Fellowship to Western Michigan: Sturgeon and Beer!

Earlier this month I took part in an Institutes of Journalism & Natural Resources expedition along the Kalamazoo River in western Michigan. IJNR hosts a few fellowships a year in various places around the U.S. that face environmental challenges.

The 2013 Kalamazoo River fellows. Photograph by Talli Nauman.

The 2013 Kalamazoo River fellows. Photograph by Talli Nauman.

For this trip, we focused on the Kalamazoo River, the site of a 2010 oil spill and a victim of heavy PCB contamination due to the paper mills that once lined the river and polluted the waters. The river is still so polluted that pregnant women can’t eat a single fish out of some parts.

It wasn’t all bad news, though.

The fellows also learned about a reintroduction program for the prehistoric lake sturgeon (which has its skeleton on the outside of its body!), and visited a streamside rearing facility where scientists are growing baby sturgeon to release them into the river.

Canoeing the Kalamazoo River.

Canoeing the Kalamazoo River.

The beach on Lake Michigan in Saugatuck—looks like the ocean!

The beach on Lake Michigan in Saugatuck—looks like the ocean!

One night we had dinner and beer at Arcadia Ales, a brewery in Battle Creek that’s also part of a new program called Brewers for Clean Water. I wrote posts on these projects for National Geographic’s Water Currents blog.

Check them out:

Rebirth of Lake Sturgeon: Freshwater Species of the Week

Breweries Raising Their Glasses to Clean Water

Speaking of blogs, Weird & Wild, the National Geographic blog I founded a few years ago, is doing great and getting lots of regular traffic. I’ve got three contributors, which enables me to keep the blog fresh with odd content almost every day. I’m glad that readers seem to share my love of the bizarre!

I’m going to Italy (Rome) and a few cities in France soon—will update with some hopefully gorgeous pictures of those countries when I get back. Ciao!

Oprah Selects South Pole as a Favorite Read of 2012

I got a lovely vacation surprise while in the wilds of Texas last week—I found out O Magazine has featured my book South Pole in their Favorite Reads of 2012 in the photography book category! I had no idea the article was in the works, and neither did my publisher, Assouline. I’m happy that the book has gotten so much recognition, and I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn so much about Antarctic history.

The article isn’t online, but I here are some shots of the magazine:

First Trip to South Korea

Last month I went to Jeju Island, South Korea, to report on the World Conservation Congress. I’d been to Asia once before—on a trip to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand—but I’d never thought about going to Korea. So I really didn’t know what to expect (and, I’m ashamed to say, I hadn’t seen the Gangham style video before I left!)

I’m glad that my introduction to Korea was on Jeju, a small volcanic island about an hour’s flight south of Seoul. For one thing, it was gorgeous—people call it the Korean Hawaii, with its pretty coastlines and craggy coasts. It also has some awesome natural wonders, including Asia’s longest asia tube, Manjanggul (below)—which I walked a mile of—and some volcanic craters that you can hike. The above picture is of Jeongbang Waterfall.

The convention center was the nicest I’ve worked in, with a view of the coast; a cafeteria with hearty, homemade Korean food; and a culture market, which gave visitors an idea of where they were. I enjoyed trying on some Korean garb (below) at the culture market.

Most of the people I met were very gracious—especially when I left my iPhone at a 7-Eleven. I’d snapped a picture of some curious-looking coffee drinks, then absentmindedly left it on the table. I didn’t realize it was missing until I was at the conference center, and miraculously a woman at the registration desk called my hostel owner, asked him to walk across the street to the 7-Eleven, and get the phone from the employee, who had found it and kept it. I’m not sure if that would have happened anywhere else!

I had one day to spend in Seoul, which reminded me of New York. I saw some of the royal palaces (including Gyeongbokgung Palace, below) and explored a few of the street markets. I was happy to see that South Koreans are as obsessed with coffee shops as I am, although I have to say that a sweet potato latte is probably the grossest coffee drink I’ve ever had!

My next long trip is stateside—to Texas, where I’m excited about camping at Big Bend National Park, one of the country’s least visited parks.

Scripps Howard Fellowship in Florida

In May I spent a week roaming Florida during the Scripps Howard Institute on the Environment and Science.

Photo courtesy Neil Santaniello

I was happy to get out of my office seat for a few days and learn about science in the process. Most of our activities took place at the Florida International University campus in Jupiter, where several scientists gave us presentations on topics ranging from sea level rise to coral reef ecology.

To balance the science lectures, each day had a field trip—the first day, for instance, we canoed the Loxahatchee River, a National Wild and Scenic River. We encountered a few lurking alligators!

We also got lucky with wildlife during our visit to the northern Everglades, where we saw an endangered snail kite, several other species of birds, and a cool flightless grasshopper called a lubber.

The most interesting excursion was to the Lake Wales Ridge, a section of scrub habitat that runs through Florida’s spine. I had no idea Florida had such an environment—it almost looked like southern California, very arid. During our scrub hike someone spotted a napping baby screech owl, and many a scrub jay (a bird native to the habitat) came to pay a visit.

I also enjoyed spending a week with more than 20 science journalists of various media and backgrounds—some of whom were old friends!

Book Launch in NYC

Last week I went to NYC for the launch party of South Pole, which was held at Sotheby’s. The talk of the party was a book stand made out of ice that holds the (very expensive) waterproof version of South Pole. The waterproof book is the first of its kind, and apparently Assouline had to make 1,000 of the books just to get 150 decent copies—I can’t even imagine how expensive that must have been!

I had a blast signing books and just being part of Manhattan high society for the evening. I realized that my cursive could use some work, though—I totally blanked on how to write a cursive Q at one point.

I also visited the gorgeous Assouline boutique in the Plaza Hotel, and was excited to see my book on sale there. The boutique’s going to keep some signed copies on hand.

Overall working on the book has been an unexpected yet fantastic experience—I hope I get to do it again soon!

Good Omen

I was walking (OK, trudging) along a rainy city street a few days after Christmas when the storm suddenly cleared, right at sunset. The clouds turned stunningly rose-gold, and, much to my surprise, a rainbow arced over the Chinatown gate. My fellow Washingtonians and I indulged in some childlike glee as we stood on the sidewalk, snapping the phenomenon with our smartphones. I’ve never seen anything like it in the city; the last time I remember seeing such a prominent rainbow was on a muddy horseback ride in the Irish countryside more than a decade ago. I couldn’t help but think it’s a good omen on the cusp of the new year!