Oceans in Danger

Every time I dive, I find new and exciting animal life, new plants, new ocean life. I actively study particularly fish and mammals so I can identify what I see. The ocean is a world of unending wonder. 

But, during World Oceans Week, when we celebrate our water world, it's also important to ask, what's at stake? 

Every time I dive , and every time I walk on the beach, I see garbage: from things as small as little plastic toys to huge things like tires, old refrigerators, and even train cars! 

I think maybe for a long time, people didn't understand the special relationship we have with the ocean, the way it helps to provide us with food, to regulate the temperature of the planet, and to give us a place to play and relax. Instead, the ocean was a garbage dump. 


The ocean has trash for two main reasons: 1. people throw their trash there and 2. our garbage makes its way into the ocean accidentally through spills and the wind and accidents. 

However it gets there, our actions are making healthy ocean waters a big underwater garbage dump. 

Do you really want to spend time in a garbage dump? No! Me either!

Today, people all around the world are thinking hard and coming up with ideas about how to protect and fix our oceans.

To celebrate World Oceans Week, I bet you have some ideas! What can we do to help? Think big AND small!  

How About An Ocean Quest?

When I’m not busy writing, I am lucky to be a volunteer at the New York Aquarium. It’s a super cool job—I get to dive in all the exhibits, visit all of of my underwater friends, and learn about our marine world. But more about that some other time. Today, my question is: would you like to go on an ocean quest? Do you have what it takes to be a shark researcher? Do you think you can find animals hidden in our underwater coral city, Glover's Reef?

What's a quest? Well, quests are usually challenges. Sometimes in books, they are things that our heroes have to accomplish to get to a goal. Fortunately for you, today, we're not talking about quests that involve quicksand or tidal waves or ferocious, imaginary beasts.

To celebrate World Ocean Week, the New York Aquarium has some super fun activities planned. One of them is a quest! Instead, this quest has some challenges that help you to gather information, perform cool tasks, and triumph as you become an OCEAN EXPERT! When you get to the aquarium, you pick up your quest brochure. Then, as you visit the different exhibits at the aquarium, you complete a quest and get a special stamp! If you can accomplish all of the quests, that will be QUITE a day at the New York Aquarium AND you'll know a lot more about the ocean!

2017 Quest Booklet for World Oceans Day at the New York Aquarium

2017 Quest Booklet for World Oceans Day at the New York Aquarium

You can be a shark scientist for the day! What do you think you can learn by watching our sand tiger sharks, our sandbar sharks, and our nurse sharks? Do you think you could learn 3 differences between those sharks so you know which ones are which when they swim by to say hello in the exhibit?

You can be a shark scientist for the day! What do you think you can learn by watching our sand tiger sharks, our sandbar sharks, and our nurse sharks? Do you think you could learn 3 differences between those sharks so you know which ones are which when they swim by to say hello in the exhibit?

I love to geek out learning new things—especially when I use my super powers of observation. How about you? Are you up for a little fun learning? If so, and if you’re in NYC this weekend, see if you and your parents can visit the aquarium for a fun time!

Bonus! The aquarium is also giving away these amazing maps of the New York Seascape for free! Produced by National Geographic and the Wildlife Conservation Society, the map shows the abundance of animal life right off of our New York City shores. I got a copy of the map today and I can't wait to hang it up in my office. I always say, it’s amazing to think about the fact that New York City dwellers are actually island people! 

Make sure you head up to the boardwalk too! There are several cool new murals, winners of this year's conservation mural contest, underway. I got a sneak peek of them today. Here they are in process!

New Yorkers

A deer on the subway? What? That's just silly!

Okay. So maybe you're not going to see a deer on a subway (well, actually, it's New York City, so we can't rule anything out. You wouldn't believe some of the things I've seen on the subway). But, nature in New York City surprises people sometimes. 

Even though New York is a huge city with lots of traffic and buildings, we have nature here too. I am totally in love with this new campaign called #WildlifeNYC that is bringing awareness to some of the wild New Yorkers you might see every day: white-tailed deer, eastern coyote, raccoon, red-tailed hawk, and piping plover. Of course, as a savvy reader of this blog, you already know about some of the underwater New Yorkers here in our waters! 

All photos are from #WildlifeNYC by the City of New York: http://www1.nyc.gov/site/wildlifenyc/index.page

The pictures and images for this campaign are really beautiful. And, the text is meant to surprise you: "City dwellers take many forms." I've seen these images on the subway and they're really cool because they are unexpected! It's important to remind people about the other New Yorkers who live in this magnificent city, not just the humans!

What do you think? Is this ad campaign cool? 

If you were going to make a campaign to raise awareness about something where you live, what would you choose? Are there everyday things in your town or city that go unseen? Are there things people should be reminded about? How would you go about doing it?

Bryan Collier

At SCBWI, I had the chance to hear Bryan Collier speak. I didn't know Collier's work, but I was excited to hear him give the keynote address. I was thoroughly unprepared for the emotional depth and power of his talk.

I've been thinking a lot about loss lately: loss of a friend, loss of a parent, loss of a loved one. What does absence mean and how do kids process it? How can we help kids through it? How can we help them when loss creates a person-shaped hole in their lives? 

Enter Bryan Collier's forceful and luminous talk at SCBWI. He discussed Knock Knock: My Dad's Dream for Me and it chronicles a boy growing up with an absent father. The book is a version of Daniel Beaty's poem "Knock Knock." The book, however, is more ambiguous about the father's absence: Death? Disappearance? Divorce? Military Obligation? Incarceration? Homelessness? Drugs? The book never says. The poem, in its original version, focuses on incarceration. 

I've been thinking about what it means to grow up without a parents (or parents) and the toll that takes over a life time and how a kid shapes a meaningful life in the face of that loss and hopefully how the adults around them can help them to move forward in spite of that loss. 

In his talk at SCBWI, Collier started by talking about the importance of books with characters who look like the kids reading them. He talked about Ezra Jackson Keats' Snowy Day and having the same pajamas as Peter. He talked about Harold and the Purple Crayon and identifying with Harold. Through his examples, he showed the power of stories with everyday kids and being able to identify with the characters one reads. I thought about my unusual childhood growing up as the child of a minister and how there were never any books that echoed my life in the "fish bowl" as I grew to think of it: always on display, even private actions became public. 

He also talked about his technique of building collages and how they were influenced by his grandmother's artistry as a quilt maker. He talked about the power of putting together those colors and different shapes. 

I thought about bed time, after my mother had all four of us kids in bed. She would sit down to the piano to play, the echoes of her practicing lulling us to sleep and letting us know she was there. I preferred her piano time to sewing or writing, because I could hear her. And I wonder what it would have been like to grow up with a silent void in that space. 

Knock Knock is a book that fills in that question. In the face of his father's absence, a boy has to learn, in Collier's words, "how to create a beautiful life in spite of loss." The book begins with a game: father and son playing "knock knock." But one day, the father's knock doesn't come. Throughout the gorgeous pictures, we see the boy writing letters and sending them as paper airplanes out into the world. We see an elephant in his childhood room marching around the room in shadows. We see a loving and devoted mother, raising her child in a world of love and loss. We see the missing fathers in houses around the boy as faces on the roofs of buildings. And we see the boy grow into a man who starts a business and a family and who, presumably, lives out his father's dream.

You have to read the book for yourself. Because this is a book built on the power of Daniel Beaty's poem. But it's a book that's all about the images: visualizing what loss means, what it means to see echoes of his father everywhere, what it means to grow up with that haunting absence. The pictures are heartbreakingly gorgeous. There are metaphors and layers on every page. 

And, Collier says, these children are everywhere. They are in your classrooms. They are in your libraries. They are your readers. You see them on the street.

Knock Knock is a book that helps when words aren't possible, when shadows crowd out reality, when loss is too big to name. 

This is an important book. It's a book you should read. It's a book you should own. It's a book you should share. This is the stuff of art. This is the power of words and images. This is a book that matters. 


Bryan Collier at the 2014 National Book Awards Festival (the best 29 minutes you'll spend today)

Daniel Beaty on Def Poetry performing "Knock Knock" (3 minutes)

Bryan Collier's website




WHOI stands for Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. I headed up there for a quick visit to do some last minute research for my book. 

If you haven't been, I HIGHLY recommend an adventure to Woods Hole. It's the name of the town AND the name of the scientific research station. It's also the home for many of the ocean-going research vessels in the Northeast. 

WHOI is one of my (many) favorite places. It's all about hands-on science. The whole village of Woods Hole is dedicated to thinking about ocean research and science. What's not to love?

We were there so I could spend some time studying the model Alvin, WHOI's famous research sub. The staff at the Visitor's Center could not have been more generous with their time and knowledge! We got a great tour and I got lots of resources to help push me over the finish line! 

In addition to being able to see a reproduction of Alvin's controls, you can also see a shark camera featured on a recent Discovery show. Note the shark bite marks on the camera! I also got to look at a shark tag, used to research where sharks travel, up close. It's really like a shark computer: check out all of those circuits and wires! Tags used for tracking sharks and whales communicate with a satellite. Whenever the shark comes to the surface, the tag sends a signal to the satellite. That allows scientists to chart shark movement on a map to learn more about their behavior in the wild. 

There's also a lovely aquarium in Woods Hole. Unlike many aquariums, you can go behind the scenes and learn more about the research they are doing there. I've highlighted some seahorses from my visit to the aquarium.

And, of course, no road trip would be complete without some ocean time! Here, in Massachusetts, there are lots of signs about sharks. Check out all of the things to think about before you hit the water!


SCBWI, the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators holds its winter conference in New York City each year. I've never gone before, in part because I wasn't ready. I've been writing, studying, practicing, and learning about my craft as a children's writer. For the past few years, I've felt like I'm more of a student of children's writing than a professional in the field. As I finish the edits on my completed manuscript, I feel things shifting and changing for me. So, going to SCBWI felt like a big shift from learning to doing. What do professional writers do? They participate in conferences with their colleagues from around the world to dig in and talk about everything happening in children't literature!

I was overwhelmed by the panels, the speakers, the generosity of the participants, the information and the overall vibe. We sang Jane Yolen happy birthday. We told jokes. We wrote. We listened. We learned. Seriously. What could possibly be cooler than a room full of children's writers and illustrators?

I got a chance to test out a new project I've been working on at a roundtable session with 9 other writers. I went to several great panels, but the panel on diversity in children's publishing, something very near and dear to my own work, was phenomenal. Ellen Hopkins and Cynthia Leitich Smith shared their experiences, their approach to writing, resources, materials, and an overview of the field. Their panel was generous, helpful, and practical. Diversity in children's literature is, perhaps, the single most important topic before us right now. I am currently preparing to teach an Introduction to Children's Literature course in New York City. This is a course I teach often, and I struggle to find readings that fully represent the field and history of children's literature. I want my students to be immersed in the field, but I also want to choose texts that my very diverse student body will relate to. I came away from this panel invigorated by the importance of talking about why we need diverse books and why we need to highlight and support diverse authors.  

My favorite talk was Bryan Collier's keynote speech where he talked about the importance of kids seeing kids like themselves in literature. I'm not sure if this was an intentional theme throughout the conference, but it's one that I kept hearing in the panels I attended. Perhaps I am keenly aware of this topic because it's on my own personal radar as I finish my last edits, but I hope I kept hearing it because it was on all of the speakers' minds. I'm going to write more about Bryan's talk later, so suffice it to say, it was one of the most powerful and most meaningful writer talks I've ever heard. 

I came away with more than 30 pages of handwritten notes. One of the cool things at the conference was following the Twitter hashtags. The illustrators win Twitter. Really. Their notes were colorful, playful, and exciting. Mine are messy and took forever to decode later and look like this:

Liz's Handwritten Notes, Boring in Comparison to the Illustrators' Notes, SCBWI 2017 Photo Credit: Liz Summit, 2017

Liz's Handwritten Notes, Boring in Comparison to the Illustrators' Notes, SCBWI 2017

Photo Credit: Liz Summit, 2017

I can't wait for next year's conference! Yay!  

Interested in More?

Check out Cynthia Leitich Smith's site

 Ellen Hopkins' site

Bryan Collier's site


Grup Zone

So, this blog and this site started as a way to extend my adventures, my research, and my thoughts to my readers. As such, 99% of the material here is directed to kid readers and those who are kids at heart. Once in a while, though, I have some adultish thoughts (really, not very often!) that I'd like to share. So, I'm starting a new category called the "Grup Zone." Everything here is always kid friendly, but Grup Zone posts are directed toward my adult readers who are really just kids at heart like me. 

Grups, of course, is the technical term for adults circa 1960, entering our lexicon in 2266. 

This is a Grup: 

Are You Scared of Sharks?

My niece and I recently went to the New York Aquarium (one of my favorite places in the whole world!). When we visited the shark exhibit, she declared, at age 3, that sharks are terrifying and she is scared of them. 

So, today, we're going to talk a little bit about sharks and then we're going to do a SHARK EXPERIMENT! Right from home! How cool is that?

But first, a few quick jawsome (get it?) shark facts. Whenever I talk about diving, I am always asked the same two questions:

1. Have you ever seen any sharks while diving? 


2. Were they scary?

Sharks have a reputation for being the scariest, sassiest, rootinest-tootinest bad boys of the ocean. They're big. They're fast. They have lots of teeth. They can be ferocious. In science, they are called apex predators. That means they are at the absolute top of the food chain: other animals don't hunt and eat them (except for humans).

Many sharks are also considered keystone species. That means that a lot depends on them. Keystone species play an important role in an ecosystem (how everything works together). Think of a honey bee. It's a keystone species because it plays an important role in pollinating flowers. Without bees, flowers would be affected. Without flowers... you get the idea. Sharks are a keystone species for the ocean. Without them, the ocean just doesn't work like it should. 

Sharks vs. Dinosaurs

Now, here, you really have to ask yourself a question. If you are scared of sharks (and I hope you're not!), do you love dinosaurs? Because EVERYONE loves dinosaurs. Did you see Jurassic Park? Those dinosaurs were seriously TRYING TO EAT EVERYONE IN THE MOVIE AND THEY WERE VERY, VERY SCARY, maybe even scareveriest (I made that up). Now, I have to say: I don't think Jurassic Park is a kid's movie. I also know that almost every kid I know over the age of 8 has seen it. So, I'm going to talk about it here. There were parts of Jurassic Park where I had to cover my eyes! While this was, perhaps, an unfair portrayal of dinosaurs (let's remember, lots of dinosaurs were herbivores! They only ate plants!), the point remains: everyone loves dinosaurs even though they are scary. People don't walk around saying "dinosaurs are so scary" or "I hate dinosaurs" or "it's so great dinosaurs are extinct." Instead, we are fascinated by their power, by their intelligence, their movements, and they way they lived. I'm not the only New Yorker who waited in a very long line to see the new Titanosaur at the American Museum of Natural History. Dinosaurs are awesome. But, the same things that we admire about dinosaurs are also true of sharks. The difference? You might, if you're really lucky, run into a shark in the ocean. 

Sharks in Movies

Sharks are important movie stars. When they are in a movie, people pay attention. So, you probably know all about Bruce in Finding Nemo. Bruce was scary. And, he's not alone. Almost every time a shark is in a movie, it's there to scare you. Now, I hope you haven't seen Jaws. Wait a long time before you see it: it's really scary and definitely NOT a kid movie. But, you've heard the music from it. It's the duh-nah, duh-nah, duh-nah music that's used whenever you see a shark fin in the water. Movie and t.v. portrayals of sharks as scary have a lot to do with why we fear them (there are other reasons too, but for now, and for our experiment, I want you to think about how sharks are shown to us, not how they actually are in the ocean). 

Why Oceans Need Sharks

Here's the thing: what is scariest about diving in the ocean is when I don't see any sharks. No sharks means an unhealthy ocean. Because sharks are apex predators, when the ocean is healthy, sharks help to keep the ecosystem in balance. They eat smaller prey, which keeps everything in check. They also help to move fish and other creatures around the ocean. You've probably learned in school about planting and rotating crops: you have to make sure that crops have time to grow and be healthy. In the same way, sea grasses and other ocean plants need time to regrow. Sharks help to move turtles and fish from one spot to another, making sure that ocean plants stay healthy. Sharks also move carbon through the water (mostly by eating dead fish on the ocean floor), which also helps the water to stay balanced and healthy. 

You Thought I Forgot About that Experiment, Didn't You?

Okay, so back to our experiment. Scientists wanted to find out if music affects how you think about sharks. You can read all about their JAWSOME experiment here. It's called "Shark Tunes." And... you can participate in the experiment! At the bottom of the page, there are 3 videos. All 3 videos show the exact same footage of sharks. One video uses "Happy Dolphin" music. Another uses "Scary Shark" music. And the third uses no music at all.

Screenshot from Shark Tunes study, Photo Credit: http://sharktunes.net

Screenshot from Shark Tunes study, Photo Credit: http://sharktunes.net


Here's what I want you to do. Get 3 sheets of paper (or 1 sheet of paper divided into 3 parts). Then, I want you to watch each video. Before you move to the next video, write down (or draw) how you felt about the sharks. What did you see? What did you feel? Then, go to the next video. When you're finished, see if you reacted as the scientists predicted. Did the music make you feel a particular way? What do you think?

Back to My Niece

So, my niece loves the ocean (that's not a big surprise, right?). We spent time talking about sharks and how really, they are just big fish. We watched them swim for a while. They were pretty relaxed. She decided that she likes all fish: little ones, big ones, and even really big ones like sharks. Last week, she called me to tell me that Miss Frizzle said on the Magic School Bus that sharks aren't scary. But she wanted me to know that she already knew that!

Yes, Liz Loves Sharks. And also? Liz is a Shark Maid When She Is Not Writing

PS: Here I am diving with some of my shark friends at the New York Aquarium. See? No big deal. Or rather, a HUGE deal, because it was sooooooo exciting! (Not scary!). Why am I diving with sharks, you ask? Because their exhibit needs to be cleaned. So, here I am, being an underwater window washer. I'm basically a shark maid. 

Inaugural Shark Dive, New York Aquarium, Photo Credit: Megan Weber, 2016

Inaugural Shark Dive, New York Aquarium, Photo Credit: Megan Weber, 2016

Rebuilding Coral Reefs, One Coral At A Time

Today, we're going to dive in (get it?) to coral reef restoration. Some of you may have read my article in Appleseeds Magazine (2013) on saving coral reefs. Well, this summer I got to revisit that important work!

The Coral Restoration Foundation Bonaire has been working in Bonaire to restore the coral reefs. Before we get started though, how about some basics?

Coral reefs are underwater ecosystems that provide a home to thousands of marine animals. Sometimes, people describe coral reefs as underwater gardens. While their beautiful colors make us think of gardens, that's not exactly accurate because corals aren't plants. They're tiny animals!

Coral reefs are built by tiny little animals called coral polyps. There are thousands of polyps in coral reefs. Here is a nifty diagram of a single coral polyp from our friends at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA for short). 

Although we think about warm water corals, the kinds of pictures you see in books and movies of bright colors and warm water and tropical fish, there are also corals in cold water (more on that some other time). Corals in both warm and cold water are essential to the health of the ocean. 

But... sometimes corals die. Maybe you've seen white, bone-like "stones" near the ocean? These are usually skeletons of dead corals. Sometimes, these skeletons are sold in gift shops near beaches as paperweights and jewelry (ps: try not to wear coral jewelry. This is often live coral that was killed to make jewelry. Yuck!).

Corals die for lots of reasons. Pollution in the water, water that gets too warm, seawater with too much acid in it, catastrophic weather events (think massive hurricanes and waves) and overfishing are some of the reasons corals die. 

Let's look at a dead coral reef and a healthy coral reef. Here are three pictures: the first is coral rubble found close to shore. It's where a vibrant and healthy coral reef used to be. These are the remains of a coral reef. Next, are two pictures of what the coral reef close to shore should look like: thick, healthy, and vibrant. See what differences you can notice between the photos:

I took all three of these photos in Bonaire. Several years ago, huge waves crashed into the island of Bonaire after a hurricane. Those waves--their power, their size, and the impact when they crashed down, destroyed many of the shallow reefs close to shore. People who live in Bonaire say that before then, it was hard to swim close to shore because the coral reefs were like thick shrubs everywhere. But now, close to shore, you can wade into the water over the rubble. The other two photos are also from Bonaire. They show a healthy thicket of coral, also in shallow water, but in a protected area. This part of Bonaire did not suffer from the waves, and so the healthy coral remains. By looking at the differences, we can see what this part of the ocean is supposed to look like!

The devastation of the shallow water reefs is terrible for the ocean for many reasons. One important reason is that the reef serves as a nursery for the ocean. It's where all of the tiny fish and little creatures get their start and are protected from bigger fish. 

So, what can we do?

Well, several years ago in Florida, the Coral Restoration Foundation, led by Ken Nedimyer began to experiment with ways to rebuild coral reefs. I was lucky enough to work with Ken and his team at CRF for a week when I helped transplant corals onto Molasses Reef in Florida.

When I got to Bonaire this summer I was so excited that they are working with CRF! Since I am already a trained coral conservation diver, I got busy volunteering on the coral reef and helping in the nursery. How cool is that?

Here's how it works. There are several sites: the coral reef nursery, where new corals are "grown" and then transplant sites, where those corals become part of a new coral reef. 

In the photos below, you can see white trees (I like to call them underwater Christmas trees!). These are made out of plastic pipes. Hanging on those trees, on thin line, are corals. They look a little bit like fingers, or, if they have branches, like horns. You probably won't be surprised to learn that these are staghorn corals. They take their name from deer--who have horns!

Although coral polyps are animals, they can "grow" like a plant. What I mean is that if we take a small piece of a healthy coral--cut it off--and then let it grow, it will grow into a strong new piece of coral. If anyone you know gardens, sometimes gardeners do this too: create a new plant from the clipping of a healthy plant. 

So, step one is to grow new, healthy corals. The new corals grow on trees in the coral nursery (just like babies, the new corals need time to grow and stay protected!). They can bounce in the ocean currents, sway back and forth, and have all the time they need to grow. They are hung on the trees on lines. While I was there, one of my jobs was to clean all of the lines to make sure that no algae got into the new corals. Who knew that underwater cleaning is such an important job? 

Once they are ready, these new corals are taken to the reef. We went to the nursery and took the corals that were ready from the tree. We loaded them very gently into plastic crates and took them to a boat. On the boat, we put them in a big container of salt water to make sure they stayed wet while we got to their new home. I was so nervous for the corals as we bounced along on the waves. My job was to make sure that water covered them the whole time. I think I did a great job!

When we got to the new reef, we took the crates down under the water. Then, we used zip ties (a kind of plastic tie) to put the corals on a bamboo square. Over time, the square will disintegrate. But hopefully, by that time, the corals will have grown even more and established their new reef home! In the pictures below, you can also see me working on one of the bamboo squares. 

Coral reefs are so important to our oceans. I think it's amazing that we can help corals rebuild. It took a little bit of hard thinking and ingenuity to figure out how to start to fix something. And, as I've learned, whether it's cleaning lines or putting water on corals or zip tying them, there are lots of ways to help make a big difference! 

Learn More About:

The Coral Restoration Foundation

The Coral Restoration Foundation Bonaire

Corals and Coral Reefs 

Good Words to Know:

Ecosystems: how we describe all of the organisms and their environment living together.  

Polyp: the basic, single structure, that forms corals. Sea anemones also have polyps.

Catastrophic: something that is really, really, really bad (it comes from catastrophe!)

Thicket: a dense grouping of coral (so dense it looks like a shrub or bush)



An Adventure In Thinking About Water and Electricity!

I am back home in Brooklyn, writing and settling into my fall schedule, which means it's time to catch up with my blog! I have so many adventures that I want to share with you. 

This summer, I had the chance to visit an ecolodge in Bonaire. Bonaire is a small island off the coast of Venezuela. Unlike many other islands, it has a dry, arid climate, like a desert. In fact, you can see lots of cactus everywhere on the island!

A Fence Made Out Of Cactus!

Photo Credit: Liz Summit, 2016

Are you surprised to learn that there were cactuses on an island? I was! I think of islands as lush, tropical rainforests. So, I learned a lot about Bonaire's local ecosystem, the local environment and the living things that call that place home, while I was there. 

The road in Washington Slagbaai National Park

Photo Credit: Liz Summit, 2016

The Auriga Ecolodge is located in the kunuku, the farm area of Bonaire. Hans, who built the ecolodge wanted to preserve and protect the environment. He also wanted visitors to think about their relationship to the island they are visiting. So, he bought land that he has allowed to stay wild. On the edges of that, he has built an ecolodge.

Maybe you've stayed in a nice hotel or motel with air-conditioning and maybe a pool? This is the opposite of that! 

Everything about the ecolodge is set up to help you think about nature and your impact on the environment.

It was a fantastic adventure. And, it helped me to think about water, electricity, and my relationship to the environment in all new ways!

I live in New York City. If I want lights, I flip a switch. At the end of the day, I charge my laptop, my tablet, and my phone without even thinking about it. If I want to watch t.v., I hit a button. The only time I really think about energy is when my phone battery is dead and I have to find someplace to charge it! If I want water, I just turn on the tap.

The ecolodge is set up to help you think about where these things come from! Let's go on a tour!

Here is the ecolodge. It's an old horse stable! It has a kitchen, two bedrooms, two outdoor seating areas, a bathroom, and an outdoor shower. But the absolute best part of the ecolodge is the star gazing platform (more on that in a few)! 


At the ecolodge, I had to think about two important things: water and electricity. All of the water I would use during my stay was in a cistern on the roof. The cistern is a big, black container. You can't see how much water is inside. So, I needed to THINK about how much water I was using to cook, to take showers, and to brush my teeth. The electricity was solar powered and came from solar panels on the roof. Luckily, Bonaire has a lot of sun. But, again, I needed to THINK about charging my phone and my laptop. And, I especially needed to think about when I wanted to run the fan to cool down. 


There's a lot to do at an ecolodge. First, I would get up every morning and crawl up the ladder to the stargazing platform! (It's called a stargazing platform, but it was good at sunrise, all during the day, and at night!). From there, I got a great look at the iguanas. They were all around us and liked to catch the sun: in a tree, on a cactus, and even on the solar panels! 

There was also time to take a shower in the outdoor shower! Yes! An outdoor shower! It was so cool (Don't worry: the doors close. And, there was no one around!)! And there was time to cook. After I made breakfast, I would take the scraps to feed the pigs, who live on the property. 

In between, there was time for reading, relaxing in the hammock, finding cool critters like hermit crabs and iguanas. It was also a great way to reconnect with nature, really thinking about where my water and electricity come from. I think this experience will help me to conserve more and be more aware of saving both water and electricity. 

Of course, there is also always time for writing! Here I am working in the upstairs living room (with an awesome view). And, here I am in my favorite place at the ecolodge. The star gazing platform! 

What "Nature" Looks Like

The last time I was in California, I got a chance to really explore the coast. This is a variation on my wildlife refuge theme. Yesterday, I wrote about the importance of wildlife refuges. Today, we're going to explore Marine Protected Areas.

All around the globe, MPAs, or Marine Protected Areas are places in the ocean where human activity is limited. MPAs work differently in different places. In California, where the whole state lies on the coast of the Pacific Ocean, the goal of the MPAs is to "conserve biological diversity, provide a sanctuary for marine life, and enhance recreational and educational opportunities." California's important step, to create MPAs, means that many different kinds of creatures have a protected place to live.

Here's what that looks like. In places were there are MPAs, the California coastline is rugged, wild, and natural. When I compare it to the coastline in New York and New Jersey, it looks very different. Here, the coastline is primarily taken up with sandy beaches, homes, and resorts. Sometimes, seeing wildlife is shocking--because we often don't see wildlife at all.

In contrast, California's MPAs try to protect the waters to make them a marine sanctuary: marine life comes first. There are lots of places for humans to observe animal life and for scientists to study it. But look at this mix of diversity in the marine ecosystem above water: California Sea Lions, Sea Gulls, Northern Elephant Seals, and Brown Pelicans. I took all of these photos standing in the exact same spot near the Piedras Blancas Rookery.

California Sea Lions

Photo Credit: Liz Summit, 2015

Northern Elephant Seals

Photo Credit: Liz Summit, 2015

Northern Elephant Seal

Photo Credit: Liz Summit, 2015

Brown Pelicans

Photo Credit: Liz Summit, 2015

Piedras Blancas Rookery

Photo Credit: Liz Summit, 2015

If there's this much diversity above the water, imagine what the waters below look like.

When biological diversity flourishes (meaning lots of different plants and animals), it's good for the health of the planet. It's also good for humans because it means that our waters are healthy and balanced. We're not taking more than we should. We're not changing nature to force it to fit around humans.

California: a pretty good place to be a marine animal, don't you think? Maybe that should be their new state motto! ;-)

An Update on Midway Atoll

I wrote about Midway Atoll a while ago. Midway Atoll is where Wisdom lives.

Recently, the NOAA Coral Reef Ecosystem Program calculated all of the debris they collected over the course of a week. Here's what they found:

  • 6651 plastic fragments
  • 1468 beverage bottles
  • 872 other bottles or containers
  • 4457 bottle caps
  • 540 cigarette lighters
  • 1654 small nets/fragments
  • 128 medium nets (larger than a pelican safety kit)
  • 61 large nets (larger than an action packer)
  • 1855 plastic buoys
  • 813 foam buoys
  • 486 toothbrushes and personal care products
  • 207 plastic toys
  • 1986 oyster spacers
  • 270 eel cone traps
  • 570 rubber slippers and shoes
  • 82 fisheries baskets
  • 68 umbrella handles
  • 54 pens/markers
  • 62 hangers

Read more about the debris collection here and here.

Everything is So GREEN! How Do We Keep It That Way?

Friday was Earth Day, which is kind of an amazing. day. Earth Day is celebrated on April 22nd to raise awareness about environmental issues. Almost 1 billion people celebrate Earth Day every year! Isn't that cool? Imagine 1 billion people focused on our environment and protecting the planet! I hope you got to go outside and enjoy nature. Here on the east coast, it was a bright and shining day. It was absolutely beautiful!

Here's a meme I made for Earth Day this year:

This is an amazing creature called an egg yolk jellyfish. I met this neat looking guy in Monterey, California in the kelp forest.

So, back to Earth Day for a minute. Yesterday (I know, I know, I was a day late!), I took a glorious hike in Great Swamp in New Jersey. It's become one of my favorite places to hike and have a little wander. It's spring here and the flowers are beginning to bud. Glorious green is emerging after winter. Here are a few photos from yesterday:

As you can see, spring is busting out all over. My overall word for the day was GREEN! Green, green, green, green, green! Everywhere! And, what a welcome sight it is!

But here's the thing: I did a 3 1/2 hour hike by myself. In that time, I saw a total of 6 people. I was totally alone in nature, with only the birds, the turtles, the snakes, the chipmunks, the frogs, the insects, and other creatures I didn't see hiding all around me.

I didn't see a single piece of trash. Nope, not one.

Everything was pristine: nature at its most untouched. The only signs of human life were the boardwalks, designed to keep human visitors on the path and not stepping off into the swamp and signs directing humans to stay on the path! (Oh, and at the end of each path, a nifty bird blind: a place where you can sit and watch the birds through peep holes).

Bird Blind, Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

Photo Credit: Liz Summit, 2016

That brings me back to my jellyfish picture from Friday. I have never been on a dive in the ocean when I haven't seen trash. You might remember this post from last summer when I went on an underwater cleanup.

Now, to be fair, the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge is a very special place. Sometime, I'll do a post on its history, but for now, you should know that it is a protected wildlife refuge. That means there are all sorts of rules when you visit to make sure that the refuge is a safe and welcoming place for animals (and plants!). So, it's not an everyday sort of place.

The ocean, on the other hand, is a place where people play, live, do business (like fishing!), and work. But, if that's true, why is it so polluted? How can we help keep our waters clean and pristine, just like Great Swamp?

Do you have any ideas?