Archive for June, 2008

June 28, 2008

Tomatoes On My Patio, Not In the Stores

Tomatoes are, hands down, my favorite vegetable.  The recent paranoia surrouding tomatoes from grocery stores and salmonella cases has made me ultimately thankful for the three pots of ruby gems growing on my balcony here in Florida. 

And the interesting thing is that I’ve done nothing but water them.  Of all the vegetables that can be grown in small spaces offered by an apartment tomatoes may be my greatest success story.  If I can grow them, practically anyone should be able to get a relatively steady supply provided from a few quarts of organic soil and sunshine on their patios. 

This latest “outbreak” and contamination within the American food supply raises larger concerns.  How safe is our food?  How much can we rely upon regulatory groups to watch our supply lines and ensure that we are not sickened by what is available? 

My grandmother has spoken in the past of the Victory Garden she tended during World War II and even TreeHugger has recently mentioned the usefulness and increasing need for growing our own food.  Not only is it organic, but we know what the food has been exposed too, and the relative costs are far less than the tomatoes and veggies bought at Publix and Target and WalMart.  Even better, no bags – plastic or reuseable – needed.  And perhaps the ultimate reason – no incredible costs for food related to fuel surcharges such as those being reported from Hawaii.

In fact, reflecting back on most of my family, all the older generations maintain gardens and grow part of their own food supply.  And they can and pickle.  Let’s hope the green thumb and canning genes made it down the line to me.  The future you and I face will need skills like gardening more and more as time goes on. 

Interesting websites:

June 16, 2008

Positive Reinforcement, for You

Bridges connect behaviors to cues in training 

Positive feedback, positive thinking, positive attitudes; its all powerful stuff.  I’ve been privy to this secret for awhile.  Many (many!) zoo and aquarium career staffers have read the classic Dont Shoot the Dog! by Karen Pryor (she who founded the idea of clicker training).  Its a bible for animal training and introduces the same powerful concept – if you want to have a chance at shaping behavior in animals, you have to be positive. 

It works for people too.  Heck, it even works on people.  I won’t deny that part of classroom management for informal education – at least for me – involves heavy doses of positive feedback infiltrated consistently by the words: excellent, awesome, spectacular, amazing, and incredible.  I don’t just give feedback, I go a little overboard.  Its the same enthusiastic approach that trainers use with animals.  And I have to confess, it works incredibly well on children during field trips. 

It can also work on wives, husbands, boyfriends, best friends, and even bitter enemies.  In fact, when used wisely, it has a 92% rate of return on a dinner invitation.  No, wait.. that’s the bend and snap from Legally Blonde.   At any rate, this little trick works.  If you’re subtle about it no one will be any wiser that you’re using concepts developed for teaching guard dogs on them and will simply find you “charming”. 

Real Simple magazine recently did an article that skims the surface of positive reinforcement and turns it inwards on ourselves.  Want to feel better about your situation?  Celebrate your successes.  Find the good in everyday life.  Reward people for doing the things that make your life brighter and happier.  Its that simple.

We live in a world where the news outlets constantly trumpet the latest scandal, rape, abduction, flood, and fire.   We’re surrounded by negativity and dread about impending doom (and the doom on the horizon just changes shape, it never really dissipates).  Instead of giving in to the sense of paranoia about it all, I think we should celebrate what we can. 

For me, that means celebrating the small victories I make each day in the battle against apathy and ignorance surrounding wildlife, endangered species, and having a green lifestyle.  I’m not perfect, certainly.  But instead of bemoaning the fact that I can’t reach everyone, I’ll endeavor to celebrate touching peoples lives in any way.  Instead of wistfully wishing I could have a zero-impact lifestyle, I’ll celebrate the fact that I can make choices that do something positive and powerful for our environment. 

Ultimately, seeing myself and treating myself with the same positive vibes I send outward to others just may help me reshape my own behavior and motivate me to continue to do whatever I can to change the world.  Like Smoochy said: “You can’t change the world, but you can make a dent.”  If I can keep a positive focus I just be able to make a bigger dent than I previously thought possible. 

June 9, 2008

No Seals in Florida.. Anymore

I regularly field questions concerning wildlife native to the state of Florida. With all the invasives present in the state – especially if you lump in the non-native plants into the group – it can be hard to know just what does and doesn’t belong on this subtropical peninsula.  When it comes to seals and sea lions, we just don’t have any.  Those that do wash onto our beaches from time to time are on migratory routes into colder waters or are sick and disoriented.  Its very rare to catch such strays off Florida’s coastline, though it does occur. 

However… at one point we did have a native pinniped cruising along southern Florida and into the wider Caribbean basin.  Are you shocked?  Many people express surprise when I clue them into the story of Caribbean monk seals (Monachus tropicalis). 

And the story is.. pretty sad.  There is a somewhat unsubstantiated story that during one of his voyages Columbus sighted Caribbean monk seals in the water and sent off a small party of men to hunt them for food.  Whether or not that’s true, hunting had an enormous and immediate impact on this species.  Before anyone really knew much about their biology, distribution, life history, or basic behaviors they were extirpated from their known ranges within the Caribbean basin – including the most southern points of the Floridian peninsula.  The species was not formerly described until 1850 and was considered quite rare in its native range by 1887. 

The last known sighting of a Caribbean monk seal was in 1952 off the coast of Serranilla Bank, south of Jamaica.  They were officially declared extinct in 1994 via a final aerial survey by US Fish and Wildlife and other organizations. 

Kids often ask me if its possible that somewhere in the Caribbean there is a small colony of Caribbean monk seals just waiting to be rediscovered.  Its romantic and its possible – I won’t deny it – but its an ideal that perhaps we should not trust in. 

We need to learn something from the loss of this species and all the others that have burned out in the United States in the last century.  We need to place importance on scientific evidence and knowledge about species and make research and grant availability a priority in wildlife science.  We need to pay attention to the ideas behind the word “endangered” and “threatened” and “vulnerable” and understand that these words are not the first signal in the quest to keep species alive on the planet but a final warning flag, a last breath before they may very well go under forever. 

We need to learn that unless we do something for other critically endangered American wildlife – Hawaiian monk seals, smalltooth sawfish, hawksbill sea turtles, right whales, Hawaiian tree snails, bowhead whales, red wolves, indigo snakes, the Wyoming toad, Caribbean electric rays, Pecos pupfish, Goliath grouper, and more – they will become another sad story in a long parade of mistakes and missed opportunities. 

June 6, 2008

When Seafood Goes Bad

Help us keep lobsters from turning.. do something awesome for World Ocean’s Day.. its coming up this Sunday. 

You can: hit the beach and pick up some plastic and monofilament, yell at tourists who are stomping on sea turtle nest sites (ok, don’t really yell but do get your point across), convert yourself over to reuseable Publix grocery bags, promise to eat ocean friendly seafood, go on a whale watching cruise that supports ocean conservation, make a donation to SeaWeb, the Ocean Conservancy, or Oceana and join their online lists to be notified when ocean related issues crop up and use your typing fingers for something important. 

Or.. more to the point.. promise not to eat any lobsters this Sunday.    And if you think lobsters aren’t cool you need to read Corson’s The Secret Life of Lobsters.  There’s lots of colorful language and descriptions about lobster sex. (Oooh!) As well as plenty of more intellectual notes about the status of the lobster fishery in Maine, the conservation minded steps the lobstermen were willing to implement voluntarily (V-notching!) and plenty of wistful stories concerning eccentric graduate students obsessed with lobsters and their midnight forays into lobster romance.  Which, reminds me terribly of my nights spent chasing horseshoe crabs.