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Environmental Heroes

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Bonnie Monteleone – Plastic Ocean Project

I was asked recently to give several presentations at local libraries about “Environmental Heroes”.  This took some thought and consideration, because throughout my life I have had so many.

My first environmental hero is my dad, George Victor Smith.  He taught me how to enjoy nature.  I grew up with my beautiful sister, Drew, right along the ICW in Beaufort, NC.  Days were filled with marsh mud up to my ankles (sometimes knees) and playing with periwinkles from the marsh grass or frogs from the ditch.  We canoed, fished, learned to swim, and played with every creature we could find.  My dad thought me that it’s okay to get muddy, explore, and really discover nature by getting my hands dirty.

When I was around 10 years old, and in the Girl Scouts, I learned about Rachel Carson and joined the NC Big Sweep beach cleanups as a volunteer.  Rachel Carson is a well-known environmental hero and continues to inspire millions worldwide with the research she published in order to save coastal wildlife.  I think what I learned most from her books and teachings is that no matter the struggle, everyone has a voice and to never give up on what you feel is right for the environment.

At around age 20 and during college, my environmental hero was my environmental biology professor, Dr. Gilbert Grant.  A world-traveling environmental hero, who’s passion for birds and bats, taught me not only about the laws of ecology, but during some travels together I learned about ethnobotany, identifying plant species in the field, and also how documenting and recording data for publication plays a vital role in studying how our ecosystems are changing now and in the future and allows for others to share the same knowledge.

In my mid twenties, my environmental hero or heroes, I should say, were the very inspiring members of the Carolina Recycling Association, as mentioned during #WasteReductionWednesday s.  These fine illustrious (as Tom Rhodes would say) colleagues inspired me to go full-tilt-boogy into the resource management world as a career and I have never looked back ever since.  The knowledge gained by each member has shown me how not only to implement sustainable waste reduction programs in the community, but also to live the sustainable and waste free lifestyle – practicing what I teach.

In my early 30s, I had so many environmental heroes.  Three of which stand out the most to me.  My dear friend, Kristin Fountain, is a local environmental hero with strong coastal roots and has taught me to have no fear when it comes to protecting what you love (the marine environment).  She left home during college to live in Cambodia for two years and volunteer for a Sea Horse Conservation program.

Kristin was very inspirational and quite possibly the single reason that I learned to scuba dive.  Dr. Sylvia Earle, a well-known environmental hero, has also been a huge inspiration and has helped me, through her writings and documentaries, to find the words to teach others about how our fate and the ocean’s fate are one and the same.

Another hero of my mid thirties is Captain Charles Moore.  He discovered the Pacific Garbage Patch by accident and he continues to study the area and educate others about it’s detrimental effects to us all.  Someone who reminds me a lot of Captain Moore is my fav local environmental hero, Bonnie Monteleone of UNCW and the Plastic Ocean Project.  She has been to every ocean gyre collecting plastic debris and studying things like chemical absorption and the effects plastics have on certain marine creatures.  She also came up with one of the best ideas I have seen yet on how to teach folks about plastics in the ocean.  She has a traveling art exhibit.  Check it out here:  www.plasticoceanproject.org

One of my most recent environmental heroes, past three years, is my dear friend Dr. Jenna Jambeck of the University of Georgia.  She is a professor of environmental engineering and has studied solid waste infrastructure all over the world.  She is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to how our impacts on land effect the quality of our oceans and has developed my fav app of all time, the #MarineDebrisTracker App.  (free to download on your smart device).  Check it out here:  http://www.marinedebris.engr.uga.edu

I met Jenna while working to form the NC Marine Debris Symposium stakeholder group three years ago and she has been a key leader in our group ever since.  I adore her not only for sharing her knowledge and inspiring me to learn more about plastics in the ocean, but also she, like all of my heroes, practices what she teaches and is a role model for all.

Most recently Jenna was part of the eXXpedition (http://exxpedition.com) Atlantic journeying at sea aboard a 72 foot sailing vessel studying plastics in the ocean and making her way with other women across the Atlantic for this research.  She inspired me to submit an application to join the 2015 crew (eXXpedition Amazon).  Now, officially part of the 2015 eXXpedition crew, I will be continuing her research and collecting samples and conducting studies both land-based and at sea for the month of Dec.

My most recent environmental heroes are Olivia (10) and Carter Ries (12) of One More Generation (http://onemoregeneration.org), a non-profit that they built because they see the need for youth involvement in shaping our future community environment around the world.  Just like Rachel Carson, these young heroes are a voice for a generation to become inspired, take notice, and support.  Their efforts are vast and impressive.  From the preservation of our endangered wildlife and environmental conservation to youth empowerment and the list of projects and programs they are taking on keeps growing.

My husband, Wes Rider, is an environmental hero protecting the ocean with his pre-surf session beach cleanups.  My sister, Drew, is a true waste reduction environmental hero and is a minimalist when it comes to consumer products.  My friend, Beth Howard, and the art teacher at Dixon Elementary School is my hero for helping start up the school recycling program at her school and is a long-time volunteer at the local sea-turtle hospital.

My list of environmental heroes is always growing.  It is important for all of us to seek out the inspiration of others.  We are never so full of knowledge that we cannot learn from the experience of others, no matter their age, background, or where they live.  We should all aspire to be environmental heroes if only just for the preservation of our own community environment, but to those that yearn to go above and beyond, I salute you today and everyday.  You are all my environmental heroes.  “…do your best, because we need you.” – Anonymous Interviewee during the documentary eXXpedition Atlantic

Blue skies and calm seas,


Sharky Sunday: Diving at Shark Canyon

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Here is a video of my dive at Shark Canyon in October 2014:


Reef Sharks, Hawksbill Sea Turtles, and Eels – Oh my…

Blue Heron Bridge

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The Blue Heron Bridge, also known as Phil Foster Park, has to be one of my fav shore dive sites.  It is located in Riviera Beach, Florida.  It features an “Underwater Snorkeling Trail” that is perfect for non-divers and the diving there is spectacular considering the max depth is around 15ft.  The area is full of marine life including seahorses, octopus, pipefish, sea robins, batfish, flying guards, stargazers, and nudibranchs of over 100 different species.

One of the cool things about this site is easy access.  Grab your gear, check the tides, and head out.  You want to dive this site at a slack tide for the best conditions.  The current can get very strong under the bridges and can pull you right into the boat channel quickly in between slack tides.

There are some small wrecks toward the Singer Island side near the east bridge and an underwater shopping cart graveyard of sorts amongst other notable sites.

There are also showers, a bath house, plenty of parking, and a lifeguard stand under the bridge as well.

I have had the opportunity to dive this site several times during a few trips to Florida and I always see some new creatures.  I also always find debris to remove coming from roadside litter and boating debris washing over from other areas and also coming from folks tossing items over the bridge.  It can be a bit frustrating, but also motivating so I always bring my trusty Project AWARE dive agains debris bag.

For underwater cleanups, I like to make sure the dive shop that I rent my tanks from have recycling stations. This way if the location I am cleaning up does not have recycling, I can drop debris when I drop my tank.

Tricks to an underwater cleanup include:
1. Bringing a mesh bag (Project AWARE also has great mesh bags and also bio bags for underwater cleanups),
2. Bring a knife to cut line (I’ve recently been an entanglement victim and it is not fun, but with a knife is not as scary as it sounds),
3. Focus on non-biodegradable items such as plastics, if you pickup glass bottles make sure there are no creatures living in or on them – if so leave it – glass is just silca (sand) – it’ll be okay right where it is,
4. Stay buoyant – don’t let your bag drag the ocean floor – you could damage reef, etc.,
5. Finish the dive when you cannot keep buoyant with the bag,
6. Have fun – don’t just focus on trash, check out the wildlife – that’s what diving is all about,
7. Report your findings using the Marine Debris Tracker App and Project AWARE- be sure to track as close to the site as possible – if you are on a boat – track before you leave the site, if you are at a shore dive – track at the shoreline – Think Surface Interval Fun!
8. Tell the local dive shop about your findings. This is super important. If there is a large amount of debris that you couldn’t get to, they might be encouraged to do their own underwater cleanup event with a larger crew. Be sure to tell them about Project AWARE, although I am sure they will already know since you did your research on eco-friendly and conservation conscience dive shops,
9. Blog about it, share pics and stories on FB, Twitter, and other social media outlets to encourage others.
10. Report your photos and data with the North Carolina Marine Debris Symposium (NCMDS) folks (even if it is out of State) here by emailing RidTheSeaOfMarineDebris@gmail.com and use the Marine Debris Tracker App if you are doing shoreline cleanups.