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Posts Tagged ‘environment’

09.26.13mailchimp

As South Florida residents happily fling open windows to cool sunny days, swirling snowflakes will remind our family and friends it’s time to visit us lucky folks. Today’s post will help you guide your guests on a budget-friendly but memorable excursion. Miami deserves its reputation as a world-class destination, but it’s not always easy to show it off to its best advantage. The photo montage is to give you a taste of a Canoe View of the Magic City.

These photos were taken during excursions skirting the mangrove preserve on the west side, near the north end, of the barrier island called Key Biscayne. You access this paddling destination at Crandon Marina. You will have to supply your own canoes or kayaks; there is no rental facility at the marina. The boat ramp is open 24 hours a day, so you can paddle out whenever the mood strikes!

This location was the first saltwater canoeing Dr. Tom Kazo introduced me to, at the beginning of Wildlife Research Team in 1993. In those days, sad reminders of Hurricane Andrew’s force were everywhere, with many broken boats rudely shoved into the mangroves. We would often launch in the very early morning, but sometimes we would wait until the late afternoon and enjoy a beautiful sunset. On occasion, we could then turn the bow of our canoe to the east and watch the full moon rise over Key Biscayne. Sometimes, Tom and I would stay out until the wee hours of the morning, marveling at the bioluminescent creatures lighting up the waves, chilled by the mist rising from the water.

The old, gnarled red mangrove trees have withstood the brunt of many hurricanes. These stalwart protectors of the shoreline also fringe a championship golf course for part of the way. The peninsula jutting out into Biscayne Bay, known as West Point, is all dense mangrove habitat. As this is part of the treasure designated as the Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserve, you and your guests may be delighted by sharks, sea turtles, dolphins both fish and mammal, manatee, rays, barracuda, tarpon, snook, glass minnow, pufferfish, needlefish, crabs, jellyfish, brown pelican, cormorant, anhinga, herons, egrets, magnificent frigatebird, and osprey, among many others.

I seriously recommend you check the weather and tides before venturing forth. When the tide is high, you will be able to paddle into cozy coves hidden behind and beneath the mature mangroves, which we made use of just the other day to escape the sun. If there is a strong wind from the east, northeast, or southeast, you can then be fairly sheltered in the lee of the island. I speak from white-knuckled experience: the shallow waters of Biscayne Bay can kick up big time! A strong west or southwest wind, combined with low tide? Pick another day, especially if you are leading a tour of guests unfamiliar with South Florida’s dramatically ephemeral weather.

To get there, take the Rickenbacker Causeway across to Key Biscayne; there’s a $1.75 toll for cars, and if you are towing a trailer, that will jump significantly,  to over $10. My advice is to strap your canoe or kayak to the roof of your vehicle if possible! Your guests will certainly enjoy the view from the causeway; and as you pass through Virginia Key, don’t let them stop at the Miami Seaquarium! Point out University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science just before you drive over Bear Cut; and then you are on Key Biscayne’s Crandon Boulevard. (NOTE: Bear Cut overpass is under construction, so traffic might be heavier.)

Keep a sharp eye to your right for Crandon Marina, as it’s close to the bridge and easy to shoot by. Make that right turn into the marina, and work your way past the parking lots and boats being launched or landed to the very end of the docks, on the left, or south end. The safest place to launch canoes and kayaks is as far away from the big stinky powered vessels and their often erratically driven tow vehicles as possible! Fee to launch a boat is $15, but canoes or kayaks are just $4.00. There are 24-hour automatic pay stations that accept exact change, or a credit or debit card; their public restrooms are about what you’d expect. “Nuff said.

Once you launch, keep to the left, where the water is shallow, so you can get away from powerboats. By following the fringing mangroves, you are most likely to see wildlife, which cannot be guaranteed; but the fabulous view of Miami’s ever-growing skyline is always ready and waiting for a photo! Just make sure everyone has stowed their camera equipment while entering or exiting their vessel, as that’s when you are most likely to drop it overboard! The sailboats moored between the marina and the small  island/rookery make first-rate photo compositions. It’s a nice relaxing paddle along the curving shoreline of mangroves, exploring the nooks beneath the old mangroves and the tiny islands. You are likely to see stacks of glass minnows flashing beneath the surface, occasionally “skipping school” as they leap into the air. Eventually you will reach West Point, inhabited not by future officers of the US Army, but by seabirds, raccoons, and crabs. Straight out from there are sandbars and tidal flats where it’s possible to get out and slosh around with the wading birds, or even picnic, if conditions permit. It’s a stunning view, always. Look for the ivory gleam of Viscaya across the bay.

West Point can be a good turnaround, or you can follow the mangrove preserve until houses appear. At one time, President Richard Nixon’s waterfront home could have been seen further south, but it was razed years ago  Although it would be quite a workout, it’s possible to paddle all the way down to the south end of Key Biscayne and the well-known Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park. Key Biscayne offers many other great destinations: Cape Florida’s historic lighthouse, Crandon Park’s beach, Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center, Crandon Golf Key Biscayne, Crandon Park Tennis Center; and in the developed central area are hotels, resorts, shops and restaurants. Those may be for another day, though, unless the paddlers in your party are in great shape. Don’t forget the sunblock and a personal flotation device for every person in your group.

And remember, there are no two days alike on the water. Every trip will produce its own unique set of wonders, challenges and irreplaceable memories.

Thank you for your interest in Wildlife Research Team!

Hope to see you in a black canoe,
Donna

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09.17.13mailchimp

“We win!” exclaimed the young volunteer, raising his fists in the air in triumph. He had just heaved a nasty, mud-covered truck tire into our canoe as he stood knee-deep in the Miami River. His genuine enthusiasm was infectious, even though I am not a competitive or sports-following person. Yes, if we remove noxious debris from the habitat, I guess Mother Nature’s Team does win!

I’ve never forgotten this episode over the years, because I’ve witnessed the same fervor among our volunteers whenever we extract a tire from the coastline during our cleanups. Heck, I have felt that way myself when I loaded a real stinker into my solo canoe after pulling it out of the mangroves! It’s the challenge, I guess: large, bulky, slippery, full of water and muddy filth, hard to load into a canoe; a tire is the definitive example of civilization’s intrusion into the fragile habitat. You can see from the montage above we’ve removed quite a few of these bad boys from South Florida’s waterways.

This got me thinking, and then researching, about the ubiquitous tire.

The good news is that 90% of tires in the US are now recycled. But don’t get too excited; since there’s a tire scrapped each year for every person in the US, that’s still 10% of 311,000,000 tires that may end up where they are not wanted: like in our local waterways.

But people are finding ingenious ways to make use of an item once considered to be out-of-mind once it was out-of-sight. Back in “the good old days” people simply piled old tires out in the country, or in empty lots. Now there is less open space for such eyesores and ignorance, but even worse, tires collect rainwater and become breeding heaven for mosquitoes, while burning tire-piles are hell on earth.

In order of preference, the Environmental Protection Agency upholds this sequence: reduce, reuse, recycle, waste-to-energy, with appropriate disposal at the end of the list. Estimates vary, from one to three billion scrap tires currently stockpiled just in the U.S., so everyone needs to become part of the solution.

Reduce
How? Help your tires last longer. Simply keep them properly inflated, rotate and balance them every 4,000 miles, keep your vehicle in alignment. Choose to use your car as little as possible. You will save money while helping the environment.

Reuse
It’s heartening that people seem determined to reuse scrap tires, whole or in pieces, in a myriad of products. Tires rammed full of dirt are used to build houses, called “Earthships” for living off the grid. Roofing shingles are made from large pieces of tires, with the steel belts adding strength. As an artist myself, I was thrilled to find sculptures by Korean artist Yong Ho Ji: large and dynamic fantasy animals built from strips of tires that make especially fine use of tread patterns. Other artisans have crafted the tough rubber of tires into utilitarian items such as shoe soles, furniture, baskets, flowerpots, woven and crocheted floor mats, belts, gaskets, dock bumpers, planters, bike racks, playground equipment, toys, purses, wallets, even jewelry…and let’s not forget that much loved tire swing over the creek! One of my best childhood memories is when my dad gave me a huge inner tube from one of his airplane tires.

If there were an award for “Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time But Instead Was an Ecological Disaster” my vote would go to the well-meaning coalition of folks who in 1974 dumped about two million tires into the ocean 7,000 feet off the coast of Fort Lauderdale. They were sure that this giant rubber jumble, dropped upon an artificial reef of concrete jacks known as Osborne Reef, would become a thriving habitat for fish, coral, and other undersea life. Some tires were tied together with steel or nylon bands, some just freely dumped by boaters. In hindsight, it seems incredible that nobody (on record) predicted that the bands would fail, and the tires would move, damaging natural reefs and organisms that had attached to the tires. Tropical storms and hurricanes shifted the tires for long distances. Despite the drastic failure of Osborne Reef, other countries attempted to install tire-reefs in the 1980s. In 2002, Ocean Conservancy’s director of strategic conservation, Jack Sobel, said, “I don’t know of any cases where there’s been a success with tire reefs.” Heroic attempts have been made to remove them but that’s too much for this brief article! Google “Osborne Reef” to learn more.

Recycle
After processing, the rubber from scrap tires becomes a component in at least 100 products. The metal from the steel belts must be removed and reclaimed. Then the tires are processed into shreds, crumbs, or powder on their way to becoming Tire Derived Product (TDP). Ground-up rubber is called crumb. The rubber not only meets the road, but becomes the road, as yearly, twelve million scrap tires go into rubberized asphalt to resurface highways. That’s the largest single use of recycled rubber. There’s a new recipe for railroad ties: grind up 80 pounds of scrap tires, add plastic from recycled bottles, wrap around a steel beam, and wait ninety years for it to wear out. That’s three times longer than a wooden tie and twice as strong. TDP makes rubber composite decks last 25 years with less maintenance than wood. Hyperseal Inc., a California company founded by chemical engineer and USAF Colonel (Ret.) Ronald Savin, uses TDP in their durable and waterproof coating products and caulks (I have to admit I am really excited to discover this company, as it sounds like their paint would be perfect for the deck of WRT’s eight-canoe trailer!). Apokalyps Labotek is a Swedish company that uses TDP for beautiful and tough parquet flooring. Chopped into larger, one-eighth-inch pieces, scrap tires become mulch that lasts far longer than wood mulch, won’t float away, or attract bugs or mold. It’s also used in playgrounds as a kinder, cushier surface than dirt.

Fun Fact: Next time you are in the market to rent a car, consider that Hertz has vowed to recycle every tire from its rental fleet, which in 2012 amounted to 170,000 tires.

Waste-to-Energy
The EPA or any other governmental agency (or anyone with common sense!) does not condone the disposal of tires by burning in the open. Tires burn fiercely, as each produces the same amount of energy as seven gallons of oil, and yield 25% more BTUs than coal, releasing thick black smoke and poisonous gasses into the air. Millions of tires are legally combusted as waste-to-energy in several industries. When shredded, they become tire derived fuel (TDF). However, there is controversy about the emissions that is beyond the scope of this article.

Disposal
Certainly, YOU, Dear Reader, are not the type of loathsome cad who would dispose of old tires by chucking them into the bushes or a waterway! Your state, city or county government can advise you on their tire disposal policies. To get rid of old tires, you may have to pay a fee, which may go to fund recycling or cleanup programs. The information you need will be easy to find on the internet.

Have I tired you out with the results of my research? Hope not; I, for one, feel better knowing that so many inventive and determined people are dealing with this obnoxious, omnipresent representative of our love affair with the automobile.

Meanwhile, Wildlife Research Team will continue to remove the tiresome relics of humanity from our precious habitat, thanks to the winning enthusiasm of our wonderful volunteers.

Thank you for your interest in Wildlife Research Team!
Hope to see you in a black canoe,
Donna

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3739mailchimp

Forgive me for getting this missive out later than usual. I’ve been absorbing thousands of words about the oceans of the world, distilling them down to a few hundred to share with you. It’s been quite a voyage.

What caused me to set sail was a news item about a 19-year-old Dutch student who has become a media darling for devising a plan to clean up the oceans in five years. Sounds great, right? Except that the scientists who have actually been working on this problem say it’s impossible. When I watched Boyan Slat present his idea at TEDxDelft I had to admit, he’s the very picture of the Boy Wonder, the young hero our culture waits for to solve all of our problems. He could easily be a rock star with his shaggy hair and poster-boy face. In a delightful accent to his English, he spoke in a confident yet breathlessly nervous voice of his plan to remove 7,250,000 kilograms of plastic from the ocean’s gyres in just five years, even making a good profit from recycling the plastic. He came up with the concept while in secondary school in his native Holland. In 2012, his Ocean Cleanup Array won Best Technical Design at the Delft University of Technology, where he is now an aerospace engineering student. He founded The Ocean Cleanup Foundation in January 2013. www.boyanslat.com
Using the crowdfunding site Indiegogo to raise $80,000 for a feasibility study, he surpassed his goal in one month: $89,518 was the final tally. At the end of his presentation, when he says, “I don’t know if it’s possible, and that’s exactly the reason I’m doing it” you want to believe him!
Except…
As Stiv Wilson, Policy Director for 5 Gyres Institute writes in his rebuttal, “The sea is cruel and it’s really, really, really big.” And unlike Slat, Wilson has traversed four of the five gyres and has seen the horror humanity has wreaked upon the ocean with his own eyes.
A gyre (think “gyroscope”) is a giant vortex in an ocean basin created by vast ocean currents. The water in a gyre’s center may pile up six feet higher than sea level outside the gyre. Even if you’ve never heard of an ocean gyre, certainly you are familiar with the Gulf Stream. It is the western current of the North Atlantic Gyre; there are three currents along the other sides.
But it was the North Pacific Gyre which was first brought to public attention in 1997 by Captain Charles Moore. He was sailing home from a long-distance race and encountered an immense area of floating debris, most of it small bits of plastic. Soon it was dubbed “the Great Pacific Garbage Patch” with varying estimates of its size; Marinedebris.info states it’s twice the size of the United States.
Not all of the plastic is on the surface where it could be more readily measured. Not only do fish, birds, and animals become entangled in marine debris, they consume these bits of plastic, thinking they are food, causing internal blockages and starvation. Even worse, bits of plastic have been found to absorb PCBs and pesticides such as DDT (banned in the US since 1972, but still used in other countries). Think about the food chain: a small fish eats what it believes to be plankton but are actually microscopic pieces of poisonous plastic; a larger fish eats that fish, and others; and up the food chain we go, with greater concentrations each link until your lovely fish dinner awaits! Yes, we humans are ingesting greater amounts of micro-plastic every year. And we have only ourselves to blame. 
Experienced marine debris researchers, on www.MarineDebris.info compiled guidelines for cleanup of debris, especially plastics, from the open sea. Slat did attempt to address these issues but I have yet to find an actual scientist who supports his plan (doesn’t mean they don’t exist, just that the community of researchers who have been battling marine debris for years do not agree with him).
Briefly, here are the basic challenges Slat’s system will face, according to MarineDebris.info and 5 Gyre’s Stiv Wilson:
1. the size and depth of the ocean gyres within which floating marine plastics tend to gather; Slat may have to moor his platforms at 4,000 meters, twice as deep as BP’s Atlantis dual oil and gas production facility, 190 miles south of New Orleans in the Gulf of Mexico which at 2,000 meters, is the deepest mooring in the world.
2. depth and concentration of microplastics; Slat’s system uses long, flexible surface booms, but debris can drift down the water column, to 150 meters or more.
3. capturing tiny particles of plastics while not harming microscopic marine organisms such as plankton mingled with the plastics.
4. potential for entanglement of larger marine life in the systems. Wilson: “If one endangered sea turtle was caught up? The fines that Slat would face would bankrupt his project in a second.”
5. strength and stability in extreme sea conditions; Slat’s array would not survive weeks of thirty-foot waves. It would become marine debris itself, a hazard to maritime navigation.
6. maintenance and fouling; Wilson: “Outer space is less corrosive to machines than the ocean is” and sea life grows rapidly on any surface.
7. the physical properties of ocean-weathered plastic; Slat claims that plastics retrieved from the five gyres for recycling would be financially profitable. He does admit it would not be of top quality; other sources state it would be worthless due to degradation. Recycled materials must be clean to be utilized, and this material would be fouled by sea life such as barnacles.
8. legal issues; a bewildering multitude of laws regulate the deployment of structures at sea.
Like Stiv Wilson, I hate to be thought of as a bitter “kid-hater” because I am really happy there are 19-year-olds like Boyan Slat in the world. You probably agree: “what is wrong with kids today?” is a common lament. Unlike most people, however, I have been blessed to know many great kids like him who have volunteered with Wildlife Research Team. I have to wish him well.
In closing, I quite liked this comment from “Harry,” who watches over a particular beach in Maine, and discusses his findings in his blog, on Slat’s plan: “This idea that if we’ve messed something up, there’s science/tech out there that can fix it. That keeps us from having to make the hard choices about our lifestyle. In this case, there isn’t. It is not possible to clean the oceans up of their debris. Not without breaking the bank of every nation on earth and scooping out and killing all the life in its first 100 feet of depth. That’s what we have done to our planet in just a couple generations. That’s plastic’s legacy. We cannot actively go out and clean it up in any meaningful way. What we can do is to change consumption behavior, change materials, improve waste management; do the things that stop persistent plastic from getting in the ocean in the first place.”
It starts with me, and with you. What actions can we take today to reduce our dependence on plastic?
Thank you for your interest in Wildlife Research Team!
Hope to see you in a black canoe,
Donna
P.S. Another great source you should check out is DeepSeaNews. It’s Cocktail Week!
Photo credit: Donna McVicar Kazo
A Portugese Man o’ War, 
Physalia physalis, like plastic, lets the winds and currents take it where they may.

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nfnr_mailchimp_09.03.13

In the heart of urban Fort Lauderdale, Florida, lies a little-known gem of a paddling destination. It’s a river dear to the hearts of WRT members: the North Fork of the New River, a 3.5 mile tributary of the New River itself. The North Fork has all a paddler could want out of a paddling destination. First, it’s wonderfully convenient; second, it’s historic and unique; third, no powerboat traffic = safer paddling; fourth, there’s a wide variety of sights—wildlife to urban life. The trees and understory foliage along the shoreline provide precious habitat to wildlife, while the spaces beneath the bridges provide shelter to homeless humans. You might see a train or a manatee: true urban canoeing on Broward’s Blueways Trail.

Visit mynorthfork.fau.edu to learn more of this river’s fascinating history. WRT is proud to be a Keeper of the River as part of a longstanding Adopt-A-Waterway program. In 2000, our late founder,Dr. Tom Kazo, fell in love with its remnant Everglades habitat. He loved the challenge of restoring the wounded river to health after decades of abuse. Our black canoes have since led many cleanups of its troubled waters, more than I can recall! Over the years, we’ve made great friends and strong partnerships with other caring organizations and individuals. On mynorthfork.fau.edu, learn about Broward Urban River TrailsFlorida Atlantic University’s Florida Atlantic Planning Society (FAPS), Broward County’s Environmental Protection DepartmentSouth Florida Water Management DistrictKids Ecology Corps, and the historic African-American communities, among others. Now we want you to know about our river, and fall in love with it too!

There are no marinas along the stretch of the river north of Broward Boulevard, which is why the agencies mentioned above worked together to create a canoe launch at Reverend Samuel Delevoe Park. The park remains the only official launch site. The helpful staff asks that you call them in advance when you are planning to paddle, so that they can open a gate and you will be able to drive right to the launch area. They also request that you plan your trip to be back at the park by about five pm, as the park closes at six pm. Having them watch out for you adds a safety factor to your excursion, just like a pilot filing a flight plan. How many paddlers forget to tell someone where they are going?

Across from the launch site, are huge pond apple trees and cypress, with leather ferns at their base, survivors of a pond apple forest which began on the south shore of Lake Okeechobee and extended all the way to the New River. It’s now all sugar cane, farms, and suburban/urban development. The North Fork pond apples are magnificent relics. Undeveloped stretches of shoreline provide homes to wildlife such as raccoons, opossums, foxes, snakes, all sorts of herons and other birds, to include osprey. You may see manatee, mullet, tarpon, snook, and turtles. Folks from the community fish from the riverbanks, despite the health warnings of toxic metals to be found in their catch.

Heading north and west (left from the launch site), you’ll be going upriver. Sistrunk Boulevard is the first bridge. I love the pond apple and cypress bayou on the right. On the left is a busy bus repair company, revealed when exotic nuisance trees were removed. The banks are now covered by large white stones, called riprap, and only natives, such as pond apple, mangrove, and leather fern, are planted. The North Fork displays many contrasts, and this is one of note: rows of smelly buses on the left, a charming pocket of Everglades habitat on the right.

The river turns and twists enough to sustain that “what’s around the next bend?” feeling. Its winding course also means that on breezy days, you are protected in some areas and digging in on others. The New River is tidal-influenced, so check the tide charts, and think about paddling along with the tidal flow, inland or to the sea. Beginning paddlers may find a three-knot tidal current too much to handle. Full-moon high tides have forced us to sit in the bottom of our canoes as we squeeze beneath the lower bridges. At least low bridges keep the powerboats out of our hair!

The river narrows as it passes between suburban homes on high banks. At low tide, you can see natural rock formations and perhaps an old (probably stolen) rusty bicycle embedded in the muddy bank above. We’ve taken out dozens but they still keep appearing, along with car parts, shopping baskets, liquor bottles, soda cans, construction materials…and you name it, we’ve taken it out of the river.

The New River once received fresh water from Lake Okeechobee, up until the early 1960s. It also used to handle five million gallons of wastewater per day, along with elephant manure from a now-defunct circus. A flood control structure along Sunrise Boulevard now effectively terminates the North Fork, changing its pleasant meandering to a business-like, boring canal. Before we get there, we turn around at the debris-catching boom just south of Sunrise, and head back southeast. A major source of litter is the swap meet on Sunrise and the boom keeps some of it from escaping down the river into the sea. It was much worse before a fence was installed along their parking lot, after our group complained to the owner. The water is definitely cleaner these days.

Return to the Delevoe canoe launch, and you’ll have gotten a good four-mile workout, especially if you’ve been paddling against wind and tide! (I think my personal record was four times up and back to check on straggling volunteers!)

Paddle south, you’ll be slanting east. More giant pond apples and undeveloped shoreline will be providing precious habitat. Look left, above a sea wall at a tiny rock chapel (overgrown by a huge fig tree the last time I saw it); that’s the old Sweeting estate.

As you paddle beneath the railroad bridge, Tri-Rail may pass overhead. Then it’s true urban canoeing beneath I-95’s massive spans. Shafts of light pierce strong shadows cast by tons of concrete to create an eerie black-and-white abstract painting, complemented by harsh sounds of traffic reverberating all around you. All those hurrying, stressed-out people, have no idea of you beneath them, a modern-day Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer in search of adventure!

Further south, a broad, shallow section of the river bends around a small peninsula, forming what was known as The Barrel. Pastors from the many neighborhood churches could safely baptize large numbers of their congregations at once.

About a mile from Delevoe Park, the North Fork passes beneath Broward Boulevard’s fairly low bridge, but the spell is broken. From now on, large boats are tied up along banks shored up by seawalls. A paddler will feel as loved as a bicyclist on I-95. It’s kind of fun to get a canoe view of some beautiful yachts, and you could paddle downtown for lunch at a waterfront restaurant, but you must be on guard at all times for heavy boat traffic or suffer the consequences! Not only are the wakes of the 100-foot yachts a challenge for a canoe, but the seawalls will bounce them back, creating very sloppy water and tricky twisty paddling.

Scoot back under the Broward Boulevard bridge and make your escape! Get back to the Huck-and-Tom mode within the green walls of pond apple and cypress, and pray they never raise that bridge!

Look for this article on WRT’s website soon, illustrated with photos of every place mentioned. Our Galleries already feature many photos of our many dozens of cleanups and hundreds of volunteers.

Sunday, September 29, 2013, FAPS will again be hosting a cleanup of the North Fork. WRT plans to be there. Please call me, Donna Kazo, to reserve a seat in our black canoes: 954.474.8194. I will also be leading a brief Canoeing 101 class before the event. Community Service Hours available to students.
Details:
Reverend Samuel Delevoe Park
2520 NW 6th Street (also called Sistrunk Boulevard) Fort Lauderdale FL 33311
Phone: 954.791.1036

www.broward.org/Parks/ReverendSamuelDelevoePark/Pages/Default.aspx

Photo Montage: Top left, FAU volunteers at the canoe launch; top right, giant pond apple tree; center, December 2003, volunteers from all the groups mentioned gather around the new Adopt-A-Waterway sign with the day’s haul of trash; bottom: view south from the Sistrunk Boulevard bridge back to the canoe launch at the park.

Thank you for your interest in Wildlife Research Team!
Hope to see you in a black canoe,Donna

 

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On a beautiful Miami morning, Dr. Tom Kazo and two students enjoy the companionship of a bottlenose dolphin on its morning commute down the coast.

If you are at all familiar with Wildlife Research Team, you know that since our inception, in 1993, our “trademark” black canoes have served as habitat restoration classrooms, field laboratories, mentoring corners, tool carriers, fulcrums, sleeping chambers, fishing skiffs, artists’ studios, garbage barges, ocean cruisers, river racers, swamp transports, camping conveyances, photographers’ stands, psychologists’ offices, celestial observatories, birdwatchers’ nests, tug-or-tow boats, exercise machines, scuba stations, scientist ferries, gossip containers, bravery-testing spaces, dating services, surf boards, picnic places, meditation corners, strength-building vehicles, playtime crafts, vessels of healing, hope, and enlightenment… We have yet to carry bundles of furs in the manner of French Canadian voyageurs, or Native American warriors to battle!

Every possible emotion has been expressed in our canoes, running the gamut from white knuckles on the gunwales to involuntary catnaps due to excessive relaxation, with smiles of wonder and gasps of delight in between. Our oldest passenger was 105; the youngest, born a century later. Some were millionaires; some were homeless veterans. Some were Olympic athletes; some could not walk, some could not see.

Yes, we sure can do a lot in a canoe. What a cavalcade of rich experiences. Such a simple vessel, and yet so versatile. Too versatile, perhaps, and that’s our predicament. As we ponder our Team’s future, we must choose with care the best expression of our overarching mission, which is to reconnect People with Nature in a hands-on, primary experience.

It seems to be a good idea to narrow that focus a tad, don’t you think? Let’s start with a question: who are the most important people in your world? If, like me, you are a parent, it’s your children, no question. My daughters were both in elementary school when their future stepdad, Dr. Tom Kazo and I founded WRT in 1993. Christianna and Jamie literally grew up in our canoes. Their friends were frequent passengers.

Lots of other great kids have enjoyed our Canoe View, and one of my greatest pleasures is learning about their accomplishments as adults. Our canoes have transported future Navy and Coast Guard personnel, nurses, lawyers, doctors, photographers, journalists, teachers, software engineers, artists, writers, a NOAA scientist and many more I am forgetting. Some students were earning Community Service Hours with us for scholarships; some were serving court-mandated sentences.

What a privilege it has been for this writer, to know our humble canoes have provided opportunities for these fine young people to develop into productive citizens. It keeps me going through challenging times; the certain knowledge that we have made a difference and can continue to do so. WRT seems to have created an almost magical confluence between children and Florida’s unique ecology.

So that’s the answer to this delightful dilemma of where should we now focus our resources: on this convergence of young people with South Florida’s unique ecosystem. Now more than ever, our kids need hands-on contact with the natural world, to their community’s ecology. Now more than ever, our irreplaceable region needs to be studied, understood, and hopefully rescued by the people who would like to grow up within its unique and challenging ecosystem.

Let’s face it; all of us today are overwhelmed by too much input zapping us too quickly to absorb. Attention spans shortened, sleep problems epidemic, nerves frazzled. Daily life: artificial, digitized, even meaningless. Nobody is surprised to hear on our daily dose of “news” that people of every age are suffering from noise pollution, air pollution, light pollution, pesticide pollution. Do we really want to do this to our precious children?

Happily, even as we permit technology to overpower our “analog” physiology, there is a growing body of evidence that simple exposure to the natural world restores our biological rhythms. In other parts of the country, a walk in nature can fill the prescription; but South Florida is different! Ours is a very aqueous area, hemmed in by the ocean on the east, and the Everglades to the west and south. The land in between is almost built to capacity. The good news is that it is interlaced with waterways of all sizes and WRT’s canoes have traversed most of them. Our Canoe View excursions have thus been dispensing Nature Therapy for two decades.

South Florida possesses another rich asset— an exciting assortment of first-class environmental educators. Some of them are reading this newsletter! Some of them have already been out in our canoes, usually as dedicated volunteers participating our waterway and coastal cleanups. (Thanks, folks!) And some of them have expressed regret that they were not able to reach those who needed their knowledge the most, in a meaningful manner.

So here’s how WRT can combine the needs of these three factors: our local ecosystem; our community’s children; and our frustrated environmental educators. We will do this by placing carefully selected teams in our canoes to pursue hands-on research studies of South Florida wildlife and its fast-vanishing habitat. In order to accomplish this, we will create a team-within-a-team of trained canoe guides.

Again, if you are familiar with WRT, you will know our first program was “You Point We Paddle” in which our guides were the “engines” of our canoes. Passengers were not required to paddle, which meant that people who were too young, too old, or infirm could still enjoy a Canoe View excursion.

Thus, each canoe in our wildlife research studies will be paddled by one of our trained guides, with two young naturalists-in-training per canoe. The environmental educator and Group Leader will share a canoe. The day’s lesson will be developed by the educator and WRT.

If you are such a person, would you like to share your knowledge and wisdom with a captive audience of motivated young people? Let us know!

Obviously, these will be small groups, but our results have proven to be exponential. Just a single excursion has been enough to lift a young person to a positive outlook. Permit me to paraphrase Mother Theresa; that we may not be able to do great things in our lives, but we can always do small things with great love.

Our dilemma, I hope you agree, has been delightfully resolved.

Stay tuned.

Hope to see you in a black canoe,
Donna

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This was the question the great 20th-Century business guru, the late Peter Drucker, always asked himself. It was first asked of him by a teacher when Peter was just thirteen. He said his teacher, at that time, did not expect an answer from the class. But when he and his fellow students got together for their sixtieth class reunion, each man confessed their teacher’s question “had made all the difference to him, although they didn’t really understand that until they were in their forties.”

It’s a question, I believe, that will help us to be still, take stock, and remember we don’t know the number of our days. Drucker: “It is a question that induces you to renew yourself, because it pushes you to see yourself as a different person— the person you can become.”

But how can we find a way to push ourselves, to discover within ourselves new strengths, talents, abilities? For those of us who are parents, don’t we want to be, at the least, good role models for our children, and at the best, wouldn’t it be great to be their heroes? Especially when we consider the countless allures of modern-day entertainment; parents can be, well, boring. Kids are expert at seeing who their parents really are, behind the façade of overworked human beings who may or may not yet feel they are truly “grownups.”

Parents must provide, they must do a lot of things for which they may not receive authentic, personal satisfaction. And without a sense of time passing, whoosh! their children are grown and out the door. Some may never look back. But it’s your fault if they have no reason to. Remember, one of the greatest rewards of parenthood is to get to know your child as an adult. You gave the world a gift: this high quality person! Maybe you’ll even find out why your children decided to remember you, to see you beyond your early role of Mom or Dad. You are then blessed beyond words.

Let me share with you a secret I have learned over these past two decades I’ve been a part of Wildlife Research Team: to grow yourself into a person worthy of your child’s respect, become a volunteer for a nonprofit organization. Make a point of challenging yourself! Do something new for a change! Explore another path toward self-realization as you combine your talents with others in pursuit of a greater good.

WRT has been gifted with some of the most amazing and dedicated volunteers any organization could ever hope for. These are people from all walks of life, who in another place might disagree on politics, religion, sports, or other divisive issues, but who have been willing to grab one of our canoe paddles and work in harmony with our Team for the betterment of Nature, the environment, their children’s future, Mother Earth… Every name has a special meaning to that individual, but it’s really all the same: our volunteers know they are making a difference. At that exact moment, they are doing the right thing. Tell me, is there any greater luxury to know you are doing the right thing? Not in my book.

That’s the somewhat secret idea behind volunteering: you think you are helping someone else and at the same time, you are helping yourself to become a memorable person.

However, it’s not always easy to find an organization that will really help people to feel their contributions are meaningful. Sad to say, some volunteers may even be treated like disposable units. Well, I’m here to tell you, WRT has never been like that. For one thing, what we do has an element of risk, so our people have to overcome some very normal fears. Canoes have something of a tippy reputation! What about gators, sharks, crocodiles? Yet our methodologies have maintained a splendid safety record, as set up by my co-founder, Dr. Tom Kazo.

Unbeknownst to our Team, Tom applied his professional research studies in stress and behavior to all of us (yes, me too!). He was a master at getting us to stretch beyond our previous limits. The result: we got a lot done while having fun! During our NOAA-funded habitat restoration project at Matheson Hammock/R. Hardy Matheson Preserve in Miami-Dade County, people were frequently up to their necks in tidal creeks, using hand tools underwater to cut ten-inch-diameter logs, and extracting them with great care to restore healthy tidal flushing. We matched our six grants with 10,000 volunteer hours! Ten or more years later, those good people, though now far-flung by life, look back with glowing memories. Recently, we have honored them on our relaunched website with Member Banners, along with other photos of their accomplishments. What a privilege it has been to work alongside such people! They are Lifetime Members of our Team, never to be forgotten, that’s for sure.

Wildlife Research Team pledges to provide quality volunteer opportunities to people who are seeking to realize their potential. You might be sharing a canoe with a child who needs a caring adult to simply listen without judgment. (Canoes are great for deep thoughts, reflective conversations, and mentoring, by the way.) Maybe you fall into the mud, and share a laugh with new friends as they pull you up. On a waterway or coastal cleanup, you will see for yourself the impact of trash upon innocent wildlife. You will experience deep satisfaction when your canoe is piled so high with tires and debris that you and your partner can barely paddle it! You will experience the thrill of serendipity when you see wildlife close up, not on a screen or in a zoo, but right in front of your canoe, because you learned to paddle silently.

Whoever you are, you are most welcome to paddle out with our other awesome volunteers and become a Member of our Team! You will find strength within yourself as you learn about nature firsthand. Your family, especially your children, will look at you with newfound respect. And yes, you will do something you will always be remembered for.

Would you like to learn more about volunteering and membership in Wildlife Research Team? Then please follow this Link to our website!

We’d love to see you in a black canoe,

Donna

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I have a confession to make. I’ve not always enjoyed canoeing. There have been times I was shaking so badly I thought my adrenaline would never kick in. Those were the mornings when my partner Tom Kazo and I had clients for a “You Point We Paddle” tour, and the early morning seas, instead of being flat calm as they usually were in the summer, were more than a bit choppy for human-paddled canoes. I began to call them “slappy” because of the sound they make when the waves smack our hulls.

I am thinking specifically of trips when I was learning to paddle solo, and he had one, two or even three people in his canoe (he was a powerful paddler!). I’m remembering how he taught me how to cut into the waves at a certain angle for both speed and safety; you’d never want to get caught in the dip between waves and broached; meaning the canoe would roll over and be swamped.

After all Tom Kazo had raced powerboats at frightening speeds from the tender age of thirteen, over the same Biscayne Bay where we were now paddling our Wildlife Research Team canoes at about 97 miles slower per hour. He knew how to handle any type of water, could read the waves like a menu in a Chinese restaurant.

I never thought to ask him if on those slappy days he wore his fluorescent yellow shirt with the words NO FEAR across his broad back to encourage me. That man of mine was a risk-taker par excellence! But he was never foolish. Our canoes were carefully packed and in top condition. After starting WRT in 1993, we quickly adopted nine-inch-bladed double paddles from Mohawk Canoes for the power we needed when he and I, as guides, were the “engines” of our canoes. This way, our passengers could enjoy the delights of nature without paddling, gliding magically over the clear water, feeling the stress melt away.

On those choppy morning excursions, we could not paddle parallel to the shore, or risk the above-mentioned fate. Nope: Tom’s methodology was to head out at an angle, southeast, triangulating our route according to where we intended to go down the coast. Which meant that the waves would get bigger the further from shore. Wonderful.

While navigating my fourteen foot canoe through these obstacles, feeling the twist and tug of the currents and tides beneath me, my mind flashed on certain things— such as the opening credits of the WWII documentary Victory at Sea, where the foredeck of the battleship crashes into an immense wave and is completely submerged. The most comforting thought was of my dad, Captain Don McVicar, awarded the King’s Commendation and Order of the British Empire for his World War II Arctic explorations piloting a ski-plane in the service of the Royal Air Force Ferry Command, and also for his courage and flying skill in the development of the Crimson Route across the most northerly reaches of the globe, so as to deliver warplanes from North America to Europe. Along with the other brave men of the RAFFC, Dad flew many deliveries across both the North and South Atlantic. The 10,000 bombers delivered were vital to the defeat of Hitler.

To feel my father’s bravery burning in me, to give it a reason to catch fire, even in a far less dramatic way, turned my fear into fuel. As Daddy had navigated over uncharted, mountainous, frozen territory where magnetic North played havoc with compasses, and weather reports were only guesses, in my much smaller way, I navigated between the ever-changing aqueous topography. I concentrated on where to place each stroke of my paddle, that the blade would bite water and not air. Every stroke mattered. I learned that a double paddle could act as an outrigger, to brace myself!

The most terrifying moment came when we had to turn towards the shore, momentarily exposing the hull of our canoes to the cresting waves. Which, were, I have to repeat, much larger out there. How far were we out? I’d like to say, Scotland was nigh, but I could be exaggerating. Let’s just say, the curve of the Earth revealed tall buildings well inland. Like maybe, Naples on the west coast.

After about a century of floundering in the trough between a couple of tsunamis, and finally turning my bow to the correct angle, Tom would exclaim, “Let Mother Nature help us out!” and we’d basically surf back to land! With my double paddle positioned behind me to keep me steady, yes, I have to admit: it was fun! The waves actually sizzled around me. Who needs a roller coaster?

After twenty years, I’ve never (touch wood!) tipped or dumped. I’ll give Tom credit for teaching me well, and my dad for genetically passing down his courage and skill. But I’m proud of myself, as Tom was proud of me. Yet I really did it for love; there is no more powerful fuel. When I became his canoeing partner, it was to help him control his diabetes; continual foot ulcers kept him in a wheelchair for many months of the last sixteen years of his wildly challenging life. Paddling burned off his excess blood sugar, so I can state with certainty that canoeing saved his life.

Now when I paddle a solo canoe off the coast like that, I eagerly seek the slappy waves. In those early days, we’d rig up ballast in the bow so my canoe wouldn’t blow around, but as my experience grew, the day came when I preferred the bow to be light, because with enough speed, my canoe can be mostly airborne as I skip across the wavetops. Exhilarating!

Tom and I later enjoyed several strenuous canoe-camping expeditions in the Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge with dear friends; in my solo canoe I again challenged myself and was rewarded with wonderful memories. (Photo taken by Tom, above)

Not everyone has an Arctic-exploring pilot in their genes. But all of us have times we need courage, when our bones and muscles feel like water as we wait for the adrenaline to power up. We may never know when we’ll be called upon to overcome fear, save a life of a loved one, even to be a hero because we were strong enough. Canoeing empowered me. Not that I wish to put anyone into jeopardy! But one reason Wildlife Research Team has value is that our people have the opportunity to challenge themselves in a small way, to prepare themselves for The Big Scary Stuff that WILL come to get you when you least expect it. It’s because of experiences like this, I began to say, “Canoeing is a metaphor for Life.”

So when you pick up a paddle, and launch a canoe, you are about to experience a great combination: fresh air, restorative water, improved mood, stronger muscles, endorphins by the truckload, challenges met, fear overcome, courage and self-knowledge increased, exponentially.

Such a deal!

Hoping to see YOU in a black canoe,

Donna

www.wildlife-research-team.org

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