Climate Change Impacts and Solutions: Ocean Acidification in New York City


When atmospheric carbon dioxide dissolves in ocean water, it creates carbonic acid. This process, known as ocean acidification, is the result of increasing carbon emissions and the impact of man-made climate change. While ocean acidification is a major environmental concern all over the world, carbon dioxide is most soluble in colder water temperatures, posing an even greater risk to our local northeast coast. According to NOAA, the ocean absorbs roughly 30% of all atmospheric carbon dioxide, which is slowly decreasing ocean pH. The current average surface water pH is 8.1, but is projected to fall to 7.8 by the end of the century — reaching levels that have not been actualized in the last 14-17 million years. This changing environment will significantly impact aquatic life and habitat, along with the humans who utilize the ocean for their benefit. While ocean acidification has yet to be fully understood, New York State and City have been working diligently to better understand these impacts in hopes of developing meaningful and effective solutions.

In August 2018, The New York State Department of Conservation (DEC) unveiled its 14-member Ocean Acidification Task Force as a means to assess the impacts on ecological, economic, and recreational health. Established by Governor Andrew Cuomo, this force of appointed individuals with a wide range of expertise will identify local contributing factors and recommend actions to reduce negative impacts. The Ocean Acidification Task Force last met on December 3, 2019. 

In January 2019, DEC and the New York Sea Grant announced $570,000 in ocean research funding to Stony Brook University, CUNY York College, and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) to better understand climate change impacts on marine resources. This grant has been prioritized as part of the 10-year Ocean Action Plan (OAP). While projects have been delayed, they are currently underway and are projected to continue through 2021. As we begin to better understand the changes taking place in our oceans, we can push forward to develop the innovative solutions necessary to combat man-made climate change and ocean acidification impacts.   

My Climate Story: Snow Angels


I spent most of my childhood in a wondrous place — a mostly desolate, and largely untouched, part of Northern Vermont. I remember trudging through snow that reached as high as my rib cage, trying to maintain my balance as I sported a puffy 90s neon snowsuit. Each attempt to catch my breath resulted in a deep, chesty cough. Some days the temperatures were 20 degrees below zero. The frigid air burned my throat and lungs, but I had an intense and amorous appreciation for Mother Nature and her limitless power and strength. Winter was my dad’s favorite season. It was mine too. 

My dad was the one who taught me how to snowboard and he watched me fall, and get back up again, for hours. He let me ride on the back of his snowmobile as we ventured through the many wooded trails, weaving through the pine trees among the mountains. He brought me along when he went ice fishing on the thickly frozen lake. We built snowmen and snow forts and made snow angels. I owe my love for nature to him. We are connected by our love for this world. Winter was my dad’s favorite season. It was mine too. 

Just before I turned 17, my dad passed away. I didn’t spend my winters up in Vermont anymore. He was the one who brought our trips to life. He was what made them so special. Surely I couldn’t handle a season as strong and powerful as a Northern Vermont winter on my own. Winter was my Dad’s favorite season. It was mine too. 

I turn 26 in a few months and a lot has changed since I was a child. Winters don’t feel the same anymore, no matter where I go. Not just because my dad is gone, but because the planet is changing. I don’t have to trudge through the snow anymore because there is hardly any snow to trudge through. My throat and lungs don’t burn from the cold anymore because temperatures hardly fall below zero. I still have an intense and amorous appreciation for Mother Nature, but her strength is diminishing with each passing day. 

I’ve recently made it my mission, my life’s work, to protect the world that once meant the world to me. And not just for me, but for all the little girls who just want to make snow angels with their dads. To be as lucky as I once was. My dad and I, we are connected by our love for this world. I feel his presence in every gust of wind and I see him in every silent snowfall. He remains here with me, alive, in each of these wondrous moments. Winter was my dad’s favorite season. It is mine too. 

Trash Talking The Gowanus Canal, One Of America’s Most Polluted Waterways

Environment, Personal, Science

Every morning before I unlock the door to the office, I walk a few extra steps onto the Union Street Bridge just to stop and smell the coal tar. Okay, so maybe it’s to take in the view, but water coming from the Gowanus Canal — one of the most polluted waterways in America — offers a stench most couldn’t imagine. People often find the canal to be nothing short of repugnant, but I disagree. There’s something so marvelous and mysterious about those murky waters and I’m eager to tell you more about them. 

I started at the Gowanus Canal Conservancy in early September of last year and began working with a group of seven fierce females, all of whom are strong and unapologetic environmental advocates. These women continuously guide me, teaching me everything I need to know to effectively lead our educational programming, which consists of walking tours, Citizen Science water quality testing field trips, clean and green stewardship events, and a whole lot more. This crash course gave me an intense and comprehensive understanding of the Gowanus Canal and why it’s so important to teach others about it. It’s not only a waterbody, but a place that has allowed me to refine my skills as an environmental educator and advocate, and harness a passion that lights a fire within my soul. So let’s dive right in. 


Service In Schools Leadership Institute

The Early Days

The Gowanus Canal is known as one of the most polluted bodies of water in America, but it wasn’t always this way. In fact, this canal began its life as a salt marsh — a wild, natural ecosystem that harbored an abundance of plant and animal life. Native American people, like the Lenape, depended heavily on the Gowanus salt marsh lands, respectfully utilizing its natural resources. These resources consisted of long and wild grasses, a plethora of fish and oysters, and brackish water, a mix of both salt and freshwater. (The water is brackish because the canal is linked to the Atlantic Ocean, the East River, and Hudson River.) 

Aside from harboring plant and animal life, salt marshes also provide protection. Being on an island, residents are subject to heavy coastal storms. In years past, salt marshes had the potential to reduce the speed and impact of these storms by absorbing the waves as they came through. Unfortunately, this particular salt marsh was later transformed into a canal, where much of the aforementioned natural greenery was paved over. This was not abnormal for the growing city. In fact, more than 75% of New York City’s salt marshes and wetlands have been paved over for development. This puts residents in a great deal of danger when considering the impacts of climate change and the inevitable future of storms increasing in both frequency and intensity. But before I get ahead of myself, I need to explain how the canal ever came to be. 

During the period of urbanization in the early 1600s, European settlers invaded the Gowanus area. (You know, the original immigrants, our ancestors.) They forced the Native people out and began building homes of their own. But it wasn’t until the late 1700s/early 1800s, when the industrial period kicked off, that environmental change really starting taking shape. To start, the European settlers decided to transform the salt marsh into an industrial canal to ensure a more effective transportation route. Obviously, there were no cars, highways, or Amazon Prime orders at this time and people wanted things faster and easier. (Such is the American way.) The salt marsh was dredged and channelized and bulkheads were installed to make room for boats. The Gowanus Canal quickly became one of the busiest working canals in America, which as you can imagine, did contribute a bit to its pollution problem. However, boat pollution was and is the least of this canal’s problems. 


Brownstoner – Historic Gowanus Canal

 Great Big Polluters 

During the same time the salt marsh to canal transformation was taking place, factories were being built up along the degrading shoreline. These factories came in all shapes and sizes — some were for box manufacturing, others for paints and inks, and then there were the three manufactured gas plants (MGPs). Nearly all industry played a role in polluting the Gowanus waters, but the MGPs were by far the biggest contamination culprits. These plants converted coal into electric energy, but in doing so, created a toxic, carcinogen-rich byproduct called coal tar. 

Coal tar can be described in two ways: on the bottom of the canal, it appears as slimy, black, and somewhat chunky. Coal tar has been lovingly nicknamed Black Mayonnaise for those reasons. However, coal tar is a gas and has the ability to seep both below the sediment and above the water and into the air. This form of coal tar appears as a colorful, oily sheen, similar to a soapy bubble blown from a toy wand. Coal tar, of course, is far more dangerous than a soapy bubble. It smells a lot worse too. 


Coal Tar (Black Mayo)















So back to the MGPs. Once this byproduct was created, it was immediately dumped into the canal, along with a host of heavy metals, including mercury and lead. The industry workers wanted nothing to do with the heinous materials and there were obviously no laws at the time forbidding this action. 

In 1972, The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) passed the Clean Water Act, a law which made the dumping of toxic material illegal. While the Clean Water Act has made a significant difference, it arrived far too late to reverse the damage. The waterway is still very heavily saturated with the material, which is bad for humans, animals, and plants alike.

Coal tar, despite how toxic it may be, has its fair share of competition in contaminating the Gowanus Canal. 

More than 60% of New York City utilizes a combined sewer system, which means all wastewater and stormwater flow through the same pipe. In theory, this material should be transported to a wastewater treatment facility to be scrubbed of all contaminants, then released into nearby waterways. Unfortunately, too much rainfall can overwhelm the sewer system, rendering it impossible for all material to be treated. And where do you think all of that excess, untreated material goes? Our waterways! This process is referred to as Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) and it’s a huge issue not only for the Gowanus Canal, but also for all other waterways in New York City, and many other waterways in older cities around the world. 

Back when these sewer systems were initially built, CSO wasn’t a concern to anyone, as was and still is the case for most environmental issues. But back then, the populations were smaller and when CSO events did occur, the damage was far less frequent and impactful. Today, in New York City, it takes less than 1 inch of rainfall to trigger a CSO event, which means they happen all the dang time. And it’s disgusting

But let’s consider what combined sewage overflow really consists of because it’s easy to chalk it all up to “stormwater” and “wastewater”, but there’s a lot more going down our drains and into our sewers than we often realize. A more comprehensive list of household CSOs include shampoo, conditioner, soap, face wash, toothpaste, urine, feces, toilet paper, detergent, bleaches and other toxic cleaning supplies, foods, liquids, cooking oils, and all the other weird stuff that somehow makes it down your drain. A more comprehensive list of outdoor CSOs include animal waste, car oil and other chemicals, litter, cigarette butts, and anything else rainwater can pick up as it flows down the street. And don’t forget, big industries also put a lot of nasty stuff down the drain — chemicals and toxic materials we probably know nothing about. Now imagine swimming in a big pool filled with all of this stuff? I don’t think so. 

How to successfully eliminate combined sewage overflow is a big question with no easy answer, and with the constant increase in population and climate change-related storms, change needs to happen quickly. Every year, the Gowanus Canal receives 377 million gallons of CSO. During Superstorm Sandy, it received 11 million gallons, just within the span of a few days. That’s a lot of material for our 1.8 mile canal. 


CSO Warning Sign

Luckily, there is hope. There are solutions to both of these complex issues and work is being done on a daily basis to ensure a cleaner and greener future. When I get to this portion of the tour, the children I’m teaching are skeptical, as would any reasonable, earth-loving humans be. But I’m also seeing the fire in their eyes. These kids are pissed and they want to do something about it. I once asked a group of sixth graders why they think people felt the need to transform a salt marsh into a canal. The answer was transportation of course, but instead I was met with “Because human beings are selfish. They have no respect for the environment and only care about themselves. They don’t care if the world burns down.” 

Imagine having that in your head at the ripe age of 12? These kids are going to make a difference. They must. 

It’s Complicated 

Back in 2008, the city put forth a request to rezone the Gowanus neighborhood. However, it was quickly shut down, as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was working its case for a Superfund cleanup for the Gowanus Canal. In 2010, the EPA officially declared the Gowanus Canal a Superfund site, squashing any final hopes for a rezoning at that time. Now, nearly a decade later, plans for rezoning have returned.

The initial purpose for the rezoning was to convert an old, industrial neighborhood into one of mixed use — a space filled with residential developments, restaurants, the works. This is still very much the case, but that overall vision could become much more meaningful. This transformation has the potential to be a very good thing, but it can also be terribly bad. For instance, all developments will be required to provide at least 40 feet of public space surrounding the canal. This provides an opportunity to enjoy additional greenspace as the canal becomes a healthier waterbody. A con that often comes up with any form of new development though, is the potential for gentrification. By building modern, high end developments, the price of real estate will soar, pushing lower income residents out. This happens all over New York City and all over the world. And while the rezoning proposal promises a small portion of additional affordable housing, current low-income developments are not well maintained. Plus, when we see the term “affordable housing” we must ask ourselves, affordable for who? 

During Superstorm Sandy, lower income residents living in the Gowanus housing community suffered the most. Not only does the housing complex lie directly on a floodline, but it is also neglected in many ways with damages, outdated components, and a general weak infrastructure. Residents of the Gowanus Houses were without power for 11 straight days, which meant disabled residents were unable to utilize elevators to leave their homes. They, along with other Gowanus residents, dealt with a significant amount of flooding, which brought toxic material from the Gowanus Canal up into the streets. 

But on this topic of nasty storms and climate change, it’s important to mention that this rezoning provides an opportunity to create a stronger, more resilient waterfront, one that could possibly withstand a future filled with intense storms. The Gowanus Canal Conservancy is working hard to promote its Lowlands Master Plan. This plan provides an abundance of suggestions and ideas for landowners and community members in an effort to build a neighborhood with a significant environmental focus. The goal is to create a space that is both effective in its green infrastructure and enjoyable for visitors and residents. 


Gowanus Canal Conservancy – Lowlands Master Plan

“Gowanus was once a literal lowland – a productive tidal marshland with a deep floodplain, salt meadows and oysters the size of dinner plates. Leveraging the upcoming Superfund cleanup and DEP’s investment in green and grey infrastructure, the Lowlands includes watershed and site-scale strategies for a cleaner, more resilient urban ecosystem.”  

The Conservancy is frequently making updates to this master plan to reflect community opinions and suggestions. This is very much a shared process. The Lowlands Master Plan provides a great deal of promise for a less frightening future, but community support is essential. If landowners choose to turn the other cheek, this work will be all for nothing. 

Nearly every space along the canal has been purchased. These developments will bring in hundreds, if not thousands, of toilets further contributing to the issue of CSO. There are plenty of responsible ways for landowners to manage this waste, but the question is, will they? 

The Turning Tides — Superfund Status 

In 2015, Christopher Swain went for a swim in the Gowanus Canal, and no, he wasn’t running from the cops as many often do. He intentionally did this on Earth Day to raise awareness for our waterways and to display just how badly we’ve damaged them. His plea for better water quality standards was heard loud and clear that day. 

Swain is not alone in utilizing the waterway as a means for advocacy. The Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club often holds free, public events, which include a self-guided canoe or kayaking adventure. Some cringe at the thought, but many take the opportunity to learn more about the canal and gain a better understanding for what needs to be done. You can’t care about something you know nothing about, and this organization gets you up close and personal with Gowanus water. Though, I would advise you to keep your hands and feet in the vehicle at all times. 

While most wouldn’t jump into toxic sludge to prove a point, many think quite similarly to Swain. It’s safe to say that the tides are turning and positive change is en route. 

As mentioned earlier, the EPA declared the Gowanus Canal a Superfund (or Superfun!) site in 2010. This began a very long and tedious process. Many assume that once a Superfund site is declared, cleanup efforts begin almost instantly, but the process involves a lot more than people realize. To date, the total cleanup is projected to cost around $600 million, with estimates increasing every day. When I ask my students who’s responsible for paying this cost, I usually hear responses like, “Taxpayers!”, “Residents!”, or my personal favorite, “Donald Trump!” (if only that were true). But none of them have ever gotten it right.  

Potentially Responsible Parties (PRPs) are funding the cleanup. Remember those manufactured gas plants? Those are now owned by National Grid, who is responsible for funding roughly $100 million. Other liable corporations include Con Edison, Viacom, Sears, and the City of New York.

But what exactly is the Superfund accomplishing? The goal is to solve one of the canal’s two major problems — the complete removal of coal tar. To do this, the EPA has a two step process referred to as dredging and capping. Workers begin by dredging (removing) up to 10 feet of contaminated sediment. That sediment is then transported to a dewatering facility, where water is separated from the contaminants. The water is treated and brought back to the waterway, while the contamination is brought to a landfill in New Jersey. I wasn’t very pleased when I was first given this information, but as it turns out, the complete elimination of toxic waste is pretty challenging and would definitely cost a pretty penny. Coal tar is referred to as a legacy pollutant for this reason, it’s really tough to get rid of. 

The second step of this process, the capping, is exactly what it sounds like. A three-layer cap is placed at the bottom of the canal to ensure no additional coal tar rises to the top. Unfortunately, since coal tar is such a powerful gas, it has the ability to seep hundreds of feet down. It would be impossible to dredge that much material or to ever ensure all portions of the coal tar was removed. The cap will keep that material out (hopefully). 

While the cap will provide a top layer that promotes the rebuilding of habitat, the habitat that currently exists in the canal will be disrupted and threatened. And YES, the canal has plenty of plant and animal life! If you had a super safe scuba suit and dove into the canal, you would likely find Atlantic Silversides, mummichogs, minnows, blue crab, horseshoe crab, eels, and mussels, to name a few. Floating on top of the water, you would find Snowy Egrets (a type of herron) and ducks. Along the shoreline, you would find a cornucopia of both native and invasive plant species. 


Gowanus Canal Conservancy – Superfund Site

The canal formerly housed an abundance of large oysters, but they’ve unfortunately been gone for quite some time. Luckily, there are many organizations, including the Billion Oyster Project, working hard to bring them back. Oysters, being filter feeders, are of utmost importance, as they have the ability to purify contaminated waters and would prove to be extremely beneficial to our waterways.

As a member of the Community Advisory Group (CAG), I have the opportunity to hear from EPA and City representatives at our monthly meetings. We receive updates on cleanup progress and whatever else they wish to bring up. This ensures the Gowanus community is aware of relevant changes as they’re taking place. CAG meetings can be really effective spaces.

The cleanup process will likely take quite a few years. Projections change often, but as we come closer to the decade mark of when the Superfund was announced, I think it’s clear that we still have a ways to go.

Going Green

So now we have a whole other issue to deal with — combined sewage overflow. Now, with the assistance of both green and gray infrastructure, CSO can be successfully managed. But we need a lot of it. Green infrastructure deals specifically with green spaces that can mimic nature’s natural processes, mainly to absorb stormwater. Gray infrastructure deals specifically with our sewers and how we can store additional sewage material in separate storage tanks or tunnels. The City is currently working to increase green and gray infrastructure in the very near future, however, even after all of the planned projects are completed, the Gowanus Canal will still receive about 115 million gallons of CSO per year. Of course, a 262 million gallon reduction is a great start, but we still want more. We want a waterway that can host a more diverse, vibrant collection of habitat and we want a waterway that can be used for recreational purposes. 

While both types of infrastructure are essential, my focus is always on the green. Green infrastructure is crucial for urban landscapes because it offers something a city rarely has. The city is inundated with concrete, pavement, and other impermeable surfaces. And what happens to stormwater when it hits the pavement? It just rolls right down the street, until it ends up in a sewer or a waterway, further contributing to CSO. But in less urban environments (imagine the countryside), CSO isn’t an issue because stormwater is easily absorbed by trees, plants, grasses, and other greenery. Thus the importance for green infrastructure in New York City. 

I discuss this issue with my students and walk them over to a bioswale, which is also referred to as a rain garden. Bioswales are incredible because they’re aesthetically pleasing greenspaces, filled with strong native plants, that can hold way more stormwater than one would ever expect. Bioswales look incredibly similar to tree pits, but have an inlet and outlet for water to filter in and out. A standard, 20ft x 5ft bioswale can hold 2,250 gallons of stormwater during any single rain event. Lucky for us, the desire for bioswales is constantly increasing, which means there are bioswales popping up all over NYC, helping to mitigate CSO. Though these structures seem simple, they’re actually highly engineered. Each bioswale is roughly 5 feet deep and is filled with materials like geotextile, porous concrete, gabion, native soil, and gravel to ensure maximum absorption. 

Bioswales are also low maintenance and the minimal maintenance that is required is handled by the Department of Environmental Protection, or DEP. Maintenance typically consists of tasks like removing litter, weeding, and pruning. 

There are also a host of green infrastructure projects throughout the city making an even larger impact. Sponge Park, while similar to a bioswale, is much larger and far more advanced. Sponge Park utilizes two massive underground storage tanks and can hold up to 1-2 million gallons of stormwater during a single rain event. 


DLAND Studio – Sponge Park

Other GI projects include rainwater harvesting tents, green roofs, and blue roofs, all of which are utilized at the Gowanus Canal Conservancy site. 

Funny enough, the last place I take my students is Whole Foods. And no, not for the delicious, overpriced snacks. As it turns out, this one specific Whole Foods in Brooklyn was deemed the most sustainable in the entire state of New York. Solar panels, wind turbines, electric car charging stations, permeable pavers, and an abundance of greenspace are some of the items visible by the parking lot. On the roof, Gotham Greens maintains one of a few rooftop gardens, offering its produce downstairs in the store. The Whole Foods building was also built completely from reused and recycled materials. Not many supermarkets operate this way, so it’s a joy to see that some corporations are doing their part to work in a sustainable, environmentally friendly manner. 

A Glimmer of Hope

When I wrap up my walking tours with students, I like to see what they took away from the 1.5 hours we just spent together. We also talk about ways they can make a positive impact on the environment. 

If there’s any single message I can leave with you, it’s this: We can all do our part to reduce harm to this earth. A lot of folks have the “my one vote doesn’t count” or “the big corporations are the ones to blame” mentality when talking about the environment, but if one million people collectively give up their plastic straws, we’re all making a big impact and we’re also driving the demand down for plastics — encouraging companies all over the world to adopt alternative practices. (i.e. providing metal, compostable, or paper straws in restaurants.) Change can happen if we make it. 

So here are a few ways you can make an ever so slight change to your daily life: 

  • Reduce your personal water use, especially during a storm. This will reduce CSO if you live in or anywhere near a city.
  • Say no to plastic straws or bring your own reusable straw. 
  • Say no to single use plastics in general (plastic silverware, plastic bottles, plastic containers, etc.) All of these items are made in a reusable form, so run to Target and grab yourself a to-go silverware set and a trendy reusable bottle. 
  • Eat less meat (or eliminate it if you’re feeling brave.) Meat consumption provides the highest rates of carbon emissions worldwide. (Beef is the worst offender.) Simply reducing your meat intake even a slight amount can drastically reduce your carbon footprint. 
  • Reduce energy consumption or consider renewable energy options, like solar.
  • Reduce, reuse, recycle, and compost! Try to create less waste when possible, reuse and recycle when you can, and compost if possible! There are a variety of compost options out there and I’m happy to help you learn more about them. 
  • Shop local. This reduces transportation-related carbon emissions. 
  • Shop for environmentally-friendly products, like cleaning supplies, hygiene supplies, etc. 
  • Support environmental issues on local and national levels. 
  • Volunteer with local organizations (like the Gowanus Canal Conservancy)
  • Educate yourself on potential solutions and share them with others! 

You get the picture. There’s a lot we can do out there and the above are just a few examples. I know all of this can sound a little daunting, but just remember, there’s hope! We’ve got a whole new generation of kids gearing up to fight this climate crisis, and while they shouldn’t have to step up the plate, many of them seem eager to do so. Like Ethan, a sixth grade boy I met on one of my tours. He told me, 

“When I grow up I want to become a Marine Biologist. I’ve wanted that since the third grade. I love doing things like this and taking any opportunity I can to learn about this stuff. Everything going on in the world can be so frustrating. Like people who litter! I’ll never do that. I’ll carry my trash with me for miles. But yeah. I’m really excited to become a Marine Biologist.” 


Students Discussing CSO

Ethan gives me hope and I hope he gives you hope too. And as for the Gowanus Canal, there are undeniable hurdles ahead. But I am confident that I will see a day where these murky waters once again offer home to a variety of species. 


Fish Are Friends. And Yes, Sharks Count.

Environment, film

Summer wouldn’t be the same without those quintessential blockbuster hits that we all know and love. Jaws, one of the most prominent and successful blockbuster films of all time, reeled in $14 million in its first weekend back in 1975. Though the film came out more than 40 years ago, its impact has been everlasting—in a very negative way.

A preview for the upcoming film The Meg, —a term short for Megalodon, the largest prehistoric shark in the world—reminded me of the messaging behind Jaws. If you haven’t seen the preview yet, think Jaws, but with a submarine instead of a boat.

While these films can be fun and thrilling to watch, they send a terrible message about these astonishing sea creatures. Sharks are dubbed as “killing machines” or “deadly predators” when really sharks are nothing to fear. In fact, sharks should be fearing us. In 2013, Marine Policy reported that roughly 100 million sharks are killed by humans annually. And how many humans are killed from shark attacks annually? About five. According to National Geographic, you have a 1 in 63 chance of dying from the flu and a 1 in 3,700,000 chance of being killed by a shark during your lifetime.

When we negatively depict something, we don’t care what happens to it. In fact, we often go out of our way to cause harm. Now due to overfishing and human-caused climate change, a variety of shark species are endangered, ranging from vulnerable to critical. We need to protect these creatures with all of our being, along with the numerous other endangered species on the planet.

We’re in the midst of the one week completely dedicated to these super swimmers—and yes, I’m talking about Shark Week. I encourage you to take the time to learn about the various species of sharks (there are hundreds!) and appreciate them for what they are and offer. In order to protect something, we first must love and understand it.

Look, I’m not saying you can’t support films like Jaws and The Meg, though that wouldn’t be the worst idea. However, if you do decide to support these films and others like them, please don’t support the negative messaging. Sharks are widely misunderstood, just like some of us humans out there. Give them a chance.


To learn more, tune into Shark Week on Discovery Channel or check out some of these other resources below:

Have a fin-tastic #SharkWeek!

Ditching Meat? Here’s What You Can Expect.


Has your love affair with Meatless Monday finally escalated to a recurring week-long commitment? Whether you’re going vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, flexitarian, or something in-between, the process of adjusting to a brand new diet can be a huge challenge. Adopting vegan values absolutely changed my life, but I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve had to jump a few hurdles to make my diet work. There are plenty of pros for going plant-based, but a simple Google search can tell you that. Today I want to share my 5 biggest vegan venture obstacles to give you a better idea of what you might encounter in the beginning.

  1. The transition can be brutal.

Every human body is different and will respond differently to change. A lot of people experience easy, breezy, beautiful transitions to a new diet, but for me, that was not at all the case. Now, when I decided to cut off meat and dairy, I went cold turkey (pun intended). And while I don’t really recommend it, I knew it was the only way my stubborn self would truly succeed. I thrive on snapping my fingers and making aggressive changes to my life, but I also recognize this is not in everyone else’s best interest.

While I had previously eliminated red meat from my diet and was eating a very small amount of chicken per week, cutting out dairy was brand new to me. I didn’t realize just how big of a toll that would take on my body, but boy, was I in for a surprise. Skipping the gruesome details, I had about 2-3 weeks of nearly unbearable stomach pain. I was going to the bathroom 5-6 times per day and was dealing with chills, sweats, the whole nine yards. It felt like my body was fighting a serious flu and trying to flush everything out. I went to my primary care doctor to discuss my stomach issues, but he assured me it was all relatively normal. Luckily, not long after that visit, things finally began to shake out. My body had re-calibrated to my new plant-based diet. This would not have happened had I eased into things and made smarter adjustment choices, but I later realized that having such a terrible transition would deter me from ever wanting to go back to my old ways, so some good did come out of it.

Image result for juice generation

Juice Generation

  1. Your mental health may be at stake (or not).

There have been a lot of conflicting, controversial findings about plant-based diets linking to depression and anxiety. While most of what we hear is pretty inconclusive, it’s not a bad idea to educate yourself on the overarching discussion. Some studies have expressed an increased risk of depression and anxiety after cutting meat out of their diets, and some report higher levels of OCD/ED tendencies, but the evidence as to why is extremely spotty. Some experts believe meat is needed for healthy brain function, though others argue the large amounts of hormones, antibiotics, and other mystery chemicals found in meat and dairy can contribute to the change in mental state when removing it from a diet.

My primary care doctor explained to me that switching to a plant-based diet could increase the intensity of my anxiety and depression, as I was already predisposed and experienced to those behaviors. He was right. My mood was intensely different for about a month (though, this wasn’t completely driven by my consumption. There were other factors, too.) But eventually, it leveled itself out.

Many speculate this potential increase in anxiety, depression, OCD, and ED can be directly related to the new limitations and restrictions we’ve placed on our own shoulders. It may have nothing to do with the food itself, but everything to do with the way we accept this new change. People also report noticing no change in mental state at all. The short version? These links are inconclusive and we don’t really have many answers. However, it’s important to be aware.

  1. You have to do the math. (Ugh, I know!)

When switching to a new diet, the preconceived notion is often to subtract. “I will remove meat and/or dairy from my diet and that’s that!” Unfortunately, it isn’t that easy and you’ll burn yourself to the ground with your vast limitations. While subtracting is a big part of the switch, you need to add, too. Any value that is lost in the foods you are removing need to be added back in other ways. This may mean doubling down on leafy greens, incorporating more beans and rice into meals, or even supplementing with pills like iron and B12. You need to keep track of what you’re putting into your mouth to understand what’s missing. In fact, deficiencies can lead to pretty substantial problems in the long run. Using a fitness tracker can help determine the changes you may need to make. There is a huge learning curve here, so don’t get too discouraged!


  1. Mistakes will happen.

If you’ve eaten meat and/or dairy for your entire life, you can’t expect to avoid every possible slip-up. You just need to learn not to cry over spilled milk (almond, coconut, hemp, etc.). Whether you accidentally miss an ingredient on a box or barbarically devour a double bacon cheeseburger, it’s not the end of the world. In fact, I think it’s a healthy part of the process.

Early on, I discovered I have anemia due to an iron deficiency (another hazard to my going cold turkey). It wasn’t a big deal, but I was still trying to manage my iron levels. One day, I felt fed up and barbarically devoured a double bacon cheeseburger (as mentioned above) and I knew that was the last time I would ever give into that kind of temptation. I really regretted it, both in the mind and body. I felt disappointed in myself and I realized I didn’t even have the taste for meat anymore. It just didn’t appeal to me. More importantly though, my body reacted in the most violent of ways. I won’t get graphic, but just know it was bad. After that, I knew I had learned my lesson. It’s okay to have those moments because they bring you back to your home base. They remind you why you do what you do and they can strengthen your ability to make positive choices in the future.

  1. There’s a lot to learn.

From incorporating new foods and cooking new dishes to jumping your own set of personal hurdles, every day is a learning experience. It takes time, energy, and commitment to take your diet to the next level, but in my opinion, the rewards are so worth it. I’ve considered myself a vegan just under a year now and in that time, my appreciation for living creatures, nature and the environment, and my body have skyrocketed. I feel more at peace with myself with a distinct sense of pride for doing the right thing. I would recommend this change to anyone.

So whether you’re going vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, flexitarian, or something in-between, it all matters. It all makes a huge difference in the world. Sure, you’re going to encounter new challenges that you’ve yet to face, but the pros can absolutely outweigh the cons. You’re living a life that promotes a healthier version of yourself, while also protecting animals and the environment. What could be better?

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Wholesome Culture

Diving Into National Geographic’s Encounter: Ocean Odyssey

Blog, Environment, Science

It’s not every day that you can hop on the subway, head to Times Square, and submerge yourself hundreds of feet below sea level. Thanks to National Geographic’s Encounter: Ocean Odyssey, an interactive and immersive underwater adventure, swimming with sea life has never been easier.

From the moment you step through the aqua-colored mist, it’s clear you’ve left Manhattan and embarked on a journey like no other. Nat Geo’s Encounter guides you from the South Pacific to the West Coast of North America, bringing a better understanding of the magnificent life we’ve discovered and the excitement and mystery of all that remains unknown.

The best part about Ocean Odyssey is the all-ages access pass to some of the world’s most beautiful, but dangerous places. This experience provides fun for the entire family. No waivers necessary. As a 23-year-old nature enthusiast, I can admit that I had just as much fun as the four-year-old explorer stomping around as the bioluminescent coral changed color around her.


While Ocean Odyssey serves as an educational experience about ocean life, this isn’t the typical exhibit-style museum trip. Nat Geo provides meaningful and engaging experiences, like a kelp forest maze, a sea lion training encounter, a 3D ride through a school of fish, and a room full of games and quizzes to keep your wits sharp. Every station gives visitors a sense of how these aquatic creatures live, thrive, and survive in their environments.

I would be remiss to exclude the overarching theme of advocacy and activism throughout the encounter. Nat Geo takes a subject as complicated as climate change and conveys the issue in a way that anyone could understand. There are many moments, both subtle and obvious, that prove how important and urgent human action continues to be. Luckily, there are numerous ways to engage and get involved with important issues like coral bleaching, pollution, and plastic use from signing pledges and promising to make small changes to sharing newfound knowledge with friends and family. Everyone at this encounter can make a difference, and any difference is commendable.

National Geographic has always been and continues to be an environmental organization very close to my heart. It educates young minds of the most critical environmental issues of our time and encourages action and change for the better. I will always support this amazing work and I hope you will too.

Tickets start at $32.50 and can be purchased here.

A portion of the proceeds will support National Geographic Society’s nonprofit work in conservation, exploration, research, and education.


Beef Up Your Diet With The New Plant-Based Beyond Burger

Environment, Science

For many meat lovers, the thought of giving up that juicy steak is daunting. Unfortunately, with its high carbon emission production rate, meat consumption is a leading cause of climate change. If more people transitioned to plant-based diets, or even reduced meat intake to some small degree, the effects of climate change would decrease exponentially.

The fact is, transitioning to a vegan, vegetarian, or reduced-meat diet is really, really challenging. And for those who love meat, the transition seems near impossible.

But what if carnivores could have their meat and eat it too?

The Beyond Burger is the answer. The Beyond Burger is a plant-based patty that provides 20 grams of plant protein per serving. That means it packs even more protein than a traditional meat patty. In fact, when you compare the Beyond Burger to a traditional meat patty, this plant-based powerhouse wins on all counts. It’s even completely free of antibiotics, hormones, genetically modified organisms, soy, and gluten.

Beyond Meat Weigh In

So what is this burger actually made of, if not meat? Peas are the primary protein source and beet juice is used for color. There are a few other ingredients too, like sunflower oil, food starch, and citrus fruit extract. The exhaustive list of ingredients and nutrition information can be found here.

I first learned about this new burger brand after Leonardo DiCaprio publicly announced his endorsement and investment in Beyond Meat on Twitter. As one of my biggest environmental role models, I knew I had to give it a try.

During my lunch break, I took a short walk to Terri, a small, vegan health food chain that just began selling the Beyond Burger. When I opened the packaging, I noticed that it looked exactly like any other burger. Color, size, toppings, you name it, everything seemed to be identical. After the very first bite, I realized what all the hype was about. I actually had to continuously remind myself that I was eating a serving of vegetables and not cow. It was that similar. Don’t get me wrong, there were a few subtle differences, like a slightly softer consistency (though, that could be due to preparation) and a beet-flavored aftertaste. (Though I wouldn’t consider those to be cons, just differences.)

The only true con was its $12 price tag. But like I said, I went to a small, all-vegan health food chain in the financial district. There isn’t much in that area of NYC that I would consider affordable, but there are other, more reasonable options available. The Beyond Burger tagline reads, “The world’s first plant-based burger that looks, cooks, and satisfies so much like beef it’s in the meat section of grocery stores.” That’s right, Beyond Meat patties are also available in a variety of grocery stores, including Whole Foods, Wegmans, and Shaw’s, to name a few. That means you don’t need to spend an arm and a leg at your local, high-priced cafes and corner stores. See the full distribution list here.

Giving up meat at any capacity isn’t easy. It requires commitment and determination. But in a world where we’re all constantly threatened by climate change and its destructive impact, considering a new option certainly isn’t the worst idea. (Besides, who couldn’t use a few extra servings of veggies?)

It’s never too late to make a change and do something positive for the planet, animals, and people.


Spirit Science

A Scientific Guide to Shrinking Your Carbon Footprint

Environment, Science

Whether you lean left, right, or somewhere in between, environmental issues are, and deserve to be, nonpartisan. Sadly, evidence backed up by science often evolves into heated political arguments, leaving everyone far too angry to focus on what truly matters: our planet.

I’m not here to preach my position to anyone. If you’d like to me to share my thoughts on topics like hydraulic fracturing, coral bleaching, the agricultural industry, and climate change as a whole, I’m more than happy to engage in conversation, but for now, I’d like to use this platform to offer some simple solutions to a serious problem.

In this country in particular, people tend to be pretty wasteful. This waste, whether we like to admit it or not, is detrimental to the health of our planet. The bigger our carbon footprints are, the more damage we cause. By definition, a carbon footprint is a measure of the amount of carbon dioxide produced by a person, organization, or location at a given time. The average person in the U.S. produces roughly 20 metric tons of carbon pollution annually, battling China for the highest amount of carbon waste in the world. That’s nothing to be proud of. (To calculate your carbon footprint, click here.)

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Stanford Kay

So below you’ll find a list of easy ways to conserve more, waste less, and reduce the size of your own carbon footprint. As the numbers demonstrate, living a more sustainable, eco-friendly life is in everyone’s best interest.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

This mantra can be used in your daily life if you really start questioning your actionsDoes the water really need to be running while you brush your teeth? Why did you just throw away three plastic water bottles, when you could be using a reusable bottle? Question the resources you’re using every day and see how you can reduce, reuse, and recycle them. Learn more here.

Eat less meat

While going vegetarian or even vegan is wonderful for the environment, I’d be foolish to think I could convince you all to do this. Eating less meat though, is entirely possible and hugely beneficial. Beef consumption is actually among the highest producers of carbon emissions overall, so even switching from beef to chicken is a massive step in the right direction. Skeptical? Check out this publication from the Climate Institute, or take a look at National Geographic’s “Before the Flood.” 

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The Campus Kitchens Project

Utilize public transit

Transportation is another huge contributor to carbon emissions, so utilizing carpools, buses, subways, trains, etc., will not only clear up traffic congestion, but will also keep the streets clean of pollution.  If you do own a car, consider a hybrid or electric option. Click here to read U.S. News’ list for best hybrid and electric cars.


Instead of throwing your food scraps in the trash, why not compost them? Decaying fruit and vegetable produce is perfect for natural fertilizer, and there are many ways to do your part in this process. (Hint: You don’t need to be a farmer or own a farm to compost!) To learn about compost bins, drop off sites, and compost do’s and don’t’s, check out the links below:

Support renewable energy

Solar is in right now, and while the upfront costs seem, well, costly, those funds come back around in the long run. It’s easy to shut the door on the salesperson who’s talking about something new and confusing, but take that opportunity to learn about renewable energy and its offerings. It may just be for you. Check out the pros and cons of solar below:

Learn more about climate change

The earth and our environment are undeniably complex. The issues we face today, tomorrow, and in our future are often times hard to grasp and frankly terrifying. Education gives power to the people and creates a platform for critical thinking and problem solving. This doesn’t mean you need to become a scientist, but you can share your knowledge with others and do your part to create a more sustainable future. If you don’t believe in me, or in climate change, how about NASA? 

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Use your voice 

Tons of environmental organizations are out there on the front lines making change. Engage, sign petitions, protest, donate, find involvement in any way possible. (And yes, while climate change should not be a partisan issue, sometimes it becomes one. It’s important to stand up for science and truth when necessary.) There is always something you can do. Here are a list of the organizations I frequently support and recommend:

To see how these organizations use funds, check out Charity Navigator.

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The Huffington Post

I hope you’ll consider making some of the above changes if you haven’t already. We need to take responsibility for our actions, no matter how small they may seem. Only then will we see a sustainable future. It’s not too late to make a change.

“The Earth does not belong to man — man belongs to the Earth.” — Chief Seattle