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02 June 2011

Crafting Ecologies

I went to a meeting yesterday to kick-off a project I'm going to be working on this summer and into next year.  The project is on aquatic invasive species being introduced into the mid-Atlantic region (specifically, the Chesapeake Bay) through live bait and live bait packing materials.  Basically, live bait - i.e. bloodworms - is packaged with this plant material that helps to keep the worms separated and moist so they stay alive during shipping.

However, this material often contains other organisms which may become invasive to the regions where anglers use the bait if the bait is not disposed of properly (i.e. thrown in a trash can instead of the water).  So, the project is meant to try to find ways of interrupting the vector for invasive species including potentially, alternative packing materials, washing packing materials, and encouraging proper disposal of the materials.
But all of that isn't the point of the post - I had a bit of a realization during the meeting that I wanted to share.  If we are talking about an ecosystem  - one that is not restricted to the usual nature/culture boundaries we tend to impose upon such systems (that is, thinking of ecosystems as primarily non-human constructs which humans tend to disrupt) - then what we are looking for in this project is to craft the ecosystem in such a way that the introduction of invasive species is halted or slowed.  Currently, the ecosystem favors the movement of species from one body of water to another fairly freely, thanks in large part to human ingenuity.  But, perhaps by introducing new techniques for packing or utilizing packing material, or by introducing regulations on packing material or live bait trade, or by introducing social marketing campaigns designed to encourage anglers to dispose of bait properly, we can alter the ecosystem to restrain the movement of species.  In some sense, then, we are introducing a new (conceptual, regulatory, practical, etc.) species into the ecosystem in order to prevent the spread of these invasives.
Thinking this way keeps us away from the kind of all-or-nothing thinking of "behavior change" (which social marketing folks and scientists love so much), and it forces us to consider the full system - i.e. the live bait harvesters, the packing material harvesters, the live bait wholesalers, the live bait retailers, the anglers, as well as the worms, the weed, the Bay and the other species who are either invasive or will be affected by the intruders.  I'll have more on this later, I think.

PS - Levi Bryant has a nice post up describing just what I was thinking here.

1 comment:

Zack Ridder said...

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