2018-05-31 / Outdoors

Nature Change

Maple City man using videos to create climate conversations
By Jen Murphy
Of The Enterprise staff


Joe VanderMeulen and drone pilot Charles Dawley get ready to launch a drone to capture some of the supporting video to be used in the video essay about changes in the water quality in Suttons Bay, Grand Traverse Bay and Lake Michigan. Joe VanderMeulen and drone pilot Charles Dawley get ready to launch a drone to capture some of the supporting video to be used in the video essay about changes in the water quality in Suttons Bay, Grand Traverse Bay and Lake Michigan. Joe VanderMeulen is a storyteller. Or rather, he tells stories about nature through the medium of video.

Whether it’s about water, forest or land, VanderMeulen and the nonprofit organizations that teamed up to form Nature Change create videos designed to encourage conversation about conservation and climate.

“We are not an advocate, we are more of a reporter,” VanderMeulen said. “We want people to think about how changes affect them.

“For example, the color of the bay has changed. It’s become clearer. We’re seeing deeper into the bay than we have before. It’s not a good or a bad thing, it’s just a thing based on your view of your relationship to the natural world.”

VanderMeulen’s mini-documentaries, also called video essays, are published on public access both on television and the internet.

“The attempt is to create short video essays that are informative and evocative,” he said. “These essays are about helping people understand what the changes are, what’s driving the change, what the scientists are doing about it, and what individuals can do about it.”

A Maple City resident, VanderMeulen has featured several Leelanau County projects.

One of VanderMeulen’s recent video essays featured the goats at Clay Cliffs Natural Area that provide conservation grazing and help eliminate invasive garlic mustard. It was a project, like many others, that helped VanderMeulen learn something new.

“Conservation grazing is a term I’d never heard before,” he said. “I got to hear about a scientific approach I didn’t know about.”

And that’s not his only connection to Leelanau County. He has also created video essays about apple and cherry farming.

VanderMeulen’s latest project, “Learning How Citizens and Resource Managers Work to Preserve Our Natural Resources - Promoting Conservation Literacy in a Time of Great Change” focuses on the efforts of the Inland Seas Education Association (ISEA) to study invasive aquatic species.

“It’s getting people to understand that the changes we are seeing are driven by invasive species,” VanderMeulen said. “A story on changes in the water quality of Suttons Bay, Grand Traverse Bay and Lake Michigan - as seen and documented by the Inland Seas Education Association over 28 years.”

Entering her fifth sailing season, ISEA lead scientist and education coordinator Jeanie Williams said she thinks sometimes these can be difficult concepts to grasp. “I think that it’s hard to get your head around what’s happening here because so much of it is invisible because it’s under the water and you only know what’s in your net,” she said.

“We are out there every day. There’s no other research (on invasive species in the bay), but we’re out there every day. It’s still my dream to find how we can use that,” Williams said.

That’s where the work of VanderMeulen and Nature Change come in.

“(Joe) and I have been talking for a while for putting together a video of our work and promoting conservation literacy at this time,” Williams said. “Our focus now is on aquatic invasive species and microplastics.”

But they have not discussed the particulars of the video essay. “I trust Joe. I know he’s an excellent storyteller and I know he will tell a true and powerful story.”

So what is VanderMeulen’s hope for the conversations he is attempting to generate for Inland Seas and so many others?

“More involvement in decisions related to managing natural resources,” he said. “People taking more interest in planning and management choices that they make – at the township, village, county level.

“We make or don’t make decisions every day at our homes and in our communities to participate or not participate, to have an opinion or not have an opinion. I would like to see people be more aware and attentive to the natural world. Simply being aware of it would help you be aware of what the changes are.

“It takes someone that will take the time to notice, and then ask the question, what shall we do? Then maybe we can respond to things in a more planful way.”

Interested in learning more? Check out www.naturechange.org.

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