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

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 things you might not know about oarfish

Last week 2 giant, shimmering oarfish washed ashore in southern California. This is not a common occurrence and some speculate that it may be a means to warn of an impending earthquake. Others say that it could just be a “banner week for weird fish photo ops“. In either case, I’m making the most of the teachable moment and sharing some facts about the prehistoric looking bony fish.

1. Oarfish, nicknamed “King of the herring,” are the longest bony fish in the sea reaching a length of up to 56 feet. This fact is not to be confused with the largest fish in the sea or the largest bony fish in the sea.

2. Oarfish got their common name from their long extended pectoral fins. Another identifying feature of oarfish are the long red plumes stretching from their head and other fins.

3. Oarfish swim holding themselves straight up and down in the water column. It’s believed that’s how they search for food.

4. Oarfish are inedible with a gelatinous body texture and hold no commercial value.

5. Oarfish tend to reside in the deep-sea up to 660 feet below the surface of the water. They only come to the surface of the sea when they are sick and vulnerable and often wash ashore after storms. Because of these sightings they’ve tended to prolong sea serpent lore. It wasn’t until 2001 that a oarfish was captured on film by the US Navy.

Image (c) Catalina Island Marine Institute

The first of the 2 sighting from last week was found by some very lucky environmental educators. Image (c) Catalina Island Marine Institute

Ocean 180: A contest to create a compelling 3 minute video on your latest ocean study

cosee_floridaMovie makers … find a marine scientist with a paper published between January 1, 2008 and November 30, 2013. Marine scientists … find a movie maker with some serious skills for interpreting science. Have the dual set of skills? It’s time to get to work.

The Center for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence (COSEE) Florida is sponsoring the Ocean 180 Video Challenge contest.  I love this idea, not only because it promotes science communication skills and teamwork, but because the judges who will pick the final three videos are potential future ocean scientists … 6th-8th graders from classrooms all over the globe!

Also, it doesn’t hurt that they entice you with a cash prize (but, you didn’t get into marine science or movie making for the money, did you?). The top three video abstracts will receive cash prizes of $3,000 (1st place), $2,000 (2nd place) and $1,000 (3rd place). All entries must be received by 11:59 p.m. PT on December 1, 2013.

oceans180Which fields of ocean sciences are eligible to participate?
The Ocean 180 encourages scientists from all fields of ocean science to participate in the competition, including (but not limited to) the following:
  • Biological oceanography/marine biology: plankton, benthic organisms, biology and ecology of marine and estuarine invertebrates and vertebrates, ecology, taxonomy, molecular biology.
  • Physical oceanography: currents and waves, air-sea interactions, ocean modeling, near shore and coastal processes, bio-physical coupling.
  • Chemical oceanography/marine chemistry: trace elements, isotopes, nutrient dynamics, organic substances, gases.
  • Geological oceanography/marine geology: geophysics, sedimentology, paleontology, sediment dynamics.
  • Marine pollution: analysis and monitoring of pollutants, fates of contaminants, aquatic toxicology, ecotoxicology.
  • Marine policy: regional, national, and international marine policies, management, regulation, and protection of marine fisheries and resources, conservation and use of marine resources.

Find the complete set of guidelines and more FAQS for submitting a movie and for teachers interested in having their classroom judge at http://ocean180.org/. I cannot wait to check out the winning entry … Good luck, everyone!

10 techniques for science bloggers to discover inspiration

I’ve been blogging for five years and lately what has happened is that I’ve been fortunate to share my successes and challenges with other people. Fresh off the plane from Science Online Oceans (the most unconventional, inspiring, and interactive conference I’ve ever attended – loved every minute!), I noticed a reoccurring challenge that other online science writers and myself often face – finding inspiration. So here are 10 techniques for creating posts. Now this list isn’t anything monumental, but given that I barely posted this summer I thought writing this list might help me get out of the rut (I know … so selfish!). If you have any other ideas that may be useful, please don’t hesitate to comment below.

1. Google Alerts: Knowing the most up to date information will certainly generate some inspiration! Whatever your specialty, make sure to know when it’s mentioned in the news, if a video on the subject is released, or when someone else writes a blog post on it. These alerts go straight to your mailbox daily, weekly, or as they are published … depending on how you set it up. Make sure when you put your specialty into the search query that you surround it in quotes. For instance, I want articles of “horseshoe crabs” to come to my inbox, not articles that might mention “horseshoes” and “crabs”.

2. Your photo albums: Come on, I know you have extensive catalogs of pictures from fieldwork or on trips with the family. All you have to do is place a picture into PowerPoint or inDesign, put a caption or a favorite quote around it, save as a jpeg and you have a short, sweet, and original post. Below is my husband looking out at a lake on our honeymoon in Maine with a John Muir quote attached which I posted on John Muir’s birthday.

Colin in Maine

3. Mentors: Sure you have a mentor and you typically focus on what they do NOW as a goal … but, take time to focus on HOW they got to where they are today. Interviews make great posts. Were there any particular people – in or out of science — who helped and encouraged their interest in science at an early age?

4. Citizen science projects: You may be in a rut because you’ve dissected your methods and discipline to death on your blog. Take time out to participate in a citizen science project or volunteer project that you might enjoy and write about your experience. What do they do that you could incorporate into your own discipline?

5. Other “non-science” related blogs: You might obsess over science blogs to see what others in our cohort are doing these days, but take time out to check out blogs of your other interests as well. For instance, I found the inspiration for the series “What Marine Conservationists Are Into …” from my cousin’s fashion blog. You know you’re into your cars, music, food … how do they do it and how can you do it better?

6. Google search: horseshoecrabsearchYes, it’s THAT simple sometimes. I’ve been known to type in a word and see what phrases populate in the Google search bar. I like to think to myself “populate” is linked somehow to “popular” so this is what people are reading about on this particular subject. For instance, when I type in “horseshoe crab” you see what populates. Along those same lines, Google image searches can provide some interesting inspiration as well.

7. Your audience: Looking through the statistics of your blog and reviewing how your audience is referred to your blog can draw some interesting inspiration. From those clicks you can see which posts are the most popular and you can share more on that topic.

8. Think ahead: Are there any strange holidays or major milestones in your field that are coming up? Is the anniversary of a significant paper published in your field creeping up? Are there any monumental televisions shows about to end their run? Use these events as a way to craft a post that will certainly be shared due to its timely relevance.

9. Magazine covers: This is the opposite of “Think ahead” and can help make something you may have already posted seem fresh and innovative. Use magazines to find crafty titles and then formulate a post around that title. For instance, “Secrets of …”, “6 new ways to …”, “5 myths about …”, “3 easy plans to …”, “How to easily understand …”, “Can you imagine life without …?”, “Top 8 benefits of …”, “5 things you might not know about …”, or “5 reasons … is like …” are all fun ways of drawing people in on a subject. Remember, even if you’ve already shared this information of your blog, repackaging it with new and updated pictures isn’t a no-no.

10. You: Even if you have created an “About me” page on your blog take time to share with your audience a little bit more about where you grew up, how you got into your field (this is probably not your first job), the methods behind your science (you know there is never enough room for that in a published paper), a funny story from your fieldwork, or what inspires you. Not all of that needs to be in one post. Make it a short series. It’s great practice in building a narrative which can help in translating your science to others in-person.

Beach Chair Birding

While enjoying the pleasures of beach chair biology, it would be a real shame to overlook the wide variety of coastal birds that can be observed from a comfortable lean. I know, I know those seagulls may be obstructing your view, but if you head out at the right time of day or year, and if you look closely enough, you’ll find a wide variety of different birds to study and learn about.

Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)
 This little beauty is found all over the world, as long as there are beaches nearby. Its harlequin pattern makes it beautiful in and out of breeding season, but the patterns that emerge when this bird is breeding are unforgettable. So, I’m afraid, is its call, which is rattling most of the time and quite obnoxious when it transforms into the alarm-call.

Ruddy Turnstone

Ruddy Turnstone

Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularia)
These fun, freckled shorebirds are most often found in North and South America, although one will occasionally make his way into Europe. They not much for flying, usually choosing to foraging for their food and building their nests on the ground, but they can put on a show, catching insects in mid-flight.

Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliated)
I’ve always found Oystercatchers to be sort of silly looking, but like most birds they’re beautiful in their own way. Their long, thick, orange beak is perfect for breaking open mollusks, which is how they got their very descriptive name. They’re most likely to be found along the Atlantic coast of the US and the Pacific coasts of South and Central America.

American Oystercatcher

American Oystercatcher

American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana)
This particular avocet is a member of the stilt family, and it’s thin, gray legs earned it the nickname ‘blue shanks.’ It is most likely to be found on the North American Pacific coast, but it will move inland as far as the mid-west during its breeding season. They’re migratory, making their way down into Mexico during the winter, and they’re also quite social, forming breeding colonies with dozens of pairs, and then grouping into huge flocks when the season is over.

American Avocet

American Avocet

Wandering Tattler (Tringa incana)
I saved this for last to reward you for reading all the way through. I’ve been a birder for many, many years, and I find pleasure in just about every aspect of it, but sometimes the names we give to the creatures around us just make me smile.

The Wandering Tattler is a somewhat plain-looking bird without much pattern on its back at all, just dull gray wings. Their breast is covered by a scaly pattern, but otherwise they’re what we used to call ‘Plain Jane.’ They migrate from Alaska to Australia, so depending on the time of year they can be found along the costs of North and South America.

Wandering Tattler

Wandering Tattler

They are wading birds and feed mostly on crustaceans and marine worms, but during mating season they’ve been known to expand their diets to include a variety of insects. They may be plain in color, but their foraging process more than makes up for it. They have a tendency to bob in and out of the water, giving the Oystercatchers a run for their money when it comes to silliness.

Ernie Allison is a freelance writer for PerkyPet, which makes high quality bird feeders to bring a little more nature to your backyard.

If you’re interested in guest posting for Beach Chair Scientist, please email info@beachchairscientist.com for more information.

12 bite-sized shark posts (holding the hokey here)

Ok, maybe not so much in the title. Did you know sharks have roamed the earth for 400 million years and have been instrumental in maintaining healthy ocean ecosystems?  They’re amazing creatures and in case you’re actually interested in learning about sharks (instead of becoming frightened by them while watching Shark Week), here are 12 of the most popular posts about sharks on BCS from the past five years.

  1. What I know about whale sharks (March 2013)
  2. CITES recognizes marine species (March 2013)
  3. Myth debunked: Delaware Bay not an annual pit stop for all shark species (September 2012)
  4. Sink your teeth into this: 20 facts about shark teeth (August 2012)
  5. 10 fish you don’t see during Shark Week (August 2012)
  6. What is shark finning? (February 2012)
  7. 5 most dangerous shark species (June 2010)
  8. The sixth sense (August 2009)
  9. What do sand sharks eat? (February 2009)
  10. What are the rarest shark species? (February 2009)
  11. Do sharks have bones? (January 2009)
  12. What is the biggest fish in the sea? (November 2008)

Also, feel free to email any questions to info@beachchairscientist.com if you have additional questions!

A Ray of Hope in a Sea of Chum

Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives
Discovery brings SHARK WEEK viewers on a search for a massive killer Great White shark responsible for a rash of fatalities off the coast of South Africa. One controversial scientist believes that the shark responsible could be Megalodon, a 60-foot relative of the Great White that is one of the largest and most powerful predators in history. Our oceans remain 95% unexplored, and this massive prehistoric predator has always been shrouded in secrecy, but after a rash of newly discovered evidence, authorities are forced to investigate and hunt for the predator long thought to be extinct. A crew of scientists and shark experts examine evidence and fearlessly seek answers to the many questions surrounding one of the last great mysteries of the deep ocean while creating the largest chum slick in history. (http://bit.ly/SharkWeek2013-programming) 

That’s the way Shark Week feels to me these days, like a big, multi-platform chum slick…a greasy, fetid soup of fear and fascination that titillates more that it educates. Is that over the top? Yeah, probably, but then it will fit right into a line-up that includes titles like: I Escaped Jaws, Great White Serial Killer, and Sharkpocalypse. In all honesty, most of these shows will not be nearly as bad as their titles suggest. My primary beef is (and continues to be) the lack of shark diversity during Shark Week.

But hark, what’s that? A bioluminescent beacon of light from the deep? On Thursday, August 8, Discovery’s feature program is Alien Sharks of the Deep. Reading that title out loud makes it sound worse than the rest…like an early draft of the robo-monster blockbuster Pacific Rim. But no, this program appears to explore the weird, wonderful, and diverse sharks of the oceanic abyss. Could this restore my faith in the potential that is Shark Week? Think of some of the possibilities:

 Goblin sharks: Goblins have been known as tenguzame, after tengu, a fantastical creature of Japanese mythology often depicted with an elongated nose or beak. Goblins are fantastical in their own right, with long, blade-like rostrums and slingshot protrusible jaws that have to be seen to be believed.

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Goblin shark

 Taillight and lantern sharks: Many deepsea sharks are bioluminescent, creating light with specialized organs called photophores. Many of these sharks use their photophores to hide in the downwelling light by erasing their shadows through counterillumination. Tailight sharks also secrete a blue luminescent fluid from their, um, ‘tail end.’ Since the species is known from only two specimens and has never been seen alive, no one knows exactly what this fluid is for.

 Megamouth: Not to be confused with Megalodon. In fact, the two couldn’t be less alike. Large Megalodon teeth may be 5-7 inches long (about the size of your hand), megamouth teeth 5-7 millimeters (half the size of your pinkie fingernail). Whereas Megalodon likely fed on whales and other large marine mammals and turtles, megamouth is a plankton specialist. There have been only 55 confirmed sightings of megamouth sharks since 1976, and only a handful of these have been examined by scientists.   

Megamouth-shark

Megamouth shark

 Frilled sharks: Frilled sharks are a freak show. They hardly look like sharks at all. Well, they do, just more like sharks from hundreds of millions of years ago. The long, eel-like body, terminal mouth, unusual teeth, fins, and other anatomical features are all distinctly ancient. 

Frilled-shark-showing-specially-adapted-teeth

Frilled shark

 Rough sharks: Rough sharks are another group that breaks the stereotypical shark mold—small and hunchbacked, with large spiny dorsal fins. They may be fairly common in the deep waters where they’re found, but still, we know very little.

Rough shark. Photo Joanna Franke

Rough shark. Photo Joanna Franke

 Six- and sevengills: Cow sharks are another group with distinctly ancient features. Many have seen sevengills in public aquariums, but the larger sixgill sharks don’t do as well on display. Sixgills are broad, ponderous creatures, with large specimens more than 16 feet long and as big around as a Volkswagen (as one diver describes them). These normally deepwater denizens have been occasionally spotted right under pier at the Seattle Aquarium. Puget Sound’s deep, glacier-etched profile provides a unique opportunity to observe and study these sharks without the need for research vessels or submersibles. 

Bluntnose six-gill shark

Bluntnose six-gill shark

 Cookiecutters: Interested in learning about a glowing foot-long shark that feeds on whales, tunas, swordfish, and squid? So are scientists, as they don’t seem to agree on how this small, slow-swimming shark seems to manage it. While they might not have the physique for the feat, they have the oral equipment. Fleshy lips and a strong tongue create a suction grip that buys time for the cookiecutter’s large, triangular lower teeth to cut a plug from its unsuspecting victim. 

Photograph by Reuters/Tokyo Sea Life Park/Handout

Cookie cutter shark. Photograph by Reuters/Tokyo Sea Life Park/Handout

 Cats and dogs: The deepsea is really the realm of dogfish and catsharks…dozens of species, some with names alone that inspire curiosity. Don’t you want to know more about lollipop catsharks, mosaic gulper sharks, birdbeak dogfish, spatulasnout catsharks, velvet bellies, demon catsharks, frog sharks, pajama sharks, pocket sharks, and pygmy ribbontail catsharks? Me too.

 I’m excited for Alien Sharks in a way I haven’t been for Shark Week programming in a very long time. Wednesday night I’ll have trouble sleeping with visions of lanternsharks dancing in my head. There is soooo much more to sharks than white sharks and tigers and bulls (oh my). How can we encourage more programming that highlights this fascinating diversity? We can watch.

 That’s my call to action. Watch Alien Sharks of the Deep on August 8, 10:00/9:00 central. Ask your friends to watch. Throw an Alien Sharks party. Dress up like an Alien Shark for work. Live tweet #AlienSharks like the second coming of Sharknado (you can follow and tweet at me @jimwharton). Show Discovery your love for Alien Sharks and beg them for more. Be as pathetic as you like. Let’s send a message that it’s a big wide world of sharks out there and we want to see more of it…and we’ll be happy to swim through an ocean of chum to get there.