Thursday, April 10, 2014

"Make science relevant and relatable," says PLASTIC, AHOY! trash detective. #scichat #5thchat #6thchat #GirlsinSTEM #STEMchat

I had the opportunity to catch up with one of the scientists in Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Darcy Taniguchi graduated with her Ph.D. from Scripps Institute of  Oceanography soon after Plastic, Ahoy! went to print. Where is she today? What's new in her scientific world? Read on to find out.
Watch the video trailer

Patricia Newman: How did the 2009 SEAPLEX voyage affect your career in science?

Darcy Taniguchi:  SEAPLEX was a wonderful experience that influenced me in many ways.  It made me more aware of always trying to make my science relevant and relatable to other scientists and to the public at large. It also helped me gain valuable experience performing work on board a ship in a moving laboratory and working with an amazing group of people.

PN:  What are you currently working on?  

DT:  I'm currently a postdoctoral researcher, having been awarded the NOAA Climate and Global Change Postdoctoral Fellowship. In this position, I'm looking more closely at the interactions and dynamics of plankton, particularly the single-celled organisms (called microzooplankton) that eat phytoplankton. My ultimate goal is to implement my knowledge of plankton interactions in a global model that includes both biological and physical factors and examine the distribution and abundances of plankton all over the globe.  This research has implications for how the base of the food web may change under various different climate conditions.

PN:  How did you feel about having to put aside your SEAXPLEX data in favor of a different course of study? Do you know if anyone at Scripps has studied your SEAPLEX data?

DT:  While I am very interested in my current research and the course my work has taken, I am also saddened that I was not able to pursue my SEAPLEX research, given all the effort that was put into setting up this great expedition and collecting the data.  I don't believe any one else is explicitly using the SEAPLEX data that I collected, but I remain hopeful that someone someday may be able to or that I can myself sometime in the future.

PN:  What is the most important finding (in your opinion) to come out of your SEAPLEX voyage? Since Plastic, Ahoy!'s publication (say Feb. 2013 which is when the manuscript was completed)?

DT:  One of the most important things to come out of SEAPLEX is the general attention it has created concerning our oceans. SEAPLEX has not only brought into the public eye that the oceans are being polluted but also that it is due to human actions and that we can make a difference, either for better or for worse. There has been so much outreach associated with SEAPLEX, not the least of which is PLASTIC, AHOY!, that helps send a message to a large audience about the impacts we humans have on our oceans, no matter how remote or vast they may seem. The realization of the influence this expedition has had was recently emphasized during my new research position. I was told that the plastic accumulating in the Pacific was the focus of a demonstration at an outreach event associated with MIT, and that they would like to continue that demonstration this year as well.  (I fully intend to help out as much as I can and help share my experiences.)  Even though this anecdote may seem small, it helped me realize that this voyage has had far-reaching influence.

PN:  What encouragement would you give to elementary, middle, or high school students interested in science?

DT:  I would like to tell aspiring scientists to never forget that science is fun, important, and relevant.  Those interested in science should pursue the field and maintain their enthusiasm. Whenever that excitement begins to lessen, they should remind themselves that science is interesting and has the potential to influence how we think about the world and what impact we have on it.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

A reading suggestion for Earth-conscious students #3rdchat #4thchat #5thchat #6thchat

Celebrate Earth Day with an author
Skype and save the ocean, too!

Details here.
Children's authors tend to be an Earth-friendly group, and my newest title, Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is in good company with others that demonstrate how human activities encroach upon the natural world with disastrous consequences.

While Plastic, Ahoy! focuses on plastic pollution in our ocean and its affects on marine life, Abayomi the Brazilian Puma: The True Story of an Orphaned Cub by Darcy Pattison and Kitty Harvill illustrates how habitat loss effects Brazil's endangered cat. The human desire for more cars, more roads, more buildings, more food have decimated rain forests. Pumas, who in Pattison's beautiful prose "only walked abroad at night on silent paws," regularly come into conflict with humans raiding chicken coops or other livestock. A farmer traps the offending puma but grows impatient waiting for the proper authorities to safely transport the puma to another locale. This impatience leads to the death of the female puma with nursing cubs.
Darcy Pattison and Kitty Harvill
Mims House, 2014

Abayomi ends on a happy note, but human-wildlife conflicts are growing more popular in the rain forests of Brazil and Indonesia, and on the plains of Africa. Conflicts in which the animals almost always lose.

Pattison closes her story with startling facts about our increasingly urban world and the importance of establishing wildlife corridors to protect animals and plants. Lastly, Pattison provides young readers with links to some of these groups in addition to suggestions for further reading.

Do you have a favorite Earth-friendly title? Please share it with me.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Upcycling re-values & re-purposes trash. Artists who give the ocean a voice #3rdchat #4thchat #5thchat #6thchat

My research for Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch opened my eyes not only to the work in the scientific community, but to the artists who give the ocean a voice using upcycled materials. Here's a short list of just some of the talented people creating environmentally-friendly products and works of art by reusing plastic:
  • Earth It Up -- a nonprofit organization founded to divert waste and upcycle it for the benefit of
    Earth It Up's Capri Sun bags
    charitable organizations. Earth It Up takes items that would otherwise end up in landfills or the oceans and converts them into useful, interesting purses, totes and lunch bags. These include a line of Capri Sun lunch bags for school children and sophisticated Peet's and Starbuck's coffee purses that are carried by stylish, environmentally conscious women throughout the nation. Unlike some other organizations, Earth it Up! does not ship materials offshore (creating a larger carbon footprint), or use any 'sweatshop' manufacturing techniques. All of their products are hand sewn in California.
  • Trash for Peace -- Portland, Oregon native Laura Kutner went to Guatemala on a Peace Corps mission. Mountains of plastic trash littered the streets. Laura decided to build schools with it, motivating the community to band together and clean up it streets. A partner organization has since built 25 additional schools. Back home in Portland, Laura started a nonprofit organization that builds recycling bins from upcycled plastics. Trash for Peace also visits local schools to teach students about the plastic problem.
Trash for Peace recycle bin
  • During a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium I saw the work of two artists who are increasing awareness of plastic waste through their art by revaluing and re-purposing discarded plastic items. Alison McDonald's Message in a Bottle sculptures "create a dialogue about the negative and positive effects of plastic on our natural world." Sayaka Ganz created Laysan Albatross from cast-off remnants plastic. According to a plaque at the aquarium, "Ganz spent her early years in Japan, where Shinto beliefs teach that every object has a spirit, and an object discarded before its time weeps at night inside the trash bin."
One of the 12 Message in a Bottle 
sculptures by Alison McDonald at the 
Monterey Bay Aquarium. "The empty
space created by the cutwork kelp
suggests a negative impact, while 

the emerging kelp evokes hope for 
the oceans."
Laysan Albatross by Sayaka Ganz

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Documenting ocean plastic: PLASTIC, AHOY! photographer @AnnieCrawley shares her story

Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch photographer Annie Crawley sailed aboard New Horizon to the North Pacific Central Gyre with SEAPLEX scientists Miriam Goldstein, Chelsea Rochman, and Darcy Taniguchi--the lone photograher/videographer on the expedition. Her job? To capture the cutting-edge study of plastic in the Pacific. I'd like to share with you how she prepared for the journey--here's her story in her own words:
"I left my offices at 8:00 am to drive down to San Diego as the only person joining the SEAPLEX
Annie with 7 bags of photographic equipment, and one
tiny suitcase of personal items!
expedition as photographer and filmmaker. I had a lot of equipment to organize: 7 cases of equipment and one small bag of clothes and personal items! For this end of the journey keeping the number of bags down was not crucial, but when we returned we were going to be landing in Oregon and I was going to have to fly home. I could not even imagine flying with all of my equipment on my own."  Read more of Annie's story.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Is PLASTIC, AHOY! made with plastic? #3rdchat #4thchat #5thchat #6thchat

In early February, I received the following question from a reader:
Hello Patricia! I got your book, PLASTIC, AHOY! and like the fact that you're bringing awareness about plastic to kids around the world! Just what I've always wanted! (No, really!) The book is wonderfully written. (I love the Soda Machine) However, as I set the book down, I noticed that the cover has a plastic case around it. This seems very strange, considering what the book is about! Please think about changing this! Thank you very much for your time (and books!),Charles
So I did a little research (something nonfiction authors never tire of!) before responding to Charles:
The book carries a reinforced binding which makes it suitable for school and public libraries, and therefore, requires a hard cover. Assuming you are not reading a library copy (which is sometimes protected by an extra acetate covering), I queried my editor who queried the production manager. Here's what we found out from the production manager:  "Regarding the book's cover, it's a petroleum/nylon based product.  All hardcovers have a film laminate applied by squeezing the paper and plastic through a heated roller.  The plastic is applied as a wet coating and dried by ultraviolet light so that it hardens on the printing and protects it from scuffs.  The industry hasn't developed any environmentally friendly alternatives to the coating we use to make the books last.  We can print with soy based inks and make sure our paper is FSC certified, but the ink would just scratch off without the laminate or UC coating."
So, unfortunately, yes the book is coated in a thin film of laminate for which there is currently no alternative. I guess the good news is books aren't usually considered single-use items that are tossed as soon as they are read (at least I hope so!) I also someday the industry will come up with a more eco-friendly way to protect books.
My plastic consumption for three weeks.
Milk containers, tennis ball cans, yogurt cups,
contact lens solution bottles, pasta bags,
strawberry containers.  Cereal box liners. Yikes!
Where does it end?
Thank you for your concern--and for providing me with material for an interesting blog post!
Nearly everything we use has some plastic in it. My goal in writing Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch was to help decrease the amount of plastic we use one time before tossing (or hopefully recycling). Plastic for single-use water bottles. Styrofoam used for school lunch trays. Plastic "doggie bags" in restaurants. Plastic cutlery. In order to change habits, we need to create awareness.

I would love to hear what you are doing to decrease your plastic consumption!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

PLASTIC, AHOY! trash detective: Science creates knowledge #3rdchat #4thchat #5thchat #6thchat

Chelsea and I spoke at length while I was writing Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, but I took a moment to catch up with her last week--over four and a half years after the SEAPLEX expedition. Chelsea earned her Ph.D. in marine ecology and ecotoxicology (that's a good word for students to look up) and currently works for the Aquatic Health Program at the University of California, Davis. 
Patricia Newman:  How did the 2009 SEAPLEX voyage affect your career in science?

Chelsea Rochman: I feel very lucky to have been granted the opportunity to be part of the SEAPLEX cruise. It was hugely invaluable from an academic standpoint, but also from the standpoint of a person passionate about the environment. For me, it was the beginning of a string of opportunities to travel the world and share my knowledge with people globally and gain collaboration globally. 

The SEAPLEX cruise brought a lot of attention regarding the science of plastic debris to a mass audience. It helped spring an interest in scientists, non-profits and government agencies globally. As such, I think it helped me receive funding to carry out my science on this topic throughout the whole of my PhD and beyond. I was also granted opportunities to be involved in policy meetings and advise and collaborate with non-profit organizations on the issue. I personally did not collect any samples that were part of my dissertation research on this cruise, but truly believe that this trip laid a large part of the foundation for my career and for that I’m incredibly thankful. I also gained some great friends and collaborators. To this day, I am great friends with Miriam and continue to work with Doug Woodring. In addition, it was an opportunity of a lifetime to be aboard a vessel in the middle of the ocean and experience nature so far from the influence of humans. At the same time it was heartbreaking to see our waste so far from land and realize the influence we can have even in such remote places on Earth. This will always motivate me to continue on in my field for decades to come. 
PN: In your opinion, what are the next steps to studying ocean plastic?
CR: I think it has become clear that plastic debris contaminates the environment and wildlife globally. What is less understood is the impact this debris has on the biosphere (i.e. ecological impacts, effects on human health). These are the next big research questions.
PN: How does your current work relate to ocean plastic? Where do you hope that work will take you?
CR: I am currently doing research investigating how chemicals from plastic debris move through the foodweb and magnify in animals at higher trophic levels. I am funded as a postdoc under NOAA’s Marine Debris Program to do this work. In September I will become a Smith postdoctoral fellow for the Society of Conservation Biology where I will study the sources, sinks and impacts of plastic debris in large urban watersheds. I hope my work will continue to open doors to further research on this topic and that the knowledge will be used to inform policy and help mitigate the contamination of plastic debris in the environment.

PN: What is the most important finding (in your opinion) to come out of your SEAPLEX voyage?
CR: SEAPLEX was hugely influential in the policy and activist arena. I understand that very important findings were created, i.e. publications regarding the distribution of plastic debris in the region and ingestion of plastic in fish. However, I think the most important outcome of this cruise was the flurry of concern it created around the issue in policy-makers, researchers and non-profit organizations. Thus, Plastic, Ahoy! is part of that success story and will continue to help us reach a larger audience. Education is crucial and I believe it makes a difference. This book will fall into the hands of our future scientists, policy makers and activists. That is hugely important.
PN: What encouragement would you give to elementary, middle, or high school students interested in science?

CR: Follow your heart and reach for your goal. It will not always be easy, but remember that if you put your mind to it, WORK HARD and are persistent, you can get there. Science is fun, rewarding and influential. I encourage any young person to come and expand our knowledge. There is something very powerful about creating knowledge!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Student Valentine's Day Challenge: show the ocean some love #3rdchat #4thchat #6thchat

In celebration of Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, I'm issuing a Valentine's Day Challenge to to my readers. Show the ocean some love on Friday and make it a plastic-free day. No plastic utensils, no plastic bags, no plastic water bottles. 

Send me a picture (with a short write-up), a poster, or a video of your idea. The individual or class with the most unique plastic-free idea wins a large Priority Mail Flat Rate box FULL of Valentine's goodies.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Ocean plastic makes waves in new book #3rdchat #4thchat #5thchat #6thchat

A mystery lurks in the middle of the ocean. A growing collection of plastic rides the currents to the North Pacific. How does it affect marine life? How does it affect us?

A team of trash detectives sets sail to find out. Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch chronicles their scientific adventure on the high seas--an adventure with environmental heroes, science student role models, fascinating marine creatures, and an evil villain (the tons of plastic that lures in marine life and then poisons or starves it).

For science-lovers, Plastic, Ahoy! illustrates the scientific method in action. Trash detectives weigh anchor armed with questions. They gather data, make observations, formulate hypotheses, and conduct experiments. Examine the tools they used to study the Garbage Patch--and what alarming discoveries they made.

Join photographer Annie Crawley and me for weekly "plastisphere" posts from now to World Ocean Day (June 8). Find out the story behind the book. Celebrate Earth Day (April 22) with us. Read guest posts from the scientists featured in Plastic, Ahoy! Discover sculptors who bring new life to discarded plastic.

Next week:  Meet Ocean Annie, ocean photographer and filmmaker, on documenting the expedition 24/7

Classroom tie-ins:  
  • Earth Day (April 22)
  • World Ocean Day (June 8)
Classroom materials:
  • Teacher's Guide aligned with the Common Core and NextGen Science Standards
  • eSource materials from Millbrook Press/Lerner Books
  • For 1:1 iPad classrooms, Plastic, Ahoy! is also an ebook.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Where do authors get their ideas? The zoo! @chrischengaus #3rdchat #4thchat #5thchat #literacy

When Christopher Cheng enters a room, the first thing one notices is his long braid. “I haven’t cut my hair in thirteen-plus years,” he says. The second thing one notices is his smile. “I guess I have always been a pretty positive person. I look past the bad and see the good…in people, the environment, in life.” When he begins to speak in his lovely Australian accent, his energy and enthusiasm for life and learning infuse every syllable. 

Cheng studied to be a teacher, but there were no classrooms available after graduation. Instead, he began an eight-year career as an educator at the Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia. He taught thousands of children about monkeys, pythons, kangaroos, wombats, bats, possums, lizards and more. During his tenure at the zoo, he wrote several brochures, informational articles, and teachers’ guides. Then Scholastic came calling with a book idea. Throughout college Cheng’s children’s literature professor encouraged him to share his stories and he still has copies of his books from childhood, so writing for children seemed like a natural fit. “It wasn’t until my first book came out, Eyespy Book of Night Creatures, that I realized that writing for kids was so very way cool!” More...

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Where do authors get their ideas? Humor drives Jeff Mack #3rdchat #4thchat #5thchat #literacy

In second grade Jeff Mack says his teacher “enthusiastically supported” his writing and art projects. She sponsored a Halloween writing contest that he entered with a story about a skeleton at school who tried to fit in despite a series of unfortunate events, such as the food leaking through his bones at lunch. Mack won the contest and still remembers it as a moment of pure encouragement.

The sonogram photograph on his website indicates that he was born with a pen in his hand. Perhaps a bit of a stretch, but he recalls stories that swam through his head as a young child. Since he could draw before he could write, he expressed his story ideas through illustration. More...