What they’re into … with Wallace J. Nichols

It’s Tuesday and you know what that means by now if you’ve been following BCS this summer. Time for another installment of “What Marine Conservationists Are Into …”! This is a series I featured in the summer of 2012 to get a special sneak peek at the many different personalities behind the scientists, activists, and educators (including bloggers) who play an integral role in the marine science conservation field. It’s essentially an extension of the overwhelmingly popular and well done Tumblr blog, This Is What A Scientist Looks Like, (BCS was featured in April of 2012!) which sets out to illustrate that scientists are not just crazy haired nerds in lab coats. I sent a list of 15 random questions and asked that each person share at least their answers to 5 of them. For the tenth edition, I am delighted to introduce California conservationist extraordinaire, Dr. Wallace ‘J” Nichols.

Dr. Wallace “J.” Nichols is a scientist, activist, community organizer, author, and dad. He works to inspire a deeper, more active, connection with nature, sometimes simply by walking and talking, other times through writing or images. Science and knowledge can also stoke our fires. But he knows that what really moves people is feeling part of and touching something bigger than ourselves.

J. is a Research Associate at California Academy of Sciences and founder of several conservation initiatives including Ocean Revolution, an international network of young ocean advocates, SEE the WILD, an international conservation travel portal and LiVBLUE, a campaign to reconnect people with our water planet. He earned his Bachelors in Biology and Spanish from DePauw University, an MEM in Environmental Policy and Economics from Duke University’s Nicholas School, and his PhD in Wildlife Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from University of Arizona.

He advises a motivated group of international graduate students and serves as an advisor to numerous non-profit boards and committees as part of his commitment to building a stronger, more progressive, and connected environmental community.

Lately he is working on BlueMarbles.org and BLUEMiND: The Mind + Ocean Initiative. He blogs at wallacejnichols.org and lives on California’s SLOWCOAST.

What is the last thing you bought that you shouldn’t have?
I’ve been off coffee for almost a month. But I bought a “dirty chai tea” which has a shot of espresso hidden down in the glass of tea.

What is your favorite fruit flavor?
Organic local you-pick olallieberry, the season is so short and sweet. Always worth the wait.

What is your favorite Sunday breakfast?
Poached eggs from our chickens, fresh pesto, on sourdough bread. And a dirty chai ; )

What’s your favorite midnight snack?
Ice cream w/ olallieberries!

Are you a night owl or a morning person?
A massive night owl who loves early mornings.

What is your favorite room in your home?
My daughters’ room, because we read stories at night and snuggle. It’s the best part of the day and the house.

Which sitcom character do you relate to?
None. I put some thought into this. And, well, none. That probably explains why we don’t have a TV. Or vice versa.

What is your favorite scent?
So, so many. Can I say olallieberry again? Just kidding. Late on a cool night in the redwoods. Just after a rain in the Sonoran Desert. Any kind of pie.

What is your favorite sundae topping?
Guess.

What is your favorite pastime?
Anything with our kids. They really make anything we do so much fun.

What three things would you take with you to an island?
Shakepeare’s Complete Works. A good machete. Olallieberry seeds.

How superstitious are you?
Not a bit.

What is your favorite day of the week?
Thursday, or Thor’s Day. Named after the Norse god of thunder, lightning storms and oak trees. That’s just cool. I think about that every Thursday.

Are you a cat person, dog person, or neither?
Both. Their names are Fisher (Newfoundland), Jack Wilder (Cairn terrier), Penelope (Maine Coon) and Trout (strange but cute black cat)

If you were a geometric shape, what would you like to be?
I rather like the rhombus. I wouldn’t really want to be one, though.

What’s some other random favorite information about you?
My fascination with neuroscience began in college, when I was 19. I gave weekly guitar lessons to a woman who had lost her memory in an accident as therapy for restoring her memories, and it worked. I’ve been interested in the wonders of the human brain ever since.

Almost ten years ago my partner Dana and daughter Grayce (who was just 1 y.o., her sister Julia wasn’t born yet) walked 1,800 km from Oregon to Mexico along the coast. I highly recommend that everyone take a very long walk (months) through a place that is important to them. It’s a deeply human and transformative thing to do.

Image (c) Jeff Lipsky

It’s a SodaStream sweepstakes!

Time for another giveaway … Would you believe me if I told you there was a smallish kitchen appliance you could use daily to enjoy a refreshing beverage that would reduce the amount of plastic bottles that would potentially enter the atmosphere as marine debris and it was free? While you’re contemplating how this miracle could ever occur, here are some facts on plastic bottles and the impact they have on the environment.

  1. Plastic bottles can take over 1,000 years to decompose.
  2. Enough plastic bottles are thrown away each year in the United States to circle the earth four times.
  3. Over 80% of empty water bottles end up in the nation’s landfills.
  4. Only 8% of the total plastic waste generated in 2010 was recovered for recycling.
  5. 1.5 million tons of plastic waste are created by plastic bottles alone.
  6. 47 million gallons of oil is consumed to produce the bottles that Americans drink out of each year (This is enough oil to take 100,000 cars off the road and 1-billion pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere).
  7. 24 million gallons of oil are needed to produce a billion plastic bottles.
  8. Bottled water costs about 1000 times more than tap water and 90% of the cost of bottled water is due to the bottle itself.
  9. Bottling and shipping water is the least energy efficient method ever used to supply water.
  10. In a study conducted by the National Resources Defense Council one third of bottled water tested contained significant contamination.

Now, how can you reduce the amount of plastic bottles you may potentially contribute to the environment? My suggestion isn’t going to be too surprising if you’ve been following me on Twitter as I’ve become a genuine fan of the SodaStream machine. The SodaStream isn’t a new product by any means. In fact, this home soda maker machine is connected with 1970/1980’s childhood nostalgia in the United Kingdom. The soda maker machine comes with a few durable bottles that you keep filled up in the refrigerator and use the carbonator to turn the cold tap water into delicious bubbly water. There are about 30 flavors to add to the bubbly water to create your own fun drinks (Target carries the flavors to add)! My husband likens the cola flavor to Coke rather than Pepsi. I thoroughly enjoy the plain club soda, but have indulged in the occasional diet Dr. flavor and cannot tell any difference from the Pipp or Pepper original. There are even Crystal Light and energy drink options. I’ve come to appreciate it, not only because it reduces marine debris, but also because there is no dragging bottles from the store to the house and the recycling bin doesn’t need to be emptied as much which I know is also making an impact on the environment.

Of course, the SodaStream carbonator does need to be replaced and that comes with a cost (but, I think it’s worth it!). The carbonator needs to be replaced depending on how often you use it. We’ve had ours for 3 months and will probably make it another 3 before we need to replace it. The carbonators can be exchanged for free to any participating local retailer or through the SodaStream company directly via UPS (yes, you’re essentially hostage to a single overpriced gas supplier).

How can you get your hands on a SodaStream for free? If you share any of my posts on Facebook or retweet any of my posts on Twitter in the next week I’ll enter you into a raffle for a free SodaStream (they were kind of enough to send me one)! You can share as many posts or retweet as many tweets as you’d prefer to saturate your friends, family, and colleagues until noon next Friday. Each time you share or retweet it will be an additional chance to win. I’ll only count the shares from the direct page or the retweets from the original tweet and not the folks that share a share or retweet a retweet. Also, it can be any post or tweet, new or old. Be sure to tag Beach Chair Scientist in anything you share! I will announce the winner next Friday (what a great way to start Labor Day weekend for someone!).

Update (8/31/2012): Thanks to Random Picker for helping make the raffle so efficient! Our winner for the SodaStream is a Beach Chair Scientist Facebook friend! Thank you to everyone that participated your support means the world!

10 fish you don’t see during Shark Week

I confess. I’ve given up on Shark Week. It took 25 years to shake me, but for the first time I can remember, I won’t be watching. When I was 16, you couldn’t schedule enough great white and shark attack programming to satisfy me. Danger Beach, Vic Hislop, Air Jaws … it was all good. It’s obviously a winning formula for Discovery, but for me, it’s just not enough any more.

There are 500 species of sharks out there. Probably more. There are so many stories to tell. Here are ten you (probably) won’t see this year during Shark Week:

1. Ocean giants. The two largest fishes on Earth are sharks. Thirty-foot, plankton-eating basking sharks can filter a swimming pool of seawater every hour through sieve-like gill rakers in their throats. Whale sharks grow bigger than school buses, and gather by the hundreds in the waters off Mexico’s Isla Holbox and other global hotspots for seasonal feasts of zooplankton or fish eggs. Despite surviving on this surface-dwelling diet, researchers have also tracked whale sharks to depths of more than 6,000 feet. Why?

2. Glowing deepsea sharks. Lantern sharks glow in the dark and hide in the light. Many species of deepwater sharks, including the lantern sharks, are bioluminescent (i.e., they create their own light). Some of these sharks can even project light from their bellies that closely matches the light filtering down from above, erasing their silhouette. They also happen to be beautiful little creatures with fantastic names, like the velvet belly shark, the taillight shark, and the splendid lantern shark. Wouldn’t you like to meet a splendid lantern shark?

3. Cookie cutters. Shark geeks know all about the cookie-cutter shark, but I always forget that they’re not exactly famous…yet. A big cookie-cutter is less than two feet long and yet they’ve been known to feed on tuna, seals, dolphins, and whales…yes, whales. It’s a neat trick. The cookie-cutters sneak up on large prey, attach themselves with fat, sucking lips and twist and thrash until they pull free a round plug of flesh. These little sharks have a remarkable set of jaws with positively enormous teeth. In fact, the cookie-cutters have the largest tooth-to-body-length ratio of any shark (including the great white).

4. Wobbegongs. Can I interest you in a flat shark with patterns like bad 70’s wallpaper and a mustache that would put Tom Selleck to shame? Wobbegongs are bottom-dwelling masters of camouflage with ornate, branching lobes hanging from their upper jaws that look enough like algae or kelp to attract unsuspecting fishes and crustaceans. Wobbegongs lie in wait until their prey gets just a little too close, then erupt in an explosion of tassels and teeth.

5. Hammers and saws. You may have seen hammerheads during Shark Week, but have you ever seen a winghead shark? Wingheads have ‘hammers’ nearly half their total body length. To what benefit? Don’t know. What’s stranger than a hammerhead? How about a sawshark? Imagine a shark, with a chainsaw blade attached to its face and two long noodle-like nasal barbels for detecting buried prey. You can’t make this stuff up.

6. Here be goblins. All sharks have protrusible jaws. Their choppers are loosely attached to their skull, which allows them to push their jaws forward to get a little extra reach, or to create suction. Goblin shark jaws aren’t just extendable, they’re spring-loaded. Elastic ligaments are stretched taught when the shark’s mouth is closed and slingshot the jaws forward as they open. Goblins may need the extra reach to get out from under their long, wide rostrum…which looks a little like an ironing board (at least to me).

7. Helicoprion. You’ll hear plenty about the mega-monstrous megalodon this week, but I’d rather hear a little more about a real pre-historic elasmobranch enigma. Helicoprion had a strange spiral tooth whorl that early paleontologists had no idea what to do with. Some placed it in the sharks’ mouth, some on their dorsal fin. Some suggested it shot out like a frog’s tongue to ensnare their prey. Though speculation seemed to have settled on a lower jaw placement, at least one author suggests the teeth may have resided in Helicoprion’s throat.

8. The shark that walks like a dog. One of my favorites is the epaulette shark, a charming little carpet shark with a distinctive ocellated spot on its flank and a peculiar habit of locomotion. Epaulettes scamper across the reef on large pectoral and pelvic fins. Truthfully, these sharks look more like salamanders than dogs as they wriggle over complex coral reef habitats…and maybe a little like pigs as they root around in the substrate searching for food with their nasal barbels.

9. The sharks who’re named for cats. The catsharks are the largest family of sharks, and boast some of the strangest and most beautiful sharks in the sea. Some catsharks sport snappy colors and patterns like the striped pajama catshark and the chain dogfish (which is actually a catshark). Others are just bizarre, like the spatulasnout and lollipop catsharks, two hyper-specialized deepsea rarities. The aptly named swell shark gulps seawater (or air) and inflates like a pufferfish when threatened.

10. Sleepers. There’s not only diversity in size, shape, and appearance; there is also surprising variety in the ranges and habitats of sharks. Would you expect to find sharks beneath arctic ice sheets? Greenland sharks and Pacific sleepers are lumbering, flabby, but impressive beasts, surviving and thriving where you’d least expect. Stomach contents range widely from giant squid to halibut to seal and whale blubber to at least one (probably apocryphal) account of an entire reindeer.

That’s ten, but I’m still ignoring that other elusive plankton-feeding giant, the megamouth shark, not to mention the long-tailed threshers, the surrealistic rough sharks, frilled sharks, cowsharks, spotted zebra sharks, and puffadder shysharks. I won’t be watching, so if you hear more than a gee-whiz sound bite on any of these sharks, you’ll have to leave a comment to let me know and my faith will be restored.

I will credit Shark Week for creating a lot of excitement about sharks once a year. Some of the kids thrilled by the antics of bait-addled and target-tempted whites, tigers and other super predators will go on to become scientists, conservationists and marine educators…but many others will merely have tired shark stereotypes newly instilled or freshly reinforced. The challenge falls to educators, researchers, and shark enthusiasts to pick up the gauntlet and fill in the blanks for those viewers who just don’t know what they’re missing when it comes to the unappreciated (but critically important) diversity of sharks.

This post was contributed by Jim Wharton, Director of Conservation and Education at the Seattle Aquarium.

Don’t hide your head in the sand

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure meet up with Jen Miller, a freelance reporter, to discuss some of the little known and finer attributes that the often pesky ‘sand’ brings to our beaches. For instance, did you know that all beach sand contains quartz? The odd thing is that the land surrounding some beaches doesn’t contain any quartz. Read her article from NewsWorksNJ to find out how the quartz arrives on some shorelines, as well as why sand is an integral part of the dune ecosystem that we rely on to protect our homes from big storms and waves.

Please feel free to email info@beachchairscientist.com with any questions, comments, or suggestions for posts.

What are the world’s largest oceans and seas?

Great question! Here is a quick break down of the world’s largest oceans and seas using the size information found in the descriptions from The World’s Biggest Oceans & Seas by Our Amazing Planet.

If you have another question please don’t hesitate to find me on Twitter using @bcsanswers or just email info@beachchairscientist.com. Have a great beachcombing weekend!

Also, here is a map to reference each body of water listed above.

A little dose of ocean conservation inspiration

This is a whimsical – yet still direct and profound – image I wanted to share from from my Ocean Conservation Inspiration Pinterest board. Do you have a particular phrase or image that drives you?

Philly, it’s time to get enthusiastic about ditching those bags of plastic

It’s no secret that I am not a fan of single use plastic bags (Check out this series about the majestic plastic bag from last summer) and I support any campaign requesting city officials to review a ban on plastic bag. This is especially true when the city of focus is Philadelphia, PA. I might be more of DCist lately, but my heart and soul are from Philly (Go Phils!). My parents are from the area and I still have plenty of family that I do not see enough in the area, not to mention I was raised in south Jersey. The way I always differentiate south and north Jersey for people that wonder why I make such a distinction is that when you say ‘the city’ in south Jersey you are referring to Philly and if you say ‘the city’ in north Jersey you are referring to NYC.

In any event, I actively volunteered with DC Surfrider as they worked vigorously to pass the Anacostia River Cleanup and Protection Act of 2009 which set up a 5 cent cost for all single use plastic bags and know that this type of change in a city has an impact on local streets, sidewalks, and waterways. The goal here is simple, if you live in or care about the beautification of Philadelphia, please sign this petition to bring attention to the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, therefore initiating a vote in City Council. For more information please visit Green Philly Blog.

Los Angeles has officially banned plastic bags, joining cities Seattle, San Francisco, Portland, Toronto & many more. Philadelphia voted and rejected a plastic bag ban in June 2009. We need to bring the ban back to our city of brotherly love.

Please feel free to share this message and if you’re on Twitter use #BanPhillyBags to add to the conversation.
Here is another great infographic on the subject “How Convenience is Killing Our Planet” from the folks at ArteIdeas.

A naturalist’s must-see destination: Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge

I have it on my bucket list to explore at least ten more National Parks in the next decade, but I am going to have to rely on family and friends to share their adventures since I just spent some time in Maine visiting Acadia National Park. My brother, wife, and their sons (8 and 6 years old) just spent a week at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and have kindly taken the time to share their adventures from the boys perspective. Take a look at this 60-second  movie on what sort of wildlife awaits you at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Also, here are 5 little known facts about Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge to hopefully entice you to visit. (The interminable forests should become graceful parks, for use and delight. — Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1844)

  1. Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge was purchased with Duck Stamp revenues.
  2. Most historians believe that the famous Chincoteague ponies are remnants from that settlers who used the island for grazing livestock in the 1600’s in an effort to avoid difficult fencing regulation. Descendants of those ponies are still living there today.
  3. In a CNN Special from June 2012, Assateague Island National Seashore was named as one of the 7 prime spots to view wildlife. Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge is at the Virginia end of the National Seashore.
  4. The endangered sea beach amaranth is well adapted to survive the harsh seashore conditions of Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.
  5. Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge has 14 ‘pools’ that total over 2,600 acres that are carefully manipulated to control moisture levels.

What they’re into … with David Helvarg

This is a series I will be featuring each Tuesday this summer to get a special sneak peak at the different personalities behind the scientists, activists, and educators (including bloggers) who play an integral role in the marine science conservation field. It’s essentially an extension of the overwhelmingly popular and well done Tumblr blog, This Is What A Scientist Looks Like, (BCS was featured in April!) which sets out to illustrate that scientists are not just crazy haired nerds in lab coats. I’ve sent a list of 15 random questions to some folks I know and asked that each person share at least their answers to 5 of them. This first week we’re starting off with the one and only David Helvarg.

David is an author and Executive Director of Blue Frontier Campaign.  has written: Blue Frontier, The War Against the Greens, 50 Ways to Save the Ocean, Rescue Warriors and Saved by the Sea. His next book, ‘The Golden Shore – California’s Love Affair with the Sea’ will be out in early 2013. He is editor of the Ocean and Coastal Conservation Guide and organizer of ‘Peter Benchley Ocean Awards’ and ‘Blue Vision’ Summits for ocean activists. He has worked as a war correspondent in Northern Ireland and Central America, covered a range of issues from military science to the AIDS epidemic, and reported from every continent including Antarctica. An award-winning journalist, he produced more than 40 broadcast documentaries for PBS, The Discovery Channel, and others. His print work has appeared in publications including The New York Times, LA Times, Smithsonian, Sierra, and Parade. He’s done radio work for Marketplace, AP radio, and Pacifica. He has led workshops for journalists in Poland, Turkey, Tunisia, Slovakia and Washington DC. David is a licensed Private Investigator, body-surfer and scuba diver.

Here are David’s answers to his chosen questions:

What is the last thing you bought that you shouldn’t have?
A 12-pack of Coke.

What is your favorite Sunday breakfast?
Huevos Rancheros, fresh OJ and the Sunday New York Times, ideally on a porch with friends and a water view.

Are you a night owl or a morning person?
Can’t say I really give a hoot but neither do I wake up with a smile on my face.

What is your favorite room in your home?
My home office – just a 10 second commute from the bedroom.  If you work hard you get to play hard. 

What is your favorite scent?
The iodine and slightly kelpy odor of a living sea.

What is your favorite sundae topping?
Anchovies.  Only kidding.  Chopped nuts, chocolate syrup, whipped cream, it’s all good.

What is your favorite pastime?
Bodysurfing, diving, or snorkeling depending on conditions.

What three things would you take with you to an island?
Dive gear, my girlfriend and a boat.

How superstitious are you?
I believe in evolution and anthropogenic climate change so not very but I have given the occasional agnostic prayer for friends and loved ones in trouble.

What is your favorite day of the week?
Whatever day of the week I’m on a beach.

Are you a cat person, dog person, or neither?
Thought I was a dog person till I ended up in a 20-year relationship with a tabby named Poose, the finest small furry predator I’ve ever known or am likely to.

If you were a geometric shape, what would you like to be?
Elliptical.

Thanks to David for playing along and I hope you’re relaxing on the beach enjoying an ice cream sundae with plenty of chopped nuts, chocolate syrup, and whipped cream somewhere. To the dear rest of you, please keep an eye out for more to come from other amazing ocean conservationists this summer and please don’t forget to participate in the Summer Sustainability Creativity Challenge!

Sea level rise is settled fact

“Some scientific conclusions have been so thoroughly examined and tested, and supported by so many independent observations and results, that their likelihood of being found wrong is vanishingly small. Such conclusions are then regarded as settled facts. This is the case for the conclusions that the Earth system is warming and that much of this warming is very likely due to human activities … strong evidence on climate change underscores the need for actions to reduce emissions and begin adapting to impacts.”
America’s Climate Choices, U.S. National Academy of Science, National Research Council, 2011

Climate change is taking place and poses considerable risks for us. Among these risks are the detrimental impacts related to sea level rise. And for those of us along the Atlantic coast the impacts may hit sooner rather than later. According to a recently published study by researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), sea levels from Cape Hatteras to Cape Cod (a 620-mile Atlantic coast ‘hot spot’) are rising more rapidly than anywhere on Earth – at the speed of three to four times faster than the global average. The study found that since 1990, sea levels have risen approximately 0.08 inches (2 millimeters) to approximately 0.14 inches (3.7 millimeters) a year along the ‘Atlantic coast hot spot’ while the global average for the same time period was 0.6 millimeters to 1 millimeter per year.

The study also noted that sea levels will rise 9 inches by 2030, 18 inches by 2050, and four-and-a-half feet by 2100 globally. Experts at the USGS, as well as other scientists, agree that this increase is due to climate change and other factors. However, according to Asbury Sallenger, the USGS oceanographer who led the study, “sea levels will rise an additional 8 inches to 11 inches in the Atlantic coast hot spot”. Just last week the National Research Council noted that sea levels along California will rise one foot in the next twenty years. Sinking land masses along the California coast and climate change was said to be the cause of that sea level rise.

But what is the cause of the additional increase of 8 inches to 11 inches in sea level rise along the ‘Atlantic coast hot spot’? This can be attributed to the slowing of Atlantic currents by the influx of freshwater into the salty Atlantic Ocean. Melting glaciers from the Greenland Ice Sheet send freshwater into a conveyor belt current (known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation) which cause variations in temperature, salinity, and the speed of currents all of which affect sea level rise as warming oceans expand.

Ultimately, this study proves that sea levels have risen since 1990 regardless of the cause. It also provides a call for communities along the Atlantic coast to start planning for sea level rise as many densely-populated cities (Boston, Providence, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Norfolk-Virginia Beach) can be found along the ‘Atlantic coast hot spot’ and could see an increase in damages from storm surge.

Here is a list of 50 Things to Reduce Climate Change that will help reduce emissions that attribute to sea level rise. After all, it is not just the impacts from sea level rise, but our health, rainfall, agricultural crop yield, energy supply, as well as other beautiful natural ecosystems that are all affected by climate change.

USGS Researchers used long-term data from tidal gauges along the coast and computer simulations designed at calculating the effects of climate change for their study. The study was published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

 Resources: