Interventions in Chesapeake Bay (Or, Feedback Loops and Personification)

Utagawa Kuniyoshi, The Ghost of Taira Tomomori (via arthropoda.southernfriedscience.com)

Response to September 28 Workshop Exercise

In efforts to apply Meadows’ recommendations for systems thinking to the Chesapeake Bay, a nexus on which multiple systems bear, we determined two central means of intervention: that of placing information feedback loops to discourage harmful stormwater runoff and working to change paradigms regarding the consumption of Bay seafood.  The latter, as Meadows indicates, would be far more difficult to achieve (although it might occur instantly), but is far reaching in its effects; the former, with which I will begin here, would similarly be difficult to achieve but concerns the built environment, as opposed to the culturally-ingrained eating preferences.

In order to limit harmful stormwater runoff, we proposed a set of laws that would require that all existing and new construction be responsible for all rainwater that falls within property lines – as well as the street width that faces the property.  In doing so, property owners would be required to develop retention areas for stormwater surges, thereby allowing for all rainwater to be able to infiltrate on site and allow for any pollutants to be controlled via local plants and soil.  Groundwater would therefore become gradually replenished once rainfall is maintained on site and not distributed to bodies of water through stormwater pipes, and many pollutants would be prevented from reaching the Chesapeake.  As a result, a number of Meadows’ intervention points come to bear: establishing buffers (by allowing for the storage and gradual infiltration of rainfall rather than immediate dispersal), modifying stock and flow structures to provide those buffers (by replacing pipes with stormwater retention areas), using rules and regulations, and providing an information feedback loop to property owners (by requiring that property owners directly address pollutants in the area as opposed to sending them downstream).

In regard to changing the paradigm of food consumption – that is, to discourage the overconsumption of sensitive Bay marine and other life – a very different approach can be implemented.  Although rules and regulations could similarly be put in place to simply prevent the oversale of certain kinds of animals, what might be more effective in the long term would be encouraging a cultural shift away from the consumption of certain kinds of seafood until a harvest rate-birthrate equilibrium is reached, as is needed for the blue crab (Callinectes sapidus) shown below.

Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab (C. sapidus) (via arthropoda.wordpress.com)

To help frame this issue, I thought it would be helpful to present a way in which a similar end had already been achieved – that is, how the refusal to eat a certain kind of crab in Japan had been in place for centuries.  According to several writers including Carl Sagan and Micheal Bok, Japanese refused to eat a crab known as Heikea japonica because, to many, the back of the crab resembles a samurai warrior.  Japanese folklore indicates that, following an important battle between the Heike Empire and the Genji in 1185, the samurai of the Heike Empire committed suicide by throwing themselves over the sides of their boats to avoid surrendering.  As evident in the drawings at the beginning of the post and below, legend purported that the souls of those samurai are now embodied within the crab, known popularly as the Heike Crab or Samurai Crab.

Heike Crabs of Dan-no-ura Bay (via suzukiroshi.sfzc.org)

Heike Crab (via Joel W. Martin, The Samurai Crab)

Sagan and others have raised the contested argument that this may be an instance of artificial selection, in which a species evolved through human intervention – that the crab had a greater chance of surviving the more it resembled a samurai, as it would be returned to the sea after unintended capture.  Other crabs that did not resemble fallen soldiers were more likely to be eaten.  Although Bok indicates that the refusal to eat the crab may be more a result of the minimal amount of  meat offered by the crab, the potential for the former reason to be true demonstrates what I believe to be an important lesson in discouraging or encouraging certain actions.

That is, if H. japonica were eaten less often than other crabs by the Japanese due to their collective resemblance to samurai, it is their personification that proves effective in discouraging their consumption.  Personification of animals and other lifeforms is not uncommon, of course; the Smokey the Bear campaign to prevent forest fires was highly successful, in part (if not wholly) due to the personification of a bear as teacher.  

Keeping these various campaigns in mind, we imagine for Chesapeake Bay a similar advertising/education campaign, in which the blue crab or other Bay animal could become the centerpoint, a new educator for children in the area  – one that comes from the entity potentially most affected by human action.  This, if created in a way that does not altogether discourage seafood consumption and instead stresses overconsumption, may also help establish sustainable harvest rates for watermen. The combination of this campaign with efforts like those mentioned earlier to reduce pollution from entering the Bay can therefore work together to not only protect the endangered animal life, but the human livelihoods that are dependent on the Chesapeake, as well.

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