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Almanac Archive for July 11, 2017

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Quote of the Week
“Not only did we find the right kinds of fish, but we found them at the right time”
-- Mark Stoeckle, Rockefeller University Program for the Human Environment Senior Research Associate, describing to Smithsonian.com the potential of eDNA as a tool for wildlife monitoring. See story at right for more. 

The Art of Conservation

VCS members should recognize this winning photo from the 2017 edition of the Art of Conservation contest: "The Deep End," by Ava Stearns, was featured on the cover of the most recent issue of the VCS newsletter!

View the rest of the entries, then check out our Winners' Gallery, complete with written descriptions by the artists themselves!

Conservation Calendar

Screening and Director's Q&A:
One Big Home at the Tabernacle

Thursday, July 13, 8:00 to 10:00 pm, Oak Bluffs.

Director and producer Thomas Bena presents his film One Big Home, an exploration of the effects of supersized homes on the people, community, and environment of Martha's Vineyard, followed by Q&A. A good-will-offering event at the Tabernacle. (Note: One Big Home will also be showing at Edgartown Cinemas August 6th and 20th, and DVDs are now for sale at Island retailers including Cronig's, Alley's, and Bunch of Grapes.)

Saturdays at Sengie
Saturday, July 15 (and 22nd), 9:30 to 10:30 am, Oak Bluffs
A Felix Neck program that explores a different aspect of Sengekontacket Pond each week. From the birds above to the creatures below the water's surface, this program includes hands-on activities for all ages. Free, sponsored by Friends of Sengekontacket. Meet at the Little Bridge on Beach Road, on the pond side. For more info, call (508) 627-4850 or see Felix Neck website.

Book Talk: David Foster,
A Meeting of Land and Sea

Wednesday, July 19, 5:00 to 6:00 pm, Chilmark.
Harvard Forest director David Foster leads a discussion of his new book, A Meeting of Land and Sea: Nature and the Future of Martha’s Vineyard. Free, at the Chilmark Library, for more info call (508) 645-3360. 

Guided Walk: Cedar Tree Neck
Thursday, July 20, 9:00 to 11:00 am, West Tisbury.

Celebrate the 50th anniversary of Cedar Tree Neck Sanctuary with a guided walk of Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation’s largest property. Pre-registration required, call (508) 693-5207 or email.

Presentation: Saving the Land that Sustains Us
Monday, July 24, 7:00 pm, West Tisbury.

Following decades of decline, farming in the Northeast is now growing -- but the news is not all good. John Piotti, president of the American Farmland Trust, will give a talk on the current state of farmland preservation, and the economic and demographic forces that threaten to undermine the recent farming revival. At the Ag Hall in West Tisbury, free, co-sponsored by VCS, the MV Agricultural Society, and others. For more info, see press release.

The Farmer's Market
Wednesdays and Saturdays, 9:00 to noon, West Tisbury.
Fresh-picked produce from local farms, flowers, delicious baked goods and prepared foods from Island kitchens and more. Outside the Grange Hall, near Alley's. More info at website.
Local News

What's Beneath the Surface?
DNA Tells the Story

Look's Pond in West Tisbury, one of two sites sampled for eDNA analysis

At this year’s VCS Annual Meeting approximately 100 guests learned all about an exciting new method for sampling aquatic and marine life – and what that technique has to say about who’s living in two of our local bodies of water. In his presentation on environmental DNA, Rockefeller University Program for the Human Environment Director Jesse Ausubel shared his results from water samples collected from Look’s Pond and the Tisbury Great Pond by VCS staffer Samantha Look. (Click here for photos from the event)

Environmental DNA (eDNA), also known as extracellular, or naked DNA, is continually cast off by aquatic organisms. But since these DNA fragments don’t persist long before breaking down, finding evidence of a certain species’ eDNA is a reliable indicator that the species was recently nearby.

As presented by Jesse at the meeting, early returns from eDNA analysis are highly encouraging. The results are generally consistent with those obtained through traditional sampling methods, which are often damaging to the species being studied (and others), as well as expensive and time-consuming. (Compare, for example, a month’s long oceanic voyage on a research vessel with simply sending out a drone to collect water samples to bring back to the lab).

So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the results from Tisbury Great Pond and Look’s Pond (a small pond located up the Tiasquam River from TGP, across State/South Road). We see completely different fish species (in blue), which is unsurprising given the large difference in salinity. Also interesting is that the only species the two waters had in common was homo sapiens – a find befitting our status as one of Earth’s most ubiquitous species.

Technical note regarding the table: a DNA “read” is a distinct sequence of nucleobases – the cytosine (C), guanine (G), adenine (A), and thymine (T) molecules that encode information in DNA – that spans the sampling frame of interest. The number of reads is understood to be an index of the abundance of the species. However, one read does not equal one animal – each animal sheds a lot of eDNA, and the amount could depend on size, age, and recent feeding history, among other factors.
Other News

The Lighter Side of Oversized Houses

For those brave enough to peer inside the "vaguely evil" exterior and see the horrors beyond the veil, this link will take you there

In late June, the brilliantly cruel, jovially mean-spirited blog “McMansion Hell” finally began receiving the attention it deserves – unfortunately, that attention was largely due to online real estate giant Zillow suing the site’s creator Kate Wagner, along with the resulting public backlash directed at Zillow (a prime example of the “Streisand effect”). Zillow’s suit has since been dropped after Wagner’s cause was joined by the free speech advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation, who provided legal representation, and whose notoriety multiplied the PR backlash.

The principal targets of mockery at McMansion Hell are various crimes against architecture (a favorite is the BTU-gobbling, CO2-spewing “Pringles Can of Shame” three-story entryway). So at its core, it’s fundamentally more about aesthetics than any tangible harm associated with giant houses. However, Wagner does address the more “objective” side of the issue, especially in point #3 here, which is the matter of concern for VCS: McMansions are bad for the environment.

Local issues with “high-impact development”
Though the expression is commonly used (even in local newspapers), on our Island the most extravagant consumers of energy and natural resources are usually not McMansions. (As judged by the technical standards of McMansion Hell, there’s nothing “Mc” about them – they may be ostentatious, but they’re soundly constructed, using quality materials and careful design.)

VCS has a long history of speaking out on the subject, though progress has been limited and hard-fought at every turn. To date, only Aquinnah and Chilmark* limit home size; however, there are some signs of progress. Chilmark’s big house bylaw that passed easily in 2013 was similar to one rejected by the town’s voters in 1991. Further, as fears have increased that the Vineyard could turn into yet another previously-unique tourist destination, the salience of the issue in the public consciousness has grown. Much credit here is due to the work of Chilmark’s Thomas Bena, whose documentary “One Big Home” has seen great success on an international level, while furthering a difficult conversation here at home (see left column for upcoming screenings of the film).  

* In Chilmark it really is only the ratio of house size to lot size that is limited, though in practice it would take a very large lot to allow the 10,000 sq. ft. homes that are cropping up regularly in Edgartown.
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Copyright (C) 2017 *Vineyard Conservation Society* All rights reserved.

Original content by Jeremy Houser unless otherwise noted.