BEAUFORT —This Saturday, Earth Day, about 250 people gathered at Grayden Paul Park on Front Street to take part in the local March for Science.
A part of a national grassroots movement to support scientific research, participants in Beaufort joined with other, similar marches around the country in making a public demonstration of their support for scientific contributions to environmental protection and restoration, renewable energies and education.
The march began at the park, then proceeded through the street, with participants carrying signs and shouting chants, until they came to the county courthouse. There, they were addressed by several representatives from local scientific and educational institutes, and at 3 p.m., participants planted a tree at the courthouse in observance of Earth Day.
Among the signs being carried were ones reading “Love Your Mother” with a picture of the Earth, as well as signs opposing offshore oil and gas drilling. Others had such messages as “Rely on Science, not Stupidity,” “Science not Silence” and “Make America Think Again.” As they marched, participants chanted such phrases as “We’re the solution to plastic pollution” and “What do we want? Research. When do we want it? Now.”
The local march was organized by Carteret for Science, a local science advocacy group recently formed in the scientific community.
Martin Benavides, a member of Carteret for Science and a PhD student in shark ecology at the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences in Morehead City, said they organized the march due to many members of the local scientific research community becoming concerned with recent news, particularly on government budget cuts to scientific agencies and institutes, such as the Environmental Protection Agency.
“We decided to hold it (the march) here to represent the local research community,” Mr. Benavides said. “We also wanted to educate the local community on research going on in their area.”
Among those at the march was Peg Gjertsen of Pine Knoll Shores. Ms. Gjertsen is a retired chemist, formerly with the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) company WebAssign.
“It’s beyond my understanding why anyone wouldn’t use evidence-based science to make decisions,” she said. “It seems like now, scientific evidence has become a partisan issue.”
Also taking part in the march was 11-year-old Kate Buhrmaster of New Bern and her grandmother, Marcia Baranowski. Kate said her love of the environment, the ocean and animals brought her out that day, while Ms. Baranowski said it was “the youth, Mother Earth and her children” that brought her out.
Larry Baldwin, Crystal Coast Waterkeeper, was also taking part in the march. He said he thought the march was “awesome” and was pleased to see “people of all ages” taking part.
“Without science, we don’t know anything,” Mr. Baldwin said. “There are people out there now, trying to downplay or ignore science. We need to get out there and let people know our scientists are doing this (research) for the right reasons.”
After reaching the courthouse, participants were addressed by Karen Rossingol, research specialist with UNC-IMS and a member of Carteret for Science.
“We march today to support science and celebrate Earth Day,” she said. “There are more than 10 scientific institutes in Carteret County, and we bring in $50 million every year. We like to reach out to the community with events like this and to schools and students.”
Dr. Pete Peterson, UNC-IMS alumni distinguished professor of coastal habitat valuation and restoration, talked about his experience helping evaluate the impact of several prominent oil spills: the 1969 Santa Barbara spill, the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill off the coast of Alaska and the 2010 BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
“One of the reasons oil is so deadly is it floats on the surface,” Dr. Peterson said. “It’s where seabirds feed and marine mammals, as well. The entire North Carolina coast has spoken in support of keeping oil (drilling) out. That risk of a spill is appreciable, it’s real and it can be avoided.”
Dr. Peterson said alternative energy sources are viable off the state coast, in particular offshore wind energy.
“We have it (offshore wind) where it counts and we should exploit it to set an example,” he said. “I urge you to look at the science. We could be in the lead (in offshore wind energy) and we should be, because we have the wind.”
Miriam Sutton, a science teacher with Morehead City Middle School, said when she looks for ways to make her curriculum meet state standards, she looks for ways to get students involved with the local environment. She talked about working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which has a lab on Pivers Island in Beaufort, to arrange a tour of a research vessel for her class, as well as working with the N.C. State University Center for Marine Sciences and Technology in Morehead City to allow her class to attend a dolphin necropsy.
Dr. Chuck Weirich, a marine aquaculture specialist with N.C. Sea Grant, stationed at CMAST, talked about the value of wild oysters to the state coast. He said oysters are a keystone species in North Carolina, with both environmental value with its water filtering and commercial value as seafood.
“When the first settlers came here, they said the water was so clear it was Caribbean-like,” Dr. Weirich said. “Now, oyster (population) levels are at 20 percent of their historic levels, due to overharvest and degraded water quality.”
Dr. Weirich said, however, that the creation of oyster sanctuaries and restoration efforts on the coast are helping wild oyster populations grow. Aquaculture is also a growing industry in the state, offering an alternative means of income for commercial fishermen.
“One oyster can filter 40 to 50 gallons of water a day,” he said. “A one-acre oyster farm will filter not only its acre, but 18 others around it.”
Dr. Christine Voss, a research associate at UNC-IMS, spoke about the scientific process. She said that science is “a way of knowing, to better understand ourselves and the world around us.”
“Science is never 100 percent certain,” she said. “That’s a hard thing for people to accept. Science teaches us to keep our minds open. Science never says 100 percent, but we still look both ways before crossing the street, and 99 percent of the time, we make it across just fine.”
Contact Mike Shutak at 252-726-7081 ext. 206, email firstname.lastname@example.org; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt.