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Gulf of Maine Times

Vol. 5, No. 1


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2000 Visionary, Longard Awards highlight the spirit of stewardship

By Andi Rierden, editor

Every year the Gulf of Maine Council presents its Visionary Award to two individuals or organizations from each province and state bordering the Gulf. The awards recognize the invaluable contributions made by those who personify an innovative, creative spirit, and a commitment to sustaining, improving and protecting the marine environment.

The Council also recognizes an exemplary volunteer from the Gulf region with its Art Longard Award. Longard, who died of cancer in 1997, was a founding member of the Council's working group and believed strongly in the importance of volunteers in conserving Gulf of Maine's resources. 

Art Longard Award recipient

Richard Wheeler
Wareham, Massachusetts
At their seaside home on Buzzards Bay, Richard Wheeler and his wife Sandra keep company with two dogs, two cats and a chatty Malaysian parrot called Admiral Bird, who, Wheeler says, "acts like he owns the place." Out in back, there are turkeys and guinea hens, and the occasional injured bird Wheeler has rescued from the wild.

Photo courtesy of the Cap Cod Museum of Natural History"I've always had a great relationship with birds," Wheeler says. "You might call me the Mother Hubbard of birds." 

Ten years ago, Wheeler, a former U.S. Navy undersea diver and veteran kayaker, set out on a voyage to rescue another bird--at least for our imaginations. Soon after he retired, Wheeler took to the seas in a 17-foot kayak to follow the seasonal migration route of the great auk, a flightless bird bludgeoned to death by the millions in the rookeries of Newfoundland. The great auks' descent to extinction was documented bird by bird, to the last nesting pair who were strangled on June 3, 1844, by two Icelandic fishermen hoping to sell the skins to collectors.

Wheeler's 1,500 mile (2,400 kilometer), four-month journey to capture the spirit of the great auk took him from Funk Island off Newfoundland to Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts. A PBS Nova science program features Wheeler's trip; and Jay O'Callahan, a professional storyteller, continues to recount the voyage to thousands of listeners each year. In 1998, Wheeler was honored by Time Magazine as a "hero for the planet."

But the story does not end there. Over the years, Wheeler has visited hundreds of classrooms, from Nova Scotia to Georgia. He talks to the children about seabirds, fish, whales, air currents, temperatures and tides. And he uses the story of the great auk as a metaphor for contemporary times. 

"When I read the logs of original settlers the attitude was, 'there are so many birds it doesn't matter how many we kill,'" Wheeler says. "And the same thing is happening today. Whenever we put a price tag on nature we can wipe it out." 

Last fall, Wheeler, who turned 70 in October, circumnavigated Cape Cod in a rowboat. During his three week journey he visited 66 classrooms and raised $60,000 (CND$102,000) from "per-mile" pledges for the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History's "Naturalist in the Schools" program. His daily log of the trip appeared in the local newspaper and on the museum's Web site. Wheeler relayed to adults and children what he saw along the way, from "houses built where they never should have been," to the glorious stretch of the Cape Cod National Seashore.

Seeing the protected seashore from his boat convinced him, "that we also need true sanctuaries in our oceans; not only to protect the fish and birds, but all that they eat and need to survive." 

Sometimes, Wheeler says, "I get discouraged when I look at a world that doesn't get it. But I've always believed that if I can reach another person, maybe even inspire another Rachel Carson, then that is the best anyone can hope for." 

Visionary Award recipients

Dr. Mike Brylinsky
Wolfville, Nova Scotia

As a research scientist for the Acadia Centre for Estuarine Research, and a faculty member in the biology department at Acadia University, Mike Brylinsky has spent more than 20 years educating students and volunteers about the estuarine, marine and freshwater ecosystems of the Bay of Fundy. A water quality monitoring program that Brylinsky developed for the Clean Annapolis River Project in the early 1990s has served as a model for Atlantic Coastal Action Programs.

Photo courtesy of Mike BrylinskyAnother model developed by Brylinsky is being used by volunteer groups in the Cornwallis River watershed to identify sources of coliforms and determine how agriculture and other land use practices affects the river's ecology. In addition, Brylinsky is working with the municipality of Kings County to investigate the impact of the growing summer cottage industry on water quality in the Gaspereau River.

As a scientist, Brylinsky strongly believes he is obliged to educate public officials and citizens about how an ecosystem functions. "The real reward," he says, "is the satisfaction I get helping those who have a sincere desire to change how we manage, sustain and preserve our natural resources."

Bay of Fundy Marine Resource Centre
Cornwallis, Nova Scotia

The Bay of Fundy Marine Resource Centre opened its doors in 1997 to give the region in and around Annapolis and Digby counties a larger role in managing coastal resources. Initiated by the Western Valley Development Authority and the Fundy Fixed Gear Council, a groundfishing organization, the Centre embodies a community-based approach to a wide range of marine issues.

In four short years, the Centre has become a focal point for a number of community, aboriginal, government and university groups and individuals interested in developing sustainable and ecological marine industries. The staff provides GIS and other technical support to communities and offers training classrooms and a walk-in information and referral service. In recent years, the Centre has facilitated discussions between fishermen and representatives of the Mi'Kmaq community regarding fishing rights in St. Mary's Bay. 

Martin Kaye, the Centre's manager, grew up in a fishing community on the Bay of Fundy and knows the issues well. "We've never advertised, yet we've never stopped seeing people since we opened our doors," Kaye says. "There's a lot of need, and a lot of very intelligent people out there with good ideas looking for ways to carry them out. And that's what we're here for."

Linda Kukis Scherf
Dover, New Hampshire 

Photo courtesy of Linda Sherf "Students are amazed to see the impact of human beings on the environment," says Linda Scherf, a junior high school science teacher at Saint Mary Academy in Dover. Through field trips and classroom lessons, Scherf and her students study the Cocheco River watershed and work to improve its quality.

As participants in the Great Bay Watch sponsored by the University of New Hampshire's Sea Grant Program, students monitor the quality of the water at selected sites on the river. Scherf's students have also "adopted" Wallis Sands Beach in Rye, where they organize clean-ups throughout the year.

By seeing first hand how dumping debris into the water systems can affect the health of water, soil and plants," Scherf says, "students begin to understand that when our resources are damaged, our resources are taken away."

Scherf's students also participant in the Gulf of Maine Institute Without Walls youth stewardship program. "Junior high is a great age to reach," Scherf says. "Students become very excited about the river and it becomes a part of their lives."

When she is not teaching, Scherf serves as the chairwoman of the Cocheco River Watershed Coalition and is a member of the Dover Conservation Commission.

The University of New Hampshire Marine Docents
Durham, New Hampshire

For 20 years the Marine Docents have increased awareness of the marine environment through their volunteer efforts. Many create presentations for school children, 4-H clubs and scout groups about the marine and coastal environments. Others conduct tours of the Shoals Marine Laboratory and the Jackson Estuarine Laboratory. Participants complete a five-month training course through the Marine Docent Program sponsored by the University of New Hampshire's Sea Grant and Cooperative Extension. Docents agree to commit at least two years to volunteer projects, though most stay years beyond and enjoy participating in the Sea Trek marine education programs.

Barbara Pinto completed Docent training in 1998. She now works part-time in the Marine Docent's office, and continues to volunteer her time to help Docents who are undergoing training.
"People come to the program with a deep love of the ocean, and a great desire for knowledge," Pinto says. "What is also amazing are the close friendships that develop between Docents," and many last long after they complete their training.

Sharon Meeker, the program's manager, calls the Docents "exceptional people." She adds that the volunteer efforts of Docents reach between 15,000 to 20,000 people a year. Many go on to work on wetlands and related issues in their communities.

Stephen Wilson
Woodstock, New Brunswick

As the president of the Meduxnekeag River Association, Stephen Wilson played a significant role in securing an ecologically rich, 150-acre property that spans 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) along the river's shore. Wilson helped to organize members and supporters to secure a $125,000 (US$83,750) bank loan in 1998, which has enabled the association to protect the property as a nature preserve. 

Photo courtesy of Stephen Wilson"It is the most picturesque part of the river and part of the Appalachian Forest corridor," Wilson says. "Many, many people have worked to protect it."

Founded in 1996, the association initially focused on fish and habitat surveys, and water quality monitoring at key sites along the river. Today, Wilson says, "We have broadened our goals to cover every aspect of watershed preservation."

Local fundraising has placed the association ahead of schedule in its five-year plan to pay off the loan. Wilson adds that the key to raising money for land acquisitions or any watershed project is community involvement.

"It's important that you have people in the organization with energy and leadership qualities and that you look for projects the local community can identify with. Once people see it as something close to their lives, you'll be surprised at the support you'll receive."

Southern Carleton Elementary School
Bedell, New Brunswick

Photo courtesy of Joan Sheen Just over two years ago, when the staff at the Southern Carleton Elementary School learned that the two-acre (.8 hectare) forest adjacent to the playground was an Appalachian hardwood stand, and that it contained many rare or uncommon plants, they immediately looked for ways to protect it. With the help of the Nature Trust of New Brunswick, a provincial grant, and the cooperation of Verna Grant, a neighbor who owns the remaining portion of the woodlot, the staff developed a plan to create an ecological classroom.

Within the past couple of years, teachers and students have identified and labeled trees and understorey plants. And the forest now contains a classroom with log seating, low-impact trails and a handicapped accessible path.

The Russell Wallace Forest, named after Grant's uncle who owned the property for 60 years, "is a wonderful gift," says Joan Sheen, Southern Carleton's principal.

Other schools now use seasonal kits developed by the school's teachers and tied to the science curriculum. Lesson plans include surveying or researching animals that live or would live in a hardwood forest such as the spotted salamander or great horned owl, and participating in the National Aububon Society's Annual Christmas Bird Count.

"Our students are learning the importance of preserving our natural resources," Sheen says. "The best part is knowing that the forest is here to stay."

Coastal Conservation Association of Maine
Yarmouth, Maine

Photo courtesy of craig Pendleton As a recreational saltwater angling organization, the Coastal Conservation Association of Maine (CCA) has worked since 1992 to conserve marine fisheries, restore rivers and return anadromous fish to the Gulf of Maine watershed. By working closely with state and federal agencies, the association has raised about $250,000 (CND$425,000) to remove the Smelt Hill Dam in Falmouth. Removing the dam will restore the lower portion of the Presumpscot River and create habitat for striped bass, smelt, alewives, herring, American eel and other fish species, says Pat Keliher, the association's executive director. The dam is scheduled to be removed this summer.

CCA has recently asked the State of Maine to close the inshore fishery for Atlantic halibut, whose stocks are severely depleted. The association also works with state agencies to provide access for boat launches, parking, shore access and hand-carry boat access. Keliher says the group has always worked closely with government organizations to develop constructive solutions.
"It all boils down to the volunteers, and good cooperation with government," Keliher says. 

Craig Pendleton
Saco, Maine

Craig Pendleton is a consensus builder. As the director of the North Atlantic Marine Alliance (NAMA), he works to find common ground among the Gulf of Maine's commercial fishermen, scientists and a range of groups concerned about managing marine resources. 

One of Pendleton's proudest achievements came in 1999, when NAMA helped develop a plan allowing fishermen to receive federal disaster relief money, in exchange for assistance in fishery-related research. "Real people who were affected by the closures developed this plan," he says. "They did not want a welfare check so they asked for an investment. For every day they were compensated for lost fishing opportunities, they in turn, would give a day of research."

NAMA also offers a "for hire" service, that links researchers with fishermen and their vessels. Ask Pendleton if tensions between fishermen and scientists have eased in recent years and he gives a "tentative yes." Scientists, he says, "need to continue to open up, and fishermen need to be more professional." He adds that more scientists are integrating fishermen's know-how with scientific methods. "The future looks bright," Pendleton says.

Henry Lind
Eastham, Massachusetts

"I wear a pile of hats," says Henry Lind. Indeed, for 25 years, he has served as the director of natural resources, harbormaster, shellfish officer and conservation commission agent for the Town of Eastham on Cape Cod. As a result of his many efforts, Lind has become the region's expert on coastal issues ranging from oil spills to marine mammal strandings to boat moorings.

To ease some of the pressures of residential development in his area, Lind also encourages new homeowners to use ecologically advanced septic systems that generate bacteria to break down harmful nitrates. Lind educates civic groups and school children about the impact of fertilizers and pesticides on wells and salt marshes, and urges them, to "adapt to the environment instead of trying to control it." Lind also runs a seeding program for the town to boost recreational and commercial shellfishing. 

Described as easy-going and determined, Lind has earned respect from nearby towns, state agencies and local citizens. His formula for getting things done is at the core of a life-long philosophy: "The world is a compromise," he says, "You can catch more flies with honey, than you can with vinegar."

Maria Van Dusen
Marblehead, Massachusetts

Some might call Maria Van Dusen the advocate's advocate. As the director of the state's Riverway's Program, Van Dusen was a key mover in drafting legislation and launching programs to help restore and protect the state's 28 major river basins. A former schoolteacher, Van Dusen joined the Riverway's Program 14 years ago to coordinate Adopt-a-Stream, which provides technical and educational support to local citizen groups working to monitor and protect their watersheds. Later, Van Dusen was instrumental in supporting legislation that eventually led to the passage of the Massachusetts River Protection Act. 

Five years ago, she started the Urban Rivers Programs to restore degraded habitats and anadromous fish runs in urban areas. Another project, the Fishway Stewardship Program, assists citizens in evaluating the condition of fishways and prepares a joint action plan with the Division of Marine Fisheries to keep the fishways clear of debris.

Van Dusen, who retired in October, says when she first began her work with Riverways, she had little scientific background. "I relied on so many people for their expertise," she says. "In turn, I tried to be a link for them by being a motivator and making things happen." 

To nominate a candidate for a 2001-2002 Visionary Award or Art Longard Award, visit the Council's Web page at, see the listing included on the back page of every issue of the Gulf of Maine Times, contact Laura Marron at or call (603) 271-8866.