Tags Posts tagged with "Earth Day"

Earth Day

SPRING GARDEN

Stony Brook Camera Club member Pam Botway snapped these gorgeous photos to share with our readers  in perfect timing with Earth Day. The East Setauket resident writes, “Here are some cheery photos of spring. Reminding people to look for the good or be part of the good, during these scary times.”

'Nature's Best Hope'

Reviewed by John L. Turner

Author Doug Tallamy Photo by Rob Cardillo

Authors have differing goals for writing. For some, the motivation is to entertain, for other’s it’s to illuminate some slice of life, and for others still it’s to explore some fascinating historical event. In rare cases, though, the author writes with the not-so-modest goal of changing the world by presenting a new and novel way of looking at things, the result being a change to a person’s perspective on an issue, concept or their set of values.

Changing the world, or at least a part of it, by shifting our collective mindset is Doug Tallamy’s goal in his highly insightful book Nature’s Best Hope. The target of this change? The front and backyards of suburbia, dominated as they are by grass lawns and non-native shrubs. As Tallamy makes clear our yards are a virtual dead zone, biologically speaking, requiring vast amounts of water and chemicals and which provides little to no food or shelter for wildlife, large and small.

In its place, Tallamy sees a suburbia vibrantly alive with wildlife — butterflies and moths, pollinating bees, and abundant birds — all sustained by widespread plantings of native, life-sustaining plant species — white oaks, willows, and black cherry trees; elderberry, arrowwood and spicebush shrubs interspersed among beds of wildflowers including goldenrods (not the producers of hay fever!), asters, evening primrose, blazing stars, and milkweeds. He sees residential landscape design incorporating new values beyond just aesthetics to include the needs of the local ecology by providing species that help maintain, and to a large degree enhance, local food webs. 

What does he call this interconnected webs of land with interconnected native plant and animal species flourishing within? Homegrown National Park, a place every bit as diverse as any national park existing today and “Nature’s Best Hope” for restoring highly important ecological relationships.

‘Nature’s Best Hope’

As Tallamy makes clear, the spread of “sterile suburbia,” dominated by turf grass and exotic trees, shrubs, and wildflowers, is not a small problem. Collectively, lawns take up approximately forty million acres of land in the United States, equivalent to the combined size of the states of New York and Massachusetts. And it is growing daily.

And as Tallamy further makes clear, this growth has come at a high ecological cost. Forests and fields, filled with native plants that sustain caterpillars, bumblebees, squirrels, and Scarlet Tanagers, are replaced with exotic and sterile plants — Callery Pears, Arborvitae, hostas, and English Ivy, to name but a few. These plants and other exotics are fed upon by very few species, causing food webs to fall apart, a trend that portends an ominous future.

Here’s but one example — butterfly and moth caterpillars are the major source of food that songbirds feed their young — and oak species sustain 557 caterpillar species! If there are oaks, and other native trees, then the local food web is intact; remove and replace them and other native plants with non-natives and it unravels — insects decline followed by birds and mammals.

And this unraveling, happening quietly before our eyes, means that Tallamy’s idea isn’t just an interesting one — it is vital to our survival! Birds are not the only group of animals dependent on insects for their survival — we humans depend upon insects too. If we were to do away with all insects, human society would soon collapse and humanity would simply not survive long-term for there would be no replacement agent to pollinate the nearly 90% of all plants that they currently depend upon insects for.

Many insects are in trouble, a trend which scientists have labeled the “insect apocalypse.” Several North American bumblebees have already gone extinct and 25% of our other native bumblebees risk extinction. Many other of the continent’s 4,000 bee species are in trouble too, not to mention countless moths, butterflies, and beetles. Even the workhorse European honey bee is in trouble.

Tallamy is a fine writer with an interesting and clear style and he presents subjects and concepts in logical sequence. Color photographs of numerous plants and butterflies (and their famous larvae-caterpillars) fill the book and there’s an informative question and answer section in the back of the book. Also, an extensive bibliography is available if the reader is interested in digging deeper into some concept covered in the book.

And the most important chapter in the book? Chapter 11, entitled “What Each of Us Can Do.” The chapter includes a bunch of common sense ideas: shrink the size of your lawn; remove invasive species; plant native plants that are ecologically important like the aforementioned oaks and goldenrods and be generous with these plantings; talk to, and team up, with your neighbor to coordinate plantings; install bee hotels; place covers over sunken window wells that can serve as death traps for small mammals and amphibians; use motion-sensing security lights that only go on when needed (security lights that stay on all the time can kill hundreds if not thousands of moths attracted to the light); and do not spray or fertilize — native plants don’t need it.

Each of us can do some or all of these things. If we do any of them, we are helping to expand Homegrown National Park!

Released in February through Timber Press, Nature’s Best Hope is available online at www.timberpress.com, www.amazon.com and www.barnesandnoble.com. For more information on the author, visit www.bringingnaturehome.net.

The Piping Plover could be completely lost from the shores of Long Island due to climate change. Photo by Kimberley Caruso/Audubon Photography Awards

By Brooke Bateman

Brooke Bateman

Fifty years ago on April 22nd, millions of Americans made their voices heard. It was this first Earth Day that brought on the environmental movement as we know it today, where concerned individuals collectively said that it was time to take action to be better for our planet. 

Across the country, people demanded that action be taken to clean up our air and water and protect our environment. The momentum of that day helped bring about public support in the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, and helped usher through the passage of key laws including the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and the Endangered Species Act. 

As Earth Day 2020 is set to be celebrated in nearly 200 countries, this year’s celebration may look different to the crowd-filled events and rallies typical of this day; we are in truly unprecedented times. As I write this we are a few weeks into the pandemic quarantine, but I am blessed to be outside listening to the familiar calls of the birds I have come to know in my neighborhood. 

That’s the thing about birds; their presence can connect us to the local rhythms of nature, the signature of a time and place. As the majority of people are spending their days at home on lockdown, I have had many friends reach out to me about how much solace they are finding in birds right now. As one of the most beloved and ubiquitous forms of wildlife, birds are our connector to nature around us. Birds are also our messengers and if we pay attention, they’re showing us that our world is changing. 

Over the last 50 years, America has lost over one quarter of its birds, nearly 3 billion birds less fill our skies today then in 1970. Yet, the century-old Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) is being dismantled, making it much more likely that even more will be lost and without any accountability for incidental loss. 

We are losing nature at an unprecedented rate, yet we are seeing rollbacks on some of our bedrock protections such as the Clean Air and Water Acts, making it easier for our planet to be polluted yet again. Looking forward to the next 50 years, climate change is the biggest issue both birds and people alike will face. Birds are already telling us that our climate is changing — birds ranges are changing, shifting and contracting as the climate conditions change across the globe. Birds like the Rusty Blackbird are lost to large parts of their historical range as climate conditions worsen. Whole communities are collapsing, with mass seabird die offs now happening yearly off our northern shores due to warming sea temperatures. Seabirds like puffins and murres are dying from starvation from the changes in the food web brought about by extreme heat in the oceans. 

Bird migration has shifted. As spring arrives earlier and earlier, birds are either having to migrate earlier or find themselves out of luck when they arrive too late and their resources have past their peak. Even the herald of spring, the American Robin, has decided that it may not have to fly south after all, sticking around through warmer winters in many places. 

Without global action, such as the Paris accord (of which the U.S. is no longer a part of), how can we meet the significant actions needed to limit global temperatures to 2C (or preferably 1.5C)? The consequence of not doing so is that our planet would be transformed into a more inhospitable place. 

The consequence is potentially losing billions more birds. Audubon’s Survival by Degrees: 389 Bird Species on the Brink, a report forecasting the survival of birds to climate change, shows that two-thirds of North American bird species are at risk of extreme range loss and potentially extinction from unmitigated climate change. In New York, 116 species are vulnerable to climate change, including charismatic species like the Scarlet Tanager, Wood Thrush, American Woodcock, Saltmarsh Sparrow, and Piping Plover. 

The Piping Plover could be completely lost from the shores of Long Island due to climate change. No species will escape climate change, with birds (and the places they share with us) also facing multiple coincident climate change-related threats. New York will experience greater extreme heat events, increased coastal and inland flooding from sea level rise and heavy rainfall, increased pressures from urbanization, and disrupted ecosystems.

But this loss is so much more than just numbers. It is the loss of some of our familiar neighborhood birds we have come to know and love, of nature and our sense of place as we know it. It is not being able to share the joy of seeing a Piping Plover on our beaches with our children. It is the loss of our familiar seasons and weather patterns, where extreme events and natural disasters become more frequent. It’s some of our more vulnerable communities being put at further risk, as climate change will disproportionately affect our children, our elderly, lower income communities, and communities of color. 

However, we still have time, and as the threat of climate change grows, so does the work we need to do. If we can limit climate change to between 1.5C to 2.0C, then we can limit the loss we will come to see. Indeed, 76% of bird species will be better off if we can do just that, and our communities and environment will also not see such drastic affects. 

To get there we need to listen to the science, and make changes now both as individuals and as a nation. We have done this before. One of the greatest environmental successes of our time came as concerned Americans listened to what the birds were telling us. Toxic pesticides, pollution and ecosystem destruction were devastating some of our beloved birds including the Bald Eagle and the Brown Pelican. We gathered evidence, and looked hard at our values. 

As Americans, we decided that we value clean water, clean air, and healthy ecosystems for our wildlife and natural spaces. We decided we did not want a world where unchecked environmental destruction quieted our birds as described in Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. We listened to the science and we took action, and as the environment got healthier, the birds returned. I now marvel at the Bald Eagles and Osprey that have returned to Long Island, having never been a feature of my Long Island childhood.  

So where do we stand on this 50th Earth Day? We need to yet again examine our values and embrace science-based conservation. We need to take action, to set in motion the momentum to spark the next environmental movement taking us beyond just one day. We need to face these incredible challenges and opportunities collectively, to do what needs to be done to solve this climate crisis. 

The science illustrates how our warming planet will impact both the birds we all love, and the people in our communities, but also shows us that if we act there is still time to create a brighter future for birds and people. If we do something now to stabilize climate change, then we can improve the chances for the majority of these species. And we already have a lot of the tools we need to reduce the effects of global warming. 

Climate change is a global crisis, a threat that humanity faces as a whole. Even as we face the current global pandemic threat, the need for effective and coordinated advocacy for climate change action is greater than ever. We have shown through our current pandemic crisis we are able to come together (even by being apart), and we must harness this united energy as the climate is changing and the window to act is closing. Birds are telling us, the time to act on climate change is now. 

This Earth Day, and every day, we need to come together and listen and to act on our values.  We once again need to be a collective voice of change to protect the earth we all share. 

Brooke Bateman is a mother, nature lover, and scientist. She received her PhD in Ecology and Conservation and is the Senior Scientist, Climate at the National Audubon Society. The Stony Brook resident also sits on the board of Four Harbors Audubon Society.

Peregrine falcon. Photo by Carl Safina

By Carl Safina

Carl Safina. Photo by Ines Dura

When I was 15 or so, an older neighbor took me fishing to his secret pond in Flanders. It was 1970, the year of the first Earth Day. He led me along a narrow trail through the pine woods to his special spot. It was a modest-sized pond, and the first thing I noticed was that right across the shore was a huge nest made of big sticks. It was a little dilapidated. Abandoned. 

I’d always loved birds. And among birds, I particularly was thrilled by hawks, eagles, and falcons. But living in a cookie-cut suburb of central Nassau County, my real-world contact with wild nature at that time was very limited. Much of what I knew was from books. I knew what that nest was. And I knew why it was abandoned.

It belonged to a spectacular species I’d never seen: huge fish hawks called ospreys. And I knew, also — from reading Newsday and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring — that I would probably never see them because DDT and other hard pesticides had caused all their eggs to break. Adults were now dying off wholesale due to old age, and ospreys were already erased from most of the region. 

I knew all this from reading, but actually seeing that nest made me realize in a very visceral way how narrowly I’d missed growing up in a world that contained what it was supposed to contain. I could not believe the bad luck of the timing of my life. 

Bald Eagle. Photo by Carl Safina

And speaking of bad timing; that same year The New York Times Magazine ran a story on my favorite bird — another that I had only read about and seen photos of. The title of the story: Death Comes To The Peregrine Falcon. I would never see my favorite bird, because the same pesticides that were snuffing out ospreys had also wiped peregrine falcons from their cliff-nests from the New England to the West Coast and indeed all across Europe. 

Bald eagles — forget it. A few left in places like southern Florida and Alaska, places I was sure I would never get to. 

I assumed the trends would continue. I did not yet know that a small group of people based in a place called East Setauket were about to sue for the cessation of aerial spraying of DDT and some other chlorinated hydrocarbon pesticides. But they did. More surprising — they won! 

In a few years, with those pesticides banned, the new Endangered Species Act in place, and the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and National Environmental Policy Act signed into law by a president named Nixon, the natural environment became noticeably cleaner. 

Scientists at Cornell University had succeeded in breeding some of the last peregrine falcons in the U.S. — hatchlings collected in Arctic Alaska. So in 1976, I drove up to Ithaca, tucked my long hair under my collar, and entered the office of the breeding facility to make the strongest case I could muster for why I would be a good candidate for helping to release the first generation of captive-bred peregrine falcons into a world newly cleansed of the worst pesticides of the time. 

Carl Safina with a peregrine falcon at the age of 21

And thus I started my professional career by securing the first of several dream jobs, spending part of the summer caring for and managing the release of three precious falcon chicks that were not just birds; they were three promises we were making to ourselves and to the future of Life on Earth. If it was going to be up to us — and it was, of course — this wondrous species, the fastest living thing in the world, would not vanish from this planet.

That was also the year that I saw an osprey in Cold Spring Harbor.

Other Cornell scientists, who refused to see our ospreys wither into oblivion, moved viable eggs from remaining Chesapeake pairs to failing Long Island nests, keeping a few remnant pairs on reproductive life-support so that a smattering of new young birds might survive and return to the region. 

It all started working. Ospreys did start coming back, laying eggs that no longer broke. Slowly at first and then to a degree I never could have imagined, ospreys recovered and came off the Endangered Species list. New York City now hosts the densest known nesting population of peregrine falcons in the world, sited on bridges and tall buildings, back in the Hudson’s Palisades, and even, locally, around Port Jefferson Harbor. 

Bald eagles are nesting on Long Island for the first time in our lives, with perhaps a dozen pairs now, and regular sightings in our Setauket and Stony Brook communities. All of that we owe to the few, early, never-say-die scientists and environmentalists of the first Earth Day era.

When the continued existence of several species of whales was very much in doubt, people who are now friends and colleagues of mine worked tireless, hard-fought battles that achieved, in 1986, a global ban on most commercial whale hunting. Another of my friends was burned in effigy for her tireless work to secure regulations that would prevent the last sea turtles on the East Coast from drowning in shrimp nets. 

But whales are now so common in our waters that it is no longer exceptional to see them from our ocean beaches. Sea turtle numbers have sky-rocketed from 1980s lows. Since the 1990s I’ve worked on several key campaigns to turn around the deep depletions in our fish populations and some of these, too, have worked beyond our — and our opponents’ — expectations. 

Osprey on a nest. Photo by Carl Safina

Last summer, a friend told me of seeing several whales from the beach in East Hampton. He said they were feeding just beyond the surf on dense schools of herring-like fish called menhaden. Because they formerly existed in enormous schools, are very energy and nutrient rich, and are eaten by many kinds of fish, seabirds, and marine mammals, menhaden have been called “the most important fish in the sea.” And because of recent hard-won catch restrictions, they’ve been rapidly recovering.

The morning after I got my friend’s tip, I checked five beaches from Amagansett to the west side of East Hampton. To my astonishment, I saw whales, dolphins, and dense schools of menhaden at every stop. The next morning I took my boat around Montauk Point for a water view. I first encountered the menhaden schools just west of the Point. Millions of fish extended in an unbroken school twenty miles long, with a humpback whale or two lunging spectacularly into breakfast every mile and a half or so. I went as far west as Amagansett, traveling just beyond the surf. I took a bunch of photos and decided to head back, knowing that the fruits of these spectacular recoveries continued far down the beach.

Nature is under withering pressure worldwide. But we here on Long Island are beneficiaries of some of the best successes I know about. And the successes are both spectacular and instructive. 

When we give natural communities and endangered species a break, and make the slightest accommodation to coexist and let life live, they strive to recover the abundance, vitality, and beauty of the original world. Two things are required: we have to want it, and a few people have to move a few obstacles and let it happen. And then we can have, and pass along, a more alive, more beautiful world. It can work.

Carl Safina is an ecologist and a MacArthur Fellow. He holds the Endowed Chair for Nature and Humanity at Stony Brook University and is founder of the not-for-profit Safina Center. He is author of numerous books on the human relationship with the rest of the living world. Carl’s new book is “Becoming Wild; How Animal Cultures Raise Families, Create Beauty, and Achieve Peace.” More at CarlSafina.org and SafinaCenter.org

Patricia Paladines teaches a child the art of seining during Setauket Harbor Day on Sept. 28, 2019. Photo by Maria Hoffman

By Patricia Paladines

Patricia Paladines at West Meadow Creek. Photo by Carl Safina

The first Earth Day on April 22, 1970 catalyzed the modern environmental education movement. A few months after that first official celebration of the Earth’s natural environment, the Congress of the United States passed The Environmental Education Act, which was signed into law by President Richard Nixon on October 30, 1970. Later, Nixon noted that it is “vital that our entire society develop a new understanding and new awareness of man’s relation to his environment – what might be called ‘environmental literacy.’” 

The Act states that “The Congress of the United States finds that the deterioration of the quality of the Nation’s environment and of its ecological balance poses a serious threat to the strength and vitality of the people of the Nation and is in part due to poor understanding of the Nation’s environment and of the need for ecological balance; that presently there do not exist adequate resources for educating and informing citizens in these areas, and that concerted efforts in educating citizens about environmental quality and ecological balance are therefore necessary.” 

The Environmental Education Act encouraged and provided financial support for the development of curricula that improved American’s understanding of policies that enhance environmental quality and maintain ecological balance. It called for the use of such curricula in model educational programs at the elementary and secondary school levels, the development of training programs for teachers, other educational personnel, public service personnel, community, labor, industrial and business leaders, and government employees at State, Federal and local levels. 

It supported the planning of outdoor ecological centers that would provide community education programs on preserving and enhancing environmental quality and maintaining ecological balance, and the preparation and distribution of material by mass media in dealing with the environment and ecology. 

In 1971, the U.S. Commissioner of Education, Sidney P. Marland Jr. wrote an article titled Environmental Education Cannot Wait in American Education. In the article he stated, “Environment as a high priority educational theme has also been assisted by strong student concern for the decline in environmental quality. Youth is more concerned with the future state of the environment than is the older generation because young people are, for one thing, going to spend so much time inhaling that future environment, swallowing it, and finding their way through it. Environmental concern offers an attractive neutral ground in which to work out the ‘alliance between generations’ which President Nixon spoke of at the University of Nebraska in January.”

Many of us were the “youth” Mr. Marland refers to in his article. We grew up inhaling, swallowing and finding our way through the environment our leaders at the time sought to protect. We raised our children on a less polluted planet than what we had begun to experience in the 1950s and 60s when we were children. 

Opportunities for learning about the natural environment that surrounds us are readily available around Long Island through nature centers, aquariums, universities, and our protected forests and beaches. 

On this 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day, the world is on lockdown due to a pandemic which is believed to have originated from disturbance to wildlife and habitats. It is an opportunity to give us pause and reflect on how we now should work out an “alliance between generations” for preventing future Earth Days experienced in lockdowns caused by environmental illiteracy. 

Patricia Paladines is an environmental educator and photographer living Setauket. She works as a consultant for an organization that funds UNICEF’s Let Us Learn projects in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Liberia, Madagascar and Nepal. Patricia is on the board of various local environmental organizations including the Four Harbors Audubon Society and the Center for Environmental Education and Discovery in Brookhaven, and in the warm months enjoys leading trips around Stony Brook’s West Meadow Creek aboard the Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Discovery tour boat.

Dr. Jane Goodall Photo courtesy of National Geographic

National Geographic commemorates Earth Day with a special screening of the new two-hour documentary Jane Goodall: The Hope on April 22 starting at 9 p.m. The film, which will air globally in 172 countries and 43 languages on National Geographic, Nat Geo WILD and Nat Geo MUNDO channels, takes viewers through chapters of Dr. Goodall’s journey, highlighting how she inspires hope for our planet, love for its animal inhabitants and actions of stewardship for this generation and those to come.

Dr. Jane Goodall and Prince Harry at Windsor Castle for the 2019 global leadership meeting of Roots & Shoots. Photo courtesy of National Geographic/Hitesh Makan

Featuring an extensive collection of photographs and footage that spans over seven decades, the special depicts the formation of the Jane Goodall Institute’s “Tacare” community-centered conservation approach and Roots & Shoots youth empowerment program, her remarkable advocacy and leadership on behalf of chimpanzees and humanity. 

“Being out in the forest of Gombe, I had a great sense of spiritual awareness; I began to realize that everything is interconnected,” says Goodall. “Since then, every day, it’s become clearer that climate change is an existential threat to our natural world, and if we destroy this world, we destroy our own future.”

Dr. Jane Goodall signing book for young girl at Esri Conference in 2019. Photo courtesy of National Geographic/Michael Haertlein

“Each day, every single person has the chance to make an impact through small, thoughtful choices, and when billions of people make the right choices, we start to transform the world,” added Goodall. “Don’t give up; there’s always a way forward.”

The documentary includes appearances by Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex, and U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, among others.

“The need to protect our planet has never been more urgent, and we’re using Earth Day’s 50th as an opportunity to inspire viewers through the wonders of our planet and its incredible species for viewers around the world,” said Courteney Monroe, president, National Geographic Global Television Networks. “With the Earth Day takeover across all of our networks and platforms, we are able to reach the largest audience possible to celebrate this momentous day and ensure that viewers fall in love with our planet and act to protect it.”

Compliments of Anita Jo Lago

Hometown: Stony Brook

Day job: Production Manager for Marketing and Communications at Stony Brook Medicine.

“The rapid pace of invention in photography technologies has changed what we are capable of capturing. The art in photography is expanding and nothing seems impossible in terms of imagining what a photo can be of, look like or what camera (or mobile device) it can be taken with. Creativity has no boundaries and is never ending. To be riding that wave at this moment is very exciting.”

Photographer: “I started taking photos back in the late ‘80s on film cameras. I got more serious in 2002 when I started travelling and wanted to capture what I saw during walks around cities. After my office changed locations in 2014, I found myself passing the Frank Melville Park in Setauket daily. That sparked my curiosity in nature and started my latest adventure in photography.”

Favorite camera: “I find the Nikon D850 and the Canon 5D Mark 4 to be very challenging and rewarding cameras.”

Favorite lenses: “For macro photography (extreme close-up photography), Nikon 200mm f/4, Voigtlander 125mm f/2.5 and Canon 65mm f/2.8 are all fantastic lenses. They have taught me a true test of patience. Zoom lenses like the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G, Canon 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 and Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E have a great range for capturing wildlife near and far.”

Favorite location: “Frank Melville Park is a hidden treasure. The environment and “vibe” of the park is peaceful. The Red Barn, Mill House and Bates House give the sense of history of the land and community. The North and South Ponds, the trails, the gardens, all contribute in ‘packing a punch’ when it comes to the beauty of nature and wildlife. Experiencing rare bird sightings, watching eggs hatch, nestlings learning to fly, bird migrations, reemerging turtles after winter hibernation, beekeeping … there are millions of happenings, hours of enjoyment, something for everyone. Every visit is a memorable one. Imagine taking photos there!

Other hobbies: “Besides spending time watching wildlife year-round, I enjoy computer technology, learning about mute swans, craft beer and finding a great slice of pizza!”  

Best advice to get that perfect shot: ‘Take photos of things that you’re immersed in, that you feel a deep connection with and that you love being around. If you shoot often enough, there comes a point where you don’t realize you have a camera in your hands and that your eye is looking through the viewfinder. There, you are in the zone — you found the sweet spot. Those are the photos that you will cherish as perfect.”

Favorite aspect about taking photos: Getting lost looking through the viewfinder. The excitement of seeing what I’m seeing is astonishing. There is so much discovery unfolding in nature that goes unnoticed. To have an opportunity to share those photo stories with others is extremely gratifying. It’s fulfilling to connect others to things they may never have an opportunity to experience and see firsthand.” 

State Sen. John Flanagan congratulates Laurel Hill School student Sam Specht for winning the New York State Senate’s 2018 Earth Day Poster Contest. Photo from Senator John Flanagan's office

A student in East Setauket is improving the environment one bottle at a time.

State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) presented sixth-grader Sam Specht with a certificate for winning the New York State Senate’s 2018 Earth Day Poster Contest during a May 21 assembly at The Laurel Hill School. For his entry, “We Are Creating a Monsterous Problem,”

Sam took the challenge one step further by creating a monster made of bottles to hold his poster.

Sam Specht’s winning Earth Day poster entry included a robot made of plastic bottles holding his poster. Photo from Joanne Specht

Flanagan said Sam, 12, was chosen from 4,600 entries, representing 43 of 63 state senators.

“You, my friend, have distinguished yourself as the best of 4,600,” Flanagan said.

The senator had advice for the students in attendance. He said young people may garner more respect when it comes to advising others in disposing of litter and recycling since people don’t always listen to adults who tell someone to pick up or recycle a piece of garbage.

“I guarantee if one of you said it, they’d pay a lot more attention,” he said. “So, don’t think you can’t make a difference, because you can.”

Sam, who lives in Bellport, has attended The Laurel Hill School since pre-K. He chose the plastic bottles as the issue for his poster because he said not enough people recycle them properly. During his research for the essay that accompanied the poster, Sam said he discovered a million bottles are purchased worldwide every minute and 91 percent aren’t recycled. Facts he included on his poster.

“I figured out that the amount of the bottles we use in America daily are enough to go from New York to San Francisco and back,” he said.

The 12-year-old had advice on how to help with reducing the number of bottles found in trash cans and littering communities. One, Sam said, is to purchase reusable drinking containers, and to also look for recycling receptacles when in public. Sam said it’s vital to research locations to ensure plastic is recycled properly when returning bottles from home, which he found most supermarkets do.

“I figured out that the amount of the bottles we use in America daily are enough to go from New York to San Francisco and back.”

— Sam Specht

Sam was unable to bring his bottle monster to the assembly because he already brought the pieces, which included soda and water bottles for the body and a milk jug for the head, to Costco to recycle. He said he was happy his teacher and mom took pictures to display at the school presentation.

“I was pretty surprised when I won because I knew a lot of people participated so I didn’t really expect that,” he said.

Sam’s mother, Joanne, said her son has been concerned about the environment for years.

“He is always reminding us to turn off the water when we brush our teeth,” she said. “He is also always asking everyone in our family to use refillable bottles instead of buying water bottles.”

The mother said Sam helps his neighbors bring their recycling cans to the curb on collection days, which she said has made him more aware of how much plastic is used and discarded.

“I am glad for Sam that he won because he takes this issue very seriously,” she said.

Citizen's Campaign for the Environment Executive Director Adrienne Esposito, on left, shows the decrease in single-use plastic bags (in blue) from a survey done in December 2017 to one done in April 2018. Photo by Kyle Barr

Though there are still people in Suffolk County who regularly kick themselves for forgetting to bring their reusable bags into stores, a newly-released survey says the law that enforces a five-cent per bag fee has so far been effective.

Legislature to vote on statewide ban of plastic bags

By Desirée Keegan

At the state level, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced a bill to ban single-use plastic bags across the state April 23, which would begin in January 2019 if passed. The three-page bill, introduced by the governor a day after Earth Day, comes a little more than a year after he blocked a 5-cent surcharge that New York City had sought to place on plastic bags.

Cuomo described the measure as an effort to counteract the “blight of plastic bags” that is taking “a devastating toll on our streets, our water and our natural resources,” he said in a statement.

Seeking re-election for a third term in the fall, Cuomo then quoted an adage: “We did not inherit the Earth, we are merely borrowing it from our children.”

If the bill were to pass, New York would join California, which approved a statewide ban of plastic bags in 2016. Hawaii has a de facto ban on plastic bags; all of its counties have instituted bans.

But the measure faces an uncertain path in the Legislature, where leaders of the Assembly and the Senate had opposed the city’s bill. The measure would very likely face a stiffer challenge in the Republican-majority Senate.

Under Cuomo’s proposal, a variety of bags would be exempt from the ban, including those that contain raw meat, fish or poultry; bags sold in bulk; those used in bulk packages of fruit and dried goods; those used for deli products; newspaper bags; trash, food storage and garment bags; and takeout food bags. The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation would also be allowed to exempt certain bags through regulations.

The news comes after advocates from across the state gathered the same day in Albany to hold Cuomo accountable for meeting his climate and clean energy commitments.

“Today, New Yorkers delivered a message to Governor Cuomo: Walk the talk on climate action; follow through on your words, because lasting change only happens through action and putting goals into law,” said Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York. “New York has a remarkable opportunity to be an international leader on climate if, and only if, we embrace a future powered by renewables. The people of the state will continue to remind Governor Cuomo of this opportunity until he takes advantage of it.”

“And this is only in three months since the law passed,” Executive Director of Citizen’s Campaign for the Environment Adrienne Esposito said to the Suffolk County Legislature’s Health Committee April 19. “This is a great success. Public behavior is changing.”

In November and December of last year, her environmental advocacy group conducted a study that showed 70 percent  of 20,000 Suffolk County shoppers surveyed left a store with a plastic, non-reusable bag in tow. Only 6 percent of customers surveyed used a reusable bag.

After a new survey of 6,000 people this month in 20 grocery stores throughout the county, just 30 percent of those surveyed bought plastic bags and 43 percent were now carrying reusable. Twenty-one percent of people shopping in those grocery stores decided not to take a bag.

“As we celebrate Earth Day it’s great to have news that the bag fee is effective, said Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport). “I know that there were concerns with adopting the bag law, but to see real, tangible results in such a short period of time, I think it’s very exciting.”

Ocean plastics have become a real concern to a number of environmental scientists and advocacy groups, and Esposito said the next goal is to see if there’s a way to reduce the use of other sources of plastic, like straws and utensil.

“Plastic is becoming a real threat to the environment,” she said.

Dr. Rebecca Grella, a Brentwood schools research scientist and teacher, surveyed Flax Pond Marine Laboratory in Old Field in October 2017 and said the amount of plastics found in the water was extremely troubling.

“What we found at the Flax Pond in one square meter [was] 17 grams of microplastics, which are plastics under 5 millimeters [large],” Grella said. “In the entire shoreline of Flax Pond — over a mile of shoreline — we extrapolated there is about 400 pounds of plastic.”

The microplastics are from larger pieces that have eroded along the sea floor until they are smaller in size. They are often ingested by sea life, which not only endangers aquatic creatures but any creature who eat them, including people.

Spencer said that while a total ban on bags would have been more efficient, there was no way to get it passed by the Legislature.

“I think in order to get to this point after years of negotiation, the nickel offered a successful compromise,” Spencer said. “I think the law has worked so well because people don’t want their nickels going to the store.”

“By charging people 5 cents there seems to be a lot of people getting angry and agitated,” Grella said. “In all actuality, it isn’t as easy to put a 5-cent fee on paper or plastic.”

Despite the success, Esposito admitted there is a chance to eventually see an increase in purchased bag use as more people get used to the law.

“We do get concerned about people getting used to the nickel and just paying it,” she said. “So that’s why we need to keep up public education.”

Citizen’s Campaign for the Environment is planning to conduct another survey in November and December to gather a much larger sample size, and survey more than just grocery stores.