Ocean Views... Two new walks of discovery

Fri, 07/21/2017 - 1:30pm

The Age of Discovery was a fantastic time in the history of human adventure. It was a time when wanderers of all ilk struck out towards the various compass points of the world to learn what was there. They returned to their port cities and filled the museums with giant tortoises, magnificently plumed birds, and bizarre-looking insects. These adventurers (some were scientists, most were not), also returned with exotic tales of rain forested, lava-draped, and ice-covered environments; and with these tales and specimens as catalyst, new ideas about the world rose like magma to the surface of human minds.

It is said, as we plumb the depths of deep-sea vents, polar ice shields, cellular development, and space, that we are in a renewed Age of Discovery.

Discovery — the act of observing something new and unfamiliar — is the most important part of learning: it is the root from which understanding evolves. The Nature Conservancy (TNC) tries to incorporate an element of discovery in all of its environmental education programs. This year, TNC has doubled the number of summer program offerings to encourage all kinds of discovery. This increase is the result of merging the program offerings of both TNC and the Ocean View Foundation into one large menu of options, listed weekly in a half page ad in each edition of The Block Island Times.

In addition to the regular favorites of weekly and special programs, two new programs have been added this summer, utilizing the expertise of TNC’s year-round staff. 

Block Island Bearings: Mondays at 11 a.m.

These weekly walks, which I have the pleasure of leading, explore some of the less-traveled paths and greenway trails. A new site each week, allows for a summer of discovery of the Island’s many special places. Each of these walks will include narration about the wildflowers in bloom at that time, the geologic basis for the topography of the area, identification of birds seen, and often some of the lore and cultural history of the location. The goal of this walk is to help you get your Block Island “bearings” in relation to other known spots on the island, and to discover something new about the Island: whether a new location, a new plant, or historical information that may be new to you.

Ebbtide Exploration: Fridays at low-ish tide

For this walk, I’ll be joined by TNC’s Great Salt Pond scientist, Diandra Verbeyst, to explore various Block Island mini-ecosystems ranging from the upland shrub zone to the rocky intertidal zone. Starting at the Ball O’Brien Park, participants on this walk will discover the great diversity of plants and animals that exists in: meadows, streams, fresh water and brackish marshes, salt water, sand, mud and rocky outcropings — all in a very short distance. You may start by eyeing the blackberries, but you’ll finish by counting crabs and baby fish. Along the way, everyone will help Diandra collect valuable information about this tiny ebbtide environment (which is so important to the health of the Great Salt Pond) and learn about the important role — in all communities — of citizen scientists.

New knowledge gained by each participant during a Block Island Bearings or Ebbtide Exploration program may satisfy an individual’s question or curiosity. That new discovery — no matter how small — may also travel far, it may pique others’ interest, it may lead to new ideas, or simply prompt the reaction “why haven’t I noticed that before?” Yes, the age of discovery is alive and well on Block Island.

To find out more about TNC programs of discovery — everything from marsh mucking, to green screenings, to night sky viewing, to Cow Cove Scavenger Hunt, to bird banding, etc., check out the ad in The Block Island Times, or email BINature@tnc.org.

Gaffett is the Ocean View Foundation Naturalist at The Nature Conservancy.