A Natural Eye: Delaware official sees science and art in state’s coastline

By Pamela Aquilani

 

Tony Pratt’s career in science began because of a love for the outdoors. And yet, the more he climbed up through management, the less time he spent outside.

Pratt runs the Shoreline and Waterway Management section of Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, which oversees regulation of coastal construction, dredging projects and beach replenishment.

With Delaware’s beaches contributing an estimated $7 billion to the state’s economy and nearly 60,000 jobs, Pratt, who has been called the state’s beach guru, has a high-profile job. But it’s also one that keeps him in the office most days working policy, budget and personnel issues.

Still, despite the demands of his day job, you’re likely to find Pratt crouched along the waterline or in a mucky marsh near one Delaware’s beaches working as a nature photographer during his off hours.

Long before he became a scientist, Pratt was taking pictures. Now a professional, he got his first camera growing up in Massachusetts. In the sixth grade, he and a friend built a makeshift darkroom in a bathroom, developing tiny 2×2 prints. And he pored through the pages of his parents’ magazines: Look, National Geographic and Life.

“I don’t think I read a single word,” he told BeachChairScientist.com in a recent phone interview. “The pictures were everything to me.”

Later, he went to Hampshire College, where his classmates included the documentary filmmaker Ken Burns. Pratt brought his camera with him on fieldwork studying the return of coyotes to western Massachusetts. But he was drawn east to the beach and to the study of the pounding waves and the ever-changing coastline that would become his life’s work.

He and his wife later relocated to Delaware and raised three children. All the while, Pratt continued taking photos. He became a sports photographer. He worked the sidelines for his children’s games all the way through college. In 2007, he got an important break. Kevin Fleming, a former staff photographer for National Geographic who lives in Delaware, asked Pratt to help out on a photography project.

Pratt didn’t hesitate to say yes, but he also asked Fleming for a favor. He wanted to tag along the next time Fleming went out shooting.

“He got me to the next level in digital photography,” said Pratt, whose work now is exhibited at Fleming’s store in Rehoboth. “He’s been a great mentor.”

A few months ago, Pratt captured a rarely seen phenomenon called the green flash, which comes off the top of a rising or setting sun and is visible only for a fraction of a second under the perfect atmospheric conditions.

Pratt said there’s no doubt he got lucky. But, he added, there’s luck — and then there’s good luck. And good luck, he said, comes from preparation.

by Tony Pratt

“You go where the subject may be whether it’s the landscape or the wildlife,” he said. “You go where it is. You do your homework. You find out where things are likely to occur … and so you go back and you go back and you go back. And you make yourself be out there.”

It’s Pratt’s job to know everything about Delaware’s beaches, which, of course, helps inform his work as a photographer. But photography has helped Pratt in his day job as a state official, too.

“I do see systems that are sand starved,” he said, talking about his photographic excursions. “It’s not that I would’ve learned about them because of photography. I know about them because it’s part of the job and folks are out there looking.”

“But by the same token, I can go back to the job invigorated and perhaps energized a little bit more because I’ve been out there looking at red knots that are eating horseshoe crabs, and I understand the importance of quality beaches that will allow that phenomenon to continue.”

For more about Tony’s photos, visit TonyPratt.com and to learn more about Delaware’s shoreline management section, click http://www.dnrec.delaware.gov/swc/Shoreline/Pages/Shoreline.aspx

What you need to know about World Shorebirds Day: Saturday, September 6th

world-shorebirds-day1000My husband isn’t happy about this … But, recently, I have found a new love of birds. It’s because we live in the woods and not near the ocean, so those flighted friends have stolen my heart just like fish did back some many years ago. My husband thinks it is hysterical since we grew up in Cape May County, NJ and birders are synonymous with “tourists”, a group to which locals have a love/hate relationship. But, I don’t care … I can hardly contain my excitement for this Saturday – during World Shorebirds Day!

The celebration was proposed and organized by György Szimuly, a well-known bird conservationist based in Milton Keynes, England. Szimuly set out to promote and celebrate shorebirds.

Find out the differences between a seabirds, shorebirds, wading birds here.

“The idea to hold a World Shorebirds Day was inspired by the ongoing conservation issues we have been facing,” Szimuly said. “I think that setting a commemorative day for shorebirds will give conservation bodies and individuals another chance to educate.” He continues that “This is not particularly a citizen science program, but rather an effort to raise awareness for the importance of regular bird monitoring as the core element of bird protection and habitat conservation.”

“I think the global shorebird counts are a good get-together event,” Szimuly said. “I asked birdwatchers to book their site now, where they can go counting shorebirds on the 6th and 7th of September.” There are hundreds of sites and counters already registered for the World Shorebirds Day. The ‘booked’ sites can be seen on the event’s Google Map. https://mapsengine.google.com/map/edit?mid=z3yRwAVo2mAw.k42bDqIRe7a4.

Follow the activities and learn how to submit data of World Shorebirds Day on the website blog and Facebook page.

Beyond the beach: What else is there to see this summer at the shore?

Taking a trip this summer to the beaches along New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, or North Carolina? Don’t forget there is a lot to see beyond the sea. Late last month my family and I were back home briefly and decided to check out the Nature Center of Cape May. It was the perfect venue to brush up on some local natural history, view wildlife over the Harbor (with a pair of their lender binoculars), get an up close look at some terrapins and snakes, check out the colors in one of the multiple butterfly gardens, and even had time to get creative at the arts & crafts table. What is your favorite nature center spot at home or on vacation to the shore?

The view from the Observation deck and tower.

The view from the Observation deck and tower.

ColoringTable

Two of her favorites: Drawing and animals!

GiftShop

The Nature Center of Cape May is free admission, but they bring in funds through fundraising events, summer camp, and the gift store.

InvestigatingTerrapin

We had fun looking at the terrapins. To learn more on them check out this post from last summer: http://beachchairscientist.com/2013/06/25/12-truths-about-diamondback-terrapins-please-see-8/

SlowDownRecycleCrafts

A mural, made by the summer campers, reminds everyone it’s important to go slow on the causeways this time of year.

NatureNook

I fell in love with this sign!

The mission of the Nature Center of Cape May focuses in providing quality environmental education experiences, encouraging stewardship of the harbor area and other natural areas, and promoting volunteerism as a rewarding means of community involvement and service.

Over 22 songs that you should rock this Earth Day

EarthDayRocksOn the east coast this weekend it is supposed to be beautiful out! So, whether you’re getting ready for a run, taking a drive to the beach, or participating in a stream clean-up … here are some tunes (in no particular order) to get you inspired by the outdoors and some that will have you amped to make a difference!

1. & 2. Beatles: Mother Nature’s Son & Octopus’ Garden

3. Joni Mitchell: Big Yellow Taxi
4. & 5. Marvin Gaye: What’s Going On & Mercy, Mercy Me
6. Johnny Cash/Beach Boys: Don’t Go Near the Water
7. Cat Stevens: Where Do the Children Play?
8. Eddie Vedder: Society

9. Eagles: No More Walks in the Woods
10. Imogen Heap: Earth
11. Jamiroquai: Virtual Insanity
12. & 13. Jack Johnson: The Horizon Has Been Defeated & With My Own Two Hands (w/ Ben Harper)
14. & 15. Michael Jackson: Man in the Mirror & Earth Song
16. & 17. Kenny Loggins: Conviction of the Heart & This Island Earth
18. Xavier Rudd: Messages
19. Ray LaMontagne: How Come
20. Ben Harper: Better Way
21. Buffalo Springfield: For What Its Worth
22. Sheryl Crow: Gasoline

23. John Mayer: Waiting On the World to Change
24. Sarah Harmer: Escarpment Blues
25. George Harrison: Give Me Love Give Me Peace
26. Dar Williams: What Do You Love More Than Love?
27. Ani DiFranco: Animal
28. Jackson Browne: Before the Deluge
29. Cool Change: Little River Band
30. Neil Young: Natural Beauty

31. & 32. John Denver: Rocky Mountain High & Country Road
33. Jimmy Buffett: Mother Ocean
34. Otis Redding: (Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay

Have some more to add to the list? Please comment!

5 not-so-ordinary ways to get energized for Earth Day

We can go outside again! We can go outside again! Halleluiah! It’s a miracle! And, just in time for National Environmental Education Week (April 13-19), Earth Day (April 22), and Arbor Day (April 25). But, are you ready to throw your hands up in the air at the annual celebration to take care of the planet since you know “Earth Day is Every Day”? More than likely you’re already signed up to participate in a beach or stream clean-up, you have your favorite John Muir lesson plans ready for your students, and you constantly read or watch the Lorax to your own children, right? Well, if you’re looking for hilarious, fun, awe-inspiring ways to get yourself and those around you reinvigorated about Earth Day here are five ways to kick start the granola in you again.

dandel08-l

Have you ever feasted on dandelions?

1) Forage: While on maternity leave this past winter I became obsessed with a show on TLC called “Extreme Cheapskates“. Some things I can totally get behind, others made me a little squeamish. I loved the couple on one episode that implemented a “no spending month”. They refused to buy anything during this month and would focus on using every little last bit of scrap that was in the freezer and wouldn’t spend unless it was after finding pennies that were hiding under the sofa or returning recycled containers. Also, an overwhelming amount of those featured on the show would go other to forage their own salad fixings. Apparently, dandelions have some great health benefits and are a welcome addition to salads!

2) Challenge yourself: If you’re anything like me, you try your darnedest to live like “Earth Day is Every Day“, but sometime you fall short. And, honestly … don’t feel bad. We all try and we all fall short … even the best of them use plastic from time to time. It’s inevitable. I find the changes where I really succeed are the consequence of a challenge to myself. After some pondering and evaluation I might decide, “I really don’t need this” or “I’ll just make my own from now on” and I commit. I try to make it something that will work in my current life (i.e., there is no way I’d ever be one to make my own clothes, but I can make clothes detergent). I pick one new idea every six months and experiment. It’s fun and I never feel bad if it doesn’t work out – I tried and I can try again!

3) Start a movement: Do you have that one irritating issue that no one in your community seems to be doing anything about? Well, why not capitalize on this time of year and mobilize your friends and family to focus them on a solution? You can be like Dave Rauschkolb who started the “Hands Across the Sand” movement to bring attention to clean energy, Danielle Richardet who started a movement to outlaw cigarettes on the beaches of Wilmington, NC, or Tim Silverwood who started the Take 3 Initiative. They had a small measurable objective and encouraged those around them to participate! What’s bothering you!? Are you ready to take it on?

4) Earth Day dance: What’s not to love with this music from Michal Franti? Get your body moving and heart rate running so much so that you’ll be volunteering for every clean-up from sea to shining sea. Or, make a playlist of your own and keep it on your device for when you’re in the not-so-inspired slump. Some songs that I might choose would be Redemption Song (Bob Marley), Forever Young (Bob Dylan), The 3 R’s (Jack Johnson), How Come (Ray LaMontagne), What’s Goin’ On? (Marvin Gaye), Waiting On The World To Change (John Mayer), and Man In The Mirror (Michael Jackson). Anyone have other suggestions? I’d love to hear them!

From @spabettie

via @spabettie

5) Have a party: Celebrate your love of the Earth with a party and inspire others with your use of local ingredients and reusable materials. To take it up a notch you can serve fun cocktails with only terrestrial or aquatic names, like the mudslide or the blue sea martini! Or you could just bring in a special sweet treat to the office, like these Earth Day chocolate peanut butter cups!?!?

Bonus three for teachers:

1) Sing a little Earth Day diddy: You can get 11 songs adapted from familiar tunes from this open marketplace for educators. For instance, check out this “Recycling Song” (to the tune of Row, Row, Row Your Boat):

Save, save, save the cans*, throw them in the bin. We can help save the Earth, if we all pitch in. (*Repeat with plastics, paper, bottles)

2) Make your own dye: This fun, interdisciplinary lesson “Using Spatial Intelligence to Make Earth-Friendly Art” for middle schoolers is from Earth Day Network and strengthens students’ artistic skills and their knowledge about history and the environment. It also throws in a little bit of every other intelligence just for a most well rounded approach … a must-must if you ask me!

EEWebinar

via @EEWeek

3) Watch a webinar: National Environmental Education Week’s online webinar archive offers talks and presentations with some of the leading minds in environmental education. My favorites are the “Teaching Ocean Connections: Watersheds to Reefs”, “Biomimicry: Designing by Nature” and all of the ones related to how to use technology to investigate the outdoors.

Confession: I may or may not have written this entire post just so I could share the preschool song!

Thursday Inspiration: Waves

ThewavesoftheseaJillDavis_BCS

Find more ocean quotes here and you may also want to visit the Beach Chair Scientist “Conservation Inspiration” Pinterest board. What inspires you? Artists? Books? Songs? Please share, I’m always looking for more fresh ideas.

5 photography contests for nature lovers

If you’re anything like me, you love to snap pictures when you’re outside. It’s a great way to relive the tranquility you get from being outdoors once placed back into reality. It’s also a powerful way to share how you see the world and what matters to you with those near and far!

In an effort to evoke that everlasting sense of appreciation for nature, many environmental organizations engage the public with photo contests – usually with epic prizes.  Here are 5 photography contests that might spark you’re inner Ansel Adams:

Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) Photo Contest: CBF is are seeking photographs (from professional or amateur photographers) that illustrate the positive aspects of the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams.
Deadline: April 12, 2013
Prize(s): First Prize: $500; Second Prize: $250; Third Prize: $150; Viewers’ Choice: $100. In addition, the first-prize photograph will appear in CBF’s 2014 calendar. And that’s not all: All winners will also receive a one-year membership to CBF and will have their photos displayed on CBF’s website, in a CBF e-newsletter, and in CBF’s Save the Bay magazine.

Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES) Earth Day Photo & Essay Contest: From April 22-29, students in grades 5-8 should take a photograph of something that is changing in their local environment, then submit the photo and explanation.
Deadline: May 10, 2013
Prize(s): In addition to having their photos featured on the IGES website, the top three winners will receive a digital camera, digital photo frame, and a digital photo keychain. Also, the top 10 winners will receive a photo book featuring the top 10 photos, with his or her photo on the front cover.

National Wildlife Federation (NWF) Wildlife Photo Contest: Photographers of all skill levels ages 13 and up are invited to enter the 43rd annual National Wildlife® Photo Contest.
Deadline: July 15, 2013
Prize(s): Winners could be featured in an upcoming issue of National Wildlife® magazine, alongside images taken by the world’s top nature photographers and could win a once-in-a-lifetime expense-paid trip for two to photograph polar bears, cash prizes and more!

Nature’s Best Photography (NBP) Windland Smith Rice International Awards: The editors of Nature’s Best Photography magazine invite all photographers (professionals, amateurs, and youth) to celebrate the beauty and diversity of nature through the art of photography, and to use this far-reaching medium as a creative tool for encouraging greater public interest in outdoor enjoyment and conservation stewardship.
Deadline: May 15, 2013 (Note that there may be an entry fee for submission)
Prize(s): Winners in each category and a selection of the Highly Honored photos will be displayed as large-format prints in the annual exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., one of the most widely respected and highly visited museums in the world. In addition, all of the winning images will be published in the Fall/Winter 2013 Collectors’ Edition of NBP.

Picture Our Planet Photo Contest: The Rainforest Alliance is pleased to announce the launch of the 2013 Picture Our Planet photo contest. This year’s contest celebrates sustainable tourism and the power of images to capture the world’s most beautiful places.
Deadline: June 30, 2013
Prize(s): One grand prize winner will receive an eight-day, seven-night trip for two to Costa Rica. Also, one winner will be selected from each of the six categories and will Polaroid high-definition pocket digital video camcorder and an honorary one-year membership at the $100-level to the Rainforest Alliance.

Have fun and good luck! If you’re in need on some inspiration, feel free to check out the pictures I’ve taken while out and about on my Flickr account (below is my attempt at being artsy with driftwood).

http://www.flickr.com/photos/beachchairscientist/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/beachchairscientist/

 

And that concludes my “We affect what goes in our watershed” week

This week I shared insight on the theme what we do in our daily lives affects our waterways. It’s particularly surprising to come to the realization that even though we might not live anywhere near a river, lake, or stream our daily actions have massive consequences on the waterways – and ultimately the ocean. It’s all interconnected. Remember “gas from our cars – not tankers or pipelines – is responsible for 92% of the petroleum spilled into the water”? The products we buy affect marine mammals. Plastic (i.e., marine debris) accumulates not just in the Pacific Ocean, but in the North Atlantic and possibly every sea on the planet. Fish are affected by the medication we take (not just that we dump down the drain!). Lastly, what we use on our lawns and gardens causes eutrophication – depleting waterways of oxygen and leading to the fish kills.

This weekend I am very grateful that my husband and neighbors will be helping me to label the storm drains in our neighborhood as a project for the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District. I have a picture of a stack of 50 below. They look pretty sophisticated. Does your neighborhood have labeled storm drains? Share with me how effective you think they are and if they’re as interesting as these in Baltimore, MD.

photo2

The complete list of the “We affect what goes in our watershed” week

Here are pictures of the storm drain labeling event.

70 Degrees West project

I’m continuing the theme of “We affect what goes in our watershed” this week (see posts on pharmaceuticals and oil) and introducing you to an adventurous and creative couple, Justin Lewis and Michelle Stauffer, working together on the 70 Degrees West project. They launched this project almost a year ago in April of 2012 and have completed Phase I – an expedition to Greenland. They have 8 expeditions planned along the 70 degree line of longitude. According to their blog, they’re currently  traveling, taking pictures, and shooting video in  Penobscot Watershed in Maine.

But, what really brought them to my attention was this Kickstarter project for Phase III. They’re headed to the Sargasso Sea to provide an “informative, eye-opening account about what’s going on in the oceans”. You may have heard of the Pacific Garbage Patch, but there is also one that exists in the Atlantic Ocean. During the expedition they’ll merge science and art to  “demonstrate how human actions on land impact our oceans”, especially with the accumulation of marine debris in the sea. The Sargasso Sea lies in the center of a huge oval of still waters bounded by ocean currents – the only sea not bordered by land. Dr. Sylvia Earle has called the Sargasso Sea “the golden rainforest of the ocean” because of the extensive amounts of Sargassum that floats in mats on the surface of the ocean. The Sargasso Sea is also the epic place that eels mysteriously mate.

The project has just 25 days to go. Check out this video and learn more about them today!

PlasticAccumulation_Wired

Computer model output of where plastic accumulates worldwide from Wired

What is marine debris? It is any type of garbage that can get into the ocean (e.g., glass, aluminum cans, plastic bags). It’s important to remember that even though you might not drop trash at the shoreline, if you’re dropping trash ANYWHERE it will lead to the ocean by waterways such as streams, rivers, and lakes. Did you know that the vast majority of marine debris is plastic? Learn more about how plastic can be harmful to marine life here.

Besides marine debris, petroleum, and pharmaceuticals, what are some other ways fish or aquatic life are affected by what we put in our waterways?

You can read about 5 incredible marine debris warriors here.

Lastly, best of luck to Justin Lewis and Michelle Stauffer as you continue your 70 Degrees West project!

Can’t blame just Big Oil

Yesterday I wrote a post about pharmaceuticals affecting aquatic life our waterways and finished it up with a question, “Have you heard of any other ways fish or aquatic life are affected by what we put in our waterways?” Well, I’m too excited to share another culprit. We all know how oil spills affect wildlife because we’ve seen the commercials and very powerful images after a big spill. However, it happens all the time! According to a 2002 report by the National Academies of Science National Research Council petroleum that enters North American waters comes from human activities  (e.g., runoff, emissions), not from the ships that transport it. Here’s an image explaining the surprising fact that gas from our cars – not tankers or pipelines – is responsible for 92% of the petroleum spilled into the water. This image is taken from the infographic “The Unfiltered Truth About Water” created by Evergreen AES.

water still

Follow these five tips from the American Boating Association to minimize your impact of petroleum entering the waterways:

  1. Operate only well maintained boats
  2. Limit full throttle operation
  3. Eliminate unnecessary idling
  4. Follow recommended maintenance schedules
  5. Eliminate spillage when refueling
  6. And, I’ll add, carpool or take public transportation when possible

So now, besides petroleum and pharmaceuticals, what are some other ways fish or aquatic life are affected by what we put in our waterways?

Do you love infographics as much as I do? Check out this page with some of my favorites.