Marine Biology Take Two

I am back in Hawaii with our marine biology school trip. We are doing lots of the same activities we did last year, but there’s always new things to learn about and see.

The first couple of days were confined to dry land learning about the ecology of the island. The idea is the everything that happens on the land will impact the ocean environments and animals.

Activities included a hike up Lahina Pali trail to see the dry side of the island, a trip to the Maui Ocean Science Center, and exploring the newest lava flow on the island at La Perouse Bay (only 200 years old).

We followed that up with a couple of service projects. The first was a beach cleanup at the Wiahe’e Coastal Dunes Reserve. Maui Cultural Lands have been restoring this site for the last 15 years. Now it’s a beautiful wetlands site with all native plants. Our second service project was pulling invasive species in Honokowai Valley like we did last year. This year we got fresh papaya and sugar cane as a reward for our hard work.

We went snorkeling at Slaughterhouse bay as our first foray into the water. It was much more exciting than lass year because there were tons of turtles, color changing trumpetfish, and lots of butterfly fish.

We had a busy day on Monday with tidepooling in the morning and a trip to Haleakala in the afternoon and evening. We found a bunch of cool stuff in the tidepools this year, including a bunch of sap sucking slugs. They eat algae but instead of digesting the chloroplasts, they hang onto them and use the sugars they make for food. Super cool!!

Haleakala is always magical and a trip to the Leleiwi lookout was a great treat with a different perspective of the valley floor. We were worried that we might not get a good sunset because the clouds came in during the afternoon, but the summit cleared up and we got a beautiful show.

Again, I feel so lucky to be a part of this trip. At this point we are halfway through and most of our activities are snorkel trips. It’s going to be awesome!!


Marine Biology Final Word

The first five days of the trip were absolutely amazing and the second five days of the trip definitely didn’t disappoint. We went on 4 more snorkeling adventures, sailing to unique spots each time. The ocean animals amazed us at Honoloa Bay, Slaughterhouse Bay, Molikini, Turtle Town, and at a random lava finger reef near Turtle Town. We even got a boat captain to take us over to Lanai to snorkel. We were the only boat along the whole coast and it was the best coral cover I have ever seen.

I can’t figure out which spot was my favorite, as they all had some kind of unique quality. Honoloa Bay had too many fish to count, a turtle and manta ray cleaning station, and a school of something that made the reef look like a highway. Slaughterhouse Bay had more turtles and cornetfish changing colors. Molikini had a crown of thorns starfish and an eel that explored half the reef while we watched. Turtle town didn’t disappoint with the turtles. The random lava finger showed us a white-tipped reef shark in a cave and after we rolled off the side of our kayaks. Lanai was a coral covered paradise full of colors, more sharks, more fish, and no other snorkelers to bump into.

I wish that I had brought an underwater camera, but there’s no way a photo could capture the beauty of that underwater realm so I’ll just leave it to your imagination!

Other activities took us to Waihe’e ridge for a service project pulling invasive species and then planting native species. It was nice to give back to such a wonderful island and culture.


We investigated a midwater reef via an actual submarine. It was super cool exploring the shipwreck at 120 ft. More white-tipped reef sharks, rays, lots of fish, and coral with evidence of growth could be seen out the port windows.

One of the last adventures was to explore La Perouse Bay. This area is the most recent lava flow on the island and is rocky and desolate and absolutely beautiful. It has ruins from an old Hawaiian village right along the water line.


This trip was something special. It was eye-opening to be able to share it with the next generation, experiencing that awe and wonder all over again through their eyes. It’s also comforting to know that the next generation has an appreciation of our natural world. I hope they will help to save it!

Marine Biology Update

The first five days of our class have been action packed and very rewarding, so I thought I’d share some of the activities we’ve done.

Day 2 activities included tidepooling near our condos and a trip to Iao Valley. Tidepooling rewarded us with rock boring urchins, several types of crabs, harlequin shrimp, bright flatworms, and an octopus that inked all over us.

Iao Valley was home to the King of Maui and when King Kamehama from the big island came to try and take over Maui there was a huge battle in the valley. There are a variety of plant life, as the valley and surrounding hills are the second rainiest place on earth.

Day three found us doing a service project removing invasive plants from the Honokowai valley on the northwest side of the island. There are ruins of old Hawaiian villages in the valley from 800 years ago. The students pulled invasive for a while and then learned more about the ahupua’a system where people are responsible for a pie slice of land reaching from the mountains all the way to the sea. Everything is interconnected and thus everyone is responsible to everyone else. Late afternoon found us at Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge learning about wetlands, endangered birds, and plants.

Day four was epic! We started off the morning with our first snorkel of the trip at Ulua Beach. The visibility wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough to see lots of pencil urchins, triggerfish, and yellow tangs.

The afternoon found us headed in the opposite direction – up! We drove up to the top of Haleakala. On the way we stopped for a hike at Hosmer Grove to explore the differences between alien and native forests. We headed to the upper visitor center for a clear view of the crater and to talk more about how the Hawaiian Islands formed. Then we found a parking place at the summit, ate our bag dinners, and stayed to watch the sunset. I think it’s safe to say that it was the most majestic, awe-inspiring, and breath-taking sunset I’ve ever experienced.

Day five started off with a tour and talk with Pacific Biodiesel at their sunflower fields. They take used frying oil from all over the islands and distill it into biodiesel. They have started to expand their business model and are growing sunflowers to use in making biodiesel. A couple fun facts – 1 acre of sunflowers can make 100 gallons of biodiesel, 1 gallon of used oil can be made into 0.95 gallons of biodiesel, and all of the garbage and recycling trucks on Maui run on biodiesel. It was super interesting!

The afternoon was spent on the Alii Nui sailing to Olowalu Bay to go snorkeling. Not only was the boat ride amazing, but the snorkeling was fantastic! So much fish diversity and there were turtles as well. This site also had some large Parrotfish and wrasse cleaning stations where large fish can get their parasites eaten by smaller fish. It’s like a fish car wash!

Here’s to the next five days being equally exciting!

Marine Biology

I have the opportunity this year to help teach a marine biology class at school. Along with my coastal ecology JanTerm, this is the closest I’ve come to teaching something I’ve been trained for.

The class is a fairly unique chance for students to directly experience a subject. There are two weeks of on-campus learning that includes topics on oceanography, biology, marine biology, and Hawaiian Island geology and natural history. This is followed by a two week trip to Hawaii.

Yes I said a two week trip to Hawaii! I love my job!

While in Hawaii the students get to experience the natural world in truly hands-on fashion. We will be hiking, snorkeling, kayaking, going on boat rides, learning about the new biodiesel industry, exploring volcanoes, tidepooling, and wave analysis activities (i.e., surfing).

Day 1 included a short hike exploring the dry coastal hillside habitats. Students learned to make observations and identify plants. They practiced their journaling skills and shared information they learned previously about the plants they found. We picked up snorkeling gear in anticipation of our five snorkeling adventures. We also took a trip to the Maui Ocean Center. They have a fantastic aquarium set up with all local species and frequently rehabilitate organisms and return them to the ocean. They have a great collection of local sharks in their big tank.

It’s really great constantly hearing students brag about all the cool stuff they have learned.

Here’s to a good two weeks!

The “New” Sunroom

When we bought our house, one of the huge draws was the amazing sunroom connected to the living room and opening out onto the back patio. The sellers had it decorated with a nice comfy couch, rug, coffee table and a high top table to eat at. It looked like the perfect little nook and hang out area.

When we moved in we quickly realized that this “sunroom” did in fact have a lot of sun and in Georgia during the summer, that means it gets really hot. Correspondingly, in the winter it gets really cold. This really isn’t a result of the amount of sun the room gets, but rather that it isn’t connected to the house’s central air and isn’t sealed (i.e., we can literally see the sky at the corners where the brick meets the sunroom walls). The sunroom was in fact sealed up at some point, but the caulk has long since become brittle and broken away from the little nooks it was shoved into.

For us, the room turned into a spider and cockroach heaven and a place to keep some plants. Maybe if we were feeling industrious and the weather was nice we would clean up and play some games at the free table and chairs we had there. It wasn’t a horrible place when it was clean, but it just wasn’t being used.

We started tossing ideas around for remodeling when we realized that we had an extra full-sized couch coming our way that wouldn’t fit in the house proper. Those ideas spiraled into ideas of putting in new flooring, french doors, tearing out the walls, putting in skylights, etc… We were giddy with ideas.

Coming back to reality, we decided that we would start small and wanted to make sure that we actually use the space before we go all the way with remodeling. Picking up our couch and having a UHAUL rental for a couple of days, we took the brave step and made a bee-line for IKEA (love that place).

We put our free table and chairs and the old, but not horrible, couch we have had for years on craigslist and put them out at the curb for free. The table and chairs were gone in an hour. The couch is still there. Can’t really blame them. It’s not that fantastic.

Our newly picked up couch joined a new coffee table, rug, some lamps, curtains, a lot of caulk, and a couple of kitchen islands repurposed into a bar and we have a “new” sunroom!

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After – curtains and caulking still need to be done


After at Night

North Carolina Museum of Natural History

We were up in Raleigh this past weekend. Asa had to work so I went to play. Of course the science nerd I am headed straight for the Natural History Museum.

This is the second time I’ve been there and it didn’t disappoint, again. The museum does a couple of things really well:

1. It’s free!

2. They have an amazing collection of live animals including snakes, fish, turtles, frogs, and insects.

3. They have a butterfly room you can walk through with lots of live butterflies. Warning – it’s closed on Monday’s.

4. They have a whole section of the museum dedicated to research and education. There are science labs with glass windows so you can look inside and see what the scientists are doing. In addition they have “meet the researchers and learn about the research” time.

5. Dinosaurs!
Great for kids and science nerds alike! I thoroughly enjoyed myself!

Energy Audit

Now that we have gotten settled from all the holiday and school traveling, we have started focusing on the house. Well that’s kind of a lie… We actually got an energy audit done on the house before Thanksgiving and we’re just now dealing with the results.

Anyway… What is an energy audit? Well, it’s a comprehensive review of your house and it’s ability to maintain internal conditions (temperature and humidity). The goal is to identify aspects of your house’s construction or appliances that are deficient, defective, or costing you a lot to use and make repairs/replacements to lower your cost on energy and make your home more efficient. The best part about this process is that the power company encourages it and will give rebates (up to about $3000 for GeorgiaPower) if you can reduce your energy usage by certain amounts.

Our house is basically a leaky sieve with a 25 year old HVAC system and lots of awesome windows, so we knew there were plenty of things that needed some work. We decided to work with a local company that came with a glowing recommendation, Energy Conservation Solutions (ECS).


We worked with them through a 3-step process:

  1. Initial energy audit – The crew comes to your house and assesses everything including weather stripping, appliances, large systems like HVAC and water heater, window sealing, fans, etc… They assess how well your house is sealed from the outside using a vacuum apparatus where they pump air out of your house and look at where air comes back in using a nifty little instrument that detects differences in temperature. They head back to their office and write up a detailed report, including pictures, and prioritize issues based on the easiest to fix vs. most energy gains if it is fixed. This includes an estimated cost of the work if they were to do it (you can also contract everything out if you want).
  2. Do the work – We decided to have ECS do all the work for us because it was easy and we trusted the quality of work they would do. We had some extensive work done, including the installation of copious amounts of insulation in the attic space and a complete sealing off of our crawl space. The work took 3 days. The crew was great.
  3. Re-assess – After all the work is completed ECS comes back to the house to re-test the house for energy improvements and sealing. They must notify Georgia Power in case it wants to send people to oversee. We were told they rarely show up, but we must be really lucky because not one, but two people showed up from Georgia Power. Under normal circumstances this process should only take about an hour, and then ECS will fill out all the paperwork and submit it to Georgia Power and a rebate comes in the mail. Easy peasy!

Unfortunately our special house failed the re-assessment. Now that the house is all nice and sealed up, part of the re-assessment is to make sure that our big systems (HVAC and water heater) can run properly and control their wastes (like carbon monoxide). To do this, they test them at maximal levels and then at normal use levels. Our water heater failed at both levels and our HVAC failed at the maximal level. So, before they were just old and now they’re a safety hazard. It wasn’t a surprise because they are 25 years old and this is why we were so adamant about extending our home warranty for three years. So now we have 60 days to get new major systems and submit paperwork to Georgia Power to get our rebate. Ouch! On the other hand, when we’re done with everything our house is going to be super duper energy efficient!


JanTerm and the Wassaw Island National Wildlife Refuge

As a teacher at a fantastic school, I get the opportunity to do some pretty cool things. This past week was no exception. The Westminster Schools (high school only) decided last year to implement a January term; a three week learning experience for students to explore concepts that they normally wouldn’t be exposed to during the regular classes. Teachers were requested to design courses that were interdisciplinary, with focuses on meeting people, traveling, and interactive hands-on activities. Classes include The Science of Cooking, Biotechnology, DIY Culture, Sports Medicine, Entrepreneurship, Journalism, and my favorite class: Coastal Ecology and Culture of the Southeast.

51QQKSS3BALThe class I teach (Coastal Ecology and Culture of the Southeast) was designed to introduce students to the science of coastal habitats like salt marshes, estuaries, maritime forests, and barrier islands. Within this context students learned about the local people and culture (the Gullah-Geechee) by visiting museums, talking to locals, and reading God, Dr. Buzzard, and the Bolito Man By Cornelia Walker Bailey (a Gullah-Geechee woman that still lives on Sapelo Island, Georgia).

The highlight of this class is a week-long field trip to Skidaway Island and the UGA marine extension service. While there, students were able to interact with the communities they were introduced to in the classroom. They explored biodiversity, learned about the animals and plants, got their hands dirty, and explored.


Sampling invertebrates off the dock at the marine extension service.


Tromping through the salt marsh exploring and getting muddy.



Under the Pier at Tybee Island.



View from above the pier at Tybee Island.


At the Pinpoint Museum, a Gullah-Geechee facility near Skidaway Island.


Learning how to make a crab net from a Gullah-Geechee man at Pinpoint.

The week culminated in a trip to Wassaw Island, part of the Wassaw Island National Wildlife Refuge. Wassaw Island is a protected and undeveloped barrier island. People are allowed to visit without any permits, but no boats are allowed to stay docked or ashore and there is no overnight camping. Because of this, the island is pristine. The maritime forest is on its way to developing a climax community of live oak trees, alligators wander around in the holes they have dug for the winter, the wrack on the beach harbors little crabs, the birds stretch out in large flocks, and the beach is littered with shells and driftwood. There is not a footprint in sight.

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So, thanks to my school for making this happen. I can only hope that my students understand the opportunity they have been given to enjoy and interact with nature! I truly believe that experiences like these can shape people and help make them better stewards of the earth.

Walkabout – Holiday Style

We have always been a relatively untraditional family, but our holidays still involve eating copious amounts of food and consuming too much liquor. Everything else we do is generally done so that we can “eat more later” or to “make up for what we’ve already eaten”.

We usually make an effort to get outside and do active things. This Christmas day we had a walkabout through the neighborhood. It just happens to be a block from the beach and it just happened to be a gorgeous day.

We set out with no plans, but came home three hours later with new nooks explored and a renewed appreciation for the sleepy little beach town of Morro Bay, California.

Some highlights included:


The duck pond at a housing tract right along the beach called the Cloisters. We learned that black coots have coot babies with fuzzy yellow heads (not pictured).


Gorgeous views of Morro Rock from the newly completed bike/walking path.


Surfers trying to catch little waves at the breakwater. Its hard to imagine that when the swells come through that the surf is huge!


A secret canopy of trees lining the path behind Morro Bay High School.

Other highlights not pictured include the derelict miniature golf course in front of the high school and random trees along the bike path that were decorated with ornaments.

What new treasures have you discovered on your walkabouts?

Christmas Cookie Exchange

I first experienced this phenomenon a couple years ago when a friend invited me to a Christmas cookie exchange, and again this past weekend. The idea is that a bunch of friends get together and each person brings a small number of cookies to share with every other person. Each person goes home with the same number of cookies they brought, but with more variety. Sometimes there is a recipe exchange included so that if you really like your friend’s cookies you can make them yourself. So here’s my top 9 list of Christmas cookie exchange awesomeness:

  1. It is an excuse to consume butter and sugar. Lots of it!
  2. It lets you see people that you might not normally see, or meet new people if you like that kind of thing!
  3. You can get a good laugh out of other people’s tacky Christmas sweaters (and you can wear one if you like tacky).ugly_christmas_toilet_santa_sweater_2
  4. It usually involves getting to eat other holiday treats like spinach dip, nacho cheese, meatballs, pretzels with hershey’s kisses melted on top, and punch (spiked of course).
  5. You get to bake. This one could be good or bad, depending on how good at baking you are. If you are the person that makes a bunch of cookie dough and then realizes that you don’t own baking sheets, this might not be enjoyable to you!
  6. Variety. Enough said.FNK_12_DAYS_OF_COOKIES_OPENER_H_s4x3.jpg
  7. You make the people you live with happy by bringing home treats, although I warn that this could backfire if your friends can’t bake.
  8. If you aren’t so into the holidays, it can count as your one holiday party!
  9. Did I mention butter and sugar?