Category Archives: Member Blog

Out on the Flats: Chatham Shellfish Individual Placement

By Brian Wagenaar, Year 19 LeHac House Member

“What a year you have in store for you. I hope you like water.” Those were the first words of my introductory letter written by last year’s Town of Chatham Shellfish placement, Tom Bryson. Fortunately for myself, and for the shellfish department, I do indeed like water. Other parts of Tom’s letter touched on the highly seasonal nature of shellfishing, the difficulty and intensity of the work, and the sheer joy and sense of accomplishment that can accompany working a beautiful day out on the water. Tom’s letter served to be a great primer for my new position, as all his observations, tips, and tricks have proved true thus far.

One of Chatham’s shellfishing boats sits ready for a broadcast with a culling board and auxiliary baskets chock full of oysters.

Hailing from suburban Minnesota, my knowledge regarding shellfish and the shellfishing industry prior to starting this program back in early September was little to none. However, towards the end of my college career I became interested in marine policy, and so when it came time to submit our top choices for individual placements (IPs) back in September, I earmarked the dual placement of the Town of Chatham Shellfish Department and the Town of Eastham Natural Resources (which also has a shellfish component) as one of my top picks.

I ended up being selected for that IP, and so for just about two months now I have been thrust into the distinct world of shellfishing and shellfish propagation. This has entailed learning a good deal about shellfish regulations, propagation practices, the people who make their living shellfishing or in related industries, and Cape Codders love affair with oysters (a point reinforced by attending OysterFest, an annual oyster-centric celebration held in Wellfleet). Additionally, I have also been coming to learn about how shellfishing relates to the broader context of marine and coastal policy, my potentially desired field.

An 8’’ mammoth oyster found on the flats in front of the Chatham Harbormaster’s office, where the upweller is also located on the ground floor.

Chatham’s shellfish propagation program traces back to the mid-1970’s, stemming from the widespread desire to supplement commercial fisherman’s haul and ensure a long-term sustainable shellfishery. Quahogs have been the primary focus of the propagation program since the beginning, as they have always been the town shellfishery’s bread and butter. In the early days, the town simply bought large seed and directly planted it. Towards the end of the 1970s and into the 1980s, this practice evolved to include experiments with various strategies of planting and predator exclusion. In 1983, the program received a substantial boon in the form of a voluntary increase in the cost of a commercial shellfishing permit, with the increased amount going into a revolving fund devoted entirely to shellfish propagation.

Following a change in shellfish constables in the 1990’s, a push was made to build an upweller system that would allow for shellfish to be grown from smaller seed, lowering cost and increasing production potential. The construction of the current upweller at Old Mill Boatyard (OMBY) on Stage Harbor in 1999 corresponded with the hiring of a propagation specialist (both developments made possible by the shellfish fund). These developments were a huge leap forward for the program that remains quite similar today, with the town able to handle roughly 4 million quahogs a year. A few alterations have been made in recent years, such as the addition of Bay Scallops to the propagation program for the dual benefit of both commercial and recreational fishermen. Oysters have also become a perennial piece of the town program, with the primary purpose of benefitting recreational fishermen.

The town’s propagation program has undergone major changes since its inception more than 40 years ago, and today it serves as a useful tool not just for aiding commercial and recreational fishers, but also for cleaning the water (a singular oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day), and maintaining the culture of shellfishing and fishing generally that Chatham was founded upon.

For my supervisor Rachel Hutchinson, who oversees Chatham’s impressive propagation program, the desirability of working for the town’s shellfish department lies in the variability of the work: “I love my job because it’s something new every day, plus I get to spend lots of time outside being active.”

Rachel Hutchinson, the town shellfish propagation specialist, along with children from a classroom tour, look down at the Chatham upweller, which has housed oysters, bay scallops, quahogs, and razor clams.

And it’s true. You simply never know what you might be doing from one day to the next, which makes coming into work exciting and fresh. Depending on a multitude of natural and human factors, you may be in the office writing emails or entering data, cleaning the town’s indoor upweller system, checking shellfish permits, conducting a shellfish survey, hauling in oyster bags, broadcasting (essentially strategically throwing) oysters off a boat, or possibly doing all that within the span of a single day.

Besides Rachel, the Chatham Shellfish operation is headed up by constable Renee Gagne, whose work centers on checking permits and handling the regulatory side of shellfishing. Assisting the two full-time employees are a team of seasonals who work primarily summers, roughly 15 under Renee on the permitting and enforcement side, and 3 under Rachel for propagation work. Dedicated volunteers are also critical to the department, providing extra hands and expertise, largely on the propagation end. Together, these varied employees and volunteers ensure a sustainable, enjoyable, and profitable shellfishery in Chatham.

Rachel, Shannon (a shellfish seasonal), and a team of AmeriCorps members prepare to head out to rake quahogs on a group service day.

Coming to the AmeriCorps Cape Cod program from the Midwest, I would not have guessed that I would find myself out on a boat aggressively shoveling out oysters while recreational oyster fishers spy on our shellfish crew through binoculars, phone in hand to alert their friends about the location of our latest broadcast. But sometimes life presents unexpected opportunities, and I am tremendously excited to see what further opportunities and learning experiences lie in store for me on the cape and with Chatham Shellfish in the coming months.

Edited by AmeriCorps Cape Cod Program Staff

MLK Day!

On January 15, 2018 AmeriCorps Cape Cod in cooperation with several local food pantries will be holding their annual Martin Luther King, Jr. day of service project. This year members have worked diligently to plan a Cape wide project focused on food security and hunger in the Cape Cod region. The heart of the project is a Cape wide food drive on January 15th, though bins have already been placed in several locations to ensure that we collect as many. On the day of the event we will have groups collecting donations at several local grocery stores. We will also have a group at our home base, inventorying and sorting the collected goods so they can easily be donated to local food pantries.

In addition to the food drive we will also be sending volunteers to help several local food pantries. Volunteers are crucial to the operation of food pantries. Our volunteers will be completing a number of different projects based on the needs of the pantries. These projects will be focused on helping the food pantries prepare for the spring season, a very early spring-cleaning.

Sign-in on the day of the event will take place at Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School from 8:30 to 9:30. There will be a guest speaker to begin the event, as well as light refreshments.

For more information about registration please contact Halie Miyazawa at halie.miyazawa@barnstablecounty.org or call at 508-365-6903

Stranding

By Ben Hobbs, AmeriCorps Year 19

When I received the message from my Individual Placement supervisor at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) stating that 14 dolphins were in danger of stranding in Wellfleet, my heart just about jumped straight out of my chest.  I was feeling so many different emotions that I did not know what to think. I had to drop everything and shoot straight up the Cape to Wellfleet.

AmeriCorps members from all three of our houses, Bourne to Wellfleet, joined local volunteers and IFAW staff in responding to 14 dolphins stranded in Wellfleet. Photo from IFAW.

I was one of the first responders to the scene.  We pulled around the corner of the Herring River Gut in Wellfleet, and I could not believe my eyes.  There were two dolphins already stranded, with twelve others continuously circling around, clearly confused and uncertain of how to escape this near certain death trap.  When I saw how enormous the task we had in front of us was, I reached for my phone and called for my AmeriCorps housemates to come to my aid.  To my amazement, my phone lit up with positive responses within seconds.  All of my housemates, whom I had only known for about a month, were willing to drop everything and help us in this dire situation.

Without the help of my fellow AmeriCorps members, many more dolphins may have fallen in the Gut on that day.  Before their arrival, IFAW staff and I were doing everything we could to get the fourteen dolphins onto  stretcher, out of the thick Wellfleet mud, and up onto the beach, which seemed to be an eternity away.  The dolphins were heavy, slippery, and uncooperative for the most part, making this task even more strenuous. Somehow, the adrenaline took over, and we were able to successfully extract all fourteen dolphins from the watery, muddy, sludge that was the Gut.  Sadly, two of the dolphins appeared panicked likely from stranding, despite our team providing supportive care to each of them.  They thrashed and moaned, making noises that were foreign to me.  As they uncontrollably tossed in the sand, the dolphins continuously cut themselves on the Wellfleet oysters, and other sharp objects that lie scattered on the beach. Subsequently, they both passed, possibly due to the extreme stress of the stranding, as these animals are not used to being on the beach and feeling the pressure of their own body weight, but we may only know after necropsy (animal autopsy) results are finalized.  There is always a possibility that they were already in poor health before stranding.  These gut-wrenching images and sounds are some that I will not soon forget, and I am certain my housemates feel the same way.

Many stranding response events last well into the evening, where the work continues under the lights. Photo from IFAW.

The hours that passed in the Herring River Gut seemed only like fleeting moments. Before I could catch my breath, I was in a response truck on the way to the release point at Herring Cove Beach, in Provincetown.  This, amidst the blur of the entire day, is where the most surreal moment happened.  As I sit here typing, trying to put into words what I felt, I find myself frozen.  There is simply no way for me to describe the feeling one gets when they support a dolphin in the water, letting them acclimate to the ocean water yet again.  The dolphins are, whenever possible, released back to the sea in groups.  When they appear to be comfortable again in their marine setting, they begin to audibly communicate with one another.  Once this communication began to pick-up, and the flukes of the mammals began to pivot upward and downward, it was time to let them go, and watch them swim off together into the starlit sea.  The feeling of joy, accomplishment, and relief rushed over me. We had managed to save twelve of the fourteen dolphins that day, and I consider that to be an immense success.  Were it not for everyone involved, from staff, to volunteers, the public and AmeriCorps members, I am certain we would have lost all fourteen that day.

It takes a full team effort to respond to a stranded marine mammal- our members are trained to join in stranding response by IFAW at the start of their service year. Photo from IFAW.

This happened to be my very first dolphin stranding of the year, and as a kid coming from a limited scientific background, it was a bit overwhelming. Now that I have conquered this first mass stranding, I feel as though I am ready for anything that the great Atlantic can throw at me.

“Were it not for everyone involved, from staff, to volunteers, the public and AmeriCorps members, I am certain we would have lost all fourteen that day.”

I know that I will have my AmeriCorps family by my side every step of the way, which is comforting to say the least.  Never in my wildest dreams did I picture myself saving whales, dolphins, and seals, but now that I have started it is hard to picture myself stopping.  This program has already opened doors for me that I never thought possible, and we are only a couple of months in.  I am forever grateful for this opportunity that both AmeriCorps and IFAW have given to me. I am anxious to see what the rest of this service year has in store for me, and I am eager to keep gaining more knowledge along the way.  This year is going to be one for the books!

Edited by IFAW and AmeriCorps Cape Cod Program Staff

Nantucket Burn

By Brianna Carstens, AmeriCorps Year 19

Travel Day

Thursday, October 19th, 12:00 p.m.

Cape Cod National Seashore Fire Cache, Wellfleet, MA

For my Individual Placement, I serve with the Cape Cod National Seashore Fire Office. My main role is volunteer coordination, but sometimes I assist with prescribed burns since I have previous fire experience. On this particular Thursday, we were scheduled to travel and then assist on a prescribed burn with the Nantucket Land Bank. I reported to the Marconi Fire Cache and from there traveled by van to Hyannis with alongside FireCorps. From there we caught a ferry, and two and a half hours later arrived on Nantucket. A few people from the Land Bank picked us up from the ferry and drove us across the island to the Land Bank’s maintenance facility.  The FireCorps and I stayed the night in a renovated farmhouse on the property. That evening, we found out the Orionids Meteor Shower was happening, so after dinner a few of us went outside. We laid down in the driveway, had a beautiful view of the Milky Way, and saw the occasional shooting star.

Burn Day

Friday, October 20th, 6:27 a.m.

Land Bank Farmhouse, Nantucket, MA

I slept well at the farmhouse, and woke up to early morning light coming in through my window. I got out of bed and peered out to see the start of an amazing sunrise.

I was suddenly hit with the realization that I could see sunrise on Nantucket and the thought spurred me to get ready quickly. I got dressed and rushed outside. The farmhouse is on a piece of land that borders the ocean, so I headed down the dirt road towards the beach. As I walked the sky brightened, and just as I reached the beach the sun fully appeared. I stayed for a few minutes, trying to take in the moment, and recognize that I was truly here. It is still hard to believe that this small-town girl from Washington State made it all the way out here, but here I am, and it is moments like this that make it all seem real.

“I was suddenly hit with the realization that I could see sunrise on Nantucket and the thought spurred me to get ready quickly.”

I headed back towards the farmhouse, this time paying attention to my surroundings instead of the sky. The Land Bank owns a golf course and a bunch of grasslands adjacent to a neighborhood. The road that I had walked out separated the two. I got back to the farmhouse and geared up for the day.

I was placed on my squad, issued a radio, and assigned a ride out to the property. The task was to burn thirty acres of grasslands to promote regime change and native species propagation. Our respective squads drove out and split up. I was assigned to holding, which basically means standing at the fireline and watching the green, or area we don’t want to burn, for spot fires. We started our test fire, and since it burned well, our Burn Boss decided that we were good to go with the burn. As it intensified, so did the smoke, and the potential for spot fires. I decided to find a little bit higher ground to have better eyes on the green. As I hiked up a dune nearby, I realized our unit bordered the ocean.

” I decided to find a little bit higher ground to have better eyes on the green. As I hiked up a dune nearby, I realized our unit bordered the ocean.”

I stayed up for a while, and then swapped out for a spot on the engine that was more directly in the smoke. We rotate like this so that no one is in smoke for the whole day. The unit we were burning was covered in Bayberry and Huckleberry, both of which are oily, and give off itchy smoke. It burns your eyes and throat, and if you aren’t used to smoke, it can make you tear up and cough quite a bit. I always bring mint gum with me on burns, as it helps to counteract the effects.

“The unit we were burning was covered in Bayberry and Huckleberry, both of which are oily, and give off itchy smoke.”

Both squads continued down our line from the test fire, creating solid black thirty feet off the line. This means essentially a clean burn from the fireline to thirty feet into the unit.

Think of the unit as a box, with borders of fireline, which in this case are dirt roads. We want to increase that border, and that is why we build solid black. We do this to create strong borders before we light the middle of the unit. This gives us a nice buffer area where the burn should quickly lose intensity that is well away from the line. This process is time consuming, because we light very small sections and have them burn all the way down, and then light another section. This is done using drip torches, which are canisters filled with a mix of gas and diesel.

Once both sides had solid black, we wetlined (where we take a hose and spray in a straight line directly on the fuels) the middle of the unit and lit off of it. The middle of the unit went and burned great.

“…it is moments like this that make it all seem real.”

Overall, the burn went well. We had to shut down early due to the amount of smoke that we were emitting, but the day was still a success. We quickly gridded the burn for hotspots, loaded up, and drove back to the farmhouse. We made sure that the trucks and equipment we used were in good condition, and then we loaded up to head back to the ferry.

I had a fantastic first time on Nantucket, and I already can’t wait to go back. When I applied for this program, I never could have guessed that I would be doing prescribed fire on Nantucket, but here we are. I think that might be my favorite thing about this program. There is immense variety in our days. You can never be sure what you will end up doing week-to-week, but you can always count on a new adventure.

“When I applied for this program, I never could have guessed that I would be doing prescribed fire on Nantucket, but here we are.”

 

Edited by AmeriCorps Cape Cod Program Staff

 

It’s Going to Be a Good Year

By Jason Bertrand, AmeriCorps Year 19

On the surface, the morning of October 3rd looked like any other Tuesday morning in New England. The sun shone strong in the sky, melting the frost on a chilly 40-degree morning. However, for Twenty-six general corps members this morning was anything but ordinary. For the past month, the members have been working hard. From shellfishing to brush cutting, from toilet costumes to disaster shelters, we have been training to acquire all the skills necessary to complete a year of dedicated service to the Cape Cod community. Today marks the first day of our individual placements. Every member will get the opportunity to serve one on one with an organization, for two or three days a week, for the next ten months. As I walked out the door this morning there was a sense of excitement in the air, but also a noticeable air of nervousness. So, as I rode in the car with the a few other people with placements close to mine, I decided to reflect on the past month to distract myself from the day ahead. 

The Year 19 AmeriCorps Members arrived on Labor Day and, after spending the month of September training, they are fired up and ready to serve!

Almost a month ago to the day, thirteen strangers and I stepped foot in a house with only the mindset of making a difference in the world to connect us. We came from different backgrounds, different states, different schools; we were thirteen unique individuals. I was nervous. It felt eerily like moving in to dorms my freshman year of college, except my mom wasn’t there. It was embarrassing then and it would have been twice as embarrassing now.  It took all of an hour after we had all arrived to laugh and joke like we were long lost friends. I felt at home among a group of people I had only just met. Not soon after, we met the other general corps house and the fire corps, the results were not much different. It didn’t take long before these strangers became my friends and then my friends became like family. Learning about the horrors of ticks and poison ivy, pulling out endless vines of bittersweet, and hearing about Cape Cod’s single source aquifer for the hundredth time really helped bring us all close together. It didn’t take long after moving in for my apprehensions to disappear and be replaced by excitement. As I sat in the car this morning, reflecting on the past month, my apprehensions were once again replaced by excitement.

“As I walked out the door this morning, there was a sense of excitement in the air…”

 

This is just the first day of the beginning of the rest of the year, but I could not be more thrilled with my decision to serve on Cape Cod. Over the coming months I hope to utilize this blog to allow my fellow members to share their stories and experiences with the program. There are sure to be tough times ahead; long and physically exhausting days, but just remember “faced with adversity, I will persevere.”

Edited by AmeriCorps Cape Cod Program Staff