"Microplastics is not yet a polarizing environmental issue. I think it's something that presents a lot of opportunities for people all over the world to get involved."––Katie Christiansen, Microplastics Project Manager
When Ryan Warner, host of Colorado Public Radio's daily interview show was looking to discover how the issue of microplastics in the ocean might connect with land-locked states like Colorado, his team knew just where to turn.
Katie Christiansen is the Project Manager for our Microplastics Initiatives, and she now serves additionally as Lead for our entire Projects Team. She joined Ryan for a discussion of microplastics, revealing where they come from, what effects they could be having on living things, and what we can do about it.
From the thousands of water samples collected by our volunteers around the world to the individual bottles collected right here in our home watershed in southwestern Montana, Katie shows that microplastics, while largely invisible to the naked eye, are clear evidence of humanity's impact on the environment, and as such are an ecological issue that resonates with people regardless of their politics, and can unite them to positive action for the environment.
Hear the conversation below:
By William McQueen
Adventure isn’t about looking on a map and planning a trip. It’s about the unexpected magical things that occur while you are out there exploring new territories and new vistas.
And if you’re a scientist, then you’re on a daily adventure looking for answers, new information, new directions, and most of all, discoveries––especially those that can change worlds, both the whole world and your own part of it.
Since my wife and I are some of those individuals who fit both of these words well, becoming a part of Adventure Scientists was a no-brainer.
As volunteers for the Timber Tracking project, we’re supporting advanced science dealing with DNA from leaves. The end result is a system that will help stop poaching of these unique trees. To ensure the data we collect is of the highest possible quality, detailed science protocols have been provided for all of us volunteers, and the goals of the project are clear.
All we have to do is collect the leaf samples.
So. That sounds easy: look at the maps (cool maps by the way), check the range of the trees in our zone, check habitat characteristics such as water, slope, elevation, and where the land fits the legal/permission criteria and is fairly accessible, and then roll out.
Where we live on Vancouver Island, in the project’s Zone 13, over half of the land is private. And by private we mean owned by logging companies whose interest is in cutting pine, cedar, spruce, and Douglas fir for lumber and pulp––which means that for them, maples aren't anything they're concerned with, they're just in the way.
Much of the remaining land that is available to leaf collecting is government-owned, and is designated Crown Provincial. And that tends to be land that was previously leased to logging companies, logged one or two times, and then re-planted and returned to the government for leasing/harvest in the future. But that usually means that it has been logged of everything and only replanted with conifers.
With only one major highway on the Island, virtually all backcountry travel is on logging roads that are owned and maintained by the logging interests. That means there are only roads to and from harvestable stands, not to or from bigleaf maple habitat.
With all these constraints marked out, the map looks like "a jigsaw puzzle with a couple of pieces gone,” to quote Jim Croce.
So now the adventure begins. Our sample trees should be easy to find: just look for Crown Provincial lands on the map, check elevation, water, and slope, master the saw-toss tool we need to use for sample collection, and drive and hike right in.
Vancouver Island is part of the last remaining temperate rainforest in the world. Think jungle––think impenetrable underbrush––think vines and brambles and hear that high-pitched whine of, yes, mosquitoes.
On one trip, we follow the map and find that the logging road on the map hasn’t been used in probably 30 years, and is almost completely overgrown. On another we find perfect trees, but we’re looking directly at their tops. The bases are 30—50 feet below us down a steep riverbank. One mapped road makes a beautiful circle to what appears to be three perfect sampling zones––until we come to a washed-out bridge and a 40-mile detour.
And of course the real kicker came on our longest road trip.
We found no accessible bigleaf maples for about 30 miles of back- and front-country roads, so we started heading home. All of a sudden we saw beautiful stands of perfect maples just calling our names. We stopped, took the sample envelope picture and then checked the map. We had crossed into a different collection zone directly north of ours––and samples from there had already been gathered. Argghhh.
But along the way we saw a female mountain lion and her two yearling cubs, a juvenile black bear, several groups of seals, and one very inquisitive sea otter.
On the human side we met an 81-year-old car junkie who showed us his 1937 Ford (which he had restored beautifully), and who was working on two 1960s vintage GMC Motorhomes, a 1949 Ford, a unique Chevy with a Camaro front end and an El Camino bed, and even a vintage Studebaker.
But perhaps best of all, we finally found the most perfect old, healthy bigleaf maple––on the grounds of one of our favorite roadside stops, Ice Cream Mountain.
A summer volunteering with Adventure Scientists truly lives up to both sides of the name.
By Julia Lichtblau
The scene was perfect. The sun was setting behind the slopes of the Sierra Nevada, casting a warm wash over the valley and setting fire to the waters of the Upper Velma lake with pinks and yellows. The Jeffrey pines dropped into an evergreen silhouette on the opposite shore and leaping fish left ripples across the water.
Happily I sat down by the lake with my pencils and paints, intent on capturing this calm moment in the mountains after a long day of hiking and butterfly chasing. Everything was peaceful and quiet as I began painting, but this was to be short-lived.
In a flurry of white fur and water our dog Indy raced past. Exuberant and energized by the scents and sounds of the mountains she bounded around the campsite, chasing unseen critters and howling to unseen wolves. Our loyal hound had turned into a tornado of energy in the campsite and we jumped to our feet to wrangle her. Pencils scattered and dirt, paint, and water splashed across the page of my careful rendering. Splatters of watercolor slowly grew across the page and I realized I could not ctrl-z away the mistakes like I was so used to doing on a computer. We were in the heart of Desolation Wilderness and as far from Photoshop as I’d been in a while.
We were led to this region by Adventure Scientists. Taking part in the Conserving Biodiversity: Pollinators study we were charged with the task of capturing and cataloging butterfly species and their host plants. We became expert butterfly stalkers, comically creeping through the meadows with oversized nets in hand, eyes peeled for the flutter of wings.
Prior to this study, I only noted butterflies in passing on our backpacking trips. This experience, however, made me realize the individual beauty of each species.
The small greenish blue butterfly (yes, that's its actual name) with seemingly drab wings in fact had brilliant iridescent spots and vibrant indigo colorings. The flashy Lorquin’s admiral had fiery oranges and reds contrasted with deep black patterns. Even the abundant Mariposa copper had subtly rich colors and unique rippled wings.
Good luck trying to draw these fluttering insects, though. It is not in their nature to sit still for the artist! For many of my drawings I had to refer back to the photos we’d taken for research and pour over laminated guides later for identification.
Plants, however, proved to be a more forgiving subject matter. They tended to patiently wait while I fussed over sketches, rustling only gently in the breeze.
Painting these agreeable subjects was a joy unto itself, for the sheer variety of shape, color, and texture of these alpine flowers was incredible. Our site was abloom with sprays of mountain spiraea, spears of lupines, and delicate cotton balls of Aster. Our project brought these simple plants into a new focus for me, as I realized their piece in a complex ecological puzzle: feeding, shading, and protecting the delicate pollinators we sought.
After a weekend camping in the Sierras my journal was crumpled and dirty but full of wonderful memories. From the alert barks of our bear-defense dog and the quest to capture butterflies, to the discovery of a magical waterfall surrounded by wildflowers, the spirit of our adventure was recorded in scribbled pen and paint. On these trips I learned to enjoy the mess and chaos of the backcountry––such a drastic difference from the order and technology of my civilized life during the week.
By unplugging and slowing down I was able to focus and find new appreciation for a delicate and overlooked creature vital to the Sierra ecosystem.
I returned to the pages of my sketchbook later that evening, under the light of a lantern in our tent. I contemplated the splattering of paint and dirt on the pages, courtesy of the dog who now slept peacefully on my sleeping bag. As our camp finally settled down for the evening and the night sky grew bright with stars, I thought of the tiny creature that brought us here and began to draw over the imperfections of the page the vague shape of a butterfly.
Our volunteers have some of the greatest adventures in some of the most beautiful places on the planet. To help share those stories, and stories of other adventures, we're launching an end-of-summer photo contest with fantastic prizes from our awesome sponsors.
You can enter up to two images per category, and ideally they'll be from your volunteering with one of our projects. There will be a winner for each category with additional at-large prizes for other truly standout shots.
We'll be accepting entries all month long, through Sunday, September 30, 2018, 11:59pm in whatever time zone you send them from.
The world is a beautiful place. Let's see it through your eyes!
By Rick Leir
I was in a canoe, bobbing on powerboat wakes and baking in the sun. And hoping my Android was safe in its plastic envelope.
I was scouting for butterflies along an uninhabited shoreline just outside of Ottawa, and the canoe seemed to be the best mode of transportation for the task ahead, as I did not want to scare off any butterflies, and the canoe is quiet.
Perhaps my favorite aspect of volunteering with Adventure Scientists is that it gets more lay people (non-scientists) thinking about the endangered environment. For the Global Pollinators project, we are asked to make butterfly observations more than a mile from the nearest road. It sounds simple, but think a moment: how often are you a mile from roads? Many people never get a mile from roads.
Learn more about our Global Pollinators project, and apply to volunteer and start making observations of your own, wherever your travels take you.
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