Biggest environmental news stories of the decade

December 31, 2019 by  
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As we begin a new decade, we’re taking a look over the biggest environmental news stories since 2010. There’s a little good news, and a lot of not-so-good news. Still, we can look back and learn from what is happening in the hopes of taking action and restoring a brighter future for our planet. Climate change moves into the mainstream, and more kids get involved While a few climate deniers still fill high-ranking political posts, climate change is much more widely accepted as fact — rather than something to “believe in” — than it was in 2010. According to the TED blog, only four TED Talks specifically on climate change were posted in 2010 and 2011, although speakers mentioned the phenomenon. By 2015, TED said, people had shifted to seeing climate change as happening now, rather than in the far-off future, thanks to debates about whether or not places like the island nation of Kiribati were already sinking. Related: 12 good things that happened for the environment in 2019 By the end of the decade, climate change is on the forefront of many people’s minds, especially young people. Worldwide movements like Extinction Rebellion use massive, nonviolent protests to urge politicians to slow the warming. Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg rose to international prominence, taking politicians to task about ignoring climate change and even being named Time Magazine’s person of the year in 2019. Deepwater Horizon The decade started with a tragic oil spill on April 20, 2010, one of the worst in history. The explosion on British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon, an oil rig operating in the Gulf of Mexico, killed 11 people. It leaked oil into the gulf for 87 days, for a total of 3.19 million barrels of crude oil polluting the coasts of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida. Images of people trying to wipe oil off pelican wings filled the news. Cleanup costs reached at least $65 billion . In addition to economic blows, especially to Louisiana’s shrimp and oyster industries, the animal death toll was high. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, about 82,000 birds, 6,165 sea turtles, 25,900 marine mammals and uncountable numbers of fish perished in the spill. Researchers are still gauging the long-term effects. Extreme weather events become more frequent As the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warned, global warming escalates weather disasters. The last decade saw 111 climate-related natural disasters that each cost more than $1 billion in damage. These include tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, floods, drought, heatwaves and winter storms. In 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, killing 2,981 people and costing an estimated $93.6 billion in damages. Notable U.S. disasters included Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and the Missouri tornadoes of 2011. Animal extinctions Humans continued to edge out other animals in the struggle for habitat and resources. According to the World Wildlife Fund , species loss currently stands at between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate, which is the rate Earth would lose species if humans didn’t exist. In 2012, Lonesome George, the last Pinta tortoise , died at over 100 years old. Formosan clouded leopards no longer slink across Taiwan. The Christmas Island pipistrelle, a microbat, has ceased its ultrasonic squeaking. No more baiji dolphins cavort in the Yangtze River. In this last decade, the planet also lost Caribbean monk seals, West African black rhinos, Madagascar hippopotami and Liverpool pigeons. Rainforest deforestation The decade’s final year witnessed much of the Amazonian rainforest go up in smoke. Brazil and Bolivia were particularly hit hard. Many attributed this tragedy at least in part to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s push for development over preservation. Horrifying photos from the National Institute for Space Research revealed enormous bald swaths where trees once stood. During its peak in August 2019, more than 70,000 individual fires were burning. The rainforest plays a critical role in regulating the entire world’s climate, so concerns stretched far beyond Brazil. Related: Amazon rainforest might reach irreversible tipping point as early as 2021 Increase in ocean plastic During the last decade, plastic continued to fill the oceans. But awareness of ocean plastic also grew. A 2018 United Nations study reported that people dump approximately 13 million tons of plastic into the world’s oceans annually, and the researchers expected this number to grow. At the same time, many concerned citizens in cities around the world worked to decrease plastic waste by banning straws and plastic bags. Some hotel chains vowed to no longer stock beverages packaged in single-use plastic bottles. Many companies started developing products made from recycled plastic. Reusable water bottles became an important fashion accessory. China stopped buying American recycling Americans became more adept at recycling , but they weren’t necessarily aware where their recycled goods went. In 2018, China enacted a policy called National Sword. Suddenly, Americans realized their old plastic had largely been going to China , but China didn’t want it anymore. Now at the end of the decade, American cities are scrambling to save unprofitable recycling programs. Ironically, some cities have canceled these programs just when they’ve convinced people to recycle. Right now, it’s cheaper for American companies to produce new plastic than to recycle old. This is one of the many environmental problems that must be addressed in the coming decade. Images via Shutterstock

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Biggest environmental news stories of the decade

Giant, abstract trees hold up the roof of an experimental Korean home

November 21, 2019 by  
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When designing the House of Three Trees, Seoul-based architecture practice Jae Kim Architects & Researchers (JK-AR) started with a question: What would Korean architecture look like if timber remained the dominant construction material from ancient times until today? To answer this alternate-reality proposition, the architects conceived a project representative of “the rebirth of East Asian timber architecture of the 21st century” that blends digital design and fabrication with traditional Korean architecture. Built with sculptural, tree-like structures that employ the iconic wooden bracket systems of ancient times, the experimental home also relates to the local vernacular with low-cost materials commonly used in rural Korean buildings. During the late Joseon Dynasty of Korea in the 17th and 19th centuries, timber resources were mostly exhausted until globalization led to the import of cheaper wooden materials from around the world. Due to the popularization of reinforced concrete structures and the high cost of timber construction, development of timber architecture slowed. Using algorithmic tools, JK-AR envisions how timber architecture could have evolved had timber resources continued to be readily available with The House of Three Trees. The experimental home features tree-like supporting structures solely composed of wooden joinery — using more than 4,000 timber elements — constructed with traditional techniques and zero additive fasteners. Related: Moon Hoon’s funky new home captures sunlight on Jeju Island “The house criticizes today’s application of traditional buildings that is superficial, merely imitating traditional expressions in architecture, or too abstract,” the architects explained. “Rather, the house redefines the virtue of East Asian timber buildings in its tectonic aspect which is a combination of structure and ornamentation. Moreover, the house serves as an example of how contemporary technology, such as design computation and digital fabrication, can reinterpret traditional architecture. Technology can give East Asian timber construction the potential to evolve in a new direction.” The home takes on a hexagonal shape, influenced by the irregular building plot, with an interior defined by three tree-like columns that support the roof. Covered in asphalt shingles, the butterfly roof is raised to provide a glimpse of the trees inside. Polycarbonate corrugated panels wrap around the home in a nod to rural Korean construction; these panels also create a double-skin around the plywood facade to improve the building’s insulation performance and water resistance. + Jae Kim Architects & Researchers Photography by Roh Kyung via Jae Kim Architects & Researchers

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Giant, abstract trees hold up the roof of an experimental Korean home

This mountain-biking getaway is an energy-efficient base for adventure in Tasmania

October 31, 2019 by  
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Australia’s new mountain bike trails in northeast Tasmania are now more accessible than ever thanks to Dales of Derby , a contemporary, purpose-built group housing complex that is the perfect base for adventure. Local architecture and design studio Philip M Dingemanse designed the building, which won the 2019 Barry McNeill Award for Sustainable Architecture with its energy-efficient and low-maintenance features.  A former tin-mining center, the tiny Australian town of Derby was transformed in 2015 with the opening of Blue Derby, a network of mountain bike trails that traverses some of the island’s most stunning rainforest landscapes. Tapped to design lodgings to accommodate large groups of mountain bike enthusiasts, Philip M Dingemanse created a project that would double as an introductory building to the small village of Derby. Drawing inspiration from the town’s mining history, the architects created a simple gabled form and clad the exterior with Australian vernacular corrugated metal and timber in a nod to utilitarian tin miner homes. The architects also split the gabled building into seven pieces, with four sections pulled apart, to bring the outdoors in, while the interiors are lined with wood for a warm and inviting atmosphere. Related: Energy-efficient home in Whitefish was inspired by the region’s agrarian vernacular Built to sleep a large group of up to 24 people, Dales of Derby includes bunk beds that accommodate 16 people as well as four rooms with queen-sized beds that are accessed via a red vaulted foyer inspired by a mining tunnel. At the heart of the building is a large common area with a wood heater and a full kitchen with a dining area oriented toward the forest. To reduce the project’s energy demands, the architects installed solar hot water heaters and followed passive design strategies for optimal solar orientation and thermal control. “The built form is a singular functional object separated into pieces and strung out across the hill between road and river,” the architects noted. “Gaps become significant framing moments of eucalypt forest while nighttime gable lighting castes a permanent golden hue to graying timber walls; a memory of the raw timber cut, glowing on the outskirts of the township.” + Philip M Dingemanse Photography by Luke Hesketh via Philip M Dingemanse

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This mountain-biking getaway is an energy-efficient base for adventure in Tasmania

Learn about polar bears during a free virtual field trip to the Arctic Tundra this November

October 31, 2019 by  
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Discovery Education and Polar Bears International have once again partnered to host an exciting, immersive and free virtual field trip to the Arctic tundra. Students from K-12 and teachers everywhere are welcome to virtually observe the polar bears of Canada’s Hudson Bay in their natural habitat. Registration is now open for this engaging, educational webcast, where audience members will be transported beyond classroom walls to the site of the annual Canadian polar bear migration. Students and educators worldwide can tune in to the Virtual Field Trip to the Arctic Tundra event that will take place on two dates: Wednesday, November 13 at 12 p.m. Central Time and Thursday, November 14 at 11:30 a.m. Central Time. Both events, which will be live and span at least 30 minutes each, will treat attendees to visually engaging material about the polar habitat, sea ice, Arctic adaptations, climate change and especially the polar bears. Related: Newly released video game challenges players to survive the climate apocalypse To coincide with the webcast events, there will also be two live question-and-answer virtual sessions, where attendees can inquire more about the north polar region’s wildlife , environment and careers on the tundra. These virtual Q&A sessions will be held on Wednesday, November 13 at 1:30 p.m. Central Time and Thursday, November 14 at 1:00 p.m. Central Time. Following both dates, Discovery Education Experience will archive the events and their respective Q&A sessions in both the Polar Bears content channel as well as the Virtual Field Trip content channel. These will serve as digital curriculum and classroom instructional resources that both students and teachers can enjoy. Now in its sixth year, this virtual event has been a wonderful collaboration between Discovery Education and Polar Bears International. Their partnership in this Tundra Connections program brings important awareness to polar bears and their habits, ecology, threats and the need for conservation to secure the future of these majestic animals of the Arctic. “Discovery Education is excited to present the upcoming Tundra Connections Virtual Field Trip to teachers and students worldwide at no cost,” shared Discovery Education Director of Product Development Kyle Schutt. “Discovery Education understands that these types of events can spark in students a lifelong interest in a particular subject, and we encourage all educators to bring their students to the Arctic with us. Who knows, your class may contain the next great wildlife biologist!” + Discovery Education + Polar Bears International Image via Pixabay

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Learn about polar bears during a free virtual field trip to the Arctic Tundra this November

MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple designs holiday retreats for an island community

October 23, 2019 by  
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Renowned for beautiful views, indigenous history and a famous golf resort, Ontario’s Bigwin Island will also soon be home to a new planned community spearheaded by MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects , a Halifax-based studio that won the bid for the project with their contemporary and eco-friendly proposal. The first three cabins of the 40-unit community have recently been completed and feature a locally sourced natural materials palette, an oversized roof reminiscent of Muskoka’s historic cottages and boathouses, as well as energy-efficient geothermal heating and passive ventilation systems. Located a couple hours north of Toronto in the middle of Lake of Bays, the cabins at Bigwin Island are part of an island revitalization plan set forth by property owner Jack Wadsworth, who decided to create 40 site-sensitive guest houses — ranging from 1,230 to 1,350 square feet — instead of a 150-room hotel. In keeping with their client’s desires, MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects began the design process by “listening to the land” and crafted three cabin typologies, each inspired by a different type of landscape on the island: “linear on the lake, courtyard in the woods, and pinwheel on the meadow.” Based on the design of Muskoka vernacular housing, each cabin will be assembled from a kit of parts that include a screened-in porch, a deck, a hearth, a great room, a sleeping box and a roof. Designed with minimal site impact , each cabin will also be oriented to take advantage of views as well as passive cooling strategies. In addition to using local materials and labor, the construction process will be kept simple due to the challenges of building on the island in winter between the fall and spring golf seasons. A geothermal heating system will draw heat from the lake and warm the cabins through the floors.  Related: Passive solar Martin-Lancaster House is wrapped in glass and cedar shingles “The ambition of this project transcends the individual guesthouses; Mackay-Lyons Sweetapple is bringing to Bigwin Island a vision of community,” explain the architects in a press release. “The buildings engage not only with the landscape, but with each other. They are sited in clusters, where their transparency and openness put them in conversational relationships.” + MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects Images by Doublespace Photography

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MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple designs holiday retreats for an island community

Norwegian Air introduces SkyBreathe app to help reduce annual CO2 emissions

October 23, 2019 by  
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True to its fame as Norway’s most sustainable airline and as the two-time International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) recipient of the “Most Fuel-Efficient Airline on Transatlantic Routes” award, Norwegian Air is ambitiously targeting a carbon emissions reduction of 140,000 tons per year. It will do so by leveraging the SkyBreathe fuel efficiency app. SkyBreathe was developed by the European Union’s Clean Sky project , the largest European research program dedicated to reducing aircraft emissions and noise levels. The SkyBreathe app analyzes entire flight operations via big data algorithms to consider air traffic control constraints, flight paths, payloads, weather conditions and other similar variables. The information is then transferred to aircraft systems, thus enhancing Norwegian Air flight paths with improved fuel efficiency . Related:  Eco-resort in Finland charges guests based on their carbon emissions “At Norwegian, we’re continuously working to find new tools to reduce both CO2 emissions and fuel consumption,” shares Stig Patey, Norwegian’s fuel savings manager. “With the SkyBreathe app, we receive large amounts of data for each flight, and this data provides relevant information about how we can fly smarter and even more efficiently.” Indeed, by determining fuel consumption, SkyBreathe assists with optimizing flight performance while saving on costs. To date, the app enables Norwegian Air to save up to 3,700 tons of fuel and reduce emissions by 11,600 tons per month. “With SkyBreathe, we receive instant feedback after each flight, where we can easily see how we have performed, what we have done well and what we can improve for the next flight ,” explains Fergus Rak, London Gatwick Airport’s base chief captain. “This is a smart tool that benefits both us and the environment.” Since 2008, Norwegian Air’s young fleet has been consistently implementing green approaches, with the ultimate goal of making the entire airline carbon neutral by 2050. In fact, ICCT analysis over the years has found Norwegian Air fuel consumption to be approximately 33% more fuel-efficient than the industry average.  Via Norwegian Images via Norwegian

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Norwegian Air introduces SkyBreathe app to help reduce annual CO2 emissions

How to see these six fascinating animals in the wild while aiding in their conservation

October 15, 2019 by  
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If you’re going to travel , travel responsibly. The best way to show animals that you love them is by respecting their habitats and aiding in the conservation of their species. Here’s how to ethically view six animals in their natural habitats in ways that benefit them rather than disturb them. Sharks on Viti Levu, Fiji There are hundreds of different species of sharks who call earth’s waters home, and a trip to Fiji will give you the chance to see at least eight of them in their natural habitat. Due to the misshapen view of sharks as dangerous creatures paired with many parts of the world’s affinity for shark fin as a delicacy has caused these misunderstood creatures to dwindle in population. The future of sharks is heavily reliant on the changing of that mindset and the conservation of the animals and their habitats. While the ethics of shark diving remains a personal choice for different travelers, those who choose to swim with sharks should ensure that it is done under the appropriate conditions and provide a benefit to sharks through conservation or habitat protection. Beqa Adventure Divers in Fiji uses the funds raised from their shark diving tours to fuel their conservation efforts, from working with the local government to create designated protected marine parks to multiple scientific research projects. The organization is sponsored by is sponsored by the Shark Foundation, the Save our Seas Foundation and PADI Project AWARE. Polar Bears in Svalbard, Norway  It’s no news to wildlife lovers that the world’s polar bear population has been among the worst affected by climate change. Natural Habitat Adventures with Lindblad Expeditions offers expedition ship tours of Svalbard, an Arctic archipelago located between the Barents and Greenland seas north of Norway and 600 miles from the North Pole. Onboard naturalists help spot polar bears in their natural habitat while giving expert insight about these majestic creatures in real time. A National Geographic-certified photography instructor accompanies guests to create timeless memories and the company’s fleet of kayaks and zodiac boats allow for closer, responsible examination of the bears. Natural Habitat Adventures was the first 100% carbon-neutral travel company in the world and a portion of their sales goes towards the World Wildlife Fund, one of the leading voices for polar bear conservation . Dolphins in Akaroa, New Zealand Black Cat Cruises in Akaroa, New Zealand is committed to the conservation of the country’s rare Hector Dolphins. Take a boat tour of the historic village of Akaroa just an hour and a half drive from Christchurch. The Akaroa Harbour is a marine mammal sanctuary , so the protection of these animals is paramount. The company donates a portion of all ticket sales to the research of the area’s dolphins, as well as educational programs. Additionally, Black Cat Cruises was the first boat tour company on earth to receive the Green Globe 21, an international program aimed at ensuring sound environmental practices. They are also the only cruise operator in the Akaroa area to obtain an Enviro-gold certification from the New Zealand tourism quality assurance organization, Qualmark. Humpback Whales on Maui, Hawaii The Pacific Whale Foundation offers whale watching eco-tours on the island of Maui, where Humpback Whales migrate each year from December to May to breed and give birth to their young. The channel that runs between the islands of Maui and Molokai offer some of the best whale watching in the state. The Pacific Whale Foundation , a non-profit organization founded in 1980, puts all profits towards their research, education and conservation programs. Additional funding is raised through donations and local fundraising activities as well. Penguins in Chubut, Patagonia While penguins aren’t exactly difficult to see (they are included in most zoos and aquariums around the United States), these flightless birds are actually quite mysterious in the wild. Scientists understand how they interact on land, but research on how penguins find their food in the depths of the ocean is much more sparse. The Earthwatch Institute offers penguin trailing tours where participants join scientists and conservationists at the nesting colonies in Argentina’s Golfo San Jorge. Tag penguins to track their nesting and feeding locations, as well as help choose a selection of 50 penguins to track with more advanced GPS devices and underwater cameras. Finding out where these animals frequent throughout the year helps scientists better understand which parts of the ocean need the most protection in order to keep penguin populations strong in Patagonia. Wolves at Yellowstone National Park, United States The wolf reintroduction efforts at Yellowstone National Park have influenced and inspired conservationists and scientists around the world. After the wolf population at the park had completely died off by 1926, efforts to reintroduce the animals back into Yellowstone territory in the mid 1990s were completely successful in restoring the balance in the ecosystem. Experts at the park suggest heading to the open valleys in the northeast corner of Yellowstone (specifically the Lamar Valley) to have the best chance of seeing wolves. The winter months offers the best possibilities since the snow helps provide an easy backdrop. Keeping the wolves at the park safe and healthy requires constant monitoring and research from the National Parks Service, and part of your entrance fee into the park goes towards those efforts. Images via joakant , NPS Climate Change Response , Gregory Smith , National Marine Sanctuaries, Celine Harrand , 12019 , Shutterstock

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How to see these six fascinating animals in the wild while aiding in their conservation

Hurricane Dorian threatens endangered bird species

September 5, 2019 by  
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Those living on the Abaco and Grand Bahama islands recently met Dorian as the hurricane’s 185 mph winds wrecked havoc on the islands, destroying and damaging about 13,000 homes. While the hurricane has raised much concern over the rising death tolls and destruction to the island, it also raised concern for endangered species who call the island home, such as the critically endangered Bahama nuthatch. The Bahama nuthatch has been in trouble for some time as a 2004 survey reported its population was around 1,800. Three years later, a 2007 survey noted more hurricanes decreased its numbers to a mere 23. By the time Hurricane Matthew struck in 2016 the bird’s population dropped and in 2018 only two were found. Related: Spiders are becoming aggressive thanks to climate change It appears Dorian left very few stones upturned as most of the areas are reportedly still under water and coniferous forests are being killed by saltwater flooding. “It is obviously a humanitarian disaster for people living in these northern islands, and the extent is as yet unknown, but we hope that international medical and infrastructure aid will arrive rapidly and generously,” Diana Bell, professor of Conservation Biology at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom, told Earther. “It is also highly likely to have also been an ecological disaster affecting the already fragmented areas of Caribbean pine forest which support endemic avifauna.” Aside from trees and the Bahama nutshell, some scientists are worried about the Bahama warbler and the more well-known Kirtland’s warbler, a bird that lives among the pineyards during the winter season. In addition to the nuthatch and the warblers, as recent as July, avifauna in the Bahamas was reported at 374 species, according to Avibase – Bird Checklists of the World. According to a National Climate Assessment, researchers say warmer ocean climes and higher sea levels from climate change will further intensify hurricanes in the Atlantic and Caribbean, though some research suggests hurricanes are slowing down but causing longer impacts. Nonetheless, hurricanes of all categories could cause irreparable disaster for all island inhabitants. Via Gizmodo, Audubon, Avibase Image via Dick Daniels

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Hurricane Dorian threatens endangered bird species

Germany to ban controversial weed-killer glyphosate by 2023

September 5, 2019 by  
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Reaching for the weed-killer glyphosate in Germany won’t be an option much longer. A primary component of Roundup, manufactured by Bayer-owned Monsanto , glyphosate’s critics believe it wipes out insect populations essential to ecosystems and the pollination of food crops. But the controversial chemical won’t have the chance to do either, as ministers have reported that the German government is banning the use of glyphosate when the EU’s approval period expires in 2023. “What we need is more humming and buzzing,” said environment minister Svenja Schulze to The Guardian . Schulze also added that “a world without insects is not worth living in.” Related: EPA backs the use of toxic herbicide chemical glyphosate Besides killing insects , there are other experts who believe glyphosate may cause cancer in people and needs to be banned as soon as possible “What harms insects also harms people,” Schulze said. First, glyphosate will be banned in city parks and private gardens in 2020, according to a policy plan. Additionally, using herbicides and insecticides will be restricted or banned in habitats such as grasslands, orchard fields and along the shores of Germany’s many rivers and lakes. Champions of the ban have been loud and clear about disapproval of the weed-killer, and in February, 1.75 million people in the German state of Bavaria voted for a referendum to “ save the bees .” They called for less chemical use and more organic farming and green areas. These environmentalists did face opposition from a regional agriculture association, who pushed the activists to “stop bashing farmers.” Others opposed to the ban include farmers and the chemical industry; both sectors want to keep using glyphosate . The manufacturer fought against the government’s ban, voicing its product could be used safely and was “an important tool for ensuring both the sustainability and productivity of agriculture.” It is not just Germany that is saying goodbye to glyphosate; in July, Austria was the first EU member to ban the weed killer. France has also decided to ban glyphosate by 2023. The chemical is scheduled to be re-evaluated in 2022 by EU authorities. Via The Guardian Image via Erich Westendarp

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Germany to ban controversial weed-killer glyphosate by 2023

Behind the scenes at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center

August 28, 2019 by  
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Gwyneth stands upright, supported by one member of her medical team as another scrapes away what looks like blue cotton candy from the cracks in her shell with a pointed metal tool. The yellow slider is stoic, silently opening her mouth, whether wishing to bite or scream. Gwyneth is a turtle, one who has endured a lot of medical attention at the Georgia Sea Turtle Rescue Center since being hit by a car on Jekyll Island. The impact fractured both her carapace and her plastron — her top and bottom shells. The guide on the behind the scenes tour, AmeriCorps worker Stacia Dwelle, explains that the blue stuff is bioglass and costs $175 for a small jar. It works “like scaffolding for the tissue in the fracture site,” she says. Other treatments are lower tech and lower cost, such as the jug of honey and chunks of honeycomb the staff use for its antimicrobial value. Related: Small cruise line treats the whole world as one ocean While the hospital is called the Sea Turtle Rescue Center, they don’t discriminate here. The fully functioning center cares for any type of injured turtle and also works on other reptiles and birds . Public Awareness and Education The center’s founder, Dr. Terry Norton, grew up in Utah far from sea turtles, but his affection for reptiles grew during his residency in Gainesville, Florida. In the early 2000s, Norton worked on Saint Catherine’s Island, 40 miles north of Jekyll. Part of his wildlife health program was developing a global assessment of sea turtle health. He saw the need for a sea turtle hospital on the Georgia coast and opened the Jekyll Island facility in 2007. Since then, he and his staff have treated more than 3,000 patients and welcome 100,000 visitors annually. Why involve the public in turtle medical care? The center “wanted to raise awareness and educate the public as well,” says Dwelle. Five of the world’s seven species of sea turtles swim through waters along Georgia’s 100 mile coastline, all either threatened or endangered . Jekyll Island is prime nesting territory, especially for the Loggerhead sea turtle. Leatherbacks and Green sea turtles occasionally nest here. Kemp’s Ridley and Hawksbill turtles also pass through Georgia waters. This year, center staff identified 198 loggerhead nests on the island, with about 120 eggs in each nest. During July and August, the hatchlings fight their way out of their shells, then pour out of nests on the beach and trek to the sea just before sunrise. Most visitors to the turtle center opt for the $9 ticket, which gets them into an exhibit area with interactive displays. They can peer through a large microscope and learn about trash in the ocean. They can also visit the rehab area, a sultry building full of turtles in tubs or look through a window into the medical treatment room. Behind the Scenes in the Hospital Devoted turtle lovers— and those with a little more cash to spend on their travels— can join one of the other tours the center offers. Depending on the month, visitors may be able to accompany staff to nesting sites at night or in the early morning, and there’s a sea turtle camp for kids. Instead of watching the treatment from behind glass, groups of six can stand right in the treatment room and watch Dr. Norton assess turtles. Visitors can also learn about the nebulization chamber where snakes with fungal infections inhale a mist of medicine . Most of the center’s patients stay two to six months before being released. The staff here sometimes give future turtles a helping hand by transferring wild-laid eggs into an incubator. This is especially true when turtles lay their eggs too close to the road on the causeway that connects Jekyll Island to the mainland. The causeway is “a high, dry place those ladies like to look to build their nests,” says Dwelle. “But unfortunately, who else is out there on the causeway? We are. In our cars.” Human transportation is hard on turtles. While on land, they risk being hit by car but in the sea, boat strikes are a top hazard. The center also participates in other reptile-related projects, such as radio-tracking the island’s Eastern Diamondback rattlesnakes. Turtle Gourmets “So our sea turtles might be eating better than us,” says Dwelle serving the turtles mackerel, shrimp and blue crab, which is considerably restaurant -quality seafood. New patients get their food filleted for them but once they’re stronger they get whole seafood and live fiddler crabs just before being released. Staff arrange greens in a PVC pipe with holes cut out, which they sink to the bottom of turtle tubs. This way the patients remember to look for seagrass on the ocean floor when they eventually return to the sea. Each turtle gets a personalized diet, sometimes fortified with special vitamins and calcium. Helping Turtles Many of the hospitalized turtles could easily have escaped injury if humans had been more careful. Keeping your distance from nests ensure that hatchlings stand a better chance at survival. And most importantly, don’t litter. “When you’re on the beach, be careful with fishing lines,” says Mary Van Gundy, a volunteer vet technician at the center. “Make sure you gather them up and throw them away.” She’s amazed by the trash she finds, especially cigarette butts. Slowing down, whether in a boat or a car, will prevent many accidents. Maybe that’s what the stoic Gwyneth is trying to tell me as she silently opens her mouth. Images via Inhabitat

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Behind the scenes at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center

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