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

photos courtesy of Tony Pratt

 

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.

Saltwater vs. Freshwater: Why droughts are a real problem

Earth’s surface is about 70% water. But, only 1% f that is freshwater that is easily accessible (found in lakes, rivers, streams, and ponds). Thanks to McGraw Hill for pulling together this infographic illustrating the amount of water of the surface of the Earth that humans can actually use … just a drop in the bucket really. Consider this reality when thinking about what’s going on over in California this summer with “its third-worst drought in 106 year“.

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http://www.pinterest.com/mcgrawhilled/make-learning-fun-inspiration-for-teachers-student/

 

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.

5 quick & simple DIY natural household products

DIYLast March I spent some time focusing on what we do in our communities that affect watersheds. Forgive me, but I’m just now getting around to sharing some quick and simple (repeat: simple, simple, simple!) household practices that are not only better for my local watershed, but also the growing family and I. Each of these products reduces our plastic impact and uses ingredients that are significantly less toxic than their commercial counterpart.

In addition to water, you only need at most three ingredients for each of these – all of which you can purchase from Amazon, Target, or Trader Joe’s.

Laundry detergent from Wellness Mama: All you need is pure castile soap, borax, and washing soda
Liquid hand soap from Thank Your Body: All you need is pure castile soap
Simple Homemade 3-in-1 Cleaner from Frugal Granola: All you need is white vinegar and lemon (or essential oils)
Vanilla Coconut Brown Sugar Scrub from Treehugger: All you need is coconut oil, brown sugar, and vanilla
Wipes (great for cleaning tile, counters, leather, and flooring) from Wellness Mama: All you need is liquid castile soap, 100% pure aloe vera, and witch hazel

Since castile soap shows up frequently on the ingredients lists, check out this post from Live Renewed on the many uses of castile soap. You’ll be amazed and smitten with Dr. Bronner!

For more ways to reduce your plastic impact, please make sure to check out and reference often (bookmark now!) anything from Beth Terry. I love her book and her blog, My Plastic Free Life.

In an effort to keep my life a little less crazy, I do try to find homemade household product recipes that use only a few common ingredients (read: three or less). Do you have any other great ideas worth sharing?

 

My favorite posts from 2013

One of the highlights of 2013 for me was gathering the family and neighbors to put in storm drains signs. Learn more on why it's important to know what's going down the drain here: http://beachchairscientist.com/2013/03/01/and-that-concludes-my-we-affect-what-goes-in-our-watershed-week/

One of the highlights of 2013 for me was gathering the family and neighbors to put in storm drains signs. Learn more on why it’s important to know what’s going down the drain here: http://beachchairscientist.com/2013/03/01/and-that-concludes-my-we-affect-what-goes-in-our-watershed-week/

This isn’t the typical list of the most popular Beach Chair Scientist posts throughout the year (you can find those on the right sidebar under “Top Posts & Pages from BCS” any day of the year). Those posts typically include questions typed into a search bar such as ‘Are manatees and elephants really related?‘, ‘Do sharks have bones?’ or ‘How much salt is in the ocean?’.  This list is a review of my favorite posts from the past year and why I enjoyed them:

  • 99 reasons I’m in Limulus Love: Before the horseshoe crabs started mating in May and June I sat down and cataloged a list of 99 reasons Limulus polyphemus are a creature worth respecting.
  • All five posts from the “What we do affects our watershed week: This series was a great reminder that even though you might not live anywhere near a river, lake, or stream our daily actions have massive consequences on the waterways – and ultimately the ocean.
  • Mother Nature vs. Santa Claus: 13 reasons why Mother Nature should always win: This post was a response to the Toys ‘R’ Us commercial that pitted nature against toys. It’s important to remember what Mary Catherine O’Connor with Outside Magazine stated as the “tremendous value to childhood development (as well as to self-awareness, health and confidence) that is spending time in the natural world and trying to understand how it works”.
  • A seal on the shore isn’t always stranded: This post is a nice reminder to stay back and let nature takes its course, also you never know what you’ll come across during a wintry beach walk.
  • 3 truths on the fables about dolphin-safe labels: It was an eye-opening post to write and discover that just because it’s labeled as dolphin-safe it isn’t safe for all marine life.
  • A Scientist’s Inspiration (by Jim McElhatton): This interview with Dr. Penny Chisholm, recipient of the National Medal of Science, should be a must read for anyone in school with even a slight interest in science as she explains how “My interest in science grew slowly as I went through school”. She also explains the merits of writing for children in that it helps to boil down the subject matter.
  • Beach Chair Birding, A Ray of Hope in a Sea of Chum, A Visit from Dungeness Crab: These posts are three of my favorites because they were all contributed by guest bloggers. Ernie Wilson, Jim Wharton, and Cherilyn Jose each brought a perspective as unique as they are … I can’t wait to see what they’ll share next year! If you’re interested in guest blogging please feel free to share your ideas anytime!

Mother Nature vs. Santa Claus? 13 reasons Mother Nature should always win

Say it isn’t so! Unfortunately, it’s the truth: Toys ‘R’ Us has pitted Mother Nature against Father Christmas.

In case you missed the buzz in late October and early November about the Trees vs. Toys commercial I’ll share some of the outrage (that I share, but haven’t expressed until now) from Twitter.

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So how exactly did Toys ‘R’ Us miss the mark? Well, they portrayed nature as a drab, boring place and toys as much more exciting. However, here is a list (in no particular order) of compelling reasons from doctors and other experts in the environmental education field on why kids need nature, not just toys, in their lives.

1. “Children who climb trees, make mud pies, explore streams, stare at clouds, collect leaves, make swords of sticks, wish on dandelions, build forts and fairy houses—these children are exercising their bodies as they exercise their imaginations, with no batteries required, and are immeasurably the richer for it.” Todd Christopher, Senior Director of Online Communications with National Parks Conservation Association and author of The Green Hour

2. “Time outdoors reduces obesity, improves academic learning and behavior, and helps gets kids excited about learning.” Amanda Paulson, Staff Writer with Christian Science Monitor

3. “Because our health is intimately linked to the health of our environment, we can’t have one without the other.  In order to protect and conserve the environment, we must first value it.  In order to value it, we must know it, and in order to know it we must touch, smell, breathe, and experience Nature.  By getting people outside in Nature, I find that much more happens than weight reduction, lower heart rate, and a sense of focus and well-being.” Dr. Robert Zarr, Founder of Parks Rx

4. “Of tremendous value to childhood development (as well as to self-awareness, health and confidence) is spending time in the natural world and trying to understand how it works.” Mary Catherine O’Connor with Outside Magazine

5. “If you get outdoors, you’re more likely to be active.” Dr. Pooja Tandon, author of study published in Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine

6. “While playtime is important, spending some moments outdoors is especially good because it helps with the physical, mental and cognitive development of a child.” Dr. Tandon

7. “Children come alive when they step out into nature.  It may not be loaded with bright and shiny electronic toys that whir and buzz, but the forest has its own sparkling magic and children feel it instantly.” Barbara Tulipane, President and CEO with National Recreation and Park Association

8. “Kids in the woods get other benefits too.  They breathe in fresh, clean air and get more oxygen. They can run and play and burn more calories while getting stronger bones and improved muscle tone.  Their internal sleep clocks are reset by the bright daylight and they can count on a better night’s rest.” Barbara Tulipane

9. “Problems associated with alienation from nature include familiar maladies: depression, obesity, and attention deficit disorder.” Richard Louv during an interview with the editors of Scholastic’s Parent & Child

10. “Scientists have discovered that bacteria on the surface of the skin play an important role in combating inflammation when we get hurt … Parenting groups welcomed the findings as ‘a vindication of common sense’ and urged parents to allow their children greater freedom to play outdoors.”  The Telegraph

11. “We are negligently risking the health of our students — and by extension posing a health threat to the Earth — by not ensuring them adequate time to play outdoors in beautiful “wild” spaces.” GreenHeart Education

12. “Time in nature enhances children’s creativity, and the complex thinking, experimentation and problem-solving that nature affords carries over into their academic and interpersonal lives.” Susan Sachs Lipman, Director of Social Media Promotion and Partnerships for the Children & Nature Network

13. “Nature (Vitamin N) can have a profound positive effect on children’s mental and physical health,” Dr. Mary Brown, past member of the board of directors for the American Academy of Pediatrics

Also, worthy of sharing is this video from the National Wildlife Federation “Warning: Taking kids outside may result in smiles and laughter” (h/t @).

Would love to hear your thoughts and experiences being a kid in nature or taking kids in nature. Comment below!

Jellyfish protein help create glow-in-the-dark ice cream

Looks like seaweed isn’t the only ocean organism used to make ice cream a special treat these days, particularly if its glow-in-the-dark ice cream. Charlie Francis, British ice cream creator, partnered with a Chinese scientist interested in understanding the nuances of jellyfish proteins, to synthesize the fluorescent jellyfish protein specifically for use as part of an ice cream flavor. Francis and his partner recreated the luminescent protein to construct a specialized calcium-activated protein that only glows in the dark once you lick it. And, the more you lick it the more it glows. No jellyfish were harmed in the making of this ice cream flavor. Is it safe to taste? Francis tasted it and said “I tried some and I don’t seem to be glowing anywhere” How much is a scoop? $220. Would you try it?

la-dd-glow-in-the-dark-jellyfish-ice-cream-201-002

Check out the ‘Lick Me, I’m Delicious’ Facebook page to learn more about all of Francis’ creations here: https://www.facebook.com/lickmeimdelicious

Under normal, non-dairy related circumstances, jellyfish protein glow when the photoprotein aequorin interacts with seawater to produce a light (i.e., green florescent protein or GFP). Why do animals and plants glow in the dark? Find out here.

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GFP was first described in 1955.

The Coral Song: “I may look like a rock, but I’m certainly not”

I listened to this three times last night. It’s “The Coral Song”. It’s a fun song. It’ll get caught in your head. I had to share. Maybe we’ll hear each other humming in line at the pharmacy. The Reef-World Foundation gets all the credit for helping the production get the science straight on this catchy tune.

The screenshot below is of my favorite line. What line do you find completely genius … in that “oh, so perfectly simple” way?

coralsong_image

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/