My new research project involves examining local adaptation in the intertidal snail Nucella canaliculata. I am interested in examining how it is locally adapted to its mussel prey and seawater pH. I hope to identify adaptive traits and quantify their genetic basis. My study sites will be along the west coast of the US. I will of course post more details on this when I have written a formal proposal. I'm excited!
Here is a picture from Sanford and Worth 2009 of the Nucella canaliculata with its egg mass:
I'll need help with field work starting in about a year, so if you are interested in looking through some rocky intertidal habitats, keep it in the back of your mind, and I will ask for formal help when the time comes.
Paper reference: Sanford, E., and D. J. Worth. 2009. Genetic differences among populations of a marine snail drive geographic variation in predation. Ecology 90:3108–18.
Someone at UC Santa Barbara has basically already done my sheephead project, but she hasn't published anything on it yet, so I didn't know until I emailed her. I should probably switch study systems! Follow the link to this google presentation about my ideas for a new study system.
That means my new plastic fast is over. Here are my results and reflections.
Though I haven't posted about it every week, I've certainly been trying to avoid plastic the whole time. I got to the point where there are things I need that I was just waiting to buy until the plastic fast was over. Overall, I wasn't able to totally avoid plastic, but I got better as the fast went on.
Things I needed that normally come with new plastic: SCUBA gear, ground flaxseed, cheap coconut oil
Things I bought that have new plastic (if any; hopefully this will be none): Stickers on fruit, an underwater compass, half of a diving manual (I split the cost with a friend), a small bag of crystallized ginger (I couldn't resist), a racing number to pin to my shirt.
Things I bought in plastic-free form: another strainer and a whisk.
Things I did to avoid buying new plastic: I refilled old flour containers, I didn't buy prepackaged food, and I've still been making my own bread like crazy.
Things with new plastic that were given to me: a half marathon finisher shirt (well, I guess I paid for it when I registered).
Plastic things I politely rejected: none.
People who learned about my plastic fast (optional): maybe people who read my blog.
What was the hardest part of my fast this week?: buying SCUBA gear. Does any of it come plastic-free?
What was the easiest part of my fast this week?: buying fresh food.
What can I not find a non-plastic alternative for, and can I give up this item entirely?: SCUBA gear, cheap coconut oil. I cannot give up SCUBA gear if I want to keep diving, but I can give up cheap coconut oil and buy more expensive oil in a glass jar.
Here's all the plastic trash (and a bit of non-plastic trash) I used during the fast. I didn't want to dump it out so you can see each item, but at least you can get an idea of volume. It's a paper-grocery-bag full. On top are some old plastic produce bags I had from before the fast, and they make up for the things I forgot to keep.
I learned from this fast that single-use plastics are the easier to avoid, while durable plastic items are sometimes impossible to avoid (for example, when buying SCUBA gear). Since the everyone else thinks plastic is a safe and useful material, it is extremely difficult to avoid it entirely. The most striking observation I made about plastic is how much food comes in really cheap plastic. This is why I lived off the fresh produce and bulk sections of New Leaf. Unfortunately, all the bulk foods are stored in plastic bins.
Another striking observation I made was how useful plastic is when backpacking. Storing food in plastic bags one of the best ways to pack food for backpacking trips because plastic bags are super lightweight and collapse-able. It was really hard to plan for my trip without plastic.
Now that the official fast is over, I plan to continue avoiding single-use plastic, but I'm not going to try quite as hard to avoid those durable plastic things I need (like SCUBA gear). In fact, I will probably buy my usual 54 oz. plastic jar of coconut oil as soon as I get paid next month. This is because it's 50% cheaper than what I can get in glass, and I struggle with money for food (probably largely due to my dietary choices). But once I'm being paid like a middle-class American and 51% of my income doesn't go toward paying rent, I will buy only plastic-free coconut oil.
I hope you are inspired to think about your use of plastic! To conclude, here's a picture of what I might study instead of California sheephead. I'll post about how my project is changing later.
Owl limpet Lottia gigantea. Photo by me this year.
I stumbled upon this while looking for examples for a class assignment. This table is a good reminder of why I am giving up new plastic. These effects were all familiar to me, but it's good to see them again to keep me really motivated to continue avoiding plastic.
Why do we believe that plastic is safe?
Table from http://bml.ucdavis.edu/wp-content/pdf/cameos/CAMEOS_FormingAnswerableScientificQuestionswnotes.pdf
It's been a crazy three weeks, and a lot happened that required me to buy some new plastic. See below.
Things I needed that normally come with new plastic: Most of the things below.
Things I bought that have new plastic (if any; hopefully this will be none): Fuel for a backpacking stove, the label on some iodine tablets, a waterproof map, the lids to glass food containers, part of a paper bag of pasta (why do they have to put a little plastic window in it?), stickers on stainless steel kitchen utensils, Italian sausage (for my boyfriend), a waterproof bird ID field guide, food-to-go containers with plastic silverware (how horrible!), fruit and vegetable stickers, tags on clothing, the pot that came with a tomato plant.
Things I bought in plastic-free form: a strainer, food storage containers, plant pots.
Things I did to avoid buying new plastic: I refilled a glass peanut butter jar and put produce directly into my backpack. I buy bulk soap. I bought a used bread machine so I never have to buy bread in plastic bags again. I have also been working on growing my own food plants, and started a compost pile so I won't have to buy as much potting soil for my new garden, although it will be several months or years until I get soil from my compost.
Things with new plastic that were given to me: The lid to a jar of homemade maple syrup, a notebook with a plastic snap, a magnet with a plastic picture of a sea otter.
Plastic things I politely rejected: The plastic bag some homemade granola came in, but that's about it. I wasn't about to reject the maple syrup my friend from upstate New York spent weeks making, tapping maple trees and boiling the sap, and the notebook and magnet were a gift for graduating my volunteer course, which inspired this plastic fast. I really have a hard time rejecting gifts.
People who learned about my plastic fast (optional): my visiting friends, my lab group, and visitors to my lab group.
What was the hardest part of my fast this week?: buying food for my visitors and supplies for backpacking. Also paying so much for soap is annoying, even though it smells divine. It's $22.24 per pound! I should look for cheaper bulk soap.
What was the easiest part of my fast this week?: buying fresh food.
What can I not find a non-plastic alternative for, and can I give up this item entirely?: I have never seen a bread machine without a plastic exterior, but I haven't looked. Even if I found one, I wouldn't be able to afford it. Also, all salad spinners have plastic.
Recent news in my research life: I heard back from two fellowships I applied for! I got really good reviews, but I was awarded neither. These were the Nancy Foster Scholarship and the National Science Foundation Graduate Student Research Fellowship. I'm still waiting to hear back from one more fellowship I applied for, and you can count on me posting about it when I know. Peace!