The Human Garbage Epidemic

[Warning, this post is not as Light-Tight-And Bright as I normally keep my posts.]

While I was teaching biology labs in Grad School, I had the opportunity to get on my soap box from time to time, and say the things that matter most to me, and hopefully pass on some knowledge other than what was in the textbooks.

It’s been a while since I was on my soap box.

I have missed my soap box. [Steps up, and clears throat]

I posted this on my Facebook page here, but I felt that it was not quite enough to get my words out. It didn’t cover enough ground. I needed a bigger outlet. So I’m re-posting it here, with a little more oomph.

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I saw this video posted on Facebook about Midway Island. It’s a tiny island 2,000 miles from the nearest continent, that is frequented by seabirds like the Albatross, a huge seabird that flies for miles on end searching for food to feed their chicks which are hatching all over Midway Island.  The thing is, that the video was not so much about the island, but it was about how we are killing the next generation of Albatross because the island is covered in garbage.
Not only do the chicks find interesting things to eat while they are waiting for their parents to return, but the parents are bringing back interesting items that are floating on the surface of the water. They are easy to collect because they don’t fight back, and they fill up the stomach, so they must be tasty morsels of food, right?
Except that those interesting items that they are eating are pieces of plastic that have washed ashore or are floating in the ocean.  True, they fill up the stomach, but they also don’t break down and take up space that true tiny fish morsels could be taking up. No nutrients are getting to the birds, so they die with a full stomach. Full of plastic cigarette lighters and bottle tops and whatever else will float on the water long enough to be picked up by the birds.
Bird body, full of plastic
Bird body, full of plastic
After fighting it’s way back from extinction (also caused by humans), the California Condor has started to fill their babies tummies with plastic bottle tops as well, killing the recovering population with what is termed Anthropogenic Junk.  Vultures, gulls, and crows are known for frequenting dumps to find food scraps let behind by people. The best place in the US that you can see the Tamualipas Crow is at a dump in South Texas.
It’s not just birds, either. I have found a dead calf in a pasture once, that had a stomach full of plastic grocery bags, baling twine, and all sorts of other garbage. I have seen cows in pastures chewing on plastic bags as I drove by, helpless. Bears are known for frequenting dumps as well, and I found picture after picture of camels, goats, turtles, seals, and dolphins dead or dying from eating or getting tangled in anthropogenic junk.

Turtle_eating_bag

Photo courtesy of The Center for Biological Diversity. Photo taken by Ewan Edwards / The Clipperton Project
Photo courtesy of The Center for Biological Diversity. Photo taken by Ewan Edwards / The Clipperton Project
Have you ever heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? This post is getting pretty long, so that will have to wait for another day.
Below is what I posted on Facebook regarding the video. It’s a little emotional, but for good reason. Please feel free to repost this. Either the video or my blog post as well. I don’t care. I just want to get the message out there. Maybe it will reach enough people. Maybe it will change some minds. Maybe it will help…
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It’s amazing to me that people think that it’s ok to throw plastic on the ground and leave it there, as if someone else is coming up behind them and cleaning up the mess they leave behind.  It’s also amazing to me that those same people do …not seem to understand how massive an impact they are making on wildlife populations. It doesn’t matter where you live – your litter will find its way to a place where it shouldn’t be.
Doesn’t it disgust them to walk on the beach and see garbage everywhere? Doesn’t it worry them that they will cut their foot on the broken bottle that someone else left there? Doesn’t it bother them that there are dirty diapers and household waste where their children are trying to play?
How is it any different for animals? Why should they live amongst the garbage that humans produce? Why should their needs be ignored?
Because we are human? Because we are smarter? If we were so much smarter, than why are we letting this happen, year after year? Why have we not been able to stop being selfish? Why are we killing off the only place we can possibly live?
Doesn’t sound very smart to me.

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I always like to end my posts with a positive note, so below are some links to how you can help. You can also find similar efforts in your local area.

http://www.keepaustinbeautiful.org/

http://www.txdot.gov/inside-txdot/get-involved/volunteer/adopt-a-highway.html

http://www.supcleanup.com/whoweare.htm

http://www.pickupamerica.org/about/press/picking-trash-organization-trying-heighten-awareness-reducing-roadside-litter

http://www.oceanconservancy.org/our-work/marine-debris/

http://www.cleanuptheworld.org/en/

If you made it this far, thanks for reading. I (obviously) feel very passionately about this and other conservation topics, and would love to discuss such things in the future if you would like!

What have you done, or what will you do to help clean up our planet? Let me know!

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Thrifty Gifty Crafts #1

I made these things as Christmas presents for a few of my friends, and I have to say, I’m pretty proud at how they turned out. And they aren’t Christmasy, so they can be made any time of year.

First I will start with the Pet Portrait.

Jake's Portrait

Now, I’m not a painter. I try to be. I pretend to be.

But I’m not.

So believe me when I tell you, this was one of the easiest projects I have done, and guess what? I DIDN’T GET THE IDEA OFF OF PINTEREST! I know, right? I’m sure this idea is ON Pinterest, but I didn’t see it there. It just came to me. Like an epiphany. I’m sure it will never happen again, so I’m enjoying this craft project for all it’s worth.

So to start from the beginning, I have this friend named Trixie. And she moved far, far away, and I miss her terribly. And she has this dog. His name is JD. He is Trixie’s pride and joy.

So when I saw this picture on her FB page I knew I had to do something with it. My epiphany was to print it out in black and white and paint him onto a square canvas with fake snow popping off the canvas. Being a black dog and VERY photogenic made this project easy. I didn’t have to worry about hair pattern or shading or any kind. Easy Peasy.

So, if you want to paint a lovely Pet Portrait like this, here is what you do:

1. Print out a black and white picture about the size of the painting you want to make, and make sure that you are confident in recreating the image. If you get discouraged by the complexity of the painting you will either never finish it, or never start it to begin with.

1.5 Make your husband go out of town so you can watch Princess Bride while you work on this and other presents, and he’s not in the way.

2. Cut out the outline of the dog and trace around it onto the canvas or other medium you selected.

Tracing Jacob

3. Suck up your fear of screwing up, and start painting, keeping the original photo close by for reference.

Reference Photo

4. Allow the paint to dry before you go crazy with glue. This part is usually pretty hard for me. I’m always trying to rush the drying process so I can just get it done.

5. Now, this Christmas present was a little Christmasy, but that’s really only because the picture was taken in the snow. I tried to make it a little more cheerful by adding “Let It Snow” all along the edge of the canvas, thinking that it needed a little extra something. I hated it. But it was too late. So how did I fix it? I covered it in glitter! That way it’s much less obvious that my painting/handwriting skills are terrible, and it’s still quite festive.

Edge

I couldn’t find my teeny tiny paintbrushes when I was doing this project, so those probably would have helped and I wouldn’t have ended up hating the edge, but it’s fine.

Also, I would have sworn that there was a “fake snow” product out there for crafting.

You know, something like THIS?

fake snow

But for some reason, I couldn’t find it anywhere. So I had to improvise. Instead I bought glitter. Glitter that I will probably never use for another project again, and it was a container of like 2 pounds, but it was cheap and it got the job done.

When Trixie received it in the mail (and she was not expecting it) she was so excited! She loved the painting of JD and I hope it will last a long time.