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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Haw River, Pittsboro, North Carolina, USA

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Haw River, Pittsboro, North Carolina, USA
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Registered: December 2011
City/Town/Province: Greensboro
Posts: 1
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My name is Briana and I am a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. During the spring of 2011, a fellow classmate by the name of Melissa and I decided to create an educational video that focuses on the Cape Fear Shiner, an endangered species located in Chatham County, which is a neighboring county of our school. Both me and my classmate have a strong interest in environmental issues and are majoring in Environmental Studies. We chose to do an Apprentice Ecologist project because we wanted to apply what we learn in the classroom to the real world. There were many instances in our classes together in which we would learn about the ecological and environmental state of our world and afterwards feel defeated and helpless. We would think, “How could things ever change for the better?”

Since my project partner and I both have similar academic and personal interest, we thought that together we could try our hand at informing others on what we already know and have a passion for learning about. We hoped to garner the interest of other people while simultaneously doing our part to take on some of the deep seated issues presented before our generation such as species endangerment, climate change, and the effects of human consumption and energy usage. Moreover, we wanted to create educational materials that could ignite action and concern for environmental issues amongst our fellow community members.

We focused our attention for the Cape Fear Shiner video on Chatham County, North Carolina. Chatham County is located in Central North Carolina, on the eastern edge of the Piedmont. It has a population of 63,505 people. Rolling hills and rivers cover the landscape of Chatham County. It lies entirely within the Cape Fear River Basin, which contains about one-fifth of North Carolina’s population, and is drained by three major rivers and tributaries: the Haw, the Deep, and the Rocky Rivers. Chatham County’s rivers and streams feed into the Cape Fear River, the largest river in North Carolina. Chatham County thus possesses a wealth of riverine habitats. The Haw and the Rocky Rivers flow in a southeasterly direction. The Deep River forms part of the southern border of Chatham, where it flows northeasterly before turning to the southeast in neighboring Wake County. These waterways and tributaries have dissected the uplands in some places and have meandering, broad floodplains in other places. These water bodies are also home to the federally endangered and endemic Cape Fear Shiner.

We started our project by first researching our target area, surrounding areas, and the Cape Fear Shiner. This research helped us to understand the habitat, biology, and behavioral patterns of the Cape Fear Shiner. It also revealed human activities and land development patterns in Chatham County and upstream municipalities that may be affecting water quality and the livelihood of the Cape Fear Shiner. We also talked extensively with our mentor Gretchen Smith, the outreach coordinator from Chatham Conservation Partnership, to understand the target audience for our multi-media project. From our discussions, we found a broad mix of residents in Chatham County, ranging from high to low education level attainments and high to low incomes as well. Our initial research showed that the population of Chatham County is polarized when it comes to environmental issues, such as the health of the county’s waters and of endangered endemic species. Therefore it was especially important for us to relay how the health of the Cape Fear Shiner impacted the health of the citizens of Chatham County.

The next step in our project was to define a list of professionals to interview for their opinions about the state of the Cape Fear Shiner. We interviewed two wildlife specialists and one environmental consultant of whom had extensive knowledge of the fish species and/or who were very educated on the ecology of watersheds and basins that the Cape Fear Shiner dwells. We were able to visit and video record the wildlife specialists at their place of work and ask them questions in regards to the Cape Fear Shiner. We also went out into the field and did an eco-tour of the Cape Fear Shiner habitats. This eco tour included a visit to Jordan Lake to see the many people who fish on a regular basis to help sustain their families. The last steps of our project were to compile and editing the footage, photos, interviews and research we gathered into the final educational video. The video is now posted on YouTube ( and we presented the video to fellow classmates and faculty members at our school and also at one of the Chatham Conservation Partnership’s monthly meetings that included members from the larger Chatham County community.

Educating Chatham County’s residents with our project is important because this is one of the few areas where the Cape Fear Shiner can still be found. The Cape Fear Shiner is an important indicator of water quality and in-stream flows. The residents of Chatham County heavily rely on healthy water supplies from their three rivers because they flow into the Jordan Lake reservoir, where much of the county’s drinking water is stored. We also found that many Chatham County residents depend on fishing to supplement their diet. Poor water quality and in-stream water flows could endanger the supply of drinking water and fish in Chatham County. In addition the health of Chatham County’s waterways greatly affects the health of downstream areas. The Cape Fear River basin includes many other reservoirs and ends in an estuary that is an important nursery to many fish, crabs, and shrimp. Therefore, protecting the health of the Cape Fear Shiner is important not only to the people and species of Chatham County, but to a large number of people in North Carolina.

Creating an educational video for the citizens of Chatham County helps to benefit the community by linking how the health of a federally endangered species is important to the health of the community at large. The Cape Fear Shiner is endemic to Chatham County, and cannot be naturally found in any other location. The disappearance of the Cape Fear Shiner would represent a change in the water quality and water flows of Chatham County’s water bodies. The heavy reliance of Chatham County’s citizens on their water bodies is harming the delicate balance of Chatham County’s unique ecosystem which could in turn harm its citizens. This outreach project will help the citizens of Chatham County understand the features that make this area’s ecosystem so unique, and therefore why and how it should be protected. Understanding these conditions and the effects on their livelihoods will hopefully inspire Chatham County’s residents to take action in protecting the Cape Fear Shiner. This brings up the point that one of the best ways to positively impact the environment is through the education of people. It is often the actions of people which degrade the environment, and the actions of people which improve the environment. The education provided by our project is one step towards the residents of Chatham County taking action to protect their waterways from pollution and further damming, both of which disrupt the natural habitat of the Cape Fear Shiner. These actions would help to increase the water quality of Chatham County water bodies, as well as to hopefully increase the population of the federally endangered Cape Fear Shiner.

The Apprentice Ecologist Project has helped enrich my life in number of ways. It has allowed me to further nourish my interests in environmental issues by giving me the opportunity to apply my interests to an actual hands-on project that was personally fulfilling. It has given me the platform to speak more openly to community members, to people I encounter every day and to my own family. It gave me the opportunity to show them how important it is that we are ecologically conscious because this in turn affects our quality of life and moreover environmental issues are not something that should not divide our community, but in actuality should unite us, because it has an impact on all of our lives whether directly or indirectly. This project has allowed me to gain experience in community outreach by not only participating in events that support ecological responsibility, but learning also how to develop effective materials such as a video presentation that can support such events as well.

In regards to my future, this project has inspired me to pursue a career in which I can educate and conduct outreach with others in order to create a more sustainable world. I hope to increase environmental literacy among citizens and to allow others to see the undeniable connection between the environment and its impact and importance in their own lives. All in all, I want to be an educator or pursue a career in environmental law enforcement, holding others accountable to keeping this world and its resources at the highest standard.
Date: December 31, 2011 Views: 9405 File size: 29.2kb, 1150.8kb : 1926 x 1938
Hours Volunteered: 100
Volunteers: 7
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 21 & 21 to 55
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