Archive for September, 2008

September 24, 2008

Calling All Greenies: 10^100 by Google


Google is digging deeper into philanthropy.  They recently announced a contest, called 10^100, which will award $10 million for an idea that can literally change the world.  The idea must benefit as many people as possible. 

Of course I have to wonder, does it have to just benefit people?  Can it be an idea that supports conservation or wildlife projects that will tangentially benefit people and human habitats?  Hmmm.  Well, there is certainly an environment category.  Perhaps green projects have a place in this afterall!  Greenies, wildlife lovers, and the environmentally obsessed alike: now is the time to get those neurons firing and to think big!

I know, we already have the SmartGear contest hosted by the World Wildlife Federation.  I suppose I’m just curious to know if there are any other opportunities out there for people to get their high flying green ideas up off the ground and into the hands of people who can help the inventor turn the dream into a reality.  We could definitely use a Project Greenlight that actually is green!

There are criteria for submitted proposals to address, including:  how many people will this project assist, how long will the impact last, how much will the project cost and can it get off the ground in two years or less, and how urgent is the need for the issue to be addressed. 

Submissions are due October 20th of this year.  Are you going to submit a project?  What will it be?  I can think of a handful of really dire conservation oriented problems that could easily use ten million thrown at them, including the need for school children everywhere to be able to connect with the natural resources outside their classrooms and to learn about the wildlife that resides in their homeland.  C’mon, environmental education could even fall within two categories of 10^100!

September 19, 2008

Does An Adaptation Have to Be Logical?

This anole regrew his tail.. is it logical to sacrifice your tail to save your life?

For the past few weeks I’ve noticed a common thread in my approach and attempts to relate information about wildlife to the public.  In my quest to make things digestible I often resort to applying logic.  Why do some species of dolphin swim upside down?  Well, its complicated. 

We think it has a lot to do with their vertebrae.  Most cetaceans have fused neck bones, so they can’t turn their heads like we might.  If a dolphin wants to see what’s around it, both above and below, it needs to turn its body.  Thus, perhaps some dolphins swim upside down for the same reason that people – when tapped on the shoulder – will turn around to see who did the tapping.  They want to be aware of things in their environment.

Its an explanation that approaches some tenuous concept of “making sense”.  Its logical and readily acceptable.  But the thing is, do adaptations – behavioral or morphological – have to be logical?  Do they have to make sense? 

Its certainly arguable and a point that many evolutionary biologists will use as an achor for their careers.  If an adaptation doesn’t seem to serve a purpose there are two questions to ask it seems.  A) Is there a purpose served that we simply do not yet see?  Or, B) Is this adaptation simply neutral in the current environment and neither beneficial nor particularly harmful to the animal?  Maybe the neutral adaptations – those that do not impact survivorship – are prone to be illogical. 

Deep down, I think most people want to understand even the most baffling of characteristics in a species.  Typically, for the human mind, we logically organize all the experiences and information contained within a day in our minds for later perusal.  But I worry whether or not our current understanding of wildlife and science is perhaps inhibiting my ability to be an effective educator.  What do I mean? 

Well, perhaps there is nothing logical at all about dolphins swimming upside down.  Sure they may have fused neckbones and can’t tilt their heads to as easily see up and down but they sure do have echolocation and they typically live in social pods of several pairs of eyes.  I’m not proposing that echolocation is a kind of side scanning sonar – although they think beluga whales can use ricocheted surface sounds bounced off of overhead ice pack – but the fact is that we aren’t always entirely sure of the answers to simple questions.  And the answers may not always be logical. 

I once mused about the reason for an animal as large as a whale shark to wear camouflaging spot patterns on their skin especially since they only need to stalk plankton!  Perhaps there are animals large enough to eat adult whale sharks in the ocean that we havent discovered.  Perhaps they are leftover patterns from the juvenile stage that really does have predators.  Perhaps the spots are sexy to other whale sharks.  But maybe, just maybe, there is absolutely no reason for the spots at all.  Maybe they just exist. 

September 4, 2008

Trash and Turtles, On the Beach

The Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup is scheduled for September 20th this year.  Are you signed up to clean beaches?  I am!  If you’re in the relative area a cleanup will get underway at the Canaveral National Seashore in Brevard County, early in the A.M.  This page can point you towards other cleanups in your area if you’re not lucky enough to call mosquito-sunburn-tourist-gator-land your home.   

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(Aside: Can I just say that I’m apalled to see Louisiana doesn’t have any cleanups scheduled??)

And if you’re a SCUBA diver or a boat owner, the Cleanup can use your special talents and resources to really attack the problem of marine debris from all sides.  

On a related field note, many of the loggerhead and green sea turtle nests laid out along sunny Floridian beaches this year should be well within hatching stage at this point in the year.  Turtle season regularly runs from May to September in gatorland.  If you find hatchlings stranded in the surf or along the beach it is probably wise to report them to either Fish and Wildlife or directly to a specialty group such as the Sea Turtle Preservation Society from within the Brevard County area.  STPS is capable of rehabilitating wash-in hatchlings that are too exhausted from battling the surf to make it out to sea and the sheltering safe haven of floating Sargassum mats. 

So, lookout for trash and tiny turtles on the beaches over the next few weeks.  If nothing else the debris you discard from the sand grains will be one less peice that could potentially deceive gullible sea turtle’s who often see floating plastic as a favored jellyfish meal.