Sunday, March 22, 2009

Bad Shrimp, Bad!

Did you know that shrimp are the #1 bad seafood choice in terms of environmental impact?  The good people at are concerned you might not.  In response, they are running the first Viral Video Contest

Tell them why "shrimp suck" in a video of up to one minute in length and win a Flip Video camera.

Post your video by June 1st, 2009. Awards will be announced to the world on World Ocean Day '09...June 8th.

The research is clear, bottom trawling for shrimp and most shrimp farming is about as bad for the ocean as a human activity can get.  In some places there's 20 pounds of bycatch (animals like sea turtles, young sharks, fish, and crabs) for every pound of shrimp caught.
 Many shrimp farms are created by destroying mangrove forests and wetlands (pictured). But even most eco-minded people still have no idea how bad shrimp are for our coasts and oceans. Meanwhile, shrimp remain the number one seafood in the US, and their price comes nowhere close to reflecting their true cost.

Upload your video of one minute or less in length to YouTube, add keyword "" so ShrimpSuck.Org can find it, and send an email with your video's URL to:

There will be awards for best, funniest and most viewed videos,reviewed by our expert panel of judges.

Get creative and tell why you don't eat shrimp, show why shrimp suck or share ideas about the best alternatives. 

And share the email and your soon-to-be-award-winning video with everyone you know who cares about the ocean.

Photo credits: Ecuadorian shrimp farm (Arlo Hemphill), Shrimp bycatch (NOAA)

Monday, March 16, 2009

To Sea Patagonia

Melbourne, Florida. The Patagonia Sea (southwestern Atlantic), is one of the most spectacular marine ecoregions on the planet. What it lacks in biodiversity, it more than makes up for 
in productivity and immense aggregations of marine wildlife.  Elephant seals, penguins, sea lions, whales and other megafauna congregate in mass in what can only be referred to as wildlife spectacles.  But like many parts of the ocean today, this sea is in trouble.  Overfishing, harmful fishing practices, pollution and inadequate management measures threaten this unique area, much of which is still poorly understood.

As a means to raise awareness on and document the conservation status of the Patagonian Sea coast, I am proposing an expedition to traverse Argentina’s coastline from north to south by non-motorized means.

  Traveling by kayak and foot (and possibly to a limited extent horseback, bicycle and sail), I plan take photographs, video, interviews and collect scientific data on water quality and biodiversity along the way.  My proposed starting point for this journey will be the magnificent Iguaçu Falls at the intersect of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay.  From there, I will work my way by kayak down the Rio Paraná, important in terms of its role as the major source of freshwater discharge into the Patagonian Sea.

  Upon reaching the Rio de la Plata, I will then set out by foot, from Buenos to Tierra del Fuego.  And this journey is intended to be shared with you. As often as possible, I will upload blog/vlog posts here at Walk on the Wild Side.  This will be the first stage of a dream to transform this blog from sideline reporting on wilderness news, to an actual day to day account of walking through the wild.

You can help make this dream a reality by voting online for Patagonia See at the Name Your Dream Assignment contest! Additionally, the expedition is in need of all kinds of support ranging from in-kind donations of website construction, to field gear, to actual monetary donations that will support the travel, science and subsistence costs.  Please feel free to direct any inquiries or offers of support or collaboration to me, Arlo Hemphill:

The impetus behind this adventure stems from my belief that our oceans are in dire trouble.  One means to combat this crisis is to address human activities on the ocean at the scale of large marine ecosystems, of which the Patagonian Sea represents a distinct unit.

  But this adventure is also the culmination of a passion that was instilled in me for the wildlife and landscape of Patagonia.  I first visited the region in early 2005 when, as a marine program manager for Conservation International, I was invited down to explore some of the wild coastline.  It was love at first sight.  And my first visit shortly turned into a regular relationship as a steering committee member on the Forum for the Conservation of the Patagonia Sea and Areas of Influence.  The pictures of me included with this post are from that time. 

One of my fondest adventures in the region was with Dr. Claudio Campagna, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Sea and Sky Program.  I joined Claudio on the Peninsula Valdes and with him had the opportunity to track down a tagged southern elephant seal Mirounga leonina using radio telemetry.  The young seal in question also wore a satellite tag and our quest was to remove this tag to access the invaluable oceanographic data collected over a season at sea.  In the picture above the young female is temporarily incapacitated after being tranquilized for the removal of the device.  The photo here to the right was taken on one of Patagonia’s Estancias, which are large shepherding ranches.

The animal in my company is a young guanaco Lama guanicoe, one of South America’s four species of camel.  This particular individual was semi-domesticated, living in association with the Estancia. However, these animals range wild throughout this landscape and are bountiful.

Looking ahead, I see the most challenging portion of this trek to be the lower third of the Argentine coast.  It is a wild, harsh landscape with low human population density and miles upon miles of trackless, near-desert wilderness.  It is this, and the unknown that lies therein, that draws me more than anything.  I appreciate your help in moving this adventure forward and I look forward to sharing this time with you through this blog.

Photo Credits: Arlo and elephant seal (Natalia Machain), Maps of Argentina (Forum for the Conservation of the Patagonian Sea and Areas of, MSN Encarta), Iguaçu Falls (Wikipidia), Arlo and guanaco (Rodolfo "Bubu" Werner)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Florida Elephants

Melbourne, Florida. It's been only a few weeks since I made the post on the concept of a Pleistocene Park in Florida. So, you can imagine what a thrill it is to learn that this may become a partial reality! Don't get me wrong, there are no plans to reassemble the montage of genetically-similar animals that existed in Florida's pre-history as proposed in my post. However, there is a plan underway to provide habitat for one of the most ecologically important, not to mention biggest of those beasts!

Waste Management has agreed to provide 300 acres of property in Okeechobee, Florida to The National Elephant Center. The site will house a state of the art conservation and research facility, acting as both a refuge for captive elephants in the U.S. and an epicenter for elephant science and conservation. The facility intends to house both African Loxodonta spp. and Asian elephants Elephas maximus. It will include open space for the elephants to roam and explore while providing a variety of natural waterholes for wallowing.

Now, just throw in a few lions, wild horses, capybara and South American camelids and rewilding Florida will be in business!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Big Fish, Little Fish

Melbourne, Florida. Just about a year ago this week, biologist Zeb Hogan was exploring the Mekong River in northern Cambodia when he got word of a giant stingray caught by anglers in the Bang Pakong River in Thailand. Although skeptical, Hogan went to meet the anglers and was rewarded with a 14-foot-long (4.3-meter-long) whiptail ray Himantura chaophraya. And the monster was pregnant! Now I've seen a lot of large ocean rays in my days, but I had no idea that a ray could get quite this big! And this is a freshwater species no less! The whiptail ray, first described by science only as recently as 1989, is rumored to reach a mammoth size of 1000 lbs (450 Kilograms) in rivers of Southeast Asia and northern Australia. This fact, if verified, would make this the largest freshwater fish on the planet. Check out the following video clip of this "megafish":

Hogan's stingray discovery is part of The Megafishes Project, the first worldwide attempt to document and protect the planet’s freshwater giant fishes. To qualify as a "megafish," a species must grow to at least 6.5 feet (2 meters) in length or 220 pounds (100 kilograms) in weight. Big fish, much like their terrestrial counterparts, are facing extreme threats. Also similar to their terrestrial counterparts, their presence is indicative of a healthy, thriving ecosystem. The places where these fishes exist are the last of what might be considered freshwater wilderness on our planet. However, everything from over-fishing, dams, pollution and habitat destruction are contributing to the demise of these giants. Many of the large fish are now on the path toward extinction, a warning sign of severe problems confronting river ecosystems.

If the whiptail ray is a fish larger than would be expected, another recent National Geographic story highlights the discovery of a small fish that is usually thought of as big.
A newborn whale shark Rhincodon typus was found last week in San Antonio, Philippines. After learning it was for sale, a project leader from the international conservation organization WWF went to investigate. What he found, leashed to a stake in the mud, was a 15 inch shark - the smallest ever reported. The shark was later released and researchers are optimistic that clues towards identifying the birthing grounds will help better protect this species.

For more on big fishes, tune into the National Geographic Channel this Sunday, March 15th for Monster Fish of the Amazon at 8pm followed by Monster Fish of the Mekong at 9pm. These are the latest media installments of The Megafishes Project, previews of which can be viewed below.

Colbert Gets Barreleyed

Melbourne, Florida. You may recall the barreleye fish from a few posts back. Check the reaction on

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Blue Fever

Melbourne, Florida. In recent years we've seen unprecedented and disturbing trends take shape in our planet's oceans. As scientists estimate the loss of 90% of large predatory fishes and potentially half the world's tropical corals, humankind's footprint on the ocean is more visible than ever. But there is hope. A global network of passionate marine conservationists are becoming increasingly vocal and ever more tech-savvy in terms of communicating the ocean's plight.

Enduring mainstays of marine conservation such as Dr. Sylvia Earle and Jean-Michel Cousteau are now being joined by a host of concerned scientists, explorers and emerging advocates who are adding their voices to a global call to action asking us to rethink how our species interfaces with the ocean environment. Considering the sometimes gloom and doom statistics facing the wet part of our planet, it is not surprising to see growing concern and new leadership take shape. However, it is the means by which these salty saviors are communicating that raises an eyebrow. Traditional written media, policy wonking and boring research briefs are overshadowed by a wave of film, new media, innovative exploration and youth-geared cool factor. It is as if the innovative precedent set by Jacques Cousteau, considered by many to be the grandfather of ocean messaging, has been exponentially magnified by the latest generation. And right in the thick of things are Cousteau's actual grandchildren. Both Fabien and Philippe Cousteau have followed in the family footsteps to bring the ocean to the populace of 21st Century.

But the Cousteau men are just a few of the many young voices speaking out for the ocean. Ocean Revolution, a youth movement launched by sea turtle biologist J. Nichols, is geared at preparing the next generation of ocean leaders. These future leaders are even now utilizing on-line tools never before imagined, such as Google Earth's new ocean layer. This recent expansion of Google Earth allows desktop explorers to not only roam our planet's cities and above water-terrain, but also below the waves to the deepest depths of the ocean. The layer is riddled with stunning graphic bathymetry, vivid imagery and compelling stories of our watery world. Users can scout surf sites, visit with satellite-tagged whales and sharks in real time, or learn what can be done to restore healthy oceans.

Another young person to watch is Roz Savage, who recently spoke on a panel of explorers at the Blue Vision Summit in Washington, D.C. Roz, a native of Great Britain, was the first woman to solo paddle across the Atlantic. Not satisfied with that accomplishment, she also recently paddled from San Francisco to Hawai'i and plans to complete the trans-Pacific voyage to Australia in coming months. And aside from accomplishing monumental physical feats, Roz uses satellite technology to send out podcasts and written updates of her voyages and concern for the oceans onto the Internet. The following clip from YouTube tells her story:

In upcoming months look forward to more compelling ocean media at the Blue Ocean Film Festival, for which registration recently began. The festival, which will take place in Savannah, Georgia from June 11-14th, 2009, will be a showcase for films meant to inspire people to protect our oceans and the life within. This is the 2nd such film festival this year. The San Francisco Ocean Film Festival, which just recently wrapped, also drew large numbers and showcased spectacular films on our ocean planet.

Finally, marine scientists and conservationists from the world over will soon converge in Washington, D.C. for the 1st International Marine Conservation Congress (IMCC) on May 19-24th, 2009. Using everything from submersibles to satellite tags, these ocean professionals employ increasingly innovative tools to gain better insights into the ocean and what can be done to protect it. What new tools, inspiring media and creative solutions will emerge from this next gathering of the minds? We'll have to wait and see...

Image credit: Octopus: NOAA

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Playin' the Wild Card!

Melbourne, Florida. After a brief input period, Walk on the Wild Side is now this blog’s official name. I’d like to thank the many people who contributed thoughtful and creative name ideas via Facebook. To mention a few of my favorite runners-up, we had Wild at Heart, Playin’ the Wild Card and Into the Great Wide Open from Rebecca Suder, blogger at the Richmond Times' Parenting Blog; and Where the Wild Things Are from conservationist Kelly Rigg of the Varda Group. On the humorous side, actor Michael Arturo contributed Anywhere Arlo goes…; Melbourne Beach, Florida Mayor Rita Karpie contributed Arlone in the Woods and political conservative Mark Patton offered Confessions of a Recovering Liberal. To keep track of Walk on the Wild Side via Facebook, please join the blog’s fan site.

On other fronts, herpetologist and scientific illustrator Ted Kahn, who submitted the winning blog name, has provided the pictures and following content for this post. His own picture of the red salamander Psuedotriton ruber is seen below. The Wildlife Conservation Society picture above of an adult and toadlet Panamanian golden frog Atelopus zeteki depicts one of the many amphibians globally that now face extinction due to the synergist impacts of habitat loss, climate change, disease spread and introduction of invasive species. Amphibians – as so called “indicator species” - are bellwethers of what may follow for other life forms, including the human species, if steps are not taken to avert declines through the maintenance of intact and resilient wilderness areas.

Ted Kahn writes:

“Sadly, stunning toad species like this Atelopus zeteki from Panama and its cryptically green progeny, which will later in life turn brilliant yellow and black, may eventually only exist in zoological parks, and then only in photographs and to those of us lucky enough to have memories. Atelopus toads are considered the world’s most critically endangered terrestrial vertebrate species. Amphibians, in general, face an extinction rate as high as the last great extinction event, the 5th, which occurred 65 million years ago. It is our obligation to prevent the 6th mass extinction. Yes, the one we are experiencing now today.

While the world’s frogs and toads have held the spotlight, salamanders are also in dire need of conservation. Few people know that North America hosts the highest salamander diversity in the world. And they are facing extinction as well.

What can you do? Start by talking about it, look, listen and learn – then take appropriate action with the folks you meet, know, and have a “can do” attitude. It is my hope that this forum (Walk on the Wild Side) will facilitate action and reduce red tape that so often hampers solid good ideas. It is about time “Yes We Can” applied to all life, wildlife that is…”

For more information on amphibian declines and how you can be involved, visit the websites of the Declining Amphibian Population Task Force and IUCN/SSC’s Amphibian Specialist Group.

Thanks again Ted for this great input. If any reader has wilderness-related content or story ideas you would like to see posted on Walk on the Wild Side, please contact me (Arlo Hemphill) through this site.