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Ethan Nedeau: Connecting Science and Art

Ethan Nedeau Slideshow

Ethan Nedeau blends his skills as an ecologist and artist to spread the word about conserving remarkable places like the Connecticut River watershed.

If you want to know what’s in a river, you really have to get into it. That’s where Ethan Nedeau is during any given field season, often snorkeling in search of freshwater mussels and other invertebrates. Nedeau is owner and principal aquatic biologist for Biodrawversity, an ecological consulting and design firm in Amherst. Among his many projects for The Nature Conservancy are surveys of invasive plants in the Westfield River and mussels in the Connecticut River watershed that help us monitor the health of these rivers and develop strategies to revive them.
“I think people realize how much the Connecticut River and many of its tributaries have improved in recent decades because of the work of The Nature Conservancy and others."

How do you survey for mussels?


I usually tether an innertube to my leg and snorkel my way up or downstream as far as I can before evening arrives, gathering data throughout the day. I’ll often put running shoes into a dry bag inside the innertube and run back to my car at the end of the day, sleep in a campground and do it all over again the next day. I could fill books with my memories of these experiences.

How is the Connecticut River watershed’s ecological health?


It’s a mix of good and bad. I think the Connecticut River has come a long way in recent decades. I’m not old enough to know it at its worst, but the stories of how polluted it once was stand in stark contrast to what I’ve seen in my decade of snorkeling and SCUBA diving in it. I remember SCUBA diving in the Connecticut River within earshot of the I-84 Bridge in downtown Hartford and finding yellow lampmussels, which were thought to have been extirpated from the river 50 years ago. I consider myself lucky to pursue my passions in a relatively clean river.

What gives you hope for the Connecticut River watershed?


I think people realize how much the Connecticut River and many of its tributaries have improved in recent decades because of the work of The Nature Conservancy and others, and they feel more vested in contributing to make it better still. We all want a fishable and swimmable river. I’ve also been fortunate to consult with industries that are demonstrating a genuine interest and commitment to natural resources—even mussel health. I’m excited by the partnerships I see between hard-working natural resource professionals throughout the watershed from small watershed groups and lake associations, to larger non-profit organizations, to state and federal agencies.

How do you hope your art helps influence conservation?


People are beginning to appreciate the old-fashioned qualities of a hand-drawn illustration, and I tend to draw things that most people have never seen. I think the combination of artwork, graphic design and writing, all focused on conservation themes, can be a powerful way to reach people.

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