In the United States alone, it is estimated that we use over 500 million plastic straws each day! With roughly 326 million people in the U.S., that is like each of us using 1.5 straws every day.  Wow.  Do I really use a straw a day? Does that mean I throw away at least one straw a day?

Plastic straws, like coffee stirrers, water bottles, plastic shopping bags, yogurt cups and most food packages are single-use plastics.  Single-use plastics are also called “disposable plastics” because they are used only one time before they are disposed of.  Think about it… the useful “life cycle” of my straw is literally the amount of time it takes me to drink my Frappuccino.

Most single-use plastics, like straws, are made of polypropylene.  Polypropylene is a type of plastic made from a fossil fuel: petroleum oil.  Hmmmm…. Do I really want to be using up our limited, non-renewable natural resources for the “coolness” of sipping through a straw that I will throw away less than an hour later?


In fact, I am wondering…  Do I really need to use a straw at all?   Is it possible to drink my Starbuck’s Triple Carmel Frappuccino without a straw?  Could I actually just sip it straight from the cup?

IMG_1322Weird.  It works.   In fact, except for very few people with medical needs, straws are technically not necessary for drinking beverages or water.   FYI.  Your great grandparents did not need straws.  They didn’t even have straws.


Straws were first introduced in the United States in the early 1900s when fear of spreading diseases like polio raised concerns about drinking directly from a glass in public places.  But, back then, the “safety” straws were made of paper which could easily decompose in the environment or landfills.  However, in the 1950s, despite the discovery of the polio vaccine, straw usage skyrocketed.  Plastic had been invented!  The invention of plastics and rise of “fast food” restaurants found the perfect partnership.  This is when plastic straw usage became “cool” and rampant.  Today, ready to make drinking an “experience”, straws are everywhere… coffee shops, restaurants, school cafeterias, attached to juice boxes and coconut waters.

The Real Plastic Problem
Personally awakening to the frivolity of straw coolness and regret for literally “sucking up” natural resources are relevant reasons but not the driving reason for why I will put down my Last Straw today.   Today, I will use my last straw because plastic straws are made from polypropylene, a “super plastic” that took off in the 1950s due to its flexibility and durability:  The plastic sales companies’ pitch at the time was “It can last forever”… Yay!

“Lasting forever” is the big problem with my polypropylene straw and all plastic.  It is not biodegradable.   Plastics that begin with natural materials (fossil fuels) are man-made in such a way that living organisms like bacteria and fungi (bio – part of the biodegradable) cannot break the chemical bonds between the atoms apart.  My super plastic straw will never break down into the simple carbon and hydrogen molecules that it is made of.

So if plastic doesn’t biodegrade what happens to it? It is estimated that only 10-13% of  the millions of tons of plastic produced worldwide are recycled, therefore most of it ends up in landfills or littered.  Even if I don’t litter my straw, they are light and small and often just blow or wash away from trash collectors or land fills to end up in the natural environment.  A great deal of this single-use plastic finds its way to our oceans and has led to a real crisis for marine life…

Bali Scuba Diver Video


…. and ultimately our own lives.

In the ocean my straw will not biodegrade but it will degrade or break down into smaller and smaller bits over time due to weathering in the ocean.   The smallest bits of plastic are called “microplastics.”

microplastic production

These microplastics can easily work their way into the food chain and ultimately into our bodies.

plastic food chain

Action against plastic straws speaks louder than blogs.  Seattle and other cities, Hyatt, Starbucks and other companies… are already taking action and saying NO to plastic straws.

WATCH: Strawless in Seattle Video

Better late that never.  TODAY I put down my straw and will never again use a plastic straw because plastic “lasts forever”.
Will you join me?   #TheLastStraw #StrawWars

Not ready to give up straws for good… here’s a first step:

Use a paper straw.  Paper biodegrades quickly and easily.  Trees can be replanted.  Check out these really cool compostable, biodegradable paper straws that help fund sea turtle research … Awesome Paper Straws!

Looking for a fun and meaningful science fair project idea??
How about burying a bunch of plastic and paper straws in a compost pile (maybe you could try these “biodegradable plastic” ? straws too) …. dig them up and get their mass every two weeks… record your data.  Take pictures of changes.
How long before your paper straw biodegrades?

Bioacoustics for Reef Biodiversity

In honor of the upcoming  #WorldOceansDay  ~ this Friday, June 8th.… I thought I’d share some newly acquired knowledge…. Stay curious!

Coral reefs are hugely important ocean ecosystems that deserve our admiration and protection.  The ridiculous diversity of marine life that can be observed by just patiently maintaining neutral buoyancy in the same spot for a :45 minute dive is jaw dropping.

A few species I captured in Grand Cayman.

My niece, Katie, graduated from the University of Puget Sound with a degree in Biology. She then spent several years working as a conservation biologist in the Samoan Islands. Is that work?


Beyond the sea… Katie’s passion includes music.  A classically trained musician (piano, cello, etc. at your age), she has creatively combined her two loves: the ocean and music into hauntingly beautiful electronic compositions under her stage name, Hydrah.  Her musical art embraces bioacoustics as she weaves sounds from the coral reefs into her digital sound tracks.

Bioacoustics is a scientific field that combines biology and sound.  Our human ancestors “studied” bioacoustics for survival.  It was used for hunting prey or avoiding predators. More modernly, understanding echolocation or identifying bird songs and the howling of wolf packs might come to mind as bioacoustics being used to help us improve our understanding of the natural world.


Katie introduced me to an exciting, emerging field of research currently swirling around bioacoustics as it relates to protecting our endangered coral reefs.  Who knew this existed? Not me!  This might be an area that my sea-loving scientific students should consider for their futures… and our planet’s.

Scientists are learning that they can “listen” to coral reefs to identify and quantify the diversity of marine life living there. Using highly sensitive recorders, bioacoustic marine scientists can study the sound vibrations made by the various living organisms on the reef.  This is a non-invasive and possibly more efficient and accurate way of measuring the biodiversity of marine life on a coral reef than current methods of visually sampling and counting each organism.  Biodiversity is essential for the survival of unique ecosystems like kelp forests and coral reefs.  The diversity of life is what keeps food webs in balance.

Biacoustics could do more than just allow us to effectively analyze reef problems, bioacoustics could SAVE our reefs!  The greatest promise lies in the opportunity to record and playback these living sounds on coral reefs that have been bleached or otherwise damaged as a way of attracting larval fish and corals that can repopulate the ecosystem.   Here is a hope-filled post from a young scientist/blogger with direct experience in this budding field of bioacoustics as it relates to coral reef conservation…Reef Rhythms

Check out Katie’s music on YouTube that borrows sounds from a healthy and unhealthy coral reef.    Hydrah: Siren EP

Here you can compare the bioacoustic sounds for yourself…    Reef Sounds

And… if coral reefs inspire you…don’t miss this special opportunity to see the highly acclaimed documentary, Chasing Coral.  The Houston Museum of Natural Science (HMNS) has a one-night-only screening of the film at their Wortham Giant Screen Theatre on Wednesday, June 6th at 6pm.  Emma Hickerson, Research Coordinator for NOAA’s Flower Garden Banks and Marine Sanctuary, will be there to provide commentary about the film and to answer questions.  Ask her about opportunities to use bioacoustics to restore damaged reefs.  How could bioacoustics help our own Texas Gulf Flower Gardens?   Ticket link.
Chasing Coral Trailer

Chasing Coral