Posts Tagged ‘teamwork’


“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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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,

Read Full Post »


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.

Read Full Post »

Although I do teach our people how to paddle and maneuver their canoes, the lessons I want to share just now are on a less physical level. All of them, I’ve learned myself, usually the hard way. People become involved with sports for many reasons and countless books have been written by players and coaches on the intrinsic value of their particular sport.

It’s actually funny for me to refer to canoeing as a sport; since Tom first put me in Do-er’s front seat 16 years ago, it’s become a way of life for me. I’ve seen our canoes paddled by probably thousands (gee!) of people from all walks of life, and serve as classrooms, laboratories, garbage scows, camera platforms, tool containers, fulcrums and work stations, and more. Talk about multipurpose vessels; and oh yes, they’ve allowed us to have a whole lot of fun and adventure!

But canoes have something of a dodgy reputation as being unstable, tippy and just plain dangerous. Although I always feel I am tempting Fate to proclaim this, since my first canoe trip in 1993, I have NEVER tipped or dumped (touch wood!). And I haven’t exactly stayed in calm waters, either. Very few of the people who paddle our canoes have had that embarrassment, either. Perhaps because we don’t permit alcoholic beverages in our canoes? Gotta be a factor, as one of the great canoeing lessons is what I’d say is the first one: Paying Attention.

Paying Attention is free to all yet a lot of people never buy it or even shop for it. This is my humble opinion, based on these 16 years of watching folks attempt to paddle a canoe. I like a nice glass of wine or bottle of brew as much as the next person (being of Scots-Irish heritage, especially!) but alcohol does affect one’s balance and comprehension. Plus we often have kids with us, and Safety is our Number One Concern in our Team.

Another important life lesson learned from canoeing is self-confidence. This can be learned in many sports, but canoeing might take you miles from home, into the heart of wilderness and exposed to nature’s whims. Thus, it’s again my hard-won belief that learning to trust yourself, to find strength and courage within your quivering body when confronted with suddenly challenging conditions, is one of canoeing’s most valuable lessons.

Choose your canoeing partner carefully, because that person has the potential to become the most hated individual in your entire existence. Be aware, he or she may feel the same about you, too, at the end of your first canoe trip together. There’s nothing more frightening/infuriating than being a bow paddler propelled into the bushes by your stern paddler, helpless to overcome the movement of the boat. People who are frightened often express it with anger. I’ve sure heard some overwrought conversations emanating from nearby canoes. I’ve been there, and you have my utmost sympathy!

Two people in a canoe have to put a lot of faith into each other. The word, Teamwork, does not begin to cover what you have to do to keep the canoe happy. Thought I was going to say, keep your partner happy, right? Well, it’s the canoe you need to be happy. If the canoe is not happy, you will not be happy. Trust me on that one, kids. By happy, I sort of mean, is it well balanced? Not overloaded with your giant picnic cooler? Is someone sitting weird? Stuff like that. You will know it when it happens. You may very well get wet and learn canoe-happiness the hard way.

I would surmise it’s that helpless feeling that causes people to hate canoes. There do seem to be times when no matter what you do, you cannot keep the damn canoe from hitting the tree/seawall/dock/rock. Is it any consolation to you that I still get those experiences? Sometimes you just have to say, WHAT the hell, and let it happen. Maybe you are fighting a brisk wind or strong current and you are just overpowered.

Aha, another canoeing lesson: let go sometimes and just trust all will be well. And always keep your balance, in your canoe and in your life, as best as you can.

Please check out www.wildlife-research-team.orgAA0015 to see lots of great people having a great time doing great things in our canoes, and thanks for reading!

Read Full Post »