LoaTree.com http://loatree.com ...Live for a Better World Sat, 23 May 2015 01:35:34 +0000 en-CA hourly 1 Plains All American Oil Spill: The Latest http://loatree.com/2015/05/22/plains-all-american-oil-spill-the-latest/ http://loatree.com/2015/05/22/plains-all-american-oil-spill-the-latest/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 22:17:45 +0000 http://loatree.com/?p=6898 Read More]]> On May 19th the biodiversity of the Gaviota Coast fell victim to the ill-effects of the oil industry. While LoaTree responds to the calls of concerned residents and helps coordinate a broad based community response, here is the most up to date information regarding Plains All American’s #RefugioOilSpill that we could find.

The Spill

Since Tuesday, local, state and federal agencies have been responding to the tragic oil spill caused from the burst of a pipeline along the Gaviota Coastline in Southern California. The United States Coast Guard, the US Environmental Protection Agency, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Office of Spill Prevention and the Santa Barbara Office of Emergency Management have all joined in the effort to clean up the oil and attend to affected wildlife.

The total amount of oil released from the Plains All American Oil pipeline is still under investigation, however it is estimated that up to 2,500 barrels (105,000 gallons) of crude oil was spilled. Approximately 500 barrels (21,000 gallons) of this is likely to have spilled into the ocean, entering  from the storm drain at Refugio State Beach. The spill was confirmed by a Plains employee at 1:30pm.Screen Shot 2015-05-22 at 2.20.43 PM

The All American Pipeline

The spill originated from Line 901, the Las Flores to Gaviota pipeline. The pipeline was shut down at approximately 11:30 AM when a control room employee noticed some abnormalities in the line. The cause of the spill cannot be determined until it is possible to excavate the pipeline. This specific line holds a capacity of 150,000 barrels (6,300,000 gallons) of crude oil daily, operating at 1,200 barrels/hour (50,400 gallons/hour).

The oil was flowing from an aboveground storage tank facility in Las Flores to refineries throughout Southern California.

All American Pipeline constructed Line 901 in 1987. There was a major internal inspection of the pipeline in 2012, which was normal. Another inspection was performed a few weeks ago, but the results are not yet available. Comprehensive internal inspections typically occur on a five-year schedule by industry standards.

Investigations of the pipeline and the cause of its failure are underway through the review of operating history and Control Center Data.

oil spill

Response and Safety

As of 9am today, May 22, recovery efforts have collected approximately 145 barrels (6,090 gallons) of oil using vacuum trucks, skimmer boats and other resources.

The safety of the first responders and prevention of oil migration to the shoreline is the priority of the cleanup effort. Every step taken is to ensure minimal impact to the unique habitats of this precious coastline. Despite the smell of petroleum in the air, there is little immediate threat to public safety at this time, and current reports show no harmful contaminants in the air. Air quality levels will continue to be monitored in the impacted areas.

It is too early in the response effort to estimate the ultimate impacts to the environment and local wildlife, as well associated cleanup costs, but the current focus is to urgently and thoroughly clean up the spill and relieve any damage to the affected areas. The Plains oil company will follow established procedures for reimbursement.

Screen Shot 2015-05-22 at 2.39.28 PMWhat Can You Do?

Stand in the Sand is organizing a community rally on Sunday, May 31st. Details have yet to be determined, but they are encouraging interested community members to save the date and register at standinthesand.org for event updates. Stand in the Sand is a project of LoaTree. Follow Stand in the Sand and LoaTree‘s Facebook pages for daily updates.

Top feature image by David McNew/Getty Images. Sources above gleaned from recent news reports as well as UCSB Bren School of Environmental Science and Management alumni, Marisa Villareal.

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Oceans Before Humans: A Changing Coral Reef Community http://loatree.com/2015/05/15/oceans-before-humans-a-changing-coral-reef-community/ http://loatree.com/2015/05/15/oceans-before-humans-a-changing-coral-reef-community/#comments Fri, 15 May 2015 16:59:50 +0000 http://loatree.com/?p=6844 Read More]]> In my last blog post, “Oceans Before Humans: An Investigation into the Decline of Shark Populations,” I walked you through Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) Fellow Erin Dillon’s project examining what shark populations might have looked like before humans began to harvest them.  Like my previous ones, this post will look at the dynamic Caribbean ocean, but with a focus on coral reefs and how they have changed over the last 7,000 years.

A graduate of the University of California at Santa Cruz with a degree in Marine Biology, I have been working with STRI as a paleobiology (a field that combines field research of current environments and organisms with that of fossils) with research intern for Aaron O’Dea and Andrew Alteri, comparing fossil and modern coral reefs. I have been focusing specifically on the interactions between the dusky damselfish and a type of reef-building coral known as staghorn coral, wherein the damselfish causes damage to the coral’s tissue. In response to this damage, the coral produces growths known as “chimneys,” which are calcareous (made up of calcium carbonate) and as such are well preserved in the fossil record, which makes it possible to compare the frequency of chimneys on coral branches between 7000-year-old fossil reefs and modern Caribbean reefs.

The Courageous Coral and Dastardly Damselfish

iil_diagram_coral_polyp_structureCommonly thought of as plants or rocks, corals are actually animals, and are members of the phylum Cnidaria, which makes them a close relative of organisms like jellyfish. Corals are composed of numerous colonies of individual but genetically identical polyps that sit in a cup-shaped depression in the coral, and produce an internal skeleton made of calcium carbonate. Each polyp has several nematocysts, or tentacles, used in feeding which first sting and subdue prey before ushering it into the waiting mouth.

Most corals get additional energy and nutrients in the form of oxygen and carbohydrates from a unicellular organism called zooxanthellae, which live in the polyps, which in turn receive metabolic waste from the coral in the form of phosphorous, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide. Because these symbiotic organisms are photosynthetic (meaning that as plants they convert energy from sunlight into chemical energy), the corals must inhabit clear shallow tropical and subtropical waters that allow adequate light penetration.

As anyone who has Googled “coral reefs” can attest, corals are beautiful, yet most don’t know that they are also:

  1. amazing-coral-reefs-12 Crucial to biodiversity – corals create microhabitats for countless marine species, including up to 25% of the world’s fish biodiversity!
  2. An indicator species – because they are so sensitive to light and temperature, corals can only tolerate a narrow range of water conditions, and thus are environmental indicators of water quality.
  3. Providers of ecosystem services – coral reefs aid in breaking up wave action.
  4. Economically important – corals contribute a significant amount of money to economic areas such as tourism (valued by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration to contribute around $9.6 billion) and fisheries.
  5. A carbon sink.

Now, add damselfish, our second species of interest. The dusky damselfish has a weak stomach, which means it has a difficult time digesting anything but the most delicate of algae.  Because of this, it engages in a mutualistic behavior of plant-herbivore gardening with filamentous algae [a relationship akin to that of bees consuming the pollen of flowers and then dispersing it on land].  The fish deliberately damage patches of coral, effectively killing portions of the coral, permitting space for the colonization of the algae, which the fish then “farm.”  In response to the bites of these damselfish, the coral pdusky-damselfishroduces distinct protuberances, or “chimneys.” My research seeks to quantify and compare the abundance of these chimneys on 7,000-year-old fossil reefs with those found on modern Caribbean reefs.

Overfishing has led to a marked removal of top predators from oceanic ecosystems, allowing for mesopredator release (rapid increase in medium-sized predators such as damselfish as a result of the lack of large predators). This mesopredator release may have allowed damselfish populations to increase, thus allowing them to kill more coral, and create more chimneys. (For more information on overfishing, LoaTree blogger Juliet Taylor has written an awesome piece that summarizes the key points in her post “Planet Ocean: The Status of Our Fisheries and How You Can Help.”)

A Drop in the Ocean

P2241614_1024Fossil and recent coral branches were collected off the southwest coast of Isla Colón in the Bocas del Toro Archipelago, and were then brought back to Panama City where I examined them for the presence or absence of chimneys-like growths. Chimneys are distinguished from other growths by the following characteristics: 1). Small bumps or cylinders 0.25 – 2 cm long 2). Absent from underside of segment 3). Hollow (sometimes with algae inside) 4.)Occurring in clusters.

Preliminary results are striking and clearly demonstrate that chimneys are not only vastly more common in the modern reef, but larger as well. This suggests that a significant change has taken place in the interaction between damselfish and staghorn coral, which could be the result of the following:

  1. A change in the relationship between fish, coral, and algae
  2. An increased abundance of damselfish
  3. Decreased growth rate of the coral (this would result in an apparent increase in chimney density)

Screen Shot 2015-05-17 at 1.51.18 PMPursuing this research also leads to an exhaustive list of questions.  But since science is rarely straight forward it is highly unlikely that there is a simple answer, especially since we are dealing with the ocean which feels the global effects of events like nutrient pollution, sedimentation, ocean acidification, and increasing ocean temperatures. These issues and others need to be taken into consideration when asking the seemingly simple question of what is going on in these reef systems today that has caused such a change from the past?

While the loss of coral from damselfish gardening may seem negligible and insignificant when compared to larger threats such as disease, the additive effects exacerbate the issue of already poor coral health, and we now are seeing corals getting pushed towards a point where they are unable to recover properly from any kind of damage.  Results from this survey have the potential to help determine if the widespread decline in corals is a shift that communities have experienced before, or if this radical decline is an unprecedented trend brought about by human actions interfering in the marine environment.   

ways to protect coral reefsIf you’re interested in learning more about coral reefs and their conservation, or even how you can get involved, I encourage you to visit: Ocean Health Index: Coral Reefs, NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program, Coral Reef Alliance.  Unfortunately while threats to these dynamic coral habitats are vast there’s still hope!

Tune in next time for something completely different! 

Images courtesy of: 2) Coral internal structure (Kris Beckert, IAN Image Library)/ 3) Coral Reef 4) Damselfish 7) Ways You Can Help

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In Every Breath – Let Life Flow http://loatree.com/2015/04/27/in-every-breath-let-life-flow/ http://loatree.com/2015/04/27/in-every-breath-let-life-flow/#comments Mon, 27 Apr 2015 17:21:33 +0000 http://loatree.com/?p=6761 Read More]]> You know what’s pretty incredible? The fact that we can breathe.

Not only that, but with every single breath we take we have access to clean, fresh air. We don’t have to put forth any effort – our bodies do this automatically for us!

BreathI know it seems simple, but think about it: this very act of inhaling and exhaling that we take for granted is the very action that gives us life!

The amount of oxygen we allow ourselves to take in directly relates to the amount of life we allow ourselves to take in.

For instance, sometimes I notice I’m holding my breath when I’m in the middle of something stressful. When I do this, I know that on a subconscious level I don’t feel safe. I’ve reverted to fear based thoughts like: “I need to stay in control, worry, or figure this out.” AKA- “I’m not fully taken care of and supported by life.”

On the other hand, when my breathing is relaxed, open and full, I’m usually in a more positive space and subconsciously thinking: “Life flows in perfect harmony. It’s safe for me to be present and trust in the process of life.”

Have you ever noticed how your mood and your breathing are connected? 

the trick is to breatheTaking a few relaxing, full inhales and exhales can do wonders to your mood. When you breathe steadily and openly, you signal to your brain that you’re safe, and your nervous systems will naturally begin to calm down. On the other hand, when your breathing is short, your amygdala (the part of your brain that monitors your “fight or flight” response in stressful situations) is usually stimulated. In “fight or flight” mode our bodies don’t recognize the difference between “tiger chasing me” stress versus “how am I going to pay the bills” stress, so we tend to be on edge either way.

As you calm your breath, you’ll calm your body. I don’t know about you, but I’m much happier when I’m not running from a tiger (or worrying about first world problems).

The way you breathe is the way you allow life to flow through you. Are you open, and allowing yourself to receive fully? 

Take a breath with me: Roll your shoulders back and down. Breathe all the way down into your belly and notice how open and calming that feels. :) Do this a few times today, and notice what happens. I’d love to hear how if it changes your mood or your day.

Here’s to letting life flow,



Erin DiAngelis is a health to wealth coach, speaker and yogi. She specializes in helping clients heal their relationship with their body and food, without dieting, so they can create more money, love and happiness in their lives. When she’s not coaching, you can find her running on the beach, planning her next travel adventure, or doing yoga. You can connect with her at www.erindiangelis.com.

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Oceans Before Humans: An Investigation Into the Decline of Shark Populations http://loatree.com/2015/04/27/oceans-before-humans-an-investigation-into-the-decline-of-shark-populations/ http://loatree.com/2015/04/27/oceans-before-humans-an-investigation-into-the-decline-of-shark-populations/#comments Mon, 27 Apr 2015 15:53:13 +0000 http://loatree.com/?p=6677 Read More]]> In my last blog post, “Oceans Before Humans: What Can Sponges Tell Us?”, I walked you through Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) Intern Mike Hynes’ project examining how and why sponge communities in the Caribbean have shifted over time, and how this information is helping to develop better, more informed conservation measures. Today I’m going to focus on a different project by Erin Dillon, a Stanford University grad with a degree in Marine Biology. Working on a collaborative project here in Panama with Aaron O’Dea (STRI), Dick Norris (Scripps Institution of Oceanography) and Katie Kramer (Scripps Institution of Oceanography), Erin is examining what shark populations might have looked like before humans began to harvest them. By examining shark dermal denticles – essentially “teeth” on the skin of sharks – Erin hopes to add one more piece to the puzzle of what a “pristine” ecosystem looked like.

Unlike bony fish, sharks are cartilaginous, meaning their bodies are predominantly made of a flexible connective tissue called cartilage. Instead of being covered in traditional fish scales, the bodies of sharks are covered with these dermal denticles. These rigid scales are the reason the skin of sharks feels rough to the touch if you stroke towards the sharks head as opposed to in the direction of their tail — sort of like rubbing sand paper.

Dreaming of Denticles

denticles_on_sharkThe purpose of dermal denticles is two-fold: 1) to reduce drag and turbulence, enabling sharks to swim more efficiently, and 2) to provide protection. Both of these functions are accomplished by the composition of the denticles; a layer of dentine (like our teeth) that is covered by an enamel-like substance called vitrodentine, which adds further structure and protection to the denticle. While they stop growing in size after a certain point, denticles are constantly being produced as a shark grows. These denticles grow around the body of the shark, producing outer coverage that could be compared to wearing a chainmail suit; this arrangement combined with the strength of the denticles provides protection from large predators such as other sharks, down to small parasites (http://www.elasmo-research.org/education/white_shark/scales.htm).

Denticles come in a wide variety of morphologies that correspond to various functions characteristic of certain species of sharks. Previous studies have organized them into five different functional groups:


  1. Generalized – more ancestral form found in most sharks, particularly those living closer to the bottom – these play a variety of roles.
  2. Abrasion strength – thicker denticles which protect demersal sharks from the rough environments they inhabit.
  3. Defensive – deter the settlement of small organisms and parasites on the skin of demersal and schooling sharks.
  4. Drag reduction – interfere with the boundary layer created by water moving past the shark as it swims to improve its hydrodynamic properties.
  5. Bioluminescent – permit bioluminescent sharks to have photophores and for the light to shine through – most common in mesopelagic sharks.

Ranging in size from 100µm to 1.2mm in size (a size range from the diameter of a human hair to the diameter of a pin), finding the denticles requires a high-powered microscope. While one might assume that because these dermal denticles sound so unique, they must be easy to spot – this couldn’t be farther from the truth! In fact, on average, Erin says she usually finds a measly four denticles per kilogram (a little over 2 pounds) of sediment!

From Top Predator to Top Conservation Priority

Because these denticles are made of such hardy materials, they are preserved surprisingly well in sediment and can therefore be used as a proxy for the abundance and taxonomic diversity of sharks in the past. With the help of these miniscule and elusive dermal denticles, Erin is seeking to reconstruct what shark populations looked like before human impact in the Caribbean, specifically in Bocas del Toro, Panama and the Dominican Republic. Using dermal denticles that have been preserved in sediment from both living and dead modern reefs in addition to those from similar 8,000-6,000 year old fossil reef sites, Erin is able to compare both the size and taxonomic composition of shark assemblages over time starting with when their populations were in a “pristine” condition, and progressing to current stock sizes that have been heavily impacted by human interactions.


Preliminary data suggests that the functional community composition of sharks may have shifted over time, particularly in terms of the relative abundance of demersal and predatory sharks, which play important and diverse roles in maintaining coral reef health and resilience. By discovering pre-human baselines and understanding how shark communities have changed since that time period, Erin and her fellow researchers hope that more accurate conservation goals can be developed and met.

What’s next for this dermal denticle diva? For the moment, Erin’s project is focused solely on Caribbean reefs, but she has her sights set on expanding the study to the Pacific. Such data would facilitate a comparison of how the modern-day spatial diversity and natural abundance of sharks in the Caribbean vs. the Pacific is reflected in dermal denticle assemblages. This is particularly interesting considering how different these habitats are, in addition to the fact that Caribbean underwent a massive extinction 2 million years ago!


If you would like to learn a little more about shark conservation, here are a couple links to provide you with some great foundational information: 1) Ocean Health Index: Global State of Sharks, Rays, and Chimeras 2) Shark Trust

Also please check out Madison Stewart, a truly awe-inspiring shark conservationist who proves daily that sharks are stupendous creatures that deserve not only our protection, but our love as well.

Tune in next time to hear a little about my own project here at STRI working with Caribbean corals!

Images Courtesy of: 1) Shark Decline Map

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Partnership for Excellence 2015 – Creating Excellence at Every Level http://loatree.com/2015/04/21/partnership-for-excellence-2015-creating-excellence-at-every-level/ http://loatree.com/2015/04/21/partnership-for-excellence-2015-creating-excellence-at-every-level/#comments Tue, 21 Apr 2015 18:18:55 +0000 http://loatree.com/?p=6733 Read More]]> With more than 72,000 active nonprofits in California contributing to 15% of California’s gross state product, the business world should take heed of the power of the nonprofit sector. The 2015 Partnership for Excellence (PFE) conference brought together revolutionary thinkers from the nonprofit, business and philanthropic communities working to strengthen the many nonprofits active within Santa Barbara County.

This year’s PFE program, Recognizing Strengths: Creating Excellence at Every Level, provided a space for attendees to build and strengthen relationships, and learn valuable techniques for nonprofits to maximize the impact they have in their communities.

Planting the Seeds for Organizational Growth

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Diana Whitney

Heading the pack of inspiring individuals was keynote speaker Diana Whitney, PhD, founder of the Corporation for Positive Change. With a speaking style centered on interactive storytelling, she ignited the audience with her rich and relatable experiences, filling them with confidence to inspire action.

“Every organization needs a positive revolution,” she said.

Dr. Whitney advocated for nonprofit leaders to better their organizations through positive processes. She stressed that “no one can learn by being told what they’re doing wrong.” Leaders can help their employees achieve goals by using appreciative inquiry; asking them questions based on their values and hopes for the organization rather than focusing on what could have been done better. Giving specific directions instead of criticism, and being more appreciative of an individual’s strengths will transform any toxicity in the work environment into productivity.

She endorsed positive change through appreciative leadership. “Solutions are found through thinking with people rather than thinking for them.” This year’s conference was unique in that Dr. Whitney actively helped in planning the day’s workshops, providing all the tools necessary to integrate appreciative leadership into their organizations.

Passion Over Statistics

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Lisa Braithwaite

Public speaking coach and author of the popular blog Speak Schmeak, Lisa Braithwaite, answered the question; How Can You Inspire Great Community Support by Sharing Stories and Speaking from the Heart? Being able to tell stories and speak passionately is a powerful tool for nonprofits with a vision. Her words were not lost on the room full of passionate individuals who center their profession on working for a greater cause.

Braithwaite tossed aside mundane public speaking practices and asked her audience to reframe any negative preconceptions into positive practices. “Barriers are created when you take yourself too seriously,” she said. “Embrace your uniqueness and don’t get caught up in trying to impress anyone.” The same rules apply in a presentation format as when making friends on the playground: just be yourself.

Her biggest piece of advice to people wanting to sell themselves and their vision to an audience was to create an emotional experience. Don’t “fire hose” the audience with excess facts and statistics. “People buy on emotion and then justify it with fact,” explained Braithwaite. In this business, passion and enthusiasm is so much more valuable than statistics and numbers.

Bethany Markee, self-titled ‘chef turned lunch lady’ and winner of Fast Pitch, a local cash competition for nonprofits, recently won $25,000 dollars for her mission to bring healthy lunches to elementary schools using the techniques Braithwaite discussed. Chef B. encouraged everyone to overcome their fears and told the audience that “thinking it was going to be hard was actually the hardest part.”

People as your Biggest Resource

Leading From Within Founder and President, Ken Saxon, teamed up with Deborah Holmes, Associate Director of CALM, and Dave Davis, President, CEO, and Chairman of the Board of the Community Environmental Council to facilitate a leadership workshop titled How Can You Foster and Grow Leadership At All Levels?

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Individuals connecting during breakout sessions

Quoting Helen Keller, Saxon reminded us that “alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” His philosophy is centered on the idea that in order to maximize efficiency in your organization one needs to invest in human capital. “People are the biggest resource in nonprofits,” he said. Since 10% of the United State’s population works for a nonprofit organization, employers should use this people power to let employees take risks and support them throughout the process.

Using reflective practice, leaders can help foster creativity and openness among their team members. Holmes explained that when leaders take time to stop and think about their own responses and reactions, they can prevent misunderstanding and unnecessary negativity. It’s about understanding your own biases. To grow your own organization you must encourage people’s potential. She noted that “leaders get used to having people listen to them, when in reality they should be the ones listening.”

Davis added that it’s ok to miss your objective sometimes as long as you aimed high to begin with. The top down mentality in many organizations is hindering valuable opportunities for communication. Leaders should be checking in with employees all the time, rather than every few weeks through feedback reports.

Why it Matters: Causes Count

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Jan Masaoka

CEO of the California Association of Nonprofits, Jan Masaoka, discussed the recent impact study, Causes Count, which measured the economic power of California’s nonprofit sector. This is the first study of its kind recognizing nonprofits as competitive businesses. Lets face it – money gets people’s attention.

Nonprofits are already trusted institutions. Causes Count’s survey showed that 80 percent of Californians are confident that these organizations act on the public’s behalf and deliver quality services. Causes Count gave these beliefs an economic backing, which will hopefully put these important organizations on policy makers’ radars and allow them to be more competitive with for-profit businesses. If California leaders worked more closely with nonprofits, the combination of economic force and people power will lead to unique and powerful community solutions.

This is a call to action for nonprofit organizations to get a seat at the decision-making table and get important community leaders, businesses and institutions to ask them the important question: “what does the nonprofit sector think?”

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How You Start Your Day: Game Changers for Happiness http://loatree.com/2015/04/15/how-you-start-your-day-game-changers-for-happiness/ http://loatree.com/2015/04/15/how-you-start-your-day-game-changers-for-happiness/#comments Wed, 15 Apr 2015 19:55:09 +0000 http://loatree.com/?p=6691 Read More]]>

How you start your day is how you live your day. How you live your day is how you live your life.

Louise Hay

Every successful person I’ve met has a morning ritual. Tony Robbins, Oprah, Louise Hay – they’ve all talked about how important the first few moments out of bed are because it sets the tone for the entire day. I’ve been a solopreneur for a few years now, and I’ve learned that the way I start my day affects my productivity, my health, my mood and my business. (That’s a lot of my life on the line for such a tiny, little part of my day!).


Our author in seaside Warrior.


AND the way that you and I live our lives as individuals shapes our community as a whole. We see it every day: a stranger smiles at you on the street and it instantly lifts your mood; a car lets you ahead in rush hour traffic and you give a small nod in appreciation; someone at work stops to tell you how you inspired them to try a yoga class and now they feel healthier and more alive.

Every action we take creates a ripple, and it all starts with getting up on the “right side” of bed. It allows us to be intentional in the way we shape our lives and our community.

Here are a few ways I begin my morning that have been game changers for my happiness and success:

Spend 3-5 minutes visualizing how you want the day to go (best case scenario). You are more powerful than you think, and if you can take a minute to direct your mind, it will take care of the details and the how.

Drink 2-3 glasses of water (with lemon if possible). Your body gets dehydrated through the night and needs water to get going. It cleanses your system, wakes up your organs and keeps your cells functioning at optimum levels.

Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 12.36.21 PMSay thank you. If you can appreciate something in the first thought you have every morning, your life will improve drastically. There is so much to be grateful for that we take for granted: thanks for your bed, a job, and for the fresh air you’re breathing.

Move. Your body always speaks to you. If you take care of it, it will take care of you. Spend a few minutes to do some yoga or exercise early in your day.

Your brain will have a surge of fresh oxygen, which makes you more alert and productive at work.

Confession: I’m not perfect at doing all of this all the time, but the results are amazing when I can stick to these starters. 

DSC_9971 copyWhen you’re intentional in your actions it’s possible to have everything you desire- health, freedom, abundance and love. 

And how about you: What do you do to start your day with positive momentum? I’d love to hear!

Sending you lots of love and encouragement!


Erin DiAngelis is a health to wealth coach, speaker and yogi. She specializes in helping clients heal their relationship with their body and food, without dieting, so they can create more money, love and happiness in their lives. When she’s not coaching, you can find her running on the beach, planning her next travel adventure, or doing yoga. You can connect with her at www.erindiangelis.com.

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Oceans Before Humans: What Can Sponges Tell Us? http://loatree.com/2015/04/03/oceans-before-humans-what-can-sponges-tell-us/ http://loatree.com/2015/04/03/oceans-before-humans-what-can-sponges-tell-us/#comments Fri, 03 Apr 2015 19:00:35 +0000 http://loatree.com/?p=6615 Read More]]> Buenas de Panama!

As I mentioned in my last blog post “#LoaGlobal: LoaTree Goes to Panama,” I am currently living in Panama and interning for the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute’s (STRI) Paleobiology lab. There are a number of interns here working on independent projects that focus on varying organisms from colorful Parrotfish to branching corals, and while each of these projects are intricate and rich on their own, my lab is stringing them together to construct a realistic baseline of what a “pristine” ocean reef looks like. The purpose in constructing this narrative is to develop conservation measures that are better informed, and we expect that the knowledge gained from this historical ecology project will give us a more complete picture of the impacts that anthropogenic (human) stressors have had on coral reefs from the Pleistocene (about 11,700 years ago) to the present.

 Leading the Research

STRI Symposium PhotoCue Mike Hynes! Or as we like to refer to him as in our lab, “The Sponge Prince.” Mike is a graduate of the University of Calgary where he majored in Geology and Paleontology. He’s been working in Panama for seven months now on a collaborative sponge project with Magdalena Lukowiak (STRI Fellow and Post Doc at the Polish Academy of Sciences) and Aaron O’Dea (STRI) to reconstruct the history of sponge communities in Caribbean reefs. For those of you aren’t sponge experts, I’ll break down why sponge research is essential to the constructing the baseline.

The Sponge and the Spicules

Porifera_body_structures_01-1024x544Not to be confused with corals, sponges are actually animals with a worldwide distribution stretching from polar regions to the tropics, and live in both marine and freshwater environments. Why are these simple organisms a fundamental part of marine ecosystems? Because they filter water and add stability to reefs. Acting like a chimney, sponges take in and expel water, trapping 90% of the bacteria they filter. They can pump 10,000 times their own volume in one day, and a sponge the size of a gallon milk container could pump and clean enough water to fill a residential swimming pool in 24 hours. The sponges phylum name Porifera literally means, “pore bearer” which makes perfect sense, considering sponges are composed of pores and channels that facilitate the circulation and filtration of water.

Sponges have relatively simple body plans, which have been tailored to be efficient at filtering water through the central cavity of their bodies. The “skeleton” of the sponge is composed of tiny needle-like splinters called spicules (which can either be formed of silica dioxide or calcium carbonate), a mesh of protein called spongin, or a combination of both. Because of their dependence on a water-flow system, they tend to occupy habitats characterized by quiet, clear waters as wave action stirs up sediment, clogging their pores and preventing them from feeding and breathing.

What Does Is All Mean?

Sponges of Interest: Placospongia intermedia and Geodia papyracea


The silica spicules of sponges preserve exceptionally well in reef sediments after sponges die. For Mike’s project, sediment samples were extracted from three reefs in Bocas del Toro, Panama to explore changes in sponge communities over the last 1-3 thousand years. Of the twelve spicule types found in the samples, two specific types seemed to be dominant (for the purpose of this post, and because the terms even confuse me, I will be referring to these two types as type 1 and type 2). Mike and crew observed that as they moved up the sediment core towards the present day, the relative abundance of type 1 spicules increased; a pattern that occurs in each of the three geographically separate reefs, suggesting a region-wide driver.

Spicules1Type 1 spicules are only produced by two types of encrusting sponges, and have previously been known to increase in abundance as coral reefs degrade, filling the niche the coral has left behind. Additionally, sponges represent the principal diet of Hawksbill turtles, so an increase in type 1 spicules could be the result of the drastic decline of Hawksbills, well-documented spongiovores. Once plentiful off Panama’s Caribbean coast, Hawksbills have undergone an almost complete eradication as the result of heavy and ever-increasing fishing pressures. This dramatic decline may have facilitated a shift in the sponge community, allowing them to escape predation and increase in numbers. By applying the Spicular Analysis Approach to loose sponge spicules preserved in sediment from reef cores recovered from the Caribbean, Mike’s aim is to reconstruct the history of sponge communities in Caribbean reefs.

Tune in next time to hear about what my lab mate Erin Dillon is doing with shark dermal denticles!

If you have any questions or comments about Mike’s sponge project, or just want to know a little more about what goes on here at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, please feel free to send me an e-mail at: cthrncourtier@gmail.com



Images courtesy of: 3) Sponge Diagram 4-5) Sponge Images 6) Spicules

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#LoaGlobal: LoaTree Goes to Panama http://loatree.com/2015/03/03/loaglobal-loatree-goes-to-panama/ http://loatree.com/2015/03/03/loaglobal-loatree-goes-to-panama/#comments Tue, 03 Mar 2015 22:15:29 +0000 http://loatree.com/?p=6046 Read More]]> Setting the Scene with STRI

IMG_7659I have recently embarked on a journey to Panama City where I have been accepted into a research program with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. STRI is a bureau of the Smithsonian Institution based outside of the United States – dedicated to understanding biological diversity. It was established in 1923 and works with nearly 40 permanent staff scientists who study everything from the decline of coral reefs to the social behavior of wasps.

Smithsonian first became involved in Panama in the early 1900s around the time the Panama Canal was created in an effort to understand local plant and animal life as well as study and protect against major diseases propagated by insects such as yellow fever and malaria. Interest in the region’s biodiversity quickly grew and the original survey area grew from focusing solely on the canal-zone to encompass all of Panama (STRI now boasts seven research stations across Panama). It wasn’t until the research station on Barro Colorado Island (BCI) was established as a reserve, however, that scientists began to flock to the region to deeply study and describe the flora and fauna. Notably, BCI is one of the first such reserves in the Americas.

toucanPanama’s unique geography provides scientists with the opportunity to document how the advent of the Isthmus has divided marine species from the Caribbean and Pacific, as well as how it’s allowed plants and animals of North and South American to co-mingle.  STRI is a veritable cultural and intellectual melting pot that attracts students and experts from around the world and gives them the chance to not only learn about different cultures, but exchange thoughts and ideas as well.

In addition to facilitating the research of countless residents and visiting scientists, STRI boasts an impressive array of academic programs that range from short-term internships to graduate field-courses to long-term fellowships that span diverse areas of interest such as archeology and anthropology, behavior, conservation, ecology, and evolution. Regardless of the duration or focus of a given project, STRI’s goal is to educate up-and-coming scientists and change-makers on the origins, maintenance and preservation of biodiversity here in the tropics.

Learning Panama

IMG_7596For the next six months I will be working alongside Dr. Aaron O’Dea and various other lab members to quantify the effects of trophic cascades from overfishing.  Our hope is that this information will be used to construct accurate ecological baselines  of what past ecosystems looked like, so that future conservation efforts can be better managed.

Tune in next time for “The Scientists and the Case of the Disappearing Pristine Ecosystem” to learn more about what we do in Aaron O’Dea’s Paleobiology Lab!

While my series of upcoming blogs will be centered more on my internship with STRI as opposed to my personal travels and experiences around Central America (you can check those ramblings on my blog here), I thought I would offer some of my initial thoughts after being here for nearly one month, just to give anyone who hasn’t been to Panama an idea of what living here is like.


1. Getting anywhere in a taxi or bus takes at least 20 minutes.
2. Buses have no real schedule.
3. Driving here requires no lanes or signal of intent to change lanes (and it is certainly not limited to driving on the road – shoulders are fair game!).
4. Seat belts are merely decor. They serve no purpose because nobody wears them.
5. There are two prices: one for people from Panama and one for everyone else.
6. Everyone who lives here thinks it’s hot (which makes me feel better about constantly being sweaty), but people believe pants are “more practical” (and look more professional than my running shorts and old tank tops).
7. Plantains are the answer to everything.
8. Car horns are a language unto themselves, with a single honk from a cab ranging in meaning anything from “Do you want me to drive you somewhere?” to “My cab is full” to “I have no passengers, but I have no intention of stopping to give you a ride, but I wanted to let you know that I have a functioning horn.”

Stay tuned for my next update as LoaTree continues its explorations around the planet. #LoaGlobal.

All content and photos by Catherine Courtier.





Images Courtesy of: 1). Map of Panama

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The March for Real Climate Leadership: Empathy Rising http://loatree.com/2015/02/17/the-march-for-real-climate-leadership-empathy-rising/ http://loatree.com/2015/02/17/the-march-for-real-climate-leadership-empathy-rising/#comments Tue, 17 Feb 2015 18:55:46 +0000 http://loatree.com/?p=6024 Read More]]> Processed with VSCOcam with t1 presetPerhaps it was walking onto a Greyhound bus to the offering of homemade bread (an occurrence unheard of within the realm of public transit) or the 5:30 a.m. exchange of greetings and gratitude as we gathered waiting in the rain, but my experience at the March for Real Climate Leadership instilled within me a sense of extreme optimism for the human capacity to effect positive change.

In my mind, if the people who craft hempseed oatcakes to offer strangers on a bus or stand in solidarity in demand of climate justice continue to unify (and judging by the 8,000 person turnout, they are) then I believe, as the sign reads, “in the good things coming.”

When we arrived at 14th and Broadway in downtown Oakland, our bus came to a stop, the sunny skies shining down on the sea of supporters gathered in the plaza. This was the country’s largest demonstration to date against fracking. Organized by a broad coalition of groups across California, including 350.org and the Sierra Club, last Saturday’s events welcomed 134 organizations, 21 buses from across the state, 137,000 petitioned signatures, and an estimated 8,000 attendees.

At a certain point during the March, I realized that the answer to several of the questions that most occupy me around environmental degradation and social justice was in fact one and the same.


IMG_6494Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, is what I believe to be at the crux of climate justice. While a difficult topic to discern, given our dependence on oil and the arc of transformation it has enabled in human development, I find the concept of empathy to provide an enlightening framework from which to view our current situation. If Governor Jerry Brown were to empathize with the mothers and fathers whose children are diagnosed with asthma because of close proximity to fracking sites or if the leaders of the oil industry were to empathize with the communities at risk of water contamination and exposure to carcinogens, I’m confident they’d begin to grasp the ramifications of their actions, and in turn, take measures to remedy their wrongdoings.

Perhaps this is why marching is so commendable to me: it inherently engenders our ability to empathize with those different from us. By facilitating a dialogue across diverse cultures, the March for Real Climate Leadership brought the realities of fracking to the forefront. Along the shore of Lake Merritt, the pleas of indigenous communities, healthcare professionals, and activists pierced through the anticipated rains and I was struck by the truth of climate justice.


“The facts are clear,” says Linda Capato of 350.org. “Fracking worsens climate change, exacerbates a historic drought, and harms public health.” Never before had I truly understood these claims until now.

Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 11.55.13 PM

By Erisy Watt (pictured right), intern, LoaTree.


As a little girl behind me chanted about protecting dolphins and an old man playing “This Land is Your Land” on the clarinet danced to my left, I also discovered that real climate leaders come in all shapes and sizes. We come from different backgrounds, and certain things set us a part, but the one thing that will link us together for the remainder of our existence is our connection to, and reliance on, the planet.

In a world growing exponentially more complex, there is something to be cherished in these simple revelations. Often, imbedded in our reminders lay profound wisdoms – when we choose to listen.

]]> http://loatree.com/2015/02/17/the-march-for-real-climate-leadership-empathy-rising/feed/ 0 Dreaming Big: The Green Coconut Run to Set Sail http://loatree.com/2015/02/10/dreaming-big-the-green-coconut-run-to-set-sail/ http://loatree.com/2015/02/10/dreaming-big-the-green-coconut-run-to-set-sail/#comments Wed, 11 Feb 2015 04:51:45 +0000 http://loatree.com/?p=5975 Read More]]> OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Goofy dive crew, reporting on deck.

Who hasn’t dreamed of visiting tropical islands on a sailboat? A group of intrepid adventure-preneurs is realizing that dream and taking it a step further: creating a route that other sailors can follow to make a positive impact on remote island communities.

Their sailboat is Aldebaran, a 42ft trimaran built in 1968 and captained by Kristian Beadle, an eco-entrepreneurship graduate from UCSB’s Bren School of Environmental Science and Management and Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar.

After spending two years exploring the coastlines of California’s Channel Islands and it’s central coast, Captain Beadle and his crew of marine ecologists, photographers, and nonprofit leaders hatched a vision to bring awareness to the most intriguing and inaccessible of islands.

“I began by inviting friends on trips to the Channel Islands. It was an experiment to help with boat maintenance where everyone would work on the boat and contribute to the costs,” said Beadle. “As time went by, folks started talking about the South Pacific… and things got serious.”


Santa Cruz Island, where it all began.

The Beginning

On a trip to the north side of Santa Cruz island last summer, Aldebaran‘s motley crew decided to form a cooperative based on the philosophy of a shared resource economy. If they joined their resources, they wondered, could they create a voyage that becomes a force for good in remote, isolated islands?

prince island

Prince Island majesty.

The Green Coconut Run was born. A spin off of the famous “Coconut Milk Run” — used to describe the downwind voyage along the South Seas taken by hundreds of ‘cruising sailboats’ every year — the Green Coconut Run’s mission is to create a sailing route and support network along key protected/sensitive areas from California to New Zealand.

“It’s like a Pacific Crest Trail for sailing,” explains Ryan Smith, previously a project manager at a conservation investment group and now the Aldebaran Sailing Co-op’s development director. “It’s a route connecting vast regions which helps us appreciate the majesty of Nature.”

Cruising sailboats refers to boats that sail long distances and explore distant ports,” Ryan continues. “They are in a unique position to provide assistance to remote islands. Sailors talk of ‘cruising with a cause,’ but there’s no coordinated effort to do so – we want to help change that.”

raising anchor

Raising anchor in the early morn.

The Route

The Green Coconut Run’s novel route will link protected areas across the Pacific Ocean. Nonprofits and businesses that steward these islands and protected areas will be featured during the Aldebaran’s maiden voyage, as the crew gives voice to the stories of unique organizations and the places they’re working to protect.

“Islands are amazing — yet they are so vulnerable ecologically,” says Sabrina Littée, a registered nurse, dive master, and Ship’s Mate. “We’ve been inspired by California’s Channel Islands and their restoration efforts… now we’re hoping to inspire the protection of islands far away which may lack their own resources for conservation.”

Future cruising sailboats will be able to follow the Green Coconut Run and offer continued assistance by bringing supplies and other resources. The general public can also get involved by donating to the nonprofits located along the route, and when possible, visit these ecologically sensitive areas using responsible travel operators.

Aldebaran - Labor Day 2013 photo Kristian

Aldebaran Cooperative members.

Aldebaran Sailing Cooperative members who’ve contributed to their vessel’s upkeep will join for different legs of the journey. Legs will run between one week and three months, as the crew surfs, dives, and explores hard-to-reach places. During their first season, they are working hard to ready the boat for departure in March of 2015, then head through Mexico and down to Panama. The second season will see them in the Galapagos, Tahiti and the Marquesas.

“We are collaboratively funding and co-creating this journey,” says Ben Best, a Co-op member and PhD candidate in marine ecology. “Will things go according to plan? Who knows. Will it be an adventure? Definitely.”


ninja court

Surfing the salty seas!

LoaTree is a proud sponsor of the Aldebaran and the Green Coconut Run’s journey. For the next few months, we’ll be blogging about their adventures down the Californian, Mexican and South American coasts. We’ll even hop on the Aldebaran throughout parts of the trip to experience the action first hand! Make sure to follow our Facebook Page, Twitter feed, and Instagram accounts with hashtag #LoaGlobal and #LoaLiving for updates and stories!

Want to contribute to the Green Coconut Run,  jump on the boat, or sponsor their efforts?  Visit www.GreenCoconutRun.com or hashtag #GreenCoconutRun. Ahoy!!

All content and photos courtesy of  Aldebaran Green Coconut Run.

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