More “Green Time,” Less “Screen Time”

I’m going to play Nature’s advocate for a moment. Let’s be honest, many of us are bombarded with constant reminders to unconsciously check our phone or computer on a daily basis. It’s easy to become tied to an electronic device without realizing. For Smartphone users, the convenience of having our entire agenda and communication network stored electronically means that we’re checking our phones from the moment we wake up. Whether it’s the stream of emails, demanding social media notifications or a missed message from friends and family, there is no doubt all the time spent on electronics can have some effect on our mental health.

The most extensive study to date estimates that people across all age groups in the United States check their phone on average 46 times per day, which totals to upwards of 8 billion times a day that all Americans are collectively checking their phones. It has been suggested that as a society, Americans have become so accustomed to daily “screen time” at a young age, that they are getting significantly less “green time.” Only 10 percent of teens in America spend time outside every day, according to a recent Nature Conservancy survey. The documentary film, Play Again, also explores the decrease in “green time” and increase in “screen time” through the case of seven teenagers from Portland, Oregon. Despite being surrounded by ample opportunity to explore outdoors, these young Oregonians exemplify the troubling estimations of American youth spending an average of 7-½ hours per day in front of a screen. As I alluded to in my earlier blog post, the more connection we have to the natural world around us, the more likely we will care enough to conserve it, but have we lost that crucial connection by spending less time outdoors?

Spending green time on a hiking trail in Willamette National Forest.

On a related note, surveys often reveal a good bit of insight into a larger question or issue, which can help inform where changes need to be made. That is exactly the focus of my work at the moment, as I have tirelessly been drafting and rewriting an ocean literacy survey to assess the knowledge of the general public who visits the coast of Oregon. One of the things that struck my curiosity as I wrote and rewrote this survey in collaboration with the ODFW Marine Reserves team has been where individuals receive their information about ocean-related issues. I am interested to find if there is some sort of link between the sources of media where individuals receive information and the gap in knowledge relating to ocean health threats.

I’ll admit, it’s a bit ironic and probably hypocritical for me to play nature’s advocate after spending several full workweeks indoors on a computer, but I took advantage of a three-day weekend off work to ensure that I refreshed my mind in the outdoors. And let me tell you, it worked.

“Immersing” in nature at Tamolitch Blue Pool

Dr. David Strayer, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Utah argues that after three days of wilderness backpacking, our brains perform significantly better on creative problem solving tasks. He calls this the three-day effect, where immersing oneself in nature for long enough can clean one’s “mental windshield” that becomes clouded over from the stress of being indoors. Other studies have shown that it doesn’t take that much to recharge our cognitive function, as just 25 minutes of “green time” can give our brain the rest it needs from “screen time.”

Gazing into the Milky Way from my tent at Blue River Reservoir.

As a frequent saying goes, “there is no wifi in the woods, but I promise you’ll find a better connection.” Driving through Willamette National Forest this weekend, I realized it would have been nice to have service while searching for a campsite, but instead I had to problem solve on my own. With my phone switched off and stowed away, I managed to find an ideal campsite and spent the night losing track of time while gazing at the countless stars. And let me tell you, waking up to the sound of birds chirping and the sunlight penetrating through the trees into your tent feels much more refreshing than the harsh sound of an alarm clock in a dark bedroom. Many others must have received the “green time” memo as well, as all of Willamette was flooded with campers, hikers and outdoor enthusiasts alike. Bearing in mind the statistics of recent “screen time” surveys, it’s a restoring feeling to see others catch up on their vitamin “N.”



Tide Poolers

Tide pools are the wildflower bloom of the marine world. If you time it right, the colorful array of life is revealed from beneath the ocean cover for a brief, yet exciting period of time. Some of the marine life in tide-pools lives between two worlds, spending half of their time fully submerged under seawater and the other half in the air we breathe. I think tide pools are one of the most intriguing ecosystems that exist on this planet.

purple urchins in the tide pools at Yaquina Head

Why is it that these creatures, that become exposed when the tide goes out, can flaunt such vibrant colors and shapes? Wouldn’t they all want to camouflage themselves as rocks to avoid getting eaten? The sun-orange sea stars, huckleberry-purple urchins, seafoam-green anemones, and assorted hermit crabs (to name a few) sport their colors loud and proud. For some of these organisms, it is still not known for certain what the purpose of their vivid coloration is, but one thing is known for certain: this attractive marine life display draws eyes from across the globe to the coast of the Pacific Northwest.

Sea stars and anemones at low tide

This past Saturday, June 25th, we were lucky enough to have a negative-low tide, which (as the name implies) means the lowest tide retreats to a negative number of feet relative to average sea level. For tide-poolers, that means there is a very good chance of seeing the unique marine life that resides at the farthest edge of the low-tide water line. Of course, I am just one of many tide-pool chasers. For many coastal residents and marine enthusiasts alike, tide-pools are an important place. A recent study in 2013 found that exploring tide-pools was among the top three most common activities for Oregon’s marine reserve visitors. While it is encouraging to a conservationist for there to be so much interest in this natural resource, too many visitors can be harmful to such a fragile environment. I’m sure the tide pool residents wouldn’t be pleased to have an army of land-dwelling visitors tromping all over their property.

Purple urchin at negative low tide

In the coming weeks, as I finish up some prep work and solidify my work schedule, I look forward to exploring more of the unique places along the coast, but also learning about the people who use them. As part of my work this summer, I hope to find out how informed coastal visitors feel about issues related to marine areas in order to better inform ocean managers about any potential knowledge gaps or concerns from the general public about our oceans. While I haven’t been able to immediately work out in the field, the work I will eventually be doing along the coast is a crucial element to bettering our understanding of marine reserves. Until then, I’ll continue to familiarize myself with new places in Oregon during my free time!

Angus exploring the tide pools

Thinking Beneath the Surface

Photo of my first encounter with a sea turtle.

Ever hear of the saying, “the head, the hand and the heart?” I’ve learned that thinking, doing and feeling are key elements to bringing about change. If you know about an issue and you can feel the impacts of it, then you are more likely to care about it and take action. The same is true for me with my first encounter with the great sea turtles of Hawaii. When I was younger, I vividly remember the first time I came across one of these massive creatures on the beach and my heart raced as I approached this mysteriously large being that was probably much older than myself. On June 16th this week, people across the globe took part in world sea turtle day in an effort to spike awareness and emphasize the importance of their conservation.

When it comes to conservation problems, there is a lot to think about. In 2005, bycatch accounted for about 17% of all U.S. commercial fisheries catch. This has been a huge problem as a result of heavy fishing pressure with non-selective fishing gear, especially large purse seine and bottom trawl nets. To give perspective, the world’s largest supertrawler, the Atlantic Dawn, is longer than one and a half football fields with an otter trawl big enough for a 747 jet to pass through. As you might imagine, any fish or marine mammal that becomes trapped in this net has no chance of escaping and many in fact drown before being tossed back overboard upon retrieval. As horrifying as this may sound, it is our love for seafood and the sky rocketing demand to feed the population that has led to the implementation of such efficient technology.

So what is being done? For sea turtles, there has been a bit of a success story thanks to the efforts of conservation groups. It is now required by law that shrimp fishermen use Turtle Excluder Devices (or TEDs) to let sea turtles or other large bycatch escape deadly trawl nets. While sea turtle mortality has been reduced by 90 percent as a result, all six species of turtles found in U.S. waters are endangered and still faces threats of survival each year. The decline in marine species stretches far beyond sea turtles, as many species may be slipping into extinction without our knowing.

Otter Rock Marine Reserve.

That is where marine reserves are important. A Marine Reserve constitutes areas “protected from all extractive activities, except as necessary for monitoring or research to evaluate reserve condition, effectiveness, or impact of stressors.” This differs from a Marine Protected Area in that some fishing may be allowed rather than closing off all extractive activities. Both of these are important efforts to reduce fishing pressure on fish that have been harvested at an unsustainable rate.

Just as the sea turtles of Hawaii ignited my passion for their conservation, I see my position this summer with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife as an opportunity to help bring attention to issues of ocean conservation. I look forward to better understanding the ways humans value, use and depend on marine resources and how Marine Reserves play a part in that. We’ve only just begun to skim the surface but there’s much more to dive into.