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Earth Dr Reese Halter's Blog

NATURE'S BLUEPRINT

Dolphins are now considered non-humans in India with rights to a free life. Photo credit: Ardea.

Story ran on Huffington Post March 5, 2014

The last Monday of February 2014 was indeed historic for Malibu, Calif., because the Malibu City Council proclaimed that all cetaceans (whales and dolphins) that pass its shoreline have the right to life. Malibu is the first American city to protect cetaceans!

Once upon a time, tens of millions of dolphins and whales roamed the oceans in freedom. In fact, superpods in excess of 100,000 Bottlenose dolphins were common unlike today.

My colleague Jeff Hansen, director of Sea Shepherd Australia, aptly refers to sharks as “doctors of the sea.” We can also add to that list: Dolphins and whales as mammalian doctors of the sea.

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Story ran on Malibu Times Blog April 26, 2013

Imagine the most perfect tree on Earth: one that outdoes all others in magnificence, size, height, productivity, habitat, architecture and ability to draw thousands of gallons of water. Imagine, too, it is marvelously resistant to drought, fire, insects, disease, mudslides, flooding and wind, with exquisite biodiversity in its crown. Then, and only then, as John Muir put it, “you’d know the coastal monarch of their race” — the immortal Sequoia sempervirens, otherwise known as the coastal redwood.

Redwoods’ direct lineage can be traced back 144 million years ago to the beginning of the Cretaceous Period. That’s when Tyrannosaurus Rex was beginning to rule for 40 million years as no reptile nor animal has ever done since.

Redwoods are unique for many reasons. They are able to reproduce from both seed and organs, called lignotubers, located at the base of the tree just beneath the soil. No other conifer possesses this dual reproduction mechanism. It’s a trait that is widespread among the more advanced race of trees, the broadleaves or angiosperms, some 80 million years after the redwoods were born.

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beaver lodge, Utah

Beavers are formidable harvesters. They can drop a 10-inch diameter tree within minutes. Yet, they also know how to regrow forests and promote water conservation.

Beavers are the largest of all North American rodents, weighing a whopping 44 pounds. They move slowly and awkwardly over land and so they’ve mastered the path of least resistance – floating through the forest. In fact, they are experts in the world of fresh water.

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Fish Lake, UT

Spring is in the air and a marvelous plant known as skunk cabbage, or yellow lantern, is already in bloom throughout much of Pacific Northwest. This remarkable plant is able to flower when the temperature still hovers around freezing.

Its habitat and physical characteristics make skunk cabbage easy to recognize. Found in mid- to low elevations, this native Pacific Northwest plant thrives in mucky, wet swamps near red alder, Sitka spruce and western redcedar.

The physical and chemical features of skunk cabbage – a member of the arum family – distinguish it from all other native plants. It has large green leaves with a yellow, erect column, about 8 inches high, surrounded by a bright yellow sheath.

It’s a precocious spring bloomer and has an eloquent sequence of events leading to flowering. Often the flower is 86 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the surrounding air, enabling it to punch through snow cover. These high temperatures occur because the plant oxidizes vast amounts of stored food, mainly fat, sometimes consuming in one day as much as a quarter of the total weight of the erect floral column.

Some lilies, like the Easter lily, are very fragrant. Others are fetid. What’s so important about how a flower smells?  Scent determines which insects will partner with plants and assist with pollination. Sweet smelling flowers attract bees and wasps while foul smelling flowers mimic carrion and entice flies and some beetles to act as pollinators.

Skunk cabbage, as the name implies, stinks. And in the Pacific Northwest it relies on rove beetles to assist with its pollination. The beetles are attracted to the smell and when they land on the flower, they gorge themselves with pollen and other flower parts. After feasting and before leaving, some beetles even indulge in mating. When they land on the next skunk cabbage, inadvertently they brush against the new flower and pass pollen from one plant to the next.

These highly evolved relationships within nature constantly remind scientists how important and exquisite all life within forests are.

Skunk cabbage berries are an important spring food source for ground squirrels and particularly black and grizzly bears. The First Peoples of the Pacific Northwest ate steamed parts of skunk cabbage, but only sparingly. The plant contains a form of calcium that has sharp crystals which cause irritation and burning sensations. The leaves were used as a “wax paper” for lining berry baskets and steaming pits.

The sight of this magical yellow lantern-like plant makes it official – spring has sprung in the Pacific Northwest.

Australia, Radio 1, National: Ockham’s Razor

Earth Dr Reese Halter is a broadcaster, biologist, educator and author of The Incomparable Honeybee and The Economics of Pollination.

Text © by Dr Reese Halter 2014. All rights reserved.

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Captain Paul Watson and Earth Dr Reese Halter outside Le Pain Quotidien in West Hollywood, California. Photo credit: Lisa Agabian, Sea Shepherd USA.

Story ran on Huffington Post April 9, 2014

As rescuers continue to frantically search for disappeared Malaysian Airline Flight MH370 a thousand miles or so west of Perth, Australia, one thing has become very apparent: The Indian Ocean is full of millions of tons of plastic. Did you know that 3.5 million pieces of plastic enter the oceans 24/7, 365 or the equivalent of 20 million tons a year?

Most plastics entering our oceans breakdown into ‘microplastic’ or diminutive pieces that resemble confetti, and sealife mistake those microplastics for food. So now millions of seabirds, tens of thousands of sea turtles and billions of fish are filled with pieces of plastic. By the way, microplastics act as powerful sponges for oceanic toxins such as: DDT, methyl-mercury, BPA, phalates, PCBs and flame-retardants. What we do to the oceans we do to ourselves. Clearly, the safety of seafood is in dire jeopardy.

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From Santa Monica Daily Press, May 17, 2012

Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado straddles the great continental divide. It’s home to the headwaters of the mighty Colorado River. This southern Rocky Mountain park is dominated by rugged peaks, evergreen forests and breathtaking alpine tundra.

Summers can be warm with lightning and thunderstorms and winters can be cold. This high elevation park sits between 7,800 and 11,800 feet above sea level.

As you enter the park heading west on U.S. Route 36, be sure to get out of the vehicle; stop, smell and listen. On a warm summer’s day the breezy air is filled with the butterscotch scent of ponderosa pine. These magnificent, three-needles-in-a-bundle, prickly, barreled-shaped cones and furrowed russet bark trees stand proud, guarding the gateway to the west. Listen to the wind and experience what John Muir, mountaineer and naturalist extraordinaire, wrote: “This species gives forth the finest music to the winds.”

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Champion conservationist Peter Corbett with his original water color of the threatened westslope cutthroat trout of southwestern British Columbia. Corbett has been working for 15 years to protect these fresh-water beauties with the help of Global Forest Science, Moore Foundation and the Donner Foundation. Kudos to all parties involved in this epic conservation effort.

Story on Malibu Times Blog April 4, 2014

In 1938 Majorie Courtenay-Latimer the first curator of the Natural History Museum in East London, South Africa, was presented a breathtaking, well-preserved coelacanth (pronounced “SEAL-a-canth) by Captain Hendrik Goosen.

Coelacanths were presumed to have died off en masse like the dinosaurs during the last great extinction at the end of the Cretaceous period some 63 million years ago.

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