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Horn Point Laboratory Earth Day Memories

April 22, 2020

Today, while we are physically distanced, we are closely united by our love and appreciation for our natural world. The Horn Point Laboratory (HPL) invites you to take a moment on this 50th anniversary of Earth Day to celebrate the role of environmental science and share in the inspiration for the work we do every day. We've put together a short video highlighting some of our work on campus and in the community; and below, two faculty members and two graduate students recall defining moments in their lives -- moments that both sparked their passion for the natural world and helped them to realize our collective role in its future. 

Enjoy, and happy Earth Day!

Miles Bolton, Graduate Research Assistant

"When I was working for Natures Classroom in Wakefield, RI as an environmental educator I had the awesome opportunity of sharing my passion for ecology with large school groups (5-7th grade) from all over New England. It’s difficult to sort out a single golden moment from that era as there were so many. The property was located along the shoreline of a small estuary in Wakefield and was characterized by a mix of primary forest, beaches, and marshes. Taking school groups on hikes or field groups, we’d do species id’s in different habitats to gauge kids knowledge and expand it through hands on learning.

On one field group, exploring a hilly wooded area with my field group of that week, we encountered an assortment of trash near a fire pit. Madeleine, one of the students, took initiative to ask me if it was alright if she picked up the trash as she thought ahead and packed trash bags. This became a routine on our field groups and we’d come back from the woods, marshes, and beaches with new bags of trash. It seems strange to think of picking up trash as one of the memorable moments when we had so many great nature moments to choose from such as cooking sea lettuce, catching green and Asian shore crabs, finding salamanders, and bird watching. Despite that, to see a group of 7th graders eagerly take on the task of environmental stewardship without any added incentive was a thing to behold and will always resurface for me when I think of what Earth Day means for me. Taking better care of our planet is not just the job of scientists and environmentalists, it’s a universal responsibility."

Judy O'Neil, Associate Research Professor

"The day that stands out for me in terms of realizing why we need environmental policy and action was when I was a graduate student at Stony Brook University in the late 1980s. I was on a weekend bike trip excursion to Shelter Island on the far East End of Long Island with 2 fellow graduate students. We stopped to rest on a sandy peninsula and I noticed a large bird in a nest on a channel marker. It was a beautiful bird that I had never seen before, despite growing up along the mid-Atlantic coast my whole life. I remember how very fortunate and excited I felt to see this magnificent creature! My fellow grad students and I guessed that this was an Osprey, although none of us had seen one before. I realized then, what a “bird-depauperate” childhood I had had. I had always loved bird-watching from our backyard birdfeeder, or seeing seagulls along the Jersey Shore or on summer visits to Cape Cod. But it was that moment that I realized that I had only been seeing a small fraction of what was supposed to be there.

The lack of birds was, of course, due to the use of the pesticide DDT that had been used throughout the 1950s and 1960s, causing the thinning of birds’ shells and the decimation of many bird populations. This was the issue that noted Maryland environmentalist, Rachel Carson (for whom UMCES’s research vessel is named) described in her landmark 1962 book, “Silent Spring”, which helped launch public awareness of issues and spurred on the environmental movement. Rachel Carson’s efforts resulted in the EPA ban on DDT in 1972. However, the peak of the bird population loss continued to be felt when I was a child in the 1970s. By the late 1980s, the effect of the ban was beginning to be seen, and to witness this first hand, at that moment on Shelter Island, gave me hope that environmental legislation and personal advocacy can make a difference.

So on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, I am grateful for the early pioneers in the environmental sciences like Rachel Carson. I am very grateful that my children have grown up in a world that abounds with ospreys and a myriad of other birds that I did not see as a child. I am very happy to see osprey now, on basically EVERY channel marker in the tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay, and right here at Horn Point!"

Jamie Pierson, Associate Research Professor

"I went surfing with a couple of friends after school at Manasquan Beach, NJ, about 45 minutes from the town where we lived. Water was cold and we were all in wetsuits with boots, gloves, and hoods. For years the beach had been full of trash from a dump site offshore, but it had just started to look cleaner and come back to life, literally, with the return of sand crabs and other critters. In fact, about 4.5 years earlier I missed the first day of 8th grade because I got sick after surfing the day before school started, right after a big rain storm washed a lot of nasty material into the ocean (sure it had a funny smell and the foam had a off-white tinge to it, but the waves were good and we thought we were invincible as most 8th grade boys did).

That day in '93 was the first time that I ever had seen a marine mammal at that beach, where we had been going my whole life. A seal popped its head up and watched us surf for a while, then rode a few waves itself. I'll admit at first it kind of freaked me out, but it was just a curious seal and it wasn't until the ride home that I put it together that it was earth day, after hearing it on the radio."

Anna Windle, Graduate Research Assistant

Photo collage submitted by Anna Windle about her Karen Noonan Center field trip.

"My love and appreciation for the environment was undoubtedly a result of my involvement in my 5th grade’s Environmental Club in 2005. After spending a year learning about the Chesapeake Bay, growing and planting bay grasses, and starting a recycling program in fifth grade classrooms, students in the Environmental Club got the opportunity to spend a weekend at the Karen Noonan Memorial Center. The Karen Noon Memorial Center is an environmental education program funded by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and located in southern Dorchester County, Maryland.

"A group of about 15 students along with 2 fifth grade teachers traveled from the top of the Eastern Shore in Elkton, MD down to the marshes of Dorchester County to a very different type of environment. During our three days at the Karen Noonan Center’s green building, we feasted on blue crabs we caught in crab pots, collected and made art out of debris washed up along the shore, composted all of our food waste, and trampled through sinking mud that would come up to our waists. I distinctly remember learning about the history and folklore of the Eastern Shore from Captain Jessie, one of the center’s educators. I remember exploring SAV, learning the chemistry as to why marshes smell, and loving every second of my time there."

Never did I think I would be returning to Dorchester County 13 years later to start a Ph.D. in Marine, Estuarine, Environmental Science at Horn Point Lab."