Tag Archives: Geoff Hensgen

Trash and Treasure at the Lake Travis Underwater and Shoreline Cleanup

Volunteer divers hauling up trash from Lake Travis (Is that part of a house?)

Volunteer divers hauling up trash from Lake Travis (Is that part of a house?)

I had a chance to be part of the Lake Travis Underwater and Shoreline Cleanup event earlier this month, and you’d be surprised what the cleanup volunteers found!

Ms. Sarah Richards, Executive Director, and Mr. Geoff Hensgen, Program Director, of the Colorado River Alliance invited me to be part of the press boat for the event, and what an exciting honor it was!

Commander Ben and Sarah Richards on the marina dock getting ready to board the press boat.

Commander Ben and Sarah Richards on the marina dock getting ready to board the press boat.

Divers near Starnes Island

One of the many boats with divers near Starnes Island for the Lake Travis underwater cleanup

One of the many boats with divers near Starnes Island for the Lake Travis underwater cleanup

Our press boat left early in the morning from a nearby marina and traveled to Starnes Island on Lake Travis, where scuba divers were hauling up trash from underwater and storing the trash in orange nylon bags. It was surprisingly cool in the morning. We had rain and colder weather (for September in Texas!) leading up to the event, and volunteers said it was one of the cooler cleanups that they remembered being part of.

Volunteers met for the clean up at different spots around Lake Travis, including shoreline clean up sites near Pace Bend and Tom Hughes Parks and dive locations near Arkansas Park and Cypress Creek Cove. Approximately 1000 shoreline volunteers and scuba divers took part in this event. Wow!

The divers could see about 15 feet below the surface of the water, and with the low water levels because of the Texas drought, they were able to find trash at depths that would normally be harder to see in.

Map of the 2014 Lake Travis Underwater and Shoreline Cleanup locations (Map credit: Colorado River Alliance)

Map of the 2014 Lake Travis Underwater and Shoreline Cleanup locations (Map credit: Colorado River Alliance)

At the intersection of a inlet to Sandy Creek Park from Lake Travis, Starnes Island is only accessible by boat, and it was a critical clean up site since many party boats dock near this island and throw their trash overboard (ugh!). The scuba divers brought up bags and bags of trash, and boats would bring the trash over to the Lake Travis Marina where it was collected and hauled away for proper disposal.

Lake Travis Cleanup press boat crew outside of the Hudson Bend collection site

Lake Travis Cleanup press boat crew outside of the Hudson Bend collection site

I talked with Ms. Shaun Marie Auckland, Conservation Coordinator for Travis County Parks, who said Travis County became involved in 1994 to provide volunteers with access to the parks and to help scuba divers dispose of trash with trash barges.

Packed volunteer event at the Oasis

The Lake Travis Cleanup volunteer party at the Oasis was packed!

The Lake Travis Cleanup volunteer party at the Oasis was packed!

After the clean up, the volunteers celebrated with food, drinks, and door prizes at the Oasis restaurant overlooking Lake Travis. There were many educational booths for kids of all ages about Lake Travis, the aquatic food chain, water quality, and more.

Some of the Colorado River Alliance educational materials

Some of the Colorado River Alliance educational materials

Colorado River Alliance volunteers talking about the ecological water food web

Colorado River Alliance volunteers talking about the ecological water food web

Commander Ben and Colorado River Alliance education volunteers give a thumbs up to this year's Lake Travis Cleanup event

Commander Ben and Colorado River Alliance education volunteers give a thumbs up to this year’s Lake Travis Cleanup event

I enjoyed hamburgers, chips, and iced tea with volunteers at the party after the event, and I sat with volunteers who were cleaning up around the low water crossing below Mansfield Dam.

From volunteer Dean Woodley, I learned that the concrete structures on the Sometimes Islands were part of the materials that were used to build Mansfield Dam. The blocks were likely the base of tall pulleys that were used to haul material down to the dam. (I wonder if they were like Archimedes’ pulleys that I’m learning about in my World History high school class.)

Commander Ben and volunteer Dean Woodley at the Lake Travis Cleanup Volunteer Party at the Oasis restaurant

Commander Ben and volunteer Dean Woodley at the Lake Travis Cleanup Volunteer Party at the Oasis restaurant

Commander Ben and Finley the Fish overlooking the Sometimes Islands on Lake Travis

Commander Ben and Finley the Fish overlooking the Sometimes Islands on Lake Travis

During the volunteer party, the event organizers showed some of the unusual items the volunteers brought in, including sunglasses and a pink flamingo. I heard that someone also found an iPhone (not working – no surprise), and at a past event, they even found an old car motor.

Some of the unusual underwater Lake Travis Cleanup items found (is that a catfish skeleton?)

Some of the unusual underwater Lake Travis Cleanup items found (is that a catfish skeleton?)

Some of the unique objects found by Lake Travis Cleanup volunteers

Some of the unique objects found by Lake Travis Cleanup volunteers

For this year’s event, they announced the winner of the most unusual clean up item: a plastic bottle with a note in it. The note was a reward for a missing wedding ring. Hope someone found it!

TV coverage of the event

Getting ready to hop back on the press boat from Starnes Island with KVUE cameraman J.P.

Getting ready to hop back on the press boat from Starnes Island with KVUE cameraman J.P.

As part of our press boat, I met J.P., a friendly cameraman from KVUE who shared his experiences filming many events around Austin. I also saw the KTBC camera crew covering the event during the after party at the Oasis.

Sarah Richards being interviewed by KVUE about the Lake Travis Cleanup event

Sarah Richards being interviewed by KVUE about the Lake Travis Cleanup event

Science activities for primary and middle schoolers

Bringing the River to Our Schools mobile museum (Image credit: Colorado River Alliance)

Bringing the River to Our Schools mobile museum (Image credit: Colorado River Alliance)

During the school year, the Colorado River Alliance has educational activities for primary and middle schoolers. Kids in grades 3-5 can take field trips to LCRA building near Red Bud Island on Lady Bird Lake for hands-on activities to learn about water, wetlands, geography, and more.

The Colorado River Alliance also created the Bringing the River to Our Schools mobile museum to give 7th graders a high quality STEM experience and to educate the next generation of water stewards.

These are great programs for young naturalists and remind me of my science classes. I loved learning about biology in my freshman year in high school. This year, I’m learning about chemistry, and we’re going over the structure of the atom in class right now.

Celebrating 20 years of Lake Travis Cleanup volunteers

Lake Travis Underwater and Shoreline Cleanup celebrates 20 years!

Lake Travis Underwater and Shoreline Cleanup celebrates 20 years!

The Lake Travis Underwater and Shoreline Cleanup started in 1994, and on September 14, 2014, celebrated 20 years of helping to clean Lake Travis, a vital water supply for the people and animals of Central Texas. Next year, the 21st annual event will be on September 13, 2015.

This year’s successful volunteer event was organized by the Colorado River Alliance, Keep Austin Beautiful, and Travis County Parks.

Commander Ben and Geoff Hensgen at the Lake Travis Cleanup volunteer party

Commander Ben and Geoff Hensgen at the Lake Travis Cleanup volunteer party

Thanks again Ms. Richards and Mr. Hensgen for inviting me to be part of your wonderful event. How great it was to see so many enthusiastic volunteers, both above and below the water, helping to keep our native ecosystem clean!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Colorado River Alliance, Geoff Hensgen, Lake Travis, Lake Travis Underwater and Shoreline Cleanup

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