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Book Review: I am Not a Plastic Bag by Rachel Hope Allison

By Lavanya Sunkara
April 29, 2012
File under: Book Review, Conservation, Healthy Habitat

Have you ever thought twice about tossing that plastic bottle in the garbage? Or that handbag you threw in the trash because you got bored with it? Well, they don’t disappear into thin air. They appear in the middle of the ocean, taking on a new life of their own and hurting marine life.

Upon discovering the Great Pacific Garbage Patch a few years ago, artist and illustrator Rachel Hope Allison was shocked. The patch is a giant destructive vortex of floating debris of human consumer waste that has been accumulating over the years. It lies in the calm seas between Hawaii and the California Coastline and is destructing to the marine environment.

Published by Archaia in association with Jeff Corwin Connect (co-founded by conservationist and Emmy winning TV host of Ocean Mysteries Jeff Corwin), Allison’s debut graphic novel I am Not a Plastic Bag is about this very real threat of the giant trash island. The novel is told entirely without words.

Explaining why she chose this topic for her debut novel, Allison said, “I remember being freaked out when I was a little kid when I heard about big problems like global warming and ozone layer. I didn’t know what to do with it. So I decided to write a story that is not all doom and gloom. This book has some whimsical moments too.”

Allison beautifully weaves the tale through colorful illustrations of objects— a supermarket plastic bag, a broken umbrella, a rubber ducky, a car tire—that make their way to the patch in the ocean and form a destructive island of trash. As someone who is passionate about science and wanted to be a marine biologist, Allison artfully portrays the interactions the trash items have with one another and their effect on marine life.

In the book, giant sea birds hovering over the debris get entangled in the remains of plastic bags, a giant squid barely escapes getting caught in the mess. Realty is worse. There have been numerous accounts of beached sperm whales discovered with stomachs full of plastic debris and fishing nets. Albatrosses, mistaking plastic pieces (also known as nurdles) for food that cause a sensation of being full starve to death.

In the foreword of the book, Jeff Corwin wrote, “The journey of discarded waste is wide-ranging and far-reaching. A flyaway sheet of plastic tarp may end up smothering a living boulder of coral reef, while a produce bag from a distant supermarket, masquerading as a jellyfish, could find its way into the belly of an endangered sea turtle.”

While the subject may seem hard to stomach, there are parts in the book that are beautiful and hopeful. And the message is clear- we can all do something to curb the damage. Allison hopes that “the book will get people excited about learning more about nature instead of being scared,” she added.

Even though US citizens take up only 5% of the world population, we generate 40% of our planet’s trash. “Your average American produces nearly 5 pounds of non-biodegradable material each day, which nationally adds up to about 200 million tons of long-lived garbage,” said Jeff Corwin in the forward.

He added, “The good news is that each one of us, no matter where you are from, or how old you are, has the power and the responsibility to keep our Earth clean.”

We can all make simple changes to reduce garbage. We can minimize use of plastic bottles, bags, cans and recycle whenever possible.

I Am Not a Plastic Bag is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble and stores selling graphic novels. For each tree that is cut down for the printing of book, two trees will be planted.

Top Ten Items Found in Ocean Debris (information from Ocean Conservancy)

1) Cigarettes
2) Food wrappers/containers
3) Caps, lids
4) Cups, plates, forks, knives, spoons
5) Plastic beverage bottles
6) Plastic bags
7) Glass beverage bottles
8) Beverage cans
9) Straws/stirrers
10) Rope

www.facebook.com/jeffcorwinconnect

 

 
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Saving Horses for 20 Years: Melanie Sue Bowles, Founder of the Proud Spirit Horse Sanctuary

By Lavanya Sunkara
March 18, 2012
File under: Conservation, Interviews, Wildlife


(Melanie Sue Bowles, Proud Spirit Horse Sanctuary, Arkansas)

HBO’s new racing drama Luck ceased production after the third horse died on the set. The young thoroughbred was euthanized after it hurt its head during a fall. Sadly, the industry that thrives on the backs of these hardworking horses is failing them. The horses are raced at too young of an age before their bones develop, and they sustain injuries as a result. Not all retired race horses get to live out their lives in peace.

Last year I came upon the book, The Horses of Proud Spirit by Melanie Sue Bowles and it opened my eyes to the plight of horses in America. Melanie is the founder of the Proud Spirit Horse Sanctuary located in Mena, Arkansas and she has the same philosophy as I do. Riding horses used to be one of my favorite activities until one day I heard about the abuse that goes on in stables and the horse racing industry, and decided to give it up. I consider horses my friends, not merely a means of enjoyment. …read more of Saving Horses for 20 Years: Melanie Sue Bowles, Founder of the Proud Spirit Horse Sanctuary here

 
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Give the Gift of Hope to Wildlife this Valentine’s Day

By Lavanya Sunkara
February 8, 2012
File under: Conservation, Education, Nature, Wildlife

“The animal kingdom is in critical condition. The affliction isn’t a disease, but rather a crisis of endangerment that threatens to wipe out many of the world’s animal species forever. Ironically, the only species capable of saving these animals is the same one that’s responsible for putting them in danger.”
~ Jeff Corwin 100 Heartbeats: The Race to Save Earth’s Most Endangered Species

It may be hard to admit, but every one of us has played a part in putting the precious animals we share this planet with in peril. The paper we write on, the furniture we use, the homes we live in comes from wood from clear-cut forests, leaving countless animals homeless. The cruises we take leave the oceans polluted and hurt marine life. Circuses perpetuate animal abuse. Tourism industries in many countries rely on …read more of Give the Gift of Hope to Wildlife this Valentine’s Day here

 
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Saving Elephants in India: Dr. Tammie Matson

By Lavanya Sunkara
December 5, 2011
File under: Animal Protection, Interviews, Poaching, Research, Wildlife

It is not uncommon for newspapers in India to report elephant and other wild animal encounters in towns and villages. These creatures are losing their habitat and finding nowhere to go but the human inhabited areas. Dr. Tammie Matson, a wildlife conservationist, started Animal Works, an organization addressing the issue of human-animal conflict in the Assam region of India and raising money for orphaned elephants.

Dr. Matson is an Australian zoologist who spent over a decade working on threatened species in southern Africa. She ran WWF Australia’s national species program from 2007 to 2008. She has published two books, “Dry Water – Diving headfirst into Africa”, about her experiences being a wildlife researcher in Africa, and “Elephant Dance – a story of love and war in the elephant kingdom” based on her work on human-elephant conflict.

Dr. Matson recently won InStyle magazine’s prestigious Women of Style award for the environment in June of 2010. Here, she talks about her life as a conservationist and what we can do to save elephants.  …read more of Saving Elephants in India: Dr. Tammie Matson here

 
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Proud Spirit Dogs: A Photo Essay

By Lavanya Sunkara
November 15, 2011
File under: Animal Stories, Conservation, Education, Nature, Wildlife

There are plenty of people who tirelessly work to save unwanted and abused animals. I recently got an opportunity to spend time with two of them. Melanie Sue Bowles and Jim Bowles, founders of the Proud Spirit Horse Sanctuary, are retired professional fire firefighters who have been saving abandoned and neglected horses for the past 20 years, They have intervened on behalf of nearly 400 horses, and continue to do so.

Over the years, they’ve also opened their hearts and home to plenty of dogs that have found their way into their lives. All of them either abandoned, or locked up in shelters or sent to the vet as puppies because they didn’t meet breed standards. Today, all 13 of their dogs live harmoniously in the house and share the affection of their owners with 58 horses and donkeys in Mena, Arkansas. The horses and donkeys run freely on 320 acres of their property near the Ouachita Mountains. The dogs, however, never leave Melanie and Jim.

As a dog lover, I can never understand how someone can abuse or carelessly abandon their dogs. These innocent animals, some of them very young, diseased or elderly cannot fend for themselves. While most of them suffer due to no fault of their own, some fortunate ones who get rescued by organizations or good-natured people like Melanie and Jim get a second chance and find loving homes.

My time at the Proud Spirit Horse Sanctuary will always remain one of my favorites. Never have I seen so much love, and experienced the joy of being around so many happy animals. That’s the beauty of animals- no matter what they’ve been through- they respond in kind and are loyal to those who care for them. “All they want is some food and love,” says Jim Bowles, petting a dog that Melanie had rescued the first morning I was there. In addition to providing home to so many dogs, the husband and wife team have also helped place dozens of rescued dogs with forever homes.

One of the recent additions to the Bowles’ household is the beautiful dog pictured here with me. His name is Winston, a pitbull mix named after Winston Churchill. He was the size of a rabbit when Melanie and Jim found him and his littermates on the side of the road near their ranch, scared, starving, and covered in fleas and ticks. Melanie was able to find homes for Winston’s siblings, but he became a part of their family and quickly adjusted to the lifestyle with the rest of the dogs. During my stay, Winston followed me everywhere, and was super sweet (as you can tell from the picture). He was full of energy, and never tired of playing with his furry friends.

While I loved all the dogs at the Sanctuary, one in particular stole my heart. Her name is Trudi, a small beagle mix that resembled my own puppy. There was never a moment I could sit on the couch or the porch without Trudi running up and sitting on my lap and showering me with kisses. Melanie and Jim found Trudi, and her sisters Daisy and Trixie as puppies in a ditch with a box of adult dog food next to them that they could barely eat. Today, all three sisters, although the smallest of the bunch, know how to assert themselves. In the picture below, you’ll see little Trudi having a “conversation” with one of the donkeys of Proud Spirit.

Then, there are the fluffball corgis, who with their little legs would climb up to my knees and plead for attention with their curious wide eyes. Most of them are rescued from shelters, and animal hospitals where they were sent to be euthanized because they weren’t “perfect” purebred puppies. One has a blue right eye, another a left blue eye, and another has a floppy ear. Luckily, their imperfections don’t come in the way of how much love they give.

The most captivating story of all of them is that of big Louis. Jim and Melanie’s friends found Louis near death in Florida. He was emaciated, with gun pellets in his body, and suffering from heartworm disease. The Bowles’ friends cared for him, and tried to get him adopted. When no one came forward, Melanie drove all the way to bring him home to Arkansas.

Louis, named after Louis Zamperini, World War II hero written about in Unbroken, has definitely been through his share of suffering for most of his life. Today, he is a much loved member of the Proud Spirit family. He has fully recovered from his ailments, and bounced back to health. Towering over the rest of the dogs, Louie is very possessive of Jim and makes sure no other dogs come near him, but there is plenty of love to go around for all of them.

In the endearing picture below, you’ll see Louis nuzzling his best friend’s ear. “Every dog must be loved this much,” says Melanie, with tears in her eyes and a smile on her face.


How to Help

  • Purchase The Dogs of Proud Spirit book by Melanie Sue Bowles for more true stories about the Proud Spirit dogs. All proceeds go towards the Sanctuary and rescue work.
  • Visit www.HorsesofProudSpirit.com to learn more and make a donation.
  • Before you buy from a breeder, consider rescuing instead. Visit www.Petfinder.com or your local shelter to find your next best friend.
  • Hug a dog or two, it’ll do you some good.

 

Connect with other species on Jeff Corwin Connect

 

 
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Saving Elephants in India: Dr. Tammie Matson

By Lavanya Sunkara
September 12, 2011
File under: Animal Protection, Black Market, Interviews, Survival Stories

It is not uncommon for newspapers in India to report elephant and other wild animal encounters in towns and villages. These creatures are losing their habitat and finding nowhere to go but the human inhabited areas. Dr. Tammie Matson, a wildlife conservationist, started Animal Works, an organization addressing the issue of human-animal conflict in the Assam region of India and raising money for orphaned elephants.

Dr. Matson is an Australian zoologist who spent over a decade working on threatened species in southern Africa. She ran WWF Australia’s national species program from 2007 to 2008. She has published two books, “Dry Water – Diving headfirst into Africa”, about her experiences being a wildlife researcher in Africa, and “Elephant Dance – a story of love and war in the elephant kingdom” based on her work on human-elephant conflict.

Dr. Matson recently won InStyle magazine’s prestigious Women of Style award for the environment in June of 2010. Here, she talks about her life as a conservationist and what we can do to save elephants.

LS: What inspired you to become a wildlife conservationist?

TM: I have been passionate about animals from a young age. I grew up in North Queensland on …read more of Saving Elephants in India: Dr. Tammie Matson here

 
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Andros, Bahamas: Unexplored Paradise

By Lavanya Sunkara
August 19, 2011
File under: Ecosystems, Healthy Habitat, Travel

“I don’t see any bonefish!” I said, standing on a flatboat in the middle of shallow aqua green waters of Fresh Creek in Andros, the largest island in the Bahamas 30 miles west of Nassau.

I walked to the edge of the boat, trying to catch a glimpse of the much sought after fish, which brings many around the world hoping to try their hand at this delicate art of hunting. The fish are almost always released back into the water. At the back of the flatboat, Ricardo navigated slowly from the poling platform. In a hushed tone, he told Glaister who is up front to cast the line 20 feet as we floated quietly.

“There are hundreds of bonefish here!” Glaister said handing me his sunglasses, which apparently help with seeing the dusky finned fish in the clear waters. I still couldn’t see any, which explains why the fish are called “gray ghosts”. …read more of Andros, Bahamas: Unexplored Paradise here

 
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Off the Beaten Path in Costa Rica: Exploring Manuel Antonio and Rainmaker Reserve

By Lavanya Sunkara
August 4, 2011
File under: Rainforest, Travel, Wildlife

MANUEL ANTONIO NATIONAL PARK


The first Jeff Corwin Experience DVD I bought was about Costa Rica. I had seen the show so many times that I’d say the lines even before him. “It’s time to go from a quadruped to a biped in search of a no-ped”, is one of my favorites.

When I made my trip to the beautiful country, I didn’t have to search for any snakes. A gorgeous boa constrictor crawled from the nearby jungle onto the front yard of Costa Verde, the hotel I was staying in. It wasn’t a surprise because wildlife is abundant; more so in Manuel Antonio than in other places.

I also knew that the snake was non-venomous, but kills its prey by wrapping around it. Some boa constrictor species are endangered as they are excessively hunted for their exotic skin. As I touched this boa’s fine ornate layer, while it was being gently held by the security guard, I couldn’t help but feel exhilarated. …read more of Off the Beaten Path in Costa Rica: Exploring Manuel Antonio and Rainmaker Reserve here

 
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Sea Turtles of Florida’s Canaveral National Seashore

By Lavanya Sunkara
July 21, 2011
File under: Conservation, Interviews, Research, Turtles, Wildlife

ls-turtles-01.jpg

I was in awe of hearing that more than 100 turtles crossed an active runway at New York’s J.F.K airport recently. These diamondback terrapins that inhabit the surrounding brackish wetlands delayed air traffic and caused quite a sensation.

The turtle crossings happen every year during breeding season, with more activity in some years than others. The turtles were safely taken from the tarmac and deposited in a sandy nestworthy area out of harm’s way. Then it dawned on me that we are the ones invading their space.

Many of the turtle species are endangered. Reasons range from global warming to party balloons (who knew?). To learn more, I reached out to a sea turtle conservation expert. Dr. Candace Carter, …read more of Sea Turtles of Florida’s Canaveral National Seashore here

 
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30-Day Guide to a Smaller Carbon Footprint

By Lavanya Sunkara
July 7, 2011
File under: Conservation, Ecosystems, Education, Environmental Concerns

30-days.jpg

Melting icebergs, rise in sea level, threatened animal species, increase in severe storms are just a few effects of global warming.

Some believe climate change is a natural part of the planet’s life, while others are convinced that it is a result of human activities that produce carbon gasses that are trapping heat and warming Earth.

Whichever stance you make take, there is no denying that the planet is in peril. Ecosystems are being destroyed, forests are cleared for timber, millions of acres of land are exploited for resources, oceans are drilled for oil, rivers are polluted by industry waste, and countries are struggling to feed growing populations. …read more of 30-Day Guide to a Smaller Carbon Footprint here

 
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Whether you’re a scientist working in the field or a young person in your backyard, this is where you get to share your stories through pictures, videos and articles with the rest of the world. Without your voice, these stories go unshared, and our planet’s ecology, wildlife and natural resources go unexplored. Connect with each other and us and let’s enjoy this process of learning from one another.

 
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