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Posts Tagged ‘paddling’

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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10.10.13.mailchimp

With the first wisps of cooler, drier air finally beginning to replace our muggy, buggy summertime, some of us in South Florida look forward to more canoeing excursions. Day trips are fun, but have you ever considered canoe-camping? Canoe camping is not for everyone but can be addictive! Do you want to feel a little like Lewis and Clark? Canoes were a big part of the exploration of North America.

You can visit areas not accessible by any other means. Night skies will be dark, starry, free of light pollution. Canoes provide excellent opportunities to photograph wildlife. A canoe-camping adventure is a very good reason to get into shape. But, this should not be your first time canoeing! You will NOT be a happy camper!In my experience, there are two types of people: campers who use canoes on occasion, and canoeists who camp on occasion. The former group usually overpacks. Not as bad as “glamping”  (Google it!) but they are still determined to bring all of life’s comforts and luxuries with them. If they’ve brought too much, just let them paddle their own gear!

With wilderness areas disappearing quickly, you will most likely have to make an overnight reservation at a government-owned preserve, purchase a permit, and stay for only a specific length of time. Even the million acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota requires camping permits for overnight stays. My favorite place to canoe-camp in the fall and winter is Georgia’s 700-square-mile Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. I also recommend Florida’s Canaveral National Seashore, where Orange Island was a lovely place to camp after a vigorous paddle as strong ocean winds kicked up Mosquito Lagoon. In 1997, along with his son Ryan Kazo, and friend Frank Parker, my husband Tom paddled the treacherous 100-mile Everglades Wilderness Waterway.

Like most things in life, when canoe-camping, prepare for the worst, hope for the best.

Know the area well before you make your reservations; especially the hydrology, as in, where does the water come from that you will be paddling on? Is it snow melt, salt or brackish, spring or tidal controlled? Will you have to slog through mud? Are there rapids? A heavily loaded canoe made for tripping is not as maneuverable on whitewater. Portages are to be avoided if possible!If you go far enough north, as to the Okefenokee, you will have to brace yourself for brisk cold fronts sweeping down, especially in January. Have you paddled in strong winds and choppy waves? Always prepare for bugs, no matter what time of the year, and in the SE USA, alligators and rattlesnakes.

Even if you love kayaks with all of your heart, for overnight camping, here canoes win out over kayaks. A typical human cannot possibly carry enough gear to be comfortable in a kayak. Gear includes water. A gallon of water weighs eight pounds. Only if you have someone provisioning your paddling route (which sort of seems like cheating to me) could a kayak be feasible.

What kind of canoe do you have? Not all are suitable for overnight trips. WRT has both tandem and solo canoes made by Mohawk, proven perfect for these adventures. You may need to rent a canoe from a local outfitter. Paddles are also essential, so don’t wait until the last minute to get familiar with yours. Even if you rent a canoe, buy your own paddles and paddling gloves. You will be a happier camper. We in WRT use both double and single paddles. If, like me, you paddle solo, a double paddle is essential; but I also keep my single handy.

Your canoe should have ropes (also called lines or painters) attached to the bow and stern, about 15’ each. NEVER get out of the canoe without taking hold of the painter. If your canoe dumps, always stay with your canoe; never try to swim to shore. The canoe will stay afloat, even full of water. In our canoes, we have attached eyelets along the inside edge of the gunwales, so that we can stretch bungee cords to hold our cargo, even if the canoe tips.

Practice getting into and out of your canoe from different heights, from docks, from beaches, from the water. Notice in the photo montage that we are camping on platforms built at least a couple of feet above the water. Paddling with a partner? Practice everything together: switch from bow to stern and vice versa.

Essential: first aid kits for humans and for canoes. We learned the hard way that antibiotic eye ointment is indispensable. As is duct tape! Everyone in your group needs to know basic first aid; the Boy Scout Handbook has good info. Visit your doctor and your dentist before the trip. Tetanus shots up to date? If you take prescription meds, keep them in waterproof containers. Pack a spare pair of eyeglasses.

If it’s cold, or you feel uneasy, wear your personal flotation device, which you’ve purchased well ahead of time, so you know it fits. Keep it handy, if you feel confident. Keep your rain gear handy, too.

Take great care to load your canoe; make sure it is perfectly trimmed (balanced), because you may otherwise have to compensate in your paddling to make up for an uneven load. That gets old FAST, and could cause you to hurt yourself. In the Okefenokee, there were no places to get out and repack for several hours. Make very sure you have a decent amount of freeboard (distance between the gunwale, or top edge of the canoe, and the waterline). If the water will be choppy, will you have sufficient freeboard? In Mosquito Lagoon, Tom had to rescue friends who had overpacked their canoe! It was not really made for camping, with much less freeboard than our Mohawks. Our friends were in great danger of drowning, once their overloaded canoe swamped in the chop and bluster of a spring cold front.

Do not assume that anything electronic will work out there. Do not rely on a GPS or cell phone. Learn how to use an old fashioned compass, and how to read a (waterproof) map. Have spare flashlights and batteries. Headlamps let you work hands-free. Add a pad and pencil to your personal gear.

Invest in a waterproof digital camera, but even then, stow your camera when boarding or disembarking from your canoe. I’ve seen some very expensive equipment ruined because of carelessness.

Water! Pack even more than for drinking; you may need to wash dishes or yourself. At least you won’t have to paddle it back! I always made sure to load the firewood, most of the water supply, and beer in my solo canoe. Then everyone looked out for me! Wildlife such as raccoons may rob your water or food supplies, and they may be more clever than you could anticipate.

Buy or borrow the best quality sleeping bags and tents. Zippers can make your life a living hell. Good quality zippers are essential! There’s nothing more embarrassing than getting stuck inside! Down filling will stay wet longer than man-made fibers, which can also pack tighter into your canoe.

Although camping without a campfire and S’Mores wouldn’t seem right, where you will obtain fuel? Don’t assume the area where you will be setting up will have dry wood to burn. There is also risk of introducing insects into an area if you bring firewood with you. Duraflame has introduced Campfire Logs, safe for roasting hot dogs or marshmallows. Check to see that open fires are even permitted. Don’t make Smokey the Bear mad at you!

When paddling, always keep the canoe in front of you and the one behind in sight, but don’t follow too closely. Keep at least one canoe’s length from each other. What if you get hung up on a root?

Last but not certainly not least, leave no trace. What you pack in, pack out. Do not leave litter behind. Don’t cut down or chop at trees. Respect the wildlife; you are visiting their home. If there are outhouses, please use them. Further reading: How to S**t in the Woods by Kathleen Meyer.

Consider this to be a very brief introduction to the wonderful world of canoe-camping. Now grab a paddle and get out there!

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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08.13.13mailchimp (1)

At this very moment, an innocent creature of the sea is becoming ensnared in a fishing net. Well, you may say, isn’t that the purpose of fishing? But what if the net has been abandoned long ago, perhaps washed overboard by a storm or otherwise discarded? Even when humans are no longer manipulating them, nets, lines, ropes, traps, pots and other derelict fishing gear keep on working to capture and entangle denizens of the deep and of the coast.

The very apt term for this nightmare activity is “ghost fishing.”

As you can see from the above montage, Wildlife Research Team’s stellar volunteers have loaded up tons of this pervasive form of marine debris into our canoes over the past two decades. When discarded rope/cables/hawsers/fishing line wash into the mangroves, they weave a noxious net that may ensnare creatures as well as other types of trash, which makes an even bigger obstruction. Even the string from helium balloons can wrap around the roots, beginning the process that may develop into an unholy, unsightly, and even deadly mess; what goes up, will come down.

When WRT started doing waterway and coastal cleanups in 1994, we were dismayed by the tragic proliferation of this type of marine debris. We researched ways to recycle the many different types of line but learned that environmental degradation of the materials, which were usually petroleum-based, would not allow for much of that. At least there are now programs which place containers for discarded fishing line at many marinas. But it sadly seemed to us as if most of our haul from a typical cleanup was destined for the landfill.

Recently we learned of a nonprofit organization, founded in the Netherlands in 2012, which addresses the chronic problem of “ghost fishing” around the world. The founders of Ghostfishing.org are technical divers who have personally observed the severe consequences of ghost gear, and regularly lead dive teams to extract it from the depths. It’s truly heartening for those of us in WRT to find kindred spirits around the globe! On their website and Facebook page, they share information on other noble organizations all over the world who are also fighting the battle against marine debris. (Even though many people shun Facebook for its pettiness, it’s proven to be a great educational resource!)

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the issue of ghost fishing was first brought to the attention of the world at the 16th Session of the FAO Committee on Fisheries in April 1985. They recognized the danger to not just sea life and habitat, but to vessels; when propellers get caught and snarled, there could possibly be loss of the ship and even human life.

Recently, Ghostfishing.org posted news of a program that converts defunct, worn-out fishing gear into clean power. Several entities have combined to reduce the menace of ghost fishing. Some ghost fishing occurs because the owners of fishing boats do not want to pay to haul their worn-out nets and gear to the dump for disposal. As long as there have been humans, the sea has been our dump site. So, over the side for unknown tons of junk fishing equipment.

Now, thanks to a partnership called Fishing for Energy, free removal services are provided at 37 ports in nine states. Through 2012, 1.8 million pounds of fishing gear had been collected. Fishing for Energy partners are NOAA’s Marine Debris Program, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), Covanta Energy Corporation and Schnitzer Steel Industries. Since the program began in 2008, Covanta reports that more than 2.2 million pounds of used-up fishing gear have been processed at Covanta’s east and west coast facilities. For the Covanta Waste-to-Energy plant in Haverhill, Massachusetts, which is the focus of the article on Ghostfishing.org, after the gear has been collected in bins at the docks, it’s the Schnitzer company which first sorts it to recover and recycle metal, donating the hauling and recycling services. Some fishermen, reports the Schnitzer Steel website, have even found a new source of income in retrieving abandoned gear from the ocean floor, and then selling it for the value of the metal.

What cannot be recycled, Covanta turns into clean energy. According to Covanta, as much as 95% of the material that is brought into a waste reduction facility goes through a high-tech type of combustion, with the rest turned into non-leachable ash. This combustion unit reaches temperatures of up to 1850 degrees Fahrenheit; the most important byproduct is clean electricity produced when boilers of water are heated until steam is produced, then steam turbines spin and drive power generators.

Here in South Florida, Covanta operates Miami-Dade County’s Resources Recovery facility as Covanta Dade Renewable Energy in Doral. Covanta’s website states the plant processes 3,000 tons of municipal solid waste and 1,200 tons of wood waste each day, generating 77.0 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 45,000 homes. Also recovered from the waste stream for recyling: 26,000 tons of ferrous and 2,000 tons of nonferrous metals. Fishing for Energy, according to the NFWF website, offers bins at multiple locations in Miami-Dade to dispose of cast-off fishing gear. Covanta Dade Renewable Energy is a sponsor of Baynanza, the yearly cleanup of Biscayne Bay, which WRT has participated in for many years.

It bears mention that there is another waste-to-energy plant, close to our canoe storage facility in Davie, Waste Management’s Wheelabrator facility. It was opened in 1991 to serve southern Broward County, and processes up to 2,250 tons daily of solid waste; it can generate 66,000 kilowatts, enough to supply 38,000 homes with its clean, renewable energy. Although their website gives no indication of direct participation in Fishing for Energy, they contribute to the community with a yearly environmental education symposium for middle school students.

It’s good to know that such technology has been created to deal with two monumental issues of civilization: municipal waste and clean energy. For those of us in Wildlife Research Team, it’s really good to know that underwater habitats are safer for wildlife thanks to the efforts of our many kindred spirits all over the world.

For further information, please visit these websites:

www.ghostfishing.org

www.marinedebris.noaa. gov

www.nfwf.org/Pages/fishingforenergy/home.aspx

www.fao.org/fishery.topic/14798/en

www.covantaenergy.com/what-we-do/community-engagement/fishing-for-energy.aspx

www.wheelabratortechnologies.com/plants/waste-to-energy/wheelabrator-south-broward-inc/

www.schnitzersteel.com/values_sustainability_2.aspx

Thank you for your interest in Wildlife Research Team!

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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The sun comes up. We draw the drapes. The room is hot. We switch on the air conditioning. Rain falls, unheard, washing away poisons sprayed on manicured lawns. The sun goes down. We flip on a lamp. Venture forth from the cocoon, look to the stars for guidance as our ancestors did; city lights have washed them away. We look to screens and machines to guide us. Everyday life in our civilized world. Nature is the name of a program on television. Nature, always, yields to the superiority of Technology.

And yet…and yet…as biological beings, there remains a yearning in our cells for the sensations found only within the natural world. Perhaps because of the salinity within our cells, we feel a particular longing for the ocean, for the smell of salt on a cooling breeze, the sound of waves calming our caffeine-drenched heartbeats, far horizons which rest our aching eyes, primeval crunch of sand beneath bare toes. We crave it all; we know it will restore us.

In Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle, author Richard Louv explores in depth and detail what we lost when technology disconnected us from the natural world of our ancestors. “Nature deficit disorder” is the term he coined to describe what this loss has done to our children. One chilling fact: the Center for Disease Control has linked the rise in childhood obesity to the amount of time children spend watching television. Louv’s books criss-cross the globe on a thoughtful journey to meet a fascinating array of very different people who have dedicated their lives to one overarching objective: salvation of the fast-disappearing natural world. Through their stories, along with discussions of scientific research, we discover how Nature provides therapy, healing, and harmony. Lack of Nature, we learn, actually makes us sick; but we may have already suspected that. Louv takes us down the road to despair but then lifts our sad hearts with realistic optimism, workable projects, doable ideas, provides in-depth resources and contacts.

In one sentence from Last Child in the Woods, Louv crystallized for this writer much of what Wildlife Research Team has been working toward these past twenty years: “People are unlikely to value what they cannot name.” I have to agree; we care most deeply about who and what is familiar to us. When people venture forth in our canoes, they learn, first-hand, that great value resides in the waters which surround and snake through South Florida. WRT’s principal mission has always been to reconnect people with Nature, in a hands-on, primary experience, so that they understand for themselves its importance.

Our early-morning Stress-Relief excursion was one of Dr. Tom Kazo’s most beloved ideas. He knew that watching the sun rise over the ocean restored the soul, and was keen to share this wonder with everyone. No one who took him up on this ever regretted it.

Here in South Florida, most of our waterways eventually lead to the sea, and so are tidal-influenced. Yet that term baffles the average person. So to teach the tide, when we launch our canoes, we have a child push a stick into the area at the water’s edge. When we return, and the water has either left the stick high and dry, or crept toward the top, the child exclaims, “Who moved my stick?” Sometimes it takes a bit of persuasion for him or her to be convinced that it was the pull of the moon which moved the water! It’s always gratifying to see that look of understanding sweep over a young face. You hope that they are sensing, perhaps for the first time, the authentic power of Nature, power beyond the control of humanity.

Tide's Out, We're Walking This photo was taken during our NOAA-funded habitat restoration project at Matheson Hammock Park, which is world-famous for its tidal flats. It was a long walk indeed out to where the water was deep enough for paddling! But by the end of our workday, the water was deep enough to paddle right up to the launch site.

Tide’s Out, We’re Walking
This photo was taken during our NOAA-funded habitat restoration project at Matheson Hammock Park, world-famous for its tidal flats. It was a long walk indeed out to where the water was deep enough for paddling! But by the end of our workday, the tide had come in, and we could, as planned, paddle right up to the launch site.

Citizen Naturalists: The Missing Link

Our Dr. Tom was a wildlife ethologist whose life’s passion was the rewarding study of animal behavior. We’ve helped scientists with studies of horseshoe crabs, manatees, and water quality. In our Canoe View Classroom, teachers and students have enjoyed hands-on lessons in wildlife research. Yet our canoes and volunteers have so often been asked to instead accomplish cleanups or habitat restoration projects; at least we are sure we have saved the homes and lives of innocent wildlife. But cleanups are not enough—people need to learn about the habitat they are rescuing. So when Louv introduced the term, “Citizen Naturalist,” in The Nature Principle, I felt a missing link drop into place. “In every bioregion, one of the most urgent tasks is to rebuild the community of naturalists, so radically depleted in recent years, as young people have spent less time in nature…To be a Citizen Naturalist is to take personal action, to both protect and participate in nature.” He goes on to list many exciting projects taken on by volunteers from all walks of life, who have eagerly provided solid and important data to scientific institutions in several countries. “So let’s increase the number of front-line citizen naturalists, who count, chart, map, collect, protect, tag, track, heal, and generally get to know countless species of plants and animals in the wild, in the elfin forests of their own backyards, or the woods, or the great national parks, or at the end of an alley in an inner-city neighborhood.”

Tide's In, We're Paddling This photo was taken from the same place as the previous one, but turned in the opposite direction. This is what happens when we can pick the best tide for an event, so that our volunteers can paddle right up to the launch/take-out site.

Tide’s In, We’re Paddling
This photo was taken from the same place as the previous one, but turned in the opposite direction. This is what happens when we can pick the best tide for an event, so that our volunteers can paddle right up to the launch/take-out site.

Or, Mr. Louv, how about along the rivers, canals, ponds, lakes, mangrove creeks and coastal fringes of South Florida? For it is within that delicate interface wildlife clings to the last remnant of habitat, there that pollution from pesticides and soil from erosion wash into the water. For twenty years, our Team has been a guardian of that fragile boundary. Now we can take a step further, teach our people about it, and help to satisfy that yearning.

So this is official notice of Wildlife Research Team’s new mission: to develop an active corps of canoe-savvy Citizen Naturalists! We are seeking sponsors to support this exciting new program, and partnerships with some of the excellent environmental educators in our community.

Can you help us? Can we help YOU?

Stay tuned!

With joyful anticipation,

Donna

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