I just wanted to write you to thank you very much for coming and speaking to my class last week! I know the kids were a little restless due to the miscommunication of their schedule but they definitely took a lot away from the talk. We have just started sending emails and setting up meeting times with our targets.
Once again thank you for taking the time to help motivate the students even more in their fight against plastic!
Skylar W. Knight
University of San Francisco
Arts and Sciences | Biology
Biology Department | Peer Adviser
Phi Delta Theta CA Chi | Warden
I met Steve Vogel after a Rotary International meeting in Carmel, California. Steve is the head of animal husbandry at the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium. He had come to our club to make a presentation on how the Aquarium tags sharks.
I have had up close one-on-ones several times with sharks so there was no news to me there. I was interested in the octopus.
As I explained to Steve, I was at the Monterey Bay Aquarium several years ago during the “member sleep-over.” Yes, as an Aquarium member, you may spend the night inside several nights each year. Now the term “sleep-over” is a misnomer since there is no actual sleep involved due to restless kids and snoring grandpas, but you get to snuggle up with the kelp forest tank none-the -ess.
I should mention that from age six to college, I aspired to be a marine biologist. My first open water expedition revealed that I get invariably seasick. I am now a botanist—a much more terrestrial endeavor—but I still yearn for the sea.
One Aquarium sleep over night, I was wandering around in places uninhabited by the other guests. Of course, they show the movie Jaws at midnight, thus removing all the children from the rest of the venue. I came upon a large enteroctupus dolfleinii, also known as the Giant Pacific Octopus. She or he (Steve made it known that they are not sure of octopus sexes) was attached to the thick Plexiglas side of her tank. I stood there marveling at her anatomy (I will use the term ‘she’ just for reference). She opened her eyes seemingly from a little nap and spotted me. Her eyes locked on to mine and she began to move. In an undulating fashion, she placed her magnificent body right in front of me while I was standing at her tank. She spread her eight tentacles in calculated moves as if she wanted to wrap her arms around me. But that is not what astounded me.
She looked deeply into my eyes, first with one eye, and then the other. The only way I can describe the experience is that we had a “moment.” We related somehow. I am not sure how cephalopods relate to each other, much less a human, but this was really something. I will never forget how that felt.
I described this event to Steve Vogel. I told him that since that encounter I refuse to eat Nama-tako (octopus in Japanese) at the sushi bar. I told him how mortified I was during Red Wing hockey games, without knowing why, when deranged fans threw dead octopi on the ice (this has since been outlawed, thank goodness).
He tilted his head. “Would you like to meet one?” Would I!!!!! As a science and environmental writer, I do get to do some pretty cool stuff. But this was special. It took several emails to make the arrangements, but yes, I did get to be with one.
My Magic Moment
I arrived with my old friend Danny McCarty, a professional photographer, and his 14-year-old daughter Alea. We were greeted by Cynthia Nolan, the new COO of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, who had been apprised of the encounter. I actually had not slept the night before as I was so excited. After all, how many people in the world get to do something like this? Steve arrived and took the three of us deep into the bowels of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Steve was very clear. “The octopus is a wild animal. It may or may not like you. If it doesn’t, it will go to the bottom of the tank and ignore you completely.” I knew this but was secretly hoping that we would have the “moment” that I had with the other octopus a few years before. That being said, I would be heartbroken if she rebuked me.
So we entered into the dark underbelly labyrinth behind the scenes at the world-acclaimed location. Steve led us up the stairs and opened the enclosure to the octopus’ garden.
“Now, it may not come. It has been fed already and it won’t be interested in eating.” Steve then started splashing water gently towards the creature. She was not far from us and reached out a tentacle. He splashed her a little more. She came right to me.
Octopi have taste receptors in each and every sucker. They have an incredible sensory and nervous system that can maneuver, extrapolate, decipher, and analyze information. She reached up to me and touched my arm. Then, the realization of my wildest cephalopod dreams, we fell in love.
She engulfed my upper torso. She stroked my face, my arms, my waist, and my shoulders. She looked at me as she caressed my body. She gently tried to assuage me to join her in the tank and I wanted to acquiesce. She was very strong. Steve mentioned that she was only twenty pounds. They had a seventy pound octopus before aptly named Octzilla. I was glad I was not so enamored with that big boy, because that could be dangerous.
My friend Danny reached his hand out to one of her larger suckers. She spit him out. She had no interest. She somewhat liked Alea, but not so much.
Now keep in mind, I was careful not to apply any lotion, oil, make up, or anything that would taint our tete a tete. I wanted an authentic experience, not to mention not wanting to spoil her garden.
Truth be told, things got a little heated. She had me engulfed, tugging hard to get me to dive in and play with her. Steve had to peel her off me to slow things down a little. She was excited. I felt her pull me into the center of her body. When I could feel her beak in the innermost folds of her skin, I asked Steve if she would bite. He said that she absolutely would not bite me, she never had. About three minutes later, she gave me a little love nibble. I will proudly wear that scar for the rest of my life.
After Steve pulled her away, sucker by sucker, tentacle by tentacle, we sadly said goodbye. I was so exhilarated by the experience, I practically skipped down the stairs. Steve led us through another labyrinth and out into the Aquarium itself. We looked at her through the Plexiglas in her own little garden where we had just been entwined. She was still lingering by the enclosure entry where we had been. She already missed me.
So I am now an advocate for the appreciation and conservation of the octopi. They are sentient beings living their lives the best they can—just as we are. How would you feel if someone came and yanked you from your home to be the nightly special at the sushi bar?
As stewards of this planet and all of its inhabitants, it is important to keep ourselves open to those “moments” with creatures with which we co-exist. It is imperative to protect their habitats and their lineages. There is something special between us Hominidaes and the other Kingdoms, Phylums, Classes, et cetera.
Hamanasi Resort in Belize is one of my new favorite spots on the planet. The property is clean, modern, well-staffed, and an overall delight. It is a small resort, only about 75 guests, but it seems as there are just as many sweet and courteous attendees to fulfill your every wish.
Hamanasi (translated as “almond tree” in the local Garifuna dialect) is an all-inclusive resort—including a different adventure every day. I swam under a waterfall, saw howler monkeys (including a mom with a baby in tow), manatees, agouti, sting rays, dolphins, hundreds of varieties of fish and birds, and a plethora of exotic flora and fauna.
The food is plentiful and mostly delicious. The fruit salsa cannot be beat. Freshly made bread of all varieties and fresh fruit juices and plates abound. The pineapple is so sweet that you will abandon ever eating it again anywhere else.
The most appealing thing about Hamanasi is that it is a place where like-minded people have the opportunity to converse about various subjects in conservation. In my meetings with the owners, Dave and Dana Krauskopf, their commitment to environmental sustainability is evident in their enthusiasm. I was surprised to see that they served beverages with plastic straws. When I mentioned it to Dana (when I went down to the bar to get a drink in my jammies—that’s how comfortable it is here) I could see the wheels turning in her head. My guess is that the next day, she was sourcing paper straws for the resort.
On property is an organic garden, which feeds the guests (speaking of which, Hamanasi just received their organic grower’s certificate three days before my arrival), a compost area, a beach, a pool, an adventure center, bountiful hammocks, and a pond complete with crocodiles.
I had to try to imagine what it would be like to conceptualize, design, and implement a project like this in a country like Belize. Dana and Dave had lived all over the world, including Moscow, and were experienced in sustainable precepts. Dave’s mother was very involved in the Sierra Club, so he cut his teeth on the cause.
Dana described their greatest accomplishments in sustainability with passion in her eyes. Unlike the atrocious resort next door and many other local resorts, the Krauskopfs did not clear cut and burn the property to make way for the buildings. They positioned each and every room and building in and amongst the indigenous flora and fauna. I was fortunate enough to spend my first night in the deluxe treehouse (something I would not recommend as a solo traveler as it is a whole lot of romantic space wasted…) where I took a hot tub on the deck by candlelight in the company of a lady iguana and an agouti.
Every detail was attended to perfectly, even the housekeeping staff drew my bath while I was at dinner.
I transferred to a beach bungalow with amazing breezes and views. An epic lighting storm ensued as I danced on the patio in the rain. The beach accommodations were equally enticing as the tree houses, just in a different way. I would highly recommend both.
Dana and Dave have plans to make the resort even more eco-friendly. They have procured an additional 4-5 acres behind the resort where they endeavor to have a black water processing and treatment facility, a solar energy station, and staff housing, while reforesting the lot.
I inquired about the recycling infrastructure in the country of Belize. Dana tilted her head. Since the number one industry in Belize is tourism, the fact that when you are taxied to the resort you pass mounds of plastic trash, one would think that the government would make a concerted effort to remedy that situation.
Dana gave me a brief history of the recycling infrastructure that began in 1995 (Dana and Dave began conceptualization of Hamanasi in 1991-1992). It is in need of modernization, but Dana mentioned that in parts of Belize they are using “crush and reuse” bottles for construction. Many of Hamanasi’s paths use crush glass as an concrete aggregate. Dana and Dave are working with the local governments on changing the culture of the indigenous peoples as well as remediating the recycling and trash conundrum. (FYI – I JUST HAD A CONVERSATION WITH THE MINISTER OF TOURISM AND THE PRIME MINISTER’S BUSINESS PARTNER ABOUT THIS!)
When I inquired about the functionality of local governmental entities, Dana was very complimentary in her dealings with the Belizean government. Since Belize was previously a British colony, everyone speaks English and American dollars are welcome (the currency is tied $2 BZD to $1 USD). Bribing is not necessary to run a successful business. They function under a legal system based on British Common Law. From my experience, Belize offered the best of Latin America without the drawbacks. Back to the resort itself.
When you enter the newly constructed guest dining room, you will get a treat when you look up. The trusses exhibit the traditional Caribbean architecture coddled in a 600 piece ‘puzzle’ of a Phillip Flurry design. Santa Maria and Mahogany woods embellish this dormered ceiling with cast ironed tie rods and 10-foot ceiling fans that will astound you.
I also encountered many more families and children than I had anticipated. Dana reminded me that it was spring break (Oh yea, I forgot about that) but also mentioned that when the kids come, they are unwittingly enticed into the concept of being unplugged. The children—and yes even the teenagers, of which there were a substantial number—were engaging. Even with their parents…
Dana’s foresight on eco-friendly travel was highly positive. She feels that the educated traveler is seeking out adventures such as this. As a mother herself of three young boys (who were zip lining with their dad that afternoon), she sees the future of travel—and environmentally conscious guests—as where the trend is going, and staying.
When I asked this forward thinking entrepreneur and mom what would be the number one thing that she and Dave would wish to pass on to their boys, with respect to the environment, she paused for a moment. “I would like for them to promote long term thinking and planning in government and infrastructure.” She paused again. “I would also like them to champion the cause of holding big polluters accountable and pay for the social costs of their activities.”
She wants for her children to have a better environment than we have today. She does not feel overly optimistic that we have not already tipped the balance.
Then I looked at her three little boys. I felt optimistic.
Hamanasi Adventure and Dive Resort is a place that I may have to visit on an annual basis. It really did feel like home, but way more fun.
Brandon Wiggins, Author, Conservationist
As a scientist, an environmentalist, and a single mother, I have certain criteria for dating. First, my date must be bright. Second, a potential partner must be rational. Third, he must have a sense of self and the ability to stand for something worthwhile.
So, I tried online dating. I met some interesting people – an optometric surgeon, an astronaut now working for Google Maps, a Vintner. One date I encountered was a plant pathologist. Nice guy, my age, very sweet. Since I am a botanist, a plant pathologist was right up my alley.
You would think.
As we got into a conversation about nothing in particular, the subject came around (as it always does with me) to climate change. His tone immediately changed as he cited the remarkable rebound of the Polar Bear population. I slightly smirked and decided not to pursue this little snippet and changed the subject.
Then it came around again. He mentioned the fact that the hole in the Ozone layer has shrunken substantially over the last few years.
I nodded my head and smiled prettily while sipping on my Vodka soda (without a plastic straw of course).
Deciding to ignore these comments I agreed to a second date.
We met again and sat down for dinner. We chatted for a while about this and that and then I went for it.
“So you know that the Polar Bear population has increased substantially because of the International Agreement for the Conservation of Polar Bears, which outlawed hunting of them right?” I said matter-of-factly. He looked blank.
“Yes, since the agreement in 1973 it has been illegal to hunt Polar Bears. Their worldwide population has gone from several thousand to around 25,000. That being said, they are finding more and more corpses of starving and diseased bears due to the severe reduction of the sea ice from which they hunt.”
He furrowed his brow.
“Oh and by the way, you were absolutely correct about the Ozone layer! It has gotten smaller. The reason there is a hole in the first place is because of the use of CFCs (chloroflourocarbons). They were globally banned by the Montreal Protocol in 1987. The use of Hydroflourocarbons took its place. Recent studies are showing that HFCs, an even stronger greenhouse gas, could be worse but at least the Ozone layer – which protects our planet from deadly UV rays – does not have an ever widening hole at this particular juncture.”
I ordered another drink in response to his silence.
After several pregnant moments he replied.
“It is obvious that so called ‘climate change’ is a hoax. The ‘greenies’ (cringe) are only after the money.” He smugly sat back in his chair. “There have been many ‘climate changes’ throughout the millennia and this is just another one. Anyone who believes that global warming is caused by man is drinking the Kool-Aid.”
Drinking the Kool-Aid?
I looked at him thoughtfully. It was clear that this relationship didn’t have a snowballs chance in you-know-where.
I called over the waiter and paid for my drinks.
I stood up and thanked him for a lovely afternoon.
“And by the way, where are you getting your information?” I asked sweetly.
He chortled, “Well, Fox News of course! The only real news station.”
I should have guessed…
So, I’m sure he was bright. And I’m sure that he was rational in most parts of his life.
As far as having a sense of self and standing for something worthwhile? Wow, um, my guess is that he stood for whatever Fox News made him believe.
Excerpt from PURSUIT: Ya Kuwinda. This is Book #1 in Brandon’s Pursuit Series. The newly-revised 2nd Edition was released in 2018.
She was walking through the Monterey pine and cypress forest, head bent, stooping deeply while inspecting the soil. She remembered what her father had told her, “Always remember to look up.” She hadn’t fully comprehended what he had meant; her nose was always to the grindstone. Always remember to look up? What kind of advice is that?
The coastal pine forest in Central California was an incredible place, almost holy—the soil a deep chocolate mélange of organic materials, a fusty, rich womb of fundamental creation. She embraced it every morning: the dawn with perfectly descending sunlit fingers, toying with wisps of fog and ferns as they casually touched down upon a pristine landscape, like the forest was immaculately tended by tiny invisible terrestrial gardeners.
The smell of the land, the soft indirect lighting and the slight chill in the air, even in the summer, had enticed her onto her life’s path. She felt most at home in the arms of Mother Nature. Living for the moment in that forest and remembering her father’s words, she did look up, just out of curiosity. She saw a grove of the structurally impressive Cupressus macrocarpa, the legendary Monterey cypress, and marveled at its architecture.
She spied a spectacular 100-foot Pinus radiata—a Monterey pine. This stately tree should have been extinct years ago and, as such, the species was riddled by countless insidious pests. Wood boring beetles, viruses, and a host of other denigrators had caused this large, 150-year-old specimen to topple onto a lower sapling. The young tree lay at a 45-degree angle, smothered by the ancient, dying pine. The tip of the sapling was stubbornly raising its head up to the sky, perpendicular to the forest floor.
Harper’s memory wandered back to that precious summer with her father so long ago.
Every human strives to be upright whether they are aware of it or not. Even if he or she has had the worst possible situations descend upon them, forced to the ground, they will struggle to stay upright. Look around you in the forest, child; you will see it happen over and over. You can see the young saplings leaning, stretching, and clamoring to find their place in the sun. When they get established in their own particular spot, they reach for the sky in perfect harmony with the light, the earth, and in alignment with sheer gravity.
This is what you must do, my little sapling. Take the blows dealt to you and use them to support your stature. The upright life you lead will be a beacon for the rest of the forest.
She smiled softly. She would have given anything for more time with her father.
It takes a great deal of clarity, conviction, and perseverance.
The dilemma of the 21st century human is to decide how much effort to dedicate to the pursuit of (fill in the blank). There are many distractions, delusions, and detritus. It is hard to actually tell what is important for the individual—and what is fluff.
It is not for anyone to say for another what is “fluff” and what is not. It means different things to different beings. Can my kid get into the “right” private school? Will my boss recognize the great work I’m doing? Can I ever possibly be the member of society that the media, my friends, and my parents think I should be?
Let’s take a look at the other 99-point-something percent of the bio-mass on this planet.
There are two rules for the survival and perpetuation of species in the natural world, according to Dr. Richard Merrill, a brilliant man and my mentor.
Conservation of Energy
That’s it. Everything else is superfluous.
“Reproduction” may be translated by Homo sapiens as making a contribution to the betterment of our species. The “conservation of energy” reflects the individual’s utilization of available resources. There are only so many minutes in a day, but ever so few moments in a lifetime.
The “energy” that we conserve is finite. It serves all of us to use it wisely.
The unique thing about humans is that they are the only species—on this entire planet—that has the psychological ability to be dissatisfied with their lot in life.
Plants make the best of their situation—even ones of horrendous adversity—and either try to survive or disseminate progeny in a last-ditch effort to perpetuate the species.
Sea life attempts to adapt to climate change and pollution—even the floating islands of plastic detritus the size of Texas—sometimes surprising us their resilience.
Terrestrial creatures attempt to adapt but are hardwired to do so over multiple generations—not decades. Yet still they seem to survive with what Providence has thrown them. Well, that is except the most intelligent and sentient beings such as whales, dolphins, upper (perhaps most) primates, and elephants. Surely there are many more intellectually aware species (I, for one vote for octopi—I NEVER eat tako at the sushi bar). However, anthro-egotistical views and the overall analysis based on the separation between what is researched on a scientific level and what is felt on a human emotional level (a trait for which I don’t think we own the patent), seems to prohibit that the two shall meet.
It is improbable that any of these creatures whine about what they don’t have. It is highly doubtful that the Silverback Gorilla is upset that he does not live in Pompano Beach—or wherever. I recently saw a video of an eco-tourist hotel in Rwanda (I can’t wait to go!) where a guest was the unwitting new family member of a troupe of gorillas, mother, babies, dad, and all. It was one of the most amazing YouTube videos I’ve seen.
The primate family waltzed through the eco-village like they belonged there, grooming the man’s head and body. The human village welcomed these indigenous neighbors. The gorillas didn’t want for anything.
So why is it that many, perhaps most, humans (including myself) want more? Why does man/woman perpetually seek to improve his/her lot in life?
In actuality, this is perhaps what separates us from the rest of the mammals and certain cephalopods. Humans strive for more. This is how we have “come so far so fast”(“The End of the Innocence,” lyrics by Don Henley, made famous by the Eagles). In the grand scheme of things, this is both a curse and a blessing for earth. In the hunt for keeping up with the Jones’s, humans have lost touch with the reality of this tiny planet and its finite resources. What we do have, as a species, is incredible. The knowledge and resources available to Homo sapiens is unparalleled to anything that has ever been contributed to intelligent life as we know it.
So why is it that we want more?It is engrained in our DNA, hard wired—as it were. That is a good thing as long as education is the primer. Resources on this planet are infinitely finite. An old Quaker saying is that “one should not have what one wants, one should want what one has.”
The unpredictability of gusts is the fertilizer of structural stability.
Strelizia nicolai, also known as the “White Bird of Paradise,” is unique in a number of ways. Strelizia is one of the most widely used ornamental species in the world. Unlike most other cultivars, the “White Bird” is used in both interior and exterior applications. Check out any casino in Vegas or senior facility landscape in Tampa and one can find the strelizia genus, especially the “Red Bird,” in lobbies as well as parking lot dividers.
The Bird is able to not only survive but to flourish in a multitude of habitats. She exhibits incredible flexibility in both genetic structure and fortitude. There are very few species that can, and perhaps in an abstract way will, achieve success through sheer botanical determination under such circumstances.
The “Bird of Paradise” has a willowy stem structure. In the interior placement, the “branches” (technically petioles) tend to droop. In the exterior landscape model, Streliziareginia remains upright and vigilant, needing only an occasional nitrogen fertilizer supplement for the ideal “V” shape.
Wind, coming from multiple directions with a variety of speeds, strengthens stem structure from all angles. The fibers and cellulose in the tissues of the long stems react to breezes with a growth habit constructed to keep its foliage during storms. Without gusts, Strelizia leaves are flaccid.
The stem structure of Strelizia needs controversy to be strong and resilient.
Unexpected gusts are beneficial once in a while. Humans also have the capability to bend with the wind and rebound from adversity. Winds strengthen our structural stability as well. Without the occasional tossing about, the human psyche could be weak during more serious torrents.
Unpredictability is perhaps the greatest psychological threat to humans. It seems that the modern-day Homo sapiens have lost genetic touch with the inevitability of change. One can surmise that Homo habilus and “Lucy” (H. australopithicus) were deeply entrenched in the absolute certainty of change on a daily (most likely hourly) basis. They had a much shorter life span than twenty-first century humans, yet grasped the concept.
Climate change will bring about the obsolescence of “normal.” This is certain. Unless Homo sapiens can join the strength from a lifetime of wind gusts with a conscious, intelligent, bipartisan action to affect political policy, Homo s. will face the consequences of a flaccid global action and a non-effectual result.
If the unpredictability of adversity, i.e. the change of the wind, is not embraced as the fertilizer of stability, there can be no strong structure to weather the change that is coming.