Environmental Issues Seminar
Lawns and Water Quality; a Growing Problem
Last week, we had a visit from Judy Preston, who spoke to us about the water pollution, particularly in the Long Island Sound. Judy is currently a part time coordinator for the Long Island Sound Study, and also works at UConn’s Avery Point Campus (Citation 1). Judy is also an adjunct at our college here at Three Rivers Community College, however I have not personally taken any classes with her. From her speech however, it was clear that she was very knowledgeable and passionate about her line of work, and any students that took her class would be fortunate to have done so. Judy also is a master gardener, has degrees in geology, botany, and a masters in the Yale Forestry School in environmental management (UCONN). With this background, Judy was able to elegantly describe to us the relationship that we have between sea and land, and the effects that people have on the balance between the two.
The presentation started off by talking about how the whole Long Island Sound has a delicate balance between sea and water. When the rain comes down on the land, it all drains to one central place, called an estuary. These places are areas which hold vast amounts of wildlife because of their abundance of nutrients coming from the land, among other reasons specific only to estuaries. The presentation went on to explain how the balance in these intricate systems is very delicate, and cannot be tempered with too much. In the Long Island Sound alone, there are 170 species of fish, and over 1200 invertebrates. As we can see, slight variances in nutrients can have great affects because of how everything is so connected.
Judy’s explained that these areas are very important for other reasons too. Due to the biological potency of these areas, they also contain an abundance of fish populations suitable for commercial fishermen, as well as recreational fishermen too. Judy said that 75% of the fish caught commercially are from estuaries, and nearly 80-90% for recreational fishermen are caught in estuaries.
Judy’s whole presentation was mainly based on the fact that in the Long Island Sound, we are experiencing a process that known as eutrophication, which ultimately destroys wildlife. This process is directly caused by an increase of nutrients in aquatic systems, causing algal blooms to occur. The algal blooms end up choking out the natural inhabitants because they block off the sunlight to the plants that are on the bottom. As algae dies, it falls to the bottom and decays, which causes bacteria to break it down which end up using oxygen to do so. Meanwhile, the plants which are at the bottom also end up dying, do to the lack of sunlight, and so oxygen is no longer being produced as it once was. Fish and invertebrates need oxygen to live, so they also end up dying. The result of all this is that we end up with a system, which has been taken over by algae, and basically, everything else has died.
By now you are probably asking what is the cause of all of this? The cause, as our speaker explained, is due to higher amounts of nutrients coming from the land from human activities. Some of these activities are erosion from construction projects and farming. One of the major reasons however, is from people having lawns that they fertilize on a regular basis. Judy said that when people throw down fertilizer on there lawns, often times the fertilizer makes its way into our water ways and eventually into the long island sound. Judy continued to explain that there are ways to get around all of this.
One way, is simply to have a natural lawn, which the grass grows as it would without fertilizer. In my opinion, these are really not that bad looking and they are all over my neighborhood. Another way is to replace your lawn with plants and shrubs that do well in this type of climate. There is an abundance of information, which can be found online about plants that occur as naturally in this area. Using native plants is wise because they grow well, and bloom at different times of the season if selected right. Also, you wont have to worry about doing harm to the environment by introducing an invasive species to the area. Another way that you can help to stop the degradation of the Sound, is to get your soil tested to see which fertilizers you should use, if you must use them. This is good because what happens when you put a generic fertilizer down, is that the excess nutrients which are not used end up coming off of the lawn with the rain.
Ultimately, as a society, we have to think about our actions and there effects, even when it comes to simple things such as throwing some fertilizer on our lawns. We often don’t think about where our soda bottle goes after we are done, or where our cars go when they finally see there last days. The thing is, that our actions are all connected to the environment around us, just as much as the intricate biosphere of the Long Island Sound. There is an effect for every action, and the first step to minimizing our ‘footprint’ on this planet is to recognize that this is true. If we fail to do this, we will soon be reminded because when our environments suffer, we all suffer.
1. UCONN Home and Garden Center, Garden Master Classes Fall 2013, Accessed 3-2-2014. http://www.ladybug.uconn.edu/mastergardener/documents/amg%20f13%20alt1.pdf
2. Picture, Long-island-sound.jpg, http://fishingct.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/Long-island-sound.jpg