Over the years coastal areas have been protected by preserving the surrounding upland as open space. Providing these natural buffers to runoff, pollution, and development has been very effective in sustaining water quality and protecting wildlife. With the acquisition of land as open space comes the added responsibility of managing it correctly. Existing conservation lands and parks must monitor and improve their management effectiveness in order to avoid any further loss of species.
There are incremental losses of wetlands and other protected areas because of neglect which are often budget related. Take the problem of trash for example. Every town on the Cape has several conservation areas that are frequently used by the public. Sometimes these areas are misused. The dumping of trash and litter can be a huge problem. For those areas that abut coastal habitats this can have a negative effect on aquatic animal life, particularly with discarded plastic.
And so these areas need to be regularly patrolled for litter. It sounds simple enough, but unless there are neighbors who take it upon themselves to pick up trash, or schedule regular clean-up days, this often does not happen. I have seen some areas that are pristine while others seem like an extension of the town landfill.
Another approach to protecting these irreplaceable areas is to create more marine sanctuaries or marine protected zones. Much of the trash that impacts marine waters is coming from recreational watercraft. Plastic bags, bottles, caps, straws, and containers can be seen floating in most coastal waters. Stricter rules for disposal are associated with marine conservation and protected areas. And maybe, if we are lucky, some funds can be available to hire personnel to enforce these regulations.
Developing a new kind of ethic towards the environment has been an ongoing struggle for decades. Just getting people to use fewer materials has not been easy. When we use less there is less to dispose. When we precycle we don’t need to recycle as much. When we consciously and deliberately reduce our consumption of material goods we help prevent additional damage to sensitive resources. It seems difficult for many to see the connections between their consumption patterns and the protection of the marine environment.
So much of what we use is unnecessary. Small changes in human behavior will begin to reduce this monumental trash problem we have created. The most critical change is to reduce our use of plastic. There is evidence that small plastic particles are often part of the plankton that is consumed by marine animals. While it is still uncertain how this affects the food web, I can’t imagine it being an improvement. We need to tread a bit more lightly if we are to sustain these valuable ecosystems.
Copyright Gil Newton 2009 Thanks to Chris Dumas for logo image.