The Emerald Web

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The Emerald Web (EW) is a new GOMI priority designed to enhance the power of the community-based stewardship (CBS) approach.  CBS promotes experiential learning, rooted in and with the community. By focusing on the uniqueness of a specific place and its connection to the Gulf of Maine (GoM) bioregion.  CBS emphasizes civic engagement: the act(s) of doing something concrete and beneficial to understand, improve, remedy, and protect the natural and cultural environment.

EW builds upon our CBS work by addressing the need to bring scattered school sites together in a common watershed goal.  Good stewardship begins in the school community and extends outward into the community through good education.

I.  MISSION

To educate and prepare the coming generations to steward wisely the environmental health of the Gulf of Maine bioregion.

GOMI works closely with teachers, researchers, and community organizations to empower youth and prepare them to lead as community-based citizen stewards.

While COVID-19 introduced confusion and stress into our work with schools, it also pushed us to think outside the box, reimagine our way of doing things, adapt, share and overcome.  EW is a result of this imagining and stands as an exciting step forward in promoting community-based, hands-on, action-oriented, civically engaged education for teachers and students.

II. GOALS AND OBJECTIVES 

To produce knowledgable, engaged, citizen stewards. The starting point is of the Merrimack River watershed working out to include the Gulf of Maine bioregion.

In summary, the objectives of EW include:

1.  Form a network of schools and community-based organizations and government agencies with a shared goal of teaching youth to be scientifically and politically informed stewards who think bioregionally while acting locally.

2.  Create multiple habitats able to promote plant and animal biodiversity, and enhance the quality of water entering the Merrimack River and the Massachusetts Great Salt Marsh.

3. Build a sense of belonging to and understanding of natural systems within and beyond EW. 

III.  PARTNERS AND SCHOOLS

Partners

Anne Giblin, PhD., Senior Scientist, Ecosystems Center Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, MA, Falmouth, MA.

Sarah Garlick, Director of Science Policy and Outreach, Hubbard Brook Research Foundation, Woodstock, VT. 

Pam Morgan, PhD., Associate Professor, Department of Environmental Studies University of New England, Biddeford, ME.

Douglas Tallamy, PhD., Professor, Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology, University of Delaware, Newark, DE.

Carol Decker, Former Director, MA Audubon Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary, West Newbury, MA.

John Dodge, Chair, Open Space Committee, West Newbury, MA.

Schools

North Shore Montessori School, Rowley, MA.

Newburyport High School, Newburyport, MA.

Nock Middle School, Newburyport, MA.

Pentucket Regional High School, West Newbury, MA.

Middlesex/Lowell Academy Charter School, Lowell, MA.

Bethlehem Elementary School, Bethlehem, NH.

Kennebunk Regional High School, Kennebunk, ME.

University of New England, Biddeford, ME.

IV.  WHY THE MERRIMACK RIVER WATERSHED

1. The Merrimack possesses a rich history of interaction between the natural river system and human use reaching far back into the pre-Columbian era through the Industrial Revolution. Today, the Merrimack provides drinking water for over half million people in Massachusetts and greater Nashua NH area, with plans to add infiltration wells service to over 700,000 people. A source of drinking water and recreation is, ironically, now a waste disposal destination. Six major wastewater treatment plants discharge into the river, as do dozens of sewer overflow sites adding to direct urban nutrient input. High-density urban areas directly on the river and an increasing loss of natural lands due to development create a clear danger to residents who rely upon the river for their drinking water. Some communities along the Merrimack are amount Massachusetts' poorest. In 2010, the US Forest Service listed the river as "...one of the most threatened watersheds in the nation." The need for restoration, from both a human and natural standpoint, is crucial.

2.  As a source for providing such aid and learning the consequences of exploitation, understanding environmental justice, and acquiring the scientific and political knowledge to restore and sustain the Merrimack is a model for learning and an outstanding opportunity for students, of all grade levels, to do action research.

3.  Our Merrimack Valley schools (listed above) provide a burgeoning network of schools and an energized cadre of teachers. 

4.  Now is the time of need!

V. HABITAT SANCTUARIES

The habitat sanctuary approach is inspired by the work of Dr. Douglas Tallamy, Professor of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology, University of Delaware,  and the Homegrown National Parks Movement he formed. Dr. Tallamy opened our thinking to the idea a web of habitats linking disparate sties within a watershed.  Next, GOMI and our experienced teachers formed an action plan to pilot a comprehensive approach within the Merrimack River watershed.

sanctuary habitat is a designated space(s) designed to provide food and habitat for native animals using native plants and organic techniques.  They may range in scale from a small garden to landscapes to corridors and networks. 

A garden is more limited in design, purpose, and space, which in turn supports fewer species. 

A landscape consists of a larger area, able to support more plant and animal diversity.  For example, it could be a school courtyard or public park.

A sanctuary corridor requires geographic connectivity allowing flight and non-flight animal species the opportunity to access more habitable space.  A corridor decreases the stress created by human development that isolates species to "island" habitats unable to sustain them. 

A sanctuary network is a composite of sanctuary sites within a defined bioregion, in this case, the Merrimack River watershed.  A network is not necessarily contiguous and sites within are not necessarily united in a broader bioregional habitat restoration effort.  The EW is designed to join them in such a collaborative goal. 

Aside from being excellent field study sites and allowing teachers to address many Next Generation standards, these sanctuaries will:

  • provide habitat for pollinators, birds, and other wildlife, supporting local biodiversity.

  • Reduce the level of herbicides, nutrients, and pesticides into the watershed and the Massachusetts Great Salt Marsh.

  • Help moderate stormwater runoff. 

Creating sanctuary habitats in areas with underserved populations addresses issues of environmental justice.  Typically, green spaces have not been integrated into underserved communities.  Lowell, Haverhill and Lawrence have all been identified as Environmental Justice Populations by the state of Massachusetts, based on income, minority population, or a combination of both. 

Environmental Justice Populations in Massachusetts 

2010 Environmental Justice Populations - Northeast Region of Massachusetts 

VI.  TEACHERS AND STUDENTS

Teachers and students learn about and act of Merrimack River climate change issues as they create native species habitat sanctuaries on their campuses and selected community sites.  They will become aware that land and water habitats are integrally linked and will be encouraged to view their sanctuary habitat as a demonstration project to be replicated at other places within and beyond their communities.  In addition, teachers will be able to address Next Generation standards for a variety of age groups as students become more aware of key issues, such as the impact of the loss of native plant species on native pollinators. (It is estimated that New England has lost approximately one-quarter of wildflower species over the past 150 years). 

Working GOMI staff, teachers will identify local partners to help locate a suitable habitat site(s) in their community.  These habitats will become research sites for the students.  Active sites, sharing results and ideas through EW professional development days and conferences, will recruit other schools to the EW network.  

The Emerald Web prepares youth to be knowledgeable, engaged stewards of the Merrimack River watershed and the Gulf of Maine bioregion.  

Teachers will be proficient in planning CBS curricula and EW fieldwork that in turn will guide students towards community-based stewardship. Teachers will help students:

1.  Define the question as they explore and identify threats to water quality and learn about biodiversity.

2.  Deploy observation and data collection skills as they conduct outdoor field experiences and implement a habitat plan that considers scientific and social concerns.

3.  Synthesize information and form conclusions, reassessing as the project evolves and comparing their work with those of other schools across the watershed.

4.  Use their sites as demonstration projects to encourage similar projects elsewhere in their community.

As students gain these skills, they will develop the sense of confidence and agency required of community-based citizen stewards.

Students will become more aware of issues such as the loss of native plant species and the impact that has on native pollinators.

VII.  OUTCOMES

•   Join a disparate set of sanctuaries into a collaborative network.

•   Prepare teachers to bring EW to their schools and communities, and youth to be informed, active stewards who act locally and think globally.   

•   Model the importance of accessibility to excellent on and off-campus field study sites. 

•   Reduce the use of herbicides, nutrients, and pesticides in the watershed. 

•   Provide native habitat for pollinators, birds, and other wildlife, thus supporting local biodiversity.

•   Reduce greenhouse gas emission