Employees from the Alexandria store had a great bay adventure recently with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Read on for Alex’s rundown on the awesome day.
“It was a balmy summer morning, with the promise of Washington’s finest heat and humidity just around the corner. Twenty or so of my esteemed MOM’s colleagues were starting to assemble near our bus; ready to board for the trip down to Washington Harbor in Southeast D.C. for a day on the water learning about the the Chesapeake Bay Watershed with some good folks from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF). That this bus was leaking oil – spewing, really – into our parking lot was not yet known, but was in fact a mishap that would lead us to quite a different mode of transit to our destination. Luckily, as this is MOM’s we are talking about, several folks were on point with kitty litter and corn meal to stop the oil from taking over the lot.
Perhaps an hour later, with some wheeling and dealing by both Katie and David, an average looking, though much larger, bus appears. Apparently, this one had just driven all night from either Vegas or South Beach, and was probably going to be disappointed to be filled with budding environmentalists on their way to study water quality and marine life rather than the party animals for which it was so clearly designed. I don’t know if it was the Miami Vice décor, the strobe lighting, or the other interior accents (the description of which would prevent this from being a family show), but the reaction from everyone as we filed on was truly classic. Finally, we were ready to roll, though heading to the SE Harbor Waterfront truly seemed like going down the bunny slope for this black diamond bus.
Despite the rough beginning and the hilarious mode of transit, we made it in record time to our meeting place and were cheerfully greeted by Clair, who was to be our guide and educator for the day. She and Eric, whom we would meet on board the Susquehanna, are Eastern Shore natives and CBF educators who regularly take 4th graders out on the water during the school year. We were all pretty slap-happy from the morning’s events as well as the thrill of being outside of work, but Clair took us all in stride, led us to the porta-potties and talked to us about our sunscreen and hydration needs. While I was never made to feel like a 4th-grader, I suspect she didn’t much alter her game with us!
Once on board, we were delighted by the scenery and the binoculars. Throughout the day, we would see osprey and their nests, and well as several bald eagles flying above. We learned from each other that not all of us had much first-hand experience with the Watershed, nor with being onboard a boat, and the day’s agenda was going to be perfect for us. Clair began by taking a sample of the water from where we started and grabbed another sample about mid-way through our journey to compare the two, although in this instance there wasn’t much of a noticeable difference. Then we moved on to the maps, which were fascinating! We divided up into 4 groups, with each of us looking at different maps of the watershed region. It was interesting, and sad, to learn of all the changes that have taken place that negatively affect the water. Also interesting was learning just how vast the watershed region really is. Who knew that it spanned six states and the District, with the majority of several of those states lacking much direct access?
Perhaps the most fun was trawling for fish with a giant net. Within five minutes, we had caught various species of perch and catfish, as well as mud snails and some vegetation (a good sign because if it is growing underwater, the clarity must be at least somewhat healthy). We placed our catch amongst four receptacles and gave them some oxygen for the few minutes that we had them to help them survive in the small quarters before we released them back to their habitat. The catfish were pretty intense looking, and all but one of the fish we caught were healthy. Our guides agreed that catching that much in fairly shallow water was a good sign for the health of the river as well. I might add that shortly before the trawling, we passed a water treatment plant, said to be the largest in the world, of its kind, and also the largest single-point discharger into the Bay. According to our guides, there has also been raw sewage leaking into the Potomac after heavy rainfalls. And apparently, DC has a terrible sewer system, with wooden pipes that are archaic at best.
Our last endeavor was the water testing. This was really cool – not only to compile the results, but also just to see what tools are used. We checked for the salinity and turbidity of the water, as well as the amounts of phosphate and nitrate found in the water. Though both the salinity and turbidity of the water are a concern, the results we found for nitrates and phosphates were dismal. Our tests showed that the levels were well above what should ever be present in a healthy body of water. Our guides explained that with the overabundance of these nutrients in the water, there is a decrease in oxygen levels for all the beneficial living organisms, which turns bodies of water in to dead zones; bad for everybody. The general cause for these areas of concern is human-related and stems from storm water run-off and the increase of non-porous surfaces. Things such as pesticides and other elements – the byproducts from construction, mining and agriculture (and leaky buses) – make their way into the water and serve to deplete the oxygen levels thereby “starving” the plants that fish feed on as well as keeping oxygen from the fish themselves. All in all, a bad scene and the Chesapeake Bay is (in)famous for it.
Ironically, as we were having this discussion, we were passing by Mt. Vernon where, right on the waterfront, there is obvious construction. What would George say? Makes you want to raise oysters and plant trees, all the time.
So, after a morning and early afternoon of parading as cartographers, naturalists, boat drivers, and chemists, our day with the good folks from the CBF drew to a close. I left the docks of the SE harbor with a deeper appreciation for and understanding of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and the threats to its health than when I had arrived, and was ever grateful to MOM’s for offering this opportunity to the staff. Back on board the party bus, we were all much more subdued, calls for naptime and showers replaced the earlier chants for happy hour, and the CSNY ballad was a perfect ending to a wonderful aquatic adventure.”
Alex works at MOMs Alexandria.