Archived posts from this Category
Archived posts from this Category
Posted by Celia Clark on Feb 20, 2011
I (Celia) have just returned from a fascinating ten day trip to Florida and Nicaragua with Pete (my husband). Because we packed so much into those ten days it seemed more like a three week trip. The first contrast of course was the temperature (minus 20° C in Toronto and plus 30°C in Nicaragua).
After visiting some dear friends in Sarasota, we headed off to Nicaragua. The airport in Managua was well organized and we were whisked off in a shuttle to our hotel for the first night even though it was less than a five minute walk! After a refreshing pina colada by the pool, we slept well and met our shuttle driver for the two hour drive to San Juan del Sur. We were saddened by the extremely poor living conditions that we saw as left Managua and I could not help thinking that Haiti was like that BEFORE the earthquake. Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the western hemisphere, but in much better shape than Haiti. The average Nicaraguan earns around $2.00 a day.
On arrival in San Juan del Sur we were welcomed by the hotel manager and set out to explore the small fishing town – we watched the sun go down as we enjoyed a delicious fish dinner in a restaurant on the beach (amazingly ALL hotels and restaurants offer free internet access).
One of our reasons for visiting Nicaragua was to take school supplies for the small village of El Carizal where our local Rotary club is supporting a local jam making cooperative. Our first meeting was with our club champion , Richard, who has bought land down there, and Lori, a local American volunteer who is helping to coordinate the project. As Lori works as the concierge at Pelican Eyes, a local resort., we decided to eat lunch there – hardly the luxury setting we were expecting!
The next day we met with the English teacher to deliver the school supplies, then took a taxi to the small village where we were supposed to meet up with our colleagues – unfortunately we missed them and were stuck there with no transport and no cell phone that worked in Nicaragua! What do do? So, in the searing heat we set out to walk to the beach where the last Survivor series had been shot (we understood there was now a small restaurant there and assumed they would have a phone to call a taxi). Several Nicaraguans seemed concerned about the folly of this venture (with our poor Spanish we understood it was only one kilometer to the beach – in fact we think it was more like four kilometers). We splashed through several stream crossings (very refreshing), heard howler monkeys (which we could identify from the video in The Digital Field Trip to The Rainforest ) and finally, exhausted and extremely hot, arrived at this beautiful beach, only to learn that we were probably the only gringos to have walked that route without being robbed!
The next day, we spent time with the children using some of the school supplies we had taken. We learned that making name plates with foam letters on a windy day in a Nicaraguan school is somewhat challenging!
On our return to Miami, we ran a workshop for teachers on digital vs. real dissection – what a contrast to school in Nicaragua!
One of the exercises that we did was to assign metrics to various importance factors such as cost, learning retention etc. then assign a score to Digital Dissection, Wet Lab Dissection and Using Both Digital and Wet Labs to teach anatomy and physiology. We fully expected that using both digital and wet labs would come out on top. Much to our amazement, the twenty seven teachers who attended the workshop concluded that, out of a possible score of 137, Digital Dissection scored 120, Wet Labs scored 65 and using both scored 98. YAY for Digital!
Posted by Celia Clark on Jul 01, 2009
A few days ago, Jim, our webmaster, sent me a link to an article from the BBC about recent research on the “mystery of the missing frog legs“. For years there has been a common belief that various environmental factors play roles in the widespread and increasingly common deformities, such as missing legs, being found in frog populations.
We believed this to be such a fundamental topic in teaching about frog ecology that we even dedicated an entire screen in The Digital Frog 2.5‘s ecology section to the issue. On the page about environmental concerns, we wrote:
Many scientists consider frogs important bio-indicators. Frogs have permeable skin and live both on land and in water. As a result, environmental problems quickly affect frogs.
Recently, frog populations have declined or disappeared around the world, and deformities and mutations are becoming common. People have found adult frogs with misshapen bodies, extra legs, missing or abnormal organs, and even eyes growing inside mouths!
Frog deformities, mutations and declining populations are not likely to result from any single cause; it is much more probable that many factors affect our amphibian friends. Scientists have identified holes in the ozone layer, chemicals, pollution, habitat loss and frog harvesting as possible causes.
Laboratory tests with ultraviolet light have produced frogs with leg deformities. Scientists speculate that holes in the ozone layer may allow enough ultraviolet light through to affect frogs in the wild.
Amphibian skin absorbs chemicals from both land and water. Tests show that some chemicals, pesticides, and industrial pollutants cause mutations, abnormal growth, or fatal deformities in frogs.
Industrial and agricultural by-products can harm local frogs. Acid rain and runoff rain can carry these chemicals to places far removed from human habitation.
Habitat loss is probably the biggest single factor in declining frog populations. Wetlands are frequently drained, filled in, or otherwise destroyed, depriving frogs of places to live. Commercial harvesting is another pressure.¬† Worldwide, hundreds of thousands of frogs are captured each year and used in laboratories, schools, and restaurants; this causes serious declines in certain species.
We used four frogs in the original Digital Frog, and none had deformities. This version required five frogs, and we discovered internal deformities in three of them.
New research suggests that there are two more natural causes contributing to frog deformities:
1. The fungal condition chytridiomycosis which has brought rapid extinctions to some amphibians.
2. The deformed frogs are actually victims of the predatory habits of dragonfly nymphs, which eat the developing hind limbs of tadpoles! Remarkably many tadpoles seem to survive the ordeal, resulting into as much as 10% of frog populations missing limbs. You can read more on the BBC’s Earth News page (and even watch the video evidence of one hapless tadpole being made a victim by a dragonfly nymph).
In other frog research news, yet another recent study suggests that up to one billion frogs are taken from the wild for human consumption each year. Not to mention the millions of frogs that are cut up every year in schools around the world. No wonder frogs are used as the poster children of the natural world!
Posted by Jim Bridges on May 20, 2008
One of the perks of producing the Digital Field Trip series was that we had to actually go to the environments we were covering in the each of the programs. For The Wetlands, that was relatively easy as our main location was only a few hours drive away (and one spot in the program is almost literally down the road). The Rainforest required several members of the team to make the sacrifice and spend several weeks in the Central American country of Belize to collect the photographs, audio and video used in the program.
The Digital Field Trip to The Desert, however, became our most ambitious of the series. Team members spent weeks in the deserts of the southwest US to collect media, talk to experts, and bring back as much of the experience into the program to make it as accurate and representative as possible. As the program’s project manager, I was lucky enough to go on a few of these, spending a few nights camping in the desert at Texas’ Big Bend National Park (and waking up to find one of our SUV’s tires was flat), exploring the expansive salt flats of northern Nevada and almost running out of gas in the middle of Death Valley while out photographing sand dunes. I was also able to take a few working holidays to more far-flung deserts‚ the edges of the Sahara from both Morocco and Egypt, and the desert regions of southern Israel and Jordan.
By far one of the most impressive deserts I have been able to visit is the Namib Desert in the southern African country of Namibia. It is the oldest desert in the world and possibly the driest. It has some of the world’s largest sand dunes and a surprising wealth of wildlife, from welwitchia plants that can be hundreds of years old to herds of elephants that cross the harsh desert annually. It’s a harsh, but little known and incredibly beautiful environment.
It’s also one that is not fully understood or protected. This is something that the Namibian government is looking to change, by protecting vast swaths of the Namib Desert to connect the country’s two other protected parks: Skeleton Coast, a vast expanse on the western coast of the country where the sand dunes reach the sea, and Etosha national park, known for its incredible range of wildlife from small deer like the Springbok to the larger mammals from wildebeest to elephants, lions the endangered black rhino. This new park would effectively create a 15-million acre corridor for wildlife between the two existing parks and be one of the largest protected areas in the entire world.
To assist in is creation, recently the lead scientist for The Nature Conservatory, Dr. M. A. Sanjayan, led an expedition to cross the Namib Desert‚ 300 km of it, on foot. This daunting, 14-day journey was done to conduct a conservation assessment of everything from identifying the movement of animals to mapping little visited locations to locate waterholes, and even assess how tourism could be brought to this remote area with minimal impact on the fragile environment.
While they just recently completed the expedition, the entire journey has been documented on their web site and makes for a fascinating read. They get off to an inauspicious start, ranging from inevitable technical problems with equipment to losing three of their nine camels before even setting out. (One is too old, one became pregnant and one was eaten by lions, which, since the camels were imported from Australia, Sanjayan theorizes is probably the first time in history an Australian camel has faced and lost to a lion).
With accompanying videos and slideshows, it’s an interesting exploration of a fascinating ecosystem that few of us will get to experience first-hand. (Although I can recommend it if the opportunity ever arises.)
Posted by Celia Clark on Apr 22, 2008
Today is Earth Day and a dear friend of mine sent me a fascinating eCard to mark the event, and, at the same time, saved one square foot of rainforest. She knows that this is a subject dear to my heart, especially since we developed The Digital Field Trip to The Rainforest to teach students about rainforest ecology, biology and uses.
Posted by Tracie Treahy on Apr 22, 2008
I am glad the frogs don’t have to depend on me alone for their survival‚ÄîI never managed to get my frog safely across the road.
Frogster is a new game for children on the Vancouver Aquarium website. The idea is to lead your frog safely across the road avoiding various natural and man made threats.
The plight of the frogs and amphibians is serious and this is another way to deliver that message to children. The game will remind all of us “slightly” older folks of the original video games for Commodore 64 and Atari. The perils to avoid in Frogster are air pollution, water pollution, loss of habitat, climate change, human interference and Chytrid fungus. Frogs in the natural world are having a hard time avoiding these threats and the poor frogs in my game were no better off. The hope of this game’s introduction on the website is to draw more attention to the overwhelming decline in the amphibian population due to habitat loss and the Chytrid fungus as well as to stimulate fund raising efforts for the Year of the Frog.
(To help these efforts, Digital Frog International will be donating 5% of The Digital Frog 2.5 sales to Amphibian Ark this year.)
Posted by Tracie Treahy on Apr 14, 2008
Sitting anxiously awaiting the signs of spring, I was listening to a radio program asking listeners to call in with their favorite signs of spring. It got me thinking about mine. Thinking about it I realized I have favorites for different senses. I love to see the first buds of green poking their way out of my garden or the new leaf buds on the trees; of course the early flowers are great too.
Spring has a smell to me, rain and new earth, with last year’s vegetation composting on the ground it adds to that rich earthy smell. Sometimes the smell can be too much, like when the local farmers spread the manure on the new spring fields!
My favorite sound is definitely the Spring Peepers. On my evening walks with the dogs I pass by a couple of wet areas and the chorus of frog chirps is unbelievable. The Peepers are the first frogs out in the spring and can be found in most of eastern North America. These amazing little guys are only .75-1.25 inches long yet they sing a mighty song. We have had great fun learning different frog calls with The Digital Frog 2.5 program. In the ecology section many frog and toad species are investigated and you can listen to and learn their calls.
To hear the distinctive call of the spring peepers, click on the player below.
I also enjoy the earthy flavor of fiddle heads found on our walks (though we usually find them after they unfurl). Now that spring is here I can feel the sun and breeze on my face as I no longer need everything covered up!
What are your favorite Spring experiences?
Add your Spring comments for a chance to win a copy of ScienceMatrix: Cell Structure and Function.
Posted by Tracie Treahy on Mar 25, 2008
At 8 p.m. on March 29, the world will turn off its lights for just one hour ‚Äì Earth Hour.
Some of you may already know about Earth Hour, I know I didn’t until my daughters told me about it. The idea started last year, with World Wildlife Fund in Australia pioneering the first Earth Hour. Almost 2.3 million Sydney residents participated‚ including more than 2,100 businesses. Just one short hour resulted in a 10% reduction on the electrical grid, saving 25,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide, the equivalent of taking about 50,000 cars off the road for an hour. This year the effort is global, with six continents and as many as 20 cities participating. By all of us doing a little bit we can show that it IS possible to take action on climate change.
We are going to participate in my house because climate change is the biggest environmental threat to our planet and one of the main concerns for my family. We are already seeing its impact. Participating in Earth Hour is a simple way to show that we want to be a part of the solution and it sends a powerful message to others that, together, we can make a difference. We will do our part earlier than March 29th as I will be away at the National Science Teachers Association Conference in Boston on that date. Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised by organized Earth Hour activities going on in Boston on the 29th.
Turning the lights off for one hour seems like such a small thing, but the campaign is also about awareness. I am telling all my friends and family about Earth Hour with the hope that some of them will get involved and participate and learn more about the impact we have on the earth every day.
To register yourself and your family or for more information go to the WWF Earth Hour page.
It doesn’t have to end at 9pm on March 29th. To help support our continued efforts, WWF-Canada has created The Good Life‚ a fun and interactive online community for concerned Canadians who want to stop talking about climate change and start taking action. Registrants on the site can access tips, information, and even track their personal reduction in carbon dioxide over the long term. For more information on what you can do after Earth Hour, visit www.thegoodlife.wwf.ca.
Switching off your lights for one hour is just one simple action that you can take to help make a difference; the global darkness will send a powerful message that we care about our planet. Why not make it a monthly, or weekly, event in your house?
Posted by Tracie Treahy on Feb 25, 2008
I have always had an interest in the natural world and its inhabitants, but have certainly grown fonder of frogs since coming to work at Digital Frog International.
This year, 2008 has been dedicated as the Year of The Frog not because of the Chinese Zodiac, but because of the dire situation for frogs and amphibians around the world.
After surviving for over 360 million years, frogs and other amphibians are dying the world over. We could lose as much as 1/3 to 1/2 of the known 6,000 species in our lifetime. Loss of habitat is a big threat, but Chytrid Fungi is quickly becoming the greatest threat to frogs and amphibians. A new strain of the fungi was discovered in 1999, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis and it is believed this is responsible for the widespread demise or many amphibian species.
I have four children and that is not the legacy I want to leave them. They deserve a healthy world with diverse species in it.
We need to take responsibility for the destruction of habitat; frogs are like the canaries in the coal mine , they are indicators of environmental health. The destruction of this species will be a forerunner for many more to follow.
We can help through agencies like Amphibian Ark who are trying to improve public awareness of the frog‚Äôs and amphibian‚Äôs dire situation. The global conservation plan is to keep species that will go extinct in captivity until the time comes that they can be secured again in the wild.
I do feel that we are doing something at Digital Frog by offering an alternative to real frog dissection, by doing virtual dissection we are saving frogs.
I am spreading the word among my friends and family about the frog‚Äôs troubles and hope you can do the same. We all know how fast things can spread when I tell two friends, they tell two friends etc.
Locally we can help to clean up and maintain healthy ponds and wetlands for our North American frogs.
I have taught my children from a young age that looking after the whole environment, not just our small part is an important responsibility, and one that we all need to take seriously. We have enjoyed some great family times over the years helping with clean-ups in our community. I am sure your community does something similar and if not maybe that is something you and your family would like to take on in this all important Year of the Frog