The last few days of Journey two have narrowed in on the geology, ecology and biology of the areas we are traveling through. For the first time I have been forced to not just enjoy my surroundings but to understand why it is like it is and what is really there. I have been to mountains and to beaches and the places in between but never really understood why they are there and how we affect them.
Yesterday morning we began by doing a salt marsh field survey at a public dock in Chincoteague, Virginia. We were there at a time of a spring tide, or high-high tide, meaning the marsh was flooded. Within the next hour we found several types of plants, grasses and algae to identify. While a year ago I would have looked from the dock and saw the beautiful scenery, I now saw so much more. I saw the relationship of the Littorina snails living above the waterline on the Spartina alterniflora where they can feed and be protected. I saw the bioturbation in the sediment from a variety of animal species living within it. I saw expansive colonization of the specific grasses due to a lack in change of elevation and their turf system of growing.
Unfortunately I also saw how humans have impacted the marsh by this dock. Previously I may have thought the area was decently respected due to a lack of trash and obvious destruction to the marsh. Now I realize that the reason one side of the marsh had sharp, distinct edges to its shoreline is because of lack of protection from boat wakes. I saw how pathways and the dock disturb the vibrant ecosystem surrounding us. I also realized that the parking lot, a completely impervious surface that connects with the marsh, will lead to huge amounts of pollution and wastes running into the marsh, especially during a rain event.
We also visited beaches on Assateague Island and Ocean City. Instead of just looking at the beach as the area where sand meets the ocean I could better understand how and why it is the way it is. We discussed the different parts and slopes of the beach and dunes behind it. I also learned about different types of waves and how it affects the sand. I had no idea how sand replenishes itself with its system, what ridges and runnels are, and how beaches are affected by large storms and hurricanes.
Unfortunately we also saw the negative affects of shoreline development, jetties, boat wakes, our attempts of beach replenishment and pollution. While we have negatively impacted these systems for centuries, we can only do so much. Sea level rise, erosion and hurricanes may force us away from these areas within our lifetimes.
As we drove back to campus today I found myself looking out the window and noticing the sediments along the road, the differences in the slope and elevation and the ways in which the water meets the land along the way. I also realized how many ways we affect something as large and powerful as an entire beach or edge of any land. But this has consequences and these edges may not be there for us to enjoy in the coming centuries. I hope that I will continue to be able to do more than observing with everything I learned during this journey.