Hope Spots

Twelve percent of the world’s land is under some form of governmental protection, such as reserves and national parks. The ocean makes up seventy percent of the earth’s surface. Of that seventy percent, less than five percent of the ocean is protected in any way.

That’s where Mission Blue comes in.

Mission Blue is an organization created by the oceanographer Sylvia Earle. Their mission is to create Hope Spots around the world, and their goal is to more than double the percentage of protected waters.

Hope Spots are areas of the ocean that are important to its health. These areas are special because they may harbor unique or delicate ecosystems and habitats, such as coral reefs or gulfs. Hope Spots can also be sanctuaries for endangered species or species that are only found in that area. They can also provide services to the ocean that are vital to marine life, such mating grounds and nurseries.

Hope Spots can also be historical to the community, or they may hold spiritual or cultural importance. They can be areas that could potentially help curb the effects of climate change. All in all, they are important areas not only to the ocean and its inhabitants, but to humans as well.

The best part about Hope Spots is that YOU can nominate them. On the Mission Blue website, you can nominate a local area as a Hope Spot.

Let’s say, for example, that I nominate the Chesapeake Bay as a Hope Spot. Using various forms of media, Mission Blue would increase the visibility of the bay and its importance. Mission Blue would help connect me with potential partners for the project and help set up expeditions to prove the bay’s importance to the community. Mission Blue would also help advocate for legal protection of the Chesapeake Bay, which in this case would be advocating to at least Maryland and Virginia state governments.

By allowing people to nominate their own Hope Spots, they essentially help to give people hope and to empower communities. People are more likely to fight to protect something if you give them the power to do so.

But why should we care?

“Health for the oceans means health for us.” –Sylvia Earle

Humans owe so much to the ocean, whether we live on the coast or high up in the mountains, hundreds of miles away. Many of us consume fish, mollusks, seaweed, and crustaceans that are harvested from the ocean. Not to mention what goes into some of the food products for our pets and livestock.

Not only does the ocean provide us with food, but it plays a part in our climates and the weather. The ocean currents of the world affect the climate as they redistribute heat from the equator to the poles.

Then there’s the air we breathe. The algae and phytoplankton in the ocean produce more than half of the world’s oxygen, more even than the Amazon Rainforest!

No matter where you live, the ocean impacts your life on a daily basis. Therefore, we need to care for the ocean like we care for ourselves and you can do that any way you feel comfortable doing.

If you can donate to special organizations like Mission Blue or World Wildlife Fund—fantastic! If you can volunteer at aquariums and other aquatic groups or participate in citizen science such as using the NeMO-net video game to help researchers identify and protect coral, that’s wonderful. If you can find ways to decrease your carbon footprint and/or plastic use, that would be amazing. If all you can do is talk about these things to your friends and family and take these topics to social media, that’s beautiful too!

It’s time to bring back hope one step at a time!

Sources and links:
https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/what-percentage-of-the-world-s-ocean-area-is-protected.html
https://mission-blue.org/hope-spots-faqs/ ⇐more info on Hope Spots
https://mission-blue.org/act-now/ ⇐things you can do to help the ocean. Remember, these are suggestions!

NeMO-Net

Everybody likes to play games, especially video games. Whether it’s a high-resolution, top-notch game with amazing graphics or a simple game of solitaire on your computer, everybody plays games. Even my mom plays Borderlands by GearBox and 2kGames, my dad plays card games on his computer between grading his students’ assignments, and my half-blind aunt plays mahjong on her Kindle.

Everybody likes to play games, and NASA decided to take advantage of that.

One of the difficulties in studying coral reefs is the limitations we have as humans. It’s best to study them in person, but because reefs are underwater, we need tanks to breathe artificial air so we don’t drown while we collect data. We also can’t spend the whole day diving without dying.

Reefs also are pretty spread out and aren’t always close to the shore, so it takes time to travel to all of them and collect data. Funding is an issue because boats and fuel cost money, along with the standard dive equipment, air for the tanks, and the equipment for research.

We also don’t know where all the reefs are in the ocean. In fact, we have mapped out more of the surface of the moon than we have our own oceans—so, who knows where all the coral are!

Speaking of the moon, NASA decided to help coral researchers. They took the same equipment they use to look at stars and pointed them toward our oceans. We can’t use standard camera lenses to photograph reefs from above because of a special law called Snell’s law or the law of refraction.

The law of refraction—which I described in an earlier post—explains how light bends (or refracts) as it passes from one medium to another. Refraction makes taking aerial shots of coral reefs problematic because the subjects become distorted in the image. Using their fluid-correcting lenses, which are manufactured to take Snell’s law into account, NASA has deployed drones and small planes to take pictures of reefs around the world and produce 3D images of what the reefs should look like underwater.

That’s great and all, but all those coral need to be identified, which can take thousands of man hours and hundreds of people. By the time all of the pictures are processed and the coral identified, the reefs may look drastically different and all that data may no longer be relevant. So NASA decided to use the help of video gamers and citizen science to identify all the coral in their photos.

The Neural Multi-Modal Observation and Training Network (NeMO-Net) was created to help marine scientists identify and protect coral. The NeMO-Net game allows players to look at real 3D images of reefs and identify different families of coral, what’s just sand or an invertebrate on the seafloor, and other objects. Players color-code the image based on what they see, so each coral family has its own color, and then players upload their image to a database where other players and scientists can agree or correct what was submitted.

The approved images are used to train a supercomputer at the Ames Research Center to look through collected images and correctly identify what it sees, so that eventually the supercomputer can do it on its own. A supercomputer doesn’t need to sleep or get bored with repetition, so it can go through images a lot faster than a person can. This way, we can get a baseline for our reefs now, and we will be able to identify when there’s a problem so that we can try and fix it before it’s too late.

I have installed the game on my tablet. It’s a lot of fun, and I find it to be really relaxing. Most people can play the game; it doesn’t matter if you’re in elementary school or have a grandkid in elementary school.

NeMO-net is a simple game that allows you to go on virtual dives and identify things on the reef or coastline. You gain experience with each picture you submit, and you slowly level-up your way up the food chain. You can also gain badges and achievements for playing the game.

The best part, in my opinion, is that the game comes with videos that you can unlock. There are video field guides on various creatures you see, how the technology works, and the process behind everything. There’s also written information on the various families of coral you can identify in the game.

NeMO-net is a great way to spend your time and to get into citizen science without any complex understanding of the ocean. And it also makes you feel like you are part of the NASA team; in my case, I feel just a little bit more important to the coral I want to protect.

Links:
https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-calls-on-gamers-citizen-scientists-to-help-map-world-s-corals/
http://nemonet.info/

Things you can do for Earth Day 2020

Here are some things you can do on Earth Day in your free time, even while staying at home.

Because of the worldwide pandemic, we can’t celebrate Earth Day in person together, but we can still do so virtually. The Earth Day website (https://www.earthday.org/earth-day-2020/) features all sorts of resources. You can participate in virtual events, help to advocate for change, and even find creative ways to participate in citizen science.

You can also take a look at the Earth Day Ecochallenge (https://earthday.ecochallenge.org/). There you can find activities that you can do on Earth Day or continue doing afterward. They have resources that allow you to discover what’s feasible for you and to help you do those activities.

Both of these websites allow you to do things on your own or with other people, and they provide great information. I’m excited for any chance to participate in citizen science, which basically allows people to help gather information and data for scientists to use—it’s a great way to work together!

If you can’t do either of those things, for whatever reason, don’t sweat it! Here’s a list of other things you can do if you’re comfortable.

  1. Keep the lights off.

Try keeping all the lights off in your home during the day. If you need to use them because, for example, a room has no natural light source, then make sure you turn off the light every time you leave the room.

  • Spend time away from your phone.

Pick a set amount of time—it can be half an hour, hour, whole day, etc.—and turn off your phone. If your phone is turned off, then the battery isn’t draining, and you don’t need to expend energy to charge it.

  • Spend some time away from electronics.

For whatever amount of time, you choose, turn off your TV, video game systems, computers, etc. Unplug them if you wish. And then do something that doesn’t require electricity for that duration, such as taking a walk, reading a physical book, or writing a letter.

  • Do something outside

If you have the ability to do it safely, go outside. Pull some weeds. Organize the tool shed or the garage. Take a walk around the yard. Do some bird watching. The app iNaturalist (https://www.inaturalist.org/) allows you to identify and track birds and other living things, and it makes the information you collect available to scientists. I have been using the app since the New Year. The website even has a page for ways to explore nature from the safety of your home (http://www.inaturalist.org/blog/31664-exploring-nature-when-you-re-stuck-at-home)!

  • Make your meals in the house; don’t get anything delivered.

This one might be difficult, especially for people who want to help their local restaurants stay in business, but if you can abstain from obtaining food from outside your home this will help limit the carbon emissions put into the air today. Try making your own meals, and save the eating-out money for another day. If you don’t already possess the necessary ingredients, then please don’t feel obligated to try this idea.

These are just a few examples of the many things you can do to help our planet. If they are beyond your means or comfort zone, please don’t feel bad! This is a guilt free space, remember? If you come up with something else, do that instead, and share your ideas with your family, friends, and in the comment section below. Whatever level of Earth Day participation you’re comfortable with will earn a big thumbs-up from me! If you decide that these practices weren’t so bad, remember that you can do these anytime throughout the year.