I Spy! Fall In The Pollinator Garden

9-16-18 I Spy glasses-HBe & HBr copy

Walks in my pollinator garden are always “I Spy” adventures. I’m tracking which pollinators are using the plants, flowers, and extra water and food resources I’ve provided. These include two hummingbird feeders. A few days ago another group of “I spy” eyes locked onto the feeders . . . honey bees. Maybe they’re from a wild colony or domesticated bees from a neighbor’s box. Either way, a scout made it back to the hive to do its boogie, woogie, waggle dance and map out the way to a sugar fest in my yard. Continue reading

Happy Earth Day! Let’s Make Every Year a Year of the Pollinators.

Last year on Earth Day I was raising a sign for rational thought and action in the March for Science. This year, I’m spending it on my knees in my garden planting for pollinators. All pollinators: bees, birds, butterflies, moths, flies, bats, beetles – indeed all flying insects face increasing risks each year from habitat loss, pesticides, climate change, and disease. 

Last week’s House of Representative committee amendments to the proposed Farm Bill would seriously weaken the Endangered Species Act, allowing the unrestricted use of pesticides, many proven to harm or kill the species we depend on.

There are many ways to counter pollinator losses. Certainly, politically, but also by making your home, garden, and behaviors pollinator friendly. 

Katy Pye pollinator panel 4-22-18 @200

Find information on pollinators

The Xerces Society 

Pollinator Partnership

Native Bees of North America: Bug Guide

Butterflies and Moths of North America

Monarch Joint Venture

Audubon: How to Create a Hummingbird-Friendly Yard

U.S. and Canadian native plants by state and province

World Sea Turtle Day 2016 – Where the Babies Go

sea-turtle-1229714_640adj

Sea turtle conservation continues to make progress, but most species are still in deep trouble around the world. Understanding the turtles’ entire life cycle is critical to moving these species away from extinction. Until recently, we had little to no data on where the babies went after hatching.

New technology and dedicated scientists have now cracked the case. In celebration of World Sea Turtle Day, I recommend this illuminating video produced by Changing Seas. Babies found!

 

World Oceans Day 2015: Tackling Marine Debris – Success Stories

Marine debris ~

Man-made waste accidentally or deliberately contributed to lakes, streams, seas, and oceans.

Nels Israelson-Flikr

Nels Israelson – Flickr

Plastic pollution leads the pack of insults, but as the powerful photo above attests, derelict fishing gear (DFG) adds untold insults to mounting injuries.

Some days reading environmental news sends an emotional death ray into my hope for our planet. I end up deflated as an old tire. This World Oceans Day, I decided sharing a few success stories might put the spin back in my wheels.

Beach cleanup sponsored by Sustainable Coastlines

Beach cleanup sponsored by Sustainable Coastlines

Every year hundreds of thousands (maybe millions) of people gather to reclaim from, or keep trash out of, our oceans, seas, and other waterways. Some gather for a day. For others cleanup is a career. Here are a few examples of what’s working.

The Ocean Conservancy’s annual INTERNATIONAL COASTAL CLEANUP

2014 Results

561,895 volunteers in 91 countries collected 16,186,759 pounds (7,226 metric tons) of trash over 13,360 miles. One of the most unusual finds was $1,680 in cash. Largest “pieces” haul – cigarette butts – 2,117,931 of them. Ick. See if you can give up any of the Top 10 Items Found. I bought glass and stainless drinking straws and re-useable bamboo picnic ware to keep in the car. They make great presents, too.

Texas beach trash-collected 2010I’m extremely lucky to live near the ocean. Our local harbor supports a fair number of fishing boats. In the winter and spring, we have fresh Dungeness crab, and salmon and  local fish during other times of the year. Crab pots and derelict fishing gear are ongoing dangers to marine life, boats, and economic livelihoods in many fisheries. Sustainable solutions often mean partnerships between the fishing industry, states, non-profits, and federal government agencies, like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

CRAB POT RETRIEVAL, REUSE, RECYCLE PROGRAMS

Examples:

In 2009, NOAA’s Marine Debris Program employed off-season crab fishermen to remove nearly 3,000 derelict crab pots from Oregon’s coastal waters. The Program’s Fishing for Energy funds paid for disposal bins along the coast where fishermen could discard used gear for free. A steel company recycled and sheared the waste, and an energy company  burned ropes and nets as renewable fuel. The program was so successful, it will continue to remove additional pots through an industry-led partnership of the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission, state Department of Fish and Wildlife, and NOAA.

The University of California School of Veterinary Medicine, the SeaDoc Society, and the Humboldt, CA Fishermen’s Marketing Association also have a pilot program to retrieve derelict crab pots. With i.d. info from the pot’s tag, they locate the original owner and offer  them the pots for less than half the cost of a new one. Sales support future cleanups and unsold gear is recycled. Five hundred and fifty pots were collected in just two months this year. Program video (2:39)

Fishermen in North Carolina’s Pamlico Sound (through another NOAA partnership), are collecting and re-purposing 4 to 7 tons of crab pot material into 700 linear feet of oyster reefs. The goal is to rebuild the local, Eastern oyster fishing industry.

GHOST “Legacy” NETS

Diving for Debris-Fishing net removal boat. Photo courtesy of NOAA

Diving for Debris-Fishing net removal boat. Photo courtesy of NOAA

Abandoned gill nets are made of non-biodegradable mono or multifilament line. Fish and other marine life continue to be snared in this “ghost fishing.” Their value is lost to the environment and to the fishing economy. The inland ocean waters of Puget Sound was a burial ground for thousands of these legacy nets. Over the last decade the Northwest Straits Foundation, working with professional divers, NOAA’s Marine Debris Program, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, state agencies, and others, has removed all 5,600 abandoned and dangerous nets. Talk about success. “Diving for Debris” Program video (6:04)

THE FUN FOR LAST

I am SO stoked about the Marine Debris Tracker app. A collaboration between NOAA’s Marine Debris Program and the University of Georgia’s Southeast Atlantic Marine Debris Initiative, this free app for Apple and Android smartphones and tablets turns you into a citizen trash scientist. Download the app, track, and log your trash collection sites (through GPS), regardless of where you are in the world and whether you’re on a beach, on the ocean, your street, school, local stream ~ wherever. Your info goes into a growing global database, allowing scientists to better understand the world’s trash picture. From knowledge comes solution, right?MDT-2

This little free tool is so impressive it was included in Apple’s 25th Worldwide Developers Conference promotional video, “Apps We Can’t Live Without.” Oceans advocate Emily Penn, of Pangaea Exploration collects data on marine debris. MDT is an app she “can’t live without,” she told the Apple audience. Just think of the progress we could make if every kid with a smartphone or tablet starting tracking (and picking up) trash. 

I’m no Emily Penn, but my ipad’s loaded and a collection bag’s by the door ready for today’s test run. 

Ahh, I feel a lot better now. If you have an environmental success story (or you download MDT), please share your good news in the comments.

HAPPY WORLD OCEAN’S DAY!

Peace. Thanks for doing what you can.

P.S. The beautiful Monk seal in the opening photo was one of two rescued off Hawaii from this derelict net.

Monarch on poppy-Katy Pye

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Monarch Christmas – Part 2

Click on the ornament to go to Part 1 of A Monarch Christmas

glass christmas ball-rsFranca’s Christmas holiday

House-sitting with Marcail ~ "It feels so good to be on a plant with sunshine on my wings!" Franca

House-sitting with Marcail ~ “It feels so good to be on a plant with sunshine on my wings!” Franca

House-sitting with Marcail ~ "Here's where I sit in the bathroom. It's kind of cold in here, but this plant is the safest. I haven't fallen off of it, and none of the other animals can get me." Franca

House-sitting with Marcail ~ “Here’s where I sit in the bathroom. It’s kind of cold in here, but this plant is the safest. I haven’t fallen off of it, and none of the other animals can get me.” Franca

Katy:  What’s new, now that you’re two plus weeks in?

Marcail:  I house-sat during Christmas and took Franca with me. She liked it there because the house was warmer than mine. She also had plants to sit on. Sometimes when I got home after work, I’d find she’d fallen off the plant I left her on. Didn’t hurt her, but there were cats in the house, so I made sure they couldn’t get to her. 

Butterfly pee!

Butterfly pee!

Not everyone can say they’ve been peed on by a butterfly.

Marcail: I just started a Facebook page for Franca.

Franca's FB headerKaty:  What a great idea. Now that you are more than two weeks into Franca’s rescue, what’s your hope for her future? 

Marcail:  I don’t know how old she is, but I have a feeling she’ll make it to warmer weather. Of course I’m hoping to release her. I definitely do not want to keep her as a pet. I’m really happy with the progress I’ve seen so far. I didn’t think she would be so quick to use her legs and wings, and she’s getting stronger. I’m pretty sure she won’t die, unless it’s her time.

Katy:  How will you know when it’s time to let her go?

Marcail:  I don’t know what conditions prove that she’s able to be released, but I want to see that she’s confident walking, confident flying, and able to find her own food without me putting it in front of her face. I think that would be proof that she can live on her own. My goal is to get her to feed on her own and fly. Then she’s on her way.

Katy:  Those sound like reasonable goals. She’s done so well so far. Since she might be around for a while, are you going to make a habitat for her?

Marcail:  At this rate, I’ll probably have to get some kind of small cage or terrarium for her to live in until spring. She’s getting more confident walking around and trying to use her wings. I don’t want her to get into trouble. 

Katy:  I’ve learned a lot following you and Franca. Can you sum up your experience so far?

Marcail:  She’s a lot stronger than I thought. I was afraid she would be much more breakable and easily damaged, but she’s not. Caring for her doesn’t take as much time as I expected. I don’t take her to work, so I don’t feed her for a long time during the day. Still, she’s able to make it and keep her strength until I get home. I’m always glad for weekends or holidays where I can stay home and spend a lot of time with her. It’s a lot of time put in, but it doesn’t feel like it. A lot of times I’ll feed her and keep her warm while I’m watching a movie and I don’t notice how much time it takes. I feel like I make it work for my lifestyle and schedule. Sometimes I feel guilty about that, but she seems to be doing well anyway.

Katy:  Given fall-hatched Monarchs can live up to eight months, she might be hanging around your house another four or five. Enough time to learn a lot more about this beautiful butterfly and her species.

UPDATE: Franca’s beautiful life came, as far we can tell, to a natural end on January 25th. I’m grateful for the chance to have this closer look at the lives on Monarchs. 

Visit (and Like) Franca’s Facebook page to keep up with her. I created a puzzle, using a photo of a Monarch (female!) who stopped by my garden this year.

Monarch butterfly puzzle by Katy Pye

Monarch puzzle. Click on the link above the photo. If 20 pieces is too easy, bump it up to more. Have fun!

Thanks, Marcail and Franca for allowing me to share your story. I’ll be preparing my garden (with native milkweed and flowers) and anxiously watching for Monarchs this spring.

There is tons of information about Monarchs on the Internet. I found some unusual, fun facts. See how many questions you can answer.

Survival strategies

1) Franca got caught in a bad rain storm. What is one strategy butterflies use to wait out a storm?

2) Butterflies come in a range of colors, so why are Monarch’s orange?

3) What is a major difference between Monarchs that make the longest migration from Canada to Mexico and shorter migrations(or none), like the Western or resident Puerto Rican groups?

4) What body part(s) help a Monarch fly in the right direction during migration?

5) What is “puddling”?

Other stuff

6) Are Monarchs found in other places than North America?

7) What is the Monarch called in Australia?

8) What bird is immune to the toxin in Monarchs?

Answers

1) They hang upside down from a branch, wings folded tight, so the rain will run off their bodies.

2) The color is a warning signal to predators (like birds) that they’ll get a yucky (toxic to some species) mouthful if they chomp down on a Monarch. This is called an “aposematic” signal. Monarch caterpillars only eats milkweed, which contains a poison. The caterpillar’s body stores the poison and passes it on to the adult butterfly during metamorphosis. The Viceroy butterfly doesn’t rely on milkweed, but its color pattern mimics the Monarch’s. It probably sends the same, “better not eat me” message. A color variation where the Monarch’s normally orange areas are replaced by greyish white, originally appeared in small numbers in Australia, New Zealand, and Indonesia. A consistent 10% of Oahu, Hawaii’s population have this coloration.

Monarch on left, Viceroy on right. Note black bar across lower wing on Viceroy, absent from Monarch. Can you tell whether the Monarch is a male or female?  Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Monarch on left, Viceroy on right. Note the black bar across lower wing on  the Viceroy, absent from Monarch. Can you tell whether the Monarch is a male or female?
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

3) New research shows size matters if you’re flying long distance. Look at the difference between these Monarchs (top left one is a male-note black scent sacs on underwing and thinner veins). The larger set makes the long migration, the smaller set never migrates out of Puerto Rico. BBC Earth News article, here.

BBC Earth News 'Supersized' Monarchs

Long-distance Monarch fliers have larger bodies and wings. Photo: used with permission

4) Butterfly ‘GPS’ found in antennae The antennae and brain work together to get Monarchs where they need to go. The butterflies use “a 24-hour clock in their brains in conjunction with their “Sun compass” when they migrate. The antennal clock can sense light independently from the brain and can function independently,” while regulating the brain process. “It’s becoming…clear that the antennae have a number of functions that are independent from being odour detectors. They can function as ears, sensing sound and changes in barometric pressure, and now we can add to the list this function as a timepiece.”

5) When a butterfly takes in moisture and nutrients from damp soil and wet gravel.

6) Yes, two species are wide-spread. Populations are found in New Zealand, Australia, New Guinea, and New Caladonia. In Europe: the Canary Islands, the Azores, and Madeira. Also India, Ceylon, Central America and Northern South America-including along the Amazon. And in Hawaii. From: Carnavora Forum.

7) The Wanderer

8) The Black-headed Grosbeak. Other birds, like orioles and jays eat select, less toxic parts of the body. Mice seem less affected by the toxin, too. 

Black_headed_grosbeak_From_The_Crossley_ID_Guide_Eastern_Birds_edited-1Please don’t plant “tropical” milkweed, as there is concern it might be contributing to health issues in Monarchs. Replace it with native milkweed, at the least, cut it back every fall, so it’s not blooming. Read about the issue, here.

A Monarch Christmas – Part 1

Stacks of multicoloured Christmas gifts C.C. lic

Eleven days before Christmas / and all through the town / shoppers aim for the store lights / none notice the ground.

Except one.

Every December Woodland, CA bustles with people, preparing for the holidays. Sunday the 14th was no exception, as my friends Marcail and her mom, Marjie, finished their shopping at a local mall.

Marjie crossed the parking lot toward her car to wait for Marcail. A flicker of color ~ not Christmas green or red, but true orange ~ caught her attention in a nearby flowerbed. A Monarch butterfly, wings spread, lay motionless on the dirt. She bent and lifted it off the cold ground, first searching its wings for a tiny identification tag. A Santa Barbara native familiar with Monarchs, she once found a tagged butterfly and retrieved information for a group tracking its migration. This downed migrant was tagless.

Behind the wheel, she cupped her palms and blew warm air over the lifeless body. One antenna moved. Marcail opened the car door, sliding into her seat. Marjie handed her daughter the butterfly. It would be up to her to figure out how to care for their new family member ~ if it survived.

Monarch rescue copyright Marcail McWilliamsIn the following days, Marcail’s friends and I fell in love with the “girl and her butterfly” story unfolding on her Facebook page. I realized how little I know about Monarchs, much less how to nurse one back to health. I thought others might benefit from her journey, so Marcail agreed to this interview. The multi-post series combines updates on the butterfly’s progress, Marcail’s photos (used with permission), information on Monarchs, and ways we all can help.

glass christmas ball-rs

TRIAL AND ERROR FEEDING

Katy: I’ve really enjoyed following the story, Marcail. I know your mom found the butterfly, but you’ve had to take care of it since. Let’s start with what you did when you got the butterfly home.

Marcail:  Somehow we knew about keeping it warm and putting sugar water on a cotton ball and letting it drink from it, which it did. This kind of care lasted for a few days, then you and our friend Greg (who knows a lot about butterflies) sent me links about getting other nutrition into it through juice or a mixture of soy sauce and juice. At first it didn’t care for this new concoction, but if I made it much more on the sweet side I could usually get it to drink some.

Katy: You had a few concerns the first couple of days. 

Marcail:  A couple of hours after we got home, it was barely moving its wings. The antennae were moving much more, but it still wasn’t standing. The wings would move when I picked it up, but stopped when I put it down. I was worried about the missing chunk from her underwing, but Greg said it wouldn’t hurt its flying.  Franco with chunk out of wing adj MMc arrow flat

I was also worried because it’s an insect, but I only saw four legs. I found out the other two are tiny and are usually tucked under the head.

I think this video shows it using the front legs to clean its proboscis.

Katy: I see there’s an apple core, maybe a piece of other fruit, in the picture above. What’s that about?

Marcail:  I’m trying to incorporate other natural fruits that could give the butterfly more vitamins and minerals than just sugar and water. I give it the juice that oozes out of overripe fruit mixed with sugar water and fruit syrup from jam. I usually put a raisin in it that gets soft as it soaks up the liquids and syrup. I’m hoping the raisins add iron because I’ve heard and read that raisins are high in iron. 

12/19: "Well, just when I think "she's not interested in eating anymore" I find something to perk her up. Some persimmon!" Marcail

12/19: “Well, just when I think “she’s not interested in eating anymore” I find something to perk her up. Some persimmon!” Marcail

Marcail’s Monarch was lucky to be found. A strong, cold storm hit a wide area three days before she crash-landed. Monarchs can’t fly if their body heat is below 86 degrees F.

12/17 "Well, I only fed her in the morning, didn't have time after work and my next thing, now I can't get her to eat. feeling frustrated. She probably needs to eat! She does like hanging out near a warm mug of tea though."

12/17 “Well, I only fed her in the morning, didn’t have time after work and my next thing, now I can’t get her to eat. feeling frustrated. She probably needs to eat! She does like hanging out near a warm mug of tea though.”

They won’t survive freezing temperatures, especially if they are alone. This butterfly is part of the smaller, Western group whose members live, reproduce, and travel west of the Rockies. They can be found as far north as British Columbia, but they don’t migrate into Mexico, rather only as far south as San Diego. That’s what happens when you leave your passports at home.

Fall Migration Map." Monarch Butterfly. US Forest Service, 3 May 2013. Web. 18 Jan. 2014.

Fall Migration Map.” Monarch Butterfly. US Forest Service

The butterfly would have hatched in the late summer or early fall, like its cousins in the Eastern migration group that move from Eastern Canada, through Texas, to Mexico each fall. A small number of the Eastern group fly to Florida where they stay for the winter. The large, Mexico-bound group over-winters in the oyamel fir trees of Michoacan, Mexico. In the spring, all groups start the search for nectar to eat and milkweed plants on which to lay eggs and nourish the caterpillars when they hatch.

One of Marcail’s original concerns was the butterfly was not standing. It took a awhile, but on Day 6 it was ready for Strength Training! Can sprint flights be far behind?

12/20 "Practicing our grip this morning. She did her first official (small) flutter of her wings last night. Very exciting. I'm glad for a weekend so I can spend more time with her and feed her more often." Marcail

12/20 “Practicing our grip this morning. She did her first official (small) flutter of her wings last night. Very exciting. I’m glad for a weekend so I can spend more time with her and feed her more often.”  Marcail

Marcail (on her Facebook page): I think I’ve got a name for her: Franken Flutter (Franca for short) because I keep thinking, “She’s alive!” 

Katy: How did you figure out she’s a female, or did you just decide to make her a “sista?”

Marcail: Our friend Greg told me the females have thicker veins in their wings. I compared her to pictures online, and her veins are definitely bigger.

The other main differences are the males tend to be slightly larger and they have a black spot (the “androconium,” a scent gland used to attract girl Monarchs) on each hindwing. Can you see them in these comparison pictures?

Female Monarch Photo: Creative Commons

Female Monarch
Photo: Creative Commons

CC male Monarch

Male Monarch Photo: Creative Commons

 

 

 

 

 

Marcail and her mom are both fabric artists. Here’s a collage Marcail put together showing the butterfly wing skirt she made in high school. I think Franca (can you see her?) approves.

Marcail's butterfly skirt

Marcail’s butterfly skirt

My interview with Marcail and Franca continues in Part 2, along with some unusual, fun Monarch facts. I‘m off to make a Monarch paper airplane. (see update below)

Monarch rescue resource sites

I haven’t cross-checked all the information on the sites I visited for this series. I suggest looking at more than one site, particularly ones backed by universities and researchers studying butterflies. A serious Monarch health issue is linked to the increased use of “tropical milkweed.” For now, don’t plant it or spread the seeds, only use plants native to your area. If you already have it, consider replacing with natives or cut it back in the fall.

Wing repair ~ Live Monarch Hospital   Marcail used info on this site to keep her butterfly’s legs from sticking together when it got carried away in its food dish.

Feeding ~ Butterfly Rescue International   Butterflies smell with their antennae and taste with special receptors, called tarsi, on the bottoms of their feet (who knew?).

12/25 – Christmas flutters! Marcail (on her Facebook page): Here’s a video of Franca doing some pretty rapid wing flutters. Of course right after I take this she does one 10x more impressive. I was telling some friends tonight about her personality, how she’s not much of a morning girl and I’ll be like, “hurry up and eat so I can go to work!” But she just farts around with her food like she’s not hungry.

I don’t know for sure, but this looks like the kind of wing “shivers” butterflies do to warm up.

glass christmas ball-rsUpdate: My Monarch paper airplane. Flew pretty well, considering I accidentally tore off what would be the short tail. Helps to follow the instructions.

UPDATE: Finished the airplane. Printed on both sides of the paper. It didn’t quite match up, but worked okay. I accidentally tore off the short tail the instructions say to leave. Flew pretty well anyway, but I’ll try again with the tail intact.

Monarch paper air plane top Katypye.com http://wp.me/p2dkY1-Nj

Monarch paper air plane top
Katypye.com http://wp.me/p2dkY1-Nj

Monarch paper air plane underneath Katypye.com http://wp.me/p2dkY1-Nj

Monarch paper air plane underneath
Katypye.com http://wp.me/p2dkY1-Nj

 

World Oceans Day ’14 ~ aka “Primal Parent Day”

Breakers M. Cst

Photo: Katy Pye

Interconnected seas form our parent ocean — to my mind, the most critically endangered species on the planet. We are undeniably linked: biologically (from whence we came), for sustenance (food, water, air), and emotionally (see “Blue Mind”-Wallace J. Nichols). We all know our parent is in trouble. What we do on land, and in the air and water can help or hurt. I’m always looking for ideas.

Yesterday, Marinebio.org posted a terrific education and action tool. “101 Ways to Make a Difference: Take Action for Threatened and Endangered Species.” Arranged by category, and not just about ocean issues, it’s easy to find a topic that warms your heart, makes your blood boil, or both. The deepest and most long-lasting changes — individually and for the planet — launch from a single passion, then often spread.

My top 4 (with links in green) are:

sea turtles ~ Turtle Island Restoration Project and Seaturtle.org (a primary resource for all things sea turtle)

over-fishing  ~ MarineBio.org-“…a solvable problem.” World Wildlife Fund “More than 85 percent of the world’s fisheries have been pushed to or beyond their biological limits.”

ocean pollution ~ National Geographic and NOAA (“Eighty percent of pollution to the marine environment comes from the land.” I include plastics as a form of “run-off.”)

the atmosphere ~ If you click on only one thing in this post, choose this one. iMatter: Young people are taking governments to court in a fight to protect the atmosphere. These powerful, passionate, and eloquent kids are using society’s highest tools to force the top game-changers to uphold and act under the law. Their stories and presence touch, educate, and empower. Expect goosebumps, smiles, maybe a touch of “parental” pride.

After rain photo by Katy Pye

After rain
Point Cabrillo Lightstation Historic State Park
Photo: Katy Pye
All rights reserved

We’re in this together. Feel free to share your favorite “primal parent” links, suggestions, and stories in the comments.

Thanks for stopping by, peace, and do what you can.

Nesting Kemp's ridley Photo: Adrienne McCracken

Nesting Kemp’s ridley
Photo: Adrienne McCracken

 

 

 

 

 

 

P.S. It’s sea turtle nesting season in many places and all 7 species are threatened or endangered. To avoid extinction, they need to up their reproduction rates. Please report any turtles or nests you find to appropriate local groups. Seaturtle.org lists 228+/- sea turtle groups in 63 countries. Follow local requirements or best practices, such as turning off outside lights at night. Don’t interfere with, or distract adults or hatchlings. Know how your fish and seafood is caught and whether laws to protect sea turtles from drowning in shrimping nets are being followed. Louisiana defiantly refuses to enforce federal fishing laws that protect sea turtles during shrimp trawling.

BP Spill: Drilling for Good News 4 Years Later

oiled turtle-2 Blair Witherington

Oiled turtle
Blair Witherington

Four years after the Deepwater Horizon disaster it’s hard to find irrefutable good news. Billions of dollars and countless numbers of scientists and project staff are focused on understanding and fixing the large and lingering damage. Predictions about the future are cautious to non-existent. What’s clear is the Gulf and the creatures that depend on it are still struggling.

Food, habitat, next generations

CC seafood plateWhile tourists and locals in a news video shot in New Orleans said they had no health qualms about eating Gulf seafood, an oil industry worker/sports fisherman in a Fox News clip bemoaned the disappearance of red fish in his home waters. In a Reuter’s piece last week, Jules Melancon, “the last remaining oyster fisherman on Grand Isle,” says all his leased oyster beds are barren. Seven fishing grounds off the Louisiana coast remain closed.

Cat Island in Barataria Bay, Louisiana, once a teeming pelican rookery, is devoid of stabilizing vegetation. It’s wasting away. The oil/dispersant mix that soaked into the soil poisoned mangroves and all the other plants. The muck is still there, destroying any chance new vegetation will secure a toe-hold. Restoration has begun in some areas hit by the spill, but it’s expensive and slow-going.

A Jules Verne visit below

Researcher/oceanographer, Mandy Joyce of the University of Georgia is part of a team, making the first dives in four years to the Macondo well blow-out site.

U.S. Navy submersible, "ALVIN" used by the research team this month. Creative Commons photo

U.S. Navy submersible, “ALVIN” used by the research team this month.
Creative Commons photo

Where nothing survived four years ago, this week she saw eels, skates, and a vampire squid. Conclusion: recovery is happening. However the sea floor is covered in an inches-thick oiled layer. The long-term effects are unknown, and while heartened she cautioned not to extrapolate the positive signs across the entire area affected by the original spill.

Human health studies

The National Institute of Health (NIH) is in the early stages of its 10-year study on the human health impacts to those who lived in the area and worked on clean-up. It may be years, maybe never, before the true health effects of the spill are known. Many of the sick, lacking health insurance, can only wait and hope their claims survive the complicated bundle of paperwork and court battles between the government and BP.

Environmental monitoring group, Gulf Restoration Networkreports oil is still appearing on Louisiana’s Grand Isle beaches. They collected “thousands of tar balls” there April 9th, 2014. BP denies they are from the Macondo well, saying the tar balls are no threat to human health. (Reuters)

Compensation

BP has spent tens of billions of dollars in fines, clean-up, and compensation. That figure has almost doubled in court fights, the company attempting to overturn or delay payments. Locally, rifts have developed between claimants who have received settlements and those denied or still waiting. Lawyers have claimed a lion’s share. 

A failure to improve

In the meantime, BP has successfully bid on 24 blocks offered for lease in the Gulf of Mexico. These are the company’s first new U.S. offshore leases in two years, which include government approval for deep-water drilling.  

Creative commons photo

Creative commons photo

According to a disturbing New York Times OpEd article (4/17/2014) nothing has changed in terms of engineering refinements on any deep water operations. The Obama Administration “…still has not taken key steps recommended by its experts and experts it commissioned to increase drilling safety. As a result, we are on a course to repeat our mistakes. Making matters worse, the administration proposes to expand off-shore drilling in the Atlantic and allow seismic activities harmful to ocean life in the search for new oil reserves.” (Liz Birnbaum, former head of the Minerals Management Service, industry regulatory agency at the time of the Macondo blow-out and Jacqueline Savitz, vice president for U.S. Oceans at Oceana.)

New leases for deepwater drilling are handed out to companies every year, yet improved regulations and design requirements on blow-out preventers promised four years ago remain non-existent. “The N.A.E. (National Academy of Engineering) report warned that a blowout in deep water may not be controllable with current technology,” the N.Y.Times piece concluded. 

Business as usual.

OKAY, TODAY’S GOOD NEWS! 

I was at a low ebb this afternoon after researching articles for this post, when in came an e-mail from Adrienne McCracken. She’s the Field Operations Manager for Loggerhead Marine Life Center in Juno Beach, Florida. Adrienne’s Kemp’s ridley hatchling is the eye-catching baby turtle on the cover of my novel, Elizabeth’s Landing

Sea turtle crawl track, Juno Beach FL 4/20/2014. Photo by Adrienne McCracken, Loggerhead Marine Life Center.

Leatherback sea turtle crawl track, Juno Beach FL 4/20/2014. Photo by Adrienne McCracken, Loggerhead Marine Life Center.

She said, “Happy Easter! We had our own version of an egg hunt this morning with a leatherback and a loggerhead nest…” Whoo-hoo! Life goes on, and as Maria the biologist in the book tells Elizabeth, “It’s a one-turtle-at-a-time job.” This morning Adrienne and her group enjoyed two, with hope for 200+/- hatchlings in a few months. Thank you Loggerhead Marinelife Center, and all sea turtle conservation groups for being on the beaches year-round.

Loggerhead Marinelife Center Field Staff, Shelby, flagging a Loggerhead nest 4/20/2014.

Loggerhead Marinelife Center Field Technician, Shelby, flagging a Loggerhead nest 4/20/2014. Photo by Sarah Hirsch

The second piece of good news, at least for me, came yesterday from the Nautilus Book AwardsElizabeth’s Landing earned a 2014 SILVER award for Young Adult Fiction. Last year, Nautilus GOLD and SILVER award winners included three authors I love: Barbara Kingsolver for Flight Behavior, Louise Erdrich for The Round House, and Brene’ Brown for Daring GreatlyIn April, Elizabeth’s Landing was awarded FIRST PLACE in Fiction in Writer’s Digest’s 2013 “Self-published e-book Awards. I am deeply honored by both awards and hope they help bring more attention to the desperate plight of all sea turtles.

NAUTILUS SILVER - YOUNG ADULT FICTION 2014

 

It’s spring, and with it comes new energy and possibility. Bloom where you can.

Delphinium nudicaule Photo: Katy Pye

Delphinium nudicaule
Photo: Katy Pye

Butterflies and “Women Writing the Environment Into Fiction”

Monarch on lavender Photo: Katy Pye

Monarch on lavender
Photo: Katy Pye

Barbara Kingsolver’s novel Flight Behavior, photography, ignorance, and a meadow walk aligned like personal, fated stars one day last month.

My first photography show, Flora abunda is a wildflower image exhibit at CA State Parks’ Ford House Museum. As a hobby photographer and rank amateur in biology and botany, pulling all the pieces together has been a delightful, if sometimes challenging, eye-opener. A local expert made sure my plant i.d.s were correct, and pointed out, in passing, two plants that are food sources for the immature stage of two rare and endangered butterflies: the Behren’s Silverspot and the Lotis Blue – a species considered extinct here for over 30 years.

Behren’s silverspot (Speyeria zerene behrensii) Source:http://espm42speyeria.wordpress.com/

Behren’s silverspot (Speyeria zerene behrensii)
Source:http://espm42speyeria. wordpress.com/

Lotis Blue  photo: PG & E

Lotis Blue (Lycaeides idas lotis) photo: PG & E

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While compiling the show, I was also writing a short article for the San Francisco Chapter of the Women’s National Book Association. They wanted my thoughts on women authors such as Barbara Kingsolver, Elizabeth Gilbert, Ann Patchett who, like me, feature the environment (and related human interactions and impacts) in current novels. I’d recently read Flight Behavior and Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things back-to-back. One afternoon flower photos, Latin names, endangered lives, words and themes clogged my brain. I headed out to a nearby forest park and meadow to strain the mental debris. As I stepped out of the woods into the bright, grassland light, I had a my own “Dellarobia” moment.

Spring azure (likely). A common butterfly.  Photo: Katy Pye

Spring azure (likely). A common butterfly. Weren’t all our now endangered species once “common?”
Photo: Katy Pye

A blue butterfly, barely bigger than a quarter, lit on a grass blade beside me. My feet became one with the path.

The Lotis! It’s got to be. Can’t be. “Are you?” I asked.

It took less than ten minutes to get home, retrieve my camera, and return to the spot. As I crept closer, it seemed impossible he would still be there. Ten minutes in butterfly years is probably twenty human years. He had precious little life to spend waiting for me. I’m sure I heard his rebuke at my approach.

“Finally! You people fly so slow.”

“Just give me a few seconds,” I pleaded, snapping shot after shot.

For a few hours I rode on hope he was the Lotis. Turns out he’s naught but a common variety blue. Still, my encounter proves–as if it needs proving–books fire imagination and the best ones, connection.

My WNBA blog post: “Women Writing the Environment Into Fiction”

Flora abunda wildflower exhibit continues until June 30th, 11:00 to 4:00 daily. Opening reception Saturday, April 12, 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. Sponsored by the Mendocino Area Parks Association (M.A.P.A.)

Trillium albidum copyright Katy Pye

Trillium albidum
Photo: Katy Pye

Elizabeth’s Landing is Truckin’ to the Yucatan!

Six copies of Elizabeth’s Landing rolled out of our post office last week headed to the city of Progreso in the State of Yucatan, Mexico. Cultural and educational exchange–I can’t think of a better way to start 2014.

Package to Kitty 60650

Elizabeth’s Landing boxed and ready (don’t worry, it went with the full address).

My husband supports a low-cost and extremely well-run program called the Progreso Apoyo Program (PAP). Each year (based on donation levels) it provides school-required supplies and uniforms to over 90 of the city’s poor, yet high-achieving students (grades 7-12). A separate grant program, Career Advancement Program of Progresso (CAPP) moves those who qualify on to and through college. Together, and student by student, these projects help weaken the cycle of poverty in Progreso.

Program director, Kitty Morgan, was delighted when we offered to donate the books. Kids begin learning English in 7th grade, she said, so the majority of the books will go to city schools and libraries. I was also happy for a chance to learn more about sea turtles living and nesting along the Yucatan.

250px-Progreso,_Yucatan

Progresso, a major port with the longest pier in the world–4 miles.

Mexico’s Caribbean beaches are prime nesting habitat to most of the world’s eight sea turtle species, including the Kemp’s ridleys featured in Elizabeth’s Landing. While ridleys rarely nest along the Yucatan Peninsula, its beaches are important for hawksbill, green, and loggerhead turtles.

Protecting sea turtles and nesting sites in the Yucatan is big, particularly in the State of Quintana Roo along the “Riveria Maya” (Cancun to Tulum). Large tracts of beaches and inland wild areas are national parks, both in Quanta Roo and the State of Yucatan. Some are remote and not easily accessible. Others along the Riviera Maya face damaging impacts from exploding tourism. 

Thanks to the work of organizations like Flora, Fauna, and Culture of MexicoCEA (Centro Ecologico Akumal)and SEE Turtleslocal groups educate kids, adults, businesses, and tourists about sea turtles and their environments. Every December Flora, Fauna, and Culture of Mexico and The Travel Foundation present the “Amigos de la Tortuga” awards to Flora, Fauna, and Culture of Mexico Amigos de La Tortuga Awardhotels that incorporate and champion turtle-friendly behaviors and programs within their businesses. 

Successes Face Difficult Future

Despite these ongoing efforts, high tourism areas face serious problems not just for the turtles, but residents, too. A summit sponsored by CEA reports that 20 years of national and international study within the Riviera Maya area called Akumal (“place of the turtle” in Mayan), shows it at a “critical moment.” Lack of infrastructure in the face of increasing/uncontrolled tourism* is seriously degrading natural and marine ecosystems. Since 2008 “50% of the coral and 40% of the seagrass have died, and fish populations have declined by 60%.” Akumal’s community and economy “depend on the delicate balance and functionality of this ecosystem. *(tourism has grown significantly in the State of Quintana Roo in the last ten years. In 2005 there were 61,335 hotel rooms. In 2012 there were 85,141. New housing and business markets also boomed, all using resources and producing waste).

Different state, different priorities

The State of the Yucatan and beaches in the city of Progreso have a history of nesting sea turtles, too. Tourism is part of everyday life here, but the situation is very different. 

“When I first visited here in 1999,” Kitty says, “high school students patrolled the beaches, marking turtle nests and handing out literature to people, living right on the beach, about what do do (and not do) if they found a nest. I was thrilled that turtles were nesting here — right in my own back yard! But no more as there are now street lights along the beach which confuse and deter the turtles (ME: beach furniture and sea walls are barriers and may not allow turtles to crawl to safe nesting spots above the high tide line, or hatchlings to reach the water).

Progreso beachfront. Wikimedia Create Commons

Progreso beachfront. Wikimedia Create Commons

The few stoic creatures who do manage to nest only provide a nice meal for the 3,000+/- feral dogs in the area. Progreso’s local government cannot deal with its street dog problem. There is no dog catcher, no pound, no shelter; the dogs simply breed and suffer by the hundreds.”

Twelve years ago, Kitty helped found the only “duly registered” humane society in Progreso in hopes of educating people about the problem. This March, thanks primarily to donations from ex-pats living in Progreso, they will open a small clinic. 

The other good news is, Kitty’s Apoyo Program sponsored a young woman who is now studying aquaculture. She will go on to college, maybe become another advocate for the region’s sea turtles. She’s definitely getting a copy of the book.

When I began writing Elizabeth’s Landing almost seven years ago I didn’t know whether it would see the light of day, ever be read by anyone but me, family, and a few close friends. To my great surprise, like the writing process itself, the book has become a bridge into foreign and exciting territory.

Kitty Morgan’s PAP and CAPP programs:

…are always looking for new partner donors to sponsor the children. Every cent goes to filling their school needs (books, pencils, paper, uniforms, etc.). We are constantly amazed how far she spreads the money. She does all the shopping, absorbs all administration costs, and provides each donor with basic information about his/her sponsored child. Every year my husband receives a photo and a thank you letter (translated by Kitty, if necessary) from his student, thanking him for his support and relating school progress, interests, and future plans. Kitty sends a detailed expense report on each child.

If you are interested in making a simple donation or becoming a sponsor in either education program, e-mail Kitty at kbmorgan_99@yahoo.com. Be sure to put PAP or CAPP as the “Subject.” She will respond with more specific information on the program(s).

If you would like to support the animal clinic, mail checks or money orders (US or Canadian), payable to Protección de Perros y Gatos a.c.  Apartado Postal No. 30, Progreso 97320 Yucatán, México. Any amount is appreciated, but donations of $100 US (or equivalent) puts your name, or that of a beloved pet, on a prominently displayed plaque in the clinic’s waiting room. Help a dog–save a turtle?

Traveling to the Yucatan?

Consider supporting certified eco-friendly hotels, restaurants, and tours. There are also a number of fine “volunteer tours” where you can work directly with sea turtle conservation programs.

Green sea turtle feeding

Green sea turtle feeding.
Creative Commons-Wiki

If you encounter sea turtles while swimming, enjoy them, but keep your distance. Conservation biologists note increasingly green sea turtles avoid traditional underwater grass feeding grounds where there are too many people or people too close.

Info and links to the Riviera Maya sea turtle conservation groups:

Flora, Fauna, and Culture’s, Sea Turtle Conservation Riviera Maya Tulum Program (Facebook) “…one of the oldest and largest in Mexico. It protects nesting turtles, their nests and hatchlings in 13 of the most important nesting beaches of this coast (Punta Venado, Paamul, Aventuras-DIF Chemuyil Xcacel-Xcacelit or, Xel-Ha, Punta Cadena, Tankah, Kanzul, Cahpechén, Lilies Balandrín, Yu-yum and San Juan) and many beaches located in protected areas, such as the Sea Turtle Sanctuary Xcacel-Xcacelito Park National Tulum and Biosphere Reserve of Sian Ka’an. This means protection and monitoring of 38.5 km. beaches, in an area of over 120 km., and our base camp on the Xcacel. We annually protect an average of 6,500 nests and free an average of 500,000 baby sea turtles.”

CEA Centro Ecologico Akumal: Established in July of 1993, CEA is a non-profit organization dedicated to the ecologically sustainable development of the Cancun-Tulum corridor. CEA promotes conservation of the natural habitat and native culture through research and education.” Facebook

SEE Turtles: “…is working to protect endangered sea turtles by growing the market for conservation travel to support small conservation programs around the world. SEE Turtles also connects volunteers to conservation projects and educates students both in the US and near key turtle nesting sites around Latin America.

Pyewacky Press will donate–

1 copy of Elizabeth’s Landing to any U.S. sea turtle conservation group’s library or store, also 1 (English language) copy to 10, non-U.S. groups. Representatives can use the Contact Me page to make a request.

Peace and do what you can.