Has it gotten to the point that when you do connect with Mother Nature it seems like an awkward hug? It’s been said time and time again that we’re better off taking a step away from technology to reconnect with Mother Nature as a regular part of our daily lives.
The benefits of establishing a relationship with Mother Nature are tremendous. Kids will grow more confident and be better critical thinkers when they are trusted to play outside and explore, their vocabulary will increase exponentially once they’re not staring at a television set for more than two hours a day, Americans of all ages will not be as obese or depressed if we get off the couch and get outside. But, as we know from the countless authors that have documented the benefits to getting outside and into nature (Louv, Ratey, Sampson) there are also significant challenges. Isn’t that always the case when one is reconnecting with a long-lost family member?
There are so many reasons not to bother. I hear quite often that, actually no – strike that … I find myself saying these things all too often … “The modern suburbs are designed with cars in mind.” “It’s a different world than when I was a kid and there is increased risks with having your children wander off.” “I live somewhere that is quite different ecologically than where I grew up and I am scared of the unknown.” “I work full-time outside of the house and the weekends are fairly structured.” National Wildlife Federation has even been posting recently how “we are a nation of people who are afraid of the outdoors.” But, the authors I mentioned above aren’t pulling this out of thin air and aren’t specifically talking about the importance of nature’s impacts on children.
Who am I kidding though? Like any relationship … reconnecting cannot be forced. However, it is going to take initiative on our part as parents. I plan to do it with lots of baby steps. If you, the reader of this post, are inspired to get outside and let go more there is a high likelihood that curious little minds will follow. And, in an effort to spark some motivation here is a listing of some fun ways to wander through a favorite secluded spot.
What are some of your challenges in getting outside and wandering aimlessly? Where are your favorite spots to wander?
Eight citizen science projects for your day at the beach (one for every day of your beach week + a bonus)
Do you have one (or several!) of those kids just itching to be future marine scientists? It’s time to take the beach day up one more notch. Here are some citizen science projects that will definitely be lots of fun for the whole family. Trust me … they’re free and easy!
Field Photo: The Field Photo App allows you take photos during your trips to the beach (or even field trips) and geotag them and add metadata and field notes to the photos. The field photos are then uploaded where people share, visualize and archive field photos that document land use and land cover change, flood, drought, fire, and so on.
Great Eggcase Hunt Project: The Great Eggcase Hunt aims to get as many people as possible hunting for eggcases that have either been washed ashore (or are found by divers and snorkelers underwater). The empty eggcases (or mermaid’s purses) are an easily accessible source of information on the whereabouts of potential nursery grounds and will provide the Trust with a better understanding of species abundance and distribution. While it originated in the UK over a decade ago, The Shark Trust has been collecting data in the US since 2003.
Jellywatch: Have you seen a jellyfish, red tide, a squid, or other unusual marine life recently? If so, tell them about it! Marine biologists need your help to develop a better understanding of the ocean. You can help us even more by submitting a picture of what you saw!
Osprey Watch: OspreyWatch is a global community of observers focused on documenting breeding osprey. There is no charge to participate and we welcome new volunteers to the program.
Ringed-Billed Gulls: In 2013, researchers from MIT and the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation started using the same scheme as the project originators in Canada using blue or red plastic bands and 3 codes to band ring-billed sea gulls. Nearly 700 birds have been marked.
If you observed one of these banded gulls, you can report your sighting using an online form.
Secchi Dip-In: The Secchi Dip-In is a demonstration of the potential of volunteers to monitor and gather environmentally important information on our lakes, rivers and estuaries. The concept of the Dip-In is simple: individuals in volunteer monitoring programs take a transparency measurement on one day during the month of July (but, they accept data after the deadline as well).
Wildlife Health Event Reporter: The Wildlife Health Event Reporter allows you to observe and record events that may identify important changes in the environment. It’s an experimental tool that hopes to harness the power of the many eyes of the public to better detect these changes.
- Antarctic Art Contest: Students and professionals alike are invited to submit written or visual pieces about the WAIS Divide. Specifically, it’s suggested that pieces focus on water isotopes, CO2 and methane gases, radar imagery, or imagery of ice samples. Deadline is October 1st.
- Children’s Art Mangrove Calender: Elementary-aged school children invited to create art expressing “Why mangroves are important to my community and me”. Deadline is July 31st.
- National Marine Sanctuary “Classic”: This photography contest runs from July 4th-September 7th. Each week one winner is selected and at the end thirteen winners receive scholarships. Photos are based on all or a combination of: Kids Fishing, Kids and Family Values, Kids in the Outdoors, Kids in the Sanctuaries and Kids’ Conservation within each individual National Marine Sanctuary.
- “Nature Investigators” Contest: There is one photography contest specific for environmental educators and then a writing and art contest for the kids. Deadline for both is August 14th.
- Ranger Rick’s Photo Contest: This is an ongoing photography contest for kids 13 years old and under.
I just got back from a little family vacation where we went to the luxurious place I called home for many years (i.e., “the Jersey shore”). Don’t get me wrong, being with the kids any day takes my breath away (from both ends of the spectrum, let’s be honest). But, spending time along the Atlantic coast on the barrier island where I grew up (as a local, not just “for the summers”) is such a different experience with the kids (four and one) is a remarkable opportunity to really settle and enjoy each moment through their eyes. Here are some fun ways that not only I, but the older family members around me, came to enjoy living like a kid again. Please feel free to comment and share what makes you feel like a kid again too.
Those huge platforms along the causeways are there for a very important reason. Osprey build their nests on them. They’ll also build their nests on any open platform free from predators and near shallow water. But, the man-made platforms have really help to bring back populations of osprey after their sharp decline in numbers due to DDT. Each year the huge raptors, also known as “fish hawks” because 99.9% of their diet is fish, wait until after the water thaws to build a nest. Since the winter was so long this year along the Mid-Atlantic many of the birds just made their nests in March/April. With an incubation period of just over a month and the young needing just about two months before they take off from the nest it was a perfect time to follow along with Greg Kearns of Patuxent River Park in Upper Marlboro, MD, as he banded juvenile osprey (don’t worry, he has a permit for this kind of thing).
Osprey are banded at a young age to help determine their migration patterns, life expectancy, as well as reasons for mortality. The band that is placed on the young is very light weight and has not hindered their ability to catch food. I am incredibly grateful for his time and dedication to his efforts in conservation and education. Thank you for your enthusiasm and sharing your knowledge with the Mid-Atlantic Marine Education Association late last month. Here are some more interesting facts learned along the way:
- As with all birds of prey these birds have very sharp talons. But, the osprey have a reverse talon making it easy for them to grasp their prey with two toes in the front and two from behind.
- The male usually scopes out the spot for the nest to be built several days before the arrival of the female.
- Osprey are asynchronous incubators and do not hatch all at once. The female typically lay four eggs but usually one two survive. While they do share food distributed by their mother the oldest one dominates.
- The hunts for food for the mother and young and before he returns to the nest with food he’ll eat about one-third of the fish. Hunting for fish does burn a lot of calories after all. The mother and young will eat the rest of the fish, but seem to not favor the gut of the fish. The adults generally need about 300 grams of fish per day.
- There is a 40-50% chance of survival for the young. The average age of an osprey is 8-10 years old. The oldest tracked osprey was found to be 33 years old.
- Their nests are made of sticks from the surrounding marsh plants, as well as animal hide or even litter such as plastic bags.
- Young osprey have orange eyes that turn brown as they get older.
If you live near shallow water and want to build a platform there are several plans available here: http://www.osprey-watch.org/
To watch a pair of osprey raising their young during this nesting season from the comfort of your own screen check out the Patuxent River Park’s Osprey Cam here: http://www.pgparks.com/
Still looking for that perfect gift for a certain little one? I have to admit I am the aunt that likes to wrap up books (yes, and usually one of these ocean-themed children’s books). However, in the spirit of the giving during the holiday season, and in watching little eyes twinkle, it’s fun to also wrap a little something extra. Here are five gift ideas for inspiring a love of the ocean in the next generation:
1. Stuffed horseshoe crab (pictured) from the Partnership of the Delaware Estuary, Inc. Shop: It’s a steal for just under $13! Over the years I have managed to acquire a lot of these and with that my four-year old now thinks horseshoe crabs are cuddly and cute and isn’t intimated by them when she sees them along the coast. She even brought this into preschool for the letter “H”! Proceeds help the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, Inc.
2. Polar Bear from Vermont Teddy Bear: I hear this bear loves warm hugs! “He’s made of super-soft and cuddly, long white fur and his adorable, long Polar Bear snout features a realistic nose.” Made in the USA.
3. Coastal inspired linens and clothes from Wish Kingdom: Wish Kingdom is made from the finest cotton fabrics and trims. All items are pesticide and formaldehyde free. Each applique’ is cut and sewn by hand, so no two are alike. Made in the USA.
4. Match stacks game – sea things from Abe’s Market: “Even toddlers who are too young to play a memory game will love matching and stacking the shapes and vibrant colors while exploring and enriching their vocabulary.” Made in the USA.
5. Ocean Discovery Box from Green Kid Crafts: “Our entire family got in the fun to play pin the tail on the whale. It was hilarious! So thankful for the memories you provide.”
1. Barbados natural rope sandals (pictured) from Gurkees: Who knew they’d make great beach walking shoes in West Virginia? Not only that, but there is also some fun candles, belts, and keychains.
2. Custom map and nautical chart jewelry and accessories from Chart Metal Works: Need I say more? Well, it can get better … the products are made in Maine. Definitely a gift to be treasured!
3. Long time, no sea pillow from Uncommon Goods: Handmade from recycled materials and completely on sale.
4. Mermaid bottle opener from Waypoint: I mean, what’s not to love? It looks like it was found during a shipwreck expedition! It’ll make a great story for anyone.
5. Seashell planter from Ten Thousand Villages (fair trade retailer since 1946) : “Spiraled seashell in creamy ceramic holds a cascade of vines or flowers. Handcrafted in Vietnam.”
6. Sportsman sunglasses from Randolph Engineering: “Designed for the outdoor enthusiast, this extremely durable frame stands up to harsh conditions in high style.” Made in the USA.
7. Sea of love poster (pictured) from Uncommon Goods: Printed on 100% recycled newsprint paper, this 12 x 18 inch print features 12 hand-drawn illustrations and a message of love and is a great gift for the couple that loves to spend time at the ocean. Made in the USA.
8. Taps, tees, pint glasses and a whole lot more from the Dogfish Brewing Company: It’s an idea for the beer girl or guy on your list. And, why not toss in one of these nifty ice buckets from Mr. Ice Bucket made in New Jersey for over 50 years. I’m sure there is a ton of great stuff from your local brewery or winery as well.
9. Food, food, food from the Fresh Lobster Company, LLC: Yum, yum, yum in the tum, tum, tum. Corny, but need I say more? I live in Virginia and am so grateful for every opportunity to travel to the coast for fresh seafood … a gift where it was delivered to my door would be amazing! Shipped from sunny New England.
10. Beach to boat tote from Skipper Bags: Gorgeous, multipurpose bags with lots of great options and colors. I think there is even a code to save on shipping. Fill it with some beer or wine and you have a great hostess gift if you’re traveling over the holidays. Made in the USA.
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.
“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/