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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


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The Endangered Unknown – The Mountain Sweet Pitcher Plant

By Peter Kleinhenz
December 22, 2011
File under: Environmental Concerns, Environmental Protection, Healthy Habitat, Poaching, Wildlife

High on a mountaintop in northern South Carolina, a buzzing fly meets a sweet smell. Flying towards the scent, the fly soon finds that the source is on the edge of a strange-looking plant. The fly stops and finds itself in a cesspool of delicious nectar. While following the trail of this nectar, the fly slips on a waxy surface and falls down into the plant. The fly tries to fly out but super-slick surfaces directly underneath downward-pointing hairs prevent any movement.

For several minutes the fly struggles in the water before exhaustion sets in and it drowns. This tale seems like something out of a poorly-written monster movie but, in reality, it’s a common occurrence due to the incredible adaptations of one of the most interesting and threatened plants on Earth: the Mountain Sweet Pitcher Plant.

The Mountain-Sweet Pitcher Plant, Sarracenia rubra ssp. jonesii, lives mainly in habitats that are known as cataract bogs. These consist of exposed slabs of granite with cool mountain water trickling over parts of their surfaces, inundating accumulated detritus and moss with water. It is here that carnivorous plants such as pitcher plants grow. …read more of The Endangered Unknown – The Mountain Sweet Pitcher Plant here

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Wild Tsavo

By Corinne Kendall
December 12, 2011
File under: Animal Protection, Conservation, Healthy Habitat, Natural Resources, Wildlife

Based on our movement work, we know that vultures from the Mara spend about five percent of their time in the two Tsavo National Parks. For this reason, I decided that it might be worth exploring the area one more time to get a feel for this unique ecosystem during the dry season as well.

If the Mara is the land of plenty, then Tsavo is the world of giants. Huge red-dusted elephants walk silently upon the dry earth and dig incredible holes in their constant search for water. Beautiful baobabs are scattered around, their fuzzy fruits littering the ground as their impressive trunks and finger-like branches cover the landscape.

Hyraxes can be seen in the many rocky outcroppings and we were lucky to find one climbing a small branch reaching hopefully for some tiny green berries. Pale chanting goshawks were the bird of plenty here though we saw only a handful of vultures.

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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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Kids Connect! Healthy Habitats

By Christine DePetrillo
June 10, 2011
File under: Education, Environmental Protection, Habitat Loss, Healthy Habitat, Wildlife


What’s a habitat? It’s home, sweet, home for a species. A habitat includes the food, water, cover, and places to raise young that a creature needs in order to survive on this planet.

There are several kinds of habitats such as deserts, forests, grasslands, wetlands, and the tundra. Each of these habitats supports the animals that live in it and contributes to the overall beauty of Earth.

Don’t believe me? Check out these …read more of Kids Connect! Healthy Habitats 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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