29 Jun Walking, Hiking and Canoeing through the Wilderness
This week, training has continued for the interns as we are starting to embrace the more challenging programs offered at Fire Island; Seining, Horseshoe Crab Walks, Hikes to the Breach, and Canoeing. If this doesn’t sound difficult enough, we are doing all of these programs within the same week and in the intense summer heat. It’s safe to say that this week has resulted in great memories and bonds formed, as well as killer sunburns and bruises. We got to take part in the seining and canoeing programs at Watch Hill this week where we learned how to conduct and participate in these tours. During seining, we learned how to properly use the seining nets and learned what equipment would be required on our part in order to ensure a safe yet fun experience for all. Water shoes, sunscreen and bug repellant were an absolute must this week, as you always want to put safety first whenever you are walking into a more wild-type of habitat. For those of you out there who may not know, Seining is a form of fishing performed in shallow waters in order to see what kinds of marine life are living there. Seining involves the use of a long 2-person net, similar to a volleyball net, that is carefully dragged near the bottom of the ocean floor to gently scoop up some marine creatures. The net is then placed on the sand near the water as all participants have the chance to check the net for any creatures that can then be placed into a bucket of water for further examination. Twice this week we also got to participate in canoe training in order to become certified, as well as learn how to perform rescues and learn some facts about the salt marsh we were canoeing through. We learned everything about canoeing, from carrying the canoe to the launch site, to all the different strokes and how to navigate the waters. Things got especially interesting when we performed some mock rescue attempts while in the water by the bay. We learned multiple techniques on how to help capsized canoe crews by both emptying the water from the canoe, as well as assisting the fallen members back into their canoes, or towing them back to shore. During each phase of training, we were urged to always reflect on how our presence in the salt marsh can affect the ecosystem with every small movement we make. Whether it is scaring away shore birds, overfishing or clamming, or stepping around in the marsh-grasses, we are having some kind of impact on the marine life in that area. The presence of certain marine life can give a clue as to how healthy the ecosystem is within that habitat in order to do a sort of census or quality control of the waters. After major storms, some more exotic marine life can be found, such as puffer fish. During our training in the seining program, we found only native marine life, such as blue claw crabs, lady crabs, silver bait fish, hermit crabs and sea snails. We also had the opportunity to view some of the aquatic flora that was caught in the net, where it was determined that while the water quality wasn’t perfect, it was in much better shape than in previous years. People often don’t realize the effects they have on such major environments, and how these places are so important to us. Some of the problems facing these small bay-side habitats are overfishing, pollution, and harmful bacteria that can be created by over-use of lawn fertilizers, dumping garbage into the water, or just as simple as a lack of commercial fishing regulations. These problems can kill or slow the development of these habitats, which then worsens the problem as the marine life can no longer help clean the water and air. If we are not careful, one day all that will appear in our seining nets is dead marine life and garbage. This was definitely emphasized during the Horseshoe Crab program hosted at the Fire Island Lighthouse, as we got to have a hands-on experience holding the crabs and learning their importance in the ecosystem. We even got the opportunity to walk over to the bay on a full moon in order to watch the crabs mate and lay their eggs along the shore. It was a truly amazing experience, as many visitors had never been to the lighthouse, or had ever seen a horseshoe crab so close up. The horseshoe crab is truly a very gentle and peaceful creature that needs to be treated with respect and must be protected in order to keep our oceans and bays clean and functional for future generations.