Thursday, 13 May 2010

Ed Teaches One World One Ocean

Hi Steve here. Still no news from Ed, so I am adding this post for him. When Ed was visiting the Florida Keys, he popped back over to England for the 8th May to teach about One World One Ocean. This is what happened, Steve

Hi all

I am back in the UK to spread my message to a group of children at a special course run by the Able Pupil Enrichment Programme.

My buddy Steve runs wildlife courses for this programme and he had arranged this course for me to teach children about my message.

We stated with a quick true or false quiz about the oceans. In the language of the kids themselves, the questions were pretty random touching on many things they would learn about during the day about oceans, sea water, marine wildlife and conservation issues.
I then told the kids about my message and why I have been travelling the world’s oceans. I wanted the kids to appreciate that there is only one ocean that links us all where ever we are in the world.
The oceans connect us and also control our weather and climate so we are all part of the same ocean system. I asked the kids to draw a line on the map linking together different locations.
They figured out that because the line eventually joined with the same point they started that the oceans were all linked. We then discussed how some animals can travel the world’s oceans like myself, but the movement of many animals are restricted by things such as land, water temperature, salinity (saltiness), weather depth and pressure.

That was quite a heavy topic so we then did a sound quiz, I played some sounds and the children had to guess what they were (from a list).
These Arctic seals, humpback whales, blue striped grunts (fish) snapping shrimps, a ship and an underwater earthquake. We then discussed the sounds and the reasons different animals make sounds.

I shared some of my adventures about the oceans and marine wildlife from UK beaches and around the world and explained how each is just as important and fascinating.

We then looked at marine litter. We discussed where marine litter might come from and the various ways it could end up in the ocean.

I spoke about my experiences in the Hawaiian Islands with Fred the Monkey and what he taught me about the plight of the Laysan Albatross.
 I am sure you will remember that Fred gifted me the necklace I wear to remind me and everyone I meet about their terrible plight.

My buddy Steve helped me to create an activity where the kids could learn about this. In this activity the children divided into groups of three, two children would play the role of parents one would be the chick.
The adults collect food from the surface of the water at night to feed their chick. They accidentally collect plastic litter too which they feed to their chick. If the chicks eat too much plastic they may die.
One at a time, the children playing the role of the parent birds collected a card. Each card represented an item of food or a piece of plastic litter such as a bottle top, fishing line, tooth brush, disposable lighter etc.
Each piece of litter was recorded on their sheet. We then discussed, depending by how much plastic they have fed to their chick, wither they thought their chick would survive
The children expressed that they were surprised that the marine litter included many everyday items such as tooth brush, disposable lighter, golf tees and plastic toys.

We also spoke about other problems that also play a part in the survival of these albatross chicks, such as paint flakes on the island from buildings. These flakes of paint contain lead, which is poisonous, which may be eaten by some of the chicks.

The second major topic we investigated was global warming and climate change. We discussed the difference between weather and climate. We also looked at my experiences about how ocean temperatures are monitored using satellites and under sea detection equipment that I learned about while I was at the Cordell Banks National Marine Sanctuary back in January.

We discussed how ocean currents transport warm and cold water around the oceans which creates our climate. It is the ocean currents, such as the Gulf Stream that give the UK such a pleasant climate compared to other countries on the same latitude. Global warming may affect how these ocean currents work which could result in big changes in the future world’s climate.
We looked at how global warming is killing coral reefs and disrupting food chains. This includes the UK where seabird chicks are dying because of the changes sea temperature rises are having on marine food webs and the food they eat.

I also told the children about another major problem, acidic oceans. The children found out about the dangers faced by marine animals in this acid oceans experiment. I explained how acid oceans are caused by increased amounts of carbon dioxide absorbed by oceans.
Earlier in the day we put a seashell in a jar of water and another in vinegar. Every now and then we would check to see what was happening.
The children were asked to suggest what they thought would happen and how long it would take.

After an hour, much of the seashell had dissolved. I explained that it’s not this bad in the oceans yet, but they could see how even a weak acid such as vinegar (which many of them eat on their chips) can cause such damage to crates with hard shells.

We finished off by discussing ways that we all contribute to global issues such as climate change. I explained how even my buddy Steve and myself are contributing to climate change just by every day living. However, I also explained that there are many ways that we can reduce the amount of impact we have on the oceans.
We asked the children to think about all the ways they might have an impact on the oceans and to make a list.
Then, next to each thing on the list, we asked them to write down how they can do things differently. Many of the things on the list included, not turning the TV or computer off when they had finished with it. One child admitted to leaving their bedroom light on all day while they were at school.
The children then signed a pledge to me, to promise that they would try to do all the things they could from their list to help the oceans. They would take this home and stick it on their bedroom wall to remind them. I then gave them all a special certificate for working so hard during the day and coming up with such great ideas and suggestions. I really enjoyed working with these children and I hope to be able to run another course again soon.

Bye for now, I must get back to Florida for a Coral Reef Classroom Field trip with Sugarloaf Middle School.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Flower Gardens National Marine Sanctuary.

Hi all

Sam and I arrived safe and sound at Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary office in Galveston.
Things are very busy here at the moment as they have just finished running an ocean day event.
We are also much nearer the terrible oil spill which is endangering marine wildlife so there may be some delay in my travels and also  a break in my blog entries. If I have not updated for a while, come back soon and check my weblog from time time time as there will probably be a lot of adventures to upload at one time. I hope that the oil spill is sorted out soon. It is terribly worrying the damage it may cause to the wildlife along the coast - including areas I have previously visited and reported on.

Back soon, Ed

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Making friends with dolphins at the Dolphin Research Center

Hello again!

Sam and I are winding down our trip to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. One of the more popular marine animals here in the Keys is the Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin. Some dolphins visit the Keys as they pass through the area foraging for fish. Others live in the Keys all year-round. In fact, one of the more popular trips for tourists in Key West is “Dolphin Tours” where people can go out on a boat to view dolphins in their natural wild habitat.

I have been told that in the United States, there is a law called the Marine Mammal Protection Act which makes rules such as how close people are allowed to get to animals like dolphins and sea lions so that they do not disturb the animals or change their natural behavior. This is a great idea. We have sea mammals back home as well which I have seen from my local beach. We have bottlenose dolphins and common (harbour) seals – but no sea lions.

The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary has a program called Dolphin-Smart which salutes Dolphin Tour Operators who agree to follow these laws and to be respectful about how they approach animals in the wild. Since we hadn’t yet seen any dolphins in the wild, but wanted to learn more, we decided to take a visit to the Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key. The Dolphin Research Center (DRC) is a not-for-profit education and research facility, home to a family of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions.

I found out that they have many educational programs which are open to public. For decades, DRC operated as a member of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network and rescued and rehabilitated many whales and dolphins. The rescue and rehabilitation events provided invaluable opportunities for important research and data collection. DRC extended its rescue commitment to include the endangered manatee and is currently the only facility in the Florida Keys licensed by the Federal Government to assist manatees in distress. My buddy Steve in the UK studies the dolphins and seals around my local coast as part of an organisation called the Sea Watch Foundation.

Sanctuary Sam’s fellow California Sea Lion was happy to see a familiar face so far from home and offered a warm greeting by way of a big wet kiss!

One of the resident dolphins, “Tanner”, explains to Sam and I how important it is to recycle.
We had already learned about the many problems marine debris is causing in our oceans, and how important it is to properly dispose of our trash. I told Tanner that I had been learning a lot about marine litter and that last Christmas I returned to the UK for a few days to tell everybody to make sure they recycled all the Christmas wrappings and extra packaging and bottles that people use at Christmas. (See my earlier blog entries for 23rd and 24th December 2009). I was even in the newspaper!

Our new dolphin friend also explained that over two million plastic bottles are used in the U.S. every five minutes! Wow! That’s a lot of bottles. To help reduce this impact on our oceans, he suggested re-useable stainless steel water bottles filled at home for free as a good alternative.

Here we are chatting up two more of our new friends. They even asked us if we would like to take part in their next public demonstration.

Our 15 minutes of fame at the Dolphin Research Center! “Pax” generously shared the stage with Sam and I. “Pax” is 13 years old. Scientists believe that dolphins live an average of 25 years or more in AMMPA accredited facilities such as DRC. Many of their dolphins are living much longer due to the fabulous husbandry care they receive (30’s, 40’s, 50’s). The oldest dolphin is “Theresa”. She is in her mid to late 50’s. Dolphins in the wild have much tougher lives so their average life span appears to be shorter, however they also are occasionally observed to live into their 40’s and 50’s. (Females tend to outlive males.)

That’s me in my submersible! It was a great day and we learned a lot about these very intelligent animals. Thanks for showing us around! “Kibby” has asked me to share her message of not swimming or playing with wild dolphins. She said wild dolphins are not used to people like she is and that it can scare them and stop them feeding and other things that dolphins do. She also said that if people do want to meet a dolphin up close they should only do so at an approved educational facility. If you want to know more about these dolphins and the research centre you can find out more at the following website

Wow that really was very exciting getting so close to those dolphins and even taking part in a demonstration in front of people.

Bye Tanner, Pax, Theresa and Kibby

Farewell to Florida Keys

Hi all

As we prepare to leave the Fabulous Florida Keys, we want to thank all of the staff at the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary who showed us around. Robert Keeley was very generous with his time, and took good care of us.
Before we left, we decided we would be remiss if we did not take pictures with two of Key West’s most famous landmarks; The Southernmost Point (allegedly THE most southern point in the Continental United States…there has never been snow in Key West), and the Mile 0 sign at the beginning (or is it the end?) of the famous coastal highway, US1! We will miss the Keys, but are looking forward to our next stop; a visit to Flower Gardens National Marine Sanctuary.

Bye for now, Ed the Bear and Sam

Monday, 10 May 2010

Diving with the fishes

Hello again

Me and Sam are still here at the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary! Sanctuary Sam and I have been learning so much and having such a great time here. We recently learned that Sanctuary staff host field trips with local students to visit and learn about the coral reef eco-system first hand. It just so happens that while we were in town, students from Sugarloaf Middle School were going on one of these “Coral Reef Classroom” trips, and Sam and I were invited to go along! I was extra excited to find out that I would get a chance to explore underwater in my diving bubble.

These trips allow students to learn about their local marine environment in a real-life classroom; the ocean itself! We gathered at one of the local dive shops and boarded the vessel “Pegasus” for our trip to Looe Key Reef. We learned that this is one of the Sanctuary Preservation Areas; (SPA) a section of the reef which has been set aside for extra protection.

In these “SPA” areas, fishing is not allowed, meaning that fish in these areas are allowed to grow bigger and do not have to fear the humans who come to these areas to dive and snorkel. These areas also have a system of mooring buoys anchored to the sea floor which visiting boats can tie up to so that they do not have to drop their anchors on the coral, which would damage the fragile corals.

In fact, Sanctuary regulations do not allow boats to anchor on coral anywhere within its boundaries. In this photo, Sanctuary Education Staff member Todd Hitchins tells the students about some of the scientific equipment scientists use to measure ocean conditions such as salinity (how much salt is in the water), and turbidity (how clear the water is). It was quite technical but Todd explained things really well.

Going down! Staff member Robert Keeley gets my submersible ready to go underwater so I can get a close-up look at the coral reef.

Uh oh! As soon as I descended, an old plastic bag floated by the sub. Todd had mentioned earlier that an estimated 6 million pounds of marine debris enters the ocean each year. Most of this trash comes from people littering or not disposing of their garbage properly. Marine debris causes many problems for marine creatures, which I have seen on my travels. Animals can become entangled in discarded fishing line or mistake plastic bags or particles for food and become unable to eat. Larger trash can scour sensitive bottom habitat or break off pieces of coral. Thankfully, one of the students got this bag out of the ocean and disposed of it properly back on shore.

Here I am with a beautiful school of Blue Tangs. It seemed like there was hundreds of them. Tangs are a member of the surgeon fish family. I didn’t see any of them operating though; I don’t know why they call them surgeon fish. Maybe you can tell me! Blue tangs feed mainly on algae.

My, what big teeth you have! This large barracuda swam by for a closer look. I hope he doesn’t think I look like dinner. Later Todd explained to me that these large predatory fish are known as ambush predators. They look as though they are just floating in the water on the edge of the reef, but when an unwary fish is not paying attention, they are one of the fastest fish in the sea and can strike suddenly from seemingly out of nowhere. They are very curious and not afraid to come close to people.

This is one of the mooring buoys which is attached to the bottom of many of the popular diving and snorkeling spots in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. These are the ones I mentioned earlier which stop boats anchoring on the fragile coral reef. This type of system has now been used in many other parts of the world since it was developed here in the Florida Keys. Its good to know these special anchoring buoys are helping top protect reefs in other countries as well.

This is one of the students measuring turbidity with a tool called the Secchi Disk. There are marks on the rope that tell you how far down you have dropped the disk. When you cannot see the disk anymore, you record how many meters of line you have let out. This tells you how much visibility there is in the water that day (how clear the water is).

We had a great time on Coral Reef Classroom! There are so many fish and other creatures on the reef. It was very beautiful. I hope we can get in the water again before we leave!
Oh yes. Todd explained why they are called surgeon fish. This is because they have hard spines at the base of their tail which looks like a surgeons scalpel (the instrument they use when operating. If a surgeon fish is threatened or attacked, it will flip its tail and the spines pop out like small knives. I'm glad I did not upset them, even by accident!

Sam and I are rather hungry after that wonderful adventure. Bye for now, Ed and Sam

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Further adventures at Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

Hi all

Staff at the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary are keeping me and Sanctuary Sam very busy! Robert Keeley, a member of the Education and Outreach Team, told us about how there are many different environmental agencies and organizations who do conservation work and resource management within the boundaries of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Today, we were invited to visit one of the more prominent NGO’s (non-governmental organisations), Mote Marine Laboratory. Mote Marine Lab is a full service lab facility which provides vessel support, aquariums, laboratories, and dormitories for visiting students and scientists. Mote Marine Lab are partners with the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary for several programs including the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center, Coral Reef Classroom, and Coral Restoration.
Dr. Dave Vaughn, the Director of Mote in Summerland Key shows us around one of the research vessels at the dock.

Here we are in front of a coral nursery. This was a very interesting project. This is where they take small pieces of coral and grow it in aquariums. Once the coral colonies are big enough, they are brought out into the ocean and transplanted into the wild. It is hoped that these transplanted corals will continue to grow in the wild and create new habitat for all of the creatures that live on the reef. Wow that's amazing!

Sometimes, when boaters run aground on the reef, staff from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary will take some of the corals from the nursery to restore and repair the area where the boat damaged the reef.

Dr. Vaughn shows us around some of the outdoor tanks where they are doing coral research.

Before leaving, Dr. Vaughn showed us his pick-up truck. We thought he wanted to take us for a ride, but really, he just wanted to show us his special license plate. Florida has numerous special license plates that people can choose from. Many of them cost a little more than regular licence plates, but the extra money goes to support a cause.
One of the most popular is the “Protect Our Reefs” license plate pictured here. The extra money from these plates goes to support research and education on the coral reef here in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. I thought this was a great idea.

Dr. Vaughn told us some of the money goes towards sending local school children on field trips to learn about the coral reef. This program is called Coral Reef Classroom. It sounds like a lot of fun. I think we will ask if we can go on a Coral Reef Classroom field trip! Thanks for the tour Dr. Vaughn!

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Responsible fishing in the Florida Keys

Hi everyone

I have to say, this place is truly special. Being a tiny chain of islands, life in the Florida Keys is really all about the water. Unlike the Hawaiian island chain which was formed by volcanic action, these islands are the remains of an ancient coral reef. One of the most popular activities for locals and visitors alike is fishing. In fact, after tourism, fishing is probably the biggest part of the economy in the Florida Keys.
Commercial fishermen harvest huge quantities of Spiny Lobster and Stone Crabs in the waters here. Keys residents consider them a delicacy. Sam and I learned that the tail of the spiny lobster is usually the part people (and bears and sea lions) eat. Caribbean spiny lobsters do not even have claws like their more popular northern cousins! Caribbean Spiny Lobster like to hide in holes and under ledges during the day and forage for food at night. Theyvuse their large antennae to fend off potential predators.On the other hand (or claw), stone crabs are harvested only for their claws.

In fact, fishermen can take the claws and put the crab back in the water alive where it will eventually grow new claws! Recreational fishing is a big deal too. One of the islands here called Islamorada claims to be the “Sportfishing Capital of the World”! This is likely due to the fact that you can do almost any kind of fishing within an hour’s boat ride from the dock.

I didn’t realise there was so many types of fishing. Here it is possible to do something called shallow water light tackle, flats, and fly fishing in Florida Bay and the Everglades National Park, or go reef and bottom fishing for fish like snapper and grouper within 5 miles from shore. Just past the reef is the Gulf Stream current. Here you can do what they call “offshore” fishing and catch big game fish like tuna, wahoo, sailfish, and swordfish.
All this fishing talk made me and Sam curious, so we decided to learn more at the No Name Key Kid’s Fishing Clinic and Bridge Fishing Tournament. The local Sherriff’s office along with volunteers including the Sanctuary’s own Robert Keeley hosted this event which happens several times a year to help kids (and their parents) learn how to fish responsibly.

Sam and I learned how to bait a hook, how to cast a rod, and most importantly, how to identify and properly measure the fish you catch. Knowing what type of fish you catch, and how big it is, is very important to make sure you are catching fish that are legal and safe to eat. Sam and I make sure to follow the rules by fishing in the approved fishing area at the bridge.
This is a tube for collecting used fishing line so it does not go into the ocean.

Certain types of fish have rules about what size and how many you can take to make sure there are enough of them left in the ocean to grow up and make more fish and to grow big enough to eat. The fishing was a bit slow today but we learned a lot and even got to keep these great fishing rods. We will try to do some more fishing before we leave. Sam said it is easier to catch fish swimming in the water, but I think I will stick with the rod and reel!
I think I could get used to this place! Fishing is very relaxing!

Sam said there is still lots more to see here in the Florida Keys, so come back soon.

Bye for now, Ed

Monday, 3 May 2010

Marathon Turtle Hospital

Hi everyone

Our next stop was on the island of Marathon. This island is about half way between Key Largo and Key West. We came here to meet Richie Moretti, the founder of the Marathon Turtle Hospital. Sadly, we learned that all eight species of sea turtles in the entire world are threatened or endangered. This is mostly due to habitat destruction caused by human development of coastal areas.

In fact, Richie told us that over 30% of all endangered species in Florida call the coral reef ecosystem of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary home. These include manatees, queen conch, sea turtles, and Bahama Sea Stars. Although they spend much of the time in the ocean, female sea turtles return to land to lay their eggs. You may remember I found out about green turtles in the Hawaiian Islands back in March. These eggs are laid just above the high tide line on the same beach on which they themselves were born. The baby turtles hatch in the late spring and dig their way out of the sand during a full moon. They follow the light of the moon towards the sea, and swim away.

Unfortunately, many of these tiny turtles are eaten as soon as they enter the water. The ones that do survive to grow older have plenty of problems of their own. Entanglement in fishing nets, traps, and line can cause drowning or amputation. Floating marine debris like plastic bags can be mistaken for one of their favorite foods, jellyfish. When they eat plastic or other marine debris they cannot digest it and may starve to death or get sick.

Turtles can hold their breath a long time but do not have gills like fish. This means they have to come to the surface of the water to breathe. Sometimes, boaters accidentally run them over when they come up in front of a moving boat to catch a breath. Even with their hard shell, this often causes severe injury or death.

Richie Moretti founded the turtle hospital to help injured or sick turtles get better and then release them back into the wild once they are healthy. The Turtle Hospital has successfully treated and released over 1000 Sea Turtles since its founding in 1986. The Turtle Hospital was opened in 1986 with four main goals: 1) rehab injured sea turtles and return them to the wild, 2) educate the public through outreach programs to local schools, 3) conduct and assist with research which aids the sea turtles (in conjunction with state universities), and 4) work toward environmental legislation which makes the beaches and water safe and clean for sea turtles.
Of course, no hospital comes without an ambulance! Richie showed us the Turtle Hospital Ambulance that he uses to pick up sick and injured turtles that get brought to shore by volunteers or concerned boaters.

This picture of Sam and I was taken with Richie and Scooter the Loggerhead Turtle. Richie told us that Scooter was rescued as a weak and hungry baby about the size of a ping pong ball. He is now 3 years old, and is the official education turtle of the hospital. He likes his job and his home at the hospital, but in about 2 years, when he is big enough, he will be released back into the wild. Scooter has his own web page on the Turtle Hospital website if you would like to learn more and follow his progress.


I will certainly be checking from time to time.

Bye for now, Ed, Sam and Scooter