Saturday, July 10, 2010

"If you're trying to 'save the harbor' how come we're killing crabs?!"

A punchy question from a couple of very sharp campers at Camp Harbor View one hot afternoon this week prompted a thoughtful conversation about the marine ecosystem, and the role we humans play its management. Our (terrific!) veteran college assistant Tom was quick to explain that the crabs we used for bait are not only plentiful, but invasive: Green Crabs (from Europe) and Asian Shore Crabs (from Japan) arrived on the east coast recently—at least in evolutionary terms—and quickly gained competitive advantage over our native species (primarily Red Rock Crabs), monopolizing food sources and taking over our shoreline. While the couple dozen crabs we used for bait may have been a more symbolic exercise than a substantive step towards population control, it raised the question: what is our role in this ecosystem? Can we just “let nature do her business” or do we need to play a more active role? To me, the history of the Boston Harbor cleanup indicates the latter, but I decided to give the kids as much information as I could, and let them choose: most were delighted to hunt, capture, stomp on, and stick the unlucky invaders onto their hooks; a few preferred to sit on the shoreline marveling at bright clusters of orange tunicates—teeny tiny colonial organisms that live on rocks and moorings: living slime! At the end of the day, I was glad to see the different ways the campers were able to thoughtfully and enthusiastically engage with the harbor.


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