Saturday, December 8, 2012

Artifical Reef Study

Another one of my posts about the Harte Research Institute's artificial reef study, on the Scientific American Expeditions blog. (Photo credit: FGBNMS/Kelly Drinnen)

Friday, December 7, 2012

Sea Turtle Camp

Travel to Baja to explore remote bays and beaches, and help with a long-term sea turtle monitoring project.  Trips are run by and benefit the local community. Read more in my piece about it on the Men's Journal website.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Dust Bowl II?

At a meeting of the Society of Environmental Journalists in October, held in Lubbock, Texas, I learned how we are in danger of a second Dust Bowl event, thanks to climate change. Here's my piece about it on Scientific American online.

(Photo: Texas Tech University's National Ranching Heritage Center, (c) M Gaskill)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Sylvia Earle's Mission Blue

My article for Nature News about coral spawning at the Flower Garden Banks NMS in August, 2012, is posted on the Mission Blue site.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Fall in Lost Maples

A preview of my piece in the November Texas Highways on Lost Maples State Natural Area, one of the most beautiful spots in Texas. (Photo credit: Texas Parks & Wildlife Department)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

My tribute to Veterans Day

This piece originally appeared in the November, 2006 issue of Texas Co-op Power Magazine.

November 11 is one of those obscure holidays, like Labor Day and Columbus Day, that seem to have lost meaning over the years. It's just another day off for many people -- if that. There are few special Veterans Day events and no traditional meal, gifts or greeting cards. It simply isn't part of important holiday traditions for most families, mine included. At least until a few years ago.
My father, a notorious pack rat, stored his war memories in the garage of our family home. There were pages and pages of yellowed, crumbling letters, and odds and ends like a silk map, flight logbook, invitation to a military banquet, clippings and photos. With many other veterans of World War II, he had come home, packed these things away, and gone on with his life without making a fuss about what he had done.
I discovered the cache during college, and the fact my father had saved these items for so long spoke volumes to me. I realized how important the experience had been to him and how much it had shaped him. Those dusty, bug-gnawed mementos brought a historic time to life, and made me realize that my father belonged to a generation of heroes. This epiphany was shared by much of the country about a decade later. (Thank you, Mr. Brokaw, for writing The Greatest Generation.) My new appreciation of my father and his generation came to a head with the construction of the World War II Memorial on the National Mall in Washington D.C.
Ground was broken for that memorial on November 11, 2000, the first remarkable Veterans Day of my life. I went to Washington for the celebration with my father, then 81, and my son Collin. My hope was to honor my dad and to put him in the middle of something meaningful. My hope was for my son to get it. My kids knew the bare facts: How Grandpa arrived in the South Pacific in 1942, one of 17 newly minted first lieutenants, flew 57 missions to places with infamous names like Rabaul and Guadalcanal, and was one of only three of that 17 to return home. We won the war. But there is so much more to it than that, and I wanted Collin, 9 at the time, to understand.
We joined about 12,000 people that day on the windy, chilly hillside between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. Some were famous - the President of the United States, former Senator and veteran Bob Dole, actor Tom Hanks - but most were simply ordinary Americans, veterans of WWII and conflicts since, their spouses, children and grandchildren. Thousands were like my father, remnants of a generation that lately has been called great and noble. They wore old uniforms and medals, caps with the names of outfits, ships and squadrons.
A high school student passed out hand-made thank you notes; my father carefully tucked his in a pocket. Tom Hanks read a dispatch from the late war correspondent Ernie Pyle, and his voice carried over a silence I wouldn't have thought possible in such a large crowd. Senator Dole asked veterans to stand, if they were able. The applause was long and heart-felt. Bands played, a color guard carried flags snapping in the wind. In the distance, I could see the White House and the Capitol. The day was everything I had pictured, and surpassed my hopes.
Later, as we stood in line at the Washington Monument, a park ranger glanced at Dad's battered 13th Air Force cap and said "Thank you." The wind must have gusted just then, because my father's eyes watered. I tried to recall if I'd ever said those words out loud, and then it really hit me how this day had been neglected. I decided that from then on, Veterans Day would be noted at our house. We'd hang the flag, bake a cake, say "thank you."
Before that trip, my son thought war meant movies like Twelve O'Clock High, Patton and The Sands of Iwo Jima (oh yes, we've watched them all); patriotic songs at the school Veterans Day assembly (and bless the music teacher for having one every year); and a few of his grandfather's stories. But for a brief, shining moment, one war became more than some sentimental Hollywood scene, something beyond fancy duds or big jeeps, more alive than sentences in a textbook. It was real - real people in a real fight for their lives and our freedom. A generation, standing all around us, gave just about all it had so we could have all we want.
Sixteen million Americans, men and women, served in WWII, and more than 400,000 gave their lives in it. That day in 2000, fewer than 4 million remained, their average age over 80, and each year, another 400,000 die. My father became one of them in March, 2004, two months to the day before we were to return to Washington for the long-overdue opening of the WWII Memorial. I went anyway, with Collin and his little sister, Bridget. This time it was Memorial Day, May 29, 2004, and some 250,000 people turned out for a weekend-long "Tribute to the Greatest Generation." We left a small container of Grandpa's ashes, a photo, and a shell from the South Pacific next to the words "New Guinea" on the South Pacific end of the stunning memorial. I'll always cherish the memory of that day and the other one, four years before. Even better, I know my father's grandchildren will.
I hope and pray my children's generation will never know the experience of war as their grandfather did. But I want them to know and remember that he did, to appreciate what his generation of brave, unselfish men and women did, and what veterans from subsequent generations continue to do. I want them to believe that our country and our freedom are worth such sacrifices, that ordinary people who do what is right without thought of personal gain are the real heroes. And I want them to celebrate Veterans Day, this year and every year. You can, too.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Heavenly Hikes

For the June issue of Backpacker magazine, I picked hikes in the east, west, and middle of the country where you'll have great stargazing. See it here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

More on fish counting

My latest post on work by scientists at the Harte Research Institute on artificial reefs.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Walled-off Wildlife

Barriers built along the US-Mexico border have profound effects on wildlife. I've wanted to cover this issue for a long time; I wrote a post for the New York Times Green Blog focusing on the Texas Rio Grande Valley area. Read it here.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Yellowstone's wolves

See these amazing animals in the wild in Yellowstone National Park this fall or winter. (Especially now that wolves will be hunted in a number of states.) More details in my piece on the Men's Journal web site.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

No counting fish this week

Tropical storm and soon-to-be-hurricane Isaac put a stop to plans for an expedition into the Gulf of Mexico this week to observe Harte Research Institute scientists work on their ongoing study of artificial reefs. Read more in my post for Scientific American's Expeditions blog.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Save Sharks!

Inspired by Shark Week, a focus on dive destinations with courses on shark awareness and conservation. Help save sharks by swimming with them (responsibly), and by signing the Project Aware petition. More in my post for Men's Journal.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Annual coral spawning

I spent five days diving at the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, with scientists and students from the Harte Research Institute, to observe the annual coral spawn. Read the piece I wrote about it for Nature News.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Artificial Reef Study

My second post about the Harte Research Institute's study on artificial reefs, for Scientific American's Expeditions Blog.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Eat Your Chocolate!

Plant chemicals in dark chocolate may protect you from certain kinds of cancer, and other health problems. See my article about it in CURE Magazine here. Buen provecho!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Tough times for dolphins in the Gulf

Scientists examined possible causes for an unusually high number of dolphin deaths in the Gulf of Mexico during the past few years, and a 'perfect storm' of cold weather, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and freshwater inflow from melting snow may be responsible. Read my piece about the paper in Nature News.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Saving Coral Reefs

Some of the news for coral reefs is good -- provided we humans take action quickly. Here's my post on recent studies offering hope for coral, on the New York Times Green Blog.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Gulf artificial reef study

I'm blogging for Scientific American about how scientists at the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies are countin' fish on artificial reefs in Texas. Here's the first post.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

It's hot! So's your dog.

Every summer, I see overheated dogs on the hike and bike trail. Heatstroke poses a real risk to dogs, who don't cool off the way we do. Tips for keeping yours cool here .

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Offshore Platforms

Another look at the controversy about removing offshore platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, this one for Pacific Standard.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Riding the Rio Grande

A two-day trip on the Rio Grande through Santa Elena Canyon is an excellent way to experience Big Bend National Park. See my piece on this adventure for Men's Journal here.

Monday, June 18, 2012

From platform to reef

I wrote about saving High Island and other offshore platforms for The New York Times. See it here. Photo credit GP Schmahl, FGBNMS

Monday, June 4, 2012

Whale Shark Outing

My write-up on swimming with whale sharks in Cancun, on the Men's Journal website.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Hiking, hounds, and heat

I'll be talking about safe hiking with your dog at Government Canyon State Park on Saturday, June 9. If you're in the area, come join me! More info here.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Institute on the Environment and Science

I'll be a fellow at the Scripps Howard Institute on the Environment and Science at Florida Atlantic University in Jupiter next week, filling my head with the latest on the environment, science, biotechnology, and medicine. Not to mention walking a turtle beach and canoeing through a wilderness preserve. More info here.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Coral-friendly aquariums?

Raising tropical fish in captivity could help save coral reefs -- but it isn't easy! My latest piece on Austin CultureMap.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Dark Sky Week

In celebration of dark night skies, my piece on Austin CultureMap for International Dark Sky Week. Read it here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Little green things

How some small steps can make a big difference for the earth, my latest in Austin CultureMap's Green Living series.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Anti-bacterial soap

Soap and other products containing triclosan haven't been shown to be effective in reducing illness -- and they cause real harm to the environment. Read about it in my latest post for Austin CultureMap.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Texas Caribbean

In early morning light, 22 divers crowd the back deck of the Fling, a 100-foot live-aboard boat. We're a straight 100 miles from the Texas shore, floating in the Gulf of Mexico. Seventy feet beneath us lies the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, a little-known diver's paradise with more than 20 kinds of coral, hundreds of species of fish, invertebrates, sharks, and rays. One of the most overlooked marine sanctuaries in the world is all ours for three days.
From February to October, the Fling offers two- and three-day trips to the Flower Gardens, departing from Freeport, just south of Houston. Up to 27 passengers board on Friday evening, and the boat motors to the sanctuary through the night.
"In Cozumel or the Keys, you have a dozen boats with 40 divers each. Here there are maybe 30 people diving," says Mike Winters, a dive instructor at Tom's Dive & Swim in Austin, Texas. Sanctuary staff estimate just 2,000 divers visit a year.
Life above the Flower Gardens may be quiet, but all that changes after a plunge into the federally-protected waters (only hook-and-line fishing has been allowed here since 1992). Schools of silvery jacks dance, torpedo-shaped barracuda sit motionless beneath the boat, and clusters of brown chromis circle above bowling balls of brain coral. Bluehead wrasses, queen angelfish - splatters of blue with solid yellow tails - and French angelfish swim by. While the diversity of species isn't quite what it is in the Caribbean, you'll see more of every creature anywhere you look. Coral covers 50 percent of the floor, versus 6 percent on other major reefs. According to a 2009 study, the average biomass here is greater than that of Saint Croix, Saint John, and Puerto Rico combined. And it's all there in sparkling clarity. "Most of the time we have visibility of 100 feet, sometimes double that," says sanctuary research coordinator Emma Hickerson.
At night, we descend by the line in inky blackness broken only by the occasional glow stick, our handheld dive lights, and a bright strobe attached to the bottom of the line. Alienlike brittle stars retreat from my approach. Fish freeze like deer in headlights. Shine a light on one for too long and a predator will take advantage of an easy supper -- an impressive if slightly guilt-inducing natural process to observe.
Back on the boat, some folks buy cold beers from the kitchen, and the story swapping grows animated. There are no tiny umbrella drinks on this trip -- let alone beaches to drink them on. The Fling is cozy, with shared cabins, one private shower, and a small shared kitchen. But "divers love the freedom," says Warren Roseberry, owner of Tom's Dive & Swim. "It's an incredible place." And at just an hour's drive from Houston, right under our noses.

What To Do After Your Dive
Eat: Gaido's, Galveston
In its 100 years, Gaido's hasn't changed much. Cooks still peel shrimp, shuck oysters, and filet fish themselves. Try the snapper frites -- grilled fillets of Gulf red snapper topped with lump crabmeat -- and the pecan pie with a crust made from pecans instead of flour.
Stay: The Hotel Galvez, Galveston. This Spanish colonial hotel's ballrooms have been frequented by Frank Sinatra, Howard Hughes, and Teddy Roosevelt. Grab a drink at the pool's swim-up bar or at the outdoor, ocean-front grill. Or jog along Galveston's 30 miles of beach, just across the street.
Do: Kiteboard, Texas City. The Texas coast has winds over 15 mph for more than 180 days a year -- perfect for kiteboarding. XLKites rents equipment and hosts group rides.
The Other Texas Diving Oasis - Toyahvale (Balmorhea State Park)
The Gulf isn't the only Texas spot with suprisingly good diving. In West Texas -- yes, the desert -- there is an oasis where springs pump 20 million gallons of water each day into an enormous pool built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. Divers swim among clouds of fearless fish, including the Comanche Springs pupfish, found nowhere else but here.
This article appeared in Men's Journal Dec 2011/Jan 2012 issue.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Travels with whale sharks

I wrote about searching for whale sharks in Belize, for the March 18 travel section of the Miami Herald.

We've got Wildflowers!

This year's wildflower guide, my fourth annual, for Texas Highways.

Homeless hotspots at SXSW

Opportunity or exploitation? My post on Austin Culturemap.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Post from SXSW: One Beach

My post from the SXSW screening of One Beach, a film about plastic on the beach, just in time for spring break! On Austin CultureMap.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Is your aquarium harming the oceans?

Read my piece in Miller-McCune on breeding tropical fish and why it's important here.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Ecological Costs of Shrimp

My latest post on Austin Culture Map - why I no longer eat shrimp.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Yellowstone's Best Friend

After years of neglect and government-mandated kills, wolves are thriving again. And according to scientists, that's good news for the park's ecosystem. Here's why wolves matter.
Wolves are once again a force in Yellowstone National Park. Less than 20 years ago, there wasn't a single one. Now, thanks to federal- and state-mandated policies, 97 roam the land - with a record high of nearly 38,000 tourist sightings in the wild last year. Previously, growing numbers of elk threatened the park's vegetation, but with a predator back in the picture, trees, plants and many animal species are thriving.
"Take wolves out and things begin to change, and not for the better," says wildlife ecologist Cristina Eisenberg. Still, not everyone is happy. Ranchers complain about attacks on livestock outside the park, and hunters worry about dwindling elk. Despite this, the benefit of wolves to animals and plants in the park is becoming clear.
Consider these facts:
Last year, wolves killed 268 animals, including 211 elk. The hunt leaves its mark -- and its not all destructive.
Elk herds have declined by as much as 50 percent and they spend more time on the move and less time grazing.
Without elk munching on saplings, aspen, willow, and cottonwood can grow to maturity.
More willows mean more habitat and food for beavers - who dam streams and make more ponds.
Streams also thrive, thanks to the roots of trees and shrubs that keep erosion at bay.
More ponds and healthy streams mean more habitat for frogs, fish, insects and reptiles.
Wolves hunt most successfully in the winter, when food is scarce for most species. Their kills provide leftovers for all kinds of scavengers.
Many songbirds, like warblers and flycatchers, nest midcanopy in younger trees, particularly aspen. These stands harbor four to five times as many species as older growth.
This piece was first published in Men's Journal, November 2011.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Your brain on risk

A post about risk perception, or how what we fear (mountain lion attacks, for example) isn't always the same as what's really dangerous (say, cars).

Austin Aims for Zero Waste

I wrote a four-part series for Austin Culture Map on the city's Zero Waste policy, how to recycle better, turning waste into dirt by home composting, and cutting down on trash by reducing and reusing.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Kayak trip to Baja

A brief post about my awesome trip to Baja, on Farewell Travels.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Bag the bags

My piece on single-use bags from Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine's June 2006 issue. A timely topic.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Small spectrometer

Researchers, including a University of Texas physicist, have developed a smaller, less expensive Raman spectrometer with a host of potential uses. My short piece on it in Scientific American's February issue.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Dissolving coral reefs

My piece about ocean acidification, which harms coral reefs, shellfish, and other marine life.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Idling Engines

My newest post on Austin CultureMap about the hazards of idling diesel engines.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Plastic in the environment

Austin, Texas is considering a partial ban on single-use plastic bags. One argument for the ban: plastic in the environment and the problems it causes. More on that in my piece for Austin Culture Map.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

More Gulf News

Here's another report from the Gulf of Mexico Summit, this one with a more Austin-centric viewpoint, for Austin Culture Map.

Gulf of Mexico Summit

My report on the Gulf of Mexico Summit, held in Houston in early December, for Texas Climate News.