Posts Tagged ‘science’


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!
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,
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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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.marinedebris.noaa. gov






Thank you for your interest in Wildlife Research Team!

Hope to see you in a black canoe,


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Hello again, and welcome back to our seven-day journey; we are now on Day Five. Thank you so much for your time and continued interest! 

If you are wondering where the term Canoe View came from, it originated in our earliest years. Remember that Dr. Tom Kazo and I started Wildlife Research Team in 1993 with our You Point We Paddle program, which we found out was unique among ecotourism outfits. Well, in early 1994, we carried a film crew from a local television station on an excursion along the historic Coral Gables Waterway. When we watched the segment on the television news later that week, they named us as “one of the most fun things to do in South Florida!” And when the reporter referred to our “Canoe View” we were thrilled. Had such a nice ring to it, that we’ve stuck with it all these years. It’s true: life through our Canoe View is a lot more interesting!

Part Four discussed the first step into the fun, exciting and educational world of WRT, the basic training session we call Canoeing 101, and provided a hint of what lies beyond for those who choose to enhance their lives by learning how to paddle a canoe. I’ve also mentioned another early program, our Canoe View Classroom. Since our early years, we’ve been honored to help out many wonderful teachers and students from all grade levels with stimulating hands-on field studies in various aspects of science. But with more organization and a tad more effort, we can expand our curriculum and bring new excitement to education in a wider variety of subjects.

So without further ado, here’s a very basic description of what we call…

Canoe View University
Yes, since our beginning, WRT has nurtured close relationships with teachers and students at all levels of study. We believe that teachers are some of the most important people on the planet! We’ve helped kids in elementary school with award-winning science fair projects that originated in our canoes, and hosted field trips for high school and college students. Boy Scouts have earned their Merit Badges, all the way up to the highest designation of Eagle Scout. Several esteemed college professors have sat on our Board of Directors. “Research” is our middle name and we take it seriously! We have gladly assisted scientists of different disciplines with their research projects. During our five-year restoration of Matheson Hammock/R. Hardy Matheson Preserve’s Essential Fish Habitat, “Project Baitfish,” we performed studies of the effects of our habitat restoration methodology. Our canoes became field laboratories. It wasn’t long before we coined that happy term, “Canoe View Classroom.”

Why should learning be restricted to an enclosed space, anyway? Who hasn’t fallen asleep in a stuffy classroom? Who hasn’t been bored to tears by a Power Point presentation? Don’t our brains need oxygen to retain information? How do you feel after sitting in front of a computer for a few hours? Are your eyes glazed over, your head throbbing, your body stiff and sore? How much of that online lesson do you think you retained? Wouldn’t you love to be out in the fresh air and on the water with other adventuresome students and an inspiring teacher in pursuit of an invigorating learning experience?

Canoe View University:

  • Will further our mission statement of “Environmental Education through Habitat Restoration and Conservation;”
  • Will build upon our cherished programs, You Point We Paddle and Canoe View Classroom;
  • Will charge a reasonable tuition fee to cover our expenses;
  • Will offer scholarships to deserving students, encouraging third parties to become sponsors (for which they will receive a tax deduction to the fullest extent of the law);
  • Will have teachers/instructors/professors on a surprisingly wide variety of subjects (see below);
  • Will aim to pay these people, and their assistants, and some of our certified Canoe Guide/Naturalists who will lead the excursion and act as “engines” for some of the canoes;
  • Will be supported by a vastly improved website that will feature a valuable assortment of original content written by WRT members and guest authors;
  • Will seek to offer actual credits, perhaps Continuing Education Units, for our classes, that students may use toward graduation or certification.

What kind of courses do you think could be taught in a Canoe View Classroom? Science in its many manifestations? Yes, as mentioned above, different aspects of biology, environmental/earth science are readily absorbed when you are paddling through a living laboratory. Oceanography? Perfect subject for CVU’s hands-on field studies. Canoes excel in respectful delivery of students into the most delicate of watery habitats for fish, plant and bird identification.

But why not geology, history, archeology, painting and drawing, photography, even yoga, tai chi, qi gong?  Why not the language arts? Literature? Poetry? Shakespeare? Music? Why not a course in Creativity for its own sake? Instead of daydreaming out the window in a dreary classroom, bring the class outside, launch our canoes, charge up our brains with oxygen, renew our muscles, strengthen our bones! Can you imagine paddling out to a sandbar in beautiful Biscayne Bay to stretch and watch the sun rise as you and your classmates gaze about in childlike wonder and joy? There’s some lifelong learning for you.

How about YOU? What subjects would you like to be taught in a Canoe View Classroom? Or would you like to teach them? Let me know!

Once again, I thank you most earnestly for your time. As I sit in front of my computer, I try to imagine the response of all of you very different people who are receiving these missives in your inboxes, shared with you because I believe you have an interest in the need to reconnect humans with our fast-disappearing natural world. I hope that I’ve been able to fire up your imagination, so that you can visualize yourself enjoying life from our Canoe View, helping us in our mission.

Remember, you can always check out our WordPress blog or our website (which is in the process of being overhauled) which you can access through the links below. And of course, WRT has a Facebook Page that you can also visit to “Like.”

As we say in WRT, hope to see YOU in a black canoe,

Your future Paddle Pal,


Tomorrow, please enjoy the sixth installment of our 7-day journey: Outcomes.

Photo Credit, Dr. Tom Kazo: It’s lunchtime on a small lake along Turner River deep in the Everglades, close to the Big Cypress National Preserve, for Dr. Bruce Sharfstein‘s class from Broward Community College in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. That’s me, Donna Kazo, on the right, keeping our tethered canoes together and out of the mangroves by paddling backward. Bit of a breeze that day. Dr. Sharfstein is my bow paddler, wearing that jaunty hat. In his “other” job as a scientist for South Florida Water Management District, he has been Division Director, and Lead Environmental Scientist for Lake Okeechobee RECOVER among other important positions. An avid canoeist, Bruce served on WRT’s Board of Directors and remains a valued advisor to our Team.

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Hello again, glad to have you back!
Welcome to Day Three out of seven days of sharing with you our Canoe View.

Today, we present to you a basic, unembellished list, in no particular order, of Wildlife Research Team’s possible future programs and products. WRT has already accomplished many of them, especially in our early, experimental years, before we put all of our time and resources into our two major habitat restoration projects which were discussed in yesterday’s newsletter.

Some will be offered to the public at no cost in furtherance of our nonprofit mission.

Some could offer sponsors the opportunity to become environmental heroes by simply donating funds.

Some are to earn revenue so as to maintain our free programs and make us self-supporting.

  • Canoe View Classroom expanded into Canoe View University (these will be discussed in future posts)
  • Excursions/classes for still photographers or photography clubs
  • Excursions/classes for videographers or cinematographers or their groups
  • Excursions/classes for artists (could include locations to set up easels)
  • Excursions/classes for plant identification
  • Excursions/classes for bird identification
  • Excursions/classes for fish identification
  • Excursions/classes for scientific research; could include field studies, sampling, hands-on experiments
  • Excursions/classes with a focus on Florida history
  • Waterway and coastal cleanups
  • Scavenger hunts with prizes (can coincide with coastal or waterway cleanups)
  • Geocaching
  • Mapping expeditions
  • Snorkeling trips
  • Overnight canoe-camping trips
  • Boy Scout and Girl Scout Merit Badge projects
  • Canoe Daycamp
  • Birthday or anniversary parties
  • Weddings
  • Stress relief/Nature Therapy trips
  • Corporate wellness and/or teambuilding
  • Sunrise trips
  • Sunset trips, some featuring the rise of the full moon
  • Nighttime trips during meteor showers
  • Picnics on the water
  • Excursions specially designed for the infirm of all ages (long-term hospital inpatients, residents of nursing homes) for a prescribed dose of Vitamin N(ature)
  • Programs focused on specific groups within the community:

~kids from the inner city;
~over-40 couch potatoes who’d like to be healthier;
~diabetics who, like Dr. Tom Kazo did, suffer from foot ulcers and have difficulty walking;
~veterans who could fulfill volunteer opportunities and/or be paid as Canoe Guides
~(I bet you can come up with some target groups!)

  • Canoe “rodeo” for both fun and skills mastery (the shallow tidal flats of Matheson Hammock are ideal)
  • Yoga or other types of exercise such as tai chi, qi gong; a group paddles to a peaceful location to practice their discipline
  • “Blazing Paddles” exercise sessions
  • Canoe races
  • Scouting expeditions to seek new routes (good for Team building)
  • Guided fishing trips
  • Provide Community Service Hours to students
  • Provide exciting and meaningful volunteer experiences on the water and on land, so that people can earn the hours to become Members even if they are not physically able to paddle a canoe.
  • Create decently-paid jobs (even if part-time) which are properly accounted for
  • Seek and develop leaders to keep WRT paddling for decades to come
  • Offer group benefits to Members

We hope the above list excites you! Our Team has worked hard over these past two decades, but we have had a heck of a lot of fun along the way. We’ve seen a lot of wonderful kids grow up in our canoes, including my own two daughters, Christianna and Jamie.

Even just one WRT canoe excursion, however, has been known to improve a child’s outlook for the rest of his or her life.
Many of these youngsters have been inspired to choose careers in science.

Gratifying? You bet!
Exponential results? Our specialty!

So all the more reason for us to get back to work after this long and frustrating dry spell.

Tomorrow’s post: Where Do We Start?

Thank you so much for your time and attention. There are no greater gifts, when all is said and done.

Hope you have fair winds and sunny skies today,


P.S. Remember you are invited to learn more about WRT before tomorrow (or at any time!), by checking out past posts on our WordPress blog and our website: www.wildlife-research-team.org, and please feel free to share our newsletters and posts with your friends.

Photo: our first two canoes, Do-er and Do-It, moored along Turner River in deep southwest Florida, in 1993, during a scouting expedition.

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