Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Life in Plastic

Staggering volumes of plastic garbage infect the oceans. The images of sperm whales, sea turtles, and albatross with their innards full of ingested plastic are the stuff of nightmares. A recent report from The Guardian brings new haunting visions. Henderson Island—an uninhabited island in the South Pacific—has the highest density of anthropogenic debris found anywhere in the world, being buried under 38 million pieces of plastic debris, weighing in at 18 metric tons. Hermit crabs on the island use bottle caps and cosmetic jars for shells, and one reportedly was seen using in a doll’s head. I’m impressed by the crustacean’s adaptability, but horrified by the world we are forcing them to adapt to.

Plastic is an indestructible material that we use once and then dispose of. But there is no “away;” the toxic miracle material must go somewhere; and all too often its destination is the ocean. Plastic can kill quickly, such as to the turtle that chokes on a balloon; or slowly, by giving people cancer or sterility.

And yet, it’s damn hard to stop using so much plastic. I avoid bottled water and straws, and bring reusable cloth bags to the grocery store. Still, almost every product comes in a plastic container. (That glossy cardboard? It’s coated in plastic!) I’m still searching for ways to de-plastify. Some suggestions can be found here. Marine plastic is a crisis on the same level as global climate change, and requires a similar all-hands-on-deck response.

Highly recommended: A Plastic Ocean, documentary film directed by Craig Leeson, 2017.

Also check out Greenpeace's Story of a Spoon.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Bud, Lord of the Manor

Bud has risen from his long winter’s sleep, and has just had a bath (which is really a long drink, because he drinks through his skin). I caught the venerable Pacman frog on camera after he had hopped onto solid earth again, and before he found a nice spot, and dug himself partway underground, to rest with head poking up from the mud. Apparently, it was exhausting work for Bud, digging himself out of the deeper burrow where he had hibernated for winter. With this task complete, he spends most of the time sleeping or resting. I want to give Bud an earthworm, but I’m still waiting to see Bud with eyes wide open; the sign of hunger. (Or hopping around the terrarium and attacking the glass, the sign of famishment.) It has been many months since he last ate, but the cold-blooded beast plays by a different set of rules than us hyperactive warmbloods. Without meditation or yoga, Bud is naturally at peace. Until hunger rumbles or thirst drives him back to the pool.

Every year, Bud takes a long sleep in a burrow by winter, and rises for spring. His human caretakers have trouble comprehending the different pace by which the amphibian lives. For one reason or another, we have suspected him dead year after year, then are surprised when he reappears, alive and healthy. This year, when warm weather didn’t awaken him, and a bumpy ride from West Virginia to North Carolina didn’t awaken him, we wondered if Bud would not awaken. Then we spotted him in hibernation, having made a burrow near to the glass wall of the terrarium. This gave us a window into Bud’s world, one we had never had before in so many years. The amphibian slept inside a sort of bubble carved out of the soil, and slowly breathed the fresh air. The earth gave insulation, to make a comfortable environment for an exothermic animal. He shifted positions periodically, and sometimes awakened for a little while. Now we know how he avoids bedsores.

I acquired Bud when I was a teenager, and the amphibian has led an astonishingly long life for his species of more than 20 years, and there’s no telling how long he will live. After I moved away from home, my Mom, the wise botanist Susan Moyle Studlar, has cared for the creature. Hence, Bud is Lord of the Manor, commanding some able servants. It seems that Bud has taken well to the move from West Virginia to North Carolina, and is getting some healthy sunlight as he looks out the south-facing window beyond his terrarium. The new Studlar family home in North Carolina is a little closer to Bud’s ancestral home of South America. His wild cousins live in the rainforest and prey upon insects, lizards, small mammals, other frogs, and anything that will fit down their gullet! Perhaps the scene that Bud surveys in the photo recalls ancestral memories of the rainforest. Then again, the aged amphibian’s eyesight has declined a bit…. I hope he at least sees some nice splotches of green against the sunlight.

Bud hibernating photo by © Susan Moyle Studlar. Bud belongs to the species Ceratophrys ornata.