Climate Change: Commitment & Collaboration on the Cape

By Aline Lindemann | April 21, 2017
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Beth Larson and Christy Hudak on the Center for Coastal Studies research vessel Shearwater in Cape Cod Bay, collecting zooplankton samples. Photo courtesy Center for Coastal Studies.

We on the Cape know the magnetic pull of water. Whether standing on a sandy shore, paddling across a kettle pond, or hiking beside a babbling brook, it doesn’t matter—being in the presence of water is simultaneously calming and regenerative. We describe water in the same kinds of terms that we use to describe spiritual experiences: it is renewing, refreshing... it is a source of life.

Our dependence upon water for physical, psychological and emotional wellbeing is intrinsic. Our bodies are comprised of nearly sixty percent water; the salinity of our blood, sweat and tears is the same as the ocean; and more than half of the oxygen we breathe comes from the surface of the sea. Without water, we cease to exist—we are nothing.

But, this is a food magazine, right? What does all of this have to do with a perfect lobster roll or the price of ice cream? Though life on the Cape is quite idyllic, it isn’t forever. Cape Cod exists atop a peninsula of sand and its borders are in constant motion. The parameters of the place that approximately 200,000 people call home are perpetually in flux. Rising sea levels are already affecting our eastern and southern shores; water levels rise while beaches, dunes and cliffs erode and crumble into the surf.

Populations within the water are also changing. Warmer waters contribute to an inhospitable environment for the already decimated cod population, lobsters are migrating to cooler waters, and shellfishermen struggle to contend with dangerous bacterial growth. In the northern part of the planet, herring populations fluctuate in response to water temperatures, and so does the value of the catch. In the Global South, coral reefs are dying at an unprecedented breakneck pace. Why is this relevant? Because coral reefs do not just offer oohs and aahs for scuba divers—they provide habitats for fish and sea life, which are a major source of protein for the developing world. And it’s all connected. The sea, which we mentally divide into oceans and seas with various names, is actually one body of water. It encompasses more than two-thirds of the planet’s surface. Think about it; we on the continents inhabit large islands suspended in and surrounded by a global body of water. This sea, long regarded as “too big to fail,” is suffering.

Let’s back up a bit. We need to be informed, but contemplating global shifts is a tad overwhelming. Instead, let’s focus on smaller efforts that make big impacts. The folks at Pleasant Bay Community Boating (PBCB) of Harwich started with just this sort of smallish gesture. In 2003 Roz Coleman and John Dickson, then a high school sailing coach, began noticing that fewer kids had affordable access to boating. Their goal: keep kids busy and foster a sense of community by introducing them to boating. They combined their concerns, energy and talents, and PBCB was born.

This small, non-profit organization, more vital than ever in its fourteenth year, aims to expose people to environmentally-friendly wind- and paddle-based water activities, and offer a sense of community on Pleasant Bay. A modest undertaking grew into an active and informed organization that not only provides recreational opportunities for residents and visitors to the Cape, but also brokers relationships between human beings and fosters stewardship of the natural environment.

The success of PBCB led to connections with other Cape Codders devoted to marine health, like Richard Delaney. After devoting his career to protecting and conserving ocean and coastal resources, Delaney, a ruddy-faced mariner with a thick shock of silvery white hair hanging boyishly in his eyes that belies his Harvard education and impressive resume, joined the Center for Coastal Studies (CCS) in Provincetown. The organization was born in 1976 when three friends (Dr. Graham Giese, Dr. Charles “Stormy” Mayo and Dr. Barbara Shuler Mayo) combined their passionate interest, scientific knowhow, and unflagging energy to launch what is now an internationally acclaimed marine research, education and rescue organization.

Delaney, at the helm as President and CEO since 2007, says he had an epiphany about ten years ago: each of the disciplines and facets of the Center’s work—which includes whale research, seal research, marine animal disentanglement, marine education, water quality monitoring, marine policy initiative, marine fisheries research, and marine debris cleanup—is impacted by climate change. PBCB and CCS are now co-founders of the Cape Cod Climate Change Collaborative (CCCCC), an organization intent on being an example of conscientious mitigation of the effects of climate change.

Hard to believe that the business of rescuing whales or monitoring kelp has anything to do with the health, happiness, and survival of human beings? Consider this: the sea provides more than fifty percent of our oxygen. As global temperatures rise, the acidity in these bodies of water rises, and their oxygen output…you guessed it…drops. This, say Delaney and the nearly 100 staff and volunteers at CCS, is just one reason why climate change is the greatest factor affecting our oceans, bays, estuaries, rivers, lakes and streams.

Fortunately for those of us who know little to nothing about aquatic ecology, and don’t know our abalone from our isopod, Delaney is not alone with his concerns. In 2015, he attended the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, where 195 countries adopted the first-ever, legally binding global climate accord. He knows he cannot lower the temperature of the planet or rehabilitate the cod, tuna or even whale populations on his own, but Delaney recognizes that he is in a unique position to effect change. With the establishment of the CCCCC, he hopes to establish Cape Cod as a tiny example for others by building a coalition—a collaborative—of informed humans: business owners, fishermen, educators, government employees, sailing instructors, grocers, restaurant owners, policy makers, religious leaders and home cooks.

There’s plenty that we can do, says Delaney, but his tactic is not to push or beg. He informs. And then, he asks others to collaborate with him and to pledge their commitment to learning and sharing information, one story at a time, one disentangled whale at a time, one green business at a time, one beach cleanup at a time, one food purchase at a time, one environmentally aware community center at a time, one meal at a time, … one Cape Codder at a time.

To learn more about the Center for Coastal Studies and the Cape Cod Climate Change Collaborative, visit SeaSpace, a family-friendly, interactive discovery center at 333R Commercial Street in Provincetown. Or, stop by their information booth, open all summer on MacMillan Pier. There, you can learn about the Center, buy a t-shirt, and you might even get a glimpse of Ibis, the rapid response vessel used by the Marine Animal Entanglement Response (MAER) team! Visit for details.

The Water Footprint of Food*

Consider this when crafting your next grocery list. Gallons of water used (rounded to the nearest fourthgallon) to produce one ounce of food:

Fruits and Veggies

Lettuce: less than one gallon
Tomatoes: one gallon
Strawberries: 1.25 gallons
Watermelon: 1.75 gallons
Kale: 2.25 gallons
Apples: 3.25 gallons
Blueberries: 5.75 gallons
Asparagus: 20.25 gallons
Mangoes: 28 gallons


Milk: 5.5 gallons
Eggs: 12 gallons
Chicken: 17 gallons
Lentils: 71 gallons
Chickpeas: 76 gallons
Lamb: 85 gallons
Beef: 106 gallons (That’s 1800 gallons per pound!)

*Professor Arjen Y. Hoekstra, University of Twente, the Netherlands “The Water Footprint of Food”

Article from Edible Cape Cod at
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