bare feet in the sand

the beauty of nature in a consumer economy


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Coral Reef Photos

I had the pleasure a little while ago of seeing some photos of coral reefs up close and personal at the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard. It was a pleasure to see the photos, but what is in the photos is not very uplifting. They are pictures taken by photojournalist David Arnold in the same spot as several underwater photographers took as early as 1970. It is called Double Exposure and really highlights how things have changed in the last decades. The website is really worth looking at: http://www.doublexposure.net/about-us/.  Here is an example:

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The left is 1980 and the right is 2011 in South Carysfort Reef in South Florida. It is really worth going to the website to see all the images and move the center line so you can see the entirety of both pictures and how it has changed.


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Ocean Giants

I have recently discovered the immense joy of nature documentaries on Netflix.  I had never seen Planet Earth and it turned out that all the hype was correct.  It is an amazing series. But it’s really just the beginning.  Between National Geographic, The Nature Channel and the BBC there are an incredible number of shows out there. And a lot of ecosystems on Earth that I knew little or nothing about.  However, the show I was most intrigued by was Ocean Giants from the BBC.  It has the amazing footage of the whales and sharks and ocean creatures that I’ve come to expect.

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It also has a lot of information about the scientific research being done to understand these animals better.  I always knew dolphins were smart, but I didn’t know that they would understand that a mirror showed them a reflection of themselves.  And I find it fascinating that the dolphins would keep coming back to look.  Whales in the protected areas in Baja California interact with humans in boats.  They seem to go out of their way to interact and enjoy it.  In the past they were seen as killers because of attacks on whaling boats.  They seem to have forgiven or forgotten now.  Ocean Giants really gave me a sense of the personalities of these beautiful ocean creatures.  I hope all this research continues an we can better understand and help them as their environment changes.


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Mangroves and shrimp

I love shrimp.  In fact, I love seafood.  I’m very aware of the scarcity of cod in the Northeast U.S.  But I wasn’t aware until recently of the devastation that shrimp farming causes.  It has caused me to pause a little before ordering shrimp.  I read a book on mangroves, which turns out to be all about shrimp.  It’s called Let Them Eat Shrimp: The Tragic Disappearance of the Rainforests of the Sea by Kenneth Warne.  He is a reporter and it tells of his journey to various places all over the globe that have mangrove forests.  It’s beautiful (and kind of sad) that all of the places are facing essentially the same problems, whether they’re in India or South America.  Shrimp farms destroy the mangrove ecosystem while bringing no replacement benefit to the local communities who depend on it.  I was really glad to hear about that these communities who find food, and materials for building and making fire, and essentially live on the mangrove forests still exist.  I hope that all the efforts described in this book are able to save those communities.  Shrimp farms seem like capitalism run amok.  They take one product, shrimp, and make as much of it as possible in order to make as big a profit as possible, for the one company that owns the farm.  They don’t care about the local people, or the local ecosystem.

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Mangroves are important, more important than I realized.  They are a carbon sink – they capture carbon that otherwise would be released into the air and increase global warming.  They protect shorelines from storms.  They give safe harbor to different kinds of baby fish as well as a vast number of species including birds and mollusks.  Their nutrients feed off-shore reefs.  If you’re not interested in the science of ecology, local ecosystems (including the human component) or mangroves, this book may not be for you.  But it confirmed for me how fascinating and important I think all of this is.

Here is more reading (from the websites where I found the pictures), if you’re interested:  Mangroves in Ecuador and Mangrove Hub


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Monterey Bay and marine biology

I have spent a lot of time recently thinking about how I want to make a difference to the environment.  Little things that we do everyday are certainly a part of it.  Being aware of the impact we have is important and I will continue to write about various ways to do that.  But I’m beginning to think that my road to feeling like I’m making a difference lies in a new career.  And that new career has to do with the ocean.  In fact, I’m back to where I started.  I began writing this blog because I was looking into environmental issues and wanted to share what I was discovering.  My first post was about my love for the beach which is where my concern for the environment started.

The beach is what I want to study, or rather coastal ecosystems.  They are being broadly affected by humans – fishing and littering, by climate change – warming oceans, rising sea levels and they are some of the most beautiful places on Earth.  I think I can find a way to help.  I’m looking into programs in marine biology.  It’s quite a change from theater, but it means a lot to me and interests me.  I read a book recently that inspired me.  It is called The Death and Life of Monterey Bay and I would recommend it to everyone and anyone.  It chronicles all the ways that humans hurt the ecosystem of the bay, but then also tells the story of how the bay has been restored.  Change is possible.  A lot of what I’ve read has only spoken of the problems that exist, and maybe hypothetical ideas on what to do about them.  Monterey Bay is a success story.  I hope similar successes can happen elsewhere.


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Garbology by Edward Humes

I have been doing two completely incompatible things for the last month.  I have been packing up all my stuff and moving it into storage.  And I’ve been reading about American’s love affair with garbage, waste and consumerism in Garbology by Edward Humes.  I should start by saying that I have a lot of stuff and that I love shopping.  But I have come to the realization that short term retail therapy does not translate to long term happiness.  That’s not to say I’ll never do retail therapy again.  I’m sure I will.  It just means that I’m trying to be more aware of what I buy, how useful it is, and how long it’s likely to take before I put it in the garbage.  Waste as a vain attempt to be happier doesn’t make sense.

Edward Humes’ book is great.  He clearly feels that our garbage system and our consumer culture are problems that need solutions, but a lot of the book talks about people who are working to find those solutions rather than blaming anyone for the system as it is.  I am like most Americans who don’t really think about their trash beyond which day I need to put the bin on the curb.  I try to recycle as much as I can.  But I was aware that landfills are where most of our garbage ends up.  Considering it’s a daily part of my life, that’s not knowing much.  On average, according to Edward Humes, each American will generate about 102 tons of trash.  I know that a ton is big and so 102 tons is huge, but I found it hard to conceptualize.  So here’s a way to think about it:

elephant and car This elephant weights 6 tons.  So we produce trash the weight (not the size) of 17 of those elephants.  You can imagine, considering the weight of paper and thin plastic, that the actual size of all of that trash is much, much larger than 17 elephants.

There is a lot I want to say about trash based on Humes’ book, but I don’t want to bore you and I don’t want to lecture you.  So I’m going to make a few, succinct points that I hope will keep you thinking about your trash, how much it is, and where it ends up.

 

A lot of trash, and especially plastic, ends up in the ocean.  The biggest spot is in the Pacific and most people have heard about that.  What we haven’t heard is that plastic breaks down into tiny little pieces that are now all over the ocean and the beaches of the world.  Pieces tiny enough for even the smallest fish to ingest.

While we usually feel like we’re doing a good thing when we recycle, most recycled goods spend a lot of energy being moved from place to place to a recycling center which uses energy to recycle – mostly are downcycled into materials of lower value that can’t be recycled again.

Trash in landfills that can decompose, doesn’t.  Food, yard waste, and things that I don’t feel bad about throwing in the trash, actually last a long time in a landfill.  They might decompose if exposed to sun and wind, but trapped in the middle of tons of trash, they last decades.

 

I’m going to follow up this post with one that includes suggestions from the book, and a few from me, about how to create less waste and maybe put a dent in your 102-ton legacy.


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A Week at the Beach

I just spend a week on Cape Cod.  It is possibly my favorite place on Earth.  I have visited the town of Wellfleet every year since the day I was born.  It is remarkable in that there are many fresh water kettle ponds very close to the ocean.  In the middle of the 90 degree days, a swim in a pond was perfect.  Then I would spend the early evening in the beach.  As beautiful and relaxing as it was, I didn’t stop thinking about the environment, carbon or sea level rise.Newcomb Hollow Beach, our family’s favorite, had changed dramatically in one year, although it had actually gotten wider.  At the same time, I could see erosion of the dunes.  Two recent hurricanes had definitely made an impact.

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I enjoy taking pictures, especially while walking on the beach.  What I don’t enjoy is seeing litter on the beaches.  There were also a lot of signs trying to make sure that people were respectful to the environment.  I’m glad that someone cares but also disappointed that the signs were necessary.

Beach Mosaic