Adventures in Myakka

As we got lost on our journey to Myakka , we lost the opportunity to have had an informed guide through our exploring. Myself, and two other students were able to go on a self directed tour through the wonders of Myakka.

During the stressful week of finals, we were able to take a breather and let ourselves become emersed in the beauty of nature. We walked countless flights of stairs to the top of the canopy where we witnessed the inspiration of Myakka. Surrounded by greenery for miles on each end, the candy green grass and fresh air enveloped our senses. We stood in awe of Mother Nature and felt compelled to stay silent in this experience. As we continued moving I was able to catch some sleepy alligators lounging near the river, their intimidating size and menacing expressions steered me away from even peering too close to them. When we eventually shuffled down the stairs I saw a name on each plank. The immense amount of people involved in the preservation of Myakka park inspired me and portrayed the sense of community we have when feeling connected to the earth.


This collectivist love for the environment motivated me to us emy own knowledge and resources to aid the preservation of a beautiful community. In my home town in Goa, India my family and I have worked on helping the farmers yield crops sustainably and responsibly. Nowadays they have huge-super market chains to compete against and they often resort to the use of intensive pesticides to yield a substantial amount of crops, thus my family gives financial support to the farmers to continue using organic farming techniques and yet have a platform for them to sell their produce. The introduction of non-indigenous specious into farming can often effect the ecosystem. Hence we have tried to promote the use of indigenous specious.




The Wildlife Captivity Debate

Blackfish follows the story of Tilikum a SeaWorld orca, and portrays the impact of captivity on wild animals. Since Tilikum has been in captivity, he has been involved in three deaths. The most recent occurence was the death of Dawn Brancheau, a trainer at SeaWorld. Tilikum held the pony tail of the trainer and pulled her down under water until she drown.

The documentary focuses on the impact captivity had on Tilikum’s aggression and the likelihood that Tilikum would not have been as violent if left in the wild. Blackfish displays the story of Tilikum’s life in captivity, which allegedly involved serious harassment at SeaLand of the Pacific. Blackfish disputes SeaWorld’s claims that orca’s live a longer life while in captivity. the documentary emphasizes that it is often the opposite, and orca’s quality of living is much more fulfilling and healthier in the wild.

After watching Blackfish I felt extremely terse about the situation and felt that the captivation of wild life was a heinous activity. However, understanding that film can drastically influence one’s perspective I tried to research into the reasons to why captivation is still an ongoing activity. The argument for the continuing captivity of wildlife claims that it provides protection from predators, medical care and assumed joy for humans and animals. The opposing debate emphasizes that animals are meant to be in the wild and taking them from their habitats creates aggression and shortens their lifespan in comparison to their wildlife counter-parts. This debate however disputes the livelihood of creatures that cannot represent themselves therefore the controversy around the subject is sensitive.

Nepal’s Earthquake may have changed the height of the Everest

Recent research shows that the devastating earthquake that struck Nepal has very likely caused permanent changes in the Earth’s surface, and unbelievably may have changed the height of Mount Everest.

The U.S. Geological Survey is desperately trying to retrieve data from a GPS station near Everest within the next 11 days. This information will help them understand and discover the impact the earthquake had on Everest.

While the USGS try to carry out this trip to retrieve the essential information, Kenneth Hudnut a geophysicist who works with USGS in Pasadena, California and his colleagues have been analyzing satellite and seismology data on the 25th of April’s estimated magnitude 7.8 earthquake, to better understand what happened and help predict how likely future earthquakes may be. Hudnut’s preliminary research indicates that Mount Everest and the surrounding area may have shifted a few centimeters both vertically and horizontally.

James Jackson, a geologist at Cambridge University has found research that mirrors Hudnut’s findings. Jacksons say that the vertical motion of Everest is expected to be less than 10 centimeters as is the horizontal.

Similar findings was found by scientists in Europe. On April 29th it was announced that preliminary satellite data suggests Everest may have actually decreased by about 2.5 cm. Closer to Kathmandu, ground may have uplifted as much as one meter. However the majority of the data is preliminary, therefore there is yet much needed analysis.

By Brian Clark Howard, National Geographic PUBLISHED April 28, 2015. “Did Nepal Earthquake Change Mount Everest’s Height?” National Geographic. National Geographic Society, n.d. Web. 06 May 2015.

The science behind why people prefer organic, natural and non-gmo foods

Why is it that it organic food tastes better than gmo products? Is it the genetic make-up of a free range chicken or the leafy textures of organic vegetables?

A study conducted by four universities found that the story behind how the food was cultivated or manufactured influences not only how the consumer feels when buying the food, but also how the food tastes. For instance, intentionally choosing to buy a dozen organic apples enhances the taste of the fruit. The Free University of Brussels, Oxford, the University Institute of Lisbon, and the University of Melbourne found that the labels of “natural,” “organic,” and “locally sourced” are certifications that are becoming more and more popular,regardless of the added costs. For consumers buying and eating foods with ethical back stories provides a sense of “moral satisfaction” and therefore the consumer feels they have done something good for the world.

One of the experiments involved giving cookies to two groups. The first group was briefed on the ethical consciousness of the cookie manufacturer and the second group was briefed on the environmental irresponsibility of the cookie manufacturer. Both groups, however, were fed the cookies. After this the groups were asked to rate the cookies and whether they would chose to buy the cookies again. The first group rated the cookies significantly higher than the second. Why?

The human taste experience and behavior toward food is shaped by our large frontal cortex.. This part of the brain plays a significant role in culminating the senses, especially integrating taste and smell into flavor. This part of the brain also processes abstract information such as the amount paid for the food, the brand and the origin of the food you are consuming. This information means we experience objective sensations that define our experience of the food and often create negative impressions due to contextual information rather than subjective taste and smell. The context of where food came from can improve or degrade the taste. What the study indicates is that moral satisfaction and sensory pleasure is intertwined.

About 90 percent of commodity crops used in the American food supply, including soybeans, sugar beets, and feed corn, are genetically engineered. Though GMO’s have been deemed safe for consumption, there is also a lack of research  into the effect of allergens of GMO foods. Rigorous testing and research has to be done before GMO products are manufactured for public consumption, however there is yet a possibility of allergens being present in the food.

During the 90’s a biotech company began using genetic modification to insert a gene into the Brazil nut. The nut’s gene selected induces the richness of a protein in one essential amino acid. The goal was to create a soybean that was more nutritious and protein rich for animal feed. The brazil nut is known to contain an allergen, therefore the company also tested the product for human reaction, with the thought that the transgenic soybean might accidentally enter the human food supply. Tests showed that humans reacted to the genetically modified nut and therefore the project as stopped.

Because the biotech company was aware of the allergen in advance, they were able to test for it, however GMO foods are often unknown, therefore they can inadvertently have a negative effect on the health of consumers. Now companies like Chipotle are enforcing a non-GMO foods policy and rejecting the use of any artificially genetically modified foods, hopefully campaigns like this will encourage other companies to follow suite.

“Altered Food, GMOs, Genetically Modified Food – National Geographic.”National Geographic. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 May 2015.

Forbes. Forbes Magazine, n.d. Web. 06 May 2015.

A microbe’s non-evolution could confirm Darwin’s theory of evolution

A research study published in February’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that Darwin’s theory of evolution can be confirmed due to the non-evolution of a sulphur-loving microbe.This recent discovery provides evidence of a microbe that appears to have remained unchanged for about 2 billion years.

The lead author of the analysis, William Schopf, explains evolution as a response to changes in an organism’s physical or biological environment. Therefore if the environment doesn’t change then life should not evolve. The microbe is an example of the latter. The microbe’s environment was well isolated beneath modern sea-floor muck and hence it was not altered by wave action or other types of mixing that could effect conditions within the sediments.

In 2007 an integral part of the research was discovered. Two chilean researchers Victor Gallardo and Carola Espinoza published their discovery of communities of thread-like bacteria found beneath undersea mud along the west coast of Central and South America and out to the Galapagos Islands. This research displayed the communities of these organisms that appear worldwide. The Chilean scientists suggest that these communities of thread-like bacteria have been populating the planet for billions of years.

Five years later William Schopf contacts the researchers to compare samples of rock formations he had acquired. that were found in western Australia The results showed that the microfossils on Schopf’s rock formations were infact the same organism. This connection lead to the comparison of three different populations of microbes found in in oxygen-free, light-free, sulfur-laden marine mud, that all seemed to be thriving in these conditions. This discovery of ancient population of microbes that seem to remain unchanged due to stagnant environment can be considered a premature piece of evidence in confirming Darwin’s theory of evolution.

“How a Microbe’s Non-evolution Could Confirm Darwin’s Theory.” The Christian Science Monitor. The Christian Science Monitor, n.d. Web. 05 Mar. 2015.

The effects of Inbreeding

Inbreeding is the mating together of closely related species within a specific animal species, for example mother/son, father/daughter and sibling/sibling mating. Dog inbreeding is one of the most commonly practiced inbreeding. Breeders often do this to ensure the traits of the litter, and to continuously reproduce a species that has been identified as valuable. These pedigrees are usually exhibition dogs that must adhere to the high standards of dog shows. The consequence is the dogs commonly face medical adversities due to the lack of a vigorous immune system.  Laboratory animal suppliers benefit from this limited gene pool of inbreeding. Lab animals are generally inbred to a specific gene strain and disorder, for instance; epilepsy. Additionally, inbreeding in livestock  can lead to repeating desirable traits such as lean/fat ratio or milk production.

Inbreeding can also be a result of natural occurrence.  A wolf pack, which is isolated from other wolf packs, by geographical or other factors, can become very inbred. The effect of any deleterious genes becomes noticeable in later generations as the majority of the offspring inherit these genes. This lack of genetic diversity can lead to high mortality rate and low reproduction rate.

The majority of dog breeders are aware of the possible disadvantages that come with inbreeding. However it is an attractive novice to keep inbreeding one or two similar dog species in order to maintain or better a species type. Breeding within the same species, but unrelated mate can ensure vigor with lower medical consequence to the dogs. Furthermore outcrossing different breeds can also lead to a stronger offspring. Outcrossing can prevent a breed from stagnating by introducing fresh genes into the gene pool. It is important to outcross to a variety of different dogs considered to be genetically “sound”  and preferably not closely related to each other. This will bring genetic diversity and defense towards threats of disease.

Diving into The Cove


Bates Littlehales © 2008 National Geographic

Sylvia Earle is an all encompassing human. As she describes the events of her life, we feel both envy and awe. Her courage and empathy is spun from gold and her curiosity cultivates significant change. A pioneer in oceanography, Sylvia Earle has paved the way for marine-biology and for the progression of women in this field of study.

Mission Blue is a thought-provoking documentary that delves into the life and work of Sylvia Earle. As we follow Earle’s relationship with the ocean, we crave the sensation of plunging into the enigmatic sea, however we also feel a rising guilt; guilt for docility, guilt for apathy and guilt for selfishness. Considering the amount of awareness of environmental adversity that subsists in developed nations, it is surprising how passive I have been about these issues. Learning about Sylvia Earle’s unconditional love for the ocean and the creatures it inhabits evoked a new interest and concern for her passions. “I love being a part of their world. They’re completely innocent of anything humans do.”

Researching into Sylvia Earle, I find her intolerance for bureaucratic faffing on environmental change very admirable. Earle left her position as Chief Scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration due to her strong beliefs and desire to venture out on her own. After leaving NOAA in 1992, Earle established the Deep Ocean Exploration and Research ( DOER Marine) an initiative to aid in the progression of marine engineering. Currently, the DOER Marine, designs, operates and builds machines for deep-sea environments. Moreover, Sylvia Earle has been greatly involved in the Google Earth – Explore the Oceans project that creates a virtual world for us to discover the oceans of the world.

Sylvia Earle is more than a great oceanographer; she is an ambassador for the world’s oceans.

Finding Snow on The Beach

Biodiversity is an intriguing concept. The interdependency of animals from the same ecosystem is an epitome of harmonious living. There is predator and there is prey, but both populations rely on one another to progress and procreate successfully. The animal world flows through a food chain, taking only what will be restored. Humans on the other hand follow a different path.

Last Week, I was able to go explore South Lido Beach with my Biodiversity class.It was a cold day but a beautiful day. The wind was overwhelming and the water resembled silk. The sun illuminated the crevices of the forest, and allowed escape from the crippling cold. I felt nostalgic as we walked through the trails with a child-like curiosity and explored the environment around us. The first “creature’ I found was long from the bottom and abruptly square-like on the top. It sat in the sand directly below me, gleaming in the sunlight. It was a tiny bright green shovel. I looked around, but there were no miniature gardeners in sight. Therefore, the only conclusion was that it had been abandoned, and it’s new purpose would be to abrupt the ecosystem of South Lido Beach. Thus, began my excursion.

As we walked along the coast we saw an array of birds, each aesthetically unique. They calmly treaded the shallow waters, exuding grace and beauty. I watched the Snowy Egret walk with a balletic gait. The bird’s rhythmic movement was impervious to the intense winds. The Egret and it’s head stayed closely rested in it’s shoulders. The creature seemed almost angelic as the sun shone above it’s head.

The Snowy Egret often breed along coastlines. Their habitats range from mudflats and marshes to ponds and swamps. These birds are known to be slightly hostile within their own species as they often cannot recognize one another after having left the nest. Even when attempting to mate, the bird must perform an elaborate greeting ritual to avoid being attacked as an intruder. The Snowy Egrets are buoyant due to their steady fast wings. Their diet includes crustaceans, insects and fish. The Egrets often choose more urbanized nesting locations due to the lack of predators. Moreover, Snowy Egrets have an innate recognition and avoidance to poisonous snakes. These traits amplify the significance of encountering such a wonderful species on a simple excursion. It was a small miracle, like finding snow on the beach.

imageCopyright © Fraser Brooks