Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Green Eggs and Sand - Part IV

     Several months previous to the GE&S workshop in New Jersey, I traveled down to Smyrna, Delaware to the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife’s Aquatic Resources Education Center & Mallard Lodge – a rustic, functional, and well-weathered building located amidst a vast stretch of wetlands along Route 9.  I was there to interview Gary Kraemer - the Training Administrator for AREC and one of the originators of GE&S.  Gary and I are sitting in the conference room surrounding by posters, models, educational paraphernalia, learning modules, photos and all manner of things aquatic.  This is where teachers gather periodically throughout the year to attend workshops, listen to aquatic experts, and bone up on some of the latest research to enhance their science curricula.
            Gary is nothing if not passionate about the value of the Green Eggs & Sand program.  When I ask him to sum up the GE&S program in 25 words or less he replies, “That’s a hard one to answer - but it’s certainly to provide an awareness of the phenomenon at the first level.  You know, the crab and bird connection; the significance of each animal, how it has come to be so important to humans, and for the different bait, biomedical and ecotourism values.  It’s also because of the birds and the esoteric connection for environmental use, for fish use, and for the biomedical uses.  Really where we hope to get them is to give them an awareness - at a deeper level of understanding - of the animal, and the challenge and the controversy of managing a resource like this.  It has multiple uses, many different stake holders, and lots of scientific data.”  As I’m listening and recording the conversation, I’m also taking notes using words like “passionate.” “thoughtful,” “animated,” and “absolutely engaged.”«  A conversation with Gary is like two old friends chatting at a bar on a Friday night.  The only thing missing here at the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife’s Aquatic Resources Education Center & Mallard Lodge is a couple of “cold ones,” a basket of stale pretzels, and some loud and obnoxious country music on the jukebox.
            At this point in the conversation Gary brings out a small tub of newly hatched horseshoe crabs.  I’m trying hard not to use words such as “cute” and “adorable,” but these guys look like tiny aliens scuttling across the bottom of the pan.  “These guys hook you in,” he say with his typical passion.  “Whenever we go and do events – you can have the fanciest looking exhibit in the whole world – but if you have something that introduces the public to these little guys…it’s amazing how strongly that grabs the people and gets them interested in learning more.”
            “It sucks them right in?” I inquire.
            “Yeah.  The kids certainly do, and this really connects them at any age, you know.  Most people are like, have no idea.  They seem to have this idea that horseshoe crabs are these big ugly things that come up on the bay beaches and are left behind to die and stink up the place .  That’s what they see, and they have no idea it takes them so long to get that age, so seeing them in little hatchlings that will take at least another 8-10 years to become the adults they see on the beaches gives them a whole other outlook.”
            As is often the case in a comfortable conversation the topics shift back and forth.  Gary and I talk about adaptive resource management (“How many horseshoe crabs does it take spawning in the Delaware Bay to produce the superabundance of eggs that support adequate population levels of red knots?”), shifts in horseshoe crab populations over the last several years (“…you’ll see a lot in the media that horseshoe crabs are declining.  They’re not!”), restricted horseshoe crab harvesting for eel fishermen (“It’s been especially hard on eel fishermen in Delaware where a small male-only horseshoe crab harvest is now in place, since eel fishermen require female horseshoe crabs for bait.  I mean, these guys have to go out of state to get their bait.”), to conservation issues (“…I have to say I have felt like the fishermen have moved more to the environment than the environmentalists.”).

« In a subsequent interview with one of Gary’s colleagues, I am told that Gary is “…passionate about all he does.  He has an intense love of nature and an intense love for horseshoe crabs.  He is always trying to give people an appreciation for, and an understanding of, one of nature’s most amazing creatures!”

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Green Eggs & Sand - Part III

I departed my central Pennsylvania homestead and steeled myself for a driving experience similar to the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain – truckers with bad brakes, old ladies in very slow cars, and dozens of “This is really a very important cell phone call I have to make while tailgating you at 85-miles-per-hour” drivers on the various toll roads of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  As many drivers are aware, each of these toll roads is designed to suck all the loose change out of the crevices and creases of your car as well as several extra dollars from your pockets.  I traversed the Pennsylvania Turnpike ($10.70) eastward, the New Jersey Turnpike ($2.35) southwest, the Atlantic City Expressway ($3.00) southeast, and the Garden State Parkway ($1.00) south toward the southern tip of New Jersey.  Four-and-a-half hours (and all my Eagles, Eric Clapton, and Van Morrison CDs) later I arrived at the Ponderosa Campground just outside the quaint little town of Cape May Courthouse and checked into my rustic, yet functional cabin – my home for the weekend.
I meet my roommate – Walter, who has been teaching for 43 years – the last dozen or so at an alternative school for juveniles with emotional, social, and behavioral challenges.  A jovial disposition and a hirsutely-challenged head (Male bonding at its finest) in concert with a hearty laugh, Walter has seen the ebbs and flows of education from a unique perspective.  He is deeply committed to his students and wants to provide them with unique experiences that are unavailable in science textbooks – experiences that will give them real-world opportunities to connect with the world of nature and solve problems that have immediate application in their everyday lives.  Walter is here to not only challenge his students, but to challenge himself as a teacher – to move out of a ‘comfort-zone” and into some new areas that will enhance his students’ learning opportunities as well as his teaching prowess.  He asks me, “If I can’t grow, then how can I help my students grow?”  Green Eggs & Sand seems to be the ideal answer to that question.
At 6:00 Walter and I travel over to The Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor, NJ for dinner with the 30 or so other GE&S participants and a series of introductory workshops.  After a dinner of pizza, sodas, and baskets of chocolate chips cookies (apparently budding marine biologists are not entirely calorie conscious), we are engaged in an icebreaker activity – a way of building group solidarity for the coming weekend.  Each of us is tasked with filling in a card with the names of participants with various and sundry talents, skills, and occupations.  We mingle together and record the names of people who fit each of the following descriptors:
·    Is wearing a shirt featuring a horseshoe crab image
·    Has observed horseshoe crabs spawning in the moonlight
·    Is writing a book about horseshoe crabs
·    Comes from a state that does not have horseshoe crabs
·    Has hatched horseshoe crab eggs and/or raised the young
·    Is sporting some conspicuous form of horseshoe crab “bling.”
·    Can speak passionately about the virtues & values of horseshoe crabs
Needless to say, we discover an eclectic array of kindred spirits and familiar philosophies that further solidifies our mission for the weekend.  We have congregated and coalesced!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Green Eggs & Sand - Part II

Green Eggs & Sand workshops differ from traditional teacher workshops.  The focus is more on promoting understanding of the issues, science, and management of the horseshoe crab/shorebird controversy, rather than on demonstrating use of the curriculum itself.  Consequently, much of the agenda involves listening to presenters and stakeholders – including leading horseshoe crab and shorebird biologists, fisheries managers, commercial fisherman and biomedical experts - share their knowledge, insights and perspectives on the issues.  Activities from the curriculum are sprinkled in-between these expert sessions, both to serve as a break from the sitting/listening mode and to provide a flavor for the curricular content offered.  Field trips, involving observation of spawning horseshoe crabs at nearby beaches (featuring hands-on interpretation by experts on horseshoe crab biology and ecology) is also an integral part of the experience.
Initially, Green Eggs & Sand workshops were limited to Delaware Bay.  In recent years, as interest in the horseshoe crab management controversy expanded, GE&S has offered sessions up and down the Atlantic Coast.  Typically, three workshops are offered annually, one in the Southeast, one in New England, and the other in the Mid-Atlantic. These are timed to coincide with new/full moon events in April, May and June, when horseshoe crab spawning is most readily observed.  Since those inaugural workshops in 2000 interest in horseshoe crabs has spawned GE&S workshops up and down the east coast, serving educators from nineteen states and two foreign countries.
Green Eggs & Sand workshops are geared for teachers and other environmental educators.  Since the curricular focus is middle school and up, and strong on life science, biology teachers and non-formal educators (including those who work at marine aquaria, parks, wildlife refuges and other interpretive centers) typically comprise the lion’s share of participants.  However, given the inter-disciplinary flavor and flexible design of GE&S, elementary and other subject matter teachers have also benefited from attending.  Over the years, GE&S has also attracted and opened its doors to a diverse assortment of other individuals interested in learning more about the horseshoe crab, including writers, artists, media people, scientists, fisheries managers and other stakeholders in the resource. The cast of characters congregating at GE&S is always interesting and the networking opportunities that result are an added bonus of attending.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Green Eggs & Sand - Part I

New Jersey frequently gets a bad rap.
            When I was growing up in southern California my friends and I thought New Jersey was simply one enormous metropolitan area – an overpopulated area buried under asphalt, teeming with crime (myriad mob figures with carnations in their lapels and scowls on their faces), covered with acres of smog-spewing cars, and littered with vast tenements as far as the eye could see.  New Jersey was old, tired, and broken-down – sorta like the relative nobody wanted to visit.  We believed New Jersey was New York’s blighted back yard - heaps of filth, mounds of decay, endless urban blight, and decrepit factories spewing mushroom-shaped clouds of gritty pollution.  We were equally certain New Jersey was a plethora of corrupt cops, a cacophony of dishonest politicians, and a glut of insolent citizens who’d just as soon give you the finger as help you across the street.
            Like I said, New Jersey got a bad rap (keep in mind that we were “California surfer dudes” - spending a lot of time out in those mind-altering ultraviolet rays).
            But now that I live next door to the Garden State (in Pennsylvania), I’ve definitely changed my tune.  The (erroneous) perceptions I had of New Jersey as a kid have been significantly changed now that I see it with a completely new set of (considerably clearer) lenses.«  Indeed!  According to the New Jersey Division of Travel and Tourism the state has 130 miles of sun-drenched beaches, a rich and rewarding arts scene, a vast array of cultural venues, dozens of family-friendly amusement parks, an overwhelming abundance of historical sites and museums, a ton of outdoor interests – everything from picturesque lighthouses to championship golf courses, more shopping malls and outlet centers than you could ever want to count, and a wealth of historic resources in every corner of the state.  Suffice it to say (at least suffice it for the New Jersey Division of Travel and Tourism to say), “New Jersey is brimming with possibilities.”
            New Jersey is also brimming with horseshoe crabs – which is why I was headed there on a chilly, gray Friday afternoon in May.  I had registered for a session of the Green Eggs & Sand workshop at the Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor, NJ – near the southern tip of the state and close to the tourist enclaves of Cape May and Wildwood.  Green Eggs & Sand (also known as GE&S) is an intense 3-day series of workshops, lectures, presentations, and hands-on activities designed to help educators integrate horseshoe crabs into their science programs – specifically at the middle school and high school levels.  Green Eggs & Sand also comprises a set of curriculum modules that explores the Atlantic Coast horseshoe crab/shorebird phenomenon and management controversy.   

« In order to maintain a modicum of journalistic integrity, it should be mentioned that my wife Phyllis was born and raised in New Jersey.  Thus, there are many things to love about the indigenous population of the Garden State.
It would be fair to mention that New Jersey is also brimming with a superabundance of legislation.  Consider the following regulations, rules, statutes, and laws which the good citizens of New Jersey have previously endured, or must currently obey:
§  In New Jersey, it is illegal to wear a bullet-proof vest while committing a murder.
§  It is against the law in New Jersey for a man to knit during the fishing season (Fine.  Now, what am I supposed to do when trout season rolls around?).
§  In New Jersey, it’s illegal to slurp soup (Apparently, licking the whipped cream off your peach cobbler is O.K.).
§  New Jersey has a law forbidding people to "frown" at a police officer (No, really!).
§  There is no horse racing allowed on the New Jersey Turnpike.
§  In Trenton, New Jersey you may not throw a bad pickle in the street.  And, pickles are not to be consumed on Sundays (I’m not sure, but seems as though New Jersey is a little “pickle-phobic.”).
§  Unless you have a doctor's note, it's illegal to buy ice cream after 6:00 PM in Newark, New Jersey.

NEXT POST - Green Eggs & Sand - Part II

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ten Thousand Friends - Part III

By now the sun had slipped below the line separating earth and sea and we were bathed in the pale light of a resplendent summer moon.  Flashlights clicked on and headlights flickered as we continued down the beach – carefully sidestepping the panoply of single-minded creatures as they scurried and scuttled and clasped and fertilized in a mating ritual that was both silent and frantic.  From time to time we would encounter a horseshoe crab unceremoniously somersaulted on its back by an unexpected wave.  One of us would gently reach down and flip the hapless creature right side up - whereupon it would continue its journey up the sand or back into the waiting arms of the bay.
Each of us moved silently over the sand – occasionally crouching down to watch the circus of arthropods before us or sharing a comment or two with another member of the troop.  Like the constant budding of amoebas, we would divide into small groups of threes and fours and fives, reassemble, and then divide again – carefully observing the “action” on the beach, sharing an observation, or gathering a shell or two for display on the living room coffee table.  Conversation was muted as we listened to the scraping and clatter of shells rubbing against each other in the stilled air.
Around us were hundreds of female crabs, each of whom would scoop out a small hollow in the beach and wait - with their usual evolutionary patience - for the arrival of a male (or two or three or four) to consummate their bond.  While we were temporary, these crabs were part of a permanence of nature, a constant coming and going that transcended all vestiges of time.  We realized that this was nature at its most spectacular – the reproduction of a species. 
For millennia after millennia these crabs and their ancestors have been locked in an eternal embrace – passing their genes and their ancestry from one generation to the next.  Each of us knew we were short-term witnesses to a perpetual spectacle that has been taking place since, well, since almost forever – a spectacle full of awe and mystery and the passion of persistence.
It is, most hopefully, a never-ending story. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Ten Thousand Friends - Part II

As we strolled up the beach we watched transfixed as couples mated on every stretch of sandy real estate they could find.  Almost alien in appearance, these sub-marine “tanks” plowed their way out of the water, up the beach, and into each other with all the delicacy of a frenzied herd of bull elephants drunk on fermented fruits.  There were the usual twosomes and threesomes, and occasionally we would come across a foursome, a fivesome, and even one over-stimulated sixsome – a coupling which, I am sure, would have put most adult film stars to shame.  Cameras clicked and notes were scribbled as we traipsed through rippling waves to watch these critters perform – each of them totally oblivious to our presence and each totally absorbed in a ritual propelled by tides and temperatures and hormones…forces as old as time itself.
Occasionally Glenn would pause and proffer some instruction on the biology, anatomy, or physiology of these ancient critters.  At one juncture he gathered up a lonely male – turning it over to reveal selected features of its anatomy.  He pointed to the underside and identified each of the six paired appendages.  He told us how the horseshoe uses the first pair (the chelicerae) for placing food (they particularly favor marine worms and small clams) in its mouth.  The next pair of appendages are the pedipalps which are the first ambulatory legs.  In the adult male, the tarsus (final segment) of these legs are modified as a grasping appendage, allowing males to clasp the female during spawning – a unique coupling that will require considerably more attention later in this book. The “last” legs are the “pusher legs” which are used for both terrestrial and underwater locomotion.
Glenn swept his hand toward the tail and the five branchial "legs" – often referred to as book gills.  He told us how the horseshoe uses these both for propulsion (when swimming) as well as for "breathing."  Similar to the gills in a fish, they are a membrane that allows oxygen to pass through while keeping the water out.  We posed a few questions (“What’s the shell made of?”, “How long do they live?”, and “What is THAT thing?”) and our brief biology lesson was over.  Ever so gently, Glenn placed the uncomplaining “specimen” back on the beach right side up.  The over-hormoned crab lost no time in scuttling off to seek a ready female – completely oblivious to the gaggle of humans observing his departure.

Next Post - Part III