Why are snails so bad??

Apple Snails at Loxahatchee
            This summer I worked with an amazing group of people on a wildlife refuge called Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. It was established in 1951 under the authority the Migratory Bird Conservation Act, and is managed through an agreement with the South Florida Water Management District and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The refuge is part of the northern Everglades encompassing 145,800 acres of that land, providing water storage for floods and a habitat for numerous migratory birds and other native animals that call the refuge home.
            I worked with a biologist, Melissa Better, who is working to help the native apple snail population overcome their invasive cousins. I did various jobs inside, putting numbers into a computer, and outside, feeding apple snails and checking enclosures. I had to get into water proof fishing waders to wade around in alligator, snake, and insect infested waters searching for spatterdock to feed the snails. Along with that, I collected the native snail eggs to bring to their enclosure, and killed the invasive species eggs.
            One of the chapters that pertains to my service learning is Chapter 10: Evolution and Extinction. In South Florida, we see invasive species every day from lizards to snakes, though it is not more presented than in the Everglades, and this refuge is doing its best to combat the ever-present invasive species. This chapter covers how invasive species push evolution and/or extinction, which ties in well with what I witnessed. The thing that makes the native apple snails so threatened by the invasive species is that they reproduce at a much slower rate. Where an invasive apple snail can produce as many as 200 eggs a native snail only produces less than half of that. This fact makes the native snails much more susceptible to going extinct and being taken over by the invasive ones. What impacted me the most about invasive species was just how better adapted they seem to be for their environment. There I was looking for invasive eggs along the edge of the wetland area, and just seeing their bright pink coloring larger than I expected; then contrasted next to native eggs which look so pathetic and small in number. It shocked me that the native snails managed to survive for so long, because just by the look of their seemingly feeble eggs they should not have. Which may just go to show that Mother Nature can be really surprising especially with human help. Chapter 10 is about evolution and the extinction of species which is demonstrated so successfully by what I saw, it was amazing; such a tiny, slow creature facing incredible odds. Whether the invasive apple snails overtake the native ones seems to be an ongoing battle; maybe the native snail will evolve to be able to produce more eggs the way the invasive species do, or maybe it will become extinct, but for now Better is trying to further their survival.
            Another chapter that related to my service learning was Chapter 8: Community Ecology. This chapter was essentially all about the Everglades ecosystem and its destruction, and now renewal. The Loxahatchee park is part of the extricate Everglades system of managing water, which filters water and delivers it to various areas. When humans first started developing the land we got rid of a lot of this system by building right over the water ways. Now realizing what a precious resource we had, we have been trying to restore the water ways that have been damaged. This main aspect in this chapter relates directly to what Loxahatchee helps to do, which is to restore the water ways. As I discovered by working at the refuge that each wetland serves as a mini ecosystem, connecting to the bigger wetland eventually. The water is stored through a series of pumps, canals, water control structures, and levees that push the water through, filtering it as it goes eventually into the Everglades. In this chapter, it also included the definition of a community and how it relates to an ecosystem. Loxahatchee is a wetland ecosystem that provides a habitat for many species that are native to Florida. Many of these species are birds, some of which are great egrets, white ibis, great blue herons, and wood storks. They call the refuge home and thrive there. Ecosystems are delicate things, as I learned in the chapter, and even an apple snail can change the way wetland ecosystem functions. Being that invasive apple snails and native ones are in an intraspecific competition, they compete over the same food source, which in abundant numbers could endanger the plant life. Every animal plays such an important role in an ecosystem, even nonliving things such as water, that when one dies, gets lost due to development it effects the whole ecosystem structure.

            Finally, the last chapter that related to the work I was doing was Chapter 17: Solid Waste. Surprisingly, there were a lot of instances that the refuge reuses materials from past projects. There are four R’s that scientists use when being environmentally friendly. They are, refuse, reduce, reuse, and recycle. The refuge defiantly makes use of at least two of these, reuse, and recycle. Since there are always many separate projects starting and ending at separate times, the refuge takes the previously used materials and puts them to use for a new project. My first day working, Better had me and another volunteer take down the former shabby enclosures that had fallen apart. We worked to take apart the PVC pipes and netting that made up the old snail enclosure, which allowed snails to escape when water rose too high. Once out of the water and disconnected, she led us to a back lot which housed thousands of pipes, netting, and other materials to be reused in new projects. The pipes that were either broken or would not come apart were put into a construction sized recycling bin, which was piled with materials that were recyclable. It was incredible to see such a large sized recycling system being used, everything that went on in the refuge seemed to have another purpose later on. Seeing that helped me to understand that point that this chapter was trying to make, that it is as much of what we do as how we do it. Buying recyclable materials or making something into something else has a greater impact for the better than condemning the plastic materials to a landfill, polluting our planet even more. 

Mad design skills!!

Joe Griffin used his excellent design skills to help Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission educate the public. Check out the pamphlet he created:

Giving back to society over Spring Break!

I had several students spend their spring break helping with the Hurricane Sandy recovery. Audrey Freeman did an excellent job relating her service to course lessons AND professional development! 

I went up to New York to perform disaster relief inside a home that was hit by hurricane Sandy in October of 2012. We were given the opportunity to serve Remi and Lilia Linauskis for an entire week. Their basement had been flooded with water during the hurricane, filling the room with nearly eight feet of water. The basement had been stripped of all dry wall and flooring. When my group came to their home, we replaced all the drywall and broke away the remainder of the tile that was still on the floor. As we moved from one portion of the room to another, we began mudding the area where drywall had already been put up. My part in all of this was to help drill ray wall in place as well as measuring and cutting out all the sections of drywall to fit. This included measuring around holes and outlets.

This relief project can most be related back to the lesson on climate change. We learned in class that the climate change can affect different areas in different ways. One example of this would be the glaciers in the north. While the glaciers is a source of more than half of the word’s fresh water, the melting of the glaciers into our oceans are causing massive disturbances in our ecosystem. In relation to my service project, climate can be seen through Hurricane Sandy. Places like New York are not used to storm as large as Hurricane Sandy, and therefore are not even close to being prepared for them. The fact that Hurricane Sandy touched down at such a location as New York only goes to demonstrate the Changes in our climates across the globe. 

Another way I can relate my New York service to our lessons is through pollution. As we know here in Florida, a natural disaster such as a hurricane causes massive amounts of pollution to enter into the environment. It was evident as we drove through the city how much trash and debris still lingered in the streets and in the houses even eighteen months after the hurricane came though. A big part of was people had to do was clean up a basement or house of the damaged debris cause by the extreme amounts of flooding. All the floors of the houses had to be taken up and replaced, as did most of the drywall and insulation. As we would travel through the city, large piles of debris could still be seen on the street sides from continuous clean-up efforts, such as that by SBDR or by individual house and business owners. All of this trash and debris is pollution to the environment. Unless it is disposed of properly, it all gets taken away and dumped into an overflowing dumping ground where it is left to sit. And the trash that has been dumped into or has fallen into the rivers pollute the water even further. The already polluted rivers have suffered significantly from Hurricane Sandy because of how little effort people have put into cleaning up the rivers of the waste. 

My final tie between our lessons and my New York trip is through clean energy. Because most rooms we worked on had been completely filled with water and had to have been stripped entirely of all thing electric, we took this opportunity to replace all light bulbs in the houses where we worked with energy efficient ones. Clean energy is a way to help lessen the amount of pollution we put back into the environment. Most of the houses we worked in did not have energy efficiency. By replacing all the light bulbs in all the houses we worked on, we have made significant progress in helping introduce the house owners into moving towards becoming environmentally friendly. Every light bulb we replaced in every house we worked on pushed the local area up onto a small step of becoming more environmentally friendly as a whole.

I did not learn the types of skills I was expecting to. Going up to New York, we had no idea what we were getting our hands into aside from the fact that it would be manual labor and could possibly be outside in thirty degree weather. What I did learn more on was how to work together with a team. In the beginning, the twelve of us had absolutely no idea how to measure, cut, or drill in drywall. By the end of the week, however, not only did we know how to do all of those things individually, but we all learned to work together as a team while doing it. We were able to put together a system where four people would measure and cut for six others who were set and ready to lift and rill the drywall in place either in the ceiling or on the walls. The remaining two people were our official “mudders”. As we moved from placing drywall in the first half of the room to the second, two of our people came behind us and began taping over the cracks between pieces of drywall and mudding over our beginners’ mistakes. As the room progressed and fewer and fewer people were needed to help with the drywall, the jobless people would move to help the mudders, coming behind them and sanding over the dry mud. Everyone had their job, and everyone’s job worked together in a system of harmony. We not only learned to work together, but also to hold our tongues when a sharp word was said or a thoughtless move would cause us to start the system over again. Harmony is a wonderful lesson to remember for later in life, no matter what the job description is. A workplace works only as well as its employees, and where dysfunction cases chaos, harmony allows for success.

Allie used her photography skills to help the Humane Society!

Could not resist, check out this photo she took, SURELY this little pup was adopted right away after this photo was published:

Would you agree to live in a simulated slum?

I am incredibly impressed with Tristan Baker's service learning project! He summizes his project like this: "I helped run a slum experience called “48”, which is where high school students stay in a moderated slum for 48 hours both to raise funds and to raise awareness. My personal job was to be the “Master Builder” where I facilitated the repair/general maintenance and construction of the entire town. The funds raised from the experience went to missionaries in Nigeria who are teaching “16 brick” stove technology to the poor, which greatly reduces the amount of fuel needed to cook, which reduces the amount of trees harvested, and smoke inhalation, the third leading cause of death." 


The connections Tristan made to our course lessons were also very well done:

1. Chapter 11 – Nigeria was one the heart of Africa’s tropical rainforest belt, but it now has lost almost 95% of its forested land. Nigeria is also home to the fastest growing population on Earth, forecasted to exceed that of the United States by 2050, in a fraction of the space. As the population increases the need for fuel increases exponentially as each new person also desires a higher standard of living. By introducing 16 brick stove technology to the country it will allow the significant proportion of Nigerians who still rely on stoves for heat and to cook to vastly reduce the amount of wood needed to support the burgeoning population. Without some significant change current trends will quickly strip the entire country of its luscious forests upon which much of the wildlife depends.

2. Chapter 21 – Furthermore, the 16 brick stove technology provides a significant reduction in the carbon emissions produced by the population, which is beneficial in two ways. As the population of Nigeria continues to expand, even a small carbon footprint by a billion and a half people will have a significant both the health of the populace and the overall health of the planet. By reducing the carbon footprint of each individual one can significantly reduce the air pollution present in every part of the country. In addition, it will increase the quality of life for everyone as pollution related diseases fall. It should be noted that the current third leading cause of death in Nigeria is smoke inhalation due to prolonged exposure to smoke to fires which cook and heat the home every hour of every day.

3. Chapter 22 – In addition, one of the single greatest threats to Nigeria as a nation is long term environmental degradation. As time passes the livability (already tenuous in parts) will only decline as forests disappear and the air is increasingly unbreathable. By reducing the short term pollution one can hope reduce the effects of, or even stave off, the worst of climate change as a result of the over burning of wood and coal. By providing cheaper, more efficient technology one allows the people to take a personal initiative in the struggle to save one’s own country. One of the most influential tools in the arsenal of one struggling against climate change is personal involvement and dedication by the individual, because only then will the nation change in any palpable manner. By giving the individual a means to change and better themselves in addition to the environment one provides a catalyst in the development of an environmentally responsible and knowledgeable culture, the true and only key to staving off global warming.

recycled materials bicycle!

Check out the bike made by Grace Goepfert from materials found at the landfill:

Now THAT is taking recycling to a whole new level!

Best professional devlopment skills submission thus far!

Check out the professional skill development Charles Watson received while contributing to his community and earning a grade for service learning: 

 The professional skills I used for this assignment were time management, organization, leadership.
        •       Time Management- Scheduled times and days that didn’t interfere with school, and had to request off of work to make sure I got the hours for this assignment done in a timely fashion.
        •       Organization- As one of the older members of this project I was given also given leadership role where I organized small groups of kids that ranged from sizes 4-8 based on age and work ethic in order to make sure an ample amount cigarette butts and trash would get cleaned up.
        •       Leadership- I was one of the older participants in this volunteer event mainly because is meant to target High School students and educate them, I was chosen to be more of a leader and help direct kids along with helping out in my own group.
        •       Maturity-While having a leadership role I had to act my age and be responsible. Because I was older than all the kids and a college student they kind of viewed me as a "Cool college kid" and looked up to me so I act mature, responsible and serious about work in order to set a good example for the younger kids so that they know that you have to act professional and get work done first before you can have fun.