Vancouver film school students use multimedia to teach biodiversity

23 08 2010

Click image to go to video

The term biodiversity can be somewhat daunting and difficult to understand considering it has a vast array of meaning in the study of ecology.  I could try to explain it here with the use of words and little more, but that would defeat the purpose of this blog post.

In the past one would have to go to the library to find books about the subject or attend classes in ecology and other biological sciences to determine exactly what biodiversity means and how it affects us all.

In the past few years one could easily find ample information on the topic on Wikipedia, but again it is mostly in the form of text with a few images scattered here and there.

But today, with it’s current technology and interactive media there are new and innovative ways of engaging and educating people about biological topics, such as biodiversity.

This animated film created by students from the Vancouver Film School’s Digital Design program is a perfect example of such tools that can gain the attention of the masses and highlighting the importance of environmental stewardship.

It is only the beginning of this movement but with talent and projects such as this, our planet and all of us will only benefit.

For more information about harnessing the power of interactive media and the Internet to educate others about ecology, conservation, and the environment keep and eye out for future posts on this blog and visit EcoActive on Facebook and EcoActiveSean on Twitter.


Spilling the truth about science in the news

7 05 2010

So when was the last time you saw a news story about sound science or environmental issues?

Okay, now might not be a good time to ask that question, considering we are in the midst of trying to figure out how to contain the thousands of gallons of oil that are spewing into the Gulf of Mexico from BP‘s rented oil rig, Deepwater Horizon.

In case you’ve been in a coma for the past two weeks or finishing up your graduate degree, here’s what happened. On April 20th., 2010 the oil rig, which is on lease from Transocean caught on fire and eventually collapsed and sank into the gulf.

Video courtesy of AlJazeera

Apparently a safeguard called a “blowout preventer” failed to controlled the natural gas bubble or “kick” that can occur when capping these wells with cement and sent these unfortunate affects into motion. The reason for the failure is unknown at this time until the companies responsible can do a more thorough investigation into the disaster.

Most of the stories you are probably finding in the news is more about politics and economics of the spill that the environmental effects. Bloomberg reported that BP has lost $30 million dollars as a result of the spill as of today and will lose more as the days go on.

BP had asked the U.S. government for assistance in the clean up but were initially rejected by President Obama. Yet, the Obama Adminstration
did sign off on expanding offshore drilling this past March in the hopes of pushing forward energy and climate legislation that would lead the country beyond our reliance on petroleum. And of course, the federal government is now spending money to oversee the cleanup.

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

Economics and politics should be put on the backburner of this situation for the time being. The main concern for both the companies involved and the government should be on protecting the surround habitats from the effects this spill will have on their ecosystems.

I can assure you that the fishermen who are volunteering their ships and services to aid in the cleanup have these ecosystems as the forefront of their concern. Their livelihoods are dependent on it.

AP Photo/The Times Picayune, Ted Jackson

It seems the only time the biological science are mentioned in the news are when catastrophes such as this occur. The one scientific story that has developed from all this, and was reported in the May 5th issue of the New York Times is the use of chemical dispersants that have been thrown onto the spill in order to help contain it, with seemingly little forethought to the adverse affects.

Very little is known about these dispersants and what chemicals go into the manufacturing of them as the companies that produce them say there a “proprietary” ingredients that they want to guard for commercial reasons. What should be propriety are these companies responsibility to be sure that they aren’t doing more harm than good to the ecosystems they insist they are helping to protect.

Why is the public so misinformed about topics such as this? With the amount of oil drilling that is done on daily basis it must be assumed that spills such as the one April 20th are bound to happen and the possible solutions such as chemical dispersants should be understood by the general public so they can help shape policy to handle these situations in ways that best suit them and the environments they live in.

This is the problem with scientific journalism in today’s age. The public is poorly informed. These are issues that affect citizens everyday lives. You don’t think they do? Ask the fishermen on the gulf coast if this concerns them.

Dr. Janet MacFall, associate professor of Elon University’s Environmental Studies department feels that the public relies on the news for such information when she says that, ” the majority of citizens don’t read scientific journals for news about science”, their primary resource for scientific information is going to be news organizations.

Because the gulf coast fishermen live hand in hand with their environments, they understand what is and isn’t best for the ecology of the areas live. They have even suggested using hay instead of chemical dispersants because it is cheap, would effectively absorb the oil, environmentally friendly, and sustainable. An ideal solution for all parties involved. They’ve been doing their own research for decades and even centuries by living within these ecosystems.

Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images
Instead of building the $365 million rig, and spending BP spending $500,000 a day to rent it (Bloomberg), they could be putting that money into research and development of alternative and sustainable energy sources, as I’m sure President Obama and the citizens he is suppose to serve hoped they would. Besides the continuous “empty talk” commercials these oil companies air on TV, saying they are working on developing these alternatives, they need to be showing the public what they are coming up with and beginning to implementing it, not just talking about it.

Where are we, as citizens going to get sound science news in the near future. Perhaps it will be from citizens themselves. Dr. Jeffrey Coker of Elon’s Biology department feels that, “citizens are capable of conducting sound research and sharing with the public their findings.

By putting science in their own hands, citizens will be more informed of issues that are important to them and more likely to take action, much like the fisherman offering their assistance in the gulf coast oil spill.

The more we talk about this spill in the news, perhaps we can persuade these oil companies to take more proactive actions and responsibility for what they are doing to harm ecosystems and our livelihoods. It is clear that with efforts such as those mentioned above, the horizon of the deep water won’t be so murky.

For a live tracker and video stream of the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico which can be downloaded and embedded into your website visit the PBS website.

Costa Rica and Earth University, LaFlor: Day 3/Part 1

12 01 2010

Jan. 09, 2010

Guanacasted National Park/Buena Vista Resort

Pura Vida from Costa Rica!  It’s 5:30 A.M. and I’m waiting to hear from the howlers but we must have beat them to awaking.  I think we are their alarm clock today as they start howling during breakfast.

For breakfast we are enjoying eggs, rice, beans, fresh cheese, papaya, pineapple, watermelon and probably the best orange juice and coffee I’ve ever tasted in my life.

After breakfast we are off to Guanacaste National Park to do some hiking and sightseeing with our guide for the day, Luis.  Also joining us is Ali, who arrived last night, who is a geologist from east Africa helping LaFlor look for locations on the property to create natural reservoirs to store water from the local watershed to use for the irrigation of LaFlor’s crops.

We are on the bus and beginning our 45 minute journey to the mountains.  Fifteen minutes into the drive Luis has us pull over on this dirt road to explain how the vegetation is changing a we begin our ascent towards the range.

This change in vegetation what is referred to as succession is a result of the of the change in temperature and water availability as you move higher up the mountain.  The rainforest in the part of Costa Rica we are in is slightly different than what most people would consider a rain forest.  Costa Rica is divided centrally by a mountain range that runs from the north to south through the majority of the country.  As the weather moves from the east, the heavy, water-filled clouds need to release their moisture in the form of  rain in order to ascend and cross over the mountains.  As a result there is less precipitation on the west side of the range, resulting in what is called a “dry” rainforest.

About twenty minutes from our destination and Luis has the bus pull over again and we get out next to the Colorado River which passes through LaFlor.  This is the source of LaFlor’s water used in irrigation and this particular location is where a lot of there water sample are collected to test for quality.  He follow Luis down a path and withing seconds we are standing atop a 40 foot gorge carved out by the river and complete with ancient petroglyphs.

After our quick stop at the river we have reached our destination at Guanacaste National Park and I am pumped and ready to attack this climb, full army pack and all.  We begin the ascent, then descent, then ascent again working our way through the trail and are amazed at the various flora found in the pre-mountainous level of the the volcano.

I have to admit, it’s very hard to watch where you are going and your footing while constantly being tempted to look around and the splendor of the forest.  Ahead I heard the scream of Emily and as I approach I see everyone tending to Linda who slipped on a rock while crossing the river and busting her lip and scraping her knee.  I have to tell you Linda is tiny in stature but HUGE in heart and adventure.  Not a single complaint or expression comes out of her mouth or from her face.  That is one tough girl.

After a few minutes of making sure she is okay, we continue on and quickly reach the next level of succession which included flora that would be more familiar in a temperate region of the world such as North America.

Our LaFlor host Luis guiding us through the trail

After a few minutes we reached the next level of succession resembling grasslands.  This point in two and a half hours into our hike and we take a break to enjoy the amazing view and take out my first aid kit to clean up Linda’s scratches  (and people mocked me for hiking with all my gear).  I have to be honest, the view from up hear was so stunning that I got a little emotional as goosebumps covered my body.

After our quick break we and on the move and heading down a descent to our final destination, a stunning 120 foot waterfall.  I’m the last one arriving at the waterfall as I am constantly talking pictures, and am almost knocked over as I came around the corner of the trail and see one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in my life.  It took me less than a minute to get changed into my swim suit and get into the cold yet invigorating water below the fall.  I’m even daring enough to swim my camera out the fall to get some pictures from directly below.

After an hour or so of swimming and lunch we are off the head back to the bus.  I’m not sure how this is possible but we are doing more climbing up as we head back down the mountain.  I am exhausted as we reach the end of the trip back and my legs feel like Jello.  About 45 minutes from the base camp I come across a tree I noticed when we first entered the forest that rose about 60 or 70 feet in the air and bent almost horizontally towards the top.  On the way in I thought to myself that would be a awesome tree to climb as it was covered in thick vines.  As I return to it, I remind myself that I may never have this opportunity again, so I begin to climb up with camera in tow.  This is so cool…I’m climbing a tree in a Costa Rican rainforest, Bear Grylls style.  Without any fear what so ever, only exhilaration, I reach the top and am greeted by a colony of army ants that aren’t as excited about my accomplishment as I am.  With little regard for the red buggers with giant mandibles that are ripping into my flesh I proceed to take pictures of the top of the canopy and Phillip and Emily below.

I am so amped that I climbed that tree.  I am sure living this trip to the fullest as I had hoped I would.  Pura Vida!  Well, I’ve caught up to the rest of the group and I’m ready to get off my feet and get some water.  This has been one of the best days of my life and can’t imagine what is to come in the following week.  Stay tuned for more, I have a feeling there is a lot of it. 

Costa Rica and Earth University-Day 2

9 01 2010


Liberia, Costa Rica

I awoke on day two of our trip to Costa Rica, at 6:30 A.M. to the sound of the nearby trolley blaring it’s horn as it delivered people to their jobs or adventures for the day.  At first I was annoyed, but began to chuckle as I realized it was probably the city’s alarm clock.

I climbed out of be and showered as my classmates slept in and roamed around the Costa Rica Backpackers hostel taking pictures of the beautiful flora located on the site.

Once the rest of my classmates woke up (minus Professor Motley who managed to sleep in despite the train) and showered, we headed off to find some breakfast and an ATM to get some colones (some more than they wanted due to the conversion rate…lol).  We walked a couple of blocks downtown and found a local grocer where I purchased mochachino and a large croissant, which was absolutely delicious.  I swear pastries are so much better in countries other than the United States.   We need to work on that…honestly.

After breakfast our bus and it’s driver Benicio arrived to pick us up to continue our journey in Costa Rica.  Today we were off to Liberia to spend the week with Earth University at their LaFlor campus.  It’s a five hour drive across the country traversing multiple fog covered mountain peaks and views of the ocean and volcanoes.

Three hours into the drive we made a pit stop to use the facilities, play with a couple of Boxer puppies, and take a group photo.

Shortly after our pit stop, Benicio suddenly stopped the bus on the side of the road.  Little did we know, our bus driver had a keen eye, and spotted Howler monkeys in a tree right next to the road.

Howler monkeys in a roadside tree

Shortly there after we stopped by a little place on the side of the road to stretch our legs and take a look at some Scarlet Macaws that were known to hang out at this little restaurant.  I’m not sure they were too please with the group of people gawking at them as they would not stop squawking at us.  Although, knowing Macaws as I do, they might have just been putting on a show as they spied down on us from above.

An hour after being laughed at by the Macaws we arrived at our destination, Earth University’s LaFlor campus.  The facility is a beautiful plot of land that was donated to Earth by Costa Rica’s former president prior to his death.  This place is absolutely incredible.  I’ve been getting chills all day as I continue to discover it’s endless beauty and wildlife.

We were greeted by Luis and Carlos and treated to an amazing lunch consisting of salad, rice, beans, and chicken cordon bleu made from ingredients grown right here at LaFlor.  That might have been the best salad I’ve ever had considering the vegetables from picked right from the garden.

After lunch Carlos explained a little bit about Earth University and what they do before he had to leave for Nicaragua for a few days.  Upon his departure, Lius stepped in and continued by explaining what they do here at LaFlor.  Earth University is a school that offers scholarships to students from Central and South America, about 100 per year, and teaches them sustainable agriculture and conservation in hopes that they take what they learn and become stewards in their own countries by educating their neighbors how to keep their beautiful ecosystems intact and thriving.

LaFlor, however has a different mission.  They host organizations and schools and educate them about biodiversity and ecosystems and how to sustainably live on their own land and save it for generations to come.  Their mission is to not only make people understand how they are connected and reliant on Earth and it’s ecology, but also how to live what Costa Rican’s call “pura vida“.  After only a few hours here, I can assure you it is something we all will want and should do.  The world would be a much better place because of it.

Well, I’m off to bed.  Stay tuned to the next installment coming soon.  Buenas noches!

Costa Rica and Earth University, LaFlor: Day 1

9 01 2010

Jan. 7, 2010

I am in San Jose, Costa Rica!!!  As part of Elon University’s Interactive Media program, myself and 10 of my classmates are spending 10 days of our winter-term class in Costa Rica working on a project for Earth University.  Earth University teaches students as well as farmers about sustainable agriculture and ecological conservation.

My classmates and I departed from Elon University at 4 a.m. this morning and headed to Raleigh-Durham International Airport to begin our journey south.  Within a couple of hours we were descending into the cloud covered mountains of San Jose during our approach.

Tilt your head to the left

We arrived at 2:30 p.m. in San Jose and were greeted with warmth not only from the sun but also from the Latin population.  As my first extended trip to a foreign country, I was amazed and delighted, upon our arrival at San Jose International Airport to see the place buzzing with activity.  Hundreds of Costa Ricans outside the airport awaiting the arrival of their loved ones, cheering and singing.  It was a sight I have never seen at any airport in the United States.  I couldn’t help but smile.

We were shown to the coolest mini bus I have ever seen.  A white and baby blue two-tone Toyota Cruiser with a retro look and hinted back to the time of the micro-bus.  We were taken to downtown San Jose and dropped off at the Costa Rica Backpackers youth hostel on 6th St.  This is my first time experiencing a hostel and I have to say it is an incredible place.  The staff and other guest are as interesting and friendly as you could possible imagine.  The vibes I am getting from this place is exhilarating.

Upon checking in to the hostel we departed for a wonderful dinner at Nuesta Tierra two blocks down the road where I was treated to authentic Costa Rican cuisine.  I had beef strips with bacon, onion, sweet peppers, and fried plantains on tortillas.  This was my first time tasting plantains, but now I assure you it won’t be my last.  They are fantastic.

After dinner we returned to the hostel to enjoy happy hour at the hostel with my classmates and other guests.  The people here are so open and friendly.  I feel as safe as I would on Elon’s campus.

I write this as all my other classmates have headed to bed after a long day of travel and lack of sleep and can’t wait for the nine days ahead.

Tomorrow morning we head to Liberia, Costa Rica where Earth University’s LaFlor Campus is located.  There we are going to videotape and photograph the campus as well as interview it’s students and professors about what it is they do at the LaFlor campus.  We will gather information about their efforts in sustainable agriculture and ecological conservation education so we can develop a new LaFlor website to promote their cause.

Considering this first day has already brought great job I can only imagine what we will experience in the coming days.  This is already turning out to be the greatest adventure of my life, and for a cause that is near and dear to my heart.

Be sure to keep up with my upcoming blog updates from Costa Rica.  Talk to you soon.