Monday, April 20, 2015

Rainforests: What are they? Why Do They Matter?

What do you know about rainforests? Here is a quick tutorial:

All rainforests are located close to the equator, which means they are warm all year long. They get large amounts of rainfall--more than 150 cm per year, or about 5 feet.  Minneapolis usually gets about 30 inches in a year (raining an average of 117 days in a year). Most of the rain that falls in rainforests comes from their own habitat: there is so much moisture in the air and the ground all the time, it creates its own rain on a fairly continual basis.

Rainforests only take up about 6% of the earth's surface, and yet they house more than half the plant and animal species that exist on Earth--more than 30 million. These dense forests grow trees that are very tall.

You can find rainforests in Central America, the Amazon, Africa and specifically Madagascar, South Asia, and Australasia, a term for Australia, New Zealand, and New Guinea.

Please tell me you know where Madagascar is......
Did you know that rainforests provide many medicines we use to treat diseases? Here are some:
  • Quinone - used to treat malaria
  • Curare - for bruises, fever, edema, kidney stones; also a muscle relaxant
  • Wild Yams - used in birth control pills
  • Trumpet Tree - for respiratory issues and to treat rheumatism
  • Cocoa Tree - source for the Novocain your dentist uses, as well as to treat anxiety, fever, cough, kidney stones, and cuts
  • Clavilla - infections
  • Mammosa - sinus problems and lesions
  • Periwinkle - Hodgkins Disease and leukemia
  • Annato - to lower blood pressure
--and barely 1% of all rainforest plants have been identified as medicinal: there are probably many more we haven't yet discovered.

                                                 A rainforest orchid
Rainforests also grow the following:
  • Sugar
  • Cinnamon
  • Rubber
  • Pineapples
  • Palm trees *if you use lipstick or eat ice cream, those things have palm oil in them.

Over 50 million people live in the rainforests, mostly native tribes that have lived there for centuries. Here is an example of  tribe names:

Rainforest People of Africa: Eastern Africa
Acholi, Afar, Agaw, Akisho, Alur, Amhara, Ankole, Anuak, Aweer, Ayoup, Baganda, Bagisu, Bagwere, Bakiga, Bakonjo, Basoga, Batoro, Bertat, Betsileo, Bilen, Bisa, Borana, Bunyoro, Daasanach, Chagga, Chokwe, Chopi, Dorze, Gumuz, Gurage, Hadzabe, Hamer, Haya, Hehe, Hutu, Inamwanga, Iteso, Jeberti, Jopadhola, Kalenjin, Kamba, Karamojong, Kichepo, Kikuyu, Kisii, Lango, Lugbara, Luhya, Luo, Maasai, Makonde, Makua, Manyika, Me'en, Merina, Meru, Munyoyaya, Mursi, Ndau, Nguni, Nuba, Nubians, Nuer, Nyakyusa, Nyamwezi, Nyangatom, Ogiek, Oromo, Qemant, Rer Bare, Rundi, Sena, Sengwer, Shangana, Shanqella, Shona, Sidama, Sukuma, Suri, Tigre, Tigray-Tigrinya, Tirma, Tutsi, Watha, Welayta, Welega Oromo, Yao, Yiaku and Zay.

                         In a South American rainforest, people have built huts on stilts to live in.

The majority of them never leave their  communities and speak only their tribal languages. They live off the land, but the land is being destroyed through fire, harvesting plants, logging and tourism. Thus, these tribes of people are becoming extinct, and when they disappear, all their knowledge of their habitat goes with them. 

Animals that are found in rainforests:

  • Ants. Lots and lots of ants. One scientist identified 43 different species of ants on one tree in Peru!
  • Brightly colored and loud-mouthed birds:

                                   Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, found in Panama
                                               Raggiana Bird of Paradise, New Guinea
    • Orangutans and gorillas

    • Many species of frogs grow only in the rainforests.

    A red-eyed tree frog 


    Now that you know a bit about rainforests, consider how we can save them.

    The first and most important way is to conserve water. Did you know you save up to 3.5 gallons of water when you recycle a newspaper?

    Other ways to save water:
    ***Take shorter showers
    ***If you have a leaking pipe, fix it: drips turn into gallons wasted
    ***Don't buy exotic animals. They belong in the rainforest, not anywhere else.
    ***Check out where your coffee, bananas, or tea is grown and buy only products approved by the Rainforest Alliance.
    ***Plant trees to replace those harvested to make paper products and building supplies

    Visit the Rainforest Alliance at:

                 Multiple waterfalls in a rainforest. Do we really want this to disappear?

    Monday, April 13, 2015

    The Oceans Are Full of Junk

    Did you know there are islands of junk floating around in the ocean?

    We're talking huge floating piles of plastics and assorted other garbage.

    These are the major garbage islands in the world's seas. Notice the explanation of gyres, the currents that carry the junk around in the water. A ship's captain first found the floating islands of junk in 1997, but they probably formed years before that....and they continue to collect more debris every day.

    90% of it is plastic: Garbage bags, wrappers, bottles, caps, balloons, straws, sandwich bags, These piles of garbage also include, ironically, fishing nets that were either discarded or broken and floated away from their boats or fishermen.

                                      Some objects found in one of the ocean garbage heaps
    • Did you know: an estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are used  every year, worldwide.
    • 50 billion plastic bottles are used every year, and 80% wind up in landfills even with recycling of some.
    • We in the U.S. use 1500 plastic bottles a second.

    That's just the use of two common items, the bag and the bottle. How many do you use on a daily basis? Could you cut down on that, and could you recycle more of them?
    In time, plastics break down into little microbeads, making the water like a sort of 'soup', but the plastic never disintegrates. 

    Not only does the water become polluted from these objects, animals such as whales and seabirds become caught in it, can't escape, and can starve. Becoming entangled can also choke them, rendering them unable to breathe or swallow.

                                 This bird ate all sorts of things that were not food.

    Sometimes, sea creatures and birds mistake the brightly colored objects for fish eggs or other foods, eat the objects, and it poisons them. Eating these and the plastic microbeads can also cause mutations when they reproduce.

    Another danger is that some forms of barnacles will attach to the garbage and then just float wherever the island goes, spreading into areas where they didn't live before. Some are invasive and can wipe out other creatures, upsetting the natural food chain.

                                   Barnacles attached to plastic bottle

                                                  Barnacles will attach to ANYTHING.

                                                  And, barnacles.

    Here is the story of a woman's quest to row across the ocean to raise awareness of the pollution already there and getting worse:

    A video explaining about these garbage patches is here:

    You'll find more information about the garbage patches at National Geographic, here:

    As you know, the solution to pollution is to recycle everything you possibly can, create less garbage and waste, be aware of how things you buy are packaged, and avoid plastics whenever possible. If you're already doing these things, get even more strict about it.

    We only get one planet-let's take good care of it.

    Monday, April 6, 2015

    Turn It Down!!! Noise Pollution / Earth Month 2015

    Too loud, too much, too dissonant: That's noise pollution. It has also been called 'Environmental Pollution.'

    When noise is too loud, it's not just annoying, it can have other effects:

    • Wild animals are frightened and leave their natural habitats
    • Noise affects how wild animals hunt for food: they will stay away from areas with too much noise and may hide rather than eat when they should
    • Domesticated animals are often frightened by fireworks and thunderstorms, as well as machines used around the house
    • For humans, it can cause sleep disturbance, heart disease due to stress, and hearing loss.

    Major sources of noise pollution include
    • Machines
    • Transportation systems
    • Cars, trucks, buses
    • Motorcycles
    • Airplanes
    • Trains
    • Construction
    • Loud stereos in homes and cars
    • Noise from concerts-the music and special effects, and the screaming of fans

    Here are how different sources stack up, decibel-wise:

                                       Noise source
    Refrigerator hum
    Normal talking
    Sound level in a theater
    Dial tone on a phone
    Hair blow dryer
    Traffic, when you’re in your car
    Sporting event/enclosed arena
    Train whistle
    If you have sustained (long lasting) exposure, you may   have a hearing loss at 90 to 95 decibels
    Snowmobile or motorcycle
    Personal stereo such as an Ipod at max loud
    Chain Saw
    Loud rock concert, inside the stadium
    Noise becomes painful at 125 decibels
    The loudest noise you can tolerate is 140 decibels with ear protection
    Siren from ambulance
    Jet airplane engine
    Shotgun blast

    Are you surprised that a personal stereo gives off as many decibels as a motorcycle, and almost as much as a chain saw?

    Construction uses a lot of noisy machines and vehicles, whether building a house or a commercial building, or a road. Construction workers are required to wear ear protection.

    Permissible levels according to OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, are:

    Hours                  Decibels
    8                              90
    6                              92
    4                              95

    Here is what happens when you expose your ears to too much noise:

    The hairs in the inner ear become damaged and can't process sounds. This is what healthy and damaged ear hairs look like:

    Do you have your headphones in more than 4 hours a day, and do you crank it up loud? You are likely damaging your hearing. Damage to your inner ear is permanent, you cannot restore it. The hearing loss might be so gradual you aren't aware of it at first. If your MP3 player is so loud that others can hear it even though you have your earbuds snugly in place...

    It's too loud!! Turn it down!!

    Regulations to lessen noise that damages or infringes on our lives, is on a local basis; there is no federal law that 'regulates' noise.

    Take note of the noise you hear every day, inside and outside. Do you think you could call it Noise Pollution? Does your city have any ordinances about noise? Are you making the noise? Do you want it to stop? Think about what you can do to have more quiet around you.

    And please, turn down your music. It really is for your own good.