Cuppa Coffee, Traveller Street, Boston, MA 02118
July 6, 2017
Nigella Hillgarth talked effortlessly about penguins, climate change and environmental optimism at a W20 meeting on a rainy Wednesday evening in Cambridge in May. She is the most amazing presenter I have ever seen, there were no projectors digital images, or other visuals just her voice. She captivated the whole room with detailed descriptions of penguins in Antarctica (South Pole) and contrasted them with birds near the equator in the Galápagos Islands, and basically taught me that there are no penguins in the North Pole. The Arctic has Polar bears! In less than an hour I could visualize the terrain differences of penguin’s homes, characteristic difference the way they looked, acted, kinda like a movie but with no images. Her story telling took me back to elementary school where we would sit round and listen to stories with clear crisp descriptions. Wow, sitting there I knew I had to interview this brilliant penguin expert, so I gave her my card, got her contact info. and pestered her to come out for coffee – how exciting!!! Now some of you are wondering what’s the connection with Seagrass? Do penguins eat seagrass? or live near them? No, not particularly. I just had to ask Nigella a million questions!!!
NA: What are you passionate about?
NH: The environment & conservation.
NA: Like preserving a place?
N: Preservation is usually when you don’t touch a place. I like to think conservation is when the needs of people and the environment are considered together. Today preservation is tough, focusing our energy on conservation will yield better results.
NA: Why penguins?
NH: Penguins are great birds to study. like many birds it is relatively easy for us to study their ecology and cue into the way they use color and movement in behavior.
NA: Are Penguins really descendants of dinosaurs?
NH: Yes, like all birds
NA: What did you study at school?
NH: Evolutionary Biology, my PHD was in studying how sexual selection drives the evolution of secondary sex characters in Pheasant populations. A well known example of secondary sex characters is the long, beautiful Peacock’s tail.
NA: Hmm..what does that mean?
NH: Well, like the male peacocks, pheasants have these beautiful markers, a long tail and bright colors to attract female mates. For example, the brighter their feathers are and the better they display (dance) the healthier they are. So the females go for the fittest (healthiest) male because there is greater potential for their chicks to survive.
NA: Like Darwin’s Evolutionary thing?
NH: Yes, what is often called the ‘survival of the fittest’. In peacocks and pheasants, the male does not help the female look after the young in any way, so the pheasant females mate with the fittest males in order to have chicks that have a better chance of surviving. They are not interested in the other males around, they are only want to find the best genes around to increase survival in their chicks.
NA: Wow, are all female birds like this?
NH: Most bird species (90%) Only a few percent are polygamous like pheasants and have several mates, like most bowerbirds for example. The majority of birds are monogamous, like robins and both the male and female help to raise the young. Some species including swans and penguins mate for life – although divorce is not unknown!
Penguins beautiful adapted for swimming. Their wings have evolved to become more like efficient flippers in the water and of course they can no longer fly. They are still very aerodynamic in water, and graceful swimmers.
NA: What are your main concerns with penguins today?
NH: The distribution of their food is changing or disappearing. They don’t eat seagrass but they do eat small shrimp called krill or small fish and squid. It varies depending on the species of penguin and where they live. Several types of penguins living in Antarctica, such as the Adelie penguins, eat large amounts of krill and as the oceans get warmer the krill is not always found in the traditional places. It is so cold in the winter in Antarctica that the sea freezes forming sea ice. Krill eats tiny single celled plants that live under sea ice called phytoplankton. Disappearing sea ice is one reason the krill are disappearing.
Some penguins live in more temperate places such as South America and eat fish like sardines and anchovies. Magellanic penguins, for example, eat sardines or other small fish. They have to swim further and further to find the fish. With the oceans heating up, these small fish are swimming to colder waters.
NA: This is what happened to the Cod here in MA too right, they all swam North..
NH: Yes, Cod is a more complex story, we also overfished them, but they do prefer cooler waters.
NA: So, Penguins follow food source?
NH: Yes, they can travel several hundred miles for fish, physically this is draining on all the breading penguins as both male and female penguins collect fish to bring back to the growing chicks
NA: What happens if they can’t swim anymore, or it’s just too far?
NH: Well, penguin colonies get smaller as the chicks will not get enough food, or they may form new colonies elsewhere.
NA: What were the other factors you mentioned at your W20 presentation?
NH: Human Disturbances. Well, for example the little Blue Penguins that live by people in Australia and New Zealand, get chased and even killed by dogs. Their nesting sites are also disturbed. In Patagonia tourists can sometimes get too close to the nesting penguins and disturb them but climate change is probably more of a problem for these birds. Climate change results in more storms and the Magellanic penguin chicks are getting flooded in the nests.
NA: So, you are seeing shifts in penguin populations due to climate change?
NH: Yes absolutely Fluctuations in weather: As I mentioned shifts in climate lead to unpredictable weather in some areas where penguins nest such as Patagonia often leading to flooding. Also as the ocean heats up food can be much harder for penguins to find and this can seriously impact their ability to have chicks. Climate change is really happening and is a huge problem for the environment including penguins and seagrass.
NA: So what do we do?
NH: We can increase resilience in the environment by removing other damaging things we have control over. We can’t change what damage we have done with all the CO2 in the atmosphere, but we can stop putting more C02 into the atmosphere and also help the environment be more resilient to the impacts of climate change. We can reduce disturbance and pollution as well as unregulated development, and control overfishing.
So much seagrass meadows are destroyed by coastal development and pollution. Having policies to protect these areas are key.
NA: You really are concerned with warming oceans and its impact on many species?
NH: Yes, we need restoration efforts for many coastal habitats. For example seagrass restoration is crucial in that this habitat will help many other species cope better with warming oceans.
NA: It’s kinda overwhelming sometimes to think about what we can do, or how we can help.
NH: We need to bring all our different skill sets to the table and do something. Reducing carbon dioxide fin the atmosphere is a harder process to tackle, but using less fertilizer and therefore less getting into the ocean is an example of something we have control. Finding alternatives to nitrates that pollute our oceans and kill off seagrass is possible and makes a difference.
NA: Are there other things we can do?
NH: Yes of course, we can make habitats safer. MARINE PROTECTED AREAS can act as a reservoir. For example, there is evidence of this working in the Cabo Pulmo in Baja, California where the local fishermen stopped fishing and protected the area over 25 years ago. The fish have returned and the fishermen make their living helping tourists dive to see the fish and the reefs. The other fishermen in the surrounding areas benefit because the fish in the reserve breed and spare fish leave the area and are available for fishing. Another example is the Phoenix Islands protected Area in the Pacific. This is an uninhabited Archipelago belonging to the people of Kiribati who own the fishing of a vast area bigger than California around the Phoenix Islands. These far sighted pacific islanders have forbidden fishing in this huge area that is nearly pristine and full of beautiful coral reefs.
NA: What about businesses?
NH: Work with local commerce. People fishing for example, their reference point of what is overfished or not has changed over the years. This is because of “Shifting Baseline”. We tend to see things through our own experiences, for example if you have never seen coral before and go snorkeling over a degraded coral reef you might say “wow this is amazing.” Which it may be, but it’s nothing like it used to be historically with thousands more sea creatures teeming with life. A majority of the coral reefs in the Carabean are degraded or dead from overfishing, pollution, invasive species disturbance and disease. Many people still enjoy the reefs and do not realize that they are a very pale shadow of what they once were.
NA: What is happening in the Gulf of Maine?
NH: Adaptation is going to be crucial. How we preserve the gulf in the 21Century in the face of climate change is key.
NA: Why what’s going on?
NH: The Gulf of Maine is heating three times faster than any other large sea in the world.
NA: That sounds wild, what is going on?
NH: The combination of increasing cold water from melting snow rivers in the north of the gulf meeting warmer water coming up from the south in warm currents creates mixing. This turbulent mixing means there is a strong upwelling of nutrients, and this makes the Gulf of Maine so full of life and biodiversity. It is a very special place for marine life. There are natural variations in temperature in the Gulf of Maine but now it is getting warmer than usual and faster.
NA: So waters warming is happening how?
NH: Warm water is carried North via the Gulf stream that originates in the Gulf of Mexico. Now the warm water is increasing in temperature above normal levels and this is a reason that the Gulf of Maine is heating so rapidly.
NA: So, this is more evidence that climate change is here?
NH: YES, the data and science suggests so.
NA: There is a lot of noise and misinformation in the media, one group of scientists says this another says that..how do we get to the bottom of this? Also, is this done on purpose to confuse us? Leave us complacent maybe?
NH: Well it’s to do with consensus. In the beginning the theory of gravity that we now take so much for granted had no consensus. Eventually, when they reached a consensus and agreed that the evidence was so powerful, then it became accepted.
NA: What about climate change, is there consensus?
NH: Yes, absolutely, the international scientific world agrees that climate change exists and is caused by our actions not just natural fluctuations.
NH: It doesn’t mean that we are all bad because we put all this carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. There is nothing inherently wrong with fossils fuels, our civilizations would not have developed the way they have without fossil fuels. We just did not understand its side effects. Now we do. On a different scale but the same idea we used to put lead in gas so engines ran more smoothly. We removed the lead from gas once we understood how bad the lead was for our health.
NA: OK now that we know better, and there is more consensus what’s next?
NH: It is really hard to persuade people of things they cannot see visually, like the atmosphere. Humans have trouble relating to things that they don’t see and that happen relatively slowly, but if we don’t do something now we only have about 30 years if that.
Already the environment is showing signs of major change. Even peoples’ health will be impacted with climate change.
In summer Heat waves are becoming more frequent in many parts of the planet and more people are dying of heat stroke than before. Also with increasingly hot summers and milder winters diseases, such as dengue fever, are spreading into areas where they could not survive before.
NA: It’s kinda sad that the word science has been removed from the EPA’s website along with a bunch of climate change data.
NH: Yes, climate scientists are dedicated people, they work hard to collect accurate data, and their results are judged by peers. If their theories are incorrect, or have problems, they will get debunked. The EPA had a great Peer review system in place.
NA: I heard that non-scientists are being brought into the offices to do peer reviews for the EPA, and scientist are being taken out, is this correct?
NH: Certainly it is true several scientists have left. Also it is really sad that we left the Paris Agreement. WE can’t ignore consensus of accurate data on climate change especially on a global level.
NA: Changing the topic to more optimistic issues, you mentioned you had gone to the Earth Optimism conference to DC in May.
NH: Yes, it was wonderful! There was a combination of speakers from around the world talking about grass roots conservation efforts to the stock market on how sustainable energy investments work. For example, the Texas Mayor of Georgetown, who is republican, decided to buy wind power for his town, because it made fiscal sense as well as environmental. Another great story from India, where Afroz Shah was frustrated with plastics and trash in his home town beach, Verova beach in Mumai, so, everyday he would go for and do some clean-up. Then his friends joined him, then his neighbors, and then strangers. This movement has spread to other towns as well. This grass roots effort is inspiring. There were so many wonderful stories of individuals; often just regular people, making change.
More can be found here:
NA: Amazing, truly wonderful things to learn about that we too can make a difference. What are your suggestions of where to start?
NH: Yes, you can make a difference in your own communities.
- Be mindful of pollution, try to remove or lessen the impact of plastics – for example stop using single-use plastic bags.
- Write phone, or email congressmen, get your voice heard so they can log you in as a number for climate change and environmental issues in general.
- Get together in groups, find an ocean clean up group, or seagrass conservation group, plant seagrass, convert lawns to flower gardens that don’t need fertilizers…many practical things to be done.
NA: Thinking about seagrass, what is the connection between penguins and seagrass?
NH: Both organisms are a part of an ecosystem that can be easily disrupted and destroyed by change. Penguins are inflexible and set in their ways. They eat only certain foods, they nest a certain way, so when climate change disrupts their environment – it’s really difficult to say – we will probably loose many species. Seagrass similarly cannot deal with too much pollution such as too much nitrate. The seagrass beds will die off as a result.
NA: That is sad
NH: Yes, but when we have Marine Protected Areas such as on the the coast of Virginia and in Florida, there is great success with restoring seagrass beds and flourishing marine life.
For more information go to this link:
NA: Phew, I was starting to feel hopeless. So, it’s really important to get our voice heard about Marine Protected Areas??? Where do we start is there and organization for this to get involved with or write to?
NH: Many conservation organizations are involved with marine protected areas in various ways. The place to start is joining one of the well known organizations and finding out what they are doing in this area. Start with Wild Wildlife Fund or Ocean conservancy for general information. For New England The Conservation law Foundation has been trying hard to establish some of our most important habitats in the Gulf of Maine as protected Areas,
NA: I know our oceans matter for all the sea creatures, and for diversity of plant life How does it impact us, humans?
NH: 50 % of the air we breathe comes from the oceans. The oceans play a major role controlling our weather patterns. If the oceans were all gone, we would be all dead. In the 60s we all thought the oceans were so large nothing we did could affect them. Today we know better, from plastic found in stomachs of dead birds and fish,, to waste in and on the bottom of our oceans. Today 90% of all large fish have disappeared. About one billion people, largely in developing countries, depend on seafood for their protein.
NA: This has been the most thought-provoking coffee time I have ever had, thank you for sharing all this amazing knowledge Nigella. We covered so much from issues around pollution, penguins, climate change, to us being resilient in the face of climate change. We really don’t have time to sit around and wait especially when there is great evidence pointing to our human capacity to make improvements. To practically get involved on an individual level and to write to congress people for policy change. This is great, so inspiring!!!
NH: Yes, increasing resilience of species and habitats in the face of climate change is key. Nedret, it has been great fun talking with you – thank you!
All photos in this interview were generously shared by Nigella Hillgarth, thank you!!!
EPA’s Phil Colarusso & Team in Nahant
July 12, 2017
So lucky to be invited to actually look at what marine ecologist do in our local waters. Met Phil Colarusso and the EPA team around 10am in a small cove in Nahant.
Everyone had already taken over the beach with the scuba gear and equipment. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was supposed to do so I said hi and waited. Phil Colarusso and the team of Divers from the EPA were there test water quality around a patch in the seagrass meadow. Lists and equipment checks were completed. I never realized how important safety is with this type of diving research, I was learning fast. Jean was stationed on shore to make observation from the coast making sure that the crew on the boat were not missing anything. I got to go on the boat and take photos of the dive from above (how cool!).
On the boat we had captain Bill Osbahr, and his mate Nick Bobbs, Sarah Driscoll from the New England Aquarium was there for seagrass research. We all put on our EPA safety vests and got circling around the divers. The boat was there first for protecting the divers against other boat traffic and second for recording data. Nick started preparing the sediment traps, a triadic device with honey cone like filters for catching anything that floats in. These sediment traps were being placed today and would be recovered in two weeks.
Boston EPA’s Phil Colarusso and team are out on the field gathering information for Blue Carbon analysis of eelgrass meadows. How Seagrass (Eelgrass) helps hold down carbon from the atmosphere.
The divers had five sites mapped out for placing the sediment traps. Each time they swam to the new site, the safety flag and boat followed the divers. Since the water was only 59 degrees, Bill Osbahr kept checking on the divers to make sure they were OK for heat and air. The boat’s GPS system and markers from before helped the divers find test sites in the eelgrass meadow. When we checked on the boat we were about 17 feet from the bottom. I loved how everyone worked so effortless in unison, very little talking and lots of paying attention.
In this Photo below, you can see the darker areas is where the seagrass beds are. The lighter areas are sand. After our trip I was so curious had to learn more about the what, why, and hows. Luckily Phil is super patient and was gracious with his time.
NA: What is blue carbon and why is it important?
PC: Blue carbon is carbon associated with seagrass, mangroves and salt marshes. This is carbon in the plant tissue and in the sediments below the vegetation. It is important, because the carbon in these sediments are sequestered, thus they do not contribute to ocean acidification or global climate change.
NA: Basically the seagrass meadows takes Carbon form the atmosphere and holds it down in the peat below its roots so we don’t have as much in the air. I have read about this but never seen it tested!!! So when we dredge or destroy the seagrass beds are we kinda doubling the carbon dioxide in the air? First from destroying the natural habitat that stores in, and in the process of destructing it potentially releasing more Carbon into the air?
PC: Yes, when we lose these habitats carbon that has been sequestered for tens, hundreds of years can be mobilized back into the ocean and atmosphere. The factor is much more than a doubling but more likely a factor of 100.
NA: How does the eelgrass meadow we went to today relate to blue carbon?
PC: We have sampled the meadow in Nahant for blue carbon for the last 3 years. We have estimates of total carbon in each of the meadows we sampled, but I don’t have those numbers at my fingertips at the moment.
NA: You had 5 sites for the sediment traps what are you monitoring that relates to blue carbon?
PC: Todays sampling is an effort to better understand the spatial differences within a single meadow. The density and size of plants varies within individual meadows, especially if they span a depth gradient like the meadow in Nahant. From prior sampling we know that a lot of carbon comes from outside of the meadow as it floats by in the water column. What causes these floating particles to settle out in eelgrass is the presence of the plants sticking vertically up into the water column almost catching these particles as they drift by. Our theory is the more shoots and the larger the shoots, the greater the quantity of drifting material will be collected. Thus, we will see how much material each trap array collects and see if there is a correlation to shoot density, plant height and a few other parameters.
NA: So do the sediment traps help establish where the carbon comes from? Inside the meadow or outside can you tell?
PC: Yes, we test the material collected in the traps. We use stable isotopes to determine the likely origin of that material. From prior sampling, we know that a very large percentage of material originates outside of the meadow.
NA: Do we want to find out if more sediment and carbon is caught in long dense seagrass beds? IF so does it means that it would be beneficial for us humans to plant more seagrass? So it can clean up more gunk in the water and reduce our already bewildering rate of CO2 in the atmosphere?
PC: Our hypothesis in this experiment is that meadows with higher shoot density and bigger plants will collect more organic particles and carbon. Restoring seagrass is definitely beneficial for carbon storage. In Europe, one can restore seagrass and receive carbon credits which possess real monetary value.
NA: How do you choose the sites you will monitor?
PC: For this study, we were looking for a range of water quality (good to intermediate to bad) to sample. In addition, logistics such as accessibility and safety also play a role.
NA: Previously you mentioned there are two ways of checking for Blue Carbon, one was with the sediment traps and the other was with the tubes that dig into the peat(sequestration)?
PC: Yes, we measure carbon in the plant tissues, also in the material we collect in the sediment traps, but also in sediment cores that we take with the plastic tubes. These are 30 cm long by about 10 cm wide column of sediment that is below the meadow. This rich organic material is called peat. We subsample the 30 cm core into smaller sections and measure carbon and nitrogen in each sample.
NA: In addition to the sediment core and the sediment traps you also do a third test, is that correct? Did you do the pin test today with the white ties? Is this to see how many off shoots the eelgrass will have in 2 weeks?
PC: I did mark plants for growth today. We put a pin through the plant and come back in 2 weeks and harvest that plant. We peel back all of the individual leaves and measure where the pinhole is in each leaf. As the leaf grows, the pinhole migrates. Plants can add as much as several inches of leaf growth per day.
NA: Do you create a log, what do you do with this information? Does this get put into charts or database?
PC: We do have a field log book, where relevant information, observations and other notations are recorded. Data is ultimately recorded into electronic databases. As we collect data, we generally analyze much of it as we go along. That way, we can refine our sampling to take advantage of any unexpected findings. The ultimate goal of any scientific endeavor is to provide information that decisionmakers can use to make better choices. As part of that process, we share that information by presenting our work at conferences and publishing the work in peer-reviewed journals.
NA: Do you communicate with the team members underwater?
PC: We usually try to communicate exactly what we are going to do before we go under, so everyone is clear on their assigned task. We have limited communication underwater usually via hand signals.
NA: How tall were the seagrasses where we were today?
PC: They were in the 3-4 foot range.
NA: We were hot on the boat 80 degrees but the water was 59, how long should you be in the water when its that cold?
PC: 59 is not bad, when we started working this spring it was 44. We can stay in until we run out of air, which can be a long time at such shallow depths. Each diver has their own temperature tolerance. I do pretty well, better than most in cold water.
NA: When I looked down there were dense patches of seagrass, was this an indicator of good health for the eelgrass beds, does the height matter?
PC: Density is a better indication than height of meadow health. Dense seagrass is always a good sign.
NA: How often do you check this site, why is this a good site to focus on? We could see Boston from the boat, do you check to see if it correlates with what the eelgrass does in Boston Harbor?
PC: I have been doing work at the Nahant site off and on since 1993. Part of my PhD work was done in that meadow and I’ve done a number of other studies there. I think I’ve now logged over 100 dives in that one meadow, so I feel that I know it quite well. It is different than Boston, but because we have so much historical data there it makes it a great site to work at.
NA: That’s great, it’s awesome that you can keep coming back and keep track of the meadow. What are some of your findings in this site? Has it changed much? Grown? Declined..Has the Boston harbor sewage clean up with the new deer Island facility made a an impact here in Nahant?
PC: I think that I have completed almost 100 dives in this meadow. I feel like I know it so well. There certainly has been some ebb and gain over the years, but for the most part this meadow has been remarkably stable. The change in sewage treatment and move of the Boston outfall has not had resulted in any discernible change on this meadow.
NA: How is this site different than the eelgrass in Boston?
PC: This site is more well flushed than Boston Harbor, so water clarity tends to be better. There are boats moored in this cove, but it tends to be less busy than Boston Harbor, which makes it easier for the divers.
NA: How was the water quality today? I took photos of some brown stuff, was this algae? If so do we know where this comes from sewer/runoffs from fertilizers? Will the sediment traps be able to tell us?
PC: Water quality was generally good with visibility being 15-20 feet, which is pretty good for July in Massachusetts. I believe the brown stuff was algae. The MWRA reported seeing a large floating mass of this in Boston Harbor and they ID’ed it as algae. They may have more information on it on their website.
NA: What is the MWRA?
PC: The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority. They run the Deer Island wastewater treatment facility and do a tremendous amount of monitoring in Boston Harbor.
NA: Is there an emergency action plan in place to deal with too much algae, if we have some kind of weird outbreak?
PC: We do experience periodic outbreaks of algal proliferation for a wide range of reasons. Many of these are short term in nature and may not be aesthetically pleasing, they may not pose a significant ecological threat.
NA: What’s the most challenging thing while conducting this type of field study?
PC: Dealing with the stuff that I can’t control, such as the weather. Today conditions were very favorable to work at that site, but if we had winds out of the south, waves would have picked up and visibility would have declined greatly. We sometimes work in areas where we need to do things almost exclusively by feel because water clarity is so limited on the day we are there.
NA: Yes I noticed just in our couple of hours we were out the sky changed from sunny to cloudy, there were even some rumblings from afar. What other variables do we need to consider while conducting these test?
PC: There are a long list of variables that I consider and they vary by what research question I’m asking. Safety is the one variable that is constant on every dive. Are conditions safe enough for us to do our work. We were out in Boston Harbor a couple of weeks ago and due to the strong currents and the large number of boats present, we opted to cancel our work for that day.
NA: You really are at the whim of nature, after the clouds, we saw the sun again! One quick question, when will you do that third test? The sediment cores?
PC: We are at the whim of nature, but we have a saying it never rains underwater. Wind and lightning are more problematic for us. No one wants to be out in the water when there is big winds and thunder and lightning. We have already taken sediment cores multiple times from this site and that data has already been processed.
NA: Any last thoughts?
PC: This work requires an amazing team to do it well. Today you met about half the people involved with this project. Our dedicated dive team (Jean Brochi, Chuck Protzmann, Eric Nelson and myself) who couldn’t get this work done without boat support from our Chelmsford Lab (Bill Osbahr, Tim Bridges, Nick Bobbs). The other half of our team involves the many hours of working in the lab processing samples to generate the data, those folks include Peg Pelletier and Nicole Gutierrez from EPA’s Narragansett Lab, Julie Simpson from MIT SeaGrant, Alyssa Novak from Boston University and Ariane Arias Ortiz from the University of Barcelona, Spain. A team of all stars in my book.
NA: What an amazing experience, thank you for letting me tag along!
Billowing clouds were sitting up against a backdrop of cerulean blue sky as I pulled up by Marine Science Center in Natant. I was so excited to meet Northeastern University’s marine ecologist Randall Hughes and check out their seagrass greenhouse. I had been talking to everyone who came to my studio about this greenhouse for weeks.
I walked into the Marine Science Center’s office and found welcoming students to greet me and take me to Randall. We met and Randall quickly took me to their outdoor lab..the greenhouse for seagrass!!!! How cool!!!
Spartina, AKA Salt-marsh cord- grass
As we approached the greenhouse I could see a bunch of grass..but it did not look like seagrass..It looked like some kind of dune grass. The only way I remembered was it looked a lot more pointy at the top than seagrass and was more round than the flatter seagrass blades
NA: This isn’t seagrass right? It looks kinda like that cord grass? What is it?
RH: Yes it’s salt-marsh cord grass, Spartina we are also studying them here. Cordgrass is similar to seagrass – it creates the habitat that we call a salt marsh. Cordgrass can look very different, depending where you are in the marsh. Near the water’s edge, it can be over 3ft tall, but closer to land it may only be 1ft. We are doing field and greenhouse experiments to understand whether that difference in height is only due to differences in the environment, or whether there is also a genetic component.
We walked pass the Spartina and got to the mini seagrass containers. I was so excited to see the rows of mini seagrasses. It was true, they really grew seagrass in greenhouses!!!
NA: How old are these seagrasses?
RH: These seedlings are about 1 year old
NA: Thats tiny, hmm…they are hardly 4 inches tall.
Wow I thought to my self, we are getting rid of 20 football fields a day and it takes so long for the seagrass to get established.
NA: What exactly are you studying here?
RH: We are starting an experiment to test how Wasting Disease affects these seedlings.
NA: I heard of that, in the 30’s a bunch of seagrass and mollusks were wiped out because of this Wastings Disease, and fishermen lost income in MA.
RA: Yes, thats right. We are studying different stressors and what happens when seagrass has excessive amounts of it. Naturally seagrass has wasting disease, but the questions is at what point does it become a problem.
We moved to the next row, I could see some shiny buckets and elegant green blades floating around. These looked more like the seagrass I had seen in the North Shore.
NA: How old are these ones?
RH: About 3-4 years old.
NA: What are those snails doing there?
RH: We add them to the tanks to help clean the algae off the seagrass blades.
How cool I thought it was just like the“SeaHares” I had researched for the title of one of my paintings.
NA: So how do these seagrasses grow here? Do you plant them one by one, what happens?
RH: These ones in the bucket have grown through Asexual or Vegetative Growth, meaning that they produce genetically identical new shoots through their underground rhizome system. We collected them as adult shoots in the field. With the other ones, we planted them from seed.
NA: Amazing , so seagrass does both, how versatile!
RH: Yes, it does. The seagrass produces flowers just like on land that pollinate one another and produce seeds that grow into new seagrass individuals. They also expand asexually underground to produce clones of themselves.
We moved through the isle and I stopped to look at the brownish bubbly stuff in the container, there were no seagrass in this one.
NA: Yuck, what’s all this gunky stuff? Is this that algae bloom thing that everyone is talking about with seagrass depletion?
RH: Yes, our fertilizers and run offs create too much nutrients that the algae soak up before the seagrass..In normal conditions the algae is a natural part of the ecosystem and helps produce oxygen and works well with the habitat. But whats happening in many places today is nutrient overload- i.e.. fertilizers just make them grow and get dense and block light for whats underneath. The algae also like our greenhouse conditions, so we have to add snails to eat the algae or remove it by hand.
NA: What can be done to lessen this or prevent blooms from happening in the first place?
RH: Controlling run-off and sewer inputs to the coast can help to reduce nutrients and algae in the water.
NA: What other factors affect seagrass beds?
RH: Changing water quality that results from nutrient overload, leads to too much algae and not enough light. Boating is another problem. Not anchoring in shallow waters. Boats in MA can haphazardly kill seagrass just by where they anchor their boats. One solution for that problem is to switch to conservation moorings. It takes 100 years for seagrass beds to establish themselves.
NA: Where do you collect your seeds from?
RH: We have natural beds in Nahant, Gloucester, and Beverly. We collect a variety of seeds to plant.
NA: Do you know if one area of seeds are better at getting established than another?
RH: We are working on figuring that out right now.
NA: What is better for seagrass health Asexual reproduction or pollination?
RH: They are both important. Asexual reproduction is important for the expansion of existing beds. Sexual reproduction through pollination is important for generating genetic diversity and for colonizing new habitats.
NA: So more mutt seagrass is good?
RH: That’s right diversity of seagrass makes them stronger.
NA: How did you get involved with seagrass? Were you scuba diving and liked it and thought I’d like to be a marine ecologist?
RH: No, it was the other way around. I was a lot more curious about the science first rather than the diving. The ecosystems are all connected, if you don’t have the plants you don’t have the sea-life and habitat around it to support life.
NA: So seagrass is a kind of architecture, similar to our apartments or homes?
RH: Right, its considered to be a foundation species.
NA: Wow, that is amazing. I have been painting abstractions relating to seagrass architecture without even knowing about this fascinating concept “Foundation Species”.
NA: You mentioned scuba diving, how far do you dive?
RH: Up to 20 feet, we check on the seagrass beds and dive for an hour
NA: What do you check exactly?
RH: It varies. Sometimes we are counting and measuring the numbers of seagrass plants. Other times we will collect seagrass leaves to look at disease or genetic variation. We also study the invertebrates that live in the seagrass beds, so we count and collect them to do experiments.
NA: That’s wonderful! Monitoring our oceans health and seagrass beds are really important today, especially with all the pollution we are dumping into our oceans and shifts in climate change. It is kinda crucial if we want to keep a healthy planet. How does the current EPA and administration affect or not affect the work you are doing here?
RH: The current administration wants to reduce funding for all types of science, including valuable programs like Sea Grant, funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which benefits coastal ecosystems and the many people that depend on them. They are also rolling back environmental regulations that protect our air and water. Because seagrass is like a ‘canary in a coal mine’, it will likely be negatively affected by these changes.
NA: It is mind boggling when you think of all the advancements we have made in science which is intertwined with our health, our industry, and commerce. This topic is so huge that I will need to write a whole blog for it. For now what are the take home messages everyone should know about seagrass?
RH: First, it’s important for everyone to know that seagrass exists – it is much less familiar to most people than corals, but it is just as important to the ocean. Seagrasses provide essential habitat for lots of animals, many of which we like to eat. They also help reduce erosion of our coastlines. And by growing rapidly and storing lots of tissue below ground, they can help remove carbon dioxide from the ocean. Finally, they are pretty amazing plants – not many species of plants can live underwater their entire lives!
NA: Thank you so much for sharing your time with me on this beautiful afternoon!
Thank you Harvard University’s Barnabas Daru for sharing your scientific knowledge on Seagrass. So grateful for everyone that came out on a snowy Saturday afternoon. I was not sure what to expect since this was my first poetryslam/seagrass event but it was brilliant. Such wonderful voices from Brockton sharing their stories and insights. The amazing questions and dialogue was truly transformative!
Thank you Cierra Peterson, Bradley Souffrant, Shyhima, Carter, Daniel hrs, Seefour Calogano, Eddy Fong Jr, Whyse Clerdonna -kenzy and everyone else that came out!!!
For some weird reason, I can’t download the video footage, so for the actual poetry and songs please check out: Poetry
Barnabas Daru’s seagrass presentation
Daniel Krs sharing his words
Interesting discussions with Kennzy, Barnabas & Jeff
Shyhima Carter and her poetry
See four Calogano singing, check out poetry link above to hear!
By the end of the day we recycled my show postcards and made them letters to congress people:
With this message:
“I urge you to support clean water, clean air and healthy communities. Please reject any attempts to weaken or dismantle our most important protections, and to oppose budget cuts to EPA and other agencies, that would threaten our water, air and climate.
Please oppose attacks on:
• The Clean Water Rule, which protects drinking water sources for more than 117 million Americans;
• The Clean Power Plan, which is vital in our fight against climate pollution; and
• EPA’s budget for putting laws into action to protect health and natural resources and responding to crises, such as lead contamination.
I urge you to stand with people, not polluters. Please oppose efforts to undermine protections for our nation’s air, land, water or wildlife.
Emails can also be sent to Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey by clicking below:
#wordsmatter #poetryslam #artevent #artshow #cleanwater #Conservation #seagrass
November 17th, 2016
What a memorable opening reception! Thank you to everyone that attended Immersed and made it an awesome event! Alyssa Novak and Barnabas Daru enlightened us with their seagrass expertise. Wendy Drexler drew visual metaphors with her beautiful poems, and the band The Sea The Sea enriched the evening with their powerful music. Sculptor Karen Meninno and Berna for the on location public art-sculpture and mural support. David Thomson from Artlery160, thank you for providing a space and technological platform for such a collaborative evening!
I have a moment and wanted to send you a message of congratulations! for a wonderful and creative opening event.
I enjoyed listening to the scientists-I now know the difference between sea grass and marsh grass!
While I was listening I kept thinking about the uniqueness of your event and how beneficial
it was for attendees. In addition to seeing your beautiful work they walked away with SO much more.
I think you have discovered a new way to have others view art and understand context and inspiration in a much deeper way than in the usual art opening.
I also had fun talking to the other guests and I hope the night left you feeling ‘job well done’!
Thank you for a terrific evening!”
WHY PLANTS MATTER:
Seagrass Is the Primary Food Source for Green Sea Turtles, Dugongs, and Manatees
Meeting Harvard Fellow & Botanist, Barnabas Daru
October 7, 2016
I met Barnabas Daru in front of the herbarium building at Harvard. As we walked towards the cafeteria, he began telling me that the most basic of all life and food source are plants. Barnabas explained “Chloroplasts in seagrasses and all plant tissues use the sun’s energy to convert carbon dioxide and water into sugar and oxygen for growth through the process of photosynthesis. This sugar or carbohydrate in turn helps sustain the animals and people that eat them.”
We got to the cafe and sat outside on this sunny day, everything looked extra green. “No one really thinks about plants as being an important element, they are always there and really not noticed. When a Rhino gets killed the media makes a fuss, the conservationist are all up in arms. When a tree is chopped down, no one notices, it’s not as important. Yet that tree has provided nutrition, shelter and value that equals the animal life.”
SO WHY ARE PLANTS NOT THE FOCUS OF OUR ATTENTION?”
Barnabas has been trying to solve this puzzle for several years now. For grad. school in South Africa, Barnabas extracted DNA from different trees to see how they were related.
“What was fascinating was that you could visually look at trees and see similarities outwardly and assume they had to be related. However, when you looked at their DNA, it could be a different story; they could be from completely different families. It was really amazing seeing how we could be fooled by appearances alone.”
Barnabas looked at the genetic diversity of all trees in seven different countries in Africa. Sequencing DNA gave him unique insight about the distribution of trees – more exciting patterns of family (phylogenetic) relationships of the species emerged. Barnabas hopes to use phylogenetic data to help magnify the need to protect endangered plant life the same way we protect endangered animal life and in turn result in global policy change.
After grad school Barnabas became more excited about plants and decided to expand his research to global scale, by moving into the sea to study seagrasses and mangroves. “Both are flowering plants that live in or near sea water. Mangroves are woody plants that border between land and sea, and seagrasses live submerged in salty shallow water”, he said excitedly. Up until that time there were only “distribution data” (geographical maps). Barnabas was interested in examining the phylogenetic (DNA) tree in addition to mapping seagrasses and mangroves. Barnabas’s goal identified BIODIVERSITY HOTSPOTS for marine plants for the first time [see map pictured]. These are areas where the seagrass and mangrove species are at high risk of extinction or have unique phylogenetic diversity. To Barnabas’s surprise, the DNA data revealed that some areas thought to be rich in species-level diversity e.g. South Africa or the Mediterranean did not emerge as hotspots for marine plants. The seagrasses they found in these areas came from an abundant family lineage. The study (http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/geb.12412) instead pointed to Chile, Hawaii, Bermuda area, Florida, Southern Australia and Central Indo-Pacific as high risk areas or places with unique species. “Sadly, these newly defined marine plants hotspots are not protected by the network of Marine Reserves.”
“Ultimately I hope the scientific data will bring about awareness about the huge need for policy change. How we need conservation funds to also go to these endemic regions to help support these high risk plants that in turn feed and shelter animals. Once these plants disappear the whole food chain will be affected: the fish that lay their eggs, the dugongs that solely eat seagrass, all the life that depend on the nutrients of these plants. The rich diversity we have now will disappear.”
WHY SHOULD WE CARE?
- Seagrass is a primary food source:
Dugongs, manatees, and green turtles depend on seagrass for their nutrition. If seagrass in these threatened areas disappears, these amazing animals will have huge disruptions in the food chain. Many will die. This will have a cascading impact on the food chain: sharks, fish and so on will all be affected.
- Seagrass is a carbon sequester
With high levels of carbon dioxide in our environment, seagrass is a huge CO2 absorber. It sequesters blue carbon and can soak up to 50% of the ocean’s CO2.
- Seagrass meadows are nurseries:
Various types of fish use seagrasses as substrate to lay their eggs. If there were no seagrasses, their stringy eggs would be laid directly on the ocean floor, and can easily be swept away by underwater currents. These eggs attach to the seagrass substrate and are vital for the development of the young fish when they hatch. Not to mention all the protection they provide for shelled mollusks.
HOW CAN WE HELP:
I would say that the general public upon sighting any seagrass on the ocean’s shore, should at least take a photo and GPS locality of the specimen and consider sending it to any botanical institute e.g. the Harvard University Herbaria. Those could be clues toward understanding their distributions under the changing climate.
Marine reserves areas are marine protected areas where boating, dredging, fishing and other activities are prohibited in order to protect the species that live there. Conservation funds and efforts tend to focus on marine animals rather than plants. Barnabas noted in his study [linked http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/geb.12412] that marine plants are only incidentally included in the marine reserve system. His goal is to help expand marine reserves to protect the mangroves and seagrass too. By collecting both DNA (phylogenetic) and distribution data, he hopes to generate a scientific plea to the scientific community to help expand definitions of marine reserves to cover marine plants too. Policy makers need to become aware of the key role seagrasses play in the ecosystem. How in monetary terms seagrass and mangroves contribute $5.4 billion worth of ecosystem services.
“We need to have a holistic view to look at the global issues and then take action on both a global and local levels.”
What an amazing way to share my Friday morning, thank you for sharing Dr. Barnabas Daru!
More info on Barnabas Daru can be found:
Strong case for seagrass
Matter & Light
September 16, 2016
Talk about transforming the space! Sachiko Akiyama’s opening night was terrific, the last time I experienced an intimate opening like this was at Red Lion Theater in Islington 20 years ago(experimental theatre). The combination of Sachiko’s sculptures with a combination of performers coming through the space created a welcoming and unexpected way to experience the work- both through sound and vision.
I arrived a little late and had to squeeze through the people to look at Sachiko’s hand crafted wooden sculptures. People were scattered all over the gallery and it was fun trying to figure out where here sculptures were. Some blended in with the visitors sitting on the floor, others surprised you while you were walking through.
This wave one on the right was one of my favorites. It was playful, whimsical almost with bright colors. A little figure riding a wave in a noodle bowl? I wasn’t sure what it was and then started thinking about whether the figure was Japanese…what was it’s identity. Did it matter…come to think of them they kind of looked Asian. Then I started thinking about the migrant experience we have globally how so many people are displaced and are dying trying to cross ocean. By this time the harp player came in and did some of her magic, transporting us to some other magical place through music. I felt like a kid in a candy store, so many exciting things to look at and listen too.
My favorite part of the Chimera performance(Boston based collective)was when what I call Philip Glass/John Cage influenced musicians performed. The lights were dimmed and all I could see was a small light on the music sheets and shadows on the floor. Sachiko’s life size sculpture on the floor had now taken on another presence. Since we couldn’t see the hand carved details on the sculpture it became a life like thing, almost scary. I kept watching it to see if it would move, luckily it didn’t and I could focus on the musicians in the dark. Well kind of, the violins made the sounds and now I was looking at the shadow. Love what sound, performance and art can do..just moves you to different space!
I was excited to chat with Sachiko Akiyama about her work and asked her about the wave sculpture. Yes, it referenced Japanese culture, made hints at Hokusai ‘s wave, and also children’s story book characters. “I want them to have many meanings and viewers’s should be able to interpret it their own way.” Most of the portraits she sculpts are family members with some sort of narrative. The delicately carved wooden objects have a warm exterior that call you close. I enjoyed the sculptures since they were both playful and thought provoking at the same time.
I was of course delighted to chat with show curator’s Nina Nielson and John Baker. I hadn’t seen them in ages and it was good to catching up. We talked of course about swimming in cold water(our favorite fall activity), Sachiko Akiyama’s amazing work and this terrific show they pulled together. So glad they are out and about sharing their special talents and organizing a terrific show. Thanks for the invite Ian an amazing evening!
September 16, 2016
I had not planned on popping into Adelson Galleries on Harrison Ave on my way home from the studio. The lights were on in the gallery and people were moving around, I decided to take a quick look, so glad I did! I was intrigued to see the large scale figurative paintings that had something mysterious going on with them.
These dark realistic figures had taken over the room. Painted in low key values, they resembled movie stills; snap shots of some larger narrative. I loved the drama in them! Then I started noticing small movement on the canvas..now I had to go up closer to see if there was a video behind the painting or something else. As I got closer, I saw almost another shadow move across the surface of the painting. That’s when I decided to look up. Yep, there was a projector- so video projections were placed delicately over the paintings to create subtle shifts in perception. So clever!
Farzaneh and Bahareh Safrani, from Tehran, Iran, have been collaborating since they were thirteen years old. I like the fact that they painted each other, created videos of each other and projected them on to these paintings of themselves. The self, as the individual coming in to question. The nudes in their paintings are barely covered in black cloth making suggestions to the burkas worn in Iran. Their work questions sexuality and identity in a refreshing way.
September 11, 2016
Just had a fantastic time hanging out with friends at Stetson Gallery, thankful!
It’s amazing how like terrestrial plants seagrass changes over the summer. With the warming water a lot more stuff has surrounded the seagrass; more epiphytes and algae on the plant. The blue green has also changed to more faded green. When we harvested and pulled the seagrass, the length was also a lot longer. Many little live animals latched onto the seagrass like tunicates. We had to clean these epiphytes off before placing the seagrass in the icebox for replanting.
Yet another beautiful morning with the Novak lab team. This time they were helping me brainstorm ideas for my November show. Very creative group..they liked the name “Immersed” for my November show. When I told them that I needed actionable easy to do ideas on how help reduce algae blooms, they had an insightful action plan:
* reduce fertilizer use switch to organic methods
* support local farmers that use good agricultural practices ( avoid large agricultural products that use tones of nitrates)
*convert lawns to wild flower gardens with native plants
*drive less, walk, bike or take public transport for less CO2 in our atmosphere
* stay away from all plastics including water bottles, even straws at restaurants
*potato chips has a lot of packaging, switch to fruits(thanks Chris)
*pick up trash where ever you find them, they all end up in the ocean
*recycle: Look at specific items your town recycles, they often will accept more than you think! Remember to bring reusable bags with you when shopping
* reduce the amount of meat you eat (go veggie one day a week!) Eating meat increases our nitrate footprint.
* be mindful of energy use less electricity, gas, etc.
*reduce manufacturing: opt for low manufacturing options, use less production energy and has lower c02s: donate old clothes/ buy second hand/ bring your mug to the coffee shop.
Wow, these guys rock..would never think about consumer choices in such thoughtful ways: Love it!!!
August 19, 2016
Went to Faneuil Hall to learn about Biomimicry as a part of Boston GreenFest.
Looks like I need to do more research into this interesting subject. Sounds like biomimicry is looking at nature, structure, and patterns for ideas on strategies for designing new procedures and products. Check out:
Thought the Bird Glass created by Ornilux was fascinating. Every year millions of birds are killed flying in to windows of buildings. Spiders weave their webs that reflect ultraviolet light , which birds can sea. Arnold Glass developed a UV reflective glass coating that is transparent to people but visible to birds. What a wonderful solution!
Spirals are an ancient symbol loaded with all sorts of life related context. Here the “Moving Water Project by Pax Water Technologies put a new spin on the spiral. They created an impeller shaped in a three dimensional spiral inspired by nature. Jay Harmon created the spiral to move fluids in water tanks this way..this reduced the energy used to maintain 85% of the water quality. Before still water would sit in water tanks and get nasty with the bacteria growing on it, they would have to disinfect it with lots of chemicals. This spiral system of stirring the water in the tanks helped generate better water quality for less money and reduced the chemicals needed to disinfect the water.
The next thing I found fascinating was the Wellfleet harbor Oyster restoration project under the direction of Dr. Anamarija Frankic director of the Green Harbors Project. A single mature oyster can clean over 50 gallons of water per day. Oysters also increase biological diversity and improve coastal resilience. The project restored 5.8 million oysters in Wellfleet Harbor. How Cool!
Fog, Algae, and a Different Kind of Seagrass
with BU’s Alyssa Novak
July 6, 2016
It was a foggy morning and I was very excited to be finally meeting Alyssa Novak, from BU’s Earth and Environment program. The team was by the water’s edge in Wellfleet. Alyssa was surrounded by students as she showed the different parts of kelp she had found. It was a broad leaf semi transparent slippery thing. The water felt 10 degrees warmer than Gloucester. The terrain here in Wellfleet was sandy with colorful rocks and lots of different types of algae. The seagrass was also different than the ones we harvested in Gloucester. These were shorter, lighter in color and seemed to be doing well in shallower water. Interesting how the location shapes things that live in it.
Alyssa pulled out her first bundle of seagrass and pointed to the dot. “This is either a muscle or a clam, hard to tell at this point, we would need a microscope.” She said these shelled creatures (Mollusks) latch on to the seagrass and feed off of them. The size and shape of the seagrass is determined by the environment the seagrass grows in. Different types of wave motion, salinity, and soil all affect what the eelgrass looks like. “Is it kind of similar to the shorter trees on the Cape?” I asked. “Sure” Alyssa replied “the weather and wind affects all the plant life. The trees have deeper wider root system here and are shorter.”
It’s terrific how these ecologists help me see the landscape in a completely different way. Rather than colors, shapes, and forms, all of a sudden I was becoming more aware of smaller details and variations. Alyssa had found a small spider crab crawling up another type of algae. It was long skinny vertical strands of ochre algae and reminded me of long strawberry blond hair. I thought that algae was bad for the seagrass, I see all sorts of algae here. I asked Alyssa , she explains that algae and phytoplankton are only bad for seagrass when there is an excess amount of it and they cover plants or the water becomes turbid reducing the amount of light available to seagrass. This occurs when you have excess nutrients in the system. Under normal conditions seagrass is just as good as oysters for filtering out nitrates. (Nitrates can come from fertilizer run offs & sewage). I remembered Fred Short mentioning how we need to think of our nitrate footprint just as much as our carbon footprint.
The team started harvesting the seagrass, Hanna had found a beautiful pink crab (Ovalipes ocellatus). It had a wonderful warm pinkish color with leopard patterns on its shell. As I walked towards the shore to put my camera away the fog started rolling in and within seconds got really dense. I couldn’t see anything, so I just kept walking hoping there was less water so I knew I was heading in the right direction. I looked back the team had disappeared in this grayish white mass. The fog was so dense I could hardly see a foot away. Interesting how I had to shift from vision dependency on to using spatial knowledge..no gps, no cell phone..makes you wonder how our DNA is configured to help with navigation. I managed to find the shore (phew), put my camera away, and got back to harvesting seagrass. This type of experience would have never occurred if I had just stayed in my studio. The tactile learning that happens when you are out in the field is priceless. I am grateful for having such wonderful people like Alyssa, Hanna, and the team for sharing their knowledge with me. By the time we finished harvesting, the cooler was full of short eelgrass and the fog had rolled out. Yet another fascinating day meeting Alyssa Novak and hanging out with the crew!!!
For technical terminology:
For volunteering contact Hanna Mogensen:
Meeting Fred Short & The Lab Tour at UNH
July 5th, 2016
What do you ask a seagrass guru when you meet him for the first time? Probably more intelligent things than “can you eat seagrass?”. Fred Short the author of “World Atlas of Seagrass” was terrific at keeping a straight face while answering my funny question. “No not really..the rhizomes are eaten in some countries, the kids in Thailand like the sweet taste of the roots. In some places in Mexico they make bread from the seeds, but we don’t really eat them here.” Fred Short is the director of seagrass.net a global seagrass monitoring program as well as a research professor of natural resources at UNH.
Fred explained to me that there are now 72 different types of seagrass globally, that they are flowering plants and need sunlight in clear water to survive. However due to high levels of nitrates and phosphate from fertilizers and sewage run-offs, algae blooms occur. These algae blooms block light and seagrass needs light to photosynthesize. When the seagrass dies, all the marine life surrounding and feeding off of it also disappear. “We need to be thinking of our nitrogen footprint as well as our carbon footprint.” The seagrass ecosystem is a threatened costal resource.
Fred short took me on a tour of his work space. The Jackson Estuarine Lab is a part of UNH located on the Great Bay Area. From most of the rooms in the building you can see the ocean, how cool! Then we visited Fred’s office which was long and narrow but a little bit difficult to get into with the paddle board, snorkeling gear and other equipment. I was impressed with how organized his bookshelves were, and how he could pull out books or files to show things.
Next, we visited the lab where Fred presented me with a jar of water- where inside a little Jellyfish was swimming around. He was sampling the Jellyfish for a scientist friend in Florida, his friend wanted to compare it with the Jellyfish they found in Florida. We walked towards another workbench with something that looked like a large cookie jar. It was a contraption that helped dry the eelgrass so when they weighed and took measurements the moisture level would not be variable. The seagrass was labeled and put in to brown paper bags. They compared how healthy the Eelgrass was by measuring the weight from previous years. Who would of thought simple brown paper bags and a system for documenting them, how fascinating!
We walked downstairs and checked the outside lab, more contraptions, Kayaks and experiments happening. One of his colleges was growing dune grass, another was studying oysters, there were cages with green crabs. We walked out to the pier where Fred pulled out some seagrass and showed me the seeds. He explained that the seagrass has both male and female components on one plant. The water helps pollinate the female seeds with other seagrass plants. He also showed me the rhizome root structure, apparently seagrasses can connect to one another from these nodes.
What a great way to spend a Tuesday afternoon touring the facilities at Jackson Estuaries Lab. with Fred Short! Thank you for the wonderful work you are doing with seagrass restoration, seagrass mapping, and helping us better understand how climate change and nitrogen loading impacts the world we live in.
Working in Morning Light
More field work with the BU Novak Lab Team
July 8, 2016
There is something all consuming about being in the water early on a fresh July morning. The warm morning breeze trails across the water’s surface creating gentle ripples. It is low tide and the ocean looks surreal, yes this morning could be from one of Dali’s landscape paintings. Yet the rich blue-green vibrant color is something I have never seen before. The BU Novak lab team pull up into the parking lot at the beach around 6:30am. Hanna greets me with her cheery upbeat voice.
Today, we were out to harvest eelgrass up in the North Shore. Harvesting and planting, all these new words are very exciting. I follow the team into the water. I look at the eelgrass and it is dense, long, and packed in. This is what healthy eelgrass is supposed to be like. The seagrass feels silky, smooth and cool at the same time. Hanna shows me how to harvest seagrass. You find a healthy plant that does not have seeds or fruits. (Those ones need to be left alone so they can multiply. ) “You follow the grass all the way down to the base, and then gently dig around the root. Once it wiggles you give the seagrass a little tug and pull it out” Hanna makes it look natural.
I was a little nervous at first..was I stepping and disturbing the beds? What if I didn’t dig deep enough and yanked out the stalk? What is underneath all this grass, what about the crabs? Was there jellyfish? I had to stop thinking..Well here goes, just like Hanna said, find a seagrass follow it all the way down, get the sediment loose and gently pull. I pulled one out and examined the roots “Look it has nodes!” Hanna said. I looked and there were these little bumpy things with small extensions. Nodes are the places on the plant that grow. Apparently these nodes can attach on to other nodes and the seagrass can grow through the root as well as from seed. Fascinating! I looked across the water, it is fantastic the shimmering light, the wide range of blue- gray hues and patterns, everywhere. I checked out what the team was doing, they already had large bundles of seagrass in their hands. There was a meditative quality about the whole process. You had to focus on the task at hand, and after a while you lost track of time. You kind of have to slow down and pay attention.
In Water, Oil on Panel, 20″x 16″, 2016
Once I got a little more comfortable, I started to dig a little deeper. The next eelgrass I pulled out was a surprise. I was so excited to pull out a seagrass that had a chunk of squiggly things on the bottom, it reminded me of one of my paintings called In water. “This is below-ground biomass, its great when the roots create this extra layer of stuff..the vegetation eventually will raise the bed higher up.” Hanna explained. Hmm I thought, I’ve been painting”below-ground biomass” without even knowing!
For more info check out:
For technical terminology:
For volunteering contact Hanna Mogensen:
Kelly with the crab, Erica, and Hanna with Audrey, super cool ladies!
Opening Night @Artlery160 Tuesday June 28th, 2016
To Thirty More Years
June 8, 2016 to July 12, 2016
What an exciting way to spend Tuesday evening @artlery160. Having the privilege of exhibiting with fellow USEA artists in this new hip and happening galley made a somewhat ordinary evening fantastic!
The gallery is located in the historic Art Deco building at 160 Federal street in Boston’s financial district. Andre Reibling and David Thomson did a wonderful job with the installation with lots of breathing room allowing viewers to take in each piece of art one at a time. As people started coming in to view the work, I noticed that this was no ordinary reception. Many people had their cell phones out and were using Artlery’s high tech app to get details of the work. A sensor was placed near each art work so when you were close to the pieces the geo tagging or some kind of tech thing happened and it communicated with the Artlery app on your phone. So you could actually get real time data on each art work. David Thompson, the gallery owner was super excited showing all the different features this app. Eventually, David explained that this app could track your art way after it had sold and resold, and give you all sorts of info. Check it out: https://artlery.com. This cool app in a strange way made the reception more interactive for the attendees, at least it gave us more to talk about and made us move!
Thank you USEA co-chair Hope M Ricciardi for getting all of us organized. I was thrilled to be a part of the celebrations with Edith Bowers, Uschi Bracken,Marian Dioguardi, Marjorie Kaye, Ella Nicole, Julia Purinton, Ellen Rolli, Sloat Shaw, and Charyl Weissbach beautiful works of art!
Marine Biology Lab, Woods Hole, Falmouth, MA
“Ernst Haeckel’s Romantic Biology”
Robert J. Richards, University of Chicago
June 17th, 2016
Sitting in a corner of my studio is a thin book by Ernst Haeckel called “Art Forms from the Ocean”. I love the magical illustrations of organic shapes, symmetries, and Haeckel’s ability to capture detailed variation of marine life. When I heard about a Haeckel lecture at the Marine Biological Lab in Woods Hole, Falmouth I was curious and of course had to go.
Robert Richard’s lecture was thought provoking, weaving together Haeckel’s personal life with his work. I have always looked at the illustrations in awe and thought of Haeckel as a great artist. It turns out he was also a scientist and had studied medicine before focusing his energies on biology and nature. His portfolio was published during 1899 and 1904. Haeckel supported Darwin’s theories of evolution and his illustrations became so popular that he sold more than Darwin’s “ On the Origin of Species”. Haeckel were good colleagues. Early on in his career Haeckel had mailed Darwin hand drawn images of Radiolarians which initiated their friendship.
I had no idea there was and still is so much resistance to the evolutionary theory behind Haeckel’s work. He was depicting a form of “Darwinism” with his images which was in direct conflict with the Catholic church. Today Haeckel’s images are still controversial and have naysayers. During his lifetime and today, some scientists are trying to call him a fraud. For example in one of his books, Haeckel used the same wood print to show how similar animal embryos are at early stages. The same woodblock print was used to show a dog, chicken and turtle embryo. His opponents pointed out that he used the same image three times and this was fraud. So in his next book Haeckel only used the embryo illustration once and wrote that these embryos all look similar at early stages.
Richard’s lecture was fascinating in how he compared the fraud accusation images with science today. How the discrepancies the naysayers found are minimal in comparison to fantastic observations Haeckel was depicting. Hmm a lot of info to digest on a Friday night, but well worth the trip!
Hope to go to some more of these cool lectures:
Gardening In the Water
Conomo Point, Great Marsh, Essex, MA, June 8th, 2016
It feels amazing to be able to hold seagrass in my hands. I’ve been painting seagrass for two years now without actually going outside. In the studio, I created over 70 abstract paintings that relates to seagrass ecology using Edmund Green and Fred Short’s book “World Atlas of Seagrasses” for inspiration.
On June 8th, for the first time I was introduced to the real thing: Eelgrass. I also helped plant the Eelgrass at Conomo Point in Essex, how exhilarating!!!! I am not sure exactly why these plants are so magical for me; they are full of potential, diversity, and life. They are powerhouses for feeding and sheltering all sorts of animals. They bring eclectic members of crabs, starfish, seahorses and fish to an area that otherwise just sand. Seagrass also helps protect our shorelines from erosion by holding down sedimentation. For me seagrass symbolizes clean air, an abundance of sea creatures, and home. It is hard to think that we are loosing 1.5% seagrass globally a year, about two football fields of it an hour.
So there I was holding the Eelgrass out in Great Marsh in Essex. It felt cold, smooth, and slick from being in the cooler. I tried to retain my excitement as Alyssa Novak’s team from BU’s Earth and Environment department were being encouraging. Hanna Mogensen explained that they had been harvesting and transplanting the grass since the full moon. The tides are apparently lower which helps with the planting. They had four coolers of seagrass which they had harvested the day before and the seagrass had to be planted within 48 hours. Everyone got a handful of Eelgrass, a metal rod and went in knee high to dig holes for planting. “There was no grass here before, it was just sand” Hanna explained as she planted some seagrass. Their efforts from last year were paying off, the seagrass they had transplanted had increased in size and area. Best of all, she was thrilled at seeing all kinds of “Spats”, scallop larvae that attach to the surface of the seagrass. New populations of marine life were settling among the seagrass beds; crabs, starfish, sand dollars, seahorses and more…this was great I couldn’t wait to get started.
For planting you have to get about five Eelgrasses, position the metal spoke and create a hole in the sand, just like gardening. Then you turn the roots so they align the long way, secure the metal rod and cover up there roots. Voila- first planting done! This Eelgrass restoration site was made possible with the Hurricane Sandy Grant the Novak team received.
After two hours of planting we hopped back on the boat and headed back to the pier. “This has all eroded” Hanna explained as she pointed to the banks of the marshes. I looked at the cross section of layers, it looked like a chunk had been chopped off. I keep hearing about sea levels rising and climate change, but here I could actually see the effects. Coastal erosion, restoration and preservation are new words for me. It is amazing to think about how seagrass can help with sedimentation to prevent more erosion.
Rain or shine, or even if the tide is out at 3am, these committed scientists are out in the field harvesting and planting Eelgrass. Lindsay Peter, Molly Sullivan, Audrey Michniak, and Hannah Mogensen thank you for sharing your gardening tips with me!
More info about these great conservationists and their work can be found at:
Eelgrass growth expanding since last years planting
Hanna showing little seeds on Eelgrass
Molly Sullivan and Lindsay Peter with harvested Eelgrass ready to plant
Eelgrass, metal spoke ready for digging
Hanna Mogensen digging holes and planting
Conservation work at Great Marsh
A terrific day out with the habitat restoration crew!
Just visited the National Gallery in London last week and stumbled on “The Ambassadors”, 1553 by Holbein again. All of a sudden my childhood memories came rushing back, we had gone to the museum on a school trip and I had become mesmerized by this large painting. Why on earth would this painting make such an impression on an eight year old? For sure it wasn’t the charming looks of the two chubby fellas hanging out by the table. The clothing and textures were fantastic..I noticed how the floor was different than the fancy carpet draped over the stand. The colors, patterns, and objects were all telling a story. Of course I had no idea what the painting was about, I just kept wondering why would the painter go to all this trouble of creating such a beautiful stage and then stick a huge skull in the foreground. It was Holbein’s skull that first got me thinking “wow art is cool!”I found this great little video about “The Ambassadors”
Check out the National Gallery #nationalgallery
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