NO to Plastic Bags-Protect What We Love on Earth Day

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Meg Steiner, Barbara Burgess, Mary Alice Karol and Ellen Curren at the State House

Meg Steiner, Barbara Burgess, Mary Alice Karol and Ellen Curren at the State House

W2O Co Founder, Barbara Burgess and three other W2O Board members headed to the Boston State House today to testify to our State Legislature’s Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture in support of the Plastic Bag Reduction Bill #696.  What better to way to honor Earth Day than to stand up for what we believe in to protect our oceans by stating our views on the pollution and harmful effects to human health by those aerodynamic plastic bags choking our waterways, strangling our marine life and ending up in all of us. W2O joined The Sierra Club, Environmental America and other groups in support of the bill put forth by Democrat Massachusetts Representative of the 8th Essex District, Lori Ehrlich.

Some reminders of the issues at hand and a link to how you can help!

  • PLASTIC IS FOREVER (still ringing in my ears from our “Plastics in the Oceans, Plastics in You event and eloquently put by Dianna Cohen from Plastic Pollution Coalition-plastic breaks down into tiny bits that are ingested by our fish and wildlife and then in turn is ingested by us and IT NEVER GOES AWAY
  • Plastic clogs our waterways, costs municipalities in clean up efforts, and end up in our oceans, collecting in huge gyres that can never be cleaned up
  • “Biodegradable” doesn’t exist when speaking of plastic (bags or any kind) and companies that tell you that their bag is going to “break down” are not telling you the science. In order for a bag to decompose, it needs the perfect conditions of sun, heat and lack of moisture.  Most bags are in our trees, landfills and waterways and are not basking in the sun for hundreds of days waiting to break down. Just refuse plastic bags!

Act now! Use this link to the Sierra Clubs easy guide and Write your legislator and Protect What YOU Love!

The Ocean as “Mortal”

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Photo: Brian Skerry


A W2O member pointed me towards an interesting conversation yesterday from NPR’s “On Point” with Tom Ashbrook and his guest, W. Jeffrey Bolster, author of a new book “The Mortal Sea: Fishing the Atlantic in the Age of Sail.”   Understanding the economics, politics, and social perceptions currently and in our history helps frame why it is so vital that we protect what we love.  In his book, Mr. Bolster quotes one of our great writers and lovers of the natural world, Rachel Carson. Again, we are reminded that it is easy to see how our land resources and their natural beauty have been effected by our choices, but we struggle to grasp the image of an ocean in trouble.

In 1951, Rachel Carson wrote this in “The Sea Around Us

“He (mankind) cannot control or change the ocean as, in his brief tenancy of the earth, he has subdued and plundered the continents”

Of course we know she was mistaken, but clearly, this smart, educated, well respected woman was caught up in the public perception that the ocean, as Bolster says, was seen as abundant, lush and untouchable for many. This just reconfirms and makes me want to shout out our mission statement for W2O, so I will repeat it here!


Promoting healthy and sustainable oceans through education that inspires advocacy and action 

PIPA “Lists” of Particular Importance

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Scientist Randi Rotjan's supplies for her PIPA expedition

Scientist Randi Rotjan’s supplies for her PIPA expedition


Keith Ellenbogen's map and dive plan for the PIPA Expedition

Keith Ellenbogen’s map and dive plan for the PIPA Expedition


I am inspired by a current Rhode Island School of Design art exhibit that is called simply, “Lists.”  The show presents lists from artists that were written in great detail before and during a project or artistic journey.  When I attended the W2O event, “Take Only Pictures, Leave Only Footprints” today I was struck by how much effort it must have taken Scientist Randi Rotjan and underwater photographer Keith Ellenbogen to mount the PIPA expeditions for the New England Aquarium.  This is a “List” worthy, massive artistic and scientific undertaking. Along with other scientists and photographers, Randi and Kieth kept lists and double checked to make sure that only the most necessary equipment took the trip on the relatively small vessel that travels 5 days at sea from Fiji to reach the remote Phoenix Islands and the Island Nation of Kanton. And these last details only after years of planning, fund raising, researching and coordinating with other conservation organization.  The time, effort and expense are well worth the results and revelation that come from exploring the islands, learning about the small community living on them and studying this laboratory of intact coral reef system and ocean marine life. The area is now free of commercial fishing and damaging habitat destruction and has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the deepest and largest World Heritage site on Earth.

Today’s event, “Take Only Pictures, Leave Only Footprints” was magical in image, informative in content and inspiring to all of us. Our take away “Action” today: Please put ocean protection on your “philanthropic dance card” and  support the PIPA project.

Census of Kanton Island Residents curtesy of Keith Ellenbogen

Census of Kanton Island Residents curtesy of Keith Ellenbogen

April 2nd Event: Take Only Pictures, Leave Only Footprints

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Take Only Photos, Leave Only Footprints
Tickets are selling out for Women Working for Oceans event on April 2nd-Take Only Pictures, Leave Only Footprints with photographer Kieth Ellenbogen and New England Aquarium Associate Scientist Randi Rotjan. Learn about the Marine Protected Area of the Phoenix Islands and the remote island nation of Kiribati from the first hand knowledge of two extraordinary people that have been involved in protecting this pristine ocean landscape and its community.

Tickets Here!

Randi Rotjan: Coral 101-Animal, Vegetable, Mineral

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Randi Rotjan

Randi Rotjan

When I met with Randi Rotjan, Associate Scientist at the New England Aquarium (NEAQ) I thought I would enlist her for a bit of “coral 101” so that I could understand a bit about the reef system and Marine Protected Areas that will be discussed in our upcoming Women Working for Oceans event “Take Only Pictures, Leave Only Footprints” on April 2nd.  Randi is engaging and her eyes completely light up when she is talking about her favorite subject, coral and the Phoenix Island Marine Protected Area (PIPA). Randi and her team from NEAq have been visiting and exploring the Phoenix Islands and the surrounding area studying its remarkable biodiversity and resilience.  Its reefs, in particular, have become a topic of awe because, as they have been protected, there has been a significant recovery of species and marine life, including coral. “The area has become a benchmark for understanding how coral reefs will respond to global change”.

One of the major threats to coral reefs is overgrowth by algae, but I soon found out that not all algae are bad. There are 3 major types of algae on a coral reef, and as part of the “coral 101”, I got the rundown on all of them: symbiotic algae, crustose coralline algae, and fleshy macroalgae. Corals are animals, but they are also partly “vegetable” and “mineral”. The vegetable part is the symbiotic algae that live inside coral tissue and use sunlight for photosynthesis, which helps feed the coral animal and obtain the carbon needed to create the coral skeleton.   Crustose coralline algae is also generally helpful for corals – pink and cement-like, it is the substrate that baby corals search for when deciding on a place to live. The third type of algae, fleshy macroalgae, is also a natural part of a coral reef ecosystem, but when mother nature gets out of whack, things break down. Not enough herbivorous fish and the macroalgae take over by overgrowing corals and stealing their light and space. Water too cold or too warm can also impact the delicate balance between corals and macroalgae-ugh. So can other disasters. It is a fragile world down there, and a confusing one, but understanding the many players on the reef is part of the fun! After all, the diversity of organisms is a major contributor to the beauty and function of reefs.

Some of us are lucky enough to be able to go on vacation and look at coral reefs with our families. Randi remembers her first site of a coral reef off the coast of  Florida while visiting her grandparents as a teen. We talked about seeing coral reefs today and I asked how I might educate my family about their decline when Randi’s insight took over. “When we see a reef for the first time, it is beautiful to us. Because it is new,exciting and the ocean is so fascinating, we imprint that first experience in our brains as our calibration point for what is ours-our coral reef. It takes a long time and education to understand that the reef was so much more vital years ago.”  Randi’s excitement about her research of PIPA rewards her with a picture of what reefs are really suppose to look like and gives us hope about how a reef can recover with protection from overfishing, pollution and habitat destruction.

“We have a window of opportunity right now while there is still some beautiful marine life to still see and save. Right now, there are enough corals still remaining that could rebound and be rebuilt naturally if we protect them.  But once they are gone, we are out of luck.”

Come see Randi (along with photographer Keith Ellenbogen and his beautiful photos) at our April 2nd Event and learn more about coral and the Marine Protected Area of the Phoenix Islands.

Below are some links to more information about coral:


Keith Ellenbogen: Bringing Global Images Back Home

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Photo: Bruce Thayer

Photo: Bruce Thayer

Keith Ellenbogen is an accomplished underwater photographer. He began to learn about the ocean and marine life at the age of sixteen as a volunteer assistant aquarist at the New England Aquarium (NEAQ), for Steve Bailey, Curator of Fishes.  Today, some twenty years later, Keith and Steve remain life-long friends, dive buddies and professional colleagues.  Keith says “Bailey was one of the most influential people in my life,” by fostering his interests in the underwater world.

Looking back, as a volunteer at the NEAQ, Keith experienced first hand about the role the oceans play within our global marine environment. Keith’s first experience underwater was in the Giant Ocean Tank, which is comprised of Caribbean marine animals.  As a high school student (from Newton, M.A.) and part of the aquarium team, he also participated in a ‘collecting trip’ to catch tropical fish in the Bahamas.  While on this trip, Channel 5’s Chronicle show happened to have sent an underwater photographer to film the expedition and Keith says from that point on, he was hooked.  “I said Oh My God, this is fantastic! I can’t believe that people can do this for a living,” as he contemplated the integration of nature and film.  Upon returning to Boston, Keith acquired his first camera, a Nikonos-V, and started taking pictures off the coast of Gloucester.

Keith went on to find his own voice for making his unique contributions to the underwater world. Through his photographic lens, he sought ways to explore and disclose it’s hidden beauty through the medium of photography, and bring global images home through numerous publications – with a purpose of inspiring others toward the same affinity for nature that the NEAQ brought him earlier in his life..

After receiving a MFA from Parsons School of Design in Design and Technology, Keith was awarded a U.S. Fulbright Fellowship to Malaysia. His purpose was to showcase visually compelling images that reveal not only the magnificent artistic beauty of marine life, but also the environmental threats. This year abroad was another turning point that solidified his choice of underwater photography and videography as a visual platform to inspire positive social change about our wonderful ocean environment.

Keith is deeply committed to connecting the arts and sciences with education. He works with world-renowned environmental scientists and international conservation-based NGO’s.  For example he spent three months in the Mediterranean Sea photographing the endangered Atlantic Bluefin Tuna on an annual migration to reproduce. Keith also worked with Conservation International, partnered with The New England Aquarium, to capture images and stories for the launch of the Ocean Health Index.

While Keith works for a number of organizations, he describes the New England Aquarium a “home base” for his ongoing inspiration and unfolding work.   Last summer, working with marine mammal trainers and the marketing department, Keith photographed the California Sea Lions for the 2012 New England Aquarium summer advertising campaign “Mischief Loves Company.”  He also joined the New England Aquarium/Monterey Bay Aquarium on an diving expedition to Fiji with his long-time buddy Bailey and other dear colleagues.

Most recently, Keith was selected as part of the New England Aquarium expedition to the remote Phoenix Islands where he worked with Heather Tausig VP of Conservation program and the lead Phoenix Islands Protected Area NEAq Associate Scientist Randi Rotjan to share visual stories that highlight the marine science, conservation and create awareness about one of the worlds most important coral reef ecosystems.  “I am fortunate to work with these amazing scientists. It’s an exciting and important challenge to expose their work through an artistic and journalistic perspective of the camera lens—both above water and below.” He hopes his photos will help inspire yet another generation of scientists, artists, and educators – all with the singular goal of protecting the earth’s natural underwater beauty and majesty for all to see and enjoy.

When he is not on assignment, Keith lives in Brooklyn New York. He is Faculty member in the Photography Program at Parsons School of Design.  You can learn more about Keith at or at the NEAq Live Blue Profile Page.





Ben MacShane; Education turning into Action. The Importance of Krill

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Ben MacShane will be the first to admit that he is a lucky guy. So lucky, in fact, that he got to go on an adventure that most people can only dream of. But what I love about Ben is that he will turn what he learned on this elite educational trip into powerful action.  He has been passionate about the ocean all his young life, sailing small boats on the North Shore, exploring and observing. Watch out! We will hear from Ben again. He is already a steward of the sea.

Here is a blog Ben has written about a very important part of his trip to Antarctica.

My name is Ben MacShane and I am a sophomore at the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut. I returned in January from the South after a very eventful trip, not only did we encounter the incredible animals of South Georgia, but we also met with a Force 11/12 Antarctic blast. Force 12 is a hurricane. This hurricane gave us all the Silver Explorer, our ship, could handle, and then some. At around 4:45pm in the middle of the storm, a monstrous wave smashed the front of our ship. The rogue wave smashed in one of our bridge window, water, glass, and crew were smashed into the back wall of the bridge. It was a very traumatic experience, I actually saw three crew running down the hall to the infirmary, soaked in blood, head to toe. Our ship limped back to Ushuaia under a single engine and limited electronics, but in high spirits. Even though we were cut short, I took back an incredible amount of knowledge. During our long cruises to the islands and back to Ushuaia, we had three lectures a day. The lectures ranged from Shackleton to elephant seals to the winds and currents of Antarctica. Here is a combination of a few lectures wrapped into one essay!

The affect of global warming on the Krill population in Antarctic by Ben McShaneplaces22

There are 100 trillion krill in the world’s oceans today, however, these krill are in danger, it is not the hunting sea lions or the blue whales, its the warm temperatures in the Souther Ocean. These krill account for the single largest biomass of any single species on earth, 500-700 million tons. Why are there so many of them? They are excellent at what they do. At only two and a half inches and about .7 ounces, a single krill can live for up to six years. Krill have an arsenal of natural survival tools that range from illumination to diet. All of these adaptations enable them to live a long life. For 260 days a krill can fast, now this may seem plausible because they could live off of their fat stores like many other animals that go without food for extended periods of time. But here is where krill have adapted. No other animal can do this: Krill actually burn their muscle and slow down their swimming to survive when going without food. Why? Antarctic waters can be as cold at twenty-eight degrees, the freezing point of salt water. Without their fat, the tiny krill would die within days; this is an incredible example of evolution in the Southern Ocean.             The krill aren’t done there, these supreme survivors have a few more traits that aid in their survival in the brutal Antarctic. Speed: these tiny animals have an efficient swimming motion that allows them to shoot through the water at speeds of up to four to six body lengths per second. Can you imagine if we could move that fast? I’m about six foot three, and it would be very helpful to move more then thirty-six feet per second! At these speeds they can elude the most agile fur seal, maybe not a blue whales gapping mouth though. To elude the whale however, in an all out sprint, a krill can flick its tail instead of using its legs, and move twenty-five body lengths a second! Second, and perhaps the most sci-fi esq. are the lights that krill possess. Since krill are predominately clear, they use ten lights along their backs to light themselves up when at depth. Just as penguins and sharks have colorations to camouflage themselves with their surroundings, dark from the top, light from the bottom, krill appear as sunshine from below with their lit up bodies. If that was not enough, krill have the ability to actually shed their skin in order to confuse a predator, in no time at all, the hard outer shell can be slipped off as the krill escapes in the opposite direction. Perhaps krill’s most effective defense, lies in numbers. A school of krill can pack into a ball so tight that in one square meter of that school, 50,000 krill can be found. These massive gathering are an effort to literally increase each krill’s probability of living, if there are millions of them together, a krill’s only hope is that he is one of the lucky ones!

Despite every effort these krill make, they serve as the building blocks of an eco-system that supports the largest animals on the planet, and everyone in between. This means a great deal of them get eaten. To be more exact, a single fur seal can eat a ton of krill a year; there are three to four million fur seals in Antarctica. A blue whale needs four tons of krill a day to survive. An Adelie penguin colony can eat up to 8,000 tons a day. In total, the estimated number of krill eaten in one year in Antarctic waters is 310 million tons. In addition, fisherman take 100,000 tons a year, but that is relatively insignificant compared to the real inhabitants of the ocean.

It is clear that krill are very special creatures. Every animal in the Antarctic depends on their population’s well-being in some way. So what happens if the krill begin to die. We are in the process of finding out as we speak. I know it sounds cliche, but it couldn’t be more true, it all comes back to global warming. Krill do eat, despite how much I have talked out them being eaten. A single krill can actually clear a square foot of algae from the bottom of a piece of sea ice in about ten minutes. This algae is incredibly important to the young krill who are not strong enough to fight the currents of the ocean, as they try to find food in the open water. So, when they are born, they float to the surface where the sea ice is, and feed off of the algae attached to the bottom of the ice. There is one problem however, the ice that holds this algae is melting, and as that ice melts, the speed at which is calves and crumbles increases. Ice is white, meaning it reflects the sun, and it’s heat. So people think the sun is melting the ice from the top, they are wrong. The sun is attracted to dark surface, where it can be absorbed. That dark surface in Antarctica happens to be the ocean, and so the more ocean that is exposed by calving ice shelfs, the more heat is absorbed from the sun. Thus, the ice is actually being melted from below by the ever warming water. This can not be stopped. Once it begins, the only way for it to stop is for the climate to actually reverse, and begin cooling.

The ice supports everything, animals live on it and krill feed off of it. Without this essential piece of the south, the Southern Ocean is in trouble. As this ice melts more and more everyday, more and more baby krill never make it to adulthood (to be eaten, its a rough life isn’t it). Last year in under forty days a massive ice shelf on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula calved, dumping thousands of square miles of ice into the ocean. That’s thousands of square miles of algae for krill to eat, GONE.


Emily Mead’s Story of Connecting with a Small Island Nation

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Emily Mead (in a photo by Keith Ellenbogen) with letters of thanks from the children of Kanton Island

Emily Mead (in a photo by Keith Ellenbogen) with letters of thanks from the children of Kanton Island


Weston resident and current freshman at Dartmouth College, Emily Mead, quietly wants to make sure that the children of a small island nation in the Phoenix Islands have the learning tools they need to express their creativity and have some fun.  Summer volunteering at The New England Aquarium, Emily learned that the children of Kanton island, part of the Phoenix Island Marine Protected Area (PIPA)) are so isolated, a thousand miles southwest of Hawaii, that obtaining basic supplies can be a challenge. When The New England Aquarium Marine Coral Scientist, Dr.Randi Rotjan and Ocean Photographer Keith Ellenbogen were planning the 2012 PIPA research expedition to study the thriving marine life, Emily saw an opportunity to reach out to the island’s Minister of Education who then provided her with a wish list from teachers, educators and children.  Along with the scientific experiments, camera equipment, crew and experts, a box carefully stowed in the expedition boat containing a special message and thoughtfully assembled by Emily, was hand delivered at the end of the long trip across the Pacific.

The children of Kanton where delighted that someone oceans away took a special interest in their tiny island and sent letters of thanks, sparking a budding pen pal relationship with Emily Mead. Through Emily’s connection to this far away place, she has learned about the importance of Marine Protected Areas for ensuring revitalization for endangered marine species and economic stability for the habitants of the surrounding islands.

PIPA is one of the largest Marine Protected Area and a Unesco World Heritage Site. It seems so far away but Emily’s story is just one of many that connects us to this beautiful fragile and endangered ocean world.  On April 2nd, Women Working for Oceans ( will present “Take Only Pictures and Leave Only Footprints ” with Dr.Randi Rotjan and Photographer Keith Ellenbogen at the Simon’s Imax Theater/New England Aquarium. Randi and Keith will take us on an ocean adventure, featuring the people of Kanton as well as the Phoenix Island Marine Protected Area, highlighting this pristine ecosystem through science and photography that will educate and inspire conservation.

Tickets are on sale HERE or on our “Events” page at


Bathed in Plastic

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I went shopping last week with a friend who has a membership to BJ’s and was reminded why I have let my own membership lapse.  Once you are sensitive to the single use plastic issue, it seems like the plastic monster is everywhere and that the entire universe is bathed in the stuff.  Natures finest gets wrapped and encased. I thought I would choose a carton of milk over the plastic jug…and, as you can see, this didn’t work out for me.  Selling two at a time with one price and plastic wrapping the two milk cartons together! You have to wonder who thinks this up!


Eggs (the ultimate in perfect packaging all by themselves) were covered by the plastic cloak as well.

I decided to try Stop and Shop.  First stop was the produce aisle. I needed some celery for a recipe I was thinking of making.  I caught up with a person stocking the items and asked what she thought about the celery being in plastic and whether or not there was some purpose for packaging them that way and she sweetly said “Oh, thats how they come.” She then looked at the quizzical look on my face and she laughed and I laughed and we had a discussion about how easily we say these things forgetting that produce doesn’t start out its journey in plastic wrap.

I did find a carton of milk!