Category Archives: stewardship

A Mountain of Water Bottles

Standing in line for water in preparation for Hurricane Irma, I wondered how many water bottles would end up in the landfill. After this manic push to collect the recommended three gallons per person per day of incalculable outages it will be the equivalent of a mountain. Having survived Hurricane Andrew, I know recycling is the last thing on victims’ minds. Twenty-five years ago, plastic water bottles were not as ubiquitous as they are today.

We pragmatically filled empty milk jugs and added a few drops of chlorine. The Good Year Blimp’s overhead message board warned us to boil water from the faucet before drinking. We now understand the risks of refilling water–or milk bottles. Bacterial growth is a real possibility. The bottles, intended for a one-time use, are flimsy and not intended for reuse. Washing them puts soap and detergent into municipal water supplies, a whole other issue.

Forty billion plastic bottles are produced every year in the U. S. Two thirds of them end up in landfills. Those which are recycled become some other sorts of plastic, mainly polyester. The majority of beverage bottles are exported to plastic manufacturers in emerging markets to make synthetic fabrics for clothing and carpets. According to Greenpeace, six of the largest soft drink companies used a combined average of just 6.6 percent recycled plastic. This excludes Coca-Cola, which declined to share a percentage.
Six billion pounds of plastic bottles get thrown out every year and only about thirty percent are recycled.water bottles

The American Chemical Council estimates the average consumer uses 166 plastic water bottles for convenience, creating unnecessary waste in landfills. This space is limited and it is nearly impossible for bottles in a landfill to biodegrade. Earth911 reports 7.4 cubic yards of landfill space is saved by every ton of plastic that is recycled.

Here in Alachua County, any plastic container is recyclable. Remove caps and lids and step on plastic to save space. I understand that gutting the wallboard in your house and piling up carpets and furniture at the curb don’t inspire one to set aside ubiquitous water bottles for recycling. But as high as those piles get, mountains of trash looming over our cities are inexorably becoming the alternative.

My Contribution to the Technosphere

Technosphere. Who knew there was a term for all the junk humans have made? Every week I dutifully haul the recycle bins to the curb and place them next to my trash can. I wonder how much is actually recycled and how much trash I contribute to the landfill. Do my castoffs and disposables add up to inches? Feet?

A paper published in The Anthropocene Review  this week divides “contributions” to the technosphere into categories: urban, rural, subterranean, marine and aerial. Although I am contributing carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, my weekly trek to the street probably contributes more depth to the urban sphere than any of the others: cords from out of date technology, jeans with holes in the knees, the Styrofoam box with restaurant leftovers I never ate, empty Bic pens, irreparable household items…

I decided to figure out how much of the sphere I’m responsible for. According to the Review, humans have accumulated an estimated 30 trillion tons of “stuff” – enough to fit over 100 pounds worth over every square meter of the planet’s surface. I went to Worldometers to learn what the world population is currently (7,475,632,700 when I clicked on), thinking I would divide the 30 trillion tons by that figure. Trouble is, the meter is racing. I thought about all those babies being born, requiring how many disposable diapers, all growing up to fill their own recycle bins and trash cans.

It’s scary thinking about how humans of the Recent Epoch (Holocene, 11,700 YA to present) are impacting the planet with our innovative creations. The technosphere, a relatively new phenomenon in geological time is changing the planet. I fear the consequences, yet I continue to assist its evolution.  “The technosphere is a major new phenomenon of this planet – and one that is evolving extraordinarily rapidly.” -Professor Mark Williams, University of Leicester.

Vote NO on Amendment 1

sun

The utilities have done a great job pushing for a yes vote on Amendment 1. Why do you suppose? Most of what the amendment proposes, we already have. The big difference, obscured by confusing language, will be to prevent individuals who have solar panels from selling excess to your neighbors, tenants, or others. This amendment is cleverly composed. It will give utility companies the right to put surcharges on solar customers and limit third-party sales of solar energy homeowners and small businesses generate on their rooftops. Why do you think the Gainesville Sun, the Miami Herald, and most major newspaper editors in the state encourage a no vote? Why are the Sierra Club and other conservation and green organizations supporting a no vote? Go to http://www.flsolarchoice.org/ for more information on the truth and whole truth of this misleading amendment.

Painting Tortoises

       FFWCC painted tortoise

         In a recent Facebook post, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission warned that painting gopher tortoises is illegal. At first glance this prank seems harmless, but the post warns that painting the shells can severely compromise their health. Humans apply sunscreen to block out harmful UV rays, but we do allow, and encourage some exposure to the nutrients provided by the sun. Paint on a turtle’s shell prevents such absorption.
The paint also contains harmful chemicals which can be absorbed into the tortoise’s bloodstream. While a tortoise’s carapace provides some protection, it’s natural coloration helps to camouflage and protect the animal from predators.
Gopher tortoises are listed as a threatened species.

It is against the law to kill, harass or destroy gopher tortoises, their eggs or burrows. If you suspect a wildlife law violation, report it to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Reward Program at 888-404-FWCC, 24-hours a day or online. You could be eligible for a reward if your information leads to an arrest.

My Carbon Footprint

Feet2

As much as I would have liked to go to Paris, I couldn’t attend the United Nations COP21 climate conference where nations agreed to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Parties attending the conference agreed to set a goal of limiting global warming to less than two degrees Centigrade compared to pre-industrial levels. They will pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees which will require zero emissions sometime between 2030 and 2050.
Does this seem as overwhelming to you as it does to me? Could I possibly make any difference? What impact is my existence having? I decided to find out. It’s actually not that hard. There are numerous sites online to help you determine your own carbon footprint. There’s even one for kids at PBSKids. Most of the calculators have simple questionnaires. There are four major areas covered.
1 Home and energy source: How many people live under how many square feet? Your electric bill will help you here, so have it handy. Also be prepared to be shocked by how great an effect lowering the heat or raising the a/c one degree can have!
2 Food: What you eat and where it comes from. You’ll be asked what foods you eat, including beef, pork, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy, and asked how frequently you eat them. Some calculators will ask where your hamburger was raised, were your tomatoes were grown. Were they purchased at Publix? Lower carbon emissions result if your food is not trucked over long distances.
3 Transportation: What kind of a car do you drive? What is the mileage? Do you carpool? Bike? Take the bus? Carpooling daily to work is great, but even once a week to church or to a meeting once a month can add up.
4 Do you recycle? Reuse? Reduce? This one surprised me. I thought I was doing a good job filling the recycle bin every week and carrying my cloth bags to shopping venues. A calculator challenged me. Do I shop for pleasure, for therapy, or just to replace as needed?

If I were ever convinced that I am not contributing to the release of excess CO2, this checklist helped put me in my place. As someone who wants to contribute to solving, not contributing to the problems of the world, I need to be aware of how I shop, dress, drive and live and I must consider every act an ethical choice. The slow leak in my irrigation system rightly weighed on my mind, not because I have a water bill (I don’t, since I’m on a well), but because I was wasting our most valuable resource. The personal decision to pay $310 to locate, much less correct the leak, was part of my commitment to change the world by tweaking the way I live.
I urge you, my friends, to check out your own carbon footprint and see where you can tweak your life to make a small, but effective difference for the sake of this beautiful world we’ve been given. One of several good calculators can be accessed at www.nature.org/greenliving/carboncalculator.

Poached Sea Turtle Eggs

Proyecto universitario de estudio y conservacion de tortugas marinas. Trabajo de campo en la Peninsula de Guanahacabibes, Pinar del Rio, 7 al 19 de agosto de 2007. Foto©Rene Perez Massola

Do you like your turtle eggs scrambled, fried or poached? Hopefully, none of those. But some are indulging in the latter. Of seven species of sea turtles, five frequent Florida beaches to lay their eggs.  Unlike tourists, the turtles don’t have an easy or relaxing sojourn. They live most of their lives at sea, migrating up to 1400 miles between feeding grounds and the laying site. They come ashore, each one to the same location where she was hatched, to lay her own clutch of between 70 and 190 eggs, depending on the species.

No maternal nurturing here. She digs a hole, deposits and buries her eggs and returns to the sea. Mating occurs between May and October, so it isn’t unusual to find nests during peak vacation times, particularly in Florida, which has 90% of sea turtle nesting area in the continental United States.

A recent news article reported nests being disturbed on a South Florida beach. Eggs were completely removed from two nests and three others showed signs of interference. All five sea turtle species in Florida are protected and it’s illegal to harm them or their eggs. Under the Florida Marine Turtle Protection Act, stolen eggs carry fines of $100 each, a costly breakfast. More so for the turtles.

A sweet, elderly friend, a self- described Florida Cracker, tells me she and her family consumed turtle eggs when she was a child. “Little did we know,” she says. She has raised three sons, all who became wildlife officers, so I am confident they have more than atoned for those exotic breakfasts.

But in many Central American and Asian countries today, turtle eggs are considered a food source. In some cultures (one in Mexico), turtles are a religious icon and people consume them and their eggs. For hundreds of years, Europeans prized turtle soup. Many Latin and Caribbean cultures consider sea turtle eggs an aphrodisiac. But in this over-fed American culture, anyone who stoops to stealing sea turtle eggs must be either uneducated or gluttonous.

Our Florida turtles, green, Kemp’s ridley, hawksbill, leatherback and loggerhead, face enormous perils besides poaching. Development along nesting beaches pose a huge threat. The hatchlings mostly emerge at night and head for the sea, which sparkles with the moon’s reflection off wavelets. They can easily be confused by lights from human habitations and head the wrong way. These days folks living along the beach are doing much better at keeping outdoor lighting to a minimum, but many simply don’t know or refuse to inconvenience themselves during mating season. 

When they hatch, the tiny turtles make their run to the ocean, dodging sea birds and other predators. Only one in one thousand survive to adulthood. On this, their first outing, they must dodge raccoons, foxes, dogs, birds, ghost crabs, and humans. Once in the water, they become prey for carnivorous fish. Babies and adults are vulnerable to oil spills, marine and shore debris and entanglement in fish nets. Turtle excluder devices (TEDS) ae not consistently used by trawlers. TEDS, which allow turtles to escape nets and prevent them from drowning, are not uniformly required around the Gulf, and are considered a nuisance by many shrimpers.

As if all those obstacles were not enough, climate change is having an effect. Temperature determines the sex of embryonic turtles – and gators. Below 85 degrees F (30 C) males develop. Above 85 degrees, predominantly females emerge. This could certainly affect future breeding.

What’s a turtle to do? Hopefully be encouraged by some good news. At the Archie Carr Wildlife refuge in Brevard County the 2015 season ended with 12,905 sea turtle nests recorded on a thirteen- mile stretch of the refuge. Imperiled species are still working toward recovery. Education is getting better, but there are still those who don’t see their self- gratification as harmful to the beautiful world we were given. Even hefty fines and threat of imprisonment don’t deter the selfish. 

Where to See Sea Turtles

The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has a list of 23 places where you can see captive sea turtles, many being rehabilitated. They also list 17 organizations permitted to conduct public sea turtle watches. These all take place in June and July and reservations are required. I have observed a turtle laying her eggs and it is an amazing sight. Seeing this lumbering creature drag herself onto the beach and use her flippers to dig a large hole will have you holding your breath with emphatic pangs. You’ll find yourself pulling for her as she slowly deposits a huge amount of eggs. Exhausted, she covers the cache, then again drags herself over the sand and back to the sea. It’s enough to make you want to cheer.

If you do go, call me. I’d love to join you. At Seeturtles.org there are research and volunteer expeditions you can join, going to Cuba, Nicaragua, Beliz and Costa Rica. When you visit the beach, keep outside lights off from May to October, and close the curtains. Encourage those around you to do the same.  If you live near a beach, volunteer as a monitor, marking nests as tracks are observed. And hope. Hope that those who eat poached sea turtle eggs don’t choke on them, but at least get a good case of indigestion.

Picture credit:  Rene Perez Massola

For more information, go to:

 SeeTurtles.org, Defenders.org, Sea Turtle Conservancy

Bear-Proof Trash Cans

blackbear

After bashing the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, I must give kudos for the new plan to offer bear-proof garbage cans to residents where a high number of bear-human interactions, rarely happy events, are occurring. FWC is not actually gifting the containers, but providing a $20,000 grant which will help buy 163 special, secure cans for residents in a high interaction neighborhood in Marion County, Florida.

At first glance, only 163 cans for $20,000 seems like a lot, but when I did the math, it didn’t seem so bad at $122.70 each. Online shopping for bear-proof cans revealed a variety of cans up to $951.60! Further searches offer instructions on how to make your own can secure from bears. Roanoke County Solid Waste Department’s tutorial offers a cheap fix involving double hinge rasps and clips on three sides of the lid. Check it out on YouTube. But be mindful: Unless all your neighbors are on the same page, you will still have visitors from the family Ursidae on your street.

Picture Credit: QualityTaxidermysupply.com

Celebrate Earth Day: Be a Butterfly!

When I was growing up, the three Rs meant reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic. Today they signify ways to be socially responsible: Reduce, reuse, recycle.  Environmental justice has become a new catchphrase. Just what does it mean to live justly? Is it a faith issue? A moral obligation? Is it even doable?

butterfly-rainbow

 As a Christian, I am called to love God and love others. I know people of other faiths are, too.  Living justly seems to me, a practical outgrowth of that. Is what I choose to eat or wear when I get up an ethical decision? What kind of chemicals were used on the farm where my bacon was raised? Is my coffee served in Styrofoam that doesn’t break down? Under what conditions did the seamstress who made my jeans work and was she paid slave wages? Is my car polluting, my sprinkler system sapping the aquifer, my fertilizer running into springs and ponds?

 It seems overwhelming, doesn’t it? How could I make a difference in the system? I cannot overhaul it, but I can effect small change. The Butterfly Effect, another name for the Chaos Theory, states that a single occurrence, no matter how small, can effect great change. Let’s all celebrate our beautiful Earth by committing to one small act. Let’s find a way to be butterflies!

 

 

Floating Plastic Garbage

Manila Harbour

There are no floating garbage patches in the Pacific, not as we think of them, i.e., floating landfills. There are small aggregates of trash, but the gigantic gyres we’ve been told variously are the size of Texas, or twice the size of Texas, or sometimes even the size of the continent, are not composed of large objects like refrigerators, toys and wreckage from storm-battered buildings. They are, basically, microbits of plastic, the size of salt and pepper. Plastic, which breaks down, but never goes away.

The smaller rafts of plastic debris, more recent intentional or unintentional human castoffs, which haven’t had time to break down, have revealed a surprise to researchers from the University of Florida, traveling with Sea Eduation Foundation. Debris which hasn’t had time to break down, is serving as a micro habitat to several species of Asian crabs, mussels and other small sea creatures. They cannot attach to the plastic, but they can use goose-neck barnacles which are able to attach themselves to the smooth surface of plastic.

My first reaction to this news was, great! At least our garbage in the sea is serving some useful purpose. Silly me. Turns out non-native species are hitching rides on castoffs from both sides of the ocean, traveling to new destinations, becoming invasive. This unexpected consequence of allowing our garbage to reach the sea, has the potential to destroy native species’ habitat.

A recent study estimated that around eight million metric tons of our plastic waste enters the oceans from land each year. How far-reaching are the consequences of our failure to properly dispose of the plastic items we use! If you don’t have recycle bins at your house, apartment complex or business, contact your solid waste department and ask how you can best recycle. If you do recycle, good for you! Be sure to rinse the items, as failure to do so contaminates other items and lowers the value of the recyclable. The plastics that cannot go into the recycle bins should be placed in cans with secure lids, not loosly tossed, but ideally, bagged.

Picture: Manila Harbour

Tired of Tire Reefs

Tires-in-Bundles

Recently the Florida House proposed $1.8 million, the Senate, $900,000 for new technologies to complement the hand removal of tires from a tire reef off Ft. Lauderdale. Removal? The announcement piqued my curiosity. I remember back in the seventies, creating artificial reefs from tires was a new, promising idea, endorsed by the Army Corp of Engineers.

It seemed like a win/win.  On land, tires were ubiquitous pollutants. Creation of artificial reefs would attract game fish and be a boon to tourist-minded South Florida. It was such an easy, promising project, tire reefs were created off the northeastern United States, in the Gulf of Mexico, and along Asian and African coastlines.

Forward thirty years. Little marine life attached to the tires. When dropped, the two million tires off the Florida coast had been latched together with corrosive nylon restraints which ultimately failed. Storms tossed single tires on a collision course with natural reefs, doing great harm. Hurricanes Opal and Bonnie (1995 and 1998) strew tires across Florida’s beautiful panhandle beaches and popular North Carolina beaches.

Thus began efforts to rid the sea of tires. An experiment by Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection would have allowed companies who had damaged sea beds and reefs to mitigate reef destruction by removing tires from Osborne Reef. The state did not follow through on the plan. In 2001 Nova Southeastern University received a grant from NOAA to manually extract tires. 1600 were removed at a cost of $17 per tire.

As part of a training program, DiveExEast07, U S Navy, Army and Coast Guard divers recovered 43,900 at a cost to the state of $140,000. This cost included transportation to a shredding facility in Georgia where the tires were burned as fuel. 2009 saw Army and Navy divers again working to relocate tires caught against a natural reef.

Does burning tires for fuel strike anyone else as foolhardy? The majority of tires placed in our oceans are still there, albeit not in their original locations. The recent pledge by the Florida House and Senate will also fund a study on the environmental benefits of the tire removal program. Really? Don’t we already know what the benefits are? In my mind, the money would be better spent studying ways to remove the tires and do so without creating another environmental disaster, this one in the air we breathe.