Sunday, January 4, 2015

Turtle Conservation

Our turtle came to us in the late fall of 2012. Over the previous winter and throughout that year, I had been struck with the thought of caring for a turtle and had begun looking into rescues. A young cousin finally purchased a red-ear slider hatchling from a reptile show and surprised us with this little creature we now call Remy.

I was further surprised the following summer when I learned a new neighbor kept two turtles. Then a friend married a scientist who had kept turtles for years. I continued to meet people who had some connection with or interest in turtles. 

Tonight I was thinking about the turtle trade, watching Remy swim in his simple tank and wondering if he would ever enjoy a more natural environment, even just a trip outdoors or on vacation with us in a warmer climate. 

People take their dogs with them across country, but they wouldn't release a carefully bred pet poodle into the wild. I've read that releasing captive turtles has caused invasive species situations down south. I wondered if Remy would introduce foreign pathogens or microbes to a new habitat, even if we were just walking him in the grass. 

So I googled "turtle trade US" and found a reputable article entitled Conservation and Trade Management of Freshwater and Terrestrial Turtles in the United States from a 2010 workshop hosted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Here are some interesting and some alarming facts:

General Info

  • Scientists recognize 451 taxa (species and subspecies) of turtles and tortoises worldwide. The United States is home to 89 of these.
  • Turtles are considered "indicator species," sensitive to environmental changes.
  • Turtles tend to mature more slowly than other animals. This, along with high nest mortality, restricts their ability to adapt to exploitation.


  • Several assessments show that 40-60% of turtles are threatened with extinction (Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable).
  • Exploitation and trade threaten 55 species in Asia and 7 in the USA.
  • Turtle habitat loss results from human activity including wetland drainage, sand-mining, dam and reservoir construction, water pollution (industrial and municipal sources, surface runoff), deforestation, and road fragmentation.
  • Accidental mortality occurs in fisheries and road traffic, while other turtles are traded as pets and used for entertainment, consumption or medicinal purposes.
  • Demand for turtles in Asia largely influence U.S. turtle trade, along with the wild availability  and regulatory actions.

Legal Action

  • A 2009 summit in Atlanta, GA assessed laws and regulations for more sustainable use of reptiles and amphibians across states in the U.S.
  • Commercial turtle harvesters may be prosecuted by state and federal law depending on the species targeted and restricted areas.
  • In 2006 the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation launched Operation Shellshock, an investigation into the illegal trade of protected native reptile species, uncovering operations in multiple states. After educating many innocent enthusiasts, in 2008 they charged 18 individuals and companies with felonies and misdemeanors related to the commercialization of wildlife. They reported a 100% conviction rate.
  • People began to exploit terrapins in the Chesapeake Bay region as early as the 16th century. A grassroots effort recently succeeded in enacting a law to close the terrapin fishery.

Further Conservation Efforts
  • Projects to protect turtles in the Southeastern U.S. were most successful when given dedicated funding, partnerships, conservation designation and priority, and involvement of "champions" and authorities.
  • The Maryland Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Service developed methods to manage snapping turtle populations, requiring monthly reports from commercial turtle harvesters.
  • A treaty called Convention of International Trade of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), enacted in 1975, protects all native marine turtles and land tortoises in the U.S. The number of freshwater turtles listed is limited, though exports have increased over recent years, including the common snapper, Florida red-bellied turtle, Florida and spiny softshells, and spotted turtles.
  • In 2010, map turtles and alligator snappers were listed under CITES, and nine other freshwater turtle species were being considered for protection.
  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service oversees the registration of farming operations to monitor exports, but this cannot tell harvest rates.

It appears that several groups are committed to the conservation of turtle and tortoise species in the U.S., and their success stories may inspire future actions at the local, state and federal level.

How might you educate your community or promote other efforts to protect native wildlife?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Lonely Online Space

I keep logging into Facebook only to learn:

1) yes, the world is still ablaze with murderers
2) new moms use it mainly as a forum to discuss babies' habits
3) so many weddings I was not invited to
4) so many strong opinions on everything from politics to food
5) most of these people are not really my friends- at least, we don't really go out of our way to acknowledge each other

I miss the days when I looked forward to logging into my email account for personal news from a friend. Now, it is mostly advertizing and administrative things from my church (admittedly, many of these lists I joined voluntarily). When did the depersonalization of my online experience begin?

There is an acute loneliness that stares back at me from the screen.

Is it my fault for not cultivating more intentional relationships, content to sit on my couch in the dark instead of reaching out to connect outside internet space?

Am I overly invested in volunteering and the relationships that are "required" of me as a leader in an organization, that I have too little down time for close friendships to develop?

Can I blame a work schedule that leaves me exhausted at the end of most days? A new stage of life, marriage, keeping a home?

Too much analyzing. I don't want you to read my thoughts, because I don't know you. Because I never asked to spend time with you, and you never ask to spend time with me. Because we were too busy staring at our computer screens.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

True Or False: Advertizing In The Wellness Industry (Part one - Detox)

Nourished Kitchen just posted a link to a Guardian article decrying the myth of detoxifying the body through juice fasts, colon cleanses and the like. The writer basically calls the detox industry a scam, citing how no evidence points to the effectiveness of these products, and how companies are vague about what toxins they claim to remove.

Juice fasts are gaining popularity, and as a grocery cashier I have seen many customers buying smoothies or other products in hopes that these "cleanses" or "detoxes" will help renew their health. Are people wasting their money, or could there still be a benefit to these products, even if the advertized notion of "detoxing" makes a scientifically inaccurate claim?

The Guardian article points to the body's natural mechanism for removing toxins through the liver, and the writer gives credit to foods that can "help" the liver--such as broccoli, cabbages, and sprouts-- explaining their priming effect on liver enzymes. However, she does not discuss the role of other foods like chia seeds or cilantro, which some wellness leaders claim have detoxifying properties.

Certainly the fiber in chia seeds and plant foods support digestive health. I don't think a doctor would argue with that. The many vitamins and minerals in other "detox" foods or juices also provide nutrition to cells, which might lead to the improved mood and some of the other effects that advertizers claim.

Just because the word "detox" is not scientifically verified does not mean that people should avoid all "detoxing" foods. But the Guardian writer makes a good point that companies might be taking advantage of consumers with their false claims about products. Might we need to be more careful with our language and word choice, learning what is really going on inside the body?

What do you think about the idea of detox? How do we know what effects different foods and products have on our health, and whose job is it to make sure companies are telling the truth?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Shopping and Recycling

I was thrilled to discover the Better World Shopper rankings this weekend, thanks to Relevant Magazine's article on ethical shopping. Finally, a quick, thorough way to check if the products I want to buy are responsible choices for the global community and the environment. Pretty brilliant.

So I quickly browsed the rankings for stores and brands we frequently support: Whole Foods? Top of the list of supermarkets, an easy A. Sunoco was a surprise- where we buy most of our car's gas and an occasional gallon of milk- also top of its list at B+. So far so good; we are responsible global citizens! Yikes, our bank and Wendy's fast food are both ranked D-? Our favorite soap brand, Dial, gets an F! Guess we will be shopping around a little more now.

In the past I have enjoyed many shopping trips to Kohl's department store, trying clearance items and browsing home decor sections. Well, this store gets a D-, and tonight I witnessed evidence for this verdict.

I was researching recycling options in my city (I have two degrees but somehow cannot figure out where to take old batteries and light bulbs) and ended up on the Southwestern PA Household Hazardous Waste Task Force website. Out of curiosity I clicked on "Electronics recycling" which then appeared like a search engine filled with relevant topics. Yay! At the bottom of the list was a link entitled "Recycling" with Kohl's name under it. Kohl's? I wondered if the company was trying to reinvent its image with regards to sustainability. Maybe there was hope for this business, and the ratings were behind current practices!

Clicked on the link...a bunch of trash cans? The link was an ad for the catalog page for trash cans, waste baskets- sleek, shiny, stainless, arctic birch or cobblestone. I spied a couple recycling bins, but could not get over how the main category still said "trash." At least our massive landfill fillings go out in style in this country!

...We have a long way to go.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Seeds Between Seasons

I let a few bean pods dry up on the bush this summer, hoping to use them as seed next spring. 

I think the second generation seeds will grow, as long as their flowers were pollinated- likely, given the bees and butterflies I observed around the community garden this year.

Better Homes and Gardens magazine recommended storing seeds in sealed, clean glass jars. Here goes winter waiting...

Removing beans from pods

They look pretty dead to me, but these little beans are full of potential.

Makes me think of some words from my favorite Gardener.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit...

I think he must have known something about the paradox of death preceding life, not just in agriculture but in the growth of the human spirit.

Have you ever experienced the death of a dream? What came as a result over time?

This thought was so striking that I memorized it in 2010 after reading this woman's beautiful reflection on grief: "Loss is part of life. The emptiness it creates is fallow ground, full of potential." I love the choice of the word fallow. It is a purposeful resting, even when we don't know why.

I cannot describe to you her kind of grief, because I have not experienced it directly. But my heart aches for women who suffer the loss of pregnancies, the dream of parenthood not yet realized.


Maybe for you it is a career goal, a job option, a friendship, or a financial loss. Like the brown pods, shriveled and dry.

Musn't we let it fall to the ground? Feel the withered shell of our plans crack open as a new seed emerges. There is hope for another season. Time is being redeemed as we speak.

Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. (John 12:24-26)

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Reflections On Ending A Decade

Sometimes I enjoy having honest conversations with customers:

(A middle-aged man makes a self-deprecating comment about getting old)

Me: Don't say that, I'm turning 30 this week!

Customer: Oh, you're a child! I wish I was 30.

Me: I was looking forward to it, but now I'm not so sure...

C: Why's that?

Me: Just dreading people's questions about what I'm doing with my life.

C: That's none of their business! (takes receipt) Happy birthday!


I realized that this birthday actually marks the end of my thirtieth year, so I'm really beginning my thirty-first year and fourth decade... This allows me the sense of a smoother transition, to think I've been living my thirtieth all year. Some pretty cool things have happened:

1) Celebrating 4 years of marriage with the intelligent, compassionate, humorous, faith-filled and inspiring man I get to call my husband.

2) Cultivating a community garden space with coworkers through Whole Foods Market, learning about all kinds of vegetables, flowers and herbs.

3) Serving international students and friends through a local church plant, where my husband and I have been leading a small group and coordinating music and tech ministries for 3+ years.

Inductive Bible study of Luke's gospel

4) Working full-time in retail, learning to provide excellent customer service alongside some of the most kind, sincere and talented people I've ever met. Being a top fundraiser for the national and global projects our team supports.

5) Starting to write a book and getting a publisher's interest.

6) Visiting my childhood home in Haiti with my family, supporting the work of Youth 4 Business, Deep Springs International, and World Relief, and hearing God's living Word. (The verse my mom taught me when I received Jesus as a 6-year-old just so happened to be the topic of the sermon the Sunday we visited: 2 Corinthians 5:17, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." Throughout the week, a hospital elder and my sister shared similar scriptures about spiritual rebirth. I was sensing a theme.)

I helped translate (French/Creole) in the pharmacy and played guitar for hospital devotions. The radiologist asked me to teach him "Revelation Song."

7) Seeing several old friends and classmates again, the chance to reconnect.

Touring downtown Pittsburgh with Natalia

8) Enjoying monthly dinner, TV and cards with my mother-in-law at her townhouse.

Giving the Queen of Spades to Melanie is an art we are still perfecting.

9) Caring for a turtle, even when it is difficult.

If only Remy's claws weren't so sharp...

10) Going to inspiring events and concerts with friends and family: Hillsong concert, New Community "In House" concert, Worship Rocket leader seminar, and the Q Commons conference for advancing good in Pittsburgh.

Good friends from OIF at Hillsong Zion concert downtown

The time my mom texted and asked me to meet her after work at a Southside bar...because my cousin's band was playing!

11) Renewing my piano skills.

12) Elijah Wood smiling at me while I bagged his groceries.

13) Jake Gyllenhaal smiling at me while I bagged his groceries.

14) Going on weekend trips with my family.

Keeping each other upright at Peek'n Peak (January)

Riding the Swahili Swirl at Kalahari Resort (June)

Hiking in McConnell's Mill State Park (May)

Enjoying an afternoon French press, demi-tasse with Mamie and Lauren in Louisville (Sep)

15) Getting to know new friends.

Pitt Homecoming fireworks

16) Experimenting in the kitchen.

Spiced A├žai berry smoothie

17) Game nights with Josh, Mike, Dana and Melanie, which helped lead to Josh working full-time at his dream job.

18) Realizing the list could go on, and how amazing life is, despite the days I feel sad about not having kids, a house, nor a respected career path.

19) Discovering new songs like Christ Is Enough and knowing the power of gratitude and praise to lift any darkness or fear.