Category Archives: Sustainability

The State(s) of Sea Level Rise Science

Peaks Island, Maine

Peaks Island, Maine

In early April, I read an issue of a Peaks Island, Maine newspaper. On the front page, a story’s headline caught my eye:  “Sea level rise not caused by climate change, scientists confirm.” At first I assumed it was an April Fool’s joke, but the date was not April 1st. Then I got upset. I read. It seems that the journalist had (mis)interpreted a report on sea levels in Casco Bay that affirmed the sea level has risen for much longer than most people have known about global climate change. In fact, the State of Maine has over 100 years worth of sea level rise data because the City of Portland has tracked sea level in Portland harbor since 1901. That’s valuable data. The University of Southern Maine has conducted a series of studies on sea level rise, sustainability and the economics involved with planning for adaptation. According to the Environmental Finance Center at the Muskie School (USM), “at least 100 coastal New England towns will be impacted by sea level rise and increased storm surge from climate change.” Read about their COAST and Climate Ready Estuary projects here.

The State of Maine published its climate change action plan in 2004. It identified sea level rise adaptation planning as a necessity. In particular, the Maine Geological Survey conducted several pilot projects that assessed coastal wetland migration. The state’s coastal zoning laws and management practices changed several years ago to reflect sea level rise. Read the 2010 report, “People and Nature: Adapting to a Changing Climate, Charting Maine’s Course.” A great list of collaborators contributed to the development of “People and Nature,” including Natural Resources Council of Maine, several state agencies, several cities and Maine Coast Heritage Trust. It’s hard to find on the state’s website because the State Planning Office’s website was moved and merged with those of other departments.

Meanwhile, adaptation planning has moved to the forefront of climate change science in recent years. Sea level rise scientists at NASA, USGS and other agencies engaged in an online chat session about the state of the science for sea level rise and adaptation planning in early April 2013. (You can listen to the discussion after-the-fact.) What I found interesting is that salt marsh ecology and wetlands play such a vital role in our understanding of sea level rise and its implications for coastal systems. Over the past 6 years, I’ve done some research on sea level rise and learned of sea level rise tools and adaptation planning efforts underway all over the country. A hotspot for sea level rise research is the East coast of the United States, where sea level rise is occurring at a faster rate between Cape Cod and the coast of North Carolina—faster than anywhere else in the world.

Leah Stetson photo

Leah Stetson photo

Several other states have begun to plan for sea level rise. Click on the links below to learn more about what states are doing about sea level rise and adapting natural resource management strategies for climate change. In most cases, it’s a collaborative effort.

MA: Mass Fish & Game Adaptation Planning       MA sea level rise planning maps
MA: Climate Change Adaptation Advisory Committee
NY: New York Sea Level Rise Planning        NY Sea Level Rise Task Force Report 2010
CT: Connecticut Climate Change Adaptation Reports
RI: Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council Sea Level Rise Planning
NJ: New Jersey Coastal Management Program Sea Level Rise Planning
NJ: Sea Level Rise in New Jersey, New Jersey Geological Survey Report, 1998
NJ, DE, PA, NY: Delaware River Basin Commission Climate Change Hydrology Report, 2013
DE: Delaware Sea Level Rise Planning & Adaptation
MD: Living Shorelines Program (Chesapeake Bay Trust)
MD: A Sea Level Response Strategy for Maryland (2000)
VA: Planning for Sea Level Rise, Virginia Institute for Marine Science
VA Sea Level Rise Maps
VA: Sea Level Rise Planning at Local Government Level in Virginia
VA: Government Plan for Development of Land Vulnerable to Sea Level Rise
GA: University of Georgia, Sea Grant – Sea Level Rise Planning & Research
FL: Florida’s Resilient Coasts: State Policy Framework for Adaptation (PDF)
FL: Multidisciplinary Review of Current Sea Level Rise Research in Florida  (University of Florida)
MS & AL: Mississippi and Alabama Sea Grant Consortium – Resilience in Coastal Communities
Gulf of Mexico States: Climate Community of Practice: Sea Level Rise Planning
LA: Coastal Protection & Restoration – Recommendations for Sea Level Rise Planning (Includes Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan)
CA: California’s Climate Change Adaptation Plan for Water Resources (2012)
CA: State Resources on Sea Level Rise and Adaptation Planning
CA: Adapting to Sea Level Rise Report (2012)
CA, OR, WA: Sea-Level Rise for the Coasts of California, Oregon and Washington (2012)
OR: A Strategy for Adapting to Impacts of Climate Change on the Oregon Coast (2009)
OR: LiDAR Sea Level Rise Research (NOAA Digital Services)
WA: Addressing Sea Level Rise in Shoreline Master Programs (Guidance) (2007)
WA: Sea Level Rise Assessment: Impacts of Climate Change on the Coast (2007)
AK: Alaska’s Melting Permafrost and Melting Sea Ice (national research)
AK: Climate change impacts in Alaska (EPA)
NC: North Carolina Coastal Federation – Sea Level Rise

A note about North Carolina: Several state agencies, including the Departments of Environment & Natural Resources, Transportation and Commerce, all identified threats and risks from sea level rise in 2010. At the time, the state’s Governor signed a letter confirming this. Two years later, North Carolina’s State Senate passed a law that banned sea level rise adaptation planning based on the current science. The House of Representatives rejected the bill, but a compromised version of the bill called for a new study on sea level rise for North Carolina and a ban on exponential sea level rise predictions in modeling. Read this Scientific American article on NC and sea level rise, and the 2012 USGS study that found increasing sea level rise impacts on the coast between Cape Cod and the Carolinas. See “More unwanted national attention for North Carolina on sea level rise” (2013).

If you’re interested in a good summary of sea level rise policy in states, see this 2012 legislative report by Kristin Miller, et. al. (Connecticut General Assembly). It includes an analysis of sea level rise related policy in ten states (Louisiana, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Virginia.)

Update: Check out Nickolay Lamm’s Sea Level Rise Images Depict What U.S. Cities Could Look Like In Future (PHOTOS) – click here. 

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Surging Seas and Hybrid Storms

NASA officials nicknamed Hurricane Sandy “Bride of Frankenstorm.” Strange behavior patterns—hitting the northeast as a mix of nor’easter blizzard and hurricane conditions created a powerful hybrid storm that affected many communities. In Maine, we felt the storm’s most severe impacts the night of the full moon on October 29th. Footage of storm surge on the news looked like the forceful wave action in “Thunder Hole” at Acadia National Park. Throughout New England, New York and New Jersey, many people were still without power when the nor’easter hit this week. Hurricane Sandy’s unusual hybrid classification and other factors set a precedent. Coupled with the tides of the full moon, storm surge was more intense, causing more flooding to occur. Are we likely to see and experience powerful hybrid storms like this in the future? What tools are available to predict storm surge?

Forecasters called Hurricane Sandy a “perfect storm.” View photos of the storm as seen from space. Last winter Strange Wetlands reported on the Red Cross/Red Crescent’sinvolvement in the IPCC report on the link between extreme weather disasters and climate change. This week Climate Central’s Surging Seas tool demonstrated how effects of climate change, including sea level rise and storm surge, made Hurricane Sandy worsethan it might have been otherwise.

Federal agencies such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and NASA have been measuring storm surge for many decades, since the 1960s (see above)—long before most people started talking about sea level rise. According to a NASA presentation on An Analysis of Storm Surge Attenuation using USGS, FEMA and NASA data, there is historical data to support the claim that wetlands significantly reduce storm surge. Wetland scientists in the 1960s asserted that 2.7 miles of wetlands reduced storm surge by 1 foot. More recent data from Hurricane Rita was used to assess the storm impacts to wetlands (such as causing wetland loss) as well as wetlands’ role in lessening the effects of storm surge. Therefore wetland losses along the Gulf of Mexico coastline in Louisiana, for instance, and along other areas of coastline on the eastern seaboard, intensified the amount of storm surge during recent hurricanes, such as Hurricane Irene and Sandy. (Fitzpatrick, et. al. 2008) Also see Storm Surge Reduction by Wetlands.

While SLAMM—Sea Level Affecting Marsh Model—may be familiar to you, a tool used in analyzing sea level rise, especially with respect to wetlands, have you heard of SLOSH? Sea, Lake and Overland Surges from Hurricanes, (SLOSH) is a tool used to analyze storm surgeHurricane Sandy’s storm surge was mapped before it made landfall. The SLOSH model was applied to Hurricane Sandy prior to Oct. 29th and it analyzed surges of various levels (2 feet, 3 feet, 4 feet, etc.) At most locations, meteorologists predicted unprecedented levels of surgeusing this tool and other analyses. Tools like SLOSH are only as good as the available data. Future budget cuts threaten data collection tools, such as ocean bouysOther storm surge analysis tools were used to predict Sandy’s surge levels and ultimately, citizens were evacuated in areas where the path of the storm surge was predicted on the maps using those models.

Some useful fact sheets and further reading on the importance of wetlands in preventing storm surge are linked below:

Storm surge & wetlands in Louisiana (NWF fact sheet)
Mitigating Storm Surge with Vegetation & Wetlands (Army Corps of Engineers, 2007)
Analysis of Storm Surge Attenuation & Wetlands (NASA) (2008)
The potential of wetlands in reducing storm surge (Ocean Engineering, 2010)
Hurricane Sandy Geospatial Resources (NOAA Digital Coast, 2012)

Climate Change Films: Sea Level Rise in the Lens

Since Strange Wetlands’ post on wetland videos anddocumentaries a few years ago, climate change adaptation and wetlands, including sea level rise and water conservation—have taken center stage in recent films. Some films address climate change adaptation, water resources, sea level rise and/or other impacts of climate change affecting wetlands. Others deal with the stressors on wildlife and natural resources, including wetland habitats. The IMAX documentary film, “To the Arctic,” about a family of polar bears and the issues facing wildlife in the Arctic, narrated by Meryl Streep, premiers this spring (2012). Another award-winning film, “The Island President,” illuminates the threat of sea level rise to the Maldives, a developing nation of 2000 islands off the coast of India.

The American Museum of Natural History posted a short video on arctic ecosystems in the face of climate change called “The Ecology of Climate Change” earlier this month. The film presents some research on boreal forests from Woods Hole Research Center and University of Florida. Like other recent films, it turns the attention to natural resources and adaptation as opposed to a focus on reducing carbon emissions, which was a more common theme in media a few years ago.

NOAA Climate Services and its Digital Coast webpages have a lot to offer for videos and visual presentations, including a short general video called “Climate Change: Impacts, Solutions and Perceptions” and a number of other climate change videos.

A simple search for “sea level rise” on Youtube lists over 5000 videos, including this USGS video: “Sea level rise, subsidence and wetland loss.” A number of videos look at the planning and analysis that went into coastal adaptation management plans in states like Florida such as this 2012 video: Adapting Coastal Communities to Sea-Level Rise: Why Isn’t Anybody Doing Anything? And this New York City (Wall Street Journalvideo on sea level rise. Some of the Youtube sea level rise videos explore the topic in other areas of the world, such as islands, internationally. For example, a series of short videos look at climate change adaptation in Tanzania.

States working on climate change adaptation plans have presented their analyses in short films to help educate citizens. For example, a Wisconsin’s Changing Climate video was produced by the WICCI Climate Working Group, looking at climate impacts in the state of Wisconsin projected to 2055. There are a number of other similar educational videos if you look for them state-by-state, or visit state universities’ websites to search for current research projects, which often have videos or short documentaries about the work. Student-made films can be very good, too. A creative example is the Beneath the Waves Film Fest Student Film Winner: “Tropic Cascades” (2012). A Brown University student made a film on Cape Cod salt marsh ecology.

The U.S. Forest Service has compiled a good list of climate change videos and presentations that pertain to impacts to natural resources, including water and fish, forests and carbon and adaptation.  For example, a presentation on “Challenges for Conserving and Managing Headwater Aquatic Ecosystems Under a Changing Climate” is available on its website.

ASWM’s Climate Change—and specifically the Sea Level Rise Tools webpages—have a number of resources, including USGS’s video on “Effects of Sea-Level Rise on Coastal Wetlands in the Mississippi Delta” and this video, “Converging Currents in Climate: Relevant Conservation: Water, Infrastructure and Institutions” by Conservation International (2011). Communicating to the public about climate change is often difficult when the language is constantly changing. See NOAA’s video on Communication & Climate Change (2012). Other short films illustrate the dynamics of coastal wetlands protection in the climate change context such as this one on mangrove forests by Wetlands International (2011). The Sea Level Rise Tools section of ASWM’s website also points to Coastal Climate Learning Tools (includes videos, wikis, webinars, training, etc.) and a video presentation on “Sea Change: Researchers Use Computer Modeling to Understand Rising Seas and Coastal Risks.”

Earlier this winter, Strange Wetlands looked at the link between Red Cross, extreme weather events and climate change. The Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre has a webpage with a number of short films and videos presenting topics ranging from hurricanes and climate change to preparing for climate change and adaptation.

If there are other good (and recent) videos, films or documentaries that I missed on this short list, please leave a comment below with the title and link. Thank you!

Update: November 2012: Chasing Ice, a film capturing the faster-than expected melting of glaciers http://www.chasingice.com/ is a breathtaking documentary and award-winning film. Watch the trailer here: http://www.chasingice.com/

So Excellent a Fishe ~ Sea Turtle Conservation History

Last week I received a publisher’s copy of the newly released 2011 edition of Archie Carr’s book, So Excellent a Fishe, A Natural History of Sea Turtles (University of Florida Press) with a new forward by Karen A. Bjorndal. She is the current Director of the Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research at the University of Florida. Bjorndal muses on her mentor’s good humor and the invaluable legacy that world-renowned ecologist Dr. Archie Carr left to the field of sea turtle research and conservation. She outlines the progress that scientists have made since Dr. Carr’s book was originally published in 1967, when sea turtle populations were very low.  Sea turtles continue on the endangered species list, but in the case of green turtles, the populations have somewhat recovered since Carr’s field work in the Caribbean in the 1950s and ‘60s. Carr cites the work of his predecessors, offering insights on the improvements and changes over decades of marine and coastal conservation. But what does it have to do with wetlands?

Sea turtle conservation work used to be done solely on shore. This required slogging through creeks and swamps to observe turtle nesting sites. This meant studying the behavior of wetland-dependent predators, including swamp pigs, lizards, wild dogs and jaguars in the coastal scrub, as researchers observed the success rates of the female green turtle and her nesting rituals. It included studies of sea grasses.  It also meant that sea turtle scientists worked in remote, challenging coastal landscapes, self-marooned in the jungles of islets and islands of the Caribbean and off of South America forever waiting for a locally-operated plane to pick them up, transport hundreds of baby turtles, or bring supplies. At least, that was before the U.S. Navy got involved in the mid-1960s, when a naval officer took interest in the unparalleled navigation abilities of sea turtles. Then Carr and his colleagues had assistance—including more dependable planes, provided by the Navy. The adventures and challenges presented by sea turtle conservation work may be partly why Carr uses the word “swamped” on nearly every other page to emphasize the obstacles that both the researchers endured on the landscape and sea turtles faced in their steadfast quest for survival, e.g. “swamped by predators,” which happened to descend from “swamp forests.”

What’s remarkable in reading about Carr’s field work certainly pivots on his ability to postulate and pose theories—many of which were proven true with corroborating data decades later—but notably his sense of humor. Readers learn of all sorts of fascinating experiments. For example, one scientist puts a pair of glasses with colored lenses on a sea turtle to test her preference for colors in the journey between shore and sea. Further, Carr describes the rarely-witnessed violent, near-impossible feat of the male green turtle courting with the female and maneuvering onto her smooth, wet carapace in the waves, surrounded by competing males. These observations led to changes in monitoring programs, in which researchers had previously tagged the carapace, not fully understanding the violent nature of courtship and the likelihood of the male sea turtle removing the metal tags from his mate. In other observations, female green turtles drag logs and marine equipment to shore. Anything that happened to a turtle offshore remained a mystery for the time being. This brought about a new tagging program to help sea turtle conservation researchers gather clues.

In a chapter entitled, Señor Reward Premio, it’s a delight to read the letters Dr. Carr received by fishermen who found tagged sea turtles that were part of a monitoring program. The sea turtles had metal tags with return instructions (in Spanish and English) with the promise of a $5 reward—paid by the U.S. government. The $5 reward program for collecting the tags was very successful, returning far more tags to Carr and his colleagues than prior tagging programs that did not offer a reward. Because of the language barrier, fishermen misinterpreted the directions on the tags and directed letters to Señor Reward Premio, and the University of Florida’s mail system had to get used to Carr’s new alias.  What’s neat about the letters and the eager response of the fishermen is that the value of a sea turtle, especially when poached, at the time exceeded the $5 reward, and yet the fishermen who returned tags wrote of their great interest in the project. They seemed rather proud in participating. The $5 reward program, in essence, swayed the behaviors of some fishermen and sea turtle poaching activities decreased as a result. In general, the presence of sea turtle researchers on Caribbean islands and off the coast of South America (especially Columbia) in the 1950s and ‘60s made poaching less popular, or more readily observed and therefore, less convenient for poachers.  In fact, the title of Carr’s book, So Excellent a Fishe, is a phrase borrowed from a sea turtleconservation law passed by the Bermuda Assembly in 1620.  Considering that sea turtle conservation had been ongoing for over 300 years by the time Dr. Archie Carr and his colleagues began researching green turtles and hawksbills, among other species, it’s fair to say that Carr’s work was groundbreaking.

But he would have put it differently.  He admits that sea turtle conservation researchers are an insecure bunch, especially when asked about the number of sub-species of sea turtles.  Sure, there are seven species of sea turtles: the Loggerhead, the Green Turtle, the Leatherback, the Hawksbill, Kemp’s ridley, Olive ridley and the Flatback.  But the jury is still out on the number of sub-species.  The reader will enjoy Carr’s sense of humor and humility, even when he makes remarkable discoveries. In one discussion on the magic number of eggs that a female green turtle lays—100 eggs, not more, not less, Carr says this number is “packed with ecology and evolution.” He further ponders why natural selection did not build “child care” into the ancient sea turtle, as the adult neither cares nor knows the fate of her offspring, to the single-mindedness degree that wild dogs will stand around a nest and eat the eggs as the female is laying them. Perhaps among the most fascinating descriptions in the book is an experiment in which Carr and his colleague set up a glass pane on one side of a sea turtle nest and observed baby green turtles erupt from their shells and climb to the surface in a synchronized phenomenon that Carr calls a “brotherhood” acting as a survival group. They proved that a sea turtle nesting by itself had a dismal fate—and would not make it to the surface. But a hundred eggs in a nest meant dozens of sea turtles used each other instinctually to guide each other out of the nest and to the surf.

Carr credits many of his colleagues with their contributions to sea turtle conservation. Fused with the natural history of sea turtles is the evolution of certain conservation groups, such as the Brotherhood of the Green Turtle, which later became known as the Caribbean Conservation Corporation (founded in part by Dr. Carr), and is now called the Sea Turtle Conservancy. This group and several others work to protect sea turtles, including protection of nesting sites on shore. In particular the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, a 20-mile stretch of beach on Florida’s east central coast, was established in 1989. For more information about the book, visit the Wetland Bookshelfor the University of Florida Press.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries just announced new populations of sea turtles (namely the Loggerhead) under the Endangered Species Act:http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/turtles/loggerhead.htm

Mating sea turtles in the Pilbara (Australia Dept. of Conservation)http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-09-02/mating-turtles-in-the-pilbara/2868086

Fact sheet on the Green Turtle:http://www.fws.gov/northflorida/SeaTurtles/Turtle%20Factsheets/green-sea-turtle.htm

Update: NOAA Designates Critical Leatherback Habitat Along West Coast

On January 23rd, NOAA announced the designation of additional critical habitat to provide protection for endangered leatherback sea turtles along the U.S. West Coast.  NOAA is designating 41,914 square miles of marine habitat in the Pacific Ocean off the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington. The regulation, formally published in theFederal Register on January 26th, will become effective on February 25, 2012.

Tortuguero:Epicenter for Sea Turtle Conservation

When Wetlands Call for the Firefighters

I was in the Wetlands this morning, just exploring
around, and on my way back I saw this strange sight.
Everything was on fire.
-Halidorn, World of Warcraft game forum

The popular multi-player video game, World of Warcraft, which I’ve never played, makes regular appearances on my Googlesearches for wetlands because it has a zone called “The Wetlands.” I came across the above quote about wetlands on fire and it reminded me of a past Compleat Wetlanderpost on the role of fire in wetlands http://aswm.org/wordpress/wetlands-and-fire/. As a follow-up to that post, here are some additional areas of research—of particular interest are three ways that prescribed burns are used to manage wetlands: water quality, restoration and mitigation.

The Joseph Jones Ecological Research Center in Georgia published a journal article on “Effects of Prescribed Fire on Wetland Water Quality,” based on data that the research team, including Dr. Stephen Golladay, collected 2000-2001. This is now posted on the ASWM webpage for wetlands and water quality here: http://aswm.org/wetland-programs/water-quality-standards-for-wetlands/1276-prescribed-fires-impact-on-water-quality-of-depressional-wetlands-in-southwestern-georgia Prescribed fire as a tool for wetlands restoration has been used throughout the nationhttp://conservancy.umn.edu/bitstream/58825/1/2.4.Robertson.pdf and is documented in the 1988 FWS biological report, on file at the USGS North American Prairie Wildlife Research Center http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/literatr/firewild/.

There are three general types of prescribed burns in wetlands: 1) surface/cover burns are cool fires used to remove organic material; 2) root burns, hotter fires that are used to control certain species; and 3) peat burns—used to create open water areas. The Phoenix Fire Department worked with wetland managers in Arizona on research related to prescribed burns in wetlands in 2004:http://phoenix.gov/TRESRIOS/research.htmlFor other examples of prescribed burns in wetland management areas, see photos from the Leopold Wetland Management District http://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwsmidwest/sets/72157626293502556/ and from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Lacreek National Wildlife Refuge:http://www.fws.gov/lacreek/fire.htm

More recently prescribed burns have been applied as part of wetland mitigation, such as the burn held this past April at the new airport site in Florida: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xi5cmg_wetlands-mitigation-prescribed-burn-at-the-new-airport-site_news and this fire managed on a wetland mitigation site in Arkansas back in March 2011: http://www.fayettevilleflyer.com/2011/03/17/prescribed-burn-on-broyles-avenue/ These prescribed burns on wetlands require a collaborative team usually involving a wildland fire division (whether state or federal), state wetland managers and wetland consultants, such as the Kevin L. Erwin Consulting Ecologist firm (KLECE) in Florida, which was involved with the Little Pine Island Mitigation Bank project in March 2011 http://environment.com/index.php/tag/prescribed-burning/ .

In addition, several other prescribed burns occurred in wetlands this spring: Chequamegon-Nicolet National Foresthttp://ashlandcurrent.com/article/11/05/25/more-prescribed-burns-chequamegon-forest North Carolina (to encourage longleaf pine)http://www.starnewsonline.com/article/20110610/ARTICLES/110619991/-1/news05?Title=Work-at-Orton-will-encourage-longleaf-pine-growth and Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge (to control phragmites)http://www.thenewsherald.com/articles/2011/05/26/news/doc4ddeb12fd71a
3362017994.txt

From the wildland firefighter’s perspective, fire management guidelines described by the U.S. Forest Service include proper care and use of equipment in order to protect wetlands and water quality. The guidelines include considerations such as avoiding damage to the hydrology during planned burn operations (prescribed burns) and a recommendation to use natural fuel breaks, such as streams, as opposed to artificial fuel breaks like fire retardant. These guidelines also ensure the benefits of fire—when managed properly—to wetland ecosystems. http://nrs.fs.fed.us/fmg/nfmg/docs/mn/FireMgmt.pdf

Additionally, a recent study published in the Journal of the Ecological Society of America discusses the National Fire Plan and management techniques for forest restoration in the west.

http://www.esajournals.org/doi/abs/10.1890/090199 Also in the current issue of Ecological Applications is an article of interest: “Variability of tundra fire regimes in Arctic Alaska: millennial-scale patterns and ecological implications” http://www.esajournals.org/doi/abs/10.1890/11-0387.1

Living with Less and an Island Love Story

Lately there have been a lot of stories about the “new” minimalist movement. American homes are getting smaller. Couples are downsizing and getting rid of 80% of their stuff and adopting a minimalist lifestyle http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2010/
08/portland_couples_extreme_downs.html
 The Small Home Movement has replaced the desire for “McMansions” and come at a time when many people can’t afford a big home. Jay Shafer founded his Tumbleweed Tiny House Company on the notion that people really only need 89 square feet to accommodate a two-person household. By downsizing this dramatically, he eliminated his debt and now lives more simply. His house designs range in plans from 65-835 square feet, a lot smaller than the average American home.http://www.tumbleweedhouses.com/ He’s not alone. Others are promoting the same idea. Tiny House Blog http://tinyhouseblog.com/ Not So Big Househttp://www.notsobighouse.com/

The trendy minimalist movement reminds me of the back-to-landers of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s. City dwellers, driven by a desire to lead a better, simpler life, migrated to rural areas, including islands off the coast of Maine. But this wasn’t a new thing in the 1960s. It’s been a recurring phenomenon over the centuries, according to the poet Gary Snyder. Homesteading is another name for it. Urban problems such as the energy crisis, water pollution, lack of environmental protection for the natural landscape—these were the issues that prompted the “back-to-landers” of the 1960s and ‘70s to leave the city in search of a pure lifestyle and to work the land. Often this required fetching water from a stream or pond, or digging a well, and growing food.

Helen and Scott Nearing are two of the most recognized “back-to-landers.” They lived on a rural farm in Vermont until 1952, when they settled their “Forest Farm” in Maine. The couple authored a number of books on what they called, “the good life.” The Good Life Center in Harborside, Maine carries on their mission. http://www.goodlife.org/

My favorite love story played out on a beautiful Maine island called Placentia. Arthur and Nan Kellam, an aviation engineer (who worked in Wisconsin http://www.allbusiness.com/environment-natural-resources/ecology/14528751-1.html) and his wife, moved from California in 1949 and settled on the 500 acre island. They built a house in a little clearing and left love notes for one another every time they separated for the day—to explore different parts of their beloved island. Placentia Island has a number of ephemeral streams, seeps and forested wetlands, mainly Spruce fir and sphagnum moss, with wild chanterelle mushrooms and cherry trees.

Art built a great bandstand overlooking the sea, for his wife, a romantic spot. He also had another little building he called his “retreat,” which had ingenious Murphy-style furniture, when folded out one way, became a table; when adjusted, became a bookshelf or storage. The Kellams had two wells, one near the house and one near the bandstand.  They didn’t have running water, electricity or any convenience that the mainlanders enjoyed. They grew vegetables in their garden. They rowed their dory to the nearby Great Gott Island for supplies like kerosene.  Sometimes friends, including the Rockefellers, brought fresh milk and oranges, but the Kellams sustained their private life together on very little from the outside world. Fog encircled the island on most days, preventing casual visits from neighboring islanders.http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/13/garden/living-to-the-power-of-two.html?pagewanted=all

This past spring author Peter Blanchard III published a book about the Kellams entitled,We Were an Island http://www.bangordailynews.com/detail/143608.html partly based on Nan’s writings and unfinished book that she started with her husband. She described in her journal that they had searched for a place, an island that would fulfill their “dream of peace.”

I visited the house in 1999, just a few years before Nan passed away. Inside the house, it is easy to picture how everything had its place; they each had their spot for sitting, a single desk, stacks of TIME magazine (so they kept up on current events!) It inspired the poem, “If I Were an Island,” which was published on the New Maine Times.  The Nature Conservancy manages the uninhabited Placentia Island. The only way to visit the island is to sign up to volunteer to work in one of TNC’s nature preserves—with Placentia Island, a nesting site for bald eagles, being on the list for September 2010: http://www.nature.org/wherewework/northamerica/states/maine/volunteer/art24384.html