Exploring new models to fund ocean science and outreach

BloggingMay 28, 2014

It’s an open secret that I’ve been struggling over the last few years to keep Southern Fried Science growing while making it financially sustainable. Ocean outreach matters, because the oceans matter. Many of us believe that protecting the oceans is the most important thing we’ll ever do. Our survival depends on a healthy ocean. So we write about overfishing and shark finning, climate change and ocean acidification, mining and trawling and bycatch runoff. And, since, as St. Jacques once said, “people protect what they love”, we do what we can to make people love the ocean as much as we do.

For most of its existence, Southern Fried Science and my other outreach projects have been funded by science. Research grants, outreach fellowships, even graduate student stipends went towards keeping our servers running. But science funding is in crisis, and that model is no longer valid. In a disturbing reversal, today, income from outreach related work–selling articles, consulting for NGO’s, running workshops–is being used to fund my scientific research. Neither model is viable.

It’s time to try something new.


Nerds for Nature harnesses citizen scientists to monitor environmental change

Citizen Science, Conservation, Environmentalism, Natural Science, ScienceMay 26, 2014

[Note, this is a press release for an ongoing project of which Amy and myself are involved.]

n4nMonday, May 26, 2014 — In September 2013, a large wildfire, ignited by careless target shooters, blazed across Mt. Diablo, leaving 3,100 acres of state park scorched. Wildfires are an important component of chaparral ecosystems, clearing the way for younger growth to take hold, but monitoring recovery after wildfires is an intensive prospect for over-committed park staff. Enter the Nerds for Nature and their change monitoring brackets.

Inspired by monitorchange.org (created by Sam Droege of the U.S. Geological Survey), Nerds for Nature combined low-tech angle brackets with high-tech smart phones to allow hikers to help monitor the ongoing fire recovery. Park visitors are invited to take pictures at predefined locations, aligning their phones against a simple angle bracket that ensures images will center on the same area. Photos are then uploaded to one of several social media services, where a program scrapes the publicly available images and compiles a time lapse video.



Dawn take you all: Bilbo Baggins’ approach is better than “don’t feed the trolls”

Blogging, ScienceMay 21, 2014

“Dawn take you all, and be stone to you!”For just at that moment the light came over the hill, and there was a mighty twitter in the branches. William never spoke for he stood turned to stone as he stooped; and Bert and Tom were stuck like rocks as they looked at him. And there they stand to this day, all alone, unless the birds perch on them; for trolls, as you probably know, must be underground before dawn, or they go back to the stuff of the mountains they are made of, and never move again. – “The Hobbit,” J.R.R. Tolkien. (Yes, it really says twitter in this section of text. This is the only place in “The Hobbit” or any of the Lord of the Rings books where the word twitter appears.)

Trolls at the world premiere of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey". Creative Commons license from Flickr user Kewl

Trolls at the world premiere of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”. Creative Commons license from Flickr user Kewl


Though I have largely enjoyed my experiences with online outreach, there are, to put it mildly, lots of unpleasant people on the internet. An extremist opinion and an anonymous forum for expressing it can be a recipe for some particularly nasty conversations. Some people seem to take pleasure in disrupting a conversation even when they have no particular stake in it, and these people are commonly referred to as “trolls.” There are various strategies for dealing with them (for example, here’s an explanation of this blog’s comment policy). In general, “don’t feed the trolls”  is a common piece of advice for those engaged in online discussions. “Don’t feed the trolls” means that if someone is behaving in an inflammatory manner, you should simply not respond. While it’s certainly true that many internet trolls enjoy a combative discussion and that engagement may give an extremist idea more exposure than it would otherwise receive, I’ve never liked the idea of “don’t feed the trolls.”


Six reasons why Menhaden are the greatest fish we ever fished.

fisheries, marine science, Natural Science, Science

Image from Maine Department of Marine Resources.

Image from Maine Department of Marine Resources.

Menhaden, Brevoortia tyrannus, is, without a doubt, the single most important fish in the western Atlantic. This oily filter-feeder swims in schools so large that they block the sun from penetrating the water’s surface as it regulates ocean health. Earlier this week, we were greeted by news that menhaden stocks were rebounded, yet despite their near-universal importance in the western Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, most Americans have near heard of a menhaden.

Let’s fix that. Here are six reasons you should know what a menhaden is.

1. Menhaden go by many names.

The Narragansett called them munnawhatteaug. Colonists called them poghaden, bony-fish, whitefish, pogy, mossbunker, fat-bat. Perhaps most endearingly, menhaden were called bug-heads, thanks to the parasitic isopod that was often found in place of their tongues. They have also been called “the most important fish in the sea“.


Don’t build a new inter-ocean canal across Nicaragua

Conservation, Environmentalism

ProsantaDr.Prosanta Chakrabarty is an Assistant Professor at Louisiana State University and an ichthyologist and evolutionary biologist. He is also Curator of Fishes at LSU’s Museum of Natural Science. You can learn more about him from his website www.prosanta.net and follow him on Twitter @LSU_FISH.

The National Assembly of Nicaragua approved the rights to build a new canal through the country to connect the Carribean (Atlantic) to the Pacific just as the Panama Canal does about 400 miles to the south. The approval of this contract was done largely without any scientific insights and largely without warning. The rights were given to a Chinese firm, the Hong Kong Nicaragua Development (HKND) and gives them power over this property for up to 100 years. The HKND has no experience with a project of this scale, and was largely unknown until this deal.

CanalThe new canal would be enormous, and cut across Lake Nicaragua (Cocibolca) and also adjacent rivers and waterbodies. No environmental impact studies have been completed. The Academia de Ciencias de Nicaragua recently published a manuscript detailing the problems with this proposed canal, “EL CANAL INTEROCEÁNICO POR NICARAGUA: Aportes al debate” [Available here: ]

It is multi-authored, thoughtful and level-headed: it is also a searing criticism of the stupidity of the idea of this new canal. The report thoroughly examines cultural, environmental, and economic impacts of the proposed canal.

Here are the top reasons I’ve learned from that report (with pg.#s) why this canal is ‘muy malo’ for the people and environment of Nicaragua.


We need a different economic model for supporting conservation work. Here’s my story.

Challenging the Conventional Narrative, Environmentalism, Personal Stories, Science Life, Sustainability, UncategorizedMay 12, 2014

Many years ago, I was offered a job doing restoration work at a coal company while perusing festival booths in Fairbanks, Alaska. Still wearing my college-aged rose colored glasses, I was skeptical of working for conservation within industry, said thanks-but-no-thanks, and returned to upstate New York to finish my degree. Looking back, I honestly believe I could have enacted more positive change for the earth had I taken that job than I have in the almost decade since.

I recall this story because while at a recent all-volunteer biodiversity festival, a friend asked me ‘why can’t people do all this great work as their paid work?’ A group of us stood around silently for a few minutes, realizing that this question derived of innocent curiosity delved deep into issues of societal values, our current economic system, and conservation philosophy. In short, the answer is that because conservation brings in none of its own revenue, but depends on the tax money or philanthropy of others. When that dries up, no conservation careers are available. And even when they are, a high percentage of time on the job is spent looking for future funding through grants. (more…)

The incredible biodiversity of Aquaman: the grand finale

Aquaman, deep sea, marine science, Natural Science, Popular Culture, Science

Aquaman #31 variant cover. Art by Mike Allred.

Aquaman #31 variant cover. Art by Mike Allred.

We’ve traveled far, this last week. From gentle basking sharks gliding across the surface of the North Sea to titanically tiny worms dwelling in the deep. The variant cover for Aquaman #31 is a fantastically diverse sampling of real ocean organisms, many of them not only profoundly weird but also almost entirely unstudied. Mike Allred’s is a small taste of the unknown still waiting to be explored.

I saved the best for last, including my favorite squid and scale worm. Before we dive into these final identifications, let’s take a moment to review.


Nereus, never to rise.

deep sea, marine science, Natural Science, ScienceMay 10, 2014

Reports are coming in from the Kermadec Expedition that Nereus, the world’s first Hybrid AUV/ROV and deepest diving robot, has perished. The full-ocean capable robot, who dove to the bottom of Challenger Deep several year before James Cameron’s Deepsea Challenger, was lost on a 10,000 meter dive in the Kermadec Trench. Researchers and crew members were hopeful that the fail safes built into the robot would return it to the surface, but, when the small spheres that provided her buoyancy broke through the waves, it was clear that Nereus had been irrecoverably damaged, never to rise again.

Nereus joins ABE and Kaikō on the sea floor, permanently entombed in Davy Jones’ locker. There are now only two vehicles left in the world that can dive to the very bottom of the deepest ocean.

I sing the praise of my robot underlings, the workhorses of deep sea exploration.

The penultimate installment of the incredible biodiversity of Aquaman’s variant cover

Aquaman, deep sea, marine science, Natural Science, Popular Culture, ScienceMay 9, 2014

aquapurged5We are approaching the home stretch, with the second to last installment of our tour through this amazing Aquaman cover. Have you been following along? How many have you guessed so far?

If you haven’t been following along, you can catch up with the previous installments, below:

13. Pygmy Seahorse (Hippocampus bargibanti)


Pygmy Seahorse. Photo by Jens Petersen.

seahorseI started my career in marine science working with seahorses, so these goofy, thoroughly un-fish-like fish, hold a special place in my heart. All seahorses are pretty weird, but pygmy seahorses might be the weirdest. These tiny animals, barely 2 centimeters long, live exclusively on gorgonian corals, their lump profile allows them to blend perfectly into the backdrop. Their bulbous protrusions will assume the color of their host coral.


A style guide for journalists who want to write about something covered on Southern Fried Science

BloggingMay 8, 2014

Thank you for your interest in one of our articles. Please feel free to contact any of our authors for further information but do keep in mind that we are all science writers. If your publication is looking for a more than a brief (less than 300 word) interview, please consider contracting one of us to write the piece.

For press queries, please contact southernfriedscientist at gmail with the subject line PRESS QUERY.

A few key points of style.

1. The name of the website is Southern Fried Science. The URL is southernfriedscience.com with no capitals. Our writers are either correspondents, senior correspondents, or editor-in-chief. You can find out who is what on our author page. If unsure, please refer to them as either authors or scientists.


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