SOAR has a serious side in its missions to help kids find ways of helping the ocean and watersheds throughout the world. I started on having seen hundreds of albatrosses killed by plastic debris at Pihemanu (Midway Atoll). I was inspired by the questions of young people in Ohio and by USFWS biologists working hard to protect endangered species and damaged habitats.

SOAR has a very fun and tough to define side.....thanks to FRED AND FRIENDS, Project SOAR helps with watershed and ocean workshops throughout the world, and generally makes people smile while they learn some tough stuff about how we treat our rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, and the one ocean on planet earth..........


SOAR introduces young people to ways they can make a difference in their local community and the wider world.

Take advantage by:

1) Invite a SOAR learning kit or bring Ron Hirschi to your school as a guest author or speaker for your organization. Ron has many years experience as an author and as a biologist. SOAR adds another dimension to his list of hands on projects he shares in writing, art, and ecology workshops.

Many schools invite Ron for his work as author of more than 50 nonfiction books, including many with ocean themes. Others bring him to school as a scientist or artist, but the best fit is always when schools use Ron to help them integrate curriculum.

Tom Bates, Principal at Tremont Elementary in Ohio recently said in an interview following Ron's visit, "What stood out to me was how Ron was able to gear his activities and discussion and information so it was meaningful to the students, whether they were in kindergarten or fifth grade."

Be in touch at whalemail@waypoint.com for visit information.

2) SOAR now has a new kit circling the globe along with a Laysan Albatross "Friend of Fred". This duo is packaged with a box full of ideas, activities, information about Papahanaumokuakea, ocean debris, and other materials aimed at sparking new projects related to the sea. Also included is a journal chronicling Fred's adventures, all of which began when kids at Columbus School for Girls (CSG) learned how they could take action to help the ocean.

Currently, this treasured package is in the hands of The Bush School in Seattle.

NOTE: You might also be lucky to receive one of the earlier packages with a FRED and Friend, already traveling. To date, Fred has visited Australia, Switzerland, Israel, England, The Dominican Republic, and many corners of the United States.

31 July 2009


I'm told often enough that before you can soar, you must have a successful takeoff. Likewise, restoring the ocean begins with simple first steps on one piece of water at a time.
SOAR has had its first successful takeoff and it began very close to home. As you can see in the photo, Fred's family is growing. A new little one was adopted --- little Mawnkey. Fred and Coco are enjoying the new addition.
Our own daughter joined us quite some time ago. When I returned home from Midway, she and I had great conversations about the plight of the oceans and what our individual and business responsibilities were in dealing with plastic.
Nichol has a business making dog collars and leashes along with "People Gear" that is sold in shops and at the handmade artful site, Etsy.com. Check her work out at LodiandLewi and look for her beautiful leashes and collars in shops across the country.
When Nichol looked at her work, she realized that her water bottle holder (a kind of leash or tether you can use to carry the bottle with you) was designed for disposable plastic containers. In fact, when she did art fairs, Nichol ordered disposable water bottles with her logo printed on the labels. Taking a look at our SOAR ideas, Nichol redesigned the holder so that it can't be used with disposable bottles. And, she ordered reusable stainless steel water bottles with Lodi and Lewi, Dog and People Gear printed on them. Now, Fred and Coco can bring little Mawnkey down to the beach and offer a drink in a bottle that goes home with them to be used again and again.
Thanks Nichol and thanks to all who think ocean when they buy food or any products that might have non-plastic alternatives for wrappings or content. You can order a reuseable bottle from Nichol and if you have little ones in your family, check out Organic Grace, a great online company that sells non-plastic tippy cups and other ocean friendly good stuff.

27 July 2009


While on Midway, I walked each morning to a beautiful beach I started calling Monk Seal Point. Others say Rusty Bucket because of the military debris scattered along the shore. Plastic Beach might also work..........
This is typical of the beach and pretty much what the north end of the island looks like as you walk along, hoping to see a shell or chunk of coral. Lighters and bottle caps, toys and endless chunks of broken plastic litter this, one of the most remote islands on the planet.
I scooped a teaspoon of sand from this spot. I added a little water. Under a hand lens, I counted more than 150 pieces of plastic. Micro and toxic, these plastics are one with the beach sands and one with the ocean. I'm told that some kinds of plastic absorb PCBs and other poisons that are so common in marine animal bodies. I know that PCBs are incredibly damaging to marine mammals, altering immune systems for example. If anyone knows how they affect fish, do comment.
To help understand and call attention to micro plastics, I've been asking for beach sands from around the world. I will post a note soon about preliminary results. Already, I've seen micro plastic in a sample from the beach near where I live on Marrowstone Island in Washington State. I've also seen micro plastics in beach sands from the outer coast of Washington where visible, larger plastic debris is a major part of the beaches where cars drive out onto the intertidal at Ocean Shores.
SERIOUS SAND is one project of SOAR. It has already been tested with teachers and is a simple, eyeopening way to do some science with kids. Simply visit a beach. Collect sand from areas where the natural and unnatural debris accumulates along the strand line. Add water to a small sample in a glass bowl. View under a hand lens or dissecting scope to check for micro plastics of about 2mm or smaller in size.
You might also find nurdles, the basic ingredient of many plastic products. Apparently, these are transported by ship and often spill into the sea. I'm guessing that far, far, far more plastic enters the sea as waste from our shores. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 10 tons of plastic wash ashore on Midway Atoll each year. Of identifiable plastic, 22% is land based and 18% is fishing industry based. 55% of the land based plastic arriving at Midway is in the form of bottle caps.
Okay. So you found some micro plastic. What can we do? My take on this is to go directly to producers and find ways we can help them reduce or eliminate plastic in their products. One way to do this is to partner businesses with schools. Ask kids to soar into the future with invention contests, encouraging them to create new ways of recycling, designing new products, and imagining some techniques of eliminating existing plastics from the seas.
If you found no micro plastic, this is good. But if you take your students on a walk along a lake shore, riverbank, or ocean beach, chances are good you will be able to do a great job of cleaning up plastic debris. Bring this to a recycling center to learn how much plastic waste accumulates in your community.
As an indoors project, take a look around your classroom or your home. Count the plastic products you use each day. Can you eliminate some for the health of the ocean? Can you imagine a new way of using this same kind of product without plastic involved? If it is a bottle of water, remember how we all used to drink from the faucet? And consider buying a stainless steel, reuseable drinking container. These are starters, but if you are a teacher, think way beyond this. Chances are you have a student in your midst with the best idea possible to help the sands, the sea, and the planet go plastic free.
First thing. You need to get kids excited by doing a little research. Visit sites that explore the ocean plastic issue. View the beauty and the problems at Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. Soar with the Albatrosses to help save their ocean.
Start a new SOAR project and share it with us.
Aloha from Marrowstone Island, Ron Hirschi

Project SOAR

Project SOAR found its way when a group of us landed at Midway Atoll within the newly created Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.

Accompanying us was Fred. Fred had snuck into my suitcase when I was visiting Paula Vertikoff's Kindergarten classroom in Dublin, Ohio. According to the kids, the little monkey had been a part of their classroom for the entire year even though they'd never seen him. Apparently, Fred would make a mess. Kids would come to school, see something missing or disturbed, and Fred would get the blame.......

At about the same time, I was gathering questions from kids ----- questions they wanted me to investigate while on Midway. Paula's kids wanted to know if monkeys lived in the islands. If you take a look at Fred's photo at the top of my blog, you can clearly see that Fred found at least one, his new friend, Coco.

But other kindergarteners asked other kinds of questions that led to deep thinking about what we are all doing to the ocean. As we walked around the islands, plastic was everywhere. So too were hundreds and hundreds of albatross, dead from ingesting plastic toys, bottle caps, toothbrushes, lighters, and pieces of broken buckets and buoys.

The sands of Midway were also filled with plastic. Plastic gone micro. Tiny fragments of blue, red, and lavender plastic mingled with beautiful fragments of coral and shells. What food webs will these toxic plastic pieces enter.

One child at another school asked many questions about plastics. She had gone to the Papahanaumokuakea website and studied the issues related to plastics in the North Pacific. Evelyn knew more than I about the ocean plastic problems and when I visited Midway I felt a strong sense of responsibility to be her eyes and ears.........She had asked me if we could form a research organization to help the albatross and other ocean life.

Standing on the beaches and watching the albatrosses live and die, fly and lay their bodies down, I could imagine young people wishing each of the birds could soar.........I could sense a past, my own childhood when plastics were first entering the oceans. Now that my generation has filled the seas with plastic wastes, it is well beyond time to clean up and it is definitely time to find new ways to eliminate or greatly reduce our use of plastics.

SOAR --- Save Our Albatross/Research ---- is a way to help young people reduce plastic use in their schools, homes, and communities. SOAR was publicly launched in Honolulu when student leaders from each of the Hawaiian Islands met to find service projects for their schools in the coming years. Challenges to eliminate use of bottled water, increasing the recycling of plastic bags, and other ideas are being initiated. On the mainland, Breidablik Elementary students met the challenge of SOAR during their summer break, promising to cleanup the beach and stream near their school that is within the Jump Off Joe Creek Watershed.

No matter where you live, you can join SOAR by removing plastic debris from your watershed so that it does not float on downstream to the sea.

Each year, adult albatross fly out to find food for their young. They search mainly from flying fish eggs and squid. Too often, they find plastic that looks like food. In just one year, they bring back 5 tons of plastic. They soar widely, flying more than a million miles in a lifetime. Albatross fly to the mainland. They fly north and west. We can hope our efforts will lead to cleaner seas in the future. When Evelyn is my age let's have a clean ocean.

Ron Hirschi Marrowstone Island, July 2009

X310 Plastic Ocean Activity

It's me, Fred, the Monkey.

If you look closely, you can see I wear X310's leg band around my neck. It's to remind me of her. She was a Laysan Albatross. She was born in March 2008 and lived on Pihemanu, one of the most remote atolls on earth, now part of Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.

You can wonder about Pihemanu and about X310. She didn't live very long, dying in June 2008. Her parents flew thousands and thousands of miles finding food for her. But x310, like lots of baby albatrosses died before she got to soar the seas. Some albatrosses fly three million miles during their life. Like X310's parents, their sea is a new challenge in food finding because of our actions on land.

Adult albatrosses fly more than a thousand miles just to get a single meal for their babies. But the ocean is full of plastic. And if you read my buddy, Ron's blog and website, you learn about plastic in the sea. It is everywhere and babies like X310 die because they eat so much plastic, they can not get it out of their stomachs.

Where's all this plastic come from?
Where does it go?

Here is a simple activity:

Get up from your chair and walk around the classroom or wherever you are sitting.

Write down each thing around you that is made of plastic.

Everybody compare lists and make a total of the plastic products.

Now, the hard part of this activity:

Can you find alternatives for the things you use, alternatives not made of plastic?
Maybe start with drinking water from a fountain or glass or reuseable container?
Maybe start a really good recycling project?
Maybe make some art from recycled plastic?
Learn more on links here on this site and others.
Talk about times with no plastic.
X310 would have appreciated if people, just a few years ago had decided to make a plastic-free world for you....
You and X310.

Learn how you can SOAR with FRED by arranging a visit with Fred and his ocean teaching kit by emailing his banana provider at whalemail@waypoint.com


What you need:

Pint size plastic beverage container with wide mouth (about 1.5 inches) ---This approximates the size of a baby albatross stomach and esophagus.

Important to have the lid too.

Enough plastic items (bottle caps, toothbrush, legos, fishing line, small chunks of nylon rope, markers, pens, more bottle caps and even a few more bottle caps since they are pretty much the most common marine debris.

Talk with your audience of kids of any age about ocean debris and the way adult albatrosses fly out a few hundred or even a thousand miles to find flying fish eggs and squid for the little ones. They return to Pihe Manu or up on the Northeast shore of Kauai, find their young one among thousands of others and begin to feed by regurgitating "food".......

As you talk about this, have the kids place one or two pieces of the plastic into the bottle.

Replace cap with each addition of plastic. Shake gently to mimic bird moving around the nesting area a bit.

Remove cap. Shake gently to mimic the bird trying to dislodge "food" that can not be digested. In a perfect ocean, this would be squid beaks, fish bones, or other natural pieces of food.

Add more plastic, repeating above until no plastic falls out of the bottle when cap is removed (bill is opened) and the bird tries and tries, but can not toss up the mass of debris. See how much and how many different kinds of plastic can be added. Does the rope tangle with the legos and bottle caps. Do five bottle caps cause a blockage in the esophagus???

In nature, the upchucked mass is like an owl pellet and is known as a bolus. Natural foods slip freely through the esophagus and more feeding can continue. Most times, a baby albatross will toss up one bolus before leaving the nesting island. Unfortunately, thousands die because plastic blocks the stomach completely.

Your feeding the baby albatross activity can lead to a lot of discussion of plastics we use, discard, then find their way into the ocean and into the mouth of a baby albatross.

If you want to have a Baby Albatross Feeding Kit, complete with some plastic items that actually came from once living albatross at Pihe Manu, Papahanaumokuakea, be in touch.