Today we are doing something a bit different. I have asked Presque Isle naturalist Anne Dessaro to pen a blog about a topic of her choice. Here is her first article. I hope you enjoy it.
I have been a naturalist on Presque Isle for the past 18 years and an “unofficial” naturalist probably for my entire life. According to Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence theory, we are all born with a different mix of innate talents, one being a “Naturalist Intelligence” so I believe I was born this way. I can remember experiences when I was very young exploring backyard weeds, digging worms for my father’s fishing expeditions, and wandering the lakeshore at our family cottage. Naturalists have a love of science and an empathy with the natural world.
This empathy can be a job hazard when you work at one of the most visited parks in the country. We have around 4-million visitors to Presque Isle every year, most of them arriving in the summer months. There are many impacts from all of these people and one that is heartbreaking to naturalists is litter.
In my work at the park, I have come across all manner of trash left behind by thoughtless people and much more washed in on waves, coming from elsewhere. I once found a balloon advertising a politician from Michigan on our shoreline. A municipal trash can from the City of Cleveland appeared on our shores also.
The worst is what appears to be purposeful; a dirty diaper left on a picnic table, a pile of picnic trash on the beach dune, empty bottles and coffee cups thrown to the roadside and my personal UN-favorite: dog waste that is nicely bagged up but left on the beach (for who?). I shake my head in disbelief and these results of people’s actions. In teaching school kids on the beach almost all the groups ask me “Why?” and I have no good explanation.
Unintended results are a side effect of some types of litter. I have found many birds, especially shorebirds like gulls, kingfishers and waterfowl tangled in fishing line and lures that anglers leave behind. I have freed many of these birds, and many more have perished. I remember a lesson I was teaching at a school in Meadville on birding. I taught the students how to use binoculars and field guides to identify birds. We were out on the school grounds practicing finding birds. A student excitedly said he saw a bird through his binoculars! We all rushed over and surely there was a bird that we all viewed through binoculars and everyone fell silent. A robin was near a nest, but it was not alive. It was hanging from the tree branch via fishing line. What a hard lesson that day was for those students. I know they will never forget that.
Balloons are another problem item. I cringe when I see an organization advertising a balloon launch as part of a celebration. These balloons and their strings end up along our shoreline and are another threat to wildlife both through entanglement and mistaken as a food source. A balloon remnant can look very similar to a fish to an aquatic animal. Many sea turtles are found dead with their bellies full of balloons and plastic bags. If you walk our beach, I can guarantee that you will find more than a handful of balloon string on every shoreline…every day, year round!
We do many things to encourage people not to litter and to pick up other’s litter. We schedule two large clean-ups yearly and invite people to pick up litter on our beaches. Thousands help us with this. We welcome many groups and organizations which do smaller clean-ups throughout the year. We have signs, fines and many trash cans. We provide a trash bag if you want to clean up and park staff from custodian right up to the management, picks up trash as part of our work. Our law enforcement rangers have even gone under cover to look for litterers. The fine for littering here can range from $25-$300 plus court costs.
One of the reasons PA State Parks has naturalists (Environmental Education Specialists, the official title) on staff is to promote stewardship of our public lands by providing experiences for our visitors who connect them to nature. If a kid has a great time fishing with the naturalist, she will be more likely to care about the natural environment. This caring or stewardship is permanent and will affect the person life-long. This works for adults too, and this is why we offer experiential outdoor programs year-round on Presque Isle. We are trying to open people’s eyes to nature one person at a time, while having fun. It can be a hard job but for those of us with the “naturalist intelligence,” it is the best job.
Next time you visit Presque Isle, stop at the TREC for a trash bag, pick up some balloon string you find on the beach or join us on September 15 for the International Coastal Cleanup. We will take care of this problem one person at a time.
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