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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Fish Brook, Topsfield, Massachusetts, USA

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Fish Brook, Topsfield, Massachusetts, USA
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Registered: December 2020
City/Town/Province: Middleton
Posts: 1
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One of my earliest memories on the river was in an old creaky green canoe in Maine. As we paddled in the peaceful water, everything I knew and felt melted away. I was mesmerized, no - obsessed with the tiny whirlpools that formed behind each paddle stroke and each time, I tried to let the tiny force draw my finger in. My daze was awoken when there was a rustling in the forest behind us. Not 20 feet away, stood a magnificent moose, sipping from the water’s edge. A blue heron flew by over our heads. Astonished by the beauty that surrounded me, I basked in the center of nature’s harmony. It was as if from that moment on, I could see the marvelous interacting biotic and abiotic factors in ecosystems; I could feel the energy of the trophic chain.

Now, more than a decade later, I can feel myself as a part of a grander ecosystem - where the human race is involved in the health of other organisms - for better or worse. I feel a burning passion to fight and hurtle myself headfirst into anything where I can further educate myself or others and help save the nature that has become such an important piece of my identity.
The rivers I love are facing droughts, litter pollution, invasive species, and habitat disruption. Just going for a canoe ride in one river, I anticipate the plastic rings I paddle by washing out to the ocean and trapping animals. They’ll break down into infinitely existing microplastics that can get wrapped up into precipitation cycles and spread across the planet. The struggles of any one small river represent grander environmental problems across the world. I knew I wanted to be part of the solution.

In high school, I started volunteering as a river warden for the Ipswich River Wildlife Association, a local nonprofit dedicated to protecting my local river and watershed. As a River Warden trained in best practices, I regularly clean up an assigned river landing, assess the river’s health, and clear any obstructions. Once I started cleaning up the litter at my site, I noticed how quickly new trash accumulated at the sides of the road. Beer cans, small plastic nip bottles, and Styrofoam coffee cups litter the area and threaten the health of the river and the species that depend on it. As I was growing more and more frustrated, I started volunteering for the IRWA on other projects to help educate the public. I was learning more and making connections with leaders involved in local environmental efforts. One of these leaders introduced me to Fish Brook, a polluted tributary of the Ipswich River that is located right next to my high school. During this same time, I became an officer for my high school’s environmental club and started leading my own river clean ups with club members in addition to many other environmental initiatives in my high school community.

It was then in early 2020, I realized I could bridge these two organizations to make a bigger impact on the health of our local river. My Apprentice Ecologist Project was born. The first step would be to get my environmental club to collectively adopt Fish Brook and permanently serve as river wardens for the area. I had to facilitate training more than 50 club members, manage a volunteer schedule, and create a reporting system to the IRWA. I had a great vision. Then BOOM. Coronavirus hits. School shuts down. But I did not let this stop us. From my bedroom, I orchestrated an online training for all club members. Using online forms, I managed sign ups for volunteers and created a reporting system. Cleaning up a river landing is a perfect activity during a global pandemic. It can be done outdoors, staggered, and socially distanced. I came up with a social media campaign to encourage our peers to clean up litter by river ways or on their neighborhood streets with the #Corona Clean Up Challenge. It went viral. Although I implemented a sustainable project to keep the Fish Brook area less polluted, I realized this only addressed the ongoing maintenance of the litter problem.

The root cause of the issue is general carelessness and widespread ignorance of ecological systems. I
wanted to reach beyond our high school and grow community value for the river. I
spent my Covid-summer, filming and producing a 43-minute educational
documentary about the Fish Brook tributary.
“Protecting Fish Brook, A Documentary” encompasses the natural ecology of the tributary, the harmful effects of plastic
trash, its Native American history and stories of the soil, and our efforts to
control buckthorn, an invasive plant that harms the river ecosystem. I
interviewed many specialized field experts including an archaeologist and
formatted the documentary as an account of my journey to protect the tributary
and everything I learned along the way. The purpose of the film is to educate
about the impact of litter and grow community value of river ecosystems and the area's sacred Native American history.

I held a COVID-safe outdoor premiere right by the river with over 50 attendees! I spoke to the group before and after the film was presented, urging them to spread their new environmental knowledge to friends and family, for the biggest hurdle in protecting our watershed is overcoming widespread carelessness and ignorance to ecological systems. My documentary was also screened on local cable television, and I continue to host virtual screenings as well as publicize my YouTube link. I am continuing to screen my documentary and speak to different high school and community environmental groups. I also use my social media platforms to promote new ways to dispose of waste. I hope to enter my documentary in a film festival. You can view my documentary here

Through the Apprentice Ecologist Project, I learned many lessons. Making connections with others and working together makes a much bigger impact than one individual effort. I improved my communication, delegation, organizational, and leadership skills. I also learned the value of flexibility and re-imagining how to meet a goal. It took dedication and a good deal of pivoting, but I didn’t let a global pandemic stop our efforts. I also learned that with most environmental challenges, the key is education and outreach. When you inspire others to help be part of the solution, you set in motion an infinite chain of possibility.

I feel more motivated than ever to learn as much as I can and help find answers for a greener future. Whether I’m monitoring as a river warden or observing benthic macroinvertebrates in the field for my educational documentary, I feel like I’m working to keep a piece of my soul alive. I plan to continue to be involved in environmental work and advocacy as a member of Colby College, Class of 2025. And I’ll be back in Maine where my love of nature and waterways began.
Date: December 31, 2020 Views: 3859 File size: 28.3kb, 3772.9kb : 4032 x 3024
Hours Volunteered: 250+
Volunteers: 25
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 15-80
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