Tag: wildlife

Mermaid Practice…Everything’s Okay

Mermaid Practice…Everything’s Okay

SimoneLipscomb (1)Crystal-clear, warm saltwater caressed my feet and legs. In the gray, pre-dawn light I stood allowing gentle waves to wash away worries, concerns, grief. The Ocean brought me into the present moment.

SimoneLipscomb (5)The morning ritual, while in my Ocean ‘home’ island of Bonaire, is to gather tiny bits of sea glass, tumbled from the constant irritation of sand and movement. It’s a small beach of honey-colored sand, so soft it made me smile with delight. The tinkling sound of bits of coral clinking together was music made by the Ocean…the soundtrack to my morning.

SimoneLipscomb (3)A dry and exposed wall of fossilized coral protected me from the strong and constant winds of this small desert island. I stood gazing into the water and felt someone looking back at me. My eyes scanned the water as movement within a few feet of me caught my attention.

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This is NOT a photograph of a sea turtle…just a nice gathering of corals and sponges.

There, at the edge of the coral and sand, was a small sea turtle. No more than 10 inches across, it was peeking out at me–a lovely little hawksbill turtle.  Mermaid practice started early this morning. The lesson? Everything’s okay. In this moment, at this place…all is well. Time to take a break from planetary destruction, humanity’s hate/humanity’s fighting. Time to allow grief, of loved ones lost, pass into another dimension as the present moment embraced me with such beauty. A juvenile hawksbill friend reminded me of this with her intense gaze from her eyes to mine.

SimoneLipscomb (2)After breakfast I gathered dive gear and headed with my buddy down to the water. It felt magnificent to be submerged again, one with the Ocean, breathing on life-support that would allow me over an hour of communing with my brothers and sisters of the sea.

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Friendly porcupinefish

A friendly and large porcupinefish escorted me for the first half of the dive, looking back occasionally to see if I was still there. One time  he circled back and waited for me when I stopped to look at two spotted moray eels tucked under a coral head. When I turned to head back to the exit point, the sweet, prickly friend waved a fin goodbye. I blew a farewell kiss.

SimoneLipscomb (30)An hour break to hydrate, eat and assemble The Beast–my Aquatica housing for my Nikon D-800 and two massive strobes. I think I should intensify my upper body workouts just to lift the gadgetry.

SimoneLipscomb (22)But once underwater, tools I had only dreamed of in the past became a reality. A big smile erupted from deep within me. This system…this beast of a system…was almost neutrally buoyant…just slightly negatively so. It handled like a dream and produced images with a fisheye lens that made me very happy…finally….I can create images that in some way do justice to the magnificent beauty of this realm, this Ocean of beauty where I find peace.

SimoneLipscomb (12)Before even reaching the drop-off on the reef, three friendly squid played with me and one especially like my dome port. It was a squid dance unequal to any I’ve had in the past. Sometimes they can be shy and evasive but these guys actually invited me to play.

SimoneLipscomb (14)And once again, the larger-than-life porcupinefish met me at our appointed time and posed for a couple of photographs before I turned to head back to dry land….a most challenging proposition for a mermaid-in-training.

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SimoneLipscomb (34)Special thanks to my friends Will and Dolphi for helping me and The Beast into and out of the water. It’s a learning experience…accepting assistance and even asking for it (gasp!). 

Will Tripp dancing with squid.
Will Tripp dancing with squid.


Can Science, Common Sense & Compassion Co-Exist?

Can Science, Common Sense & Compassion Co-Exist?

IMG_9945The shell was still warm from saltwater. The perfectly formed brown and cream-colored swirls of calcium carbonate dried quickly in my hand. The empty shell was an unexpected gift, a reminder of the beauty and mystery of life in the sea.

I walked eastward in the pre-dawn light searching along the high-tide line for sea turtle tracks. The calm, clear water of the Gulf of Mexico reflected soft, pastel light that illuminated my early-morning walk with exquisite colors that made me yearn for my big Nikon…left behind on this sea turtle patrol.

IMG_9959The only tracks I discovered were those of a four-wheeled type driven by a biologist and crew who have been studying sea turtles in Alabama since the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. Over the past five years they have satellite tagged, drawn blood samples, conducted DNA tests and other measurable markers on our sea turtles in an effort to study where they feed and live…and probably gather a little data for evidence in the BP Deepwater Horizon legal case.

IMG_9961A report compiled by the Ocean Conservancy in 2014 stated that 1149 sea turtles were collected during the BP oil spill from April 30, 2010 to April 12, 2011. Of those 613 were dead. Out of the total number of sea turtles collected, 809 were Kemps Ridley’s…a highly endangered species. And 481 of those were dead. “Tens of thousands of sea turtles were located in coastal waters within the surface oil extent and were exposed to oil.” There were 278 sea turtle nests relocated from the Northern Gulf Coast that produced 14,700 hatchlings.

SimoneLipscomb (1)So there is a need to study sea turtles in our area and while the study sounds great, there are some things to consider. First, the satellite tags are attached to the shell with epoxy which gets quite hot as it hardens. There are nerve endings in the shell or carapace so sea turtles so they actually feel the burning of the epoxy as it hardens. When a female has completed her exhausting nesting process–heaving her 350 pound body out of the water and crawling in soft sand, digging a hole with her rear flippers, laying maybe 120 eggs, covering the hole and crawling back towards the water–she is corralled by two-legged beings, ‘burned’ with epoxy, poked with needles and held captive until the ‘glue’ hardens and the scientists have everything they need from her. Then she is released and must crawl back into the water…after being exhausted from nesting and ‘harassment’ by the team.

Harassment, in terms of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, is any human-generated behavior that causes a wild animal to change his or her behavior…including feeding, watering, touching, chasing, injuring, changing habitat, etc.

SimoneLipscomb (5)No matter how much good the data does the scientists…or sea turtles…it is a very stressful process for the mother turtles.

According to a report released by the biologist, they have tagged 59 females (that’s perhaps 15% of the Northern Gulf of Mexico population…a large sample for scientists). They concluded that one-third of the small and declining population live year-round in the Northern Gulf of Mexico. They want to continue tracking and studying sea turtles to test whether they revisit the same feeding areas and this gives new possibilities for management and conversation practices.

What if 15% of the total population…the tagged turtles…. are in some way damaged from the very process that is supposed to help the species? How many tagged sea turtles is enough? How much data is enough?

SimoneLipscomb (6)I have attended two of the debriefings done by the scientists after their tagging season here and saw how the data and the drive for more data seemed to overshadow the species they intend to protect. Watching the scientists light up when describing numbers or capturing male loggerheads by jumping on their backs while the turtles are swimming… bothered me. Is collection of data the prize, the goal? How does long-term concern of the individually tagged animals enter into the equation? It’s easy for humans to say, it doesn’t hurt the turtles, but where is long-term research and evidence to back-up that statement?

The government won’t take action against business unless there are very specific and detailed data showing how the species is being harmed from corporate functions (fossil fuel industry as one example, commercial fisheries is another). So scientists have to focus on numbers…the only thing the government seems to understand….or maybe the only thing scientists understand. It could be very easy to lose track of the health of individual animals while wanting to save an entire species. But this only supposition on my part.

SimoneLipscomb (4)For many years I have volunteered with wildlife biologists and most are very dedicated, caring individuals. I have had discussions with some of them about the issues addressed in this commentary. I hope they can understand how their actions might look to those of motivated to act solely out of compassion and love.

Weather in which northern flying squirrels are removed from nesting boxes and processed for data
Weather in which northern flying squirrels are removed from nesting boxes and processed for data

Waking an endangered northern flying squirrel in the high altitudes of the Blue Ridge Mountains during intense cold to weigh them, measure their back leg and tag them seems edgy. But they must have their numbers to justify continued endangered status. I assisted with this research and it bothered me because it seemed to endanger an endangered species…to collect data to justify its status as endangered. (Twisted??)

Sea turtles here in Alabama have been poked, prodded, tagged now for the past several years. Can’t they just be left to nest in peace? But no, numbers are needed…more, more, more numbers.

While earning my undergraduate degree at Auburn University I took a wildlife conservation class and learned the history of this endeavor. Science has evolved through the years and thankfully moved to a more compassionate way of studying species, but I think it has a long way to go.

My theory: Scientists become hyper-focused on numbers and data because that’s the only way they can get the money to fund more studies to prove to the government that the species is endangered, threatened or healthy. I can imagine that their original intention to help wildlife must become a frustration to them as they have to work within a broken system focused on money, money…money.

Last night I was reading a chapter in a book by Jim Nollman. It was about his time spent with orca in Buddy’s Cove, British Columbia.  He describes the non-stop ‘researchers’ who visit the whales and spend hours each day in small boats chasing them or the film crews who are equally aggressive in their pursuit of orca. Their justification is to help orca but in the truest sense, this is harassment. And the government issues permits to allow it.

SimoneLipscomb (3)I totally understand the need to study wild animals in order to provide data that gives proof to the government of what’s supposedly happening so that laws and rules and status changes can be implemented. But a red flag seems appropriate to raise when the welfare of the species they are trying to ‘protect’ comes into question from the research practices. Animals harassed long-term due to research become stressed. Perhaps we need to look at the practices of science that insist on data to prove anything. So it’s not as simple as finger-pointing at the government or corporations or scientists. Perhaps the process of research has never really taken deeper issues of quality of life and respect into consideration.

Can science, common sense and compassion coexist? It is a question yet to be answered. The sea holds many mysteries. Humans who think they can unravel the mysteries without common sense and compassion will never fully understand the very thing they think they are protecting. I wonder if some scientists feel as if they have to sell their soul, little-by-little, as they work within such a warped model to protect wildlife that live in environments highly damaged due to human exploitation.

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Humans can justify just about anything in the name of science. Governments can refuse to take protective action unless there are years of data. Corporations know this and profit from it. And what about the wildlife? Indeed…what about the wildlife.

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Cathedral of Sunrise

Cathedral of Sunrise

_TSL1819Sea turtle patrol is one of my favorite summer volunteer efforts. Actually, it’s more than that. It’s my time in the cathedral of sunrise on the shore. Every venture onto the white sand to look for mother sea turtle tracks is an opportunity to commune with the sea, sky, sand and wildlife found in and around the saltwater.

_TSL1820And while all of that communing is incredible, amazing, relaxing, and awe-inspiring, time on the beach, with no other humans, gives me time to commune with my deepest self. It’s almost as good as being underwater on scuba or in the water with humpback whales or manatees.

_TSL1893Nature is my cathedral. It’s where I see Spirit manifested so powerfully, so beautifully. The dance of life is so evident here where saltwater meets earth…the convergence zone of watery existence and land-based living. The sound of the surf is the hymn for this time of contemplation and celebration.

_TSL1900Finding a mother sea turtle’s tracks is a bonus, the proverbial icing on the cake. Each encounter with great blue herons, sanderlings, willets, dolphins, tiny just-hatched mullet, crabs, coquina shells, sand, sea, sunrise, clouds…always gifts that are received with a grateful heart.

Tilting at Windmills

Tilting at Windmills

Pablo Picasso's Don Quixote
Pablo Picasso’s Don Quixote

“Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them. With their spoils we shall begin to be rich for this is a righteous war and the removal of so foul a brood from off the face of the earth is a service God will bless.” Thus spoke Don Quixote in the novel written in the early 1600’s.

Equipment removing tar mats from Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge Summer 2010
Equipment removing tar mats from Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge Summer 2010

There are times when I feel very much like Don Quixote. He might not have doubted his sanity but I doubt mine as I work to bring light to the environmental issues facing all of us. It feels like an unrealistic, impractical or even impossible goal. It may be noble but sometimes it seems completely unrealistic and perhaps even delusional.

SimoneLipscomb (7)The goal I set for myself is to be a bridge between nature and humanity. A bridge that raises awareness, increases communication and ultimately helps human and non-human life.

SimoneLipscomb (1)I believe the only way to help the planet is to help humans connect with…fall in love with…nature. This love will create compassion, care and wise stewardship. But there are days when it just feels as if the windmills…or oil rigs…or congressmen…or CEO’s…..really are hulking giants that will continue to destroy our Ocean planet…no matter how many crazy people like me write, photograph, document, sing or raise awareness through positive action.

SimoneLipscomb (5)There is no Sancho friend on this journey with me so at times the journey seems lonely. Yet today, as I cycled through the backcountry of Gulf State Park, I was reminded that humans are a part of nature. Every plant, animal, insect…everything is connected like diamonds in a web. So therefore, I am never alone. And neither are you. Perhaps our greatest error is to think we are separate, alone, divorced from that which sustains us.

SimoneLipscomb (10)For the past nine years I have dedicated my life to working full-time to help people connect with nature through writing, photography and videography. Living off of retirement funds and investing in equipment, book publication and travel to document unique places or species and to present programs to anyone who will listen, I have many times doubted my sanity. Why not just relax and forget this work?

SimoneLipscomb (8)Because…..Love knows no boundaries. I came into this life to make a positive difference and even if I’m tilting at those proverbial windmills, at least I am doing something.

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Latest version of the cover of my new book

The past couple of days have been challenging and pesky doubts have arisen. But when I checked my mailbox today I had another partner for my new book, Manatee Mindfulness, with a note from my friend that said, “You’re doing great work Simone! Rock on!”

Perhaps I’m not delusional after all. I’m thankful for the reminder from sweet friends! And from nature that reminded me today of the web of life that connects all life to this Ocean planet. We are always connected, never alone.

The Jewels of Alabama

The Jewels of Alabama

SimoneLipscomb (8)Today as I was cycling through the backcountry of Gulf State Park, I reflected on how much this beautiful conservation area has meant to me throughout my life. The recent threat to close the majority of Alabama State Parks by the governor prompted an inner exploration of how the park’s past and mine are interwoven.

SimoneLipscomb (5)It was such a lovely morning with blue sky, low humidity  and temperatures in the 70’s. Pedaling through live oak forests, pine forests, marshes and swamps I felt so fortunate to be able to live close enough to enjoy the trails. And I thought how people who live near parks scheduled to close will lose their special places that perhaps they have enjoyed throughout their lifetime.

SimoneLipscomb (9)My first memory of Gulf State Park was swimming in Lake Shelby as a toddler. The dark, tea-colored water always scared me, even with my trusty rubber ducky. It’s still a popular place to cool off on a hot summer day.

State Park Naturalist with one of my favorite winter friends who appreciated my love of organic foods.
Me as Gulf State Park Naturalist with one of my favorite winter friends who appreciated my love of organic foods.

My summer jobs in high school and college were at Gulf State Park with the naturalist program, at the campground and at park headquarters. After completing my undergraduate studies at Auburn I was hired as park naturalist. My passion was educating people about the beauty and sacredness of over 4000 acres of land and water, protected from encroaching development. But my frustration grew as money, greed and politics were always placed over conservation and protection, even with a great park superintendent trying to maintain balance.

SimoneLipscomb (12)When my daughter was born we lived in Gulf Shores and enjoyed the beaches, lakes and trails even when she was very young. And after moving away, I always wanted to visit the park and take her so she would know it…know its treasures.

Emily at Lake Shelby
Emily at Lake Shelby

So many memories of the park are connected with my daughter. Much of what I wanted to pass along to her as an environmental ethic began in this state park.

I took Emily and Kevin's engagement photographs in the park
I took Emily and Kevin’s engagement photographs in the park

Many milestones of my life have been celebrated at this beautiful place and today, as I pedaled through forests of live oaks and white sand, I remembered many wonderful times with joy…tempered with sadness for people who could lose their special state parks due to the governor robbing them…robbing us…of some of the most sacred places in our state.

SimoneLipscomb (14)John Muir said, “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.”  “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”

He was born in 1838 and worked his entire life to create protected areas such as Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Mt. Rainer and Sequoia. I have thought of him often after discovering the plans the governor has for our state parks. How long will voting residents allow this kind of behavior to continue? Perhaps his next move is to open public jewels such as our parks for fracking….or worse.

SimoneLipscomb (21)“When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money.” Cree Proverb. We think it’s not possible. We deny that it could ever happen. But it is happening and the assault is being led by people we elect to serve us and to protect our resources.

Gulf State Park Summer 2010
Gulf State Park Summer 2010

Note: Today it was reported that the governor has put a stay on closing the parks May 1st. A stay of execution? He is looking for funds in other areas. Why….WHY!!! is conservation always the very first department to be de-funded? In the grand ‘scheme’ of things it makes absolutely no sense.