Beer and biodiversity

This week I’m sharing an example of how a group of Irish post-grad students attempted to raise public awareness of biodiversity.

A little while ago, a colleague of mine returned from a trip Ireland with three gorgeous beer mats decorated with pictures of animals and a biodiversity fact. Intrigued, I looked into the story behind the beer mats. The three beer mats pictured below are part of a set of four that were designed and distributed by a group of doctoral candidates at Trinity College Dublin. Their aim was to raise awareness of biodiversity and the daily benefits we gain from it, and they did it by putting facts printed on beer mats under the noses of people visiting pubs around Dublin.

biodiversity beer mat back
One side of the beer mat features an interesting fact about biodiversity
The other side has a fun safe drinking message – know your limits!

The mats feature a biodiversity fact, for example, ‘It takes at least four bees to produce the apples to make your pint of cider!’ The mats also include a safe drinking message such as, ‘The pen-tailed shrew can drink continuously and not get drunk. Everyone has different limits – know yours.’ The launch of the beer mats was accompanied by a series of pop-up talks where the students presented short, informative talks to the people drinking in the pub. Together the talks and beer mats aimed to spark conversations about biodiversity and if people wanted to know more, an address for a  website set up by the students was printed on the mat along with a QR code.

I’ve seen beer mats used to advertise health warnings in other countries, but this was the first time I had seen them used to communicate science facts. I think these beer mats are fun and eye-catching so I hope they have sparked conservations as the students intended. I know I’ll be keeping the ones I have!

If you have ever used beer mats to communicate science information, or seen another great example of it being done, do let me know in the comments below.

Find out more about the biodiversity in our lives project at their WordPress site or at their Facebook page.


How to be a better blogger

I often think about how I can write a better blog. Writing more frequently is an obvious answer but I often wonder if my style is right, or if my subject matter is interesting enough to hold your attention.

In search of inspiration, I recently attended a Guardian masterclass on Science Communications. One of the sessions was on blogging and it was led by the enthusiastic Jenny Rohn who launched She introduced the different kinds of science blogs you can write – reviews of research, confessional blogs, cartoons and video blogs.

Jenny’s own blog is the confessional kind. She writes about her life as a scientist, both in and out of the lab. Using humour, Jenny brings people into her life in an attempt to show people that scientists are not aliens and rebuild the trust in science that has been lost. Her personal approach to blogging really appealed to me. I came away with the feeling that my own blog should offer something more than a rewrite of news that is already online. If you blog, you should add to the conversation too and add your own experience and ideas to the mix.

For those of us at the seminar who weren’t expert bloggers, Jenny had some tips that you might find helpful too if you are starting out in blogging. First up, blog frequently, at least once a week. Second, write good content. Make it a story and make it great! Thirdly, pretend you are writing for your gran. If she can get it, everyone will. You can always test your ideas on a friend, if their eyes glaze over you should write about something else. Jenny encouraged us to show our personalities and in her own blog she uses humour. It was obvious from her first few words on stage that Jenny is funny and she’s not afraid to show it in her writing. This makes her so much more engaging and very un-alien like. She’s a real person and her writing shows this.

I came away from Jenny’s session feeling inspired to re-start my own blog which has been neglected for many months. Using advice from other sessions during the Masterclass, I decided to plan first, write later. I’ll still write about the best wildlife conservation success stories but I want to explore great examples of science communications. I hope to highlight powerful video campaigns and pick apart what makes them so effective. I want to share the moments when I flick through a magazine and an advert for WWF makes me stop turning. Most of all, I want to write something that gives you inspiration for your own conservation-related communications.

A great story can attract money, public support, and influence people into making better choices for the environment. A few words have the potential to change the world, they just need to be delivered in the right way. If you are excited by the power of communications, let me know, I’d love to follow your blog or on Twitter. Leave comments below if anything you’ve read has left you with something to share!

If you’d like to know more about Jenny, check out her website or follow her on Twitter!

Searching for tapirs in the Pantanal

I’m currently in the Pantanal wetlands of Brazil looking for the incredible Lowland Tapir (Tapirus terrestris). I’m lucky enough to be here with Patrícia Medici, co-founder of IPÊ and Chair of the IUCN SSC Tapir Specialist Group, and her expert team who are dedicated to studying tapirs and learning everything they can about them.

This beautiful tapir is Michele. She was the one of the first tapirs I saw in the Pantanal.

It’s easy to get into a routine on the cattle ranch we are staying at here in the Pantanal. Wake up at dawn, eat breakfast and head out in a four-wheel drive to check the box traps. If we’ve been lucky, there will be a tapir waiting for us, or maybe we will spot one on route and dart it with tranquilizers. By the time we return to the ranch, it is time for lunch and a shower. The afternoons are spent entering data, looking through photos caught by camera traps, reading, preparing kit, or napping before heading out again at four in the afternoon to look for tapirs until after dark when a spot lamp helps in the search for our elusive quarry.

The routine is the result of many years of work by Patrícia Medici and her team: Zezinho, an expert in trapping and hunting wild animals; Renata, a vet; and Thamy, a volunteer like me but she is a trained vet. By trying out various methods such as hunting on foot and by car, and using different traps, Patrícia has been able to deduce which method gives the greatest return on effort. Happily for my feet and love of sleep, the most sightings of tapirs occur between 4pm and 8pm when searching by car. However, this is only an indication of tapir sightings and should not be interpreted as information about tapir activity.

The aim of this hunting and trapping is find out more about the Lowland Tapir – a large mammal found across lowland areas of northern and central South America. Zoologists and conservationists would like to know much more about this solitary, shy animal. The Lowland Tapir spends much of its time hiding in forests, venturing out at the beginning and end of the day to cross from one forest to another or cool down in one of the many pools found across the flood plain.

Whenever Patrícia catches a tapir she has never caught before, it is tranquilized so blood and tissue samples can be taken. She will also place a microchip under the tapir’s skin so it can be identified easily in the future. Ticks are removed and sent to the University of São Paulo for identification and the blood will be examined for genetic information, and diseases. If the tapir is large enough it will be fitted with a radio or GPS collar so its movements and home range can be understood better than they are now.

All this information will allow Patrícia and many other people who are interested in tapirs, to understand more about how tapirs live and how we can best protect them. The Lowland Tapir is currently listed as Vulnerable on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and is most threatened by habitat loss through deforestation, illegal hunting and competition with livestock. Once we understand how tapirs interact with each other and the habitat they live in, we will know more about how best to ensure tapir populations stop declining.

Visit the IPÊ website for more information about the Lowland Tapir Conservation Initiative.

Inspiring films from the Ocean Film Festival

This Friday I went to the Ocean Film Festival. Currently on tour around the UK, the festival showcases a selection of inspiring films, some of which I am still thinking about two days later.

One film I can’t stop thinking about in particular was ‘And then we swam’. This true story of how two men decided they wanted to row across the Indian Ocean despite having no rowing experience or support was both funny and insightful.

The film follows two Englishmen, Ben and James as they prepare for and then embark on a journey from Australia to Mauritius in a two man row boat. After a few days in the boat, the pair came to the conclusion that the ocean has its own personality, describing it as a god that needs appeasing and praying to. This really struck me as it is such an obvious thing that the ocean would have a personality of its own that can’t be controlled and yet this is often forgotten as we take what we want from the ocean with little thought for the consequences. Watch the trailer for the film here.

Many of the films also highlighted the freedom that the ocean represents for many of us. You can dive for your own food, you can row across an ocean for 116 days, or you can feel like you are flying as you surf across the waves.

The final film of the evening featured a paraplegic woman called Pascale Honore surfing with the help of some duct tape and a friend of her son’s. The smile on Pascale’s face as she duct-taped surfed was huge and proved that no matter your situation, anything is possible. You can watch her story here and I hope you feel inspired to follow your dreams, no matter how big the obstacles seem.

Find out more about the Ocean Film Festival here.

Wild beavers born in UK

A pair of wild beavers living in the River Otter, Devon, have given birth to three babies, known as kits.

When two adults and a juvenile European beaver (Castor fiber) were spotted earlier this year on the River Otter, it was the first time this species has been spotted in the wild in England for about 500 years.

While some local people are excited to see the return of the beavers, the UK Government is less thrilled and had planned to re-home them. However, the arrival of the kits will delay any decision on this matter.

Although the Government describes the Devon beavers as non-native invasive species, beavers have been successfully re-introduced in Scotland and they can be good for the local environment. The dams that beavers build provide a haven for other species such as water voles and dragonflies. The dams also act as a water filter and can help control flooding.

There are many more benefits that beavers provide for the environment so I hope the family in Devon are treated with the respect they deserve.

Fears subside that whale will explode

Since a Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus) washed up on the shore of a small Canadian town earlier this week, many people have waited in anticipation for the carcass to explode from a build up of gas as it decomposes.

However, according to the website it is now unlikely that the whale will explode as bloating has gone down. But why were the locals of the town of Trout River so worried? Are exploding whales a common problem?

The answer is no. When whales die they usually sink into the depths of the ocean where their bodies decompose and are eaten by scavengers. However they do occasionally wash up on shore and can become a bit of a smelly problem if there is no way to drag the carcases out to sea, or bury it.

Exploding whales have been filmed previously, including the clip below where a scientist sent to cut up a dead Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus) that had washed up on the Faroe Islands narrowly escaped being smothered in whale intestines.

Caution – the video is not for the squeamish!

The 25 metre whale currently lying in Trout River is thought to be one of a group of nine whales that died earlier this month after becoming trapped by shifting ice further offshore. However, this whale is disposed of, official will definitely not attempt to blow it up as officials in Oregon, USA did in the 1970s. Needless to say, blowing up a gassy, bloated whale with dynamite did not end well.

To learn more about the Blue Whale, check out the ARKive website for pictures, videos and facts!

Join Don, Gisele, Ian and Yaya in the World Environment Day Challenge

This week’s selection of wildlife related social media includes: Don Cheadle asking you to step up and save energy for World Environment Day; people dressed as pandas; and an interactive Annual Report from WWF Australia.

Gisele Bündchen, Don Cheadle, Ian Somerhalder and Yaya Touré – all United Nations Environment Programme Goodwill Ambassadors – have stepped up to challenge the world to reduce waste and mitigate climate change.

Each ambassador wants you to join their team and make a pledge to save energy, reduce food waste, do business with companies that have demonstrated their commitment to the planet, and use less plastic. Choose your team and make your pledge to the environment! (Warning: Ian Somerhalder looks smoulderingly hot on his team information page – it may be distracting to some people)

In China, people who care for baby pandas at the Hetaoping Research and Conservation Centre are dressing up as pandas. The fancy dress helps prepare pandas for their release into the wild as it improves their ability to bond with other members of their own species and ensures they don’t become too familiar with humans. Watch a short video here! (Daily Motion)

Finally this week, a beautiful picture of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef posted by WWF Australia on Facebook led me to their latest Annual Report. Although an Annual Report may not usually cause much excitement, I was really impressed by the interactive tablet app that showcases WWF Australia’s best projects from the 2012-2013 financial year. It features a video message from their CEO, Dermot O’Gorman and an interactive map which links to project information. Find out how you can view WWF Australia’s Annual Report here.

If you see anything online this week that you think I should share with others, tweet me a link! @camellia_will