August 27, 2009

Marine Lab Shows Promise of Sustainability

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APPLEDORE ISLAND, Maine — About seven miles off the coast of the Maine and New Hampshire border lies Shoals Marine Laboratory, a model for sustainable living. From wind and solar power to on-island composting, SML harnesses Appledore Island’s limited resources with maximum efficiency.
Operated jointly by Cornell University and The University of New Hampshire, SML offers students a wide array of courses and internships in marine biology, ecology and sustainability, with choices expanding each summer.
In a learning environment that is just like any other — students sleep in dorms, eat in dining halls and learn in classrooms — personal initiative is part of what makes SML so sustainable. Students, faculty and staff help conserve resources by making minimal lifestyle changes: Island residents take navy-style showers twice a week, toilets are flushed only when necessary and lights are turned off whenever possible. Electricity consumption was cut in half over the past year by using greener light bulbs and eliminating inefficient appliances.
According to William Bemis, the Kingsbury Director of SML, it is extremely important for students to understand how much goes into supporting a population on Appledore’s 95 acres each week.
“For me, one of the most important things students experience is the weekly food run,” he stated in an e-mail. Every Wednesday, all island residents line up at the dock and passes food from boat to land. “Because everybody participates, it unites the community. It also points out in the most practical possible way how much food and work it takes to keep our island population going for a week.”
Living under limited resources provides an experience that most students are unfamiliar with. Olivia Walton ’13, however, is well versed in the limiting factors of island life. A native of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the lifestyle on Appledore was little different from home.
“From island to island there are similarities and differences, but overall I think the key to healthy island living is sustainability,” Walton stated in her blog about island life.
While the minimal available resources on the island impose a certain style of living, it also fosters creativity and innovation in conservation and sustainability.
“On Appledore Island, it is impossible to ignore the interrelationships among power, water and sanitation systems,” Bemis stated. “[It] is an ideal test-bed for new technologies and conservation methods.”
Sustainable energy technologies are used on Appledore Island to reduce resource consumption. The Island’s wind turbine and solar panels, installed in 2007-2008, help reduce the need for diesel generators. The added cost of shipping diesel fuel to the island makes running these generators three times as expensive as on the mainland.
“If we had the funds to expand these systems,” Bemis stated, “then we could virtually eliminate the need to burn diesel fuel to generate electricity. I hope this will happen in the near future.”
The island’s Sustainable Engineering Interns help develop new technologies to enhance efficiency and conservation on Appledore.
“2010 will be the fifth year of our experiment in bringing undergraduate engineering students to Appledore for a month to study, evaluate and improve our engineered systems,” Bemis stated.
One idea the four Sustainable Engineering Interns developed during their month on the island this summer was a new system using non-potable grey water to flush the toilets. According to intern Josh Groleau ’11, this will cut the island’s fresh water usage by 40 percent.
Currently, 1,400 gallons of fresh water flow through the island’s tanks per day for a population of 50 to 60.
The Island’s fresh water supply normally comes from a well. When this limited water source runs out in the middle of the summer, fresh water is created through reverse osmosis — a process that removes salt from seawater by passing it through a high-pressure filter. This process is, however, energetically and monetarily expensive.
According to Bemis, the Sustainable Engineering Interns are a crucial link between creating a greener environment on Appledore Island and passing sustainable technologies on to Cornell’s Ithaca campus.
“They not only help us find new ways to conserve energy and water but also serve as ambassadors back on campus,” he stated.
Groleau believes that Cornell can strive for the same sustainable SML practices.
“Appledore strives for sustainability through conservation. [It] doesn’t have the funding to achieve sustainability through cutting edge green equipment, therefore it relies on the individual cooperation and conservation of its residents,” Groleau stated in an e-mail. “Cornell can make its campus more sustainable by inspiring the same principles in its students, faculty and staff.”
“Cornell needs to determine its most unsustainable areas, whether they be the dining halls, power plant or residence halls,” Groleau stated. “They need to inform the Cornell community of these areas and recommend actions that we can take on an individual level to improve the sustainability of these areas and Cornell as a whole.”
According to Bemis, SML’s sustainable living practices have an important take-home message for students, staff and island guests.
“Firsthand experience with practical conservation measures — and the degree of pride that everyone at SML takes in conserving energy, water and making compost — can have a lasting impact on students long after they leave Appledore,” Bemis stated. “When you catch students at the right age and show them how easy it can be to live more sustainably, then they can carry these ideas and concepts forward into their lives. Habits of composting, recycling, limiting water use and thinking carefully about energy sources and needs learned on Appledore will be passed along to peers, and encourage others to live more sustainably.”