Category Archives: Environmental

Benjamin Shrader Receives 2013 International Young Eco Hero Award

actionfornature_ecoheroI am so excited to share with you the great news that I was named a 2013 International Young Eco-Hero by Action For Nature!

Action For Nature is an international non-profit organization that encourages young people to take personal action to better their environments and to foster love and respect for nature.  Their Young Eco-Hero Award program honors the work of kids and teens between the ages of 8 and 16 who have done creative environmental projects.

I was so surprised when I received notice that I had been named a 2013 Young Eco-Hero because this is an international award given to a small group of kids and teens from around the world.

Many thanks to Action for Nature for recognizing the work I do in Central Texas and across the country to help educate kids of all ages about invasive species and to protect and preserve our native species. I am so honored and humbled.

Visit the Action for Nature site to learn more about this great organization and also about what kids are doing everywhere to protect our natural world.

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Action for Nature, Eco-Hero, Environmental, Invasive Species

Invasive Hunter Academy Thrives at UT Austin’s Hot Science – Cool Talks

Commander Ben talks with high school students about invasive species at Hot Science – Cool Talks
Photo credit: UT Austin Environmental Science Institute

The UT Austin Environmental Science Institute (ESI) has a great Hot Science – Cool Talks series that brings scientists from UT Austin and across the country to talk about their neat science research. Kids of all ages are invited to attend.

Mr. Geoff Hensgen, ESI Outreach Coordinator, invited me to bring my Invasive Hunter Academy to their most recent event with Dr. Jay Famiglietti, “Last Call at the Oasis: Will There be Enough Water for the 21st Century?

I was excited to, but I wanted to add more information for high school students, since I knew they enjoyed coming to the Hot Science presentations. So I researched about some of the water problems caused by invasive species.

Invasive Hunter Academy Grows

I really liked the new info that I added to the Invasive Hunter Academy. I still have the three fun original steps to becoming an invasive hunter:

  • Know your enemy – Match up pictures of native and invasive plants
  • Know your action moves – Practice the three cool taekwondo moves to take down invasive plants
  • Create your action scene – Build a great diorama to take home

For Dr. Famiglietti’s Cool Talks event, I created a new presentation for young adults with some great information about my nemesis, the Giant Reed. I talked about:

Recorded locations of the Giant Reed around Austin
Source: Texas Invasives website

(1) What invasive species are and specifically the problems of the Giant Reed (Arundo donax). I showed how easy it is to find sightings of the Giant Reed and other invasive species that citizen scientists reported around the state by using the Texas Invasives database.

Giant Reed along the Rio Grande River near Big Bend National Park
Credit: Mr. John Goolsby, USDA

(2) The EPA is considering using the Giant Reed for biofuel because it grows fast and doesn’t impact the food industry. That’s great for a biofuel plant, but the Giant Reed can easily escape into the native ecosystem and take over as an invasive species.

Scientists are concerned that the spread of the Giant Reed to could create an economic and environmental disaster, and for that reason it should not be used as a biofuel.

Giant Reed along the Rio Grande River
Photo Credit: Center for Invasive Species Research

(3) Especially for Dr. Famiglietti’s freshwater talk, I added information about how the Giant Reed is a threat to the survival of the Rio Grande River because it:

  • Reduces the available water supply
  • Chokes waterways
  • Inhibits with power generation
  • Interferes with agricultural irrigation
  • Degrades water quality
  • Threatens the of health of native plants and animals by creating a dense monoculture and crowding out native plants

QR Codes Help Presentations Jump to the Web

I added QR codes to make it easier for people to access the websites that I talk about in my poster presentation. I first added QR codes when I brought the academy to the Wildflower Center as part of Nature Nights this summer.

I saw people use their iPhones and Android phones to scan the QR codes to access my website, so I wanted to add more codes for my Hot Science presentation to help bring people to where they could get more information on the web, like to learn more about the Giant Reed.

High School Students Graduate to the Academy

One of the Invasive Hunter Academy tables before the start of Hot Science – Cool Talks at UT Austin

The audience was older than my other academy presentations. There were many students from eighth graders to high school and college students. That was neat!

I enjoy bringing the original academy activities to kids all ages, but now I especially enjoy talking to the older students and teaching them about invasive species. (In these pictures, I still have my hand in a cast from when it got broken during a taekwondo sparring match. :-()

Commander Ben motions to how high (and higher!) the Giant Reed invasive plant can grow
Photo credit: UT Austin Environmental Science Institute

They found my posters very helpful, because a lot of students were there with their science classes, and they had notebooks that they were writing in for extra credit. I talked with them about the problems with the Giant Reed, and they took copious notes. I hope they all got great grades! 🙂

Invasive Hunter graduate shows off her “I’m an Invasive Hunter” sticker and Wildflower Center brochure
Photo credit: UT Austin Environmental Science Institute

They really liked my “I’m an invasive hunter'” stickers and went to my website on their phones to watch my videos too. They put the stickers on their shirts and books, and one of the high school freshman put it on his forehead. (Not recommended.)

Battles with Invasive Species Videos

Commander Ben before the start of the Hot Science – Cool Talks prelecture fun with the Native Plant Avengers video playing in the background

Mr. Hensgen is just the best! I want to thank him for inviting me to be part of the prelecture fun and the interview with Dr. Famiglietti. He gave me the best table because it was near the entrance to the auditorium, and he gave me a projector to play my Battles with Invasive Species videos on the wall during the event.

During the event, I played two videos:

One Freshman high school girl came back another time for two reasons: she was interested to learn more about invasive species and she had also left her iPod. 🙂

It was also great to talk again with Dr. Jay Banner, Director of the UT Austin Environmental Science Institute. I saw him being filmed for the Longhorn Network during the event. Thanks, Dr. Banner, for mentioning me during your prelecture slides!

Last Call at the Oasis

Dr. Jay Famiglietti’s Last Call at the Oasis presentation at Hot Science – Cool Talks

I also had a great time chatting with Dr. Famiglietti before his talk. I wished him good luck, but he didn’t need it because he did a great job!

I found one of the reserved chairs in the auditorium. (Thanks Mr. Hensgen!) and I noticed that they were much, much more comfortable than the regular chairs. (They were the same as the other chairs, but since they were reserved, they were extra comfy!)

Dr. Famiglietti talked about the making of his video, Last Call at the Oasis. It was released on DVD on November 8th, so be sure to check it out!

At the end of his talk, he showed a funny video with Jack Black about their drinkable, treated sewage water, porcelain springs.

Learn More about Invasive Species

Ms. Jessica Strickland and Commander Ben mapping invasive species at SXSWEco

My thanks to Ms. Jessica Strickland for all her help teaching me more about invasive species on the Texas Invasives website and at SXSW Eco. (I learned about the EPA considering to use the Giant Reed as biofuel from the Texas Invasives iWire newsletter. If you don’t already receive this monthly email newsletter, be sure to subscribe to iWire today.) I also learned about the Rio Grande River’s problem with the Giant Reed from presentations during the 2011 Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Conference.

I also want to thank Ms. Alice Nance, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Education Manager. She gave me a lot of goodies to pass out during the prelecture fun. I had Wildflower Center brochures with discount coupons and Plant Hero badges and certificates. (Kids had a lot of fun with Plant Heroes too when I brought the Invasive Hunter Academy to Nature Nights at the Wildflower Center this summer.)

Next Hot Science – Cool Talks presentation

Commander Ben and Dr. Jay Famiglietti at Hot Science - Cool Talks

Commander Ben and Dr. Jay Famiglietti wrap up Hot Science – Cool Talks on a humorous note

Thank you again Dr. Banner, Mr. Hensgen, and Dr. Famiglietti for everything! 🙂 If you missed the event, watch my video interview series with Dr. Famiglietti and check out the webcast replay of Dr Famiglietti’s presentation. (It was ESI’s 80th Hot Science – Cool Talks event!)

I had a fantastic time, and I can’t wait until the next Hot Science – Cool Talks event on November 30, “The War on Cancer: 41 Years after Nixon’s Declaration“, with Dr. Mark Clanton.

Hope to see you there!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under 2011 Texas Invasive Plant Conference, Android, Arundo donax, Bastard Cabbage, Battles with Invasive Species, Big Bend National Park, Biofuel, Center for Invasive Species Research, Dr. Jay Famiglietti, Environmental, Environmental Protection Agency, Environmental Science Institute, EPA, ESI, Extra credit, Geoff Hensgen, Giant Reed, High school, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Plants, Invasive Species, iPhone, iWire Texas Invasives Newsletter, Jay Banner, Jessica Strickland, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Last Call at the Oasis, Lights. Camera. Help., Monoculture, Ms. Alice Nance, Native ecosystem, Native Plant Avengers, Nature Nights, Plant Heroes, Porcelain springs, QR codes, Rio Grande River, Science class, Tae Kwon Do, Taekwondo, Texas, Texas Invasives, U.S. Botanic Garden, University of Texas, UT Austin, water, water conservation, water hydrology, water supply, Wildflower Center

Will There Be Enough Water for the 21st Century?

Dr. Jay Famiglietti and Commander Ben at the Environmental Science Institute at UT Austin

Today, I had a great time interviewing Dr. Jay Famiglietti. I talked with him about the potential water problems that we might face in the future. We also talked about the different ways that we can conserve water. I’ll be posting these fascinating and insightful videos soon.

I’m looking forward to Dr. Famiglietti’s talk, “Last Call at the Oasis: Will There be Enough Water for the 21st Century?“, tomorrow, Friday, October 26, 2012, at 7:00 pm CT.

Mr. Famiglietti is a Earth System Science Professor with the University of California – Irvine. His presentation is part of the great Hot Science – Cool Talks series. It’ll be in the UT Austin Student Activity Center where Dr. Andrew Howell’s talk was earlier this year.

Invasive Hunter Academy and the Giant Reed

Be sure to get there early, because I’ll bringing my Invasive Hunter Academy to the prelecture fun starting at 5:45 pm. Not only will you have a great time learning about invasive species and creating an action diorama, but you’ll also learn about the Giant Reed’s (Arundo donax) threat to our water supply, especially along the Rio Grande.

If you notice something different about me tomorrow, I broke my hand fighting the Giant Reed (again!). It was trying to stop me from presenting at Hot Science – Cool Talks, but it’ll take more than a few moves from an invasive plant (and one of the world’s top 100 worst invasive species) from stopping me.

(Well, actually, I broke it during a recent Taekwondo sparring match. Ouch! But I still have a good hand if Arundo gives me any trouble! 🙂 )

Hope to see you tomorrow. It’s going to be a boatload of fun!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Arundo donax, Dr. Jay Famiglietti, Environmental, Environmental Science Institute, ESI, Giant Reed, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Plants, Invasive Species, Last Call at the Oasis, Rio Grande, Tae Kwon Do, Taekwondo, University of Texas, UT Austin, water, water conservation, water supply

My First Day at SXSW Eco with Foodies and Filmmakers

Commander Ben at SXSW Eco 2012

After checking in at SXSW Eco at the fantastic UT Austin AT&T Conference Center, I headed over to Rm. 103 to attend a talk titled Fighting Food Insecurity with Urban Agriculture in Austin…and guess who I got to meet? Ms. Addie Broyles, a food writer for the Austin American-Statesman!

Food in Austin

Ms. Addie Broyles and Commander Ben at SXSW Eco

It was neat to get to meet her because I have heard my Mom (the foodie in the family 🙂 ) talk a lot about her. Even though my blog isn’t about food, Ms. Broyles said she was looking forward to checking it out because she too has a budding filmmaker at home…her five year old son! 🙂

Clean energy

Ms. Griffin Gardner and Commander Ben at SXSW Eco

Next I walked over to Rm 204 to attend the Filmmakers Clean Energy Confab. I took my seat in the second row and that’s when someone in the front row turned around and said, “I know you, you’re famous!” It was Ms. Griffin Gardner, UT Austin Media Coordinator, who remembered taking a picture of me at the UT Austin Environmental Science Institute (ESI) Hot Science – Cool Talks event. I’m not sure if I’m really famous, but Ms. Gardner made my day!

Making great films for good

Mr. Steve Vogelpohl and Commander Ben at SXSW Eco

Next, as I headed out to lunch, I ran into Mr. Stephen Vogelpohl who recognized me from the Lights. Camera. Help. Focus on Good Film Festival. Mr. Vogelpohl is with Social Good TV. We talked about future projects we’re both working on, and he encouraged me to continue making great films for good.

Green army on the march

Today is the big day! As I mentioned in my earlier posts, I’ll join Ms. Jessica Strickland, Invasive Species Program Manager at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center; Dr. Damon Waitt, Director Native Plant Information Network; and an elite team from the Wildflower Center and the Green Army to map invasive species as part of the conference events.

Let’s find the Giant Reed (Arundo donax), Elephant Ear (Colocasia esculenta), and all the invasive plants that may be along Waller Creek in Austin, Texas!

I hope to see you there!

Your friend,
Ben

P.S. Tomorrow’s the last day to vote! Please vote for my SXSWedu presentation, “What Invasive Species Taught Me About Dyslexia”. I’ll talk about my great experiences with the Wildflower Center and Learning Ally too. Thanks!

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Filed under Addie Broyles, AT&T Conference Center, Austin, Austin American Statesman, Clean energy, Clean energy, Damon Waitt, Elephant Ear, Environmental, Environmental Science Institute, ESI, Focus on Good, Giant Reed, Green Army, Griffin Gardner, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Jessica Strickland, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Lights Camera Help Annual Nonprofit Film Festival, Lights. Camera. Help., PanelPicker, Social Good TV, Steve Vogelpohl, SXSW, SXSW Eco, SXSWedu, University of Texas, Urban Agriculture, UT Austin, Waller Creek, What Invasive Species Taught Me About Dyslexia, Wildflower Center

Black Swan Events Explored at Hot Science – Cool Talks

Oh no! Black Swan (Cygnus atratus)
Photo credit: Calvin Teo on wikipedia

This Fall 2012 kicks off another great semester of “Hot Science. Cool Talks.” presentations with Dr. David W. Orr’s “Black Swans & the U.S. Future: Creating Sustainable & Resilient Societies” on Friday, September 14, at 7:00 p.m. in UT Austin’s Student Activity Center. However, you’ll want to arrive early, as the fun pre-lecture events start at 5:45 p.m.

A professor of Environmental Studies and Politics at Oberlin College, Dr. Orr will talk about “Black Swans” as infrequent and unpredictable events that drive change in human and natural systems. This summer, I wondered if
invasive species could trigger a black swan event, such as with the Mediterranean Sea and Oregon incidents.

The “Hot Science. Cool Talks.” presentations are fantastic for kids of all ages, but especially for middle and high school students. (I should add elementary students too since as young Commander Ben, I was able to meet Dr. John Grotzinger at a presentation in 2005. Dr. Grotzinger is now a project scientist for the Mars Science Laboratory that is part of the Curiosity Mars rover.)

Invasive Hunter Academy coming to Hot Science – Cool Talks

I’m sorry that I’ll miss this Friday’s presentation, but I’ll be at the “Lights. Camera. Help.” Focus on Good Film Festival! My Native Plant Avengers video about Texas wildflowers banding together to fight invasive species was selected to be shown at the festival.

However, I’m excited to announce that I’ll be bringing my Invasive Hunter Academy to the prelecture fun for the “Last Call at the Oasis: Will There be Enough Water for the 21st Century?” presentation by Dr. Jay Famiglietti on October 26, 2012.

I’ll bring fun activities to help kids learn about invasive species, and I’ll have special information about the Giant Reed, an invasive species that threatens our water and riparian ecosystems, for this special event.

Thanks Mr. Geoff Hensgen, Outreach coordinator, and Dr. Jay Banner, Director of the UT Austin Environmental Science Institute, for inviting me to join your wonderful event!

I hope to see you there!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under black swan, Curiosity Rover, Dr. David Orr, Dr. Jay Famiglietti, Dr. John Grotzinger, Environmental, Environmental Science Institute, ESI, Geoff Hensgen, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, Jay Banner, Lights Camera Help Annual Nonprofit Film Festival, Lights. Camera. Help., Mars Rover, Mars Science Laboratory, Native Plant Avengers, University of Texas, UT Austin

Can Invasive Species Trigger Black Swan Events in Nature?

I’m looking forward to the upcoming Fall 2012 series of Hot Science – Cool Talks.

During the first presentation, Black Swans & the U.S. Future: Creating Sustainable & Resilient Societies, Dr. David W. Orr will talk about how sudden and unpredictable events drive change in human and natural systems.

I’m especially interested to learn if the introductions of invasive species to an ecosystem may represent black swan events in nature.

Deep Sea Invasion

I remember watching a rerun of the PBS Nova episode, Deep Sea Invasion, which showed how a bright green seaweed (Caulerpa taxifolia) that was used to decorate salt water aquariums escaped into the Mediterranean sea and created a choking monoculture wherever it went.

The dense carpet of seaweed represented a great change in the ecosystem since it overwhelmed native species and deprived native marine animals of food since the seaweed has a toxin that the creatures cannot eat.

In 2000, scientists found this invasive seaweed growing in the waters outside of San Diego, California, probably accidentally released by an aquarium owner, but due to early detection and rapid response, scientists were able to contain this killer alga with plastic and eradicate it with chlorine.

Like the Wakame (Undaria pinnatifida) seaweed shown in First wave of tsunami debris brings dock loaded with invasive species to the US West Coast, Caulerpa taxifolia is also in the Global Invasive Species database lists as one of the world’s 100 worst invasive species.

I can’t wait to attend the next Hot Science – Cool Talks and learn more about black swan events from Dr. Orr and the Environmental Science Institute at UT Austin.

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under black swan, Deep Sea Invasion, Dr. David Orr, Early detection, Environmental, Environmental Science Institute, ESI, Global Invasive Species, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Invasive Species, Japanese tsunami, killer alga, Monoculture, Nova, PBS, Rapid response, tsunami debris, University of Texas, Wakame, Wakame

Commander Ben Joins Earth Week Activities at St. Edward’s University


At last year’s Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Conference, I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Mitch Robinson, Education and Land Management Coordinator for Wild Basin Preserve.

He talked with me about how Wild Basin Preserve fends off invasive species, and I was very impressed by his passion for protecting the preserve’s native ecosystem.

We’ve kept in touch since then, and he was so nice to invite me to be part of the Earth Week activities at St. Edward’s University, which were also broadcast on Google+ Hangouts. He was giving a presentation about invasive species on April 19, and he asked me to join him to talk about my experiences battling invasives and teaching others about them.

On the guard against invasives

Mr. Robinson started the event by giving an excellent presentation about invasives including several examples and how they affect our environment. I was especially intrigued by the Giant African Land Snail. Why? Because it’s giant and eats houses!

Actually, it eats the stucco off houses, but that’s close enough. They can grow up to 8 inches, and eat other snails and over 500 species of plants. They were brought into Florida as pets, but were released in the late 1960s, and Florida State University had to spend millions of dollars to battle them back.

It’s a menace to Western Civilization!

Native Plant Avengers movie trailer shown at St. Edwards

Afterwards, Mr. Robertson introduced me by first playing my latest video, Native Plant Avengers. When I saw my video played on a big screen in front of an audience, I had a great feeling of happiness because that’s why I make the videos–to help educate people about invasives and for my audience to have fun at the same time.


After my video, I talked about how I got started learning about invasives and teaching others. I also took questions from the audience and talked about my Invasive Hunter Academy as part of Kid’s Day during National Invasive Species Awareness Week at the US Botanic Garden.

Thank you so much Mr. Robinson and St. Edwards for inviting me to be part of your Earth Day events! It was a lot of fun! Down with invasives!


Your friend,
Ben

Update: Invasive Hunter Academy Returns to St. Edward’s University for Earth Day 2013

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Filed under 2011 Texas Invasive Plant Conference, Earth Day, Environmental, Giant African Land Snail, Googe+ Hangouts, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, Mitch Robinson, National Invasive Species Awareness Week, Native Plant Avengers, St Edward's University, U.S. Botanic Garden, Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve