Attack of the paranormal mermaid romance novel: Why you should never, ever lose a bet to David Shiffman

Popular Culture, Science FictionMarch 3, 2014

breakingblueTake heed, all those who would dare to gamble against David Shiffman. You will fail.

It seemed innocent enough. I was in the middle of a job search, paying the bills with consulting, freelance work, and science writing while pursuing the next academic appointment. Finally having a bit of time, I wrote a science fiction novel, something I’ve always wanted to do. Sometime last summer, our resident shark fanatic made a dangerous suggestion. “Why don’t you just cash in on the mermaid craze?” “Fine,” I said, “if I don’t land a job by 2014, I’ll write a marine science-inspired paranormal mermaid romance novel.”

It’s 2014. This is Breaching Blue.

Below, for your enjoyment, is the first chapter.

If you’re interested in my other writings, you can check out Fleet and Prepared on Amazon or read my short story, The Lucky Ones, at Nature. And a huge shout-out to Mark Gibson, who writes the excellent marine science blog, Breaching the Blue, and was kind enough to let me use the inadvertently parallel name. For obvious reasons, this is not the final draft.


Chapter 1: Sisters of the Reef

The reef was old. It rose out of the seamount, a honeycomb of chambers piled one on top of the other; each chamber perfectly sized for Janthia and her sisters. This reef was made for them.

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Fun Science Friday – Using the Force to Detect Cancer…. Sorta

biology, Fun Science Friday, Natural ScienceFebruary 28, 2014

One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish! What does that have to do with this week’s Southern Fried Science…. nothing! But that quote always makes me laugh.

This week we bring you another crazy break through in science that involves fruit flies and cancer. No, fruit flies do not cause cancer… that we know of. I am probably a little late on this, but the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, is the newest weapon in the fight against cancer. Yes you heard that right, man has turned one of the more annoying creatures into something useful! Useful for humans that is. ;)

Side view of a  a 0.1 x 0.03 inch (2.5 x 0.8 mm) small male fruit fly. Credit: André Karwath

Side view of a a 0.1 x 0.03 inch (2.5 x 0.8 mm) small male fruit fly.
Credit: André Karwath

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New “Rescue a Reef” citizen science project focuses on coral restoration. You can help!

UncategorizedFebruary 25, 2014

Rescue-a-Reef-logoCoral reefs provide critical habitat to countless unique species of animals and plants. However, many reefs are in trouble, being hammered by climate change, destructive fishing techniques, pollution, disease, and other threats. A coral restoration project at the University of Miami’s (UM) RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program aims to rescue Florida’s reefs through coral restoration. The research focuses on an important and endangered reef-building coral called staghorn.

How coral reef restoration works 

UM researchers grow staghorn coral in an underwater nursery to create a sustainable source of healthy coral colonies. Once a colony reaches the right size, the researchers  transplant these new corals  onto a damaged wild reef  through a process called “outplanting”. This creates a new population of corals that helps restore and conserve the natural reef.

Small colonies of staghorn coral outplanted in a nursery. Photo courtesy Dr. Diego Lirman.

Small colonies of staghorn coral growing in a nursery prior to transplantation onto damaged wild reefs. Photo courtesy Dr. Diego Lirman.

 

Dr. Diego Lirman, a professor at the University of Miami and a lead scientist of the Rescue a Reef program, said, “working on active coral reef restoration makes us feel part of the solution. After watching populations of important reef-building corals decline over the past three decades, we have an opportunity to contribute to their persistence and recovery. Using very simple techniques and inexpensive materials, we are exploiting a key attribute of the life history of branching corals (i.e., propagation by fragmentation) to create a sustainable and genetically diverse source of coral colonies for reef restoration and population recovery.”

This method of coral reef restoration has been used for decades and has been shown to be effective. Dr. Lirman’s team has outplanted over 2,500 staghorn coral colonies in recent years, and over 90% of them have survived.

How you can help

Donate! This project is supported by donations from the interested public, and you can donate here. Any amount helps, but larger donations have associated rewards, including:

1) Naming a patch of restored reef
or
2) Participating in a citizen science coral restoration trip, where you will be able to SCUBA dive with the Rescue a Reef research team and actively help plant and maintain coral nurseries!

 

Angler gives up world record to release massive shark alive

Blogging, ConservationFebruary 24, 2014

Scranton  attorney Michael Roth has been fishing since 1959, and has traveled around the world to pursue his hobby. “Fishing simply takes me to amazing places,” he told me, “from Alaska to Panama to the Eastern Caribbean.”  In January, Roth went on a fishing trip to the Turks and Caicos. While targeting sharks off Provo, he saw a huge blacktip shark cruise by and threw a red and orange fly in its path.

Photo courtesy Michael Roth

Photo courtesy Michael Roth

According to the International Game Fishing Association, the largest blacktip shark ever caught using the gear Roth was using (a fly rod with M-10 KG line) was 77 pounds. This blacktip was over 120 pounds, and would have easily set a new world record for this line class. However, International Game Fishing Association regulations require that animals submitted for a record must be weighed at an official weigh station. In this case (and in many other cases), this would have required killing the animal, as it would not have survived transport to the weigh station. Instead, Roth took a quick photo and released the shark.

“While I would love to be a world record holder, the thought of killing this beautiful animal was completely abhorrent to me,” Roth told me. “I felt so fortunate to have hooked and landed this spectacular fish. Killing it was always out of the question. Releasing this fish, and for me all fish,  to keep the species healthy is a top priority for me. I always encourage all anglers to catch and release.”

Want to name a shark and track it with Google Earth? Donate to my SciFund project!

BloggingFebruary 18, 2014

scifundThanks to the 73 people who have donated to my SciFund Challenge shark feeding ecology project so far, helping me to meet and surpass my minimum funding goal! I can still accept additional funds beyond my minimum funding goal, and all funds raised will still be used exclusively for lab processing fees.  As before, donations of any amount are appreciated, but larger donations have rewards.  One of the rewards for donating to my project is the opportunity to “adopt a shark,” supporting our lab’s ongoing shark satellite tag tracking research.

A satellite tag being attached to a bull shark

A satellite tag being attached to a bull shark

Specifically, the reward for a donation at the $3,000 level is that you get to name one of our lab’s GPS satellite tagged sharks, which can be tracked using Google Earth for up to 2 years. You can also give this reward as a gift, letting a shark lover in your life name the shark. Our tagged sharks, which include bull sharks, tiger sharks, and great and scalloped hammerheads have made amazing migrations sometimes exceeding 1,000 miles!

The movements of Bucky Badger the tiger shark, named by a U Wisconsin alumnus.

The movements of Bucky Badger the tiger shark, named by a U Wisconsin alumnus.

In addition to the opportunity to name one of our satellite tagged sharks, a donation at the $3,000 level includes all of the other rewards offered by my project, including the opportunity to join us in the field for a day of shark research.

One of our satellite-tagged hammerhead sharks. Photo credit Dr. Evan D'Allessandro

One of our satellite-tagged hammerhead sharks. Photo credit Dr. Evan D’Allessandro

You can learn more about the satellite tagging project here. You can learn about the steps we take to make our non-lethal research methods as stress free as possible to the sharks here. You can read the answers to some frequently asked questions about satellite tagging of sharks here. You can learn more about my project and make a donation here. Thanks for your continued support!

Help support marine biology SciFund projects!

Blogging

scifundThanks for everyone who has donated to my SciFund Challenge shark feeding ecology project so far! Though I have surpassed my minimum funding goal of $3,000, I am still able to receive additional funds and all will be used for sample analysis fees. The offer to join us for a day of shark research still stands.

There are also other marine biology projects involved in the SciFund Challenge that need your support! A brief description of some (provided by the lead scientist on each project) is below, along with a link to learn more and donate.

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Gills Club launches to inspire girls to pursue a career in marine biology

UncategorizedFebruary 17, 2014

a4d2a0_42219fc8cc5448adaf6844e8b685fa3a.png_srz_p_399_216_75_22_0.50_1.20_0A new organization called the Gills Club is connecting girls with female marine biologist role models.

Cynthia Wigren, President of the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, told me that,

“Through Atlantic White Shark Conservancy (AWSC), I’ve met a lot of young girls who love sharks. The goal in founding the Gills Club was to connect girls interest in sharks to science. According to the National Science Foundation, women make up 46% of the total workforce, but hold only 24% of jobs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.”

The Gills Club currently has more than 30 female marine biologists from all over the world who have volunteered their time. Every month, the newsletter highlights two of these scientists by letting them share their research, and online discussions allow girls to ask questions of these researchers. There are also in-person events at museums and science labs that give students the chance to meet scientists in person and learn in a more hands-on way.

Scenes from a recent Gills Club event. Photo courtesy Cynthia Wigren

Scenes from a recent Gills Club event. Photo courtesy Cynthia Wigren

“By introducing girls to female role models in shark research, I hope to jump start their interest in science. I hope the Gills Club will inspire girls to get involved, ask questions, soak up knowledge, and follow their passion wherever it leads,” Cynthia Wigren said.

If you are (or are the parent of) a girl 14 years old or younger, you can join the Gills Club for free from this link. You can also donate to AWSC here to help support the costs of the Gills Club.

Fun Science Friday – My Heart Will Go On

Fun Science FridayFebruary 14, 2014

Valentine’s Day is generally filled with love, flowers, and lots and lots of anatomically incorrect hearts.  See —> <3  This week on FSF we revel in the spirit of VDay and bring you hearts, but the appropriately shaped kind.

For years, in order to transplant a heart or a lung, there is a narrow window between the death of the donor and the surgical input of the recipient. How narrow, about 5 to 10 hours! Yes, basically doctors have 5 -10 hours to surgically remove the heart from a donor, transport it to the recipient, and surgically implant it. Crazy! The Doctors are battling the period of time it takes for a heart or lung to stop beating once senescence of a person’s body is achieved.

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Want to participate in a day of shark field research? Donate to my SciFund project!

Blogging, ScienceFebruary 12, 2014

scifundAfter one week, my SciFund project is more than 70% funded! Thanks to the 50 people who have donated so far! I’m making lots of progress, but I still need your help to make sure the project gets completely funded. Any donation helps, but larger donations have rewards, including getting to join me for a day of shark research in the field as a citizen scientist!

Our lab, the RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program at the University of Miami, has taken thousands of people out into the field with us to participate in our shark research, and with a $400 donation to my SciFund project, you can join us too! Our participants don’t just sit back and watch; you’ll get to help with every aspect of the research, including fishing, measuring, tagging, and taking samples!

A participants helps us to tag a small blacktip shark as the team secures it.

A participants helps us to tag a small blacktip shark as the team secures it.

We also have professional photographers on every trip, so you will get amazing photos of your experience. In addition to making a nice souvenir, this is an important tool in helping us to educate the public about sharks. What can be more effective at convincing people that sharks aren’t a threat to humans than seeing you, their friend or family member, safely interacting with one?

 

A high school student gets to interact with a large blacktip shark

A high school student gets to interact with a large blacktip shark

We’ve caught more than a dozen species of sharks, including nurse sharks, blacktips, bulls, tigers, great and scalloped hammerheads, lemons, and one great white. You never know what you’ll, but I’ve never had anyone say that they didn’t love their trip.

A participant helps us pull in a drumline, the fishing gear we use to catch sharks

A participant helps us pull in a drumline, the fishing gear we use to catch sharks

Two donors so far have contributed at this level so far, but there’s room for more! The trip can also be given as a gift if there’s a shark lover in your life. You can learn about the projects we’re collecting data for here, and you  can learn about the steps we take to make our non-lethal research methods as stress free as possible to the sharks here. Please let me know if you have any questions. We’d love to have you join us as a reward for a $400 donation to my project, but any support you can offer to the project is appreciated!

#DrownYourTown Coastal States Road Trip is coming to your (virtual) town

#DrownYourTown, climate change, Natural Science, ScienceFebruary 11, 2014

Last week, I kicked off the #DrownYourTown Coastal States Road Trip with a cruise through California. Over the next few weeks, we’ll visit every coastal US state (and territory) and see what they look like after 5 meters of sea level rise. The first week of images is available at the #DrownYourTown tumblr and you can follow along in real time on twitter @DrownYourTown.

Panama City, FL after 5 meters of sea level rise.

Panama City, FL after 5 meters of sea level rise.

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