In the summer especially on the eastern shore of Maryland we can see an number of families and friends taking boats onto the bay and it’s rivers. The water is chaotic especially on hotter days with kids swimming and parents relaxing and drinking. Having a boat is almost deemed a necessity as a waterfront property owner. The recreational boating culture has extended beyond the waterfront communities to those who chose to invest in memberships to elite clubs where they pay an annual fee to store their boat there. People throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed take advantage of the resource that naturally exists and use it to guide their recreational activities.
I have been out on my friend’s boat a number of times. After just one trip out onto the Severn River from Annapolis, I was hooked. There is something that draws people to such an investment. If you frequent the Chesapeake bay in a boat you know what I am talking about when I say it’s a captivating cultural experience. How is taking a gasoline powered boat onto a river captivating you might ask? For me I was amazed by the friendly culture out on the water. Boats stopping for others to help if they encounter a problem is a normal occurrence and waving to passing boaters is an expected mannerism, things you don’t often see in terrestrial communities.
Having grown up in Maryland, with its range of natural landscapes I have always appreciated fishing and boating. Boating for me was not a regular occurrence but boat trips with my grandfather and uncle remain as vivid memories of my past. Similarly today there is a culture around boating that has not changed much over hundreds of years. Surely technological advances have changed the speed, size and efficiency of such boats but the culture remains very much the same. Taking a boat into the Chesapeake Bay is like traveling back in time. The only things that you have with you, food, water and resources are the things you brought with you. There is a reliance on others out on the water if you ever get into a bind because stranded in the middle of the river you have limited access to things you need.
Access to the waterfront and public docks is an issue that is growing more prominent in the Chesapeake Bay. If you have a boat and do not have access to private dock or put-in you will have to drive a number of additional miles to find a public one; if there even is one. After finding a public dock you may have to pay a fee to unload your boat. The scarcity of the public access points along the river is another factor that drives people away from joining the recreational boating community in the Bay.
Travel thousands of miles south from the Bay to the coastal communities of Peru. While the types of ecosystems between the Chesapeake Bay and Pacific Ocean vary so do the views of the water. In Peru there is an extraordinarily small recreational boating community, of the community that does exist it consists most of international home owners who use the waterfront as their summer homes. Within the native populations of Peru the ocean is not viewed as a place to relax and enjoy recreational activities like we do in the bay. Instead the majority of boat owners are commercial fishermen. By catching a variety of aquatic species they view the water in Peru as an economic opportunity for success and growth.
Old sail boats of the anchoveta fishermen line the docks along the coast.
They draw attention in numbers and with their brightly colored hulls. If I picked up this picture of the glistening water reflecting colors into the water into the bay people would be amazed. The old boats although worn over decades function just as they did years ago. They are cared for because the fishermen know that these are their sources of income to support their families. There is no recreational boating communities in the native populations because their lives do not identify a need for relaxation and expenditure of money that could be put towards things like food for their families.
So what I conclude from these contrasting views of waterfront access through recreation speaks largely about how cultures, not resources around the world determine the way that communities utilize their access. It isn’t about what people can access but there is a huge influence by the demand of those resources like the water in this case.
Not having a boat and private or public access in the Chesapeake bay limits your access to the resource that everyone says we need to save. How much does “Save the Bay” really mean to people who have never experienced it? Would an increase in access make people more aware of the practices that contribute to its detriment? In Peru there is no waste water treatment facilities. Thousands of gallons of raw sewage are pumped into the ocean every day, if an emphasis on recreational boating was pushed in Peru would people recognize the importance of their influence on the ocean that lines their coast.
I look at increasing access recreational boating in both the Chesapeake Bay and in Peru as a direct means of education. When people are made aware of environmental issues by direct access the outcomes are different. My mind can’t help but wander back to the BP oil spill in 2010, when images of oil spewing from underwater pipelines were plastered on TV screens and newspapers across the US. People saw the damage it was creating and almost instantaneously they began to question the significance of deep water oil extraction.
This curiosity and questioning needs to happen in order to change the views of how people view the importance of their access to resources. We shouldn’t wait until a natural or human influenced disaster occurs to open our eyes to the environmental issues in the Bay and in Peru’s coastal waterways. Increasing accessibility to the water by opening the market to recreational boating could be the thing that the ecosystems need to push environmental issues to the forefront of our societies.