Archive for March, 2015

Eco Spotlight: VIMS Assistant Professor David Kapla

Originally written by Claire Goydan and published on William and Mary Blogs on January 13th, 2015. Reposted here with permission.

Sustainability often gets a dirty (and incorrect) reputation for being soft and theoretical. Few disprove this theory like David Kaplan, who translated his advanced background in string theory and black holes into marine population modeling and research. After completing his PhD in physics at the University of California at Santa Barbara, Kaplan felt like he wanted a change. “I was doing theoretical physics, working on black holes, and it just lacked some value for humanity,” Kaplan said. Wanting to focus his impact, he pursued research in oceanography and marine ecology, which he discovered required quite a bit of physics. Before long, Kaplan had researched, studied, and worked on four continents (most notably in Chile, France, and California) on a range of projects.

Now an assistant professor at VIMS, Kaplan focuses on population dynamics and marine protected areas. Much like Kaplan’s career path, marine protected areas (MPA’s) have had a convoluted history.

Dr. David Kaplan

The idea of protecting marine areas has been around in one form or another for centuries. In the 1920s and 1930s, the first MPAs were created primarily for scientific research, as opposed to marine conservation like most people (including myself) have assumed. Meanwhile, protected land reserves had been around since the late 1800s, over 30 years before the first MPA! Kaplan explains, “You advance 100 years into the future, you see that there is the same temporal gap in massive use of protected areas.” Terrestrial reserves really took off in the 1970s, while MPAs for conservation only gained traction starting in the 2000s.

So how did MPAs grow from tiny scientific reserves to a mass movement for conservation, with some protected areas as large as the state of California? Much of the impetus to create MPAs has unsurprisingly come from our increase in fishing frequency and technological development, not to mention increased global markets for transportation. “It’s being driven by problems of overexploitation that didn’t exist 50 or 100 years ago,” Kaplan said. “Suddenly, you have major potential for exterminating marine species. That was hard to do before that time period.” The technology used to organize and develop this foreign transportation actually became crucial to developing MPAs as well. “Down the road came the idea that these forms of spatial management or protection could protect against our failure to manage humans non-spatially,” Kaplan said. Rather than institute nitpicking limitations on net size or hook size, or limit each person’s catch individually, MPAs provided a broader, more attractive approach.

Despite their growing popularity (MPAs now cover between 2-3% of the world’s oceans), they still have some issues.

  • Easy Does It – Predictably, as MPAs gained favor, governments all over the world jumped on board to protect the first and the most. The issue is that the easiest areas to protect, and the ones legislators protect first, are those that are not under heavy use. Protecting a large chunk in the middle of the ocean gives you some impressive square footage to put on paper, but it’s often not as beneficial as protecting a smaller, more contentious fishing zone.
  • Border Patrol – MPAs are proven to increase abundance and diversity of marine species, but fishers still want to make a living. Kaplan remembers, “In Chile, I worked at very small reserves that had these huge mollusks. Fishers would line up along that border for these mollusks that would move, y’know, one foot a month, to crawl over the edge and get harvested.” This limits marine species within the confines of the MPAs, and as the species density grows, they’re forced outside.
  • Blurred Lines – Most countries have discrete levels and categories of MPAs, but rarely have an obligation to adhere to them. These categories also differ from country to country and state to state. They all mean different things and have different goals regarding fishing, boating, pollution, which causes more confusion. With limited and sometimes no obligations, governments may create MPAs for status alone, essentially useless for conservation.
  • One Size Doesn’t Fit All – Not all fish species are perfectly suited to MPAs. It is the largest fish that are being caught more often that need to be protected, like big bluefin tuna. However, these species are typically much more mobile than others, and so a single static MPA can be less effective. Some alternatives have been suggested, such as dynamic (moving) MPAs and enormous pelagic MPAs to cover their migration patterns.

Dr. David KaplanIn the end, the future of MPAs will be decided politically. Their popularity is exciting, and more and more of the ocean is protected each day. In the future, the heavily fished areas are less tractable and will have a longer political timescale attached. “We shouldn’t get a false sense of security based on that, the size or the percentage.” Kaplan said. “There’s quality and quantity involved there… It has gotten to a phase where every developed nation wants to announce they have the largest MPA.” Rigorous research and proper advocation are required to ensure the future of MPAs, and the future of marine diversity around the world.

Want to get involved?

If you are interested in David’s research and would like to get involved, he is currently looking for students to help with his ongoing and future research projects:

  • Conservation modeling
  • How reserves affect marine populations with different life histories
  • Turtle tagging field work
  • Larval dispersal related to population persistence

Want to know more?

March 14th, 2015

Sustainability Initiatives Are Plentiful On Campus

This piece was originally published on Sept. 11th, 2014 in the Flat Hat Newspaper, and was written by , and was reposted here with permission.


In 2008, then-interim College President Taylor Reveley released a statement on the College of William and Mary’s sustainability policy which committed the College to setting “an example for present and future generations in the use of natural resources.” Six years later, this fall semester is shaping up to be filled with examples of this commitment.

Auxiliary Services controls much of the infrastructure on campus, from dining halls to parking and transportation. Many sustainability initiatives are currently at work, some more noticeably than others.

The Copy Center recycles scrap paper into notepads and sells two for $0.25 or ten for $1. Scrap paper that isn’t used is donated to Williamsburg Campus Child Care for children’s art projects.

The Office of Parking and Transportation Services is currently collaborating with the Student Assembly on a bike initiative. Director of Auxiliary Services Cindy Glavas said the initiative will promote “the installation of bike fix-it stations, organized rides and marketing efforts.” A new class, Kinesiology 196: introduction to cycling, has also been added to the course listing. It focuses on biking basics, safety and repair.

Additionally, Glavas said that Tribe Card Services is partnering with the Williamsburg Farmer’s Market “to accept William and Mary Express as a form of payment and encourage students to buy locally.” The farmer’s market is open every Saturday, weather permitting, during the spring, summer and fall in Merchants Square.

New sustainability initiatives from Dining Services include planning a third annual “Farm to Fork Dinner” in the coming weeks (last year’s was held on the Sunken Garden with a small admission fee) and an upcoming $25,000 study. This Kitchen Energy Study aims to analyze the efficiency of residential facility kitchens.

The Keck Lab has maintained a record of water quality in Lake Matoaka, College Creek and the campus stream for the past 10 years. It has  also gathered meteorological data at 10-minute intervals for all of them over the same period. Students have used this data in the past for projects such as the establishment of beehives on campus, and the data is available for other future projects.

“[We] plan to conduct intensive studies on the storm-water ponds located behind the [Marshall-Wythe School of Law] and behind the [McCormack-Nagelsen] Tennis Center [this semester],” Keck Lab Director Randolph Chambers said.

Director of Sustainability Calandra Waters Lake is planning new sustainability events on campus this semester. “Meet the Greens,” which took place during the first week of classes, was a gathering of campus clubs and organizations focused on environmentalism and sustainability.

Many fall semester events were unveiled at the event. “Sustainable Soccer” will be held Sept. 27 and Sept. 28. Two soccer games will be “greened” through a partnership between COS, the Athletic Department, Dining Services and Facilities under the activity “Local Sustainable William and Mary.”

“The goal is to make those games as sustainable as possible,” Lake said.

Volunteers will be available to direct spectators to recycle and compost their game-day waste. There will also be sustainability groups tabling at the games. The Football Club approached the College to help organize the event and has also helped facilitate ‘greening’ sports games nationally.

Planned for every month this semester beginning Oct. 7, Sustainability Seminars on different subjects will take place at the Williamsburg Community Building. The topic for October is “Natural Landscape.” There will be speakers on native plants, campus landscaping and home gardening information for interested students and community members.

Additionally, the second annual “Sustainability Summit” will be taking place Oct. 25. The event will gather students, faculty and staff together to discuss sustainability projects and development on campus. There will be a panel of professors and break-out groups in this day-long event. “The goal is to have as much communication between people and groups on campus as possible,” Lake said.

March 9th, 2015

Throwback Thursday: What about the Sustainability Summit?

Remember the Sustainability Summit that happened last semester? What was that all about? What can I expect if I go next semester? Check out this great blog article by Talia Schmitt to get a great idea of what happened and to think how far we’ve come even since last semester! (Reposted from Flat Hat Newspaper with permission from the author)


Approximately 60 staff members and students gathered inside the School of Education Saturday, Oct. 25 to talk about sustainability in the second annual Sustainability Summit.

“The summit started last year just like everything else at William and Mary — with a little resources and a lot of passion,” Committee on Sustainability co-director and environmental science professor Dennis Taylor said,

The summit, organized by the Committee on Sustainability, was a product of a green fee grant and dedication from the student and sustainability fellows — Sharon Hartzell ’14 and Patrick Foley ’12.

COS programs and education subcommittee co-Chair Natalie Hurd ’16, sustainability director Calandra Waters-Lake, professor Andrew Fisher and Summit Working Group volunteers organized this year’s event.

“The summit was designed with the intent to bring individuals and organizations together in order to facilitate increased communication and innovation, and I think we achieved that goal,” Hurd said.

The summit was split into three sections: defining sustainability through professors, through students and through food.

Each professor looked at the subject of sustainability through a different lens. Fisher used a historical perspective.

“History helps us see how we got into these messes,” Fisher said. “By understanding the past, we have a better idea of what will work in the future. A sustainable future would be one where both human and non-human life can be adequately sustained.”

Student interns also spoke about their experiences working in the environmental field.

Akshay Deverakonda ’15 interned for the Environmental Protection Agency during the fall of 2012 through the William and Mary in Washington program. He noted how, although Washington, D.C. is filled with people with economic backgrounds, his employers told him that getting a science degree was the way to go.

“On one side you need to understand the economics behind environmental politics — the ‘hey this might save you money’ attitude — but on the other hand if you have a science degree you stand out among the sea of government majors,” he said. “With a science background, you make the concepts more accessible.”

Audrey Kriva ’17, the founder of DormMania, also gave advice to students who may want to start green initiatives.

“It is really important to do your research ahead of time, share ownership, and break your project into easy-to-follow steps. However, everybody has their own way of doing things and that’s important to recognize that too,” Kriva said.

The last panel discussed sustainable food. Committee on Sustainability member and leader of Campus Gardens Nora Jackson ’16 said she sees the sustainable food process as cyclical.

“We do not want to have any inputs that lead to outputs that fall on people,” she said. “We need to think about how our food choices impact other people and places. We must always vote with our dollar.”

Lisa Lawrence, Virginia Institute on Marine Science Seafood Educator, reiterated the point of responsible food practices.

“Eat what’s fresh. Eat what’s in season. It’s like when you go to Food Lion and see a cheaper shrimp option from Thailand and a more expensive alternative from the United States — choose the one from the U.S.” she said. “By choosing the one from the U.S., you know it has gone through the U.S. regulations, whereas for the option abroad, you can’t be so sure.”

The last part of the summit was dedicated to ecological restoration, the idea of recovering a damaged eco-system. Keynote speaker Paddy Woodworth, a former journalist for The Irish Times and author of “Our Once and Future Planet: Restoring the World in the Climate Change Strategy,” discussed how what many people consider as “natural” is sometimes socially constructed by humans over time. In this way, he challenged the audience to look at the human and nature dynamic differently.

“Ecological restoration … gives people hope. It shows us that people can engage in an ecosystem that will make that system richer — more biodiverse, function better and I think that’s very exciting,” Woodworth said. “A lot of people have an idea that you can only destroy or preserve and restoration is a different approach which shows us that we belong in nature and we can have a good role in nature as well.”

March 5th, 2015


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