Friday, April 3, 2009

Time for Closure

My brother-in-law Ralph suggested that my blog needed closure. So here is my final post about this terrific experience! For those of you that want to see the "Reader's Digest" version, I've posted on the Patagonia company blog, The Cleanest Line,

I've returned to my desk job now, and have gotten into the swing of things. It took about a week to get reacquainted with my projects, but due to the fact that everything was so capably handled by my co-workers, I had no fires to put out when I got back. It is still hard to believe I was given an opportunity to work overseas while maintaining my job here. What a brilliant way to share resources with small environmental groups.

Thanks for reading and I hope I didn't lose any of you along the way...:)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Now the FUN begins!

God of the Sea, Tangaroa

My silly camper van, parked under a giant marlin.

After I finished my internship, I treated myself to a 10-day road trip in New Zealand. I rented a funky camper van, a 1991 Toyota Hiace with 174,000 kilometers on it and a SWEET custom paint job, and hit the road. I initially stopped in Auckland to visit with some friends who live there, then set out on a counter-clockwise drive around the northern tip of the North Island.

The weather did not always cooperate, and my first day out of Auckland was tricky, getting used to the van and dealing with a windy rainstorm. But I got the hang of it, just kept the speed down and the music turned up high. Found an excellent country station for part of the ride! Then the weather cleared up, at least for a couple of days.

Most of my stops were coastal, and some campgrounds were right on the water. This was a treat, and due to the fact that summer was coming to a close and the kids were back in school, I was always able to score an excellent campsite. Matauri Bay was one of those spots and I camped right next to the sand. Up on a hill overlooking the bay was a memorial site to the Rainbow Warrior, the Greenpeace ship that was bombed in Auckland Harbor. There were beautiful views of the islands beyond. That day was gorgeous, but the next morning the rain started again. I decided I could either hang out in the van in the campground all day, or go for a drive. I chose the latter, and made my longest trek of the journey, all the way to the northernmost tip of the island, Cape Reinga. There was an amazing confluence of the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean there, and you could see the crosshatching of the waves coming from two different directions.

From there I headed back down the west coast, made a few stops, but found the best looking waves and perfect conditions at Baylys Beach, where there was not a surfboard to be found! Drat! The next morning it was stormy again so I continued down the coast, making tracks towards Auckland again. Piha Beach was also stormy conditions and I heeded the signage about the undertow and large surf and enjoyed the ocean from the safety of the beach.

Hard to believe this trip is coming to a close and I enjoyed every minute of it. Except, perhaps, the mosquitoes! They really enjoyed having me around, but the feeling was NOT mutual! I was able to rig some screens in my van windows so I could have fresh air in the evenings. I’m ready to be done living out of a Freightliner and look forward to getting reacquainted with my life in Ventura.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Fishing Line Collection Bins

You’ve seen the tangled mess that happens when fishing line goes awry. Unfortunately, many fishermen leave this behind or don’t dispose of it properly. There is a program that started in Florida that Jen has adopted with Moreton Bay Coastcare that attempts to manage this problem.

The bins are simple and easily created from PVC pipe and joints. There is, of course, “Some Assembly Required!” Jen got a grant and approval from the local council to make up seven of these collection bins and have them put up at various fishing sites in the local area. I had the pipe lengths cut to size for me at the hardware store, so all it involved was the gluing process and stickers. The bottom fitting has a screw-on cap that can be removed for emptying out the contents.

Once they are out in the field, the hope is that the fishing line will indeed get deposited in them, and hopefully not cans of beer, bait bags or worse...We are planning on drilling a small hole in the top of each one so that a rod can be used to push any contents out that might be jammed. They also need a drill hole in the bottom for any water that collects to easily drain.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Moreton Island

Enjoyed a fun day trip to Moreton Island today. Moreton Island is the third-largest sand island in Australia, behind Fraser and Stradbroke islands. Yes, made entirely of sand with the exception of a small volcanic outcropping on the northern end of the island, which was the original landform. Over time, sand traveling down the coast got hung up on this outcrop, and eventually formed the island as it is now. It was a treat to see this environmental area that is now almost entirely preserved as a national park. It has huge stands of eucalyptus and casuarina trees and quite a bit if wildlife. We saw dolphins, turtles, manta rays, oystercatchers, terns, kites, cormorants, a sea eagle and I saw (from way up a cliff with my binoculars) a large grey shape underwater…hmmm…it never broke the surface but…luckily we didn’t go swimming in the ocean due to the riptides and frequency of sharks in the area. That was fine with me after my viewing!

The ferry ride over in the morning was great, made complete with excellent coffee, served in a ceramic mug, not a disposable cup! The ferry also brings over your vehicles, and our group was in a 14-seater 4-wheel drive monstrosity that did not get stuck once! This is a key point, because there are no sealed roads on the island, and once again…this is a SAND island! The roads were tricky at best, and I was glad I was not driving.

The first stop was for sand tobogganing! This was done on a piece of masonite about the size of a snowboard but wider, down a huge sand dune on your belly! The trick was to try not to scream as you picked up speed, because the sand would fly into your mouth! I was crunching sand for the rest of the morning. Next we cruised the beach, saw dolphins and beautiful shorebirds, and stopped at the lighthouse for a view check. That’s when I saw the large grey shape…

There is an amazing fresh water lagoon called Blue Lagoon, where we had a swim in the afternoon after lunch. Then back to the ferry for the ride home. It was a treat to see an untouched piece of landscape in this very developed region of Queensland. Reminded me of our own Channel Islands. They are how the California mainland must have been hundreds of years ago. It is important that they have preserved Moreton Island, because the other three sand islands in the area have all been developed or mined.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Silly Lorikeets and Random Observations

My favorite bird to view has been the Rainbow Lorikeet. (They are known around here as “Lorries,” as per usual with the Australian custom of shortening a word and adding a “y” on the end, for instance “Brisbane” becomes “Brizzy,” pictures become “pickies,” biscuits become “bickies.”) I was lucky enough to see a few Lorries up close and personal at a friend’s feeder. They are beautiful birds, but very noisy. During the day they travel in pairs and are very bossy about their feeding areas. You can hear them all day long, chattering and carrying on up in the trees.

When I was in Noosa a few weeks ago, I was amazed by the large evening feeding groups. They massed in the trees by the river in such huge noisy flocks that you honestly could not hear yourself think. There must have been thousands of them, flying speedily around and chatting in the trees. If they weren’t so beautiful you might despise them! They are also early risers, so don't plan on sleeping in when they are in the neighborhood.

Random Observations

Jen has been kind enough to coach me while I’ve driven her car around the area, giving me some important “coached” practice for when I rent the camper van in New Zealand next month. Driving on the left side of the road is indeed challenging but Jen keeps me on top of the situations. What throws me off the most is that the turn indicator is where the windshield wipers usually are…so I’m constantly turning on the wipers instead of the indicator! This always happens when approaching a 2-lane roundabout. Makes Jen crazy!

What’s also funny is when you’re walking down the street and see someone drive by with a passenger in the front seat, seated on the left hand side where our driver’s seat would be. This person might be staring out the side window, have their hands behind their head, or have their head thrown back in laughter. Your first impression is “Hey, how can you DRIVE with no hands on the wheel? Pay attention!!!” Then you realize that it is a passenger. Oops.

You have to be aware while riding the bike around here, that the rear brake is on your left handlebar, not your right like it is at home. Watch out for those quick stops!

Here’s a good one that my pals in Creative Services will appreciate: You know how when a document you are trying to print is mistakenly set up as an “A4” size and the laser printer refuses to print it, and it spins and spins until someone cancels the job and resizes the sheet to “letter” size? Well, I have the exact opposite problem with the printer here! Most docs are automatically set up as “letter” size, but the paper in the tray is “A4,” so my jobs get rejected unless I change the page set up.

Besides that, the people are nice, the beer is cold and the work I've been doing is rewarding. Just have to watch those windshield wipers!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

World Wetlands Day Celebration, Day 2

We had a great day yesterday, and hope our Japanese friends did too. We took them on a walk to the bird hide in the morning before it got too hot but the tide was high so no wading birds were around.

The rest of the day was spent getting the booth ready and enjoying some good music. The festival was well attended and had a variety of acts, including aborigine dancers, Polynesian dancers, a couple of insane stilt-walkers and several excellent musical acts. The booth subject-matter varied from a dog poo composting system to recycling to water usage to bat care. And, of course, wetlands and shorebirds.

The irony in the whole thing was that the port of Brisbane was a major sponsor of this event, although the recent port extension is one of the biggest annihilators of the wetlands of them all! (With the exception, perhaps, of the airport and motorway extensions…those groups were not represented.) Well at least the port does their best to retain a spot of wetlands and bird habitat near their giant workings however the real problem lies in the silt that comes from the dredging they’ve done. But all in all, the day was a success and I enjoyed being part of it.

Friday, February 6, 2009

World Wetlands Day Celebration, Day 1

We held a working bee today, and did some bushcare (well…weeding!) at Nudgee Beach, in preparation for the World Wetlands Day music festival being held there tomorrow. While we were working, a hike, bike ride and kayak tour was going on nearby. Tomorrow’s festivities will include the arrival of our Japanese visitors from the Yatsu-Higata wetlands near Tokyo Bay. (See Feb. 2 post for info on our sister wetland in Japan.) They are coming to commemorate World Wetlands Day with us here in Brisbane, and part of their day is a walk around the wetland boardwalk at Nudgee Beach. We cleared out trash and weeds so that their impression of their sister wetland is a good one. We had a nice turnout, happy weeders pictured above with our spoils. Typically, for “environmental” weeding, you remove only flowers and seeds, to prevent reseeding, and leave the spent plants to break down into mulch, but in this case we were doing more of an “esthetic” weeding, and didn’t want to leave piles of wilted weeds hanging around. We also had a go at the trash that had floated in on the tide and removed what we could. Trouble is, more will float in from the next high tide! Oh well, you do what you can. I swear, every single thing was plastic.

The highlight of my morning came while I was weeding my “favorite” invasive species, Mile-a-Minute. I uncovered the mother of all root systems, pictured above. They are easy to dig out at this particular site due to the sandy soil. I got busy with it and unearthed what is probably a 5-year-old root system. It was worth the effort.