Book-of-the-Month: Ocean Country

Book review contribution by COA volunteer Kathleen Weathers

“We are all connected, and all have a social responsibility to not only educate ourselves, but to act.”

Kathy Weathers

Liz Cunningham’s part environmental exposé, adventure story, and memoir reads like a great letter to a friend. Carl Safina, noted conservationist and author, wrote the introduction. The book’s subtitle, “One Woman’s Voyage from Peril to Hope in her Quest to Save the Seas,” is the nutshell summary of in-depth explorations into ocean health. Cunningham illustrates five areas around the world that share the same problems and solutions, transcending national borders, hence Cunningham’s word choice of “country” in the title. She takes the reader on a journey from the Islands of Turks and Caicos, the California coast and the Coral Triangle, which include thousands of Pacific islands stretching from Indonesia to East Timor. The expedition continues on to the Mediterranean and the Silver Bank, known for its breeding ground of humpback whales, just north of the Dominican Republic.

Three simple questions guide Cunningham’s interactions with fishermen, policy-makers, conservationists, sea nomads, scientists, and yes, Parisian chefs:

  1. Why is the ocean so important?
  2. How can we live without leaving a trail of destruction behind us?
  3. Given our interconnected destiny with other creatures, how do our lives need to change?

You’ll learn how Coral Triangle fishermen were supported in changing their harvesting practices from using dynamite (with obvious catastrophic long-term consequences) to sustainable methods, by gaining appreciation of an ecosystem, and creating a forum where all members agree to abide by the “new” approach. This new approach often resembles traditional methods that have been once abandoned. Cunningham’s interview with one of the forum members makes all the difference in how we learn about the process of change. We hear directly from active fishermen faced with problems that threaten their livelihoods and food sources, problems with which our own Ocean State fisherman can identify.

We read other stories of turtle poachers becoming eco-tourism guides, and the creation of SeaWeb Seafood Summit, the world’s premier conference on seafood sustainability (Seafood Summit June ’19 in Bangkok). We learn fascinating facts about how Manta rays have the largest brain-to-body ratio of any fish, how the size of the Tokyo fish market is equal to 43 football fields, and how 2.6 billion people depend on fish not just as a protein source, but as their sole (pun intended) food.

Cunningham’s consistent discovery and message throughout the book is that every human being has a role to play. We are all connected, and all have a social responsibility to not only educate ourselves, but to act. Volunteering with Clean Ocean Access (COA) is a great way for citizens of the Ocean State to become one with our “ocean country” and to be part of the global effort.

Get Involved with COA

Ocean Country is a highly recommended read if you: breathe, eat, enjoy water in its various forms; if you are concerned about the degradation of our environment and need shoring up (pun intended), or if you are new to the issues. Bring your curiosity about world cultures and read how seemingly big systemic issues enmeshed in economies can be tackled by small connective actions. Check out the “Resources” section at the back of the book. Cunningham gives a shout out to volunteering “for an organization you feel passionate about.” Chances are if you are reading this, you are connected to COA in a meaningful way. Think about who else might benefit from this connection and bring them aboard.

For more information on ocean science issues and topics discussed in the book visit:

Liz Cunningham’s Website

College of the Atlantic

SeaWeb – A project of The Ocean Foundation

Meet Our Environmental Science Intern: Emma Gettman

When it comes to water quality monitoring, no one knows the waterscape better than Emma Gettman. As an environmental science intern at Clean Ocean Access (COA) this fall semester, Emma has helped to improve coastal water quality on Aquidneck Island through the water quality monitoring and beach cleanup programs.

Emma is an Ocean State native and loves exploring the underwater world day and night. Growing up in North Kingstown, Rhode Island, she remembers making sand castles with her dad and loves night swimming.

“I’ve always loved the ocean and wanted to work at an organization where I can help make a difference,” says Emma, who is senior at the University of Rhode Island’s College of the Environment and Life Sciences, pursuing a degree in environmental economics with a minor in sustainability.  

Emma spent a semester studying abroad half way around the world at Lincoln University in New Zealand, where she worked alongside PhD students researching genetic changes in soil microbes as a result of invasive species. Her genuine curiosity and scientific research skills led her to pursue an internship with COA in September 2018. In addition to monitoring water quality and helping run beach cleanups, Emma has also helped write reports, enter data, and track marine debris collected in the marina trash skimmers.

A typical Thursday morning for Emma entails waking up in the early morning and driving out to different access points across Aquidneck Island, where she then collects water samples. These samples are then delivered to the Rhode Island Department of Health for further analysis and testing of Enterococci, bacteria found in human and animal intestines that indicate the presence of fecal matter and potential risk of harmful diseases in water systems.

COA has been monitoring water quality year-round since 2006, helping to improve water quality in our favorite swimming spots around Aquidneck Island. In fact, COA volunteers and environmental science interns, like Emma, continue to monitor water quality September through May, when state-wide monitoring is not performed.

“I’m interested in advancing a sustainable and healthy environment, and I enjoy learning about different conservation strategies,” says Emma, who will be graduating from URI this December. After graduation she hopes to do more traveling and engage in environmental work that allows her to continue educating the public about environmental sustainability.

Report finds single-use plastic makes up 70 percent of debris in marina trash skimmers

Clean Ocean Access recently released its annual Marina Trash Skimmer Report detailing the success of the Marina Trash Skimmer (MTS) program over the past three years, as well as the development and expansion of the program in southern New England, which will include the installation of new MTS units in Providence, Rhode Island and New Bedford, Massachusetts this coming spring.

In 2018, the four MTS units on Aquidneck Island successfully removed 5,885 pounds of marine debris from coastal waters, including 4,223 individual items of debris. That is equivalent to nearly three tons of debris ranging from material related to shoreline and recreational activities to smoking and medical/personal hygiene activities.

“As our staff empties the skimmers, it is eye opening to see the amount of trash removed from the harbor, as well as the different types of items,” says Sara Mariani with the City of Newport’s Harbormaster Office, one of the program partners for the MTS unit located at Perotti Park in downtown Newport. “The program is a daily reminder that we must change our behavior to improve the health of Newport Harbor, as well as the Narragansett Bay and beyond.”

Between April and October of this year, COA conducted 36 site visits of the four MTS units located across Aquidneck Island, and performed detailed data collection at each location. Itemized debris counts indicate that single-use plastic makes up 70 percent of material collected in the MTS units. This low-to-no-value material includes items, such as plastic food wrappers, plastic water bottles, plastic caps, lids and straws. The remaining 30 percent of materials collected in the MTS units include materials related to smoking and tobacco use, such as cigarette butts, tobacco packaging, filters and lighters.

The MTS program launched in 2016 when COA received grant funding from 11th Hour Racing to install the first two MTS units on the East Coast. The following year, COA expanded the MTS program with the installation of two more units on Aquidneck Island. Since the launch of the program, COA-operated MTS units have removed a total of 20,615 pounds and over 27,000 individual items of debris from our coastline.

“The trash skimmers provide us with important data about the pollution that ends up as marine debris in our coastal waterways,” says Max Kraimer, marine debris specialist at COA. Kraimer works to leverage, facilitate, and establish MTS technology and research on the East Coast. He also leads trainings and educational outreach events with local schools and community groups.

Over the past three years, the MTS program has educated and engaged 959 individuals, including elementary school students, college graduates and senior-level scientists studying marine debris.“We’re able to use the technology to educate the public about ocean pollution, bringing visibility to the problem of marine debris and inspiring communities to make environmentally-responsible decisions on land that improve the health of our ocean,” Kraimer adds.  

The success of the MTS program, made possible by 11th Hour Racing, has led to increased growth and awareness of the technology throughout southern New England. In spring 2019, COA plans to launch two more MTS units in Providence, Rhode Island and New Bedford, Massachusetts. COA will install an MTS unit in partnership with the City of Providence and the waterfront bar, Hot Club, helping to improve water quality in the Providence River and educate Providence public school students on the issue of marine debris. The second MTS unit is in partnership with New Bedford Community Boating Center overlooking Clark’s Cove in New Bedford harbor.

“By partnering with Clean Ocean Access and the New Bedford Port Authority on the installation of a trash skimmer, we will not only be helping to clean our local waterway, but we’ll be helping to raise awareness of the marine debris issue and encourage everyone to engage in positive change,” says Andy Herlihy, executive director of New Bedford Community Boating Center, an 11th Hour Racing grantee and community outreach center that teaches positive life values to Greater New Bedford’s at-risk youth through boating.

“The skimmer will be front and center on our waterfront, where it will be highly visible to tourists and residents alike. The ocean has historically and continues to be one of our city’s greatest assets and we all need to do our part for its health,” adds Herlihy.
COA extends its sincere appreciation to the MTS program partners and sponsors, including 11th Hour Racing, The City of Newport, New England Boatworks, Sail Newport, Bioprocess H2O, as well as to the volunteers and citizen scientists who help make the program successful.

Meet Our Program Manager: Eva Touhey

Working in ocean conservation, I can teach people about something that I care about deeply with the hopes that it will inspire others to care just as much as I do.”

Eva Touhey grew up immersed in the island life. Growing up in Portsmouth, Rhode Island on Aquidneck Island, she’s lived within minutes of the coast and surrounded by the waters of the Ocean State, so protecting and preserving ocean health is a topic near and dear to her.

Eva earned her bachelor’s degree in biology in 2015 from Hobart and William Smith (HWS) Colleges, located in the heart of New York State’s Finger Lakes region. Before coming to Clean Ocean Access (COA), Eva gained experience working as an animal caretaker assistant at the HWS biology department and an aquarist intern with Save The Bay.

She first discovered COA through a beach cleanup in her hometown and quickly became inspired to advance the budding organization’s mission. Eva began interning with COA in the fall of 2015, working to organize and analyze the Seaweed Nutrient Analysis Program (SNAP) two-year raw data set. She led presentations about the watershed, sources of pollution in the watershed, and pollution prevention. She later joined the team as an education coordinator, helping to develop hands-on environmental curriculum for elementary school students across Aquidneck Island.

“We didn’t have an office and I met with Dave in coffee shops to discuss the project I was working on,” recalls Eva. “In the three years I have been involved with COA, we have grown a lot as an organization. We now have an office, a solid work team and great interns.”

Eva is now COA’s program manager and oversees the organization’s programming, volunteer management, and advocacy efforts. “I am motivated to stay with COA because we have so much potential to do more great work, and I really am interested and excited to see where it takes us,” she adds.

As she works to finish her master’s degree in marine affairs at the University of Rhode Island this year, Eva aims to educate Rhode Islanders about the importance of having policies to protect the environment, though she is hopeful that environmental protection can be achieved without strict policies, but instead through instilling environmentally-responsible behavior in the community.

Eva’s master’s thesis, entitled “The Influence of Plastic Bag Bans on Pro-environmental Behaviors in Rhode Island Coastal Communities,” analyzes the effects of plastic bag bans on individual behaviors, and takes an in-depth look at people’s awareness of and involvement in environmental groups, their awareness of plastic bag bans in their community and their general support for a state-wide plastic bag ban. She will be presenting on her research as part of COA’s Ocean Science Speaker series in spring 2019.


Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Portsmouth attending the Portsmouth public school system and am now living in Newport. Aquidneck Island is home!

What is your first memory of the ocean?

I am not sure what my first memory of the ocean is, but I remember taking family summer vacations to York Beach, Maine and spending time looking for sand dollars along the beach. My parents started bringing me to the beach at a very young age and I have memories of swimming with my dad and playing in the sand.

What is your favorite ocean activity?

Being a beach bum. I can go to the beach for hours on end and sit, read a book, go for a swim, take a nap and repeat. I am dive certified and would love to dive more often than I get to right now. I also really like looking in tide pools and seeing what little critters are there.

What motivates you to work in ocean conservation?

Growing up on Aquidneck Island, the ocean has always been home. I can’t really imagine living anywhere that’s not within minutes of the coastline. Working in ocean conservation is very personal and I can’t “sea” (haha) myself doing anything else. By working in ocean conservation, I can teach people about something that I care about deeply with the hopes that it will inspire others to care just as much as I do. We take a lot of the benefits from the marine environment for granted, and if we keep abusing this, we are going to be in much deeper trouble in the future.

 

Improving Ocean Health Starts on Land

Healthy Soils, Healthy Seas Rhode Island Project Launch with Clean Ocean Access and 11th Hour Racing.

NEWPORT, RI – On Friday, December 7th U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reed and DEM Director, Janet Coit, gave remarks at the launch event of an innovative multi-year project spearheaded by Clean Ocean Access, a nonprofit organization based on Aquidneck Island. Healthy Soils, Healthy Seas Rhode Island is a two-year long initiative funded by 11th Hour Racing that aims to inspire long-lasting environmentally responsible behavior by tackling ocean pollution at its root: on land.

“The marine debris epidemic is a solvable problem, and from our experience, people absolutely want to see ocean pollution become a problem of the past,” says Dave McLaughlin, executive director of Clean Ocean Access. “Restoring and improving ocean health starts with the decisions we make on land.”

Clean Ocean Access will lead Healthy Soils, Healthy Seas RI, bringing together composting efforts across the state in partnership with existing food-waste-diversion groups: The Compost Plant, Rhodeside Revival and the Aquidneck Community Table. The three partners serve as the boots-on-the-ground team that will manage all commercial and residential composting collection and processing with an initial focus on Aquidneck Island.

Healthy Soils, Healthy Seas RI includes three composting programs:

  1. A pilot business composting program for 10 businesses in downtown Newport;
  2. A residential program for households on Aquidneck Island; and
  3. An educational pilot program, “Yes, In My Back Yard (YIMBY),” for backyard composting.Grant funding from 11th Hour Racing allows Clean Ocean Access to subsidize the composting programs and offer discounted rates to the first round of customers who sign up through Healthy Soils, Healthy Seas RI. The initiative brings together diverse stakeholders that include non-profit organizations, academia, government, local businesses, and industry with the hope of expanding an integrated materials management initiative throughout the State of Rhode Island. 

“What we do on land and in our every day lives affects ocean health,” said RI DEM Director, Janet Coit, citing that 100,000 tons of food waste enters the Central landfill each year. “With Healthy Soils, Healthy Seas RI we have an example of people seizing their own destinies, being responsible and doing it at a local level.”

Plastic makes up 10-15% of the material entering Rhode Island’s landfill. Organic waste and debris makes up another 30-35%, and the Johnston landfill is expected to reach capacity by 2034, according to a recent report published by RI Resource Recovery Corporation. With the potential to divert nearly 50% of the materials entering the landfill, integrated recycling and composting efforts could double the landfill’s lifetime through 2049 and mitigate costly expenses associated with out-of-state tipping fees.

“There’s a real spirit of bipartisanship around oceans,” said U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, speaking of the work being done at the national level to tackle plastic pollution and marine debris. He emphasized the critical role local projects like Healthy Soils, Healthy Seas RI play to spark national urgency around the problem of ocean pollution.

“Marine debris can harm marine life impact, boating safety, hinder tourism and other coastal industries, as well as threaten human health,” emphasized U.S. Senator Jack Reed, who also spoke of the success of the Southeast New England Coastal Watershed Restoration Program started in Rhode Island in 2012. “I am very proud to see Rhode Island leading the way on this issue.”

By encouraging people to think critically about their waste footprints, Healthy Soils, Healthy Seas RI aims to spark long-lasting behavior change that empowers people to reevaluate the need for low-and-no value materials entering the landfill, or worse, polluting our ocean.

“Every day organic waste is disposed of in the landfill where it generates greenhouse gases that warm our planet and are detrimental to ocean health” said Michelle Carnevale, Program Manager at 11th Hour Racing. Healthy Soils, Healthy Seas RI is a wonderful initiative that allows the community to come together and collaborate on an effective, and simple, solution. 11th Hour Racing is proud to support this project that promotes systemic change through individual and collective action.”

For more information about Healthy Soils, Healthy Seas RI, and to learn how you can join the first wave of participants turning the tide on ocean pollution visit: http://www.cleanoceanaccess.org/hshsri/.

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About Clean Ocean Access: Since 2006 our mission is action today so future generations can enjoy ocean activities, with an exclusive focus on Aquidneck Island. Living on Aquidneck Island defines a coastally inspired life; so our cause of working for clean beaches, healthy oceans, safe swimming water, and public access of the shoreline is what we do, all year long. We are a tax-exempt not-for-profit organization, learn more at www.cleanoceanaccess.org.

About 11th Hour Racing: 11th Hour Racing establishes strategic partnerships within the sailing and maritime communities to promote collaborative, systemic change benefitting the health of our ocean – one degree at a time. Since 2010, 11th Hour Racing has been harnessing the power of sport with an innovative and comprehensive approach through three primary areas of engagement: Partners, Grantees, and Ambassadors. Learn more at www.11thhourracing.org.

About The Compost Plant: The Compost Plant will produce significant quantities of high-quality compost for the retail and wholesale marketplace in southern New England, building a unique Rhode Island brand that capitalizes on the surging interest in locally and organically-produced food. Learn more at www.compostplant.com.

About Aquidneck Community Table: Aquidneck Community Table (ACT) combines civic conversation, local entrepreneurship, institutional partnerships, and digging in the dirt with the principles of an equitable food system for all on Aquidneck Island. After successfully bringing three related groups under one organizational umbrella in 2016, ACT uses that collective energy to strengthen the island’s food system; to support the local economy and expand access to fresh healthy food for all; and to act directly to grow more food, preserve open space, and teach life skills. Learn more at www.aquidneckcommunitytable.org.

About Rhodeside Revival: Rhodeside Revival was born out of the idea of providing a service that brings the community together in an effort to reduce waste, while also creating quality compost for your garden and giving back to our schools, gardens and other institutions within the community. Rhodeside Revival operates a curbside composting program that brings your home’s food scraps away from the landfill, and into the garden. Learn more at www.rhodesiderevival.com.