Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"Sharkman" on 60 Minutes

On 60 Minutes this past week, there was a segment about great white sharks and one man who studies them in South Africa - Mike Rutzen. He has been working with great whites for many years, starting as a part of the tourist trade and shark cage diving. Rutzen has since moved into the realm of shark awareness and education. He is trying to convince people that the sharks are far more than just "man-eaters" and have more intelligence and depth than given credit.
For Anderson Cooper, this was a short piece, but I have to give much respect to the guy... he actually gets IN the water with NO cage or chain mail and a great white on site. Nicely done. What I particularly liked about Rutzen was his ability to anthropomorphise the great white shark. Generally, we humans love to give our traits to animals, and with extremely intelligent mammals we may even be right to give them "feelings" of some kind. But sharks always get a bad reputation, and the best compliment you may hear is how majestic they are while gliding silently through the water. But Rutzen characterizes some sharks as calm, relaxed and even curious. I can dig it. My favorite line of his, however, was that he expects to die young- from his lifestyle of smoking and drinking, not his work with great white sharks.

This link will take you to the CNN website where you can read a written article or watch the video from the t.v. segment so you can, as always, form your own opinion. There are additional links on the site as well if your appetite is whetted and ready for more.

RATING: ~~~~ (4 out of 5 waves) totally worth watching, could have been a longer segment though!

It is nice to see the plight of the ocean and her animals in mainstream news without major tragedy involved (i.e. oil spills). Remember not to always have a gloom and doom attitude when it comes to saving our planet and its creatures. Just appreciate every experience and interaction that you do get, and you will be much happier!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Ocean Science Lecture-HBOI

Up in Ft. Pierce resides the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute (HBOI). The organization was founded by Seward Johnson (of Johnson & Johnson products) and recently merged with Florida Atlantic University (FAU).
Hence the website:
For years, HBOI has presented the Ocean Science Lecture Series for the general public. It is fun to attend because you get a variety of people in the audience from researchers to the elderly. As a student, I spent some time living on the HBOI campus and attended these talks religiously. Now that I live far away, the lectures are a treat.
On March 17th, (yep, St. Patrick's Day) instead of drinking at a local pub, I drove 80+ miles to attend a lecture given by Dennis Hanisak, Ph.D. called "Algae? This is a color?" I have known Dennis for years and was, er, thrilled to support his passion - algae. He is a marine botanists and has a very different perspective on the oceans compared to my marine fauna loving comrades. I must give great compliment to those hard core scientists who still manage to keep not only a good sense of humor about their work, but are able to translate their research and knowledge into a great talk that can be understood and appreciated by all levels in the audience. Dennis, you rock!
The lecture served two different algae friendly portions - a general information session on algae, and a look at his research interests conducted on the Indian River Lagoon (IRL) and with seaweeds. This talk delved into the unknown and under-appreciated world of both micro and macroalgae. And in Dr. Hanisak's honor I will mention:
alga - singular algae - plural algaes - NOT a word

Some interesting points I want to make are how fast these organisms grow, and therefore are a vital portion of the marine food web. In addition, a great deal of oxygen - breathable oxygen - is produced by marine algae; I mean on par with what we get from the rainforest. There are forms of micro algae that even produce a usable grade of OIL as a by-product. Just like sharks get a bad rap for being excellent hunters, algae are typically considered slimy, pesky organisms even to many researchers. But we have to remember to both respect and give credit to the important role played by all organisms on our planet and in our oceans.

RATING: ~~~~~ (5 our of 5 waves) you should have been there

DO NOT LOSE HEART! Eventually, the entire lecture should be posted on YouTube, as are several from earlier in the 2010 Ocean Science Lecture Series, so you actually CAN see it for yourself. I'll be pulling those up as well, sharing thoughts, and providing the links so look for those in the future!

Got plans for Earth Day yet?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Support your local organizations

Sorry about the long delay in posting. A fun little cold ran its course through my entire household, and with one of those being a 9 month old baby, it was a long drawn out process that did not allow for quality blog-time.

During my "absence" I went to a local event at one of my favorite places: Gumbo Limbo Nature Center in Boca Raton, FL. On March 13th, they celebrated the 5th annual "Turtle Day" and this was the first time I attended simply as a guest. Usually I am working for an organization or volunteering to help GL out, but this year was just for fun! To learn about this awesome place for yourself, check out

While trekking through the hammock on a shady boardwalk, baby in stroller, I remembered how I first found the place. I had decided to take a drive down A-1-A and see the ocean. I just happened to drive by and made a point to drive by again on purpose and take the time to pull over. I filled out a volunteer application that day and Gumbo Limbo became a part of my life within a week. I acquired have life long friends and unforgettable experiences because one day, I took the long way home.

There are wonderful and unique opportunities no matter where you live. On T.V. I heard an obese man comment on how he look at a local mountain everyday for 38 years, but never climbed it until he finally started losing the weight. Living in Florida exposed me to countless New Yorkers, and when asked about Central Park's attractions or the Statue of Liberty, or even Ground Zero, they say... "oh, I've never been" or "never took the time to see it". Why do we often wait to go somewhere great that happens to be close by only when a friend or relative comes from far away? There is nothing wrong with being a tourist in your own state, and checking out all the must-see areas.

Yes, I live in Florida, and while raising my son it is extremely important to me and Jacen's father that we give him exposure to everything there is to offer here. He was at the beach at 5 weeks old. At least once a week we go to an area park, sanctuary, or natural preserve to walk around and show him the world. He will go to the Keys, and the Everglades, and Disney too! As he grows up, the adventures will only get bigger an better.

In this world of economic downturn, I have seen (and am still watching) wonderful organizations struggle or shut their doors completely because there is a lack of LOCAL SUPPORT. I understand how it can be financially difficult to have that vacation you so desperately deserve, so look into what is within one day's driving distance. You will save money, support a very worthy cause, and maybe... like my experience with Gumbo Limbo... change your life.

An easy way to find out what is around is to visit a weekend festival or green market. Earth Day is coming up, and that will be a perfect time to go somewhere new. So, I challenge you to find the time in April and try something different! Earth Day is technically Thursday, April 22nd, but many places will celebrate on the 17th. Check your local paper or go to your city's website.

Good luck, and have fun playing OUTSIDE! Maybe even play in the WATER if you can!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Undersea Explorer - Part III: The Galapagos

In 1997, The Best of Undersea Explorer traveled to the Galapagos Islands to film for a paltry 7 days. This island chain is located in the Pacific Ocean near the equator, roughly 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. It is famous for being where Charles Darwin had a fire lit under his hindquarters while carrying out his work as a naturalist aboard The Beagle; one of the islands even now bears his name. In the documentary, there are only snapshots of the diversity in the area, but I was shocked and excited to learn the crew saw at least one whale shark... on EVERY ONE of their 10 dives!

Since this piece is 13 years old and there have been many changes to the area, instead of a film synopsis, I'd rather bring up some issues regarding this mysterious place and its heritage.

RATING: ~~~ (3 out of 5 waves) totally worth watching; it would get more waves if it were more recent or perhaps a longer documentary... allowing for more coverage

1/3 of the species found on the Galapagos Islands are endemic (i.e. they are not found anywhere else in the world). This makes the area invaluable as its own independent biosphere and pristine ecosystem... well, in theory. The animals coating the island chain and the surrounding waters show no fear of humans since there are no large predators; this makes for an amazing scientific and eco-tourist hot spot. But having said that - human interference and habitation of the islands, whether temporarily or permanently, is having profound effects. Initially, this influence was purely negative, and only in recent years (in relation to the Galapagos' ancient history) has that impact started turning around for the positive. Our very presence is hurting the ecosystem. So I pose these questions...
  • Should anyone be allowed to see the area at all? Is is fair to only allow scientists or a select few with the money partake in such a priceless area? But, is it right to let the tourist industry run amok and allow humans to trample the area like a hoard of army ants?
  • Since Ecuador is such a poor country, all the protection issued as a sanctuary and international treasure is basically followed by those who choose to uphold those laws - there is no one to enforce it. Maybe the tourist industry should have to pay to have guards permanently available to patrol and protect? I'm certain the list of interns willing to spend a summer in the area for food and shelter would quickly have a long wait time, permitting the industry to be picky when choosing with whom to share such a privilege.
  • So, if this untouched biotic paradise exists in the middle of the Pacific, is it realistic to believe there are yet more unspoiled treasures out there? We have supposedly mapped the entire planet, but with the vastness of the oceans, is that a realistic assumption?
I have omitted a discussion on Darwin himself because THAT will be a topic all on its own for another day. To delve into the man's history and reasoning deserves more time and the proper attitude. But there is a mass of people who simply condemn the man and his work for all the wrong, close-minded reasons. When diving into this subject, you might learn a few things.
HINT: Darwin was a Christian, and evolution is scientifically considered FACT, not theory.

With all this said and done, traveling to the Galapagos Islands remains a personal goal I have harbored since I was just a kid and saw my first giant tortoise. Put it on my "bucket list" right next to the Great Barrier Reef.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Sea Tails - Vol. 2

Volume #2 in the Sea Tails series is Knot's New Home (2007); it is written by Sheriee Dardis, illustrated by Sean Kelly, designed by Tim Dardis, and created by all three. Keeping to a long format for a children's book, this one is 90 pages long. Sloop, the sleepy clam, is still there at natural stopping points in the story, but I definitely would not leave this book to be read by a child on their own. It is meant for adult and child to read together, and that shows in the writing and tone of the story.
Point blank, this is not Dardis' best work. Volume 2 picks up immediately after Volume 1, although there is a spoiler update on the first page to bring you up to speed or at least clue you in on what happened in the first book. Comic books do this all the time... but reading things in the order which they were written is still the best way to enjoy a series if you ask me. If you choose to explore this series, be sure to start with Vol. 1.
Knot's New Home starts out by introducing you to new "students" that will be Porthole the little loggerhead's friends at Sea School. Do not expect any character development, lest you be sorely disappointed. Tack, the red coral crab, is perhaps the most annoying character I've ever encountered in a children's book. Just giving you a heads up. I think she is meant to be comic relief, but is about as successful as Jar Jar Binks in the Star Wars series. Besides... should a kid's book actually NEED comic relief? The first half of the book is a rush of meeting new animals with speedy introductions and Knot, the octopus (and also in the title), is barely in the story until the end. There isn't much of a story until the end, either.
I think the creators really want to put a moral in each story and teach kids practical lessons about respecting the oceans, I just hope they find a way to do that and still tell a good story in subsequent books. This time around, there is a snippet about boat wariness, and more regarding the dumping of trash in the oceans. I don't really know how to blend these concepts together for you, because the story itself was choppy. There is great promise in the Sea Tails series, but for Vol. 2 perhaps Dardis should either make this one smaller and focus on one thing or make the book 120 pages instead, go all out, and give the story better meaning and development. I was also a bit put off by the OCD behaviors of several characters (i.e. Tack's speech issues going back and forth as she walks back and forth, Knot's locking/unlocking of jars and windows and his constant tying/untying of tentacles like the wringing of hands).
I said not to let your little one read this alone because there are random large words used by the characters and I think this is meant to build vocabulary... but, since they never define those words outright, a grown up will need to be nearby to help the child understand what they are reading. But do not despair, Kelley still keeps the illustrations light and interesting.

RATING: ~~~ (3 out of 5 waves) worth reading... at least once

The Sea Tails creators have included a Sea Tails coloring book (2006), which features individual pictures of all the characters (many not yet introduced in the early stories) and a little factoid at the bottom of each page. Some of the different species are hard to distinguish, mostly from lack of color, but I think that would not be an issue in the story books. The pictures are fun and it seems a shame to color them only once!

RATING: ~~~~ (4 out of 5 waves) highly recommended for little kids

I'll conclude today with one of my favorite quote/summaries. Since it came from Archimedes, there is some argument as to the exact wording in English...

"Give me a staff and a place to stand and I can move the world" - Archimedes

Feel free to put THAT on your wall!