Make for the Planet with Conservation X Labs and the Earth Optimism Summit!

Invasive species, overfishing, ocean plastics, wildlife tracking, and measuring ecosystem services, are some of the most daunting challenges in conservation.While these challenges require a combination of social, commercial, and regulatory cooperation to address, they can also be tackled through technological innovation, which can bypass some of the largest hurdles to implementing practical, timely solutions.

On April 21, 2017, 18 teams of conservationists, technologists, makers, and hardware hackers will gather in Washington DC and tackle five conservation challenges selected by a panel of experts at the Make for the Planet, part of the Smithsonian’s Earth Optimism Summit. Over three days, teams will work to develop prototypes, strategic frameworks, and model systems that address specific issues within the broader challenge prompt of terrestrial species invasion, overfishing, ocean plastics, wildlife tracking, and ecosystem services. Read More

“When we left the beach…” Monday Morning Salvage: March 20, 2017


Flotsam (what we’re obsessed with right now)

  • The poetry of Derek Walcott.

Walcott, from the Trinidad Guardian.

  • Nobel laureate, poet, and perhaps the finest English-language writer of any generation, died this weekend. His poetry, particularly the epic poem Omeros, which draws upon the themes of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey to tell the story of colonization, imperialism, slavery, and humanity’;s relationship to the sea over more than 8000 lines.
  • If you’re new to the poetry of Derek Walcott, The Sea is History is a great place to start and the New York Times published a short selection of his poetry: The Pages of the Sea.

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The Legacy of the Invasivore Movement

On January 1, 2016, the Southern Fried Science central server began uploading blog posts apparently circa 2041. Due to a related corruption of the contemporary database, we are, at this time, unable to remove these Field Notes from the Future or prevent the uploading of additional posts. Please enjoy this glimpse into the ocean future while we attempt to rectify the situation.


Over 25 years ago, the concept of “Invasivore”–a dietary ethic that involved eating only invasive species, or more often, only eating meat if it was from an invasive species–entered into popular culture. Unfortunately, the actual practicalities of being an invasivore made the practice, with the exception of people in highly invaded regions, functionally impossible.

This led to an interesting and welcome change in the overarching dietary ethic movement. By focusing on specific meals, rather the food ethics that defined someone’s identity, people could focus on what’s really important, choosing meals and finding food suppliers that provided the most net-good for a specific region or community. While it was nearly impossible to be a strict invasivore, it was relatively easy to source and host an invasivore barbecue or cook an invasivore meal. We began defining meals, rather than individuals, by the method of production and preparation. Read More

Robots Versus Aliens – Anticipatory conservation in technology-drive initiatives

This week, I and a team of marine ecologist, explorers, and ocean technologists published Robots as vectors for marine invasions: best practices for minimizing transmission of invasive species via observation-class ROVs. This paper, conceived and largely produced during the ROV2PNG Marine Science Short Course in Papua New Guinea, represent the current best practices for minimizing or eliminating the spread of invasive species via portable, low-cost underwater robots.

Zebra mussels observed via OpenROV. Photo by author.

Zebra mussels observed via OpenROV. Photo by author.

Species invasion, particularly in the ocean, is a huge problem. Invasive species are ruthlessly good at out-competing native fauna. Without any natural predators, they can flourish, causing massive, irreparable damage to marine ecosystems. As scientists, explorers, and conservationist, we have to be proactive in ensuring that our actions don’t negatively impact the ecosystems we’re trying to save. Our guidelines are simple, but effective, and, most importantly, easy to follow.

  1. Educate yourself about species invasions generally and specifically about current issues in the area you’re working.
  2. Inspect your gear.
  3. Soak your gear in freshwater between dives.
  4. Soak your gear in weak bleach between expeditions.
  5. Avoid moving your equipment between geographic regions, when possible.

Technology can be a powerful tool in the aid of conservation. Around the world, people are using low-cost robotics to count elephants, detect poachers, protect tortoises, even seek-and-destroy invasive sea stars. As I discuss over at Motherboard, these robots are a transformative component of 21st century marine science and conservation, they fundamentally reshape the way we interact with the ocean. And with the explosive success of the latest OpenROV launch, there are about to be a lot more robots in the water. This is a good thing. The more eyes we have in the sea, the more people that actively contribute to ocean exploration, the more people with access to the tools necessary to explore, study, and understand our oceans and how they are changing, the better off we will all be.

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Keeping your robot invasions under control.

It’s been a big week for papers here at Southern Fried Science. This morning, Amy, myself, William (of Bomai Cruz fame), and Dominik and Erika of OpenROV published our guidelines on minimizing the potential for microROVs to act as invasive species vectors in Tropical Conservation Science. The abstract:

Remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) present a potential risk for the transmission of invasive species. This is particularly the case for small, low-cost microROVs that can be easily transported among ecosystems and, if not properly cleaned and treated, may introduce novel species into new regions. Here we present a set of 5 best-practice guidelines to reduce the risk of marine invasive species introduction for microROV operators. These guidelines include: educating ROV users about the causes and potential harm of species invasion; visually inspecting ROVs prior to and at the conclusion of each dive; rinsing ROVs in sterile freshwater following each dive; washing ROVs in a mild bleach (or other sanitizing agent) solution before moving between discrete geographic regions or ecosystems; and minimizing transport between ecosystems. We also provide a checklist that microROV users can incorporate into their pre- and post-dive maintenance
routine.

Read the whole, open-access paper over at TCS!

Robots as vectors for marine invasions: best practices for minimizing transmission of invasive species via observation-class ROVs.

Geese, snakeheads, and the ones that got away: Southern Fried Science Book Club, week 5

Fortunately, it turns out last week’s chapter was a fluke, and we come down the home stretch of Eating Aliens with some of the strongest sections since the beginning. Canadian Geese was particularly fascinating, as it’s clear this is the species Landers has the most experience talking about. Te chapter is rich with the details, backstory, and information that I was hoping to find throughout the book, with less cynicism about the role of local and national government than we’ve seen previous. If you haven’t caught up yet, I recommend just skipping Nutria and going straight to Canadian Geese.

Then we’re back in the water with numerous marine and freshwater invasives, many from the aquarium trade. Plecos and armored catfish, released by amateur aquarists, are booming in Florida’s warm, protected waters, while tilapia is a holdover from the aquaculture industry. Frankly, there wasn’t much new in these chapters, other than the species–at this point introduced fish are old news, and while the details of each animal are slightly different, the causes and consequences are often the same. Personally, I don’t think I’d eat a pleco, but it doesn’t sound particularly unpalatable. Even though the story is pretty much the same–Landers struggles to catch anything, hijinks ensues, they finally eat it–this was a fun part of the book.

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What can Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs teach us about ecology, sustainability and conservation?

Cloudy_with_a_chance_of_meatballs_theataposterMy family loves to watch movies, which presents a problem during the few times we’re all together: there are very few good movies that none of us have already seen. This past Thanksgiving, we resolved that dilemma by watching some “based on a true story” garbage starring Nicholas Cage and the star of High School Musical, a plot-less but action packed shoot ’em up starring the governator and Sawyer from Lost, and “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.”

Based on a popular children’s book, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs tells the story of Flint Lockwood, a young inventor who keeps trying to make life better for people in his small island town of Swallow Falls. His inventions always backfire, including the titular invention that makes the sky rain food. In the sequel, which I watched this past weekend because shut up I enjoyed the first one leave me alone, we learn that some of the food has become sentient.  Swallow Falls is now home to a unique ecosystem that includes watermel-ephants, taco-diles, fla-mangos, and many other hybrids called foodimals. In addition to featuring some of the best puns I’ve ever seen, these movies also raise some interesting questions about ecology, sustainability and conservation.

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Mermaids do not exist, and five other important things people should, but do not, know about the ocean

Mermaids depicted by a Russian folk artist. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons via New York Public Library

Last week, Animal Planet aired a fictional mockumentary about mermaids. From an educational perspective, it was a disaster that was rightfully described as “the rotting carcass of science television” by Brian Switek. As Dr. M on Deep Sea News pointed out, one of the troubling results of this TV special was the discovery that some people believe that mermaids are real.

When I pointed out on Facebook and twitter that mermaids do not exist and that I hoped none of my friends believe otherwise, it inspired a long and interesting discussion. Someone asked why it matters if people believe in mermaids, as they felt that a sense of whimsy among the public is a good thing. Someone pointed out that scientists are discovering amazing new species all the time. More than a few people said “anything is possible.”

Sure, scientists discover new species all the time, but while finding a new species of monkey, orchid, or jellyfish can be interesting, it is not proof that “anything is possible” and it is not the same thing as finding a species of talking, thinking humanoids with fish tails on the lower half of their bodies.  There’s a big and important difference between enjoying fantasy novels and wishing that certain fantastical creatures exist (i.e. having a sense of whimsy) and genuinely believing that those creatures really do exist.

These people don’t believe that in the vast and unexplored ocean, there may be some bizarre undiscovered species still out there. They believe that talking, thinking humanoids with fish tails on the lower half of their bodies exist and are acknowledged as existing by the scientific community. This displays a troubling lack of awareness of reality that likely is not limited to a belief in mermaids. For the benefit of those who have paid so little attention to what’s going on in the real world that they believe mermaids exist, here are five other things that you should, but likely do not, know about the oceans.

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