For pete’s sake….BYOB!

Just do it.

It’s the polite thing to do.

For the Earth.

I’m talking about bring-your-own-bag people! It’s 2015: I’d be shocked if you didn’t have a reusable bag sitting around your house, your car or your office – or a very nice friend who would give you one for the sake of me winning this virtual bet. On this #TransformationTuesday I encourage you to examine one of the simplest changes you can make in your daily life that does a lot of good and takes care of our planet.

Once you look around and see how many reusable bags you have accumulated from stores, events, freebies, or promotional events, you’ll be surprised and I bet you will have a whole set capable of bringing home those weekly groceries. You can even make your own bag out of a pillowcase – BOOM.

Put the bags in places you will remember to USE them: in your car (in sight), in your bike basket, in your backpack or purse–some designs fold into themselves, packing a useful little punch at the bottom of your purse, never to be left anywhere but your fingertips again. Some cities and towns are even catching on, passing bans on plastic bags. Despite some politicians’ best whining, these communities are making a positive mark on their environments and their consumers. When you use them at your store of choice, you might be pleasantly surprised by a 5 or 10 cent or more credit (per bag!) received. Since 2009, Target has offered this instant savings which has led to over 190 million reusable bags being used instead of paper or plastic! Other chains like Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods Market, Buffalo Exchange clothing store and many local grocers will also do you one better – BYOB and you get a token at checkout to deposit in your favorite charity bin on your way out the door. Some excellent funds are raised for local and national charities this way.

One of the best things about a cloth/vinyl/nylon bag is how much weight you can carry out the door and safely to your destination. Try this little test at home. Put a full gallon of milk, several canned items and another item of choice in a regular single-use plastic store bag (the thin kind). Now, put the same items in a cloth bag and feel the difference. Don’t let your bagger at the market be shy about filling those bad boys up, either!

Now I know some of you are out there saying: but I don’t use those plastic bags only one time and throw them out–they’re my garbage bags around the house or in my car, I pick up dog poop with mine, I use them for packing packages and padding my holiday ornaments. I say: right on, people! That IS what should be going on with those bags. But, I’m also betting that you have near a month-time if not more, supply of those of well. And even when you do use that bag a second or third time and put it in a waste receptacle after that, it’s that much more plastic going in the ground to probably  never in our lifetime or children’s lifetime, actually breakdown and degrade…if it doesn’t escape , blow away American Beauty style and go here first.

Finally, don’t be shy about speaking up at checkout and preventing that well-meaning store clerk from bagging your single-to-I can still carry all those things in my hands to my next destination– item(s). They won’t be offended. Most clerks are on auto-pilot, scanning and bagging. Check it out the next time you buy a couple of items. One of my friends also takes the no-bag-please a step further by saying “because I don’t want it to end up in our ocean.” This is an influential statement to those around him in that store line, and as they are all island residents, it’s not hard to see his point and possibly change their mind at checkout and from then on. These bags blow away and settle in the waves across the world’s oceans at every moment. One less bag out there is win. Pete will like it too.

Plastic in my water, say WHAT?!

#TransformationTuesday is a popular hashtag used by people to show off what is usually a change in their body size, shape, weight or similar aesthetic. I am starting my own category of this trending hashtag by highlighting (at least several Tuesdays a month) a simple transformation you, the reader, can make in your everyday life to help sustain the livelihood of our natural world, especially contributing to the health of our land and oceans. Many of the posts I will make on this topic are personal transformations that I live by now but didn’t realize how easy it could be when first challenged to do it.

Today’s post will explore a topic that I have witnessed firsthand during my time motoring around in a small speedboat or by the power of my own paddle in a kayak off the coast of Catalina Island. Many days while chaseboating (following a group in the water on kayaks ready to assist for emergencies) a group enjoying their chaotic and exciting 2-hour kayak adventure on the open seas, I would idle over to a UFO – unidentified floating object, and swoop it into the boat to deposit back on shore in a recycling bin (or garbage, depending on the state it was in). 9 times out of 10 it was plastic trash!

Sometimes these plastics would be fully in tact, a lost item overboard with the gunning of an engine, something like a full bottled water (stay tuned for a separate post on this subject) or an empty container that picked up the right wind draft from the deck of a vessel and ended up overboard. On a lucky day I would find an item such as a plastic, 5-gallon bucket that was still in tact and could be added to our stockpile for aquarium cleaning and collecting resources. Mylar balloons, made from a derivative of nylon, also littered the seas–a bright, exciting glimpse from afar, but a sad reminder up close of how similar the balloons resemble pelagic drifters, such as jellyfish, which turtles and sharks mistake as their food. Single-use, white plastic bags with their repetitive “THANK YOU” or store brand name are so plentiful out there in the San Pedro Channel that one could troll for an hour and pick up at least 3 if you had a sharp eye and the right currents. Can I get a “No, THANK YOU!”?

Looping this all in with my adventure on E/V Nautilus, check out a story broadcast from the 2014 expedition: At first they thought this purple thing was sea garbage.

So, what happens to this plastic, this non-biodegradable material, after it floats and floats and floats? If an unfortunate creature looking for a meal doesn’t mistake it first as food and fill their belly with this garbage that will then fool them into thinking and feeling “full,” thus leading them to die from starvation of actual nutrition… this plastic can and will:

  • fall into an ocean current known as a gyre and due to the Coriolis effect end up migrating to a patch where other UFOs have begun floating together (i.e. look up Great Pacific Garbage Patch – guesses and measurements of the actual size of this patch of trash in the Eastern Pacfic range from the size of Texas to larger),
  • be picked up by a conscientious boater, paddler, swimmer or other ocean-going person,
  • wash up on a beach to then be picked up by a conscientious beachcomber,
  • or, begin or continue to degrade and break down over many millions of hours exposed to sunlight and become a microplastic.

5gyres_microbeads_infographicinfographic credit: 5gyres.org

Q: How can you transform this Tuesday in the world of microplastics?

A: Step 1. Inform yourself! This blog is a nice start but don’t just take my word for it – the enthusiasts and experts are out there and they have wonderful illustrations, videos and research to prove this is a real problem and deserves the world’s attention. One such organization linked above, Adventures and Scientists for Conservation, mobilizes in communities worldwide to gather and share scientific data, like this. Many cosmetic companies across the world have already committed to plastic-free products within the next 2-5 years.

Step 2. Be a conscious consumer. Read your labels, especially in the healthy & beauty aisle. Toothpaste, face wash, body wash, makeup products – all of these products can be likely sources to find microbeads made of “polyethylene”  and no matter how small or ground up in the product they are, they are still an ingredient that will wash off your body and down the drain. And to the stream, lake or ocean in your backyard or halfway across the world. Here is a handy smartphone app to download and look up product ingredients as your shop to make sure your purchases are microbead-free!

Step 3. Tell your friends about microplastics. Choose to share a part or whole of the microplastics story. A quick lesson in the food chain and bioaccumulation tells us that we as HUMANS are even ingesting these plastics from food we eat from the sea.  You’d be surprised how many people will react positively to your information and pledge to take real action in their own lives.

Step 4. Seek out and support sustainable businesses who are making a difference. I recently discovered the beauty of this jewelry company on the Big Island of Hawaii – Nurdle in the Rough. What is an eyesore and harmful to our environment gets picked up by this incredible jewelry designer and turned into beautiful, statement pieces sure to create positive conversation whenever worn. An acquired taste for the user and the pocketbook, Patagonia is a company firmly standing behind it’s pledges for environmental stewardship and responsible manufacturing. They even tell you NOT to buy their gear – how’s this for a campaign? These two companies are only the tip of the iceberg for consumers looking to leave a positive environmental footprint with their purchasing power. Leave a comment below about your favorite company that sells sustainably!

I hope you find a transformation in your own life to tackle this Tuesday, this week, this month. I will be back with more topics – writing this generated a scribbled list of future post ideas. Leave me a comment below if you want to share an idea for a topic you’d like to see in one of my next #TransformationTuesday posts.

Header photo courtesy of © Ferdi Rizkiyanto – 2011; European Commission on Marine Litter.

Underwater Majesty

If you need a little serenity to get you through the work week, this should help:

Rare Sperm Whale Encounter on E/V Nautilus

This incredible footage was recorded yesterday during a ROV dive by Hercules (the deepest ROV with mechanized arms, high resolution cameras and sampling capacities) & Argus (also fitted with high-res cameras and tethered above Hercules) from E/V Nautilus. Exclamations and excitement echoed from the ship to shore as the worldwide audience marveled at this natural close encounter with a curious mammal.

Such an incredible show of curiosity from the largest toothed whale species and deepest diving Cetacean. Sperm whales regularly hunt at depths of 3,280 ft. for their favorite prey: the Giant Squid, or as referred to in this video – the Kracken! Diving to these depths causes the whale to hold its breath for 90 minutes!!  Another fascinating characteristic of the Sperm whale is the fluid inside its head called spermaceti, a substance theorized by scientists to help control buoyancy as this animal swims and dives to various depths. This fluid, which hardens into a wax in cold temperatures, was originally thought to be the whale’s actual sperm, hence the mistaken name given to it by whalers in the 1800s. However, one certain thing was how this mysterious oil could be used: it could be added to ointments, creams, and candles to act as a lubricant that was flavorless and odorless. Using sperm oil in lanterns emitted a clear, bright and clean flame which was less foul than any other oil used at the time. Fortunately, kerosene became the best alternative in the late 19th century, following bans on whaling practices and the sale or use of substances derived from whaling.

Legends abound in sailor lore about Sperm whales swallowing boats and swallowing men as in the famous account of the Essex whaleship (which inspired Herman Melville’s Moby Dick), though some of these accounts can be debated, misconstrued and doubted – the epic battles depicted between the whale and the squid are entirely true.

Why do bubbles matter?

The E/V Nautilus began the 2015 Expedition Season last week from Gulfport, MS. Since last Thursday, the website has been live–giving you highlight reels or background videos to view when the ROVS are not in the water and LIVE! footage when Hercules & Argus are doing their thing in the depths of the ocean. You can watch multiple views of each camera’s angle and listen to all the scientists, engineers, ROV pilots and my fellow Science Communication Fellows (DJ, Amy & Megan) in the control van during each deep dive!

Through narrating the Science Party Line and answering questions submitted through the chat box on the home page during ROV dives for the viewing audience at home, the SCFs give excellent information about the expedition to all explorers, young and old.

Please check out this excellent written piece explaining why the bubbles matter in this Gulf of Mexico research segment.bubbles_for_facebook

Legacy Impacts

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Driving in as the plains meet the mountains, it’s all familiar… the view through my windshield and butterflies felt in my stomach as I approach my second home. I have enjoyed all my positions at Philmont, each summer and position offering new challenges, new friends and new knowledge. In our line of work in the Conservation Department, we strive to educate through example, as our motto portrays: “With right, comes responsibility.”

Many tasks await a Conservation staff member for their 90-day contract:

  • educate Scouts about conservation and provide leadership for youth backpacking treks
  • design, construct and maintain 300 miles of hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking trail (photo credit: Doyle Maurer)
  • maintain over  2,500 backcountry campsite features such as latrines, fire rings, sumps and bear cables
  • build best use practices for sustainability of an audience that fluctuates from 30,000 to 300
  • gather data points with GPS units about structures, campsites, fences and more to produce in-house maps of our 137,000 acre property and neighboring lands (that’s between a staff of 5 people!)
  • use cultural, chemical, mechanical and biological controls to control and eradicate invasive weed populations, in addition to monitoring and educating Scouts about the detriment Invasive Plants pose to our region and the world

I am fortunate to work with a dedicated staff of 100 in Conservation that fall within a larger pool of 1,000+ total summer staff (2014 summer all-staff photo credit: Bryan Hayek), who I also look forward to collaborate and create alongside.

I am confident that the message of responsibility toward environment, ourselves and future generations will ring loud and clear this season.

This is just a glimpse into what the summer holds ahead, even so, the view is pretty good from here.