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.

21 February 2012

Pressure Treated Wood as Marine Debris

I've focused most of my beach cleanups on plastics, but have noticed a large increase in PRESSURE TREATED WOOD along the beaches of Marrowstone Island. And so, I sent out an all call to the National Marine Educators Association on Scuttlebutt..........


The following information from a fact sheet of the Ecology Center http://www.ecologycenter.org/ offers good explanation for its toxic qualities. High levels of arsenic are a major concern. Here is a brief section of their review:

By far the most common type of pressure treated wood is designated PT CCA (Pressure Treated Chromated Copper Arsenate). The basic elements involved are copper, chromium, and arsenic. In CCA treated wood, the chromium acts as the bactericide, copper as the fungicide, and arsenic as the insecticide. Even though all three are toxic, the chromium and copper don't raise many concerns (although maybe they should). If we don't inhale it, chromium is not particularly harmful, and copper is not very toxic to mammals, although it is to aquatic life. It's the arsenic that is worrisome. All of these compounds are stable and do not break down into other, less harmful substances in the environment.

Pressure treated wood has been in common use for about forty years and much of that is coming out of service and becoming a waste product. The companies that produce this product claim that the compounds are chemically locked to the wood itself and therefore not a hazard to human health and the environment. This statement is mostly true as far as it goes. What they don't tell us is that leaching does occur and that leaching is accelerated by acidic conditions such as is produced by acid rain or occurs during the composting process. A study by the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station found an average arsenic concentration of 76 ppm under old CCA treated decks. The state limit is 10 ppm.7 In another East-coast study, soil under an 8-year old deck was found to have 7.7 times the copper concentration, 3 times the chromium concentration, and 31.4 times the arsenic concentration as samples taken at least 15 feet away. It is clear that leaching does occur, at least in areas with high levels of acid rain.

The EPA has developed the Toxic Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP) to set threshold levels for the toxicity of 39 different chemicals, including chromium and arsenic. If the measured leaching from a waste product exceeds these limits it is considered a toxic waste and regulated accordingly. Arsenic-treated wood such as CCA does not have to pass this test. "Why not?" you ask. It turns out that this obviously questionable product enjoys a special exemption from the TCLP rule in 40 C.F.R. 261.4(b)(9). This is likely the result of strong lobbying pressure from the manufactures of these products.9 Because the point is legally moot, actual data is hard to come by, but results of one test obtained by EBN show that CCA-treated wood actually fails the test for arsenic and only barely passes it for chromium.10

There is evidence of leaching from PT CCA structures into the surrounding environment, but the disposal of this product is by far the more serious environmental problem. It should never, ever be burned! The chemical companies don't tell us is that these compounds, and particularly the arsenic, are released when the wood is burned. Some of these compounds are released directly into the air where the can be inhaled and some remain in the ash where they are highly leachable.

I will keep you updated as I discover more, but it appears that few studies have been conducted to determine impacts on marine life. And a lack of regulation by the EPA is troublesome to be sure.

Removing it from the ocean is important, but I think there is another alarming situation..........Beach fires are very popular along our shores. Burning treatedwood releases the toxic chemicals and the ash remains toxic as well.

Hopefully, more information is made available for campers and others who enjoy toasting marshmallows on a fire. While it is theoretically illegal to collect wood for fires on some beaches (State Parks for example),  firewood is often gathered. Sadly, milled lumber is fast becoming one of the major components of wood along our shorelines as natural sources decline due to clearing of marine riparian woodlands. Ironically, this toxic woody debris may serve some of the same valuable functions as the branches, stumps, and tree trunks once so prevalent on backshores. Will we see the day when arsenic soaked wood is protected because it is helping to protect our shores from erosion? I know from experience that a lot of creosote soaked wood remains in place along our beaches. It continues to leach toxins, but the large size of this debris makes it nearly impossible to eliminate...........A lot to think about and much work to be done!

Thanks to all who helped me with the immediate concern. I won't be asking kids to pick up any form of treated wood!

17 February 2012


Fred and Friend (Laysan Albatross from Kilauea on Kauai)
returned to the Pacific Northwest this week.

Fred has been with students in Ohio and will now
help many people focus on marine debris in the Pacific Northwest, first
with kids from Susan Barrett's North Kitsap High School Transitions class
students at many grade levels at Bush School in Seattle.

Contents of his Teaching Kit were enriched
by Debbie Charna's students. The Pacific Northwest additions
will include results of beach cleanups, study of all forms of marine
debris, including toxins from treated lumber, and the responses
NK and Bush kids add as they consider earlier SOAR projects.

for all you have done to enhance learning
here in the Pacific Northwest. It is late winter 
and our beaches are now receiving their annual high doses of marine debris
from inland waters. At the same time, erosion of many beaches is accelerating
due to poor protection of coastal riparian habitat
and a diminishing amount of large woody debris (natural wood that acts to buffer
the shoreline from wind driven waves). 

We also hear from our friends at NOAA
that marine debris from the Japanese tsunami will arrive on our shores
at any time. 

We will keep everyone posted as results of our beach cleanups and research
continue to expand.   

08 February 2012


John Klavitter, USFWS, holding an albatross, ready for banding.

I took this photo on Midway in 2009 when I first learned about Wisdom.

Since that time, I've worked on a book about her while teaching kids around
the world about albatross issues, especially dealing with plastic that kills so many of them.

I learned yesterday, that someone else has gotten a book out about Wisdom and so,
I have to rethink what I will do with all the information so many have provided and
that I've written about Wisdom, albatrosses, and ocean problems.

I'm posting this image of John to thank him for his many kindnesses as I've
worked on Project SOAR with kids.......He has helped in so many ways
and is the one person I am calling WISDOM'S KEEPER..........

One who cares so deeply and never asks for much in return, like
the kids who originally inspired what I do.........The kids of CSG and
other schools around the planet who are trying to find ways of
helping the ocean.

Maybe I will write a book called Wisdom Keepers. For John.

And, by all means, check out the new book,
Wisdom, The Midway Albatross.

I hope it is a good book and helps Wisdom in ways needed by all ocean creatures.

Mana'o Akamai

01 February 2012

Palau Sea Turtle Story Shell

honu ea photographed at Marrowstone Point. 2012.

My cousin Tom Rice introduced me to the science of the oceans when I was quite young. I collected sea shells for his Of Sea and Shore Museum. At the time of its opening, it was the largest collection in the United States and is still open in Port Gamble, Washington.

Tom recently moved to Thailand and scaled back the museum's displays. I inherited some treasures when he moved, including this Honu Ea or Hawksbill Turtle "shell"........The carapace of this beautiful sea turtle is etched with a story from Palau...........Tom brought it home from one of his many travels around the world and has since forgotten the legend or folk tale being told in the many etchings on each of the "Moons" or shields on the turtle back.

Each of these pieces of the back fit together like a puzzle and over the years, they have slipped apart a bit so that it is difficult to transport and share in my workshops about marine debris.

But as a piece falls out of the back, I can carefully hand it to a child so they can hold it to light and see the beauty of the transparent shell............No wonder people killed these creatures for the shell, turning them into sunglass frames, jewelry, and other fashion pieces..........

Ironically, the shell is a kind of pre-plastic and today, the turtles, like so many sea creatures, suffer from entanglement in nylon netting, fishing line, and other debris. Saved from harvest, they now must swim seas filling fast with plastics created to replace the more natural shell and other materials of earlier times.

I wonder if people of Palau would want this turtle returned.

If you know anything about picture stories etched into these shells, do let me know. I have also put out a question to list serves and so, will keep posting any information. In the meantime, I will bring this to all my presentations in coming years...........Kids are so inspired and enchanted on holding and touching and imagining this sea turtle's past. They seem more eager to help the turtles and the ocean on experiencing the gift from Palau!

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.