Our trip began with a journey by train to West Palm Beach. The cars were full, and we are confident that we significantly reduced the carbon footprint of the trip by taking the train. We spent two days in Palm Beach County looking at urban areas on the Atlantic Ridge, parts of the Everglades that have been drained for development or agriculture, and other parts diked off for water treatment or storage. We also visited the South Florida Water Management District Headquarters and several massive water management and treatment projects. We enjoyed sweet tangerines and sugar cane, but we also saw a citrus industry besieged by greenings disease, sugar cane fields that have lost six feet of topsoil, and environmental restoration projects that move water with massive pumps and fossil fuel.
On the trip we also visited Assateaque Island and Ocean city Maryland, to contrast the quiet waters of the bay with the open coast of the barrier islands, and the natural Assateaque seashore with developed Ocean City. We concluded the trip in Washington DC, where students had a day to explore the City on their own.
Chesapeake Bay is wide and shallow, so contains a small amount of water for an estuary of its size. It also has a very large area of watershed for its volume of water, and thus is quite susceptible to contamination from activities in the watershed. Originally almost entirely forested, the watershed now is the site of coal mining, industry, agriculture and, increasingly, urbanization. A forest acts like a sponge, evening flows and filtering nutrients. Without its forests, the watershed is prone do delivering bursts of freshwater, contaminated with nutrients and worse into the Bay. To save the bay, it is necessary to reclaim at least part of the forests function in the watershed.
Chesapeake Bay is rich in history, resources and natural beauty. All of these are evident on Smith Island, located off the eastern shore half way up the bay. During our stay on the island, we gained a sense of place by talking with residents of town, scraped for crabs (and other marine life) in the grass beds, and discussed policy with educators from the Chesapeake bay foundation.
Should pacific oysters, non-native, but resistant to invasive disease that has decimated native oyster populations be introduced? Does scraping grass beds for crabs really encourage more growth? How will the island be affected by rising sea levels? What would it be like to live a life with time dictated by season and tide? These and other questions kept us thoroughly engaged.