental Protection Agency spokesperson’s glum disposition.

Although science fiction doesn’t prove to be scientifically accurate, further discussion of a film or show’s scientific value can pave the way for a greater distribution of information through the media. Additionally, celebrities are impactful and can be used for advocacy. A wonderful example of this is with the Nature is Speaking initiative organized by Conservation International with a series of short films voiced by A-list celebrities like Julia Roberts and Harrison Ford.

There is no easier way to learn the alphabet than through a tune and the same holds true for science and the public. If communicating certain concepts, even through fiction, can be understood in an enjoyable and personal way, audiences will be hooked.

Sonia Abdulbaki is a Freelance Writer and Communications Specialist with experience in the environmental and hospitality industries. She is currently a contributing writer for Business Traveler magazine, National Wetlands Newsletter and contributing editor for MovieswithMae.com.

posted by | on , , , , | Comments Off on Why Should You Care about Pollinator Protection?

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. 

posted by | on , | Comments Off on Be Wary of Chemical Safety “Reform”

By Brianna Knoppow

It’s a curious thing that only after Senator Frank Lautenberg died did his life’s work – to enact chemical reform legislation – finally start to pick up momentum. The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (S. 647) was introduced in March of 2015 and is ostensibly meant to modernize the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The TSCA is so toothless that of the approximately 85,000 chemicals produced, the EPA has tested 200 chemicals, banning only five. Though Lautenberg worked for more than a decade to make chemical reform a reality, only recently have Congress members worked to make TSCA reform a priority. With a record 40 co-sponsors, one might initially assume that the bipartisan bill really is designed to protect Americans from the most harmful of chemicals.

Remember the Healthy Forest Initiative of 2003, a giveaway to the timber industry? Or the proposed Clear Skies Act of 2003 – which was really an attack on the Clean Air Act? Naming S. 647 a “Chemical Safety” bill is likewise disingenuous.

For many proposed bills, compromises must be made, but occasionally the compromises deviate the bill so far from its original intent that passage may do more harm than good. There are a few major issues that need to be resolved in S. 647:

  • unnamedCurrently states are the leaders in the realm of chemical regulation, having adopted laws and regulations that restrict the sale or use of products containing harmful chemicals. Minnesota just passed a bill restricting certain flame retardants. Maine is phasing out BPA in baby bottles. Iowa restricts the use of mercury-containing thermostats. According to a joint statement by the attorneys general of New York, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Oregon and Washington, “ In contrast to the existing law, S. 647 would prevent states from adopting new laws or regulations, or taking other administrative action.”
  • Though it makes sense from an industry perspective to have to adapt one’s products to regulations that are uniform throughout the country, the bill has the potential to bar states from creating or implementing new regulations if the EPA is studying a chemical or even considering regulating it. There could be years in which the EPA is studying the chemical and no state is permitted to regulate it. It’s easy to see where the chemical industry support of the bill came from.
  • With monumental cuts to EPA it’s unlikely the agency will have the staff or resources to conduct studies within the proposed deadlines. Though S. 647 allows the EPA to collect industry fees, these fees are up to a cap, rather than until the work is done and the studies are complete.
  • The chosen chemicals. EPA would be required to create a list of ‘low priority’ chemicals, which will then be barred from undergoing a full evaluation. Additionally, with an ‘industry request’ policy, industry – not the EPA – has the power to determine the majority of chemicals the agency evaluates. Industry probably won’t be basing its decision by which chemicals pose the greatest threat to human health.

CongressWho supports S. 647? Republicans and a plethora of moderate democrats. As for environmental stalwarts, Senator Barbara Boxer came up with a competing bill of her own that includes stricter standards for chemical safety evaluations. So far though, it has not been given the light of day. The House also has a proposed bill of its own. As for S. 647, until it addresses the above concerns and is in the spirit of Senator Lautenberg’s tireless work to protect public health, the “Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act” is not worthy of Lautenberg’s name…or passage.

To summarize the three proposed TSCA reform bills:

Bill name Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (S. 647) TSCA Modernization Act of 2015 (H.R. 2576) Alan Reinstein and Trevor Schaefer Toxic Chemical Protection Act (S. 725)
Main bill sponsor Sen. Udall, Tom [D-NM] Rep. Shimkus, John [R-IL] Sen. Boxer, Barbara [D-CA]
Co-sponsor count 40 (21 R, 19 D) 16 (8 R, 8 D) 5 (4 D, 1 I)
Funding Fees, with a cap Appropriations Industry would be required to provide the funding necessary to do timely safety reviews.
Number of chemicals reviewed Gives EPA up to five years to start safety reviews of 25 chemicals and would allow the agency up to seven years to assess each one. EPA will initiate 10 assessments per year. Start evaluating 75 chemicals within five years and would allow only up to six years for each one.

Brianna Knoppow works in the environmental field in D.C. and enjoys biking, kayaking, and foraging for wild mushrooms. She has an M.S. in Environmental Science & Policy.

posted by | on , | Comments Off on A New Hope for the World’s Coral Reefs

By Sodavy Ou

Over the years, scientists have released countless research results demonstrating the detrimental impacts of increased temperature and atmospheric CO2 on coral reefs that serve as important habitats to numerous marine organisms. These scientific results show that there is much to be done if the international community wants to avoid a 2° C or a 35.6° F increase in the Earth temperature—a threshold at which global warming is irreversible. Already, we have seen major declines in coral coverage in numerous parts of the oceans. For instance, scientists have recorded major declines in coral coverages in the Great Barrier Reef due to increased temperatures and ocean acidification, a process that results from increased atmospheric CO2. However, among these disheartening stories there are a few encouraging stories of corals adapting to the effects of global warming. The telling of these stories, however few, is important in order to fuel and continue the efforts to mitigate the effects of global warming.

Chromis_reef_fish_and_staghorn_coral_underwater_scenicIn the beautiful waters of Florida, global warming has caused populations of Staghorn coral—once found widely throughout South Florida and the Caribbean—to rapidly decrease. In fact, only 2% of the original Staghorn coral population remains in the Florida Reef Tract. However, a study from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science demonstrates that Staghorn corals can withstand decalcification and increasing ocean temperatures when dietary supplements—made of dried zooplankton power—are provided. This supplemental diet increases coral feeding rates, allowing coral to store more energy reserves and mitigate the detrimental effects of ocean acidification and increased temperatures. The results of this study can be implemented into the management of marine protected areas where Staghorn corals are abundant in order to effectively manage this important population of coral reef.

Another study by the ARC Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies also demonstrates that Staghorn corals are capable of adapting to ocean acidification. This study found that over a relative short period—approximately 9 days—juvenile Staghorn corals can acclimate to a doubling of atmospheric CO2 level and can re-adjust their gene expression to pre-exposure levels. However, this study only tested one stressor, ocean acidification. Still, it is refreshing to know that some corals are capable of adapting to some of the changing ocean conditions.

Red_mangrove_trees_rhizophora_mangle_growing_close_togetherCoral reefs are ecosystems that provide refuge for numerous marine organisms. Yet a recent study by the US Geological Survey shows that corals are seeking refuge themselves to escape the negative impacts of rapidly changing ocean conditions. The study found more than 30 species of corals have found refuge within the red mangroves of the US Virgin Islands. Mangroves are subtropical and tropical tresses that inhabit coastlines and brackish waters. The root systems of mangroves extend toward the seafloor. These systems serve as a perfect sanctuary for corals by providing them with shade from high levels of solar radiation and coral bleaching. In addition, mangroves keep acidity in the surrounding waters below harmful levels, allowing corals to grow on and under their root systems.

Despite these encouraging studies, there are some species of coral that are struggling to survive as the oceans become more acidic and warmer. The composition of the world coral reefs may look very different in the future. Nevertheless, since corals provide important habitats to countless marine organisms, it is promising to know that some of these corals can continue to serve our oceans. In the end, these promising results will only remain if we continue to address global warming with innovative plans and actions.

Sodavy Ou was born in Cambodia and grew up in southern California. She received her BA in Environmental Studies with an emphasis in Biology at UC Santa Cruz. She will be starting her Master’s Program in Environmental Science and Management at the Bren School at UC Santa Barbara. She spent more than half of her life living by the coast; it’s only natural that she is a lover of the outdoors. 

posted by | on , , , , | Comments Off on Reflections with a DC EcoWomen Leader

By Robin Garcia

DC EcoWomen’s president, Christina Sorrento, is leaving the executive board after nearly a decade of service to the organization and to women in the DC environmental field. A land use attorney in Maryland, Christina has been an integral part of DC EcoWomen’s growth, helping mold it into the wonderful and strong organization that it is today. I met with Christina recently to discuss what her involvement has meant to her.

5278910729_31a74e3ff2_oWhy did you first become involved with DC EcoWomen?

At the time, I wasn’t working in the environmental field, and I wanted to maintain a connection to the community. I went to an EcoHour event in 2006 and left feeling so inspired. I asked the board if they needed help and was immediately brought on board!

What positions have you held on the board?

First, I was the Speaker Coordinator. I then became Vice President of the EcoHour Committee, Vice President of the Events Committee (which has now separated into the Professional Development and Program Committees), Vice President of Professional Development, and finally President.

How did DC EcoWomen help with your professional and personal development?

It definitely helped me professionally. While I am an attorney, I used to get very nervous about speaking publically. All of the public speaking that I had to do with the various positions that I have held helped me overcome that fear. I also had the chance to be involved in ways that are not quite as tangible but still important.

8760784245_7e5c4e13cf_oWhat events are you most proud of?

The day-long conference in 2013. We pulled it off in a couple of months, and everyone seemed to love it! The 10 year gala was also a wonderful accomplishment.

Why would you recommend DC EcoWomen to others?

First of all, for the professional development. That was why I first became involved, but the women I met has kept me involved for all of this time. Women I have met through DC EcoWomen have become close friends; I have even been to the weddings of women I met through the organization.

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I can personally attest that in the past year Christina has always made me feel welcomed and involved. We have been so lucky to have her for as long as we have, and I hope that she will stay involved with the environmental community in DC for years to come.

Thank you Christina for all that you have done!

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 would also like the world to know that Bill Nye the Science Guy is now available on Netflix. 

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By Jessica Christy

After years of property disputes, trail destruction concerns, and a search for an endangered species, one of the DC area’s newest public transportation projects may encounter its most significant obstacles under newly elected Maryland governor, Larry Hogan.

purple line 1History of the Purple Line

The purple line was originally conceived under Maryland Governor Glendening as a connection between the New Carrollton station on the orange line and Silver Spring on the red line. Under the Ehrlich administration, the project was merged with the Georgetown Branch Light Rail Transit, which was proposed to run from the Silver Spring station to Bethesda, both on the red line.

Initially, the purple line was proposed as one of three options: heavy rail (think Metro), light rail, or bus rapid transit. Heavy rail was quickly eliminated as too expensive and light rail is highly favored over a rapid bus line. The current proposal is a 16.2 mile line with 21 stations, which will serve approximately 70,000 riders daily, at a cost of approximately $2.5 billion to build. Having cleared several regulatory hurdles already, construction is scheduled to begin in 2015, but that appears unlikely with Governor Hogan’s refusal thus far to make a decision about whether his administration will proceed with the project.

Contentious Route for the Purple Line

To build the purple line, the Maryland Transit Authority (MTA) will likely have to seize part or all of nearly 350 properties, including condemnation of 12 homes and apartment buildings and between 15 and 20 businesses, according to estimates from 2012. A more recent estimate of the number of properties affected by the purple line was not readily available.

In addition to residences, MTA also had to contend with the Columbia Country Club, a private golf course located near the intersection of Connecticut Avenue and East West Highway. The purple line will bisect the course, which the club says will jeopardize its standing as a competitive course and filed suit to prevent this. Through a series of negotiations and deals, the route through the course was modified and parcels of land were swapped in order to save the competitive layout of the course through the preservation of trees. The club has promised to refrain from participating in any lawsuits to delay or prevent purple line construction.

purple line 2A Futile Search for an Endangered Species

In a bid to prevent the purple line from moving forward as a light rail line, Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail (FCCT) used a $10,000 donation from the Town of Chevy Chase in order to search for three endangered species: one small shrimp-like creature and two small crustacean species. The creatures have never been found in this area and the survey, completed by David Culver of American University, found none of the targeted species. Undeterred, the Town has given FCCT another $20,000 to sample DNA of the water and sediment to determine if any of the target species could live in the area. The results of the DNA sampling should be available this summer.

Election Consequences

Maryland’s current governor, Larry Hogan, campaigned on a promise to kill the purple line (and a related project, the red line, in Baltimore). Closer to the election, Hogan reneged on his plan to scrap the projects and is still “considering” whether to cancel them or allow them to go forward. Governor Hogan’s biggest concern is the cost of the project which, at $2.5 billion, is high. This number is mitigated by $900 million from the federal government, $220 from Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties, and further contributions from the public-private partnership. After months of delays on a decision, the Governor is saying he will issue a decision in June.

A new report from Transport for American combats the governor’s arguments about the project’s costs, claiming the purple line would create over 20,000 jobs, cut travel times, increase property values, and save residents money. The line would also increase access to jobs, including nearly 100,000 local residents who will have access to transit. Hogan’s Transportation Secretary recently stated he believed $200 to $300 million could be cut from the total cost. Time will tell if these benefits and potential cost savings will be sufficient for Hogan to move forward with the projects.

The purple line will provide incredible benefits to residents in this area and contribute significantly to reduced automobile congestion in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties. Business leaders, local residents, and the local municipalities have been planning for these projects and have a strong desire to see them through. Governor Hogan should stop kicking this decision down the road, recognize the immense benefits the purple will provide, and allow the project to move forward.

Jessica Christy is a second year law student at the University of the District of Columbia and a mother of three. She’s originally from Colorado, but has lived in DC for almost nine years. Before attending law school, she worked in industrial hygiene, including asbestos litigation and workplace safety. In her spare time, she enjoys beating her oldest child at MarioKart and needlepoint.

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By KC Stover

There has been increasing attention paid to the role of insects as a protein source for humans in the place of meat. Insects do not create the same climate and human health impacts as livestock and they can be raised on a vegetarian diet. Many cultures around the world enjoy insects as an integral part of their diet. There are over 88 countries where insects are consumed regularly and over 1900 species of edible insects worldwide.

Image: Leandra Blei

Image: Leandra Blei

The concept of eating bugs has received a lot of press lately. However, this is not a new practice. As the world struggles to keep up with burgeoning human populations, we are searching for new sources of protein. Insects require much less land to raise and are more efficient at converting feed to protein than most livestock. They also emit fewer greenhouse gases than livestock. The UN has been actively promoting the use of insects to meet our protein needs, and it is an area of major innovation in the food industry.

Currently, there is a $20 million industry around entomophagy in the US, and the concept has received widespread support. However, cultivating and consuming insects on a mass scale is not a simple solution. There are many questions about the real rates of protein conversion, best practices for husbandry and the ideal diet. Regulation has yet to become tailored to this industry and the market is still in its infancy. The Washington Post highlighted that high-density cricket farm operations are still governed by the same USDA regulations as those for livestock.

Some commonly consumed insects are crickets, mealworms, beetles, black soldier flies, butterflies and moths (mostly eaten in their larval and pupal stages), bees and wasps, ants, termites and grasshoppers. Apparently mealworms have a nutty flavor and ants and termites have a lemon flavor to them.

Image: Leandra Blei

Image: Leandra Blei

There are some very unique offerings for insect-based foods. Popular Science reported this month on several new companies, (with 30 insect-based startups since 2012 nationally) including, Critter bitters, Jungle Bar and Chirps (cricket chips) among many others. There are several manners in which insects are being brought to market and the most common is as a protein bar or powder. This powder can be used in a wide variety of recipes, including cookies. Time magazine recently released a list of recipes, including a recipe for deep fried tarantulas.

While insects provide a diverse and more sustainable form of protein than many forms of livestock, integrating them fully into our diet will mean learning to eat in new ways. A nonprofit called Little Herds in Austin, TX has taken on the challenge of changing perceptions and creating markets, and Open Bug Farm is an open forum for insect farming enthusiasts. As consumers and environmentalists, we are presented with the opportunity to help this industry grow in a sustainable way. It will be interesting to see if home production of insects grows in urban environments. An additional challenge is that of bringing production costs down to compete with conventional foods.

Some local DC restaurants, such as Oyamel, are serving insects on their menus. In addition, there is an annual event, the Pestaurant, where restaurants serve insects worldwide. Last year’s event featured a DC restaurant. We can hope to see more insect products on the shelves and I for one will be getting more used to the idea!

KC Stover works on programming for DC EcoWomen and on wildlife conservation issues. With a background in entrepreneurship and the environmental field, she believes that new businesses can create opportunities to address some of our most challenging problems.