#20: Thinking Conservation On and Off the Water

As a guest to the right whale field house in Lubec, I have a unique perspective from which to view typical field operations for the New England Aquarium's right whale research team. The team exhibits habits that are so rote as to be unnoticeable, but as a newcomer, I've developed a great respect for the assiduous manner with which all the individuals in the house attempt to live their lives aligned close as possible with their conservationist principles. Immediately upon my arrival here I was impressed with the thoughtful effort that goes into recycling, reusing, composting, and consuming energy (from the grid and from the farm) sustainably. Everyone here goes the extra mile, no matter how exhausted by a day on the water or inundated with a day of data analysis, to not only talk the talk of environmental responsibility but also to walk the walk.

First, let me touch on the thorough recycling regime for the house that Amy spearheads. We recycle everything that can reasonably be recycled--bottles, cans, plastics, paper, cardboard, corks, batteries, light bulbs, metals--and Amy goes so far as to take the things that cannot be recycled in Lubec back to Boston with her to be recycled where there are greater resources. Amy has also thought of the challenges of recycling, realizing it gets done less if it's not convenient, so she's put recycling bins in the bathrooms and near the showers (for toilet paper rolls, paper towels, and shampoo containers, among other things) and close to any work spaces to ensure almost nothing that can be recycled falls into the waste basket.

When we're done reusing it, we recycle it!

Secondly, we reuse whatever we can. Lots of the plastics that might get thrown away (for example, hummus or yogurt containers) are great as reusable leftover containers--it's like getting free tupperware with your store-bought food! Many of our drinking glasses are old jars, and most of us in the house use water bottles and coffee tumblers that are refillable for years and years. Also, one of my favorite aspects of the field house is that upon our arrival everyone who so desired could claim a cloth dinner napkin to use for the season. The napkins hang on personalized clothespins in the kitchen and can be grabbed whenever someone is sitting down to eat, then washed with any load of laundry, majorly saving on paper towels.

The Whale House napkin line.

Thirdly, we keep a compost heap in the backyard and a compost bucket in the kitchen. Any uneaten food (of which there is very little in general), egg shells, coffee grounds, banana peels, etc. gets put into compost to eventually return to the ecosystem. Our paper towels are compostable, too, so they don't end up in the dump.

Where our uneaten foodstuffs feed the earth.

Lastly, everybody tries to consume in a sustainable fashion, thinking about how long we're spending in the shower, turning off lights when a room is empty, using efficient machinery, unplugging battery chargers when they're not in use, drying our clothes naturally outdoors, and buying organic, locally farmed and fished food when possible (we've been a member of the Tide Mill CSA for years!).

Line drying clothes.

Environmental responsibility is a challenge, and the project isn't necessarily a paragon of going green--to study whales we still need big trucks to tow boats and gasoline to run them both, lots of electronics, and if we washed ourselves and our gear any less than we do now we'd probably be kicked out of Lubec. But, undaunted by those deficiencies, my co-workers are being actively conscientious and creative in their attempts to lessen the project's impact on the environment, and it's a subtle heroism that I deeply admire.

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