No Blue, No Green – How One Woman Changed Our View of the World

Dr. Sylvia Earle photograph provided by Time Magazine.

Written by Christel Schultz

As International Women’s Day (March 8, 2019) came and went this month, I was reminded of several strong female influences in my life. The world is full of women committed to lives of integrity and perseverance. Those in my circle of family, friends, and colleagues are no exception. I hope that’s the case for many women today. Though females still face a number of challenges, many barriers that previously posed limitations are not a major issue. Women committed to their beliefs and purpose fought to pave the way for future generations.

A particularly inspiring, ambitious, and dedicated woman of science who has devoted her life to our oceans is Dr. Sylvia Earle. She is a pioneer on multiple fronts in a field dominated by men. Earle was captivated by the ocean early on. She pursued an oceanography career, earning her B.S. degree at Florida State University, M.S. and Ph.D. from Duke University. Earle received her Ph.D. in 1966, and in 1969 she applied to be part of the Tektite I underwater habitat study.

Major Strides for Women in History and Science

Dr. Sylvia Earle and Tektite II all-female team in training. Photograph provided by Diving Almanac via OAR/NURP.

Sylvia was denied inclusion in the all-male Tektite I team. In 1970, Earle led the first all-female Tektite II underwater habitat mission. Four women accompanied Earle on the two week study. The Tektite II was located 50-feet below the water surface in the U.S. Virgin Islands’ Great Lameshur Bay. The facility was equipped with air, electricity, and water via a connection to the surface. Living at depth, the divers could be in the water conducting research up to 12 hours per day.

Sylvia Earle in JIM dive suit. Photograph provided by Mission Blue.

In 1979, Sylvia made the deepest solo dive in history inside a pressurized suit named JIM. She was tethered to a submersible craft off the coast of Hawaii and descended to 1,250 feet. Once on the sea floor, she disconnected from the submersible and explored for approximately 2 ½ hours. At one point, she requested that all lights be shut off to view the ocean floor in its natural state. The darkness was filled with the bioluminescence (production emission of light by living organisms) from creatures of the deep. Sylvia has spent over 7,000 hours underwater. She recounts her diving experiences in a number of books including Exploring the Deep Frontier: The Adventure of Man in the Sea (1980) and Dive!: My Adventures in the Deep Frontier (1999).

In 1990, Earle made another mark in women’s history. She became the first female Chief Scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Earle resigned less than two years later. As a private individual, she had more leeway to act on behalf of our oceans and marine environment. The restrictions for a government official were not in line with her marine conservation objectives.

Sylvia’s Personal Mission

Mission Blue logo

In 2009, Sylvia was awarded the Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) Prize. She subsequently established the Mission Blue™ non-profit organization with her TED wish. As stated on the home page, “Mission Blue inspires action to explore and protect the ocean.” The Mission Blue global conservation campaign oversees the designation of ecologically unique ocean areas as Hope Spots. These include Marine Protected Areas (MPA) that need attention or new marine sites. A 2014 Netflix documentary entitled Mission Blue details Sylvia’s life, career, and Mission Blue™ organization. Her knowledge and enthusiasm are evident in all that she does. This is well captured in the award-winning film!

Mission Blue Netflix documentary photograph provided by Mission Blue.

Ongoing Contributions and Achievements

Sylvia Earle in wetsuit half submerged in water.
Sylvia Earle in her element.
Photograph provided by National Geographic.

Currently, Sylvia Earle is National Geographic’s Rosemary and Roger Enrico Chair for Ocean Exploration and a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence. She is an oceanographer, founder of Mission Blue, SEAlliance and Deep Ocean Exploration and Research (DOER). She is also the Council Chair of the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies, former chief scientist of NOAA and a founding Ocean Elder. Sylvia has authored more than 200 publications and lectured in 90 countries. She holds 29 honorary doctorates and serves on various boards and commissions. Her more than 100 honors include the 2013 National Geographic Hubbard Medal, 2009 TED Prize, 2000 induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, Netherlands Order of the Golden Ark and medals from the Explorers Club, the Royal Geographical Society, the Lindbergh Foundation and the Dominican Republic. Her most popular book is The World is Blue: How Our Fate and the Ocean’s are One (2009), and her latest book is Blue Hope: Exploring and Caring for Earth’s Magnificent Ocean (2014). I hope you find inspiration in the woman, scientist, and conservationist that is Sylvia Earle.

The Rainforest – Source of Life, Breath and Water

Written by Christel Schultz

Earth is designed to promote and sustain life of all kinds. Humans, animals, and plants can – and should – coexist in harmonious balance based on this planet’s unique structure. We’ve searched amongst the stars for something similar but have discovered nothing quite like it.

The science behind the basic nature of Earth is no less fascinating. The sun provides light and energy that plants use to live, generate seeds and produce fruit that can be consumed. Trees generate oxygen that we need to breathe and absorb carbon dioxide through photosynthesis. Vegetation acts as a natural storage area for carbon dioxide, lessening buildup in the atmosphere that contributes to global warming.

Broad rainforest view

Forests are concentrated areas of vegetation; they cover 31% of our planet. Tropical rainforests are the most biologically diverse type. They are located north and south of the equator between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. These equatorial rainforests receive at least 80 inches of rainfall per year and typically maintain temperatures above 64° F.

The Amazon Difference

The Amazon is the largest tropical rainforest on our planet, covering 40% of the South American continent. The Amazon is home to 10% of the known plant and animal species on Earth. Since total precipitation can exceed 12 feet annually, it’s not surprising that 15% of the planet’s fresh water comes from the Amazon basin alone.

Rainforest waterfall

However, this vast rainforest system does much more than provide oxygen and fresh water for global consumption. Indigenous people and tribes in remote areas of the jungle rely on the forest for their livelihood and survival. The habitats of numerous plants and animal species are also closely intertwined. The existence of certain species may be highly dependent upon that of another. The health of the network relies upon the survival of all components. If portions of the forest are gone or the contiguous whole becomes fragmented, links in the network are broken.

Amazon Rainforest

Deforestation in the tropical rainforests, and in forests around the world, is occurring at an alarming rate. The Amazon is particularly vulnerable to impact due to the biodiversity and interdependency of the region. Land clearing and fragmenting of the forest is an ever increasing problem.

Fire-based agriculture, or slash and burn, is common to prepare land for farming or livestock grazing. Large volumes of carbon stored for years in the vegetation can be released in a matter of hours during the burning process. Fire may travel beyond the cleared area and destroy the low-lying, dense vegetation of the understory in the surrounding rainforest. Even if the overhead canopy of the tall trees is untouched, the understory habitat – home to countless insects, reptiles and more – is lost.

Dense forest vegetation

Logging to harvest old growth trees is another significant factor contributing to deforestation. Woodland sections cut off from the contiguous rainforest cannot maintain growth and function. Fragmentation leaves the edges exposed and unprotected. The large trees die faster and in greater numbers as far as 1,000 feet into the forest under these conditions. The woody vines and less dense, faster-growing trees that take their place do not have the same oxygen-production and carbon dioxide-absorption capabilities.

What you can do…

The Amazon rainforest continues to diminish. It may seem like a distant, exotic place that is beyond our reach, BUT, our everyday decisions can have a positive impact on rainforest survival. Consider the following:

• Do not buy tropical hardwood products, particularly those made of Mahogany, Rosewood and Ebony

• Reduce beef consumption, verify the source of meat products you do consume, and research the practices of those livestock sources

• Try to buy and consume less, but choose environmentally friendly products (Rainforest Alliance certified, for example) or those that give back to environmental causes when possible

• Hold businesses accountable, choose sustainable – The 2019 Top 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World

• Always keep the “R’s” in mind…refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle

Together we can create a better tomorrow, starting now!

Solar Power – Problem or Solution?

 Written by Christel Schultz

Ancient civilizations used the sun as a source of heat and light. We are not entirely different in today’s world. Solar power may be the best energy alternative to fossil fuels available on our planet. Solar energy is 100% renewable, free, and sustainable without any human input. The key is to harness that energy in a manner that meets current needs without worsening environmental issues in the process.

Solar Technology, Production and Use

Solar technologies are generally either photovoltaic (PV) solar cells or concentrating solar power (CSP) plants or farms. The solar panels commonly seen on residential and commercial structures, for example, are PV solar cells. The PV cells convert sunlight into electricity.

PV solar cells on house roof

Several hazardous materials and large volumes of water are used to clean the cell surface and etch away silicon layers. The manufacturing process can also generate greenhouse gases. After four months of use, the clean solar power created is estimated to compensate for the greenhouse gases released during production.

At CSP plants, mirrors collect and concentrate solar energy to power engines or turbines that generate electricity. The concentrated thermal energy can be stored for use when needed.

Solar farm against mountain range.

The size of the respective PV or CSP system influences the potential for environmental impacts. Large systems require a great amount of space. The total area needed will vary depending on site conditions and specific system requirements. Projects of this scale may affect local habitats and adjoining property use. The volume of water consumption significantly increases as well. Available water resources must be carefully evaluated in advance.

An alternative dry etching technology may soon become available based on the European Union (EU) funded SOLNOWAT project. The dry process is more efficient and less costly. The chemistry does not produce greenhouse gases, and the resulting darker cell absorbs more sunlight. The United States Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) also encourages research and development of solar technologies that increase efficiency and reduce cost. One major SETO focus is the storage of solar energy for large on-demand supply. This could be especially helpful during adverse weather conditions or following storm damage like that resulting from strong hurricanes. Overall, the global goal is to make solar energy an available, financially feasible option for the general public.

For more practical knowledge and applications of solar energy, click here.

Recycling and Disposal

The solar industry has been operating since at least the 1970s. However, the popularity of solar energy has increased significantly over the past decade. The installation costs currently remain elevated, but the typical lifespan of quality solar energy products is 25-30 years. Due to increasing popularity, it’s anticipated that more solar products will reach the end of their lifespan in the next few decades. Cheaper, low-grade, and less efficient versions have also entered the solar market to address demand. These products may only last a fraction of that time. Additionally, spikes in disposal volume result when storms impact large solar farms, for example. The issue of large scale recycling and disposal may therefore be more imminent.

Solar energy products tend to go to landfills once expired. The products may contain heavy metals that leach out as a result of rainfall. This needs to be addressed. However, today’s recycling market is not necessarily profitable. The level of effort involved in dismantling panels can exceed the value of recovered materials. Recycling may become mandatory to address growing environmental concerns. Meanwhile, industry leaders, manufacturers, and government bodies are working together to make recycling a more viable option.

What Does this Mean for You?

It’s no secret that an alternative to fossil fuels is needed. As a global community, we are aware of this. There may not be a single, definitive answer for everyone. Evaluate your situation, educate yourself on fuel and energy options, and make realistic changes in your life. Together we can make a better tomorrow.

Little Holiday Changes to Make Life Easier on You and the Planet

By Christel Schultz

The fallen leaves barely had a chance to settle. Thanksgiving came and went. We ate too much. Some of us braved Black Friday. The rest of us browsed through cyberspace for gifts. The season is in full swing. Shoppers, and traffic, are everywhere.

Did you know that an estimated 25% more trash is generated in the United States during the holiday season (Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day) each year? Approaching the holidays differently could significantly reduce the waste produced and energy consumed. What are some changes we could make this holiday?

Check out these suggestions:

  • Consider a potted plant. The beautiful Norfolk Island pine makes an adorable Christmas tree. This petit tree is perfect for small spaces, and if you have pets or toddlers. It’s attractive, lightweight, and definitely outlives the fleeting holiday season. Also an easy-care option for those traveling.
  • Gather craft and décor materials outside. Tree branches, drift wood, pine cones, rocks, and sea shells are among the items collected during our adventures. Use your imagination or search online for inspiration! Create unique gifts for friends and family.
  • Remember to “reuse” when wrapping this season! Stash gift bags, tissue paper, boxes, and even fabric remnants, old shirts or pillow cases. Bags with decorative tissue paper are my go-to wrap solution. However, a simple box, or package wrapped in colorful fabric, looks quite festive tied only with a ribbon. Open gifts delicately to preserve wrapping materials. Get excess paper to a recycling bin. A little attention can go a long way when taking conservation measures.
  • Consider reusable and renewable resources when making purchases. Get reusable bamboo utensils or drink containers, even a bamboo keyboard and mouse. There are so many things made from bamboo! Stainless steel straws and sturdy drink containers, that actually keep things hot or cold, are great thoughts for a number of people! Personalize this popular drink container for no additional charge – I did!
  • Give experiences instead of things. A special date with a parent provides one-on-one time for kiddos. A gift card for a favorite activity creates anticipation for the event. Plan a day to enjoy the experience with your loved one! Take off on a weekend escape! Explore a national forest or state park! If you’re unsure, the old fashioned “personalized” coupon book is always a hit! Consider what people could really use when gifting. Being thoughtful does not go unnoticed.
  • Explore special holiday gifts or packages available through your favorite organization. Adopt an animal with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Choose from socks, stuffed animals, and more in the gift catalog. Get a water bottle, bracelet, towels or clothing made with recycled material from sources that give back like 4Ocean, Sand Cloud, and One Ocean Designs.
  • Take the “experience” gift to a new level. Organize a group outdoor activity. Enjoy a nature encounter in the woods, on the shore, or in the water. Join Ocean Ramsey (One Ocean Design) and One Ocean Diving for a unique opportunity to explore sea life in the waters of Hawaii. Tag along with the Sierra Club for a service adventure. Research local activities or travel abroad with a purpose through one of the many International Volunteer Headquarters opportunities.
  • Whatever you do, make memories with people you care about. Try to approach one thing about the holidays differently. Make a tiny conservation effort of your choice. Enjoy the season for all that it celebrates! Blessings to you and yours…

Fins in the Water

Written by Christel Schultz

A break in the water’s surface tends to get attention. Beach goers scan the sea for breaching dolphins, sting rays amongst the waves, and of course, sharks. As an ocean lover, I am among those searching for a glimpse of sea life. Wading in the shallow waters along Florida’s Gulf Coast is a favorite activity of mine throughout the year, but I am not always pleasantly surprised by what I find.I’ve adored sharks since I was a girl, and sharing information about these misunderstood animals is extremely close to my heart. Sharks may appear to be imposing creatures, but only a select few species are actually aggressive; the remaining 400+ are essentially docile and curious. That has not changed the fact that their numbers are dwindling due to overfishing, bycatch and finning. During my last walk in the shallows, I was not excited, but deeply saddened to see a fin in the water. Though I don’t know the exact circumstances that led to my finding this discarded shark fin, I fail to see a positive perspective.However, I am hopeful that public opinion concerning sharks has begun to shift. Because people are more aware of the decline in shark populations, proactive regulations have been developed, but monitoring and enforcement remain persistent problems. Much is left to be done with the threatened extinction of several species, but one particular activist was dedicated to the cause and enlisted the help of like-minded individuals to get the word out.Rob Stewart was a Canadian scuba diver and shark conservationist who spent his life bringing attention to the plight of sharks. His first film, Sharkwater, was released in 2006. It explained the importance of sharks to the ecosystem and investigated the mass destruction of shark species being conducted by humans. The film won several awards, created awareness and spawned conservation efforts like nothing before it. Rob’s final film, Sharkwater Extinction, was released in theaters this month (October 2018). In another powerful documentary, Stewart further explores the finning industry, the ways sharks are being used in products for human consumption, and the ever growing threat of extinction. In January 2017, Rob lost his life in a scuba diving incident off the coast of Florida during the making of this film. The team was committed to finishing what he started and worked to complete the movie following his untimely death. Please honor Rob’s legacy by watching the films to become more educated about these extraordinary animals.