For Ocean Conservation, Focus On Scientifically-Driven Decisions


Nathaniel Russell

Our favorite stories on conservation challenges–whether marine or terrestrial–are those that highlight entrepreneurial approaches. Those stories, though, have multiple counterparts related to government approaches to conservation. In our many celebrations of various forms of ocean conservation, we have probably tended to favor quantity and scale more than emphasizing the value of science. Guilty as charged, but ready to remedy:

Bigger Is Not Better for Ocean Conservation

SAN FRANCISCO — I have spent my entire life pushing for new protected areas in the world’s oceans. But a disturbing trend has convinced me that we’re protecting very little of real importance with our current approach.

From Hawaii to Brazil to Britain, the establishment of large marine protected areas, thousands of square miles in size, is on the rise. These areas are set aside by governments to protect fisheries and ecosystems; human activities within them generally are managed or restricted. While these vast expanses of open ocean are important, their protection should not come before coastal waters are secured. But in some cases, that’s what is happening.

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Humans Still Best Machines In The Berry Patch


Credit: Dan Charles/NPR

Thanks to Dan Charles and his salt colleagues at National Public Radio (USA) for this look at one of machine-learning’s agricultural challenges:

Robots Are Trying To Pick Strawberries. So Far, They’re Not Very Good At It

Robots have taken over many of America’s factories. They can explore the depths of the ocean, and other planets. They can play ping-pong.

But can they pick a strawberry?


The strawberry-picking robot enters a field near Duette, Fla.
Dan Charles/NPR

“You kind of learn, when you get into this — it’s really hard to match what humans can do,” says Bob Pitzer, an expert on robots and co-founder of a company called Harvest CROO Robotics. (CROO is an acronym. It stands for Computerized Robotic Optimized Obtainer.)

Any 4-year old can pick a strawberry, but machines, for all their artificial intelligence, can’t seem to figure it out. Pitzer says the hardest thing for them is just finding the fruit. The berries hide behind leaves in unpredictable places. Continue reading

Government Conference Looking For Solutions To Big Puzzles

Happy to hear that there are still such efforts (conferences such as the one described below) underway and that they are inclined to the audacious. Thanks to Brad Plumer, at the New York Times, for this report:

Kelp Farms and Mammoth Windmills Are Just Two of the Government’s Long-Shot Energy Bets

Thousands of entrepreneurs gathered near Washington this week for an annual government conference. On the agenda: unusual solutions to major clean-energy problems.


A kelp forest off Mexico’s Pacific coast. A project presented this week at an energy research conference proposes using tiny robots to farm seaweed for use in biofuels. Credit Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild, via Getty Images

Off the coast of California, the idea is that someday tiny robot submarines will drag kelp deep into the ocean at night, to soak up nutrients, then bring the plants back to the surface during the day, to bask in the sunlight.

The goal of this offbeat project? To see if it’s possible to farm vast quantities of seaweed in the open ocean for a new type of carbon-neutral biofuel that might one day power trucks and airplanes. Unlike the corn- and soy-based biofuels used today, kelp-based fuels would not require valuable cropland. Continue reading

Matta-Clark, Urban Decay & Renaissance


Gordon Matta-Clark’s “Day’s End” (Pier 52), 1975. Photograph Courtesy the Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark / ARS / David Zwirner

Renaissance is a word that sounds like it means something good. But not necessarily so. Sarah Cowan has this review of a show in the Bronx that sounds worthy of a visit:

The Future Did Not Have to Be Luxury Condos: Revisiting Gordon Matta-Clark


Gordon Matta-Clark (pictured left, in 1975) folded urban decay into his art. Move ahead forty years and the city’s debris is from new development. Photograph by Harry Gruyaert. Courtesy the Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark / ARS / David Zwirner

In the film “Day’s End,” the artist Gordon Matta-Clark rides a whale-size piece of corrugated metal as it is hoisted away from the wall from which he just cut it. He’s a young man, age thirty-two. The feat was filmed in the summer of 1975, in Chelsea’s abandoned Pier 52 building, where Matta-Clark attempted to make an “indoor park.” His silhouette, against the sunlight streaming in from his new view of the Hudson River, is heroic. Continue reading

Podcast Proliferation

VoxPodNearly one month ago, Vox launched a new way for us to source stories. We have sourced from their website when the story fits our mission. For us to scan the news daily and link to at least one article or book review or other media that seems consistent with our mission, we increasingly bump up against the fact that producers of and channels for accessing relevant information seem to be increasing faster than we can possibly keep up.

Today we sampled from their sonic venture, a story about changes way up north, wrought by climate change, geopolitical ambitions, head in the sand-ism and other intrigue. Finding an episode like this one stretches our horizons in a healthy, productive manner:


There’s a new Cold War being fought in the North Pole between the United States and Russia (but also China, Finland, Norway, Canada, Greenland and more). Fueling the battle is the melting Arctic, which just had its warmest winter in recorded history. Vox’s Brian Resnick gives us the science before Yochi Dreazen takes us to the war.

It must also be mentioned that having outlets we trust recommend other outlets is a must. And here is an example of one we appreciate:

“Today, Explained”: An Edgy New Vox Podcast to Compete with “The Daily”



Hosted by Sean Rameswaram, the Vox podcast “Today, Explained” feels funny, knowing, and energetic—which, in this news climate, isn’t easy. Photograph by James Bareham / Vox Media

Podcast-wise, 2017 was arguably the year of “The Daily,” the beautifully produced, gently voiced narrative-news offering from the Times, hosted by Michael Barbaro, which started last January and quickly became indispensable. The show, which parses a different news story in each episode, through a conversation with a reporter or other guest, then delivers a brief news roundup, has sufficient perspective and empathy that it produces in its listeners an intoxicating, if temporary, feeling of sanity; by now, its theme song alone cues in me a Pavlovian calm. The show garners 4.5 million unique listeners each month; in April, it will expand to public-radio syndication. Continue reading

Keeping It In The Ground?


“Keep it in the ground” activists protesting the Bayou Bridge Pipeline on February 17, 2018 near Belle Rose, Louisiana. Travis Lux/WWNO

Under the current circumstances in the USA (you know what we mean) it is not straightforward to consider optimism obvious. But stranger things have happened. Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for reminding us that when times get tough, the tough tough it out on behalf of us all:


Activist Cherri Foytlin vows to physically block construction of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline in Louisiana.
Travis Lux/WWNO

The United States oil business is booming and the country could soon be the largest crude oil producer in the world. Despite this record-breaking production, climate change activists campaigning to move away from fossil fuels say they are making progress.

Here’s the idea underpinning the ‘keep it in the ground‘ movement: to address climate change, activists say known reserves of fossil fuels will have to be left untouched instead of burned. In the meantime, they want countries to transition to renewable forms of energy such as solar and wind. Continue reading

Recycling Primer, UK Edition


Many people aren’t sure which plastics they can recycle – and which they can’t. Photograph: Alamy

Thanks to Angela Monaghan, at the Guardian, for this reminder of the basics of recycling:

Which items can’t be recycled?

Many people think items such as plastic bags and coffee cups can be recycled when they can’t. Here are the do’s and don’ts

British consumers are increasingly willing to recycle their household waste but are failing to grasp the basics, according to the latest research by the British Science Association. Failure to get it right means that a lot of recyclable waste is going to landfill, the BSA says.

The issue is further complicated by inconsistency among councils, which make their own rules and funding decisions on recycling collections.

Common mistakes include putting tissue boxes in the recycling bin without first removing the plastic insert. On the flipside, people often wrongly think that empty deodorant aerosols cannot be recycled. Continue reading

Pomology, Diet & Trade


More than half of the fresh fruit and almost a third of the fresh vegetables Americans buy now come from other countries. Credit Jens Mortensen for The New York Times; Styled by Mariana Vera

David Karp, no not that David Karp, is in our distant memory recalled as The Fruit Detective, and we had lost track of him until today. Thankfully, he is still pomologizing:

Most of America’s Fruit Is Now Imported. Is That a Bad Thing?

It’s obvious to anyone who visits an American supermarket in winter — past displays brimming with Chilean grapes, Mexican berries and Vietnamese dragon fruit — that foreign farms supply much of our produce.


Although local, seasonal and farm-to-table are watchwords for many consumers, globalization has triumphed in the produce aisle. Credit Jens Mortensen for The New York Times

Imports have increased steadily for decades, but the extent of the change may be surprising: More than half of the fresh fruit and almost a third of the fresh vegetables Americans buy now come from other countries.

Although local, seasonal and farm-to-table are watchwords for many consumers, globalization has triumphed in the produce aisle. And despite the protectionist “America First” message coming from the Trump administration, the growth in imports appears likely to continue.

So this is an apt moment to examine how the shift happened, and what it portends — good or ill — for American consumers and farmers.

“I had no idea that more than half our fruit is imported, and it shocks me that this has happened so quickly,” said Michael Pollan, a professor of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, whose best-selling books have analyzed the tensions between local and global food systems. Continue reading

Salmon, Shrinkage & Man


A photo taken in Astoria, Ore., circa 1910. It was stated that the chinook on the left weighed 116 pounds and the one on the right weighed 121 pounds. WikiMedia Commons

John Ryan, filed this story through Northwest Public Radio, KUOW and EarthFix, an environmental journalism collaboration led by Oregon Public Broadcasting in partnership with five other public media stations in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. Another of the many reasons we appreciate National Public Radio (USA) and its various associates:

This Is Why You Don’t See People-Size Salmon Anymore

While the orcas of Puget Sound are sliding toward extinction, orcas farther north have been expanding their numbers. Their burgeoning hunger for big fish may be causing the killer whales’ main prey, chinook salmon, to shrink up and down the West Coast.

Chinook salmon are also known as kings: the biggest of all salmon. They used to grow so enormous that it’s hard now to believe the old photos in which fishermen stand next to chinooks almost as tall as they are, sometimes weighing 100 pounds or more.

“This has been a season of unusually large fish, and many weighing from 60 to 70 pounds have been taken,” The Oregonian reported in 1895. Continue reading

Spying on Birds

“So, like, what do you do every day?”

I get asked this often and I’m not always sure how to explain it to people without pictures at hand or infinite patience for follow-up questions. So, in this blog post, with the benefit of time to pick the right words and theoretically infinite space to write them out, I figured I would try to provide an adequate answer.

View from the field, a week or so ago

Why fieldwork?

This, I feel, is the question at the crux of the what-do-you-do-every-day question. Why do you have to go to Kenya to do your work? Right, the bird you study is only found there, but why do you have to be out on the savanna everyday – can’t you just bring the birds back to the lab or study them in a zoo?

Of course, you can (nowadays, only with the right permits) and that is precisely what early zoologists did, collecting specimens – alive or dead – from around the world and bringing them back to examine them under microscopes or in aviaries in a rainy British country garden. While this may be convenient, it inevitably renders your conclusions about a bird’s diet or the adaptive nature of its plumage coloration suspect, because they are arrived at out of context. Without the bird having been examined in the environment it’s found in, with different factors that might affect its behavior and morphology in play, it is impossible to understand why it acts the way it does and why it is the way it is. Hence, fieldwork: observing and sampling critters in the wild. Continue reading