Jul 23
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Guest blog: ARKive in the Australian classroom by Barbara Sing

As a Primary Teacher in the Kimberley I have utilised ARKive’s resources over several years as the content is engaging and relevant to the knowledge base of my students; 77% of whom are Aboriginal from many different language groups across the Kimberley; an area three times the size of the UK.

I thought I would share a couple of examples of how I have used ARKive education resources and how they have worked for me and my students.

Keys and classification

Identification keys – sharks and raysWith the implementation of The Australian Curriculum I have found ARKive’s classification resources specifically meet the Year 7 Biological Science content descriptor ACSSU111 which states “There are differences within and between groups of organisms; classification helps organise this diversity” (ACARA).

My students particularly enjoy the ‘Sharks and Rays Identification’ activities as our community is located on the edge of a crocodile infested tidal mangrove habitat and most students engage in recreational fishing and hunting activities. Students of all abilities are able to navigate the identification keys easily and the accompanying presentations on shark and ray identification and classification resources make the lesson preparation seamless. The other activities provided engage students over a series of lessons and I normally conclude the unit by getting my students out of the classroom with a visit to a Munkayarra Wetland. During the visit students use an identification key similar to the ARKive keys to identify macro invertebrates they collected.

Students using classification keys at Munkayarra Wetland © Barbara Sing

Students using classification keys at Munkayarra Wetlands

Human Impacts on the Environment

Human Impacts on the Environment education resourcesAlthough my students have some idea of the impact of plastic in the marine environment the ‘Human Impacts on the Environment’ resource was certainly an eye opener for many of them. The module explores the different ways humans can have negative impacts on the environment and endangered species. I recommend it highly as a resource for Sustainability, Science as a Human Endeavour and also Chemical Science.

Spreading the word

I easily keep up to date with new resources through the ARKive facebook page and share the resources with other teachers and environmental groups.

Thanks for providing a growing useable resource for teachers globally!

Barbara Sing Derby District High School (K-12), West Kimberley, Western Australia

Jun 18
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In the field: The Manta Trust

Manta ray photoWhile the oceans of our planet cover more than 70% of the Earth’s surface, we still know so little about what goes on beneath the waves.  There are vast areas, great depths and even hundreds or perhaps thousands of species that we still barely understand.  Manta rays can certainly be classed as one such species that we know little about and that is why in January 2012, The Manta Trust came into being; a UK registered charity aiming to improve our understanding of these animals and promote their long-term conservation.

What is the Manta Trust?

Manta Trust LogoThe Manta Trust is a growing group of scientists, photographers, film-makers, conservations and advocacy experts who have joined forces to co-ordinate global research and conservation efforts for both manta rays and their close cousin’s, the mobula rays.

Manta ray photoThese rays are among the most charismatic creatures that inhabit our oceans. With the largest brain of all fish, their intelligence and curiosity is often compared to that of a large mammal, making encounters with them a truly unforgettable experience.

However, despite their popularity with divers and snorkelers many aspects of these creature’s lives remain a mystery, with only snippets of their life history currently understood. More worryingly, in recent years a targeted fishery for these animals has developed, causing devastating declines in global manta ray populations.

The Manta Trust brings together a number of research projects from around the globe. By conducting long-term, robust studies into manta populations in these varying locations, we aim to build the solid foundations upon which governments, NGOs and conservationists can make informed and effective decisions to ensure the long term survival of these animals and their habitat. By coupling this research with educational programmes and raising awareness, we hope to be able to make a lasting difference to the future of our oceans.

What are manta rays?

Manta and mobula rays are cartilaginous elasmobranch fishes. Like other rays this means they are a close relative of the shark. However, unlike most rays which spend at least a portion of their lives hugging the seabed, mobulids live pelagic existences – meaning they spend their time swimming in open water.

They’re also completely harmless to humans, feeding on zooplankton, the often microscopic animals which live in the water column and are the base of many ocean food chains.  This food source means that these amazing rays are at the mercy of the oceans, often migrating thousands of kilometres to track down their next meal!

Manta ray photo

Manta rays are also the largest rays in the world.  There are two species of manta, the reef mantas and the larger oceanic mantas that grow to over 7m diameter from wingtip to wingtip.

We believe manta rays to be incredibly long lived, probably living to at least 50 years old or possibly longer! This characteristic, coupled with the fact that they mature late, reproduce infrequently and give birth usually to a single pup at a time, make them very vulnerable to exploitation by fisheries.

Are there any threats to mantas?

Gill plate photoUnfortunately yes, manta and mobula rays are fished for their gill plates, the intricate apparatus which helps them to both breathe underwater and to strain their microscopic planktonic food from the water.

This fishery is quite a recent development, with the gill plates being sold in Asian markets where they are prepared as a tonic to treat a variety of ailments.

Due to the vulnerable nature of these animals this has the potential to have catastrophic implications for their fragile populations.  In fact populations in some areas have already seen declines of up to 86% due to fisheries.

Where does the Manta Trust work?

One of the main aims of the Manta Trust is to unite and co-ordinate work being undertaken with these rays in all corners of the globe.  So far we are working in 17 countries!  By co-ordinating our research in this way the hope is that we can share in each other’s successes (and failures), learning what works and what doesn’t, ultimately achieving global successes for these species.

What does the Manta Trust want to achieve?

Our vision is “A sustainable future for the oceans where manta rays thrive in healthy, diverse marine ecosystems.”  We’d like to achieve this by conducting robust scientific research whilst educating and raising awareness of the issues which face these animals.

We know that good conservation requires a holistic approach. Therefore the Manta Trust researchers and volunteers work closely with tourists, local communities, businesses and governments to ensure the preservation of these amazing animals through a combination of good science, education, community based initiatives and government legislation. As the scope of the Trust’s work continues to grow our goal is to keep expanding these efforts globally.

In March 2013, the Manta Trust was part of a consortium of NGOs behind the successful listing of both species of manta ray on Appendix II of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).  This listing means trade in manta ray parts between the 178 signatory nations will be closely controlled and restricted when this legislation comes into force in September 2014.

Manta Trust photo

This is a huge victory, however much still needs to be achieved for these animals until this legislation comes into force, especially to aid those in the involved fishing industry to transition to more sustainable futures.

How can you help The Manta Trust?

Manta ray photoOne of the best ways you can help is to swim with mantas! By showing governments that manta-based tourism is important and that it provides a sustainable long term industry in which people can earn a living whilst co-existing with these animals, we will be taking positive steps towards long-term solutions for these rays.

If you’ve been lucky enough to swim with mantas why not send us your pictures?  Each manta is uniquely identifiable by the pattern of spots on their ventral (belly) surface.  We are collating manta images from around the world as part of our global IDtheManta database.

You can learn more about it here.  By collecting this information on a global scale we hope to learn more about these amazing and mysterious animals.

We also accept volunteers! Check out our Volunteer page on The Manta Trust website and follow us on Facebook to see the latest opportunities as they are announced. In fact following our work on our blog, website, Facebook and Twitter pages and sharing what we do with your friends is also an amazing way to spread the manta message!

Jun 11
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Guest blog: Feeding Life – Society of Biology amateur photography competition

Jenni Lacey from the Society of Biology explores inspiration for this year’s photography competition

The Society of Biology’s amateur photography competition is currently open for entries. This year’s topic is ‘Feeding Life’ which neatly compliments the recent World Environment Day theme of ‘Think.Eat.Save’. Food consumption and its global impact is at the forefront of current environmental research, policy decisions and the public’s mind as we’re encouraged to remain economical and thoughtful around our eating habits.

So, it seems timely to celebrate some of nature’s prudent and opportunistic feeders, who also offer a valuable lesson in self-control and a warning of the dangers of overeating.

Nature’s overeaters

The ornate horned frog (Ceratophrys ornata) at first glance is quite a comical character – with its large, wide mouth and rotund body, it seems harmless. They are not built for speed but instead lie in wait, conserving their energy and waiting to ambush passing prey. They are indiscriminate feeders and therein lies their talent: they make the most of their surroundings and their physique, thriving in the rainforests of Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. Surviving on a diet of insects, rodents, lizards and other frogs, they will pounce and attempt to swallow almost anything that passes.

Ornate horned frog eating mouse prey           Ornate horned frog eating worm

With a stark similarity to humans, their sedentary behaviour can result in problems; in environments where food is abundant their voracious appetite can cause them to overeat and become obese. They will keep eating as long as food is placed in their path. This is particularly the case when they are kept in captivity as pets, owners must carefully monitor their behaviour and tailor the amount of food they feed the frogs accordingly.

Humans don’t have the safeguard of a loving owner to oversee their diets so it is our own responsibility to consider our eating habits and help reduce the waste of food resources. Not only are we in danger of affecting our own health but we will rapidly exhaust food and energy supplies: global food production occupies 25% of all habitable land and is responsible for 70% of fresh water consumption, 80% of deforestation, and 30% of greenhouse gas emissions.

Get involved

The Society of Biology is seeking photographs that encapsulate the topic ‘Feeding Life’. The photograph could address a challenging issue like food security and waste, or malnutrition, obesity, and other diet-linked diseases. It could provide insight into the feeding behaviour of a plant or animal species including predators and parasites. Or it could illustrate how we are manipulating our diets using GM and other biological techniques. Whether illustrated on a global, organismal, cellular or molecular scale, the photograph should draw attention to the topic of food and biology in a unique and thought-provoking way.

If you wish to enter the Society of Biology photography competition visit its website for full details on how to enter.

May 15
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Guest Blog: Join Our SOS! Campaign to Help Polar Bears with Polar Bears International

If you are a fan of ARKive, you’re a fan of wild animals. At Polar Bears International, we love all animals, but especially polar bears. In fact, we’re the champion for polar bears and are doing everything we can to help them. But we can’t do it without you. That’s why we initiated a Save Our Sea Ice (SOS!) campaign.

Mrs. McKiel's 1st and 2nd grade students at Carpathia School in Winnipeg, Canada, created this bulletin board for the Save Our Sea (SOS!) campaign.

Mrs. McKiel’s 1st and 2nd grade students at Carpathia School in Winnipeg, Canada, created this bulletin board for the Save Our Sea (SOS!) campaign.

Polar Bears International’s SOS! campaign focuses attention on the urgent challenges polar bears face in a changing Arctic—with longer and longer ice-free periods threatening their survival—and the part each of us can play in stopping global warming, beginning with personal habits and expanding out to the community.

The campaign features a series of energy-saving efforts that begin each year on International Polar Bear Day, February 27th, and continue through the summer melt period. We’ve linked our challenges to earth awareness days, but you can launch any of these efforts at any time:

  • International Polar Bear Day, February 27 – Celebrate polar bears with us by taking our Thermostat Challenge, adjusting your thermostat up or down by three degrees depending on the season. And then make every day a Polar Bear Day by switching to a programmable thermostat, insulating your home, or installing solar panels to save energy.
  • Earth Hour, March 23 – Join us on Earth Hour by switching off the lights for one hour, at 8:30 p.m. local time, and make it a Polar Bear Hour by eating a cold, energy-saving meal. Then make every hour an Earth Hour through our Power Down Effort—at home, school, and in the office.
  • Earth Day, April 22 – Celebrate Earth Day with us by turning off your engine for waits longer than thirty seconds when dropping off or picking up passengers at an Earth Day event. And then make every day an Earth Day by taking our No Idling Challenge and using our toolkit to set up No Idle Zones. Why? Because a surprising percentage of greenhouse gas emissions from cars, light trucks, and vans come from idling engines with no transportation benefit.
  • Endangered Species Day, May 17 - Help polar bears and other endangered species every day by Sizing Up Your Pantry. Take stock of your pantry and think about your food choices, recognizing that fewer food miles, organic farming methods, and minimal processing and packaging have less impact on the planet—and can help reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.
  • World Oceans Day, June 8 - Take action for polar bears and the sea ice they depend on every day with our Green House Grocery List. Begin by assessing your typical week’s grocery list to see how you measure up; then make adjustments where you can. Why? Because your food shopping habits can help reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing the planet to warm and the sea ice to melt.
Polar bear family jumping between ice floes © Dick and Val Beck/Polar Bears International

A polar bear family jumps from floe to floe in a melting Arctic. To save arctic sea ice, we must each do our part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

To save polar bear habitat, we need to embrace sustainable living as a society. A promising shift is underway in sectors including transportation, energy usage, and food production—all of which have an impact on greenhouse gas emissions. You can become part of the momentum for change by modifying your own habits and taking action in your community in support of greener choices—from bikes lanes to farmer’s markets—that make a low-carbon lifestyle easier.

Find out more

Learn more about the polar bear and its arctic habitat on ARKive.

Find out more about Polar Bears International and how you can get involved by visiting their website.

Apr 19
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Guest Blog: Environmental Education (EE) Week, USA – Perky

We’ve had a fantastic week of guest bloggers on ARKive from day care educators to stay-at-home moms who have highlighted the different ways they have used ARKive in support of this year’s Environmental Education Week theme of ‘Taking Technology Outdoors’. Our final guest blog has been written by Perky, an elementary school principal in northern Idaho who used tablet PC’s to engage her students with the local natural world this month … once it was warm enough to venture outside!

iPads, ARKive and Food Chain Learning All Outside Under the Sun

What fun we have with ARKive at our small rural school in northern Idaho! Who could imagine students who live only 60 miles from Canada would be able to create and learn about vital food chains in countries such as Africa, Costa Rica, or Asia? Well, the kids found it easy because of the fantastic work the ARKive people have produced. During our winters of mountains of snow, our students initially learned how to use the resources of ARKive by developing a food web of their choice using the app called StoryBuddy; we worked inside for this project.  Each student partnership made a small electronic book complete with facts and photos of animals involved in a food chain. The results were professional and the kids adored the project because of how easy it was to get the information and pictures they needed.

Students exploring ARKive outside using tablet PC's

Perky’s students have a blast exploring ARKive outside using tablet PC’s

ARKive's Temperate Rainforest of the Pacific Northwest educational resourceNow that the sun is shining and the grass is slowly turning green, we were invited to use some of the resources on ARKive again involving the use of a camera. Believe it or not, my small school of 166 students received 90 + iPads from an anonymous donor last fall! So, we now have easily accessible cameras. I chose the Temperate Rainforest Lesson to get them outside. We started by eating our lunch while digging a little deeper into the website. The students were amazed at all the other resources we found to use. While snacking on potato chips, we went through the PowerPoint. The discussion was lively and informative as we went through the slides.

Student completing worksheet from the Temperate Rainforests of the Pacific Northwest

One of Perky’s students completing a worksheet activity from the Temperate Rainforests of the Pacific Northwest ARKive lesson

Once we finished them, we were off and excited to head outside. Armed with the provided worksheets on clipboards and their iPads, the kids dove right into the work. Their first mission was to record all the living and nonliving components along one stretch of our fence. Luckily, in fourth grade they learned the necessary characteristics for something to be considered alive. As they worked along, they started snapping pictures of these components. These will be used to create a food chain of their choosing for organisms in our area which just happen to be very similar to the organisms living in a temperate rainforest: bears, moose, deer, coyotes, elk.

Brown bear photo on ARKive

Perky’s students learned about species that live in the Pacific Northwest USA such as brown bears.

Tomorrow, we will use the Doceri app, their photos and ARKive’s resources to build their food chains. Thank you, ARKive. The kids literally loved it.

Perky, Elementary School Principal, Idaho, USA

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