Coral Island Stability in the face of Global Warming

Will Earth’s coral islands become a second Atlantis?

Exploring the relationship between coral islands and climate change

(Note: This essay is designed to present a scientific article in a more accessible way to a particular audience. It is written for the community of adult geeks that I go on a geek-themed cruise with each year to the Caribbean. I thought it would be neat to explain to them what is going on with the islands we visit and what they might look like in the future.)

            Imagine you are lying on a sandy beach on the shore of a beautiful, tropical island. You already are? Great. Now, whether you know it or not, there is a pretty good chance that this beautiful island is sitting on a coral reef. (If it’s not on a reef, it’s probably an old volcano, but that’s another story.) If you stand up and look around, you’ll notice that most of this island is pretty low-elevation. People come here for easy access to the ocean, not for mountain climbing. Unfortunately, not only do people have easy access to the ocean, but the ocean has easy access to the island, which can result in a lot of problems if the ocean level starts to rise.  

            Now, imagine standing in the same place on the same island, but this time there is ocean water lapping at your knees. The towel and half-empty sunscreen you left 50ft up the beach are gone, as are the 300 beach chairs that used to mark the line where the sand turned into shrubbery. This is the sort of scenario that most people imagine when they think of climate change, sea-level rise, and tropical islands. However, thankfully, this is not the only possible outcome for the fate of a coral island in the midst of a changing climate. It turns out that there are an immense number of factors that determine the stability of a sediment-based island when sea level starts to rise. What else can an island do but sit there and drown, you ask? Good question; but the answer has very little to do with the island and everything to do with the coral reefs around it.

            Before I get any further, let’s start with some basics. Coral islands are born when enough sediments collect in the shallows created by a coral reef to breech the surface of the water and make a land mass. However, if you have ever built a sandcastle, you know that waves are really good at pushing sand around – and the ocean happens to have a lot of waves. Therefore, unless there is a constant influx of sediments from the surrounding water coming in with the waves and being added to the new island, the land will slowly disappear as the sediments hitch a ride with the retreating wave. So, where does the new, sustaining sediment come from? The surrounding reef, of course! Not only does the reef act as a breakwater for incoming waves, consequently mitigating their erosive force on the beach, but it also supplies the island with the sediment it needs to survive.

            What do I mean by ‘sediments’? Well, if you look really closely at sand, you will find that it comes in LOTS of different shapes, sizes, and colors. (Seriously, go do a Google Image search for “magnified sand” if you’ve never seen what I’m talking about.) Unsurprisingly, these different types of particles come from different parent materials. In the case of coral islands, there are a few major players in the “particles and sediments” division. Corals are obviously a fairly important source of sediment, but they are by no means always the dominant factor. Crustose coralline algae (CCA), Halimeda, and foraminifera are all various types of organisms that live on or around a reef and leave calcium-carbonate versions of themselves behind when they die. Mollusks (snails, clams, and the like) are another such source of chalky remains that frequently end up on beaches. In addition to these skeletal sediments, there are also sediments that simply eroded away from their structure of origin through biophysical processes, such as from wave action or when a sponge loosens particles from inside the underlying frame of a coral structure. Usually, all these various types of sediments will be present in a coral island, but the dominant particle type will vary widely based on the particular location, history, and ecology of each island. This matters because a coral island’s sedimentary composition actually has significant influence over how the island is predicted to fare in the face of climate change.

            So, how do you know if beautiful Coco Cay – or the imaginary island you’re standing on now – is destined for a watery death? Unfortunately, scientists still don’t understand many of the forces at work in these ecosystems, largely due to huge gaps in the research and data they need to draw informed conclusions. There are few simple cause and effect relationships when it comes to climate change; and, as in everything ecological, generalizations can only get you half-way. Everything depends on the specific context of the case you are looking at. That said, half-way is (arguably) better than nothing, so here is what we do know.

            To determine the projected stability of a coral island, we first need to determine what sort of island-building sediments are being generated by the surrounding reefs, as well as the estimated influx rate of these sediments to the island. Then we need to look at the risk factors at play. Sea level rise is pretty much guaranteed to be of concern to all coral islands, but individual groups of islands will also have to mitigate the effects of more localized issues as well. Overfishing, ocean warming, storm intensity, and changes in nutrient availability due to pollution all play huge roles in the sediment production of a coral reef and should be taken into account where applicable. Different reef communities will respond to various environmental pressures in different ways, so it is the combination of these two conditions (sediment creation and environmental variation) that allow us to make a prediction about the fate of the island in question based on the fate of its reef.

            While the array of possible outcomes to these combined conditions is too extensive to address here, I do wish to leave you with a sense of the range they encompass and some hope for the future of coral islands. In general, islands that are composed of finer grain sediments, such as eroded corals and smaller forms of foraminifera, are considered the most vulnerable to sea level rise. However, influxes of nutrients from human disturbance may result in an increase in the production of such finer sediment by the surrounding reefs, potentially countering some of the erosive effects of sea level rise. Conversely, islands that are comprised primarily of coarser-grained sediments, such a larger pieces of coral and CCA, are generally expected to weather changes in sea level with little consequence. However, adding overfishing to the mix would most likely cause coral and CCA particle creation by the reef to decline, which could seriously impact the stability of the island. Such a change could even cause a long-term shift in the composition of the primary island sediments from coral/CCA to Halimeda and certain kinds of foraminifera, which would become the dominant course-grained sediment being produced by the reef.

            Ultimately, the complexity of the factors that influence the stability of a coral island is both daunting and poorly understood, but there is yet some hope for the longevity of coral islands as a whole in the face of changing climates and rising sea levels. Instead of slowly drowning or being swept away, some islands may be able to take advantage of a change in sediment availability to adapt to their changing environment, while others may simply remain relatively unaffected. We can do our part to help save our favorite vacation destinations (even if we only look at them appreciatively on the way to the Lido deck between rounds of our favorite board games) by acknowledging the vital role that coral reefs play in the life of islands, and to ensure that any cruise line or shore excursion we choose to endorse takes that role seriously. 

Article Citation: Perry, Chris T., Paul S. Kench, Scott G. Smithers, Bernhard Riegl, Hiroya Yamano, and Michael J. O’Leary. “Implications of Reef Ecosystem Change for the Stability and Maintenance of Coral Reef Islands.” Global Change Biology 17.12 (2011): 3679-696. Web. 26 Sept. 2013.


Posted in AUNE, coral islands, JCCC | Leave a comment

Coral Island Stability in the face of Global Warming

Will Earth’s coral islands become a second Atlantis?

Exploring the relationship between coral islands and climate change

(Note: This essay is designed to present a scientific article in a more accessible way to a particular audience. It is written for the community of adult geeks that I go on a geek-themed cruise with each year to the Caribbean. I thought it would be neat to explain to them what is going on with the islands we visit and what they might look like in the future.)

            Imagine you are lying on a sandy beach on the shore of a beautiful, tropical island. You already are? Great. Now, whether you know it or not, there is a pretty good chance that this beautiful island is sitting on a coral reef. (If it’s not on a reef, it’s probably an old volcano, but that’s another story.) If you stand up and look around, you’ll notice that most of this island is pretty low-elevation. People come here for easy access to the ocean, not for mountain climbing. Unfortunately, not only do people have easy access to the ocean, but the ocean has easy access to the island, which can result in a lot of problems if the ocean level starts to rise.  

            Now, imagine standing in the same place on the same island, but this time there is ocean water lapping at your knees. The towel and half-empty sunscreen you left 50ft up the beach are gone, as are the 300 beach chairs that used to mark the line where the sand turned into shrubbery. This is the sort of scenario that most people imagine when they think of climate change, sea-level rise, and tropical islands. However, thankfully, this is not the only possible outcome for the fate of a coral island in the midst of a changing climate. It turns out that there are an immense number of factors that determine the stability of a sediment-based island when sea level starts to rise. What else can an island do but sit there and drown, you ask? Good question; but the answer has very little to do with the island and everything to do with the coral reefs around it.

            Before I get any further, let’s start with some basics. Coral islands are born when enough sediments collect in the shallows created by a coral reef to breech the surface of the water and make a land mass. However, if you have ever built a sandcastle, you know that waves are really good at pushing sand around – and the ocean happens to have a lot of waves. Therefore, unless there is a constant influx of sediments from the surrounding water coming in with the waves and being added to the new island, the land will slowly disappear as the sediments hitch a ride with the retreating wave. So, where does the new, sustaining sediment come from? The surrounding reef, of course! Not only does the reef act as a breakwater for incoming waves, consequently mitigating their erosive force on the beach, but it also supplies the island with the sediment it needs to survive.

            What do I mean by ‘sediments’? Well, if you look really closely at sand, you will find that it comes in LOTS of different shapes, sizes, and colors. (Seriously, go do a Google Image search for “magnified sand” if you’ve never seen what I’m talking about.) Unsurprisingly, these different types of particles come from different parent materials. In the case of coral islands, there are a few major players in the “particles and sediments” division. Corals are obviously a fairly important source of sediment, but they are by no means always the dominant factor. Crustose coralline algae (CCA), Halimeda, and foraminifera are all various types of organisms that live on or around a reef and leave calcium-carbonate versions of themselves behind when they die. Mollusks (snails, clams, and the like) are another such source of chalky remains that frequently end up on beaches. In addition to these skeletal sediments, there are also sediments that simply eroded away from their structure of origin through biophysical processes, such as from wave action or when a sponge loosens particles from inside the underlying frame of a coral structure. Usually, all these various types of sediments will be present in a coral island, but the dominant particle type will vary widely based on the particular location, history, and ecology of each island. This matters because a coral island’s sedimentary composition actually has significant influence over how the island is predicted to fare in the face of climate change.

            So, how do you know if beautiful Coco Cay – or the imaginary island you’re standing on now – is destined for a watery death? Unfortunately, scientists still don’t understand many of the forces at work in these ecosystems, largely due to huge gaps in the research and data they need to draw informed conclusions. There are few simple cause and effect relationships when it comes to climate change; and, as in everything ecological, generalizations can only get you half-way. Everything depends on the specific context of the case you are looking at. That said, half-way is (arguably) better than nothing, so here is what we do know.

            To determine the projected stability of a coral island, we first need to determine what sort of island-building sediments are being generated by the surrounding reefs, as well as the estimated influx rate of these sediments to the island. Then we need to look at the risk factors at play. Sea level rise is pretty much guaranteed to be of concern to all coral islands, but individual groups of islands will also have to mitigate the effects of more localized issues as well. Overfishing, ocean warming, storm intensity, and changes in nutrient availability due to pollution all play huge roles in the sediment production of a coral reef and should be taken into account where applicable. Different reef communities will respond to various environmental pressures in different ways, so it is the combination of these two conditions (sediment creation and environmental variation) that allow us to make a prediction about the fate of the island in question based on the fate of its reef.

            While the array of possible outcomes to these combined conditions is too extensive to address here, I do wish to leave you with a sense of the range they encompass and some hope for the future of coral islands. In general, islands that are composed of finer grain sediments, such as eroded corals and smaller forms of foraminifera, are considered the most vulnerable to sea level rise. However, influxes of nutrients from human disturbance may result in an increase in the production of such finer sediment by the surrounding reefs, potentially countering some of the erosive effects of sea level rise. Conversely, islands that are comprised primarily of coarser-grained sediments, such a larger pieces of coral and CCA, are generally expected to weather changes in sea level with little consequence. However, adding overfishing to the mix would most likely cause coral and CCA particle creation by the reef to decline, which could seriously impact the stability of the island. Such a change could even cause a long-term shift in the composition of the primary island sediments from coral/CCA to Halimeda and certain kinds of foraminifera, which would become the dominant course-grained sediment being produced by the reef.

            Ultimately, the complexity of the factors that influence the stability of a coral island is both daunting and poorly understood, but there is yet some hope for the longevity of coral islands as a whole in the face of changing climates and rising sea levels. Instead of slowly drowning or being swept away, some islands may be able to take advantage of a change in sediment availability to adapt to their changing environment, while others may simply remain relatively unaffected. We can do our part to help save our favorite vacation destinations (even if we only look at them appreciatively on the way to the Lido deck between rounds of our favorite board games) by acknowledging the vital role that coral reefs play in the life of islands, and to ensure that any cruise line or shore excursion we choose to endorse takes that role seriously. 

Article Citation: Perry, Chris T., Paul S. Kench, Scott G. Smithers, Bernhard Riegl, Hiroya Yamano, and Michael J. O’Leary. “Implications of Reef Ecosystem Change for the Stability and Maintenance of Coral Reef Islands.” Global Change Biology 17.12 (2011): 3679-696. Web. 26 Sept. 2013.


Posted in AUNE, coral islands, JCCC | Leave a comment

Let’s go back, back to the beginning…

(My apologies if you recognize my title’s quote, but it seemed appropriate and I’m not one to deny my past.)

So, camp is over and it’s time I actually sat down and, you know, wrote about it. This was not the original plan, but I’m going with the ‘better late than never’ approach, per my usual. I imagine that this will remove some of the charm and interest of it, but I went through the trouble of starting this newer version of the blog so I might as well use it.

Moving on to actually writing about camp….

Having completed the summer, I can now confidently say that this camp and my previous camp are two entirely different beasts that really aren’t terribly comparable. However, that doesn’t mean that I’m not going to compare them anyway.

My previous camp, where I was a camper growing up and I later became a counselor and staff person, was an environmentally aware Christian overnight camp with one-week sessions where all the campers were in the same age group. Volunteer counselors came for the week to provide in-cabin supervision and week-specific programming, while permanent summer staff took care of the constants such as cooking, cleaning, life guarding, and standard programming. The week’s schedule was determined by the deans of the session.

This camp was a nature-centric day camp where sessions could be either one week or two, and multiple sessions were held at once for different age groups. You and a co-counselor are solely responsible for all programming and child care duties for your session, though support was available in the form of previous lesson plans, a helpful camp director, and the occasional counselor-in-training. Normally, counselors are assigned an age group and that is whom they work with all summer, but this year was different. Due to several sessions being canceled on account of low enrollment, staff were regularly shuffled about between the age groups. I was one of the more frequently swapped counselors, working with four out of the five different age groups over the course of the summer.

My summer schedule ended up looking like this:

3 weeks of canoeing with 6-7th graders, the first session (2 weeks) culminated in an overnight camping trip on the Charles River

2 weeks of day trips around the Boston area with 8-9th graders, culminating in a two-night camping trip on Bumpkin Island in Boston Harbor

1 week of teaching about bugs, insects, arachnids, etc. to 2nd and 3rd graders on site

1 week of teaching about critters that build things to make their habitat better suited to them (beavers, birds, ants, spiders, etc.) to K-1st graders

(The remaining age group was 4-5th graders, who ended their two-week sessions with an overnight experience at our nature center.)

I hope to at least touch upon each week here, though I’m already forgetting many of the details of my first few weeks, so I may have to approach this with rather broad strokes.


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“Camptics”

I want to post something quick, so I’m presenting the quotes and cute moments I’ve collected so far this summer. I’m calling them “camptics”, a shortening of “camper antics”.

A camper asks if we can visit outer space during camp, to which another responds:

“We are already in space. Our personal space!”

“My head is cake.”

“I LOVE income tax!”

“Oh my gosh! It’s a falcon that can turn into a truck!”

“You can’t grind up the wind.”

During a pirate-themed week:

Camper 1: Bluebeard, how do you want to be prepared?

Camper 2 (Bluebeard): Marinated!

I have a jug of water with me.

Camper A: What’s all the water for?

Me: A bunch of people ran out of water yesterday.

Camper A: Oh, I thought it might be for a game.

Me: It’s for drinking.

Camper B (totally deadpan): It’s called a drinking game.

Campers try to guess my co-counselor’s middle name. They know it starts with an “M”. Their first guess:

“Mundle!”

Camper Y: This smells good.

Camper Z: It’s not good. It’s bird crap.

“Go to sleep, or I’ll eat your wife.”

“Don’t touch me, for Narnia.”

I asked a K-1 camper what she liked to do when she wasn’t at camp. She got very quiet and stared off into space for a long time, thinking. Then she said in a quite, thoughtful voice:

“I like to plant trees… and watch my favorite flowers grow… and I can’t think of anything else.”

There are a couple of Portal fans in our group of campers this session. One of them presented this set of statements during a game of Two Truths and a Lie:

“I play piano. I have a cat. Cake.”

Hopefully, there will be more to come!

(I’m anticipating a lot more adorable moments once I’m working with the 2-3 graders and K-1 graders.)


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How I Teach

I have lots to say about my camp experience, but I’m finding that I have precious little time to say it in. Each night and weekend, I’m either preparing for the next day of camp, taking care of mandatory “not camp” things (laundry, chores, groceries, sleeping), or I’m enjoying some hard-earned downtime.

Even as I write this, I am poised to start a letter to the parents of my current campers about what they need to do to prepare for the overnights next week. I guess that’s what it means to be an adult, really. It’s not that you “have time” to do everything; it’s that you “make/find” the time to do the things that are most important to you. Not exactly a revelation, but certainly something that is being drilled into me this summer. One does what one can.

And I hate to admit it, but this blog simply hasn’t been a major priority. (You’ve probably noticed this by now.)

Anyway, what prompted me to take a moment for this tonight is a wider understanding of myself with regards to my teaching strengths and weaknesses.

I designed my first ever 6-hour lesson plan from scratch for Wednesday’s trip to a bog. I’d like to devote a post to that at some point (if I ever get around to actually posting about this summer’s events, albeit retroactively), but for now I’ll just say that I thought it went well. My boss came along for the trip that day in order to evaluate my performance, both to be able to give me and my co-worker feedback and also so that she would have concrete examples for writing a future letter of recommendation. (Note: I ended up switching programs, so I’m taking day trips with 8th and 9th graders instead of working with K-1 both this week and next week.)
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I just got the evaluation sheet back today and it was much more of an awakening than I was expecting.
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For reference, I thrive on feedback. I really want to know how I’m doing and how others feel about me and what I can do better. I like feedback to be helpful and honest, but otherwise I’m pretty open to hearing what people have to say. I’ve been hungry for feedback all summer, and I finally got it, so this is a very good thing. But it made me so much more aware of how I teach, how I myself learn, and why  my current style really not the best way to approach camp.
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(This post is already much longer than I expected it to be, but I’m going to take advantage of the fact that I’m finally writing and just go with it.)
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I learned that I learn best from a “show & tell + discussion” model. That is to say, someone knowledgeable shows me something, he explains the basic significance of it, and he invites the group to ask questions and add their thoughts. Alternatively, an instructor will introduce a topic, explain the basic concepts, and then pose a question to the group to begin a discussion that furthers our understanding of the subject through our own critical thinking skills. Before this evaluation, I didn’t know how I learned best, but I see now that, really, this is it.
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How do I know? I know because this is how I like to teach. I do this ALL THE TIME at camp. The unfortunate thing about this is that it’s really useful/effective for teaching a class – particularly something at the high school or college level – but it’s simply not an effective approach to running a summer camp lesson. However, because that’s how I learn, that’s how I teach. (Or at least how I’ve taught thus far.)
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I never went to nature camp, so my mind doesn’t think of learning about nature in terms of games, exploration, songs, crafts, or other techniques. That is to say, I learned a whole lot as a child through the exploration of my surroundings, but I did it on my own time, not at camp or because someone announced that it was exploration time. This is blatantly evident to me now that my camp director has pointed it out to me. The way that the information was presented to me is the way that I present it to others.
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Some other shortcomings in my teaching that I should try to improve include:
  • I try to tackle too much. It’s all so important and fascinating that I don’t want to leave anything out, but I’ll give them more to think about than they can really process at once. Ecology is a huge field and clear lines must be drawn around subtopics when first introducing them if anything is ever going to be absorbed.
  • I forget that camp is about community. For example, I don’t try to get the group to sit in a circle at snack and talk about stuff as a group. (I mean fun stuff, not more lessons!) This is something I would do for younger kids, but at this age level I let them do their own thing during snack because I feel like they spend their day being told what to do and they need some time to themselves. In other words, I’m treating our outings like they are college field trips more than day camp trips. If I were making the rest of their time more interactive and relaxed, I feel like we wouldn’t need to treat snack time like a break from the camp structure because the camp structure would be more fun, interactive, and about the community. We would all want to sit together if I had been really fostering the group community. Instead, I treat it like a bunch of people who aren’t here to share themselves with the group but are here to purely expand their nature know-how. That’s not even a good classroom mentality, let alone camp.
  • We don’t have to do everything today. We don’t even have to finish things we start if there are other opportunities to grasp. I have two weeks for this program and I’m not allowing myself to be flexible between days. Within a day, I’m pretty flexible, but I feel like I have to tie up all the loose ends by the time the kids say goodbye at the end of the day. In reality, these concepts can be taught over the course of camp and the course of our lives. We can finish the activity tomorrow if it means exploring a different path today than we had originally planned.

All this makes me wonder if maybe I actually do want to teach college some day. I’ve never had any interest in such a career before, but the way I learned about nature in college was the way that I had always hoped to learn growing up; and it was so refreshing to finally be able to engage the material in that way. If this is how my brain processes, then I definitely shouldn’t rule out settings where teaching in that style is particularly appropriate.

The moral of today’s story is I now have a lot of things to think about and a lot of improvements to work on to make my contributions to camp more fun and efficacious for everyone. I also am now much more aware of how I teach and how I need to think about approaching my lesson plans in the future to accommodate a non-college-class environment.

I only wish I could have had this awareness before I had taught three entire days of camp (almost by myself) that way. Eheu, I’m learning yet.


Posted in Learning Moment, Teaching, Thoughts | Leave a comment

Lady Amazon

Since I’m essentially starting over here, I figure it’s only fair to give you some idea of who I am. I’m a recent college graduate who dreams of a career in environmental education. I want to focus on experiential, hands-on, inquiry-based approaches to learning, and I was homeschooled to greater or lesser extents right up until college. I love nature, ecology, ecosystems, animals, plants, natural history, teaching, being silly, theater, dancing, biking, sailing, hiking, singing, reading, choreographing, playing piano, and a bunch of other stuff. I have a cat who lives with my parents, and I’d like to get another pet at some point in the next few years that can actually live with me. (I’ve developed an allergy to cats since I went to college, and my cat is too old to change residences anyway.) I’m thinking something along the lines of a mouse, hamster , or (if I’m feeling really ambitious) a hedgehog.

I am not an activist. I try to avoid politics as much as possible, and legislation makes me want to climb a tree and sing silly songs to drown out the rest of the world. I recognize that politics and legislation are excruciatingly important to the past, present, and future of the natural world at every level, but I can’t do everything and I’ve chosen to focus on the part of nature that doesn’t make me want to live in the woods and never come back to society again. I want to show people of all ages what’s in their backyard and make them curious to learn more. I want them to learn how to respect and appreciate the natural world, and encourage them to take steps to care for it as much as possible.

Anyway, as I’ve mentioned, I’m working at a nature-based day camp in New England for the summer. I have a long history with summer camp, but most of it took place at an over-night church camp in a different part of New England, where I was a camper, nanny, CIT, counselor, and nature director over the years. While I was serving as Nature Director, one of the nicknames I acquired among the staff was Amazon.  This was partially due to the fact that I had just played Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream recently, and the rest of it came from a fierce ultimate Frisbee reputation (implying that I played like an Amazon warrior). (Note: I’m not particularly good at Frisbee, I just play with a lot of… commitment.)

One of my duties as Nature Director was to instruct the campers on the proper sorting of their compost, ort (the technical term for non-compostable food waste), and trash. This topic possesses an incredible potential to be utterly boring, so I challenged myself to find a way to get the campers’ attention. My solution had two parts: First, I gave a brief talk at the first convenient mealtime explaining out composting/food waste policies (that was the boring part). Then, I let them know that a special guest speaker was going to be coming to present on the subject in the near future. At the next convenient mealtime, I dressed up in a ridiculous costume that was as Lady Gaga-esque as possible, a staff person gave me a grand introduction, and Lady Gaga came to perform for the campers. I had found an instrumental track for the song “Just Dance” and re-wrote it to be about composting. My version is called “Just Plants”, and the campers loved it. The headpiece I had created for my costume obscured my features enough that the little kids would spend several days trying to figure out who had been Lady Gaga, and some were only slightly skeptical that Lady Gaga herself had come to camp. I made a lot of mistakes, of course, and we had a whole lot of technical problems getting the sound to play over the dining hall’s speakers properly, but the whole thing was tons of fun. No pictures of my costume exist (both regrettably and thankfully), but here is a copy of my modified lyrics for your enjoyment. (I only ever wrote lyrics for the first two verses of the song.)

[Notes on the song: The composting/ort buckets were below the serving window of the kitchen at this camp. The ort (food waste) was measured at the end of every day so that the campers were aware of how much food they were wasting.]

——

Lady Amazon’s “Got Plants”

Got Ort
Compost
Cores, Peels
Oh, ey

I took a little too much food.
I was hungry, it looked good.
Where do I put the rest?
Time for me to digest.
Go to the kitchen, ask the windo, oh, oh, o-ow.

What’s going on with all of these buckets?
I love this dinner baby, but I couldn’t finish my plate.
Keep it cool. What goes in the compost?
I can’t remember but it’s alright, alright.

[Chorus:]
Just plants. Fruits and veggies.
Don’t waste your food!
Just plants. No fats or grease.
Don’t waste your food!
Just plants. No bread, oatmeal.
P-p-p-p-plants
Plants. Plants. Just Plants.

What if it can’t go in the compo, oh, oh ,o-ost?
Meat, Oil, Dairy, Eggs, and Bread? In my food, right.
Control your portions babe
Goes in the Ort, they say.
And it’s all getting weighed tonight.

What’s going on with all of these buckets?
I love this dinner baby, but I couldn’t finish my plate.
Keep it cool. What goes in the compost?
I can’t remember but it’s alright, alright.

[Chorus]
Just plants. Fruits and veggies.
Don’t waste your food!
Just plants. No sal’d dressing.
Don’t waste your food!
Just plants. No meat, dairy.
P-p-p-plants
Plants. Plants. J-j-j-just plants.


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Teaching, Learning, Laughing, and Nature

After a year of inactivity, I’ve come back to my animal blog with new inspiration. This summer, I’m working at a nature day-camp as a counselor/educator, and I thought it would be fun to document all the great little moments of learning, discovery, and laughter from the summer. I’m going to focus on the challenges of being an outdoor educator, the progress I make (or lack there of), the cool nature things I learn/encounter, and all of the adorable/hilarious moments that invariably happen when you spend your summer with campers. I will be leading canoe  day trips for the first few weeks with middle schoolers, and then switching to K-1 kids for the rest of the summer.

I have been spending my last few months working part-time as an environmental educator for elementary school field trips, so I already have a few things I can talk about. I’m not sure how often I’ll be posting, but I would like to average about twice a week. It would be great if I could have some pictures to go with my posts, but I’m not sure how feasible that will be, considering that I will probably have my hands too full to take the time to photo-document everything. Also, posting pictures of campers on my personal blog is not acceptable, so it would have to be exclusively nature photos.

Here’s hoping that this new start will bring lots of interesting and entertaining moments to my posts!

~Hazel


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Journal Post: I’m graduating in two days.

This morning, I could not sleep.

That’s not true. I chose not to sleep. Found myself not-sleeping. I read my old blogs from Africa and for the first time in years—maybe ever—I missed it. I felt the moments in my bones. I find it odd that as I should be dreading this leave-taking, I suddenly miss the last one, two years late.

I lay in bed and watched the sky go dawn violet. I craved sensation. I craved a moment of significance. I suddenly remembered my only way of worshiping things. What my mother taught me on sleepless mornings. I got dressed and left, chasing the sun.

This is the hour beloved by birds. I followed the campus’s hillside to the rock slope by the water tower. Up and up. When I finally crested the hill, the sun was with me, peeking over the mountains, scarlet and hesitant the way it always is at the beginning and the end.

I am sitting with the wild things. I have been caught up in the lives of humans. So unstill. So untextured. The rocks are cool and granular. I do not know how they got that way. The crows are making clever noises to my right. The chickadees are chattering, and somewhere there’s a turkey chuckling gently at his wives. There’s so much motion in the trees that it’s confusing—the squirrels are so busy. All the voices and crackles and breeze. The sun rises. The rosy light turns green.

Without routine, I stumble. In the months after Africa, I was choking and confused, trying hard to wrestle out of a four-month break in my routine. But routine has swept me here so fast, I’ve forgotten what I’m missing. I worked my track into the ground hard enough that my vision’s tunneled. I have not worshiped many moments. I have not followed any sunrise.

I think of the people I love. All of them are comforting and known and here. I forget to treat their hands like sunrise. In two more days, the smile will be gone. Our particular, snarky humor. The way our group always rolled as one. We must have alarmed strangers. We were cohesive and odd. We are. We’ve grown like caught vines. We belong in the grooves we’ve worn for each other. I love them.

The scatter is coming. It’s practically here. My life here will end and we’ll part in directions. When will I notice? When will it hit me? Every day ends by the warmth of their eyes. My ridiculous tribe. You who made me.

The whole sun is up now and normal is here. I’ll go back to my room and I’ll sleep. In two days, I leave. This ends. We end. The leaving sinks in to my bones.


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Journal Post: Covert Ops

Over the past few weeks, swings have grown on my campus. Overnight, they emerged: simple red planks of wood hanging on long white ropes from sturdy branches of trees, anonymous and silly. They happened everywhere, eight or ten of them strung about my small school. After trying a few of them, I found that one, in particular, was a perfect swing—a bit challenging to start out on, but once it got going it would soar to the height of the big tree’s branches. I put stirring music on my headphones and smiled benignly at the amused stares of onlookers, closed my eyes, remembered my childhood’s afternoon school recesses. The upswing felt like flying, and the backswing felt like bowing to the sky.

I investigated the origins of the swings. The hands that made them, it turned out, belonged to a best friend of my best friend. Maayan always wears three things: a yarmulke, wire-rimmed glasses that owlishly magnify his eyes, and a camo-patterned army flightsuit. (It is very warm, he says. Besides that, he is the sort of personality that deserves a uniform.) I thanked him for a piece of childhood. He smiled and nodded.

I received an email the next day:

Subj: Operation Sail Away

To: undisclosed recipients

Agents,

You have all indicated interest in seeing or participating in the next phase of Operation: Red Swings. Here is your chance.

Tomorrow at 20:00 assemble at the back of the theater parking lot. I’ll be waiting in a red pickup truck with supplies. Wear warm clothing, but leave the balaclavas at home.

Details will be revealed on site.

Needless to say, this is to be a top secret operation.

Make sure you are not followed.

It had a post-script:

“It is the child in man that is the source of his uniqueness and creativeness, and the playground is the optimal milieu for the unfolding of his capacities and talents.” – Eric Hoffer

We met in the freezing bitter night. Maayan, official in his flightsuit and a knitted cap, explained our mission: piled in the bed of his red truck were four triangular nylon boat sails, lengths of rope, winches. We would comb the campus for triangular threesomes of good fat trees, and string sails between them to make…something. Hammocks. Sculptures. Playthings. We would be covertly efficient. We would use the cover of night wisely. We piled into the bed of the truck, lying on the soft furled sails. As we drove off to our first possibility, I watched the cold constellations unwind by overhead, the stark black winter branches of trees. My cheeks grew cold.

It took us many tries to find a suitable troupe of trees, but we did so, methodically and carefully. We found the right ties and tensions through trial and error. Maayan taught us all how to affix knots, how to crank the winches, until the wide white sail hung flat, suspended chest-height above the ground, shimmering gently in the frigid breeze. Timidly I swung up onto our sail. The trees’ bark whined protestations and held. Another and another of us clambered onto the sail, and we stretched out on our backs, suspended airily above ground, watching the stars.

“What the hell is that?” asked three drunken passersby.

My friend Tess flipped on her stomach. “It is a weather experiment,” she lied authoritatively. “We are examining the relationship between barometric pressure and surface tension. Would you like to try?” She slid off the sail and beckoned them graciously forward. They raised their eyebrows, shrugged, and piled on the sail, giggling like children. I glanced at Maayan. He was grinning softly to himself, proud of the laughter he’d made.

Before our next construction, we stopped by a coffee shop to warm our hands. I cupped a mug of hot chocolate and gulped it like water and savored the chatter of friends. It occurred to me to ask them a question I’ve been asking everyone over the past few months. I collect the answers to this question like marbles; I don’t know what I’ll do with them yet, but each new answer feels like adding a new color to something I am painting.

They gave me their attention. “Say you’re on the greatest adventure of your life,” I began. “You can be anyone, at any time in history. That doesn’t matter. All you know is, if you make it out of this alive, it’ll be the biggest story you tell your grandchildren. It’s that moment.

“What does it smell like?”

They exchanged the usual bewildered glances that people give me when I ask them this, then settled as they realized it was simply a weird question that deserves a weird answer.

“Cinnamon,” began Phil, my best friend, who has heard me ask this many times before.

“Grass,” chimed in Elisha, and thought a moment more before nodding. “Yes. Grass.”

Tess has a bit of a wicked, imaginative streak, and I waited hopefully as she chewed over her answer, knowing it would be good. “Baked rock,” she finally said. “Like in a canyon I visited, when I was little—rock warmed in the sun. And the smell it had after it rained, then.”

I smiled at that—the answers with just a hint of illustration are the best. I turned gently to look at Maayan, who had waited for last. He peered at me over the rims of his glasses, and for an instant I saw, in his twenty-something face, the face he would have as an old man.

“The greatest adventure of my life?” he clarified. I nodded.

He answered without another moment’s hesitation: “My wife.”

It was the perfect answer, unequivocally the best I have found. Without a word, I stood and bowed deeply to my friend.

Tess arched an eyebrow, knowing him, of course, to be unmarried. “‘Your wife’? Do you somehow know what your wife smells like?”

“No!” scoffed Maayan, grinning. He took a sip of his tea. “But I will.”


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Megan and Tal Blog Bonaire: Day 6: Last Day Blues

After oversleeping a bit, Tal and Megan finally got on their gear to go out for a morning snorkel. When we first got out we decided to visit the sailfin blenny we’d found the other day, and the eel who lives underneath it. We found the same rock, and sure enough, there was the blenny poking its face out of a hole in the rock. Tal saw the eel, but Megan didn’t; she did see the blenny do its ostentatious dance once more, however. After visiting these fish, we swam further out to where the sand drops off into deep water and the reef begins, and swam leisurely around, looking at the life. We spent a long time in silence, just watching everything happen. We really enjoy snorkeling together.

We headed inshore for lunch, because shore is really the only place to get food (Ralf may eat lionfish for lunch, but we prefer mac and cheese with random sauteed vegetables). Our random vegetable of the day was a carrot. It was delicious. We ate by the ocean, as usual. We understand your jealousy.

Our days have developed a bit of a schedule: next was a boat dive from Bruce’s, with Ralf again this time (yes, lionfish died). We went to a site called Sharon’s Serenity, which is on the far side of Klein Bonaire, a bit more exposed to the open ocean than most of Bonaire’s dive sites. This means that not many people go there, so the reef was extraordinary; it also means that big fish passing through the open ocean will sometimes end up cruising by. In the first few minutes of the dive, Tal found a lobster, which was just the beginning of our cool finds. Ralf found a lionfish and speared it—this is nothing new. As he was engaged in this dark business, Megan spotted a huge, silvery fish—a type of mackerel known as a Cero—swimming by, beyond him. Megan especially likes these huge ocean fish, because she likes wondering what deep-ocean things they have seen; they seem like messengers from beyond. He moved on quickly, as if he had somewhere important to be. Another big fish find was a tiger grouper, found by Megan. Tal then found another lionfish, and summoned Ralf by banging on her tank (which makes a loud noise and attracts attention underwater), but the lionfish seemed to catch wind of the situation and escaped this time. While he was hunting, Ralf spotted an incredible diving treasure: a yellow frogfish sitting on a yellow sponge. There was a huge commotion as everyone caught wind of what he’d found; frogfish are kind of a big deal, rare and camouflaged and interesting to watch (there were no tires near this one). It was a big female, very well-camouflaged, and was either pooping or laying eggs—no one could tell. After so much excitement, Megan was getting low on air, and we turned around to head back to the boat. Both of us managed to find one more rarity each: Megan found a batwing coral crab, which she has never seen before in ten years of diving on Bonaire, so that was exciting; and Tal found a sharp-tail eel, a weirdly adorable eel that slides through coral rubble searching for shrimp. If you put your hand down in front of one, it will nuzzle your fingertips (try it sometime).

A cero, AKA a big mackerel.

We had our ritual after-dive snorkel following the dismemberment of our gear, though this one was shorter than usual (and we couldn’t harass any divers) since everyone was back on the boat already. Megan said goodbye to the ocean because this was her last dive before she leaves tomorrow: she does this by diving down and doing a few flips, and it’s a ritual. We rode back to Bruce’s, we washed our gear, and we begged Rishi to help us find another coconut. He said, “OK. I will. Don’t worry. Magic. Go away.” We did, and came back a few minutes later. The man had a shelled coconut waiting for us. He’s either a wizard, or an incredible tree-climber. Or both. Megan spent awhile photographing a parakeet in one of the trees by the gazebo, which turned out well.

A brown-throated parakeet eating from a fruit tree at Bruce's.

We came home, drained our nut, smashed it, and ate large quantities of it, just enough to slightly spoil our appetites for dinner (not really). Dinner was delicious; we went to a new restaurant that Divemaster Linda had recommended to us, and it was smashing. We were all greatly enjoying ourselves, with a slight hitch when Tal trapped herself in the bathroom and had to be rescued before she barreled down the door. Wendy heard her hollering, and Megan flew to the rescue. Tal was greatly appreciative.

After taking a short, breezy walk around Kralendijk, Bonaire’s main village, we came back home and have had a very wildlifey evening. The tarpon are here, as usual, and Wendy was taken aback by the light gleaming orange in their eyes (“Tapetum lucidum!” said Megan, which is one of her favorite phrases). The three of us—Tal, Wendy, and Megan—all watched, mouths agape, as two tarpon (one just huge and one truly gargantuan, so we named them David and Goliath) swirled about in the lights, occasionally turning on their sides and flashing bright silver as they chased fish. We also spent some time watching bats fly about the porch of our upstairs neighbor. This man, who shall henceforth be known as Batman, puts some weird tasty jelly out for the bats every night, and he sits out on his porch, listens to loud classical music, and takes photographs of the bats eating. Megan has been trying to make friends with him because she freaking loves bats. Batman is even kinder than we expected, and he’s lowered some of his bat jelly on a line from his porch to the level of our deck, in the hopes that the bats will grace us with their presence, but we don’t think they’ve caught on. We’ll wait here for a bit, hoping. (Literally as I was writing that sentence, the first one showed up, and started sniffing around the jelly. SUCCESS!)

Goodnight and goodbye for now. Megan and Tal are going to watch some of Fly Away Home, which is one of Megan’s favorite old movies, and tomorrow she’ll be on a plane home. Night!


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