Wednesday, January 23, 2019

2 Years and over 2 million Pounds with 4Ocean


About a week ago, I saw a television commercial about 4Ocean for the first time. It blew my mind and here's why:

Non-profits virtually never take the time or funds to create video commercials. Only through the platforms of social media and e-mail have I really seen eco-minded organizations push their message. Incidentally, non-profits are always begging for funding or donations.

Our household regularly supports several worthy organizations including the Wounded Warrior Project, WWF, Sierra Club and our local NPR station (WLRN) to name a few. But because of our love for the great outdoors, national parks and community building entities, we have to pick and choose who we can support each year based on our budget.

So, to come out to 4Ocean's anniversary celebration and see well over 1,000 people participating in a massive cleanup was jaw-dropping. People of all ages scattered the beach in bright blue 4Ocean gear. We walked along the sand and shoreline and did not see a speck of trash from the event itself (another insane accomplishment).

Volunteers, participants and staff all wore smiles too - which is infectious, in a good way.

The sorting station was unique. I've attended several dozen cleanups over the years, but never have I seen the clear sorting of recyclables that takes place during a 4Ocean cleanup.

At the education "village" - which to be fair was only about a half dozen tents in total - a 4Ocean rep talked about how much 4Ocean recycles at their own facility. THIS fact alone sets these cleanups far apart from others I have attended.

I want to take a moment and give a shout out to the organizations who came to share the message and shine light on the big picture for participants or just guests who happen to visit the beach that day.

 I think Jace spent more time with Morgan at the Youth Environmental Alliance tent than anywhere else, save the shoreline.

He sorted through a pile of trash, looking for food fit for a sea turtle. He missed a dried up chunk of a jellyfish. This surprised him, because his marine bio ID abilities are not too shabby if I do say so myself. But this enthusiastic educator took the time to make the encounter as meaningful to him as possible. Very cool.

The next tent that really resonated was FAU's Elasmo Lab. Now, yes - I am an OWL. Yes, I feel the research they do is fascinating and important. But, with a last name like "Sharkey" there is no passing up the chance to check out shark related stuff.

This is a hammerhead skull!

Getting Jace to take the time and focus on shark identification must be credited to Andie (in the photo). While he aced the pop quiz, she kept him interested and the interaction was more than just hey, did you know sharks' lose thousands of teeth?

As an educator myself, I always appreciate when the material presented fits the level of the audience. So, kudos to you, Andie.

And of course, this entire event took place ON THE BEACH, which I didn't expect. I figured the organization would be focused on just getting people there, but realized the intent was so much more. 4Ocean actually forced people to set foot on the beach where it was difficult not to sign up for the clean up itself. You wanted to stand in line and get your gloves and bag. You wanted to search for trash or help sort. You WANTED a shirt or a bracelet - or both.

The business model 4Ocean runs is just that - a BUSINESS model. They are not, nor do they claim to be, a non-profit. The only donation jar at the event I saw was at one of the non-profit partners who brought educational materials to share with participants.

This makes supporting their work easier for many. For example, there was not cost to participate in the cleanup and the company was giving away bracelets when cleanup gear was returned.

Dad taking a moment to teach Jace how to identify weed lines from shore.

We don't need an excuse to explore the beach. We are already a family that doesn't leave trash behind and recycles and attends cleanups. Yet walking along a packed beach filled with people who care is truly inspirational.

One suggestion I can make regarding the 4Ocean product tent - there were no t-shirts in kid sizes. I saw many children there who were way too small for an adult shirt (mine included), and we would have stood in line to make a purchase or two had there been anything for him.

Something unexpected happened shortly before we left the event. The 4Ocean buggy got stuff in soft beach sand. Now, what you may not realize is that both of the organization's founders are in this photo. Both of them helped push the vehicle out after plotting a better path to avoid spraying sand everywhere or putting deep ruts on the beach. It may seem small, but for a fairly young company with fairly young founders, this is the type of thing I love to see.

I have reviewed the 4Ocean bracelets, and to a small extent, the company in the past. My shark bracelet lasted a full six months of torture - from slogging (which is exactly what it sounds like) and snorkeling to roller coaster-filled theme parks without ever taking a break. Since they don't set off metal detectors at check points for concerts, etc., it literally never came off - until the cord gave way while folding laundry and the glass beads hit the floor.

The beads went into the blue recycling bin and I went back to the website to find the January color was my favorite - purple. The Hawaiian monk seals will benefit from this purchase in addition to the pound pulled. I'm good with that.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Local Review: Grassy Waters Preserve

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend the day with my mom so I wanted to take her somewhere new while going easy on the pocketbook.

We ended up at the City of West Palm Beach's Grassy Waters Preserve. This free facility is a great way to see restored Everglades up close and personal. The Cypress Boardwalk Trail is a 1-mile loop that allows you to see, feel and smell the wetlands without slogging in the muck.

Cypress "knees"

The cypress trees - from their tall tips to the knobby "knees" jutting up through the water - are one of my favorite trees in Florida. I've never been a big fan of the scrub foliage or the hardwood forests when compared to the dynamic nature of the wetlands.

There are wide open sections, where you can see the paths gently cut through the spikes of grass by canoes, kayaks and the local wildlife, including alligators.

The wild feel of the flora and fauna are special at Grassy Waters. The facility brings you closer to Old Florida in more ways than one.

The facility has a lovely little welcome center that houses rotating exhibits. On this visit, we enjoyed artifacts from the Native Americans who lived in and migrated through the wetlands.

I visit Grassy Waters about every six months or so, and love that there are new displays on a regular basis, but I am also partial to the permanent displays like the live turtles and taxidermized animals.

I have never seen an osprey that didn't look angry!

This place is truly a representation of tax dollars doing great things. This portion of the Everglades is managed by WPB's Public Utilities Division - don't you wish the "water works" card in Monopoly was this cool?

If staying on the boardwalk checking out the wildlife and plants is not close enough for you, sign up for one of the guided canoe or kayak tours.

And for those who prefer the slogging, the Nature Center has Swamp Tromps too. Check out the Grassy Water Facebook Page to see what events are coming soon.

But this was a short trip, only about an hour, so we stuck to the boardwalk. I enjoy the cypress domes (didn't I mention how much I love those trees?) and how they literally create tree islands. The history unearthed from islands like these are still being discovered in areas of Florida that were drained and developed more than 80 years ago.

Typical cypress dome - with the oldest trees and tallest trees near the center
Pickerelweed has some of the prettiest flowers

Duck potato and water lilies

I missed the chance to photograph a juvenile alligator, but did catch this beautiful great egret who didn't seem to mind me hanging around one bit.

Mom's favorite view

So, this place has an area for little ones inside the air conditioned center and programs at their level, but you can also find things for history buffs. There are places to sit and relax if the walk seems too much to tackle at one time. And it's FREE. Seriously, not taking the time to check this place out is inexcusable.

Maybe take your mom like I did - she had fun and found another reason to consider moving to my side of the Sunshine State.

Busted - Why did I let my mom have my phone?

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Product Review: 4Ocean Bracelets

Maybe you saw them on the Today Show back in July, or perhaps the adds have popped up on your cell phone while browsing Facebook or playing games - but the question came up, "Who are these 4Ocean guys?"

So I decided to find out.

4Ocean is a business. They are not, nor do they claim to be, a not for profit entity.

The business model is simple: turn marine debris into a commodity.

The ultimate goals include creating jobs around the world and working to alter the mentality of our view on trash. Some countries lack the fundamental infrastructure to recycle plastics and other goods, so they see trash as just, well, there. It is a part of life like weeds on your lawn. Deal with it or don't.

Jobs are created as crews are hired, and in some countries like Haiti people are garnering a better wage fishing for trash than actual fish. This helps attack both the problems of irresponsible overfishing and addressing trash in the marine ecosystem. Funding for the equipment, employees, etc. comes from the sale of small bracelets and other 4Ocean-branded items.

In addition, each month 4Ocean has a new partner in support of a specific ocean-related cause. For instance, back in June it was sea turtle research. Now I happen to have personal connections to the FAU lab that worked with the 4Ocean team and they had only great things to say about the company when I asked.

The bracelets themselves are made of recycled glass and polyester, and mine hold up just fine no matter what I'm doing, from washing the car to riding a roller coaster. When properly adjusted, the bracelet stays put.
My mom even sent me a photo!
My mom was curious at this simple bauble that had me so excited, so I shared the story of 4Ocean with her. The response? She wanted one for her birthday! 4Ocean's website made it easy to send one as a gift, and she received it in about a week.

She was happy with the commitment by 4Ocean to pull a pound of trash from the ocean in exchange for the support.
Cool stuff. It allows people who don't live anywhere near the ocean to make a difference in waters across the globe.

This dynamic new business plan did more than inspire me - it made me want to work there! So, I applied for a job since the headquarters is here in south Florida. I was thrilled to get a call back and even the chance to interview with the company in person. While I was not their choice for hire, I learned so much more about the organization and its people.

For instance, every single person - whether they wore jeans or polos or dresses - every one who walked in or out of the front door acknowledged me while I sat in the lobby waiting. Some said hello, others waved, but all of them smiled. Happy people do not bother to say hi. They don't ask how a stranger is doing when they have no reason to meet or speak with them. The staff were all just nice. This is in Boca Raton people! (that just doesn't happen)

Now that you know the bracelets and people behind them are following through on the promise to work towards cleaner oceans, don't forget this weekend is the International Coastal Cleanup! A time when organizations and volunteers all over the world get out to tackle the trash first hand.

4Ocean is working in Boston for the big weekend, but also hosts cleanups worldwide throughout the year.

Here in Palm Beach County, the non-profit Keep Palm Beach County Beautiful coordinates with other local agencies for a massive event. This year, 34 different organizations are partnering up, and we are joining the Sea 2 Shore Alliance this weekend.

Once again we will use the Clean Swell app to help track the data (i.e. trash) collected too. This data is extremely important in helping learn more about our trash and better address the problem based on a specific region's needs.

Last year, Jacen and I had a great experience in Delray Beach, and we are ready for a great weekend in Boynton Beach too. I wonder what weird junk we might find?

Just keep swimming, and if this weekend is no good check for local cleanups in your area. They are probably happening at least once a month!


Monday, September 3, 2018

Trash Talk turned Trash Walk - 1 year later

Behold! The most money I have made while picking up trash over the past year!

I suppose it's nothing to really brag about, but a year ago Hurricane Irma struck my area pretty hard. In my neighborhood flooding was severe, but since we are near lakes the water level receded fairly quickly. The amount of debris and trash left everywhere appalled me, and while I was walking my dogs, I started picking up trash when I picked up doggy doo.

Now you are all caught up!

Several months after my community service / dog walking began regularly, I heard about plogging - the Swedish trend of picking up trash while jogging.

Now, I HATE running. It is quite literally my second least favorite thing in the world.

But... I ain't gettin' any younger, and my smaller dog loves to run. The daily haul from my neighborhood - save for the week after Independence Day - has shrunk to 1-2 lbs of trash each day. That includes expanding the walk to every street in my little area.

So in July I started … running. Well, jogging/walking/crawling - whatever gets me home eventually. The two-mile circuit goes around several neighborhoods in a giant loop that is heavily trafficked and trashy as a result. 

The first month, Thor and I pulled about 5 lbs of trash 3 - 4 times each week (cuz there is not way I am running every single day). Now we get closer to 3 lbs each circuit, but my pace is faster and I've lost nearly 10 lbs as a bonus.

My incentives?
- Every time I stop for trash, I get a 10-second walking rest. I have never wanted to find trash so badly.
- Picking up trash makes me feel as though the run serves a purpose. For those who hate running, and see moving fast without being chased by a bear as a complete waste of energy, having a bag full of debris gives me motivation to go out and do it again.
- It is really great for my dog's health too. We don't have a yard, and this mutt loves to run. Sometimes he pulls me (the leash is attached around my waist, not my wrist) and sometimes I get him moving, but as a running partner it's a good fit.

I have received exactly three acknowledgements from strangers in the past year. Two people in the neighborhood have said "thank you" and just last week an elderly gentleman on my two-mile run beamed at me and said "Good for you! Way to go!" and I've decided to take it as a compliment.

But the biggest compliment came from my husband. He bought me a new pair of running shoes and a motivational magnet for the fridge. Thanks, babe!

Friday, August 31, 2018

The Shark Bite Donut: Dunkin's Disappointment

If you are like me, then all things ocean grab your attention.

So when we dropped by Dunkin Donuts for a treat, the Shark Bite donuts were an unexpected surprise and immediately a must-have. And while I'm quick to admit the actual donut isn't nearly as pretty in reality as in the advertisements, this simple glazed donut with white frosting and small shark-shaped sugary sprinkles is tasty.

Once the sweet tooth is satisfied, though, I wondered why the donut was even available? Well, Dunkin realized that Shark Week is now one of the most popular television events of the year - so much now that the company decided to celebrate like other seasonal holidays with a themed donut.

But the conservationist in me was disappointed. Dunkin chooses not to provide any information or support (that I found - PLEASE correct me if I'm wrong) about sharks themselves, leaving me with a feeling of nothing more than capitalization and pure exploitation on the popularity of the subject.

No business is required to go beyond their strategic plan and of course the purpose is to make money, but I have to admit when companies go that extra mile and reach out for the greater good, they will receive my patronage far more often. The Shark Bite donut made us smile for the day, but it nothing more than that.

Maybe I am naïve for thinking that a little research would show Dunkin Donuts supporting the cause for shark conservation, but alas, the company has been a sponsor of Discovery's Shark Week for several years now and that appears to be the extent. So in the end, I even have to give credit to The Discovery Channel's ability to market their week of shark-related programs instead of Dunkin's desire to make an impact.

Guess I'll stick to making my coffee at home.


Saturday, August 18, 2018

Movie Review: The MEG

I read the original MEG book not long after it first came out and hit the NY Times bestseller list. I have waited YEARS for this film. That being said, the review is meant for people who didn't read all or even a single book in the series. I HATE spoilers, so you are safe to read the books and watch the movie. Enjoy!

I squealed during this movie.

Yes, I enjoy shark movies. From the iconic music of Jaws to the hilarity of the Sharknado series, I am a fan of sharks. But I also realize that not all of these movies are equal. As a marine biologist, I get peeved when I see films of hammerheads attacking humans in the same way a birder is annoyed at the red-tail hawk's cry that plays when an eagle flies by on film.

But I can get behind The Meg.

Like Jurassic Park in its infancy, the film takes elements from the book(s) and creates new characters with names you already know. There is enough tie to the original story to keep MEGHEADS happy without making newcomers feel like they are missing out on an inside joke.

The star power is mostly on Jason Statham's shoulders, but there are still other actors that are just recognizable enough to feel familiar, but still able to slide into the role of each character. I was a bit concerned at first with the casting of Meiying (the little girl), but her weirdly endearing performance grew on me by the end of the film.

If you want an action film, here you go - The Meg fills the screen with intensity and larger than life stunts. While the current 17,000+ ratings on IMDB give it only a 6.2 / 10, and Rotten Tomatoes ranks it a paltry 5.5, one must first accept what they are going to see. IT'S A SHARK MOVIE.

If you are expecting to have your inner monologue forever shift into deep reflection, this is not the film for you. It is an action movie - expect explosions.

As a long-time shark and movie lover, the marine biologist in me was thrilled with a few homage moments to the film that started it all. But I was beside myself with glee when a line from Finding Nemo worked its way in too! Even the moments spent explaining the horrors of shark finning are important ties that keep you moving forward in the story.

From a special effects standpoint, the submersibles and gliders felt cutting edge but realistic. The "bubble" expected in a movie sub could never withstand the trench depths, so the creators used cameras to create a full scene inside the cockpit. That was just plain brilliant.

If you are afraid of sharks, this is not the film for you -sorry. If you prefer a golden chainsaw as a means of protection from finned predators, then be aware The Meg manages to bring prehistoric creatures to life without going cheesy.

But if at the end of the movie, you had fun - then I highly recommend trying out the series of MEG books. The last installment just found my doorstep today.

Here comes the personal stuff now

I met the author years ago. Well, I didn't meet him the first time. I went to a late night Barnes and Noble book signing for Steve Alten but his schedule was mixed up and he missed the meet and greet. I spent over an hour instead talking about his books with other fans until the store closed.

Alten reached out and won my heart forever. He not only scheduled a new signing, but sent me an autographed poster as an apology. It still hangs in my son's room now. This man worked for years to create a fun series with an injection of science - always pushing his readers to ask more questions once the book is shut.

Whether it is his tenacity to write diverse novels, or his training regiment to continue fighting Parkinson's' disease, Steve Alten plays a role that inspired me to start writing in the first place. So, thank you, Steve. I loved your movie and hope to watch a documentary on you someday too.


Sunday, July 29, 2018

Local Review: Jupiter Lighthouse Museum

In case you haven't noticed, my bucket list is extremely important. It provides direction and motivation when getting out of bed before 7 am is way down the list of priorities.

I worked less than a mile away from the iconic Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse for two years, and never made it up the steps. When a very close friend became ill with his second fight against cancer, we made the promise to climb the tower together once he felt up to it.

Danny ended up in the hospital a few short weeks after our conversation (I had tried to make arrangements prior but he did not feet well enough for a walk), and never went home. Heartbroken, I resolved to make the climb for him. Motivation is a precious thing to waste, and I have since made the climb twice.

Brave the 105 steps, with four small window stops - one facing each major point of the compass to allow for airflow regardless of wind direction - and receive a reward. One of the most spectacular views in Florida awaits.

The fully functioning lighthouse is not available to visit without registering for an official tour, and the land is federally regulated. This iconic building, proudly shooting a beam into the night that is visible 30 miles out since 1860, is the product of partnerships. The Coast Guard, Bureau of Land Management and the Loxahatchee Historical Society work together to keep the lighthouse lit for those at sea and accessible to those on land.

The Frenel lens fascinated me as much as the extensive tour of the other historical buildings led by Janet.

From Native American middens to the keeper's workshop, the 125 acres of land includes more than the lighthouse.

My favorite part had to be the large ficus tree, planted in 1935.

Danny was a history buff far beyond my reach, and as he was a big fan of Charlie Pierce stories we had to visit all the wonderful buildings in his honor.

My awesome friend Shannon exploring and an exhibit telling the history of Charlie Pierce.

From the Tindel House to the Pennocks, Jupiter's history is truly represented in the different exhibits. Even the Chiki with its 3000 sabal palm fronds shows the care staff and volunteers take with every aspect of the facility.

Seriously - 3000 fronds?!
Well, I can't post this without including the highlight views mentioned before - so here you go!

Jim's time at the lighthouse means he has forgotten more than I will ever know!

Jupiter Inlet at its finest
This past year without Danny as my muse and sounding board inspired me to spot waiting for adventure. His mantra to me was "be better today than I was yesterday", and I take those words to heart.

It took far too long to get this post moving, because despite the wonderful facility and staff I couldn't seem to get the words down. But I took a second trip with some friends from out of state and realized that sharing the experience is how to best show respect.

The Jupiter Lighthouse is well worth the time to visit. There is lots to do at the museum on site and a lovely little giftshop with Florida-unique items. Even if you are not physically up for the climb, the exhibits and other historical buildings make for a fun field trip perfect for grown ups.

The price is less than reasonable (as in cheap, people!) and knowing you are preserving history while connecting with Old Florida is just icing on the cake.

Don't put off the items on your bucket list. Don't wait to visit the places and people that make the area around your home special. Take the time for small adventures - it will always be worth the climb.