A Fragile Legacy

MAYVILLE – Leaders of the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy, whose objective is to protect the health of the county’s lakes, streams and watersheds, provided members and volunteers with a recent update, outlining a series of ambitious milestones that have been reached by the organization in the past year.

In 2008, with just 1 mile of natural shoreline left on Chautauqua Lake, the nonprofit conservancy launched the “Last Mile” campaign which sought to purchase as much of that land as possible to be put aside for conservation.

On Sunday, John Jablonski III, executive director, discussed the purchase of the 12-acre Whitney Bay Lakeshore Forest site, targeted for its diverse plant community and importance as a fish and wildlife habitat and an important milestone for the Last Mile initiative.

Last January, the conservancy bought the site through a combination of fundraising activities and a $120,000 loan from the Norcross Wildlife Foundation. Jablonski said they are exploring whether the state will purchase the site which would be used as a state wildlife management area.

In conjunction with the Whitney Bay site, the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy also purchased a .7-acre plot of land last November, containing more than 200 feet of shoreline and 300 feet of creek bank. The Whitney Point plot is located adjacent to the CWC’s Prendergast Creek wetland preserve.

Other recent projects were highlighted at the gathering on Sunday, including the continuing educational outreach programs which have heightened awareness in the community about responsible land use practices. Tours, lectures and awareness campaigns have been successful in educating county residents on such things as phosphate-free dishwashing detergents and fertilizers.

One recent experiential program gave Jamestown High School students a hands-on tree planting lesson, along with a lesson in fly fishing and spin fishing techniques used for catching trout.

Jablonski also highlighted recent efforts by lake leaders to form a new Chautauqua Lake and Watershed Alliance organization, which would replace the current Chautauqua Lake Management Commission. Linda Barber, CWC president, has been instrumental in guiding the proposed organization’s development, with the purpose of joining forces to increase state and local funding and coordinate lake and watershed projects.

“There isn’t enough money in the county to keep Chautauqua Lake healthy,” Barber said, adding the initiative could help augment funds that are raised locally.

Of all the initiatives outlined by conservancy leaders, Jablonski said he is most proud of their land conservation achievements which permanently protect sites that collect, filter, deliver and clean the water that flows to the county’s lakes and streams.

“It is so important to protect those sites that are functioning well,” Jablonski said. “They provide clean water to our habitats and waterways.”

The featured speaker at this year’s dinner meeting at the Captain’s Table Restaurant at Webb’s Lake Resort in Mayville was underwater filmmaker and photographer David Owen Brown. The Ithaca resident’s compelling resume as a producer, videographer and lecturer highlights a career spent in the pursuit of water-related projects, including filming expeditions with the vessels Calypso and Alcyone, as a member of the Cousteau team, and producing award-winning photography for National Geographic Television, the Discovery Channel, and other major networks.

His lecture took the audience on a visual voyage through the world’s waterways, but also included the waters of the Finger Lakes region where he was raised and recently returned to, and where he’s been documenting aquatic life in the area with a grant from the Park Foundation.

The presentation illustrated the connections we share via water, especially the vital waterways of New York state, where few divers have ever documented the life and health or our aquatic legacy.

Brown discussed the changes he’s noticed in the waterways near his home of Ithaca, where as a child, he remembers an abundance of mussels – something that is not true today.

“It’s amazing how quickly it can all change,” he said.

Brown also discussed work on his production “Fragile Legacy,” a documentary which seeks to film the elusive but beautiful invertebrates found in the ocean, like corals and sea squirts, which don’t command as much attention as other stars of the sea – like sharks and whales.

In an effort to further illustrate “how quickly it can all change,” Brown discussed how the documentary sought to capture on film these colorful and delicate invertebrates in a rapidly changing ocean climate.

The inspiration for the film, according to Brown, came from a collection of 570 anatomically perfect glass sculptures of marine creatures that were created 150 years ago by father and son team Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka. The collection is now in the possession of Cornell University.

Both Brown and Dr. Drew Harvell – a marine biologist in Cornell’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology – sought to answer the question, “How many of these living creatures are left 150 years after the Blaschka’s committed their likeness to glass?”

Their quest has been to seek out these sometimes bizarre and vibrant creatures in waters across the world. The resulting footage, according to their Fragile Legacy website, “will provide a high definition chronicle of marine invertebrate life in this millennium, providing perspective on which among these amazing organisms remain in the sea.”

Actor and conservationist Ted Danson is slated to narrate the documentary.

For more information on the documentary, visit their website at www.fragilelegacy.info. The glass collection can be viewed at the Cornell University website at blaschkaphotos.mannlib.cornell.edu/main.php.