Monday, April 30, 2012

Rozalia Project Intern Blog: Florida's Mangroves

This blog post is 8th in our series by Rozalia Project interns. Today's comes from Zane Almquist who is  finishing up her first year at Eckerd College in Florida with plans to major in Environmental Studies and Political Science.

I have always enjoyed being around the water. I grew up in Michigan, where water is prevalent, and my family spent most of our vacations on various beaches.  Although much of my time on the water has been spent in freshwater environments, my family took frequent vacations to the East Coast, so I am familiar with the ocean as well. I like being around water so much that my college's proximity to the water was an important factor in my decision to go there.

My school, Eckerd College, is located on Tampa Bay. The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater Metro area is one of the largest municipalities in the nation (Tampa Bay Business Journal), and Pinellas County (the peninsula which forms the western boundary of the bay) is the most densely populated county in Florida (“Pinellas County Population”). Clearly, the bay is a very popular area and it serves as a boating destination for everyone from recreational fishermen to commercial cruise lines. Unfortunately, this amount of human activity threatens to damage the bay's ecosystem.  
When you are surrounded by water, you can't help but feel a concern about its health. One of the things I noticed when I got to school was the mangroves. Mangroves are very common in Tampa Bay as they are one of Florida's true native plants (Florida Department of Environmental Protection). Mangroves play a vital role in coastal ecosystems. They regulate and cycle nutrients in the water and provide a habitat for a diverse group of organisms (Florida Department of Environmental Protection).  Mangroves line much of the Florida coast and are home to provide nesting areas for birds, hatcheries for crustaceans and fish, and food for many types of organisms (Florida Department of Environmental Protection). In addition, they prevent coastal erosion and protect the coast from storm surges and flooding. Mangroves are found on coastlines, in close proximity to humans. This means that mangroves end up catching the litter that people dispose of. As soon as I noticed the mangroves, I also noticed the trash. Debris is everywhere, everything from styrofoam cups to aluminum cans to plastic bottles and other items that are no longer recognizable. Even the mangrove islands that have been designated as nature preserves (and are not open to people) are not spared. There is still tons of trash caught in the mangrove roots and it is visible from a distance. Obviously this is harmful to the marine environment, posing threats to all types of organisms, from fish and turtles and birds to microscopic plankton. Destruction of mangroves by any means would cause major problems for coastal environments, and not just from an ecological standpoint. Loss of mangroves would greatly diminish fisheries in the area (Florida Department of Environmental Protection). The threat to mangroves is a real one; primarily due to human activity, Tampa Bay has lost over 44% of its costal wetland acreage in the past 100 years (Florida Department of Environmental Protection ). This includes Mangroves and salt marshes.  It is important that we do something to reduce or stop the continued decline of the mangrove ecosystem because it is vital to the protection of marine life and the shoreline that people cherish.

Works Cited
“Tampa Bay in top 20 of metro population ranking”.Tampa Bay Business Journal. 24 June 2011. Web. 22 April  2012.
“Pinellas County Population”. JWB Children's Services Council of Pinellas County, 2010. Web. 22 April 2012.
“What are Mangroves?”. Florida Department of Environmental Protection. 19 July 2011. Web. 22 April 2012.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Rozalia Project Intern Blog Post: The Color of Life… and Death

This excellent post is 7th in our series of posts from Rozalia Project summer interns. Laura Migliaccio is a Chemistry major from Clark University. We are excited to have her onboard to compliment interns with marine biology and environmental studies majors.

Growing up in southern New York, Long Island beaches were frequent destinations for me during the summer months.  For years I played in the dark water, sometimes appearing almost greenish, and thought nothing of it.  It wasn’t until I began visiting tropical destination, like the Caribbean islands, and saw the sparkling light aqua water that I began to realize the drastic differences in ocean water color.  Recently as I’ve been studying oceanography in school, the topic of color has come up time and time again.

Many factors, such as ocean depth, contribute to ocean color, but one major cause of darker oceans is the overproduction of phytoplankton.  Chlorophyll, an important light-absorbing substance, is used by phytoplankton to produce carbon during photosynthesis.  The green pigment of this substance causes phytoplankton to reflect green light, making areas with high algae production appear much darker, with a slight greenish hue, than other oceanic locations.

When toxins and waste are released into the ocean many species are killed off while the growth of others are encouraged.  Nitrogen and phosphorous are two elements frequently discharged into coastal waters from sewage waste and runoff containing fertilizers.  New York City, for example, is a large source of the sewage wastewater that contributes to nutrient pollution in Long Island Sound.  Excess nutrients can result in explosive toxic algal blooms, which are accompanied by human and marine illnesses from ingestion of shellfish containing toxins.

On the other hand, polychlorinated byphenyls (PCBs) are a critical compound found in the ocean that can destroy nontoxic plankton populations.  This compound is often found in plastics and rubber, however, it is unclear whether pollutants can seep from plastic debris into the organisms that consume them. Nevertheless, plankton populations are to known to absorb PCBs released into the ocean in other ways.  This compound can negatively impacts these species, as seen in the contamination and decline of zooplankton in some areas.

Using technology such as SeaWiFS, scientists are able to measure ocean characteristics like ocean color, chlorophyll concentration, and water clarity.  Studying ocean color allows for scientists to gain an understanding of the relationship between marine debris and pollution and phytoplankton production.  Once again, research in this area has indicated that the less debris in the ocean means the healthier the ecosystem!

"Ocean Color Web." NASA. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 17 02 2012. Web. 10 Apr 2012. .

"Plastic Marine Debris: What we know." NOAA Marine Debris Program. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, 21 09 2011. Web. 10 Apr 2012.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Rozalia Project Intern Blog Post: Saving the Sound

This post is 6th in a series of blog entries from our summer interns. They were asked to write about a personal experience with marine debris or from their own perspective. This one comes from Conor Grant who will be an Embedded Journalist onboard American Promise this summer. He attends Middlebury college.

The Long Island Sound is one of the world’s most beautiful bodies of water. The Long Island sound with its striking coastline and beautiful coastal towns and its convenient location between Connecticut and Long island, is a popular spot for boaters, sunbathers, fishermen, and all variety of outdoor enthusiasts. For all those who have spent time in the area, it will come as no surprise that more than four million people have chosen to make their home in the coastal communities of the Sound. These four million people make the coastal landscape of Long Island a vibrant and exciting one, but it is important to remember that the Long Island Sound is home to more than just people. In fact, the wildlife population within the Sound dwarfs the sizeable human population that surrounds it.  

The Long Island Sound is a biologically rich estuarine environment that is home to more than 170 species of fish, more than 1200 species of invertebrates, and dozens of species of birds. The Sound is a diverse marine ecosystem, characterized by productive salt marshes, sandy beaches, tidal flats, eelgrass beds, rocky inter-tidal zones, and numerous other constituent ecosystems that provide a home for the hundreds of species of flora and fauna that populate the Sound. All of these different ecosystems exist in a tenuous harmony that enables such a diverse spectrum of plants and animals to reside in the multitude of habitats found within the Sound. The natural balance of the Sound, however, has been challenged in recent years by a host of environmental issues brought about by inappropriate stewardship of the Sound and its respective marine environments.

It is estimated that 20 million people live within 50 miles of the Long Island Sound. This staggering concentration of human settlement around the Sound means that the byproducts of human consumption have lead to pollution of the Sound’s ecosystems. Polluted water runoff is an increasingly problematic issue in the shoreline communities that surround the Sound. Water quality has greatly deteriorated due to chemical runoff primarily caused by lawn products, pesticides, pet waste, and other chemicals. Floating debris, chemical contamination, the destruction of natural habitats, and increasing hypoxia (de-oxygenation) currently destabilize the waters of the Sound. These problems cause species of fish and other creatures to relocate to less dangerous areas, and in some cases they kill off large biological populations of plants and animals that are unable to quickly to respond to rising pollution levels.

Since the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, the environmental issues pertaining to the Sound have been an important part of public policy in the coastal areas surrounding the Sound. Great efforts have been made to manage the watershed areas surrounding the Sound, to limit the use of dangerous and damaging products and chemicals, and to limit the destruction of natural habitats in and around the Sound. Despite these efforts, pollution has continued. Education is crucial. The millions of people who enjoy the beautiful waters of the Sound must realize the dire consequences of improper stewardship of the Sound; many people don’t realize that the fertilizer they use or the pet waste they improperly dispose of is damaging marine ecosystems. People can help mitigate the effect of pollution on the Sound in a number of relatively simple ways, such as purchasing organic lawn-care products, conserving water, practicing proper septic maintenance, recycling, carefully disposing of hazardous materials (batteries, etc.) and conserving energy.

Many programs and institutions are also working to preserve the natural habitats of the sound. The Long Island Sound Study is a highly active conservationist group that is involved with clean-up and outreach in the area of the Sound. Together, the people of the tri-state area and the country as a whole can save beautiful natural resources like the Long Island sound by practicing a handful of simple conservation techniques. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Rozalia Project Intern Blog: What Lies Beneath... The Charles

This post, fifth in our Intern Blog Series, is from Rozalia Project's first intern, Laura Dunphy. Laura worked with Rozalia Project Founder/Director Rachael Miller, in 2010 while she was a senior at Champlain Valley Union HS in Vermont and will be joining American Promise for the second time this summer. Laura is currently studying (and sailing) at MIT on the Charles River in Boston...

Rozalia Project Intern Blog: What Lies Beneath…the Charles 

 I first worked with the Rozalia Project back in the fall of 2010. One drizzly morning, Rachael and I drove the ROV down to Boston for a day of trash pickup on the Charles River. The river had been stirred up by rain, and visibility was so poor that we could barely see the claws of the robot on the monitor despite the fact that they are literally inches away from the camera. Although the water was only 2 or 3 feet deep, from where I stood on the dock, I could not make out the bottom. As the ROV approached the riverbed, Rachael excitedly called me over to the monitor. To my astonishment, the bottom of the river was COVERED in trash. I ran back to the edge of the dock to try and see what the ROV could see. I still saw nothing. It was at that moment that I realized what a powerful tool the Rozalia Project has at their disposal. In mere minutes I had been exposed to an underwater world that would most likely shock most Bostonian pedestrians.

 The Charles River has struggled with pollution for over a century. In the 1960’s submerged cars, raw sewage spills and toxic discharges were not uncommon. As recently as 1995, the EPA gave the river a “D” rating and advised those who fell in it to get a tetanus shot. After decades of effort from groups such as the Charles River Watershed Association, the river is finally looking better. It was most recently rated at a “B+.” (“Charles)

 While the river today is better than it once was, the pile of trash Rachael and I gathered in only a few hours (along with sonar images of larger, irretrievable objects such as tires) proves that the Charles is still polluted. Although waste treatment plants and industrial facilities have gotten better about what they release into the environment, average people still continue to litter. The majority of the (identifiable) objects we recovered that day were common items such as bottles, cans and clothing. It just goes to show that if people did not litter, there would be much less debris in the water. Small actions and slight lifestyle changes can go a long way toward protecting the environment.

 As I blissfully piloted the ROV and collected items covered in black sludge, I had no idea that I would be sailing on the Charles practically every day for the next four years! Now I am even more motivated to keep the river clean. Although I do not have the technology to clean the bottom of the river, I have been making an effort to collect floating debris whenever possible. I am looking forward to reuniting with the Rozalia Project and the underwater world!

 Works Cited: "Charles River Watershed Association." Charles River Watershed Association. Web. 09 Apr. 2012.

Improvements and remaining problems the river faces:

Monday, April 2, 2012

Rozalia Project Intern Blog: Monofilament: use it then RECYCLE it!

Today's post is 4th in our series of blog posts by incoming Rozalia Project interns. This one comes from Kayla Lubold who normally attends Eckerd College as an Environmental Science major. Currently, however, she is at sea with Sea Education Association! Kayla, like the others, was asked to write about marine debris from a personal perspective.

When monofilament fishing line is not disposed properly, it is a great threat to the environment, especially the aquatic species. For one of my environmental studies classes our finial project was on any environmental issue. That was easy to me because I wanted to learn more about how you can lessen your impact on the environment from fishing. I chose this topic because in many places where I go fishing people are not cleaning up their fishing line, never mind recycling it. Some fisherman can be careless about leaving behind their fishing line or some don’t know the risks of what loose fishing line can do to the environment.

Through this project I learned about the effects of monofilament. The fishing line is often clear and appears invisible to the animals.  Animals such as shorebirds, turtles and seals get entangled in the fishing line that was left behind. If entangled, the animal could lose a limb or its life. Animals may confuse monofilament for food, ingest it or use it as nesting material. (Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation)

During my research I learned the different ways fisherman can recycle their monofilament line. In areas that do provide recycling stations, they are located indoors and outdoors. The indoor recycling bins can be found at some tackle shops and other participating shops. The outdoor bins are typically found at marinas, boat ramps, piers and are made from PVC.  Where I go to school in Florida the recycling bins for monofilament line are everywhere, but I know in many other areas they are hard to find or nonexistent.  If you are interested in placing a recycle bin in your local area the Florida Monofilament Recovery & Recycling Program (MRRP) website has great instructions on how to build an indoor or outdoor bin. (Monofilament Recovery & Recycling Program)

Rozalia Project note: The Boat US Foundation (an awesome Rozalia Project partner, and one of our first partners), has an excellent nationwide monofilament recovery and recycling program. In fact, Rozalia Project is working with them to put bins in some of the locations we visit where we find a lot of discarded fishing line just sitting on the docks or wrapped around pilings. For information about the Boat US Foundation's Reel in and Recycle Program see:

Work Cited
Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation. March 20, 2008. March 26, 2012. Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation to Assist with Monofilament Line Removal.                                                           

Monofilament Recovery & Recycling Program. State of Florida, Web. 26 Mar 2012.