Sunday, December 30, 2012

Science News for 2012

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

Science News for 2012

Reflections, reviews, and resolutions parade before us during the week between Christmas and New Years. Deciding which scientific events of 2012 will have an impact on mankind would perplex most people.

Science News Magazine has decided on several most notable stories because they literally kept them up by breaking in the middle of the night. Their top twenty-five best stories list included “You Really Can Learn While You Sleep,” “Milky Way Will Bite the Dust,” “Earth’s New Neighbor Looks Familiar,” and “Bionic Women (and Men) Get Closer to Reality.”

New species are still being discovered on the planet. A monkey with a blue rear end and blonde mane, the world’s smallest fly, a sponge shaped like a harp, and a “cave robber” spider are among the 16,000 to 20,000 new species that will have been described by biologists during 2012.

Although scientists have described about 1.9 million species so far estimates predict 6.8 million more to be discovered. It may take another 400 years to accomplish this task at the current rate.

Having been hit with cuts to the space program NASA enjoyed the successful landing of its newest rover, Curiosity, on Mars. Enthusiastic space scientists and millions of fans watched the perfect landing online. Dubbed “Seven Minutes of Terror” for the space scientists, the remarkable touchdown was broadcast on the big screen in New York City’s Time Square. It seems we will never get over our fascination with attempting to find signs of life on the Red Planet.

Prosthetic science produced some of the most promising moments for mankind during the year. Cathy Hutchinson, paralyzed by a stroke, was able to control a robotic arm through the use of an implanted brain chip. Olympic athletes ran on high-tech carbon blades and a young man was able to climb Chicago’s Willis Tower with a thought-controlled limb. Sight in patients suffering macular degeneration may be helped in the near future by a prosthetic that will be placed in the back of the eye. It is already on the market in Europe.

A naturally occurring event presented a rare picture in the sky during June. Venus steadily passed across the surface of the sun allowing scientists to see more of Venus’ upper atmosphere and its gaseous clouds that have been such a mystery. The last time the planet crossed the sun was in 1882 and 1874 and the next time will be in 2117 and 2125.

Nicolle Rager Fuller
The biggest news in physics was unveiled by Joe Incandela of the University of California, Santa Barbara. Finally, the answer to decades of scientific questioning appeared in the form of the Higgs, a subatomic particle which will help explain why the universe looks the way it does.

While you and I are tucked in our beds and fast asleep, scientists of our world are constantly making discoveries. Read about more 2012 discoveries in “Science News Top 25” at

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Spirits Everywhere

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager


Mannheim Steamroller has created my favorite versions of Christmas music for the last twenty-five years. I always get some growling from Hubby when he gets his fill of it during the holidays. A couple of years ago he changed his tune when he heard Mannheim’s “Up Above the Northern Lights on Christmas Night.”

The piece is a hauntingly dramatic musical reflection of the astronomical phenomenon scientifically known as the aurora borealis (northern) or aurora australis (southern) which usually occurs near the two poles of the earth. One of his bucket list goals is to go to see the lights in all their glory.

Proclaiming that “magic fills the air” and “spirits are everywhere” the lyrics get in your mind and won’t leave you. You can see it and hear it on with a video (see below) of the scientific wonder in action.

The lights have been observed since ancient times, but the earliest account is from Babylonian clay tablets during the time of King Nebuchadnezzar II in approximately 568 B.C.

The dancing curtains of magical colors have fascinated humans for thousands of years. Aristotle called them light torches, and Europeans of the Middle Ages thought that they were flaming heavenly castles or armies of warriors who had died in battle.

Children of Norway believed that the lights would swoop them up into the sky if they waved a napkin at them. Eskimos thought that the aurora was dancing animal spirits of deer, seals, and salmon. Inuit tribes thought that the spirits of the dead were playing football with a walrus skull across the sky.

Named after the Roman goddess of dawn, Aurora, and Boreas, the Greek name for north wind, the Northern Lights can appear as patches of light, streamers, arcs, or rays painted in colors of green, blue, violet, red, and yellow. On rare occasions, when solar storms are extremely violent, the lights can be seen much further south or north than the poles.

Solar winds from sun storms send charged particles to earth in the form of clouds of gas. Earth has a protective shield called the magnetosphere. When the particles collide with the magnetic field, they cause changes and generate currents which flow along the lines of magnetic force into the Polar region. When they run into oxygen and nitrogen atoms, they produce the dazzling aurora lights.

Auroras tend to be more spectacular during periods of high solar activity which cycles every eleven years. The activity has been known to damage our electrical power grid and satellite operations. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has sent satellites on several missions called FAST, POLAR, and IMAGE to observe the activity of the Northern Lights.
The best places to see the northern lights are closer to the poles such as Canada, Alaska, Greenland, and Antarctica. They happen all the time, but can only be seen with the naked eye at night.

As the song proclaims, “Christmas night...Let your dreams take flight.”

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Season of Senses

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

A Season of Senses

Without silver bells, pumpkin pie, colored lights, snowflakes, candlelight, carols, children’s smiles, and other favorite things, the holidays just wouldn’t be the same. Humans are sensory focused creatures.

We have now entered the winter wonderland of sensory awareness. With its unique collection of experiences that delight our senses, the Christmas season can enhance the enjoyment of stimuli like no other during the year.

So much of our pleasure in life as human beings comes by way of our senses of touch, taste, smell, hearing, and seeing. Each holiday during the year has its own special set of foods, songs, scents, colors, and textures for us to experience. Every culture around the world has its own unique celebrations with their special sensory experiences.

Our senses bring us pleasure and sometimes pain. They are our radar for the world around us and give us impressions that affect our mood and our interaction with our surroundings. Each one of us has smells, sounds, sights, textures, and tastes that connect us to our own Christmas memories.

My father’s favorite carol was the “Little Drummer Boy” so the sound of that makes me think of him. My sister and I always got a new doll from Santa when we were young, and even now I can clearly remember the smell of the vinyl as I went to sleep. My own children say that it’s not Christmas without the smell of the sausage and egg casserole waking them up.

Spreading glistening, white angel hair all over the tree was my task as a child. Since it was made of fiberglass, the pain of it and the redness of my hands lasted for a couple of days. That’s not a good memory. Who can ever forget the story of “The Little Match Girl” and its tragic descriptive ending?

If you want to increase your enjoyment this season, try some techniques to focus your senses. Take the time to breathe deeply and notice all of the specials scents around you whether they’re food or the cold, crisp air of the outdoors. Stare at the night sky and notice the brightness of the stars and the moon. Enjoy the light displays all over the city. Listen to holiday music and try to hear the softer sounds. Find a new holiday food and learn its history and how to prepare it.

Act like a kid and touch everything. Think of all the descriptive words that are unique at Christmas. Most of all, encourage your children to do all of these things with you.

Take a long walk on a dirt road and maximize the use of your senses. Notice the small things in your world. Slow down. None of your senses work their best when you rush.

Many of the things that bring us the most pleasure during the holidays don’t cost a thing. If you focus on your sensory awareness this season, you will come closer to experiencing the real meaning of Christmas-love.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Let’s Talk Turkey

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

Let’s Talk Turkey

Turkeys Painting by Claude Monet
Perhaps no other bird has been given so much respect and disrespect as the Meleagris gallopavo or wild turkey. Benjamin Franklin called him a “bird of courage” and French impressionist Claude Monet painted him in a landscape in 1876. If someone calls you a “turkey,” it’s not a compliment. Since this famed character will be the center of attention in most of our homes next week, I think he deserves some understanding.

The species was well known to the Native Americans and the Aztecs long before the explorers of the New World discovered them. They were so desired by the Spanish explorers that their king ordered that each ship must bring some of the birds home with return voyages.

Mayans used turkey parts in religious ceremonies praying for rain or asking for healing or a good harvest. Native Americans believed that shamans could turn themselves into turkeys and then prowl around enemy villages without being recognized.
The European settlers replaced the boar and the goose with the turkey for festive meals and thus made it the legendary center of the Thanksgiving feast. The official day for the holiday was set by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939, although it had been unofficially celebrated for years.

With a wingspan of about six feet, wild turkeys can fly at 55 miles per hour and run at 25 miles per hour, but their modern domesticated cousins can’t fly at all because they have been bread to weigh twice as much. In the wild, turkeys like to sleep in trees and specifically prefer oak trees. Scientists have found that they have twenty distinct vocalizations which are recognized by other turkeys.

Some people have proclaimed that turkeys are so stupid that they will stare up at rain until they drown. Researcher Tom Savaged studied the phenomenon and discovered that they can have a genetic condition which causes them to cock their heads and look into the sky for 30 seconds or more which may have led to the misunderstanding of the animal’s behavior. They have also been observed to have certain social interactions which indicate intelligence.

Wild turkeys forage for acorns, insects, seeds, roots and wild berries to eat. Early settlers found that the birds liked to live near humans and were friendly and trusting and would walk right up to them and even seemed affectionate. A male can weigh up to 38 pounds and is called a Tom turkey or a gobbler.

Although they have no ears, turkeys still have a keen sense of hearing. Hunters can testify that their peripheral vision is astounding because with a turn of their head, they can see 270 degrees and sense movement a hundred yards away. They have a poor sense of smell but do have an excellent sense of taste.

Like many animals that are raised for food, the domestic turkey is mistreated and misunderstood. I think I’ll be a little more thankful for my bird this year.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Force of Nature

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

A Force of Nature

From time to time, we are reminded that we are just a speck of sand in the universe. Last week was certainly one of those times for most of us. A storm named Sandy reacquainted us with the term “force of nature.”

Scientifically speaking there are four observed forces of nature. Gravity is what makes things fall to the ground, electromagnetic force is the attraction and repulsion between electric charges, strong force binds parts of atoms, and weak force is observed in radioactive decay.

There is also another more recently coined use for the phrase. NOAA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and FEMA, Federal Emergency Management Agency, teamed up in April 2012 to launch their “Be a Force of Nature” campaign.

Designed as an initiative to educate all citizens about national disasters and how to prepare for them, the program emphasizes the need to build a weather and disaster ready nation. Three areas of preparedness are required.

The first step involves knowing your risk and what types of hazardous weather might affect where you live and work. The second includes developing a plan for your family, creating an emergency kit, and obtaining a NOAA weather radio or downloading NOAA’s weather app. The third step requires you to become a force of nature yourself by committing to help educate your friends and family, and to communicate with people about impending disaster and set an example.

Emergency preparedness begins long before an event and should become a mindset for every individual. There is no doubt that in our ever changing world the need for individual responsibility in many areas of living is increasing.

Before Hurricane Sandy, the year 2011 held the record for the greatest number of multi-billion dollar weather disasters in our nation’s history. There were 1,000 deaths and 8,000 injuries related to severe weather. Extreme snowfalls, low and high temperatures, drought, flooding, tornadoes, and hurricanes join to make-up those numbers.

The Weather Ready Nation effort includes expanding the research and discussion about why our nation is experiencing such extreme weather patterns. Updating radar and satellite technologies will enable forecasters to communicate more clearly and enable responders to make wiser decisions.

One significant upgrade is dual polarization radar which will replace the 1988 Doplar radar systems at 160 sites across the country by mid-2013. The system will give better information about heavy rainfall, hail in thunderstorms, and the severity of a tornado.

Trends like high concentrations of population on our coastal areas, infrastructure decline, and population sprawl into rural areas increase the likelihood that weather events will have a more devastating effect because more lives will be touched.

Researchers point to factors like global warming as possible causes of the change in weather patterns that seem to be producing the unusual event of the past decade. Whatever the causes, we can only control our reaction to the events. Check out the NOAA website for more information you can use to become more proactive.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

“For A Charm of Powerful Trouble...”

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager


If you have consulted the three witches of Macbeth fame and are on the prowl for a fenny snake, eye of newt, toe of frog, adder’s fork, blind worm’s sting, lizard’s leg, and owlet’s wing, you might want to take a trip to the Great Dismal Swamp. Among its countless species of plants and animals, you are sure to find that rare delicacy that will make your broth boil and bubble.

Explorer William Drummond is credited with proclaiming the swamp covering thousands of acres in North Carolina and Virginia as “dismal.” Although Native Americans inhabited the area in 1650, early European settlers had little interest in the vast area. Governor William Drummond was the first to discover the 3,100-acre lake in the heart of the swamp that now bears his name.

As the years passed, the swamp served as an investment for entrepreneurs, a logging bonanza, a refuge for slaves, a hideout for escapees, a paradise for hunters, an enticing subject for writers and artists, and a home for thousands of plant and animal species. Human exploration finally gave way to preservation when in 2007 North Carolina officially designated it as the Dismal Swamp State Park.

One of the most memorable field trips that I ever took with a group of students was a trek through the swamp to Lake Drummond. Even with forty active middle-schoolers during early spring, there was a tranquility that remains indescribable for me. Sitting on the dock and enjoying our lunches, the kids and I could sense the peace that prevailed in that natural setting. Sounds of birds and children’s laughter echoed from across the lake and magnified the eeriness of that spot.

So much has been written about the swamp, which has fascinated everyone from George Washington, to Harriet Beecher Stowe, to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, to Robert Frost and to our own Bland Simpson, author and native of Elizabeth City.

Scientists have compiled observations and facts about its geological history and constantly studied the species which inhabit the area. One of the rarest ferns, the log fern, grows up to 48 inches high in the woods of the swamp. The Plunkenet flatsedge also flowers from July through October while the purplish-pink flowers mark the sandywoods chaffhead.

The longleaf pine, also known as the southern yellow pine, takes 100-150 years to reach its full size and sometimes lives to be 300 years old. Other plants for which there is concern are the Virginia least trillium, the silky camellia, sheep laurel, and purple bladderwort.

Among the threatened animals which live in the swamp are the bald eagle, red wolf, star nosed mole, and the southeastern shrew. Three species of poisonous snakes, cottonmouth, canebrake rattlesnake and copperhead also inhabit the swamp.

Teaming with life and breathtaking beauty, the Great Dismal Swamp is anything but dismal, and it is preserved just for you. Visit there and find a special peace.


Sunday, October 7, 2012

Living the Dragon Life

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager


Last week was “Be Kind to Animals Week” and our reaction at Port Discover was “isn’t that every week?” Humans have been known to go to extremes to make an animal happy. My case in point is Angus, the fifteen-inch bearded dragon, who now lives at Port Discover.

When the brownish-orange Australian native arrived at the science center, preparations escalated to make him contented in his new atmosphere. Research began as to what a proper Australian name would be, favorite diet items, habitat needs, personality traits, compatibility, and temperature requirements.

Soon, plans evolved for the construction of a palatial habitat fit for a dragon. With the help of the world’s best volunteers, one of the front display windows at the center was transformed into a little piece of pseudo-Australian heaven in which Angus would live.

A floor of sand and rocks, greenery, heating lamps, and special warming areas were all assembled to meet his every need. There’s even been talk of a pool for wading. Angus is an inland bearded dragon whose relatives lived in the arid woodlands and deserts of central Australia. His Port Discover habitat now has the long tree branches and rocks that he would have enjoyed basking on in his native land.

Angus spends his days catching crickets, munching on greens from the Kid’s Grow Garden, and going on field trips with the Port Discover educators to Albemarle area classrooms . He also makes public appearances at special events like the Saturday Farmers’ Market. Several days a week, he takes a stroll in the garden and swims in his own pool.

A harness was purchased for use during his outings, but when the leash was attached, we saw his “beard” and his spiky scales suddenly extend to full capacity in his attempt to show his displeasure. Maybe that had something to do with the fact that snakes along with birds and crocodiles are his natural enemies, so he might have mistaken the leash for and opponent.

Some visitors have suggested that Angus might need a friend to share his life. Since male bearded dragons are territorial, that might be a poor choice, and a female friend might mean babies eventually. For now, he seems quite happy with being the single king of his domain.

Our new pet has attracted a lot of attention from humans of all types. Kids come just to see how he’s doing and ask that he be taken out so they can pet him. Adult passers-by often stop to watch him, talk with him, and comment on his activities. It’s rather amusing to see an adult talking to a lizard on Main Street. His regular visitors delight in finding where he’s hiding or how high he’s perched on a branch.

Pets add a richness to our lives that can only be experienced by establishing a relationship between human and animal. Angus and the women at Port Discover who love him know that well.


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Go Outside and Play!

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

Go Outside and Play!

Not too many years ago, mothers frequently commanded their children to “Go outside and play! It’s a beautiful day.” It was both a defense and a blessing from a parent made weary from the chaos created by kids playing in the house.

September 24 begins “Take a Child Outside Week” in North Carolina, and is celebrated both nationally and internationally. Sometimes called “Leave No Child Inside Week,” the event is part of a movement that picked-up speed with the publication of the book Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv in 2005.

In 2008, Mr. Louv won the Audubon Medal for energizing “the national debate on the importance of connecting kids to nature.” Other recipients of that award have included Rachel Carson, Robert Redford, Jimmy Carter, and E. O. Wilson.

Perhaps Mr. Louv’s most startling proclamation is that he believes that we must start a movement to save our children from what he calls a “nature-deficit disorder.” He also suggests that many of the increases that we see in childhood obesity, attention difficulties, and even depression may be the result of an increasing lack of children’s direct contact with nature on a regular and frequent basis.

He writes that while our children’s worlds are “limitless in cyberspace” they are “shrinking in reality.” The world’s fixation on such fear of child endangerment caused by people, animals, and other things possibly lurking in the woods has had the effect of scaring kids right out of the woods and fields.

Studies have been done that prove that symptoms of attention-deficit disorder are reduced when the child spends more time engaging freely with nature. In addition, schools that use outdoor classrooms and other techniques to get kids outside seem to see improved test scores and an increase in the students’ ability to problem-solve.

Parents and teachers often sense the importance of children’s need to experience nature’s wonders, but they name many obstacles in the modern world that don’t support the effort. Lack of access to natural areas, too much homework, extra-curricular involvement, and competition from computers and television are some of the problems experienced when trying to get the kids outside.

Our area provides endless opportunities year-round for experiencing nature. We need only to take advantage of them, but it does take some effort on our part. Port Discover has developed a scavenger hunt to be completed in the Kid’s Grow Garden behind the center.

On October 20, 2012 from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm you can attend Dismal Day at the Dismal Swamp State Park and participate in a Family Fun Run/Walk. There will also be pontoon rides, creepy crawly critter crafts, and many other outdoor activities.

Use next week as your opportunity to start making spending time in nature with your family a permanent focus. As Mr. Louv asks, “if the disconnection between children and nature continues, who will become the future stewards of the earth...?”

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Knowing Too Much

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

Knowing Too Much
Sometimes it’s better that we don’t know. Last month, while keeping up with current events, I learned too much.

Charlie Naysmith was taking a walk with his father on the southern coast of Great Britain. Instead of walking by a large brownish- yellow rock, he picked it up to examine it. Now, he’s going to be $63,000 richer.

The curious eight year old found a piece of ambergris, which has a odor of its own and is sometimes used in expensive perfumes to prolong the scent. What’s really amazing about the substance, which is literally worth its weight in gold, is its origin.

Ambergris is produced in the intestines of sperm whale to protect them from the beaks of the squid that they often digest. Later, the whale vomits or poops out the excess, which then hardens and seasons, as it eventually floats to the shore.

Selling ambergris has been illegal in the United States since 1972 when the sperm whale became an endangered species. In New Zealand, it washes up on shore, and gangs control the territory, so that they can sell the substance and make a huge profit for themselves.

Author Herman Melville wrote an entire chapter in Moby Dick about how “fine ladies and gentleman...regale themselves with an essence found in the inglorious bowels of a sick whale.” Recently a 200-year-old fragrance used by Marie Antoinette was replicated using ambergris. It sold for $11,000 a bottle.

The ingredients found in some cosmetics are often, shall we say, unusual.

Lanolin, which is found in many lipsticks, shaving creams, skin creams, shampoos, and make-up removers comes from animal fur or hair. It is the sebum that is made from wax and the remains of dead fat-producing cells.

Squalene can be obtained by squeezing shark livers and is used in facial moisturizers, lipbalm, sunscreen, eye make-up, lipstick, and bath oils. When used, it is easily absorbed into the skin and combined with other oils. Wheat germ oil and olive oil are replacing squalene in many products.

Dead algae or diatomaceous earth is used in some acne treatments, facial cleansers, and exfoliates. You would recognize it as the slimy film on fish tanks. Cholesterol from animals is found in anti-aging and many other creams.

Guanine is formed by processing the scraped off scales of dead fish and then suspending them in alcohol. The result is a pearl essence that gives the iridescent quality to some cosmetics such as finger nail polish.

Other startling substances used in beauty treatments around the world include nightingale droppings, snail secretions, cochineal beetles, placenta creams, cow dung, and snake venom.

After all my research, I am left with the question—what kind of person first decided to rub nightingale droppings on her face or picked up that ambergris rock and smelled it? I don’t know, but what I do know is that I’ll be reading the labels from now on.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

It’s All in Your Head

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

It’s All in Your Head

Have you thought about your brain lately?

In 1990 President George Bush issued a proclamation making the nineties the “Decade of the Brain.” People were beginning to realize that the advancements in technology were advancing the field of neuroscience to new heights.

Electro encephalography (EED) measures the changes in electrical voltage in the neurons in the brain. Magneto encephalography (MEG) uses highly sensitive magnetometers to measure the electrical currents produced by brain activity. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) measures changes in blood flow during brain activity.

Since all science is based on observation, these new technologies have allowed researchers to study the human brain in ways never before possible. What have we learned, and has it really affected teaching and learning? The answer is as complex as the brain itself.

We have learned that the brain continues to change well past childhood and that it changes based on a person’s experiences and learning. Although the brain stops growing at age 18, it continues to make new connections throughout life. For some time, teachers have accepted that each child learns differently which has made strategic designing of lessons mandatory.

One of the most dynamic times during the brain’s development is right before puberty when the frontal cortex experiences an unexpected growth spurt, and the gray matter begins to thicken and rapidly grow connections. The older teen brain differs dramatically in anatomy, biochemistry, and physiology from the childhood brain.

In 2002, PBS’s Frontline aired a program titled “Inside the Teenage Brain” which you can still watch online. Several points are made about how the changing of their brains should affect how we deal with teenagers.

Cognitive skills are still being built in the teenage brain, and the skills of judgment and decision-making are immature and that actually causes the risky behavior that we sometimes see. You might say that the teen tends to be mentally clumsy, just like they are sometimes physically clumsy.

Just when parents begin to allow kids to stay up a little later and might actually lose control of bedtime, the child’s sleep need increases to 9.5 hours per night. The average teens get 7.5 hours per night which makes them operate at a deficit.

Strategies like allowing the student to catch up on sleep on the weekends and having later start times for school have been explored. Some researchers think that the number of hours of sleep that the student regularly gets is a better predictor of college success than SAT scores.

Other tips for parents include reading aloud and having conversations with children, which promotes brain development. Studies have shown that students who ate lunches that did not include artificial flavors, preservatives and dyes did 14% better on IQ tests.

By the way, the technical word for that problem of not being able to remember a word or name that’s on the tip-of-your tongue is called anomia. Yep, I’ve got that!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Fostering the Gift of Curiosity

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

Fostering the Gift of Curiosity

You can see it in their eyes. It sparkles and lights up their faces. It’s curiosity, and it must be cultivated and nurtured, or it will dim.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “ a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift would be curiosity.” Curiosity might be the mother of invention, but it is also the mother of learning.

Some children seem to lose some of their drive to learn and explore as they approach the middle school years, and teachers and parents become anxious to get back that childhood enthusiasm for learning. Where did it go?

Many books have been written, teaching techniques explored, and countless hours of research spent in the quest for the answer to what keeps the desire for learning at its peak.

Of course, there is no simple answer, but after many years of teaching, I believe that parents and teachers must continuously act as facilitators for learning. They should be relentless in their efforts to follow the interests that the child expresses and to provide materials and experiences in those particular areas of interest.

A child can be his own best teacher.

Childhood is full of opportunities for exploration through toys, games, books, movies, television, and countless child centered activities. Places like the Museum of The Albemarle, Arts of the Albemarle, and Port Discover are settings where kids can experiment and find their personal interests.

For all of the criticism directed at media, they also provide many golden sparks for kids’ curiosity. Finding Nemo, the Ice Age series, Madagascar series, Wall-E, Lorax, Rio, Bambi, and 2001, A Space Odyssey all cause kids to wonder about the world of science.

Although the science is not always the most accurate in such programs as “Sponge Bob” and other cartoons, they still might cause the child to ask questions and become interested.

That’s when the parent can seize the opportunity to acquire books, magazines, and materials from the library, take the child on to a museum or science program, or just probe for questions that the child might be wondering about and try to answer them together.

One activity that can be helpful is regularly discussing current science events. Just this summer, there have been so many topics to explore like global warming, drought, flooding, space exploration, archeological discovery, and the list goes on and on.

My newest discovery is which is a treasure house of free online videos, lessons, quizzes, games, and puzzles for kids, teachers, and parents. Organizations such as the British Broadcasting Company offer documentaries on a variety of topics such as prehistoric America, dinosaurs, and the Ice Age.

Remember that a child’s first question is usually “Why?” As their first teacher, you can easily become equipped with all that you need if you look around. You will probably learn something together, and that’s the fun of it.


Friday, August 3, 2012

Dragon in the House

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

Dragon in the House

Just when you think life can’t get any more interesting, something new comes along. This time it’s a lizard, a Pogona vitticeps, to be exact, otherwise known as a Bearded Dragon. The Australian native is normally a terrestrial, desert-dwelling lizard, but he also makes a wonderful pet.

Recently our two pet rodents, Squeakers and Lilly, departed this world, so we wanted to replace them. While having that conversation, we decided that it would be a good time to add to our species at the center.

We had many ideas, but acquiring a bearded dragon seemed to be the best prospect. We had the aquarium, a window that needed changing, and the knowledge about how to take care of the new animal.

One trip to the pet store, and he was ours. Our new pet is three years old and is accustomed to being held. We also got two young female rats which had been slated to be dinner for the snakes at the pet store. Saving them from that awful fate was an added benefit for us.

Bearded dragons are probably one of the few reptiles that can be tolerant of being handled by humans, which was a requirement for us because we wanted to be able to use it in some of our programs. Our new pet is three years old and is already accustomed to being held.

We are having a naming contest for the dragon, and visitors can vote for the names Angus, Edmund, Burnie, Heath, or Bruno which are all common Australian names. The name with most money in the jar will be the winner.

Both male and female lizards from “down under” have an expandable throat pouch with spiky scales that look like a beard when they are inflated for mating and aggression displays. Their body color depends on the soil in the region where they reside. Ours is a gold and light orange combination.

Our “beardie” is about a foot long and likes to spend long hours stretched out sunning himself in the window. He is furnished with his favorite foods, crickets and veggies from our garden.

Australia has not allowed the export of any native wildlife since the 1960s, so our pet was probably born in this country. Their pleasant disposition and manageable size make bearded dragons popular pets. In the wild, their enemies are primarily snakes and kookaburras.

We plan to design a habitat for him in the front window where he can be seen by people walking by and where he can also enjoy basking in the sunlight. Already people are enjoying watching him from the sidewalk.

The jars are filling up with votes and the favorite name appears to be Bernie so far, but things might change as time goes by. Personally, my choice would have been Dundee (Crocodile Dundee).

Come in soon to meet our new friends and vote for a name you like.

What do you think our bearded dragon's name should be? -- Cast your vote in the unofficial poll -- HERE

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Watch Out for that Plant!

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

Watch Out for that Plant!

The 1960 movie Little Shop of Horrors became a cult classic, and in 1986, it became a Broadway musical by the same name. Audrey 2, the featured creature, was modeled after the famed North Carolina plant, the Venus Flytrap.

Any child who has ever examined the Venus Flytrap will convince you that the plant has a demonic mind that makes it capture insects and eat them. The fictional Audrey 2 re-enforced that concept when she could only be fed with blood in order to survive.

In reality, the Dionaea muscipula is classified as a carnivorous plant that catches and digests animal prey through the use of sensitive hairs that trigger the plant to close its leaves. Digestion provides nutrients that the plant needs.

The native plant is found only in North and South Carolina bogs and wetlands within a 60-mile radius of Wilmington, NC. Other places have managed to cultivate the flytrap which thrives where the nutritional poverty of the soil is severe. They are generally difficult to grow and take up to five years to mature into a healthy plant.

Other plants have human characteristics that are intriguing. Ancient Greeks studied these types of plants, and during the 19th century, scientists actually thought the some plants had nerve and muscle tissue similar to that of animals.

We were visiting the Farmers’ Market in Raleigh a few weeks ago. Full of vegetables and plants of all types, it is one of my favorite places to visit. I always learn something and never leave empty handed.

My husband reached over and touched one of the small plants sitting on the shelf where we were browsing. Instantaneously, the plant folded its leaves toward each other, seemingly in an effort to protect itself from the invader. I was startled. The plant was a Mimosa pudica or mimosa plant which had leaves similar to those found on the mimosa tree.

Other species known by names such as the sensitive plant, tickle-me-plant, touch-me-not, and the humble plant fascinate people with their ability to move. Although we were taught that only animals can change location, some plants seem to move when stimulated by touch, light, or gravity.

Some plants have a survival reaction that causes them to droop, therefore making themselves look unattractive when stimulated by a possible predator that might want to eat them. Phototropism is growth toward light which occurs because the tips of the plant have a pigment that is sensitive to light.

Simply put, the cells in plants undergo changes because of a plant hormone which activates modifications in the plant cells themselves, or they move because of sensors in the plant.

If you would like to study more diagrams and explanations, Bernie’s Basics at has lots of detailed information about the plant movement topic.

Watch out for those plants because they might be watching you!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Water, Water Everywhere

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager


Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote about being on a ship surrounded by water, but not being able to drink it in his poem “Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner.” Although that is a work of fiction, for many people of the world, the water that is around them is unfit to drink.

That situation is impossible for most of us to imagine. We might complain about our water bill or prefer bottled over water from the tap, but the acquisition of water is not on our list of concerns. We treat water as if it were an unlimited resource. It’s not.

For 1.1 billion people, access to safe drinking water is only a dream, and by 2025 by some estimates, two thirds of the world’s population will live in countries with moderate to severe water shortages. Currently more than 5 million people per year die from water related diseases. Eighty percent of diseases found in third world countries are related to the lack of safe drinking water.

Earth rarely looses or gains water. The same water that was here millions of years ago is still present today. Water is a finite resource whose usage is increasing with population growth.

In Mozambique, the average person uses less than 10 liters of water per day, while an American uses 575 liters per day. A woman in some countries spends an average of four hours per day moving 100 kg of water over many kilometers to meet the needs of her family.

Time spent in fulfilling basic needs takes away from time that could be used for education or cultural advancement of the society.

In the United States, forty percent of the waterways are unsuitable for fishing, bathing, or drinking. Even worse, in developing countries ninety percent of sewage is dumped untreated into bodies of water.

Eight-five percent of Americans depend on public water sources while fifteen percent get their water from private sources such as wells. It seems incomprehensible that it takes 2,400 liters of water to make a single hamburger from the birth of the steer to the serving of the meal.

Likewise, we put golf courses in the middle of deserts and then pipe water out to meet their needs. In bottling 89 billion liters of water each year, we throw away 1.5 million tons of plastic, while studies show that water from the tap is just as safe as bottled water.

What can be done? Will the planet’s water issues eventually lead to violent conflicts? Will water take the place of oil as the most sought after commodity? Can we do anything to stop the problems that have been identified?

Clearly, we all must act more responsibly, or the fate of the human race may be in danger. If you would like to understand the problems, organizations like One Drop ( and All About Water ( will amaze you with information you can use.


Monday, June 18, 2012

Thanks to Shakespeare

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

Thanks to Shakespeare

It sounds too far-fetched to be true. Sixty birds evolved into a population that now out-numbers the humans in the United States--and all because of Shakespeare. Plus, they don’t have many human fans.

In 1890, an eccentric American named Eugene Schieffelin had a dream of bringing all the birds that Shakespeare mentioned in his literary works to North America. He decided to release 60 starlings into Central Park in New York City. The next year he released 40 more.

Shakespeare included over 50 species of birds in his plays and poetry and probably used more references to birds than any other writer. They included everything from ospreys to crows. In his play Henry IV the bard wrote about starlings’ ability to mimic the human voice.

During the 1800s there were many societies formed that wanted to bring species of plants and animals to America that reminded them of home in Europe and other places. The result was that many of them became invasive and eradicated native plants and animals.

From Schieffelin’s effort, we now have over 200,000,000 starlings that threaten several species of birds, devastate crops, and destroy property across the continent. Bluebirds, woodpeckers, and purple martins have been the most affected of the cavity-nesters.

My nature loving, purple martin landlord husband never kills a living thing, but starlings are the exception to the rule. Even though he’s convinced his only way into heaven is his life-long commitment to saving bugs and other animals from death, he kills starlings.

After happily counting thirteen eggs laid in his purple martin house, he discovered that starlings had killed some adults and broken the eggs. That was the day he declared war on the aggressors. Since starlings return to nesting places year after year, it is especially important to stop their nesting as quickly as possible.

In some parts of the country, starling traps made to look like martin houses yield piles of victims which are then gassed. Across the nation, wildlife services estimate that more than a million a year are killed. Dairy farmers who do not cover their piles of cattle food attract starlings. Wildlife enthusiasts, hoping to attract other species such as wood ducks, have taken to shooting and trapping the birds.

Control of the starlings is mandatory if bluebirds and purple martins are to be protected and remain as part of the wildlife population. Eliminating the starling is probably impossible, but lowering the $800,000 in crop damage done annually is an important goal.

Like all things, starlings have served a purpose. In Washington State where the comeback of the peregrine falcon since stopping the use of DDT has been studied, starlings play a helpful role. They are prey for the falcons and help to sustain them. Amazingly, some people even keep starlings as pets.

Often, nature reminds us that there is a purpose for everything.


Monday, June 4, 2012

Chemistry in a Glass

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

Chemistry in a Glass

Sodium is poisonous and so is chlorine, but if you put them together, they become sodium chloride, or salt, a substance both beneficial and desirable to humans and animals. Chemistry is amazing!

Thomas Jefferson wrote about wanting to see “chemistry applied to domestic objects...making cider, to fermentation and distillation generally, to the making of bread, butter, cheese, soap to the incubation of eggs...”

In 2005, author Tom Standage penned the book A History of the World in 6 Glasses. He writes about 6 beverages that he thinks have shaped the world from early times to the present. The book is a fascinating examination of the creation of beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea and coca-cola and how they have affected peoples’ relationships as well as their productivity.

When early humans first began to stop their nomadic lifestyle between 10,000 and 15,000 years ago and settled down to farm, grain was among the first crops. Sumerians may have discovered the fermentation process when the wet grain produced an inebriating pulp. Fermentation is the chemical conversion of glucose found in the grain into ethyl alcohol. With the use of yeast, mold, or other enzymes the process became more elaborate and beer was the result. In Ancient Egypt, the workers that built the pyramids were probably paid with jugs of beer.

Paleolithic humans may have discovered wine when they sampled naturally fermenting wild grapes. Early use of wine was associated with religious activities. Areas like Greece and Rome where people cultivated grapes became the center for the production of the sought after drink.

Spirits or hard liquor which developed later was given to sailors during long sea voyages in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. Great Britain mandated the drinking of grog made with rum, water and lemon or lime juice. The concoction actually reduced illness and scurvy. The policy may have been partly responsible for Britain’s superiority on the sea.

On the Arabian Peninsula, roasted beans were first brewed and made into coffee which later spread throughout the Arab world. Coffeehouses took the place of taverns because Islam banned alcohol but allowed the stimulating drink of coffee. The famous Lloyds of London and the London Stock Exchange were both originally coffeehouses.

Although the drinking of tea started around the third century A.D., it quickly flourished as a caffeinated afternoon pick-me-up in the industrial world. The beneficial aspect that it was brewed with water purified by boiling added to its use in highly populated areas.

Pharmacist John Stith Pemberton created Coca-Cola in 1886, and today though somewhat different from the original, it stands as a symbol of America as an economic superpower around the world.

The chemical reactions required to make these six beverages have in some ways shaped the world. On June 7 Port Discover will focus on the Science of Beer during its fundraiser, “Summer Brew-Balloo.” Check the website, for more information and for tickets.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Mother Vine Lives On

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

Mother Vine Lives On

A mother’s influence spreads far beyond her expectations or understanding. In the case of the Mother Vine of Roanoke Island, her tendrils have wound through 400 years of American history and botany.

Explorers Amadas and Arthur Barlowe may have been the first colonists to see what is believed to be the oldest cultivated grapevine in the nation. The huge scuppernong vine, a type of native muscadine, came to be known as the “mother vine” long ago and helped give birth to the 175-year-old wine industry of North Carolina. Many people consider the venerable plant to be a symbol of North Carolina heritage.

Local folklore tells of its fictional origin. In the story, beautiful Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the New World, lived to adulthood and fell in love. Another suitor was jealous, and the result was the tragic death of the young maiden.

As her lover carried her back to her original home to bury her, wherever drops of her blood touched the ground, vines filled with red grapes sprouted. From the spot where she was buried, came the Mother Vine which produced a sweet fruit unlike any other.

Scuppernong, a Washington County town, is named for the many cuttings that the settlers took from the Mother Vine during the colonial period. More than twenty varieties have been cultivated which produce both red and white wines.

Always famous for its scuppernong wine, NC was listed as the number one wine producer in the 1840 Federal Census and even now ranks in the top 10. As recently as 2008, Duplin Winery began bottling The Mother Vine white table wine which is the first wine in more than 100 years to be produced from a cutting of the native vine.

Recently, resveratrol, antioxidants, and other chemicals found in the grapes have been credited with clearing arterial walls and inhibiting cancerous tumor growth, thus increasing the wine’s popularity. For teetotalers, wineries also make undistilled juices, jams and sauces from the grapes.

The agricultural world trembled when in 2010 an accidental spraying of herbicides threatened to bring an end to the old lady.

Jack Wilson, owner of half of the vine for more than 52 years, was the first to notice the browning of the plant. Experts were summoned, and after careful study, they recommended cutting back the vine severely and applying lots of water and fertilizer to stop the herbicides from spreading to the two foot wide trunk and roots.

The plan worked. After careful treatment, the Mother Vine seems to have weathered one more storm. Monitoring will continue for several years.

The vine’s green canopy, now 32 feet wide and 120 feet long is supported by a system of posts and arbors. Passersby are often gifted with clusters of grapes from the vine to enjoy.

As with all life, the Mother Vine will continue to spread her influence throughout generations who care for and admire her.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Entertaining Tenants

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

Entertaining Tenants

They’re back! Our warm weather tourists from Brazil spend their days singing, swooping, and soaring through the sky above their house in our yard. Finally, they have returned to spend another season with us. We are delighted, and we take our job as purple martin landlords seriously.

Preparation for their arrival began months ago. It was determined after much research by hubby that the martin house that they lived in last year was not up to the high standards these birds deserved.

He redesigned the apartments to be larger allowing for more babies and reconstructed it so that the house could be lowered for inspection and cleaning. Finally, gourds were installed on a separate branch to give the parents additional choices for nesting.

One day, I noticed that my prized Bose radio had disappeared. It seems that purple martins can be attracted by playing recordings of martins singing their dawn song. Hubby had rigged the music to blast forth every morning at 4:00 am through the guest room window facing the martin house.

We have the Native Americans to thank for actually changing the martins’ nesting habits over thousands of years by first providing them hollowed out gourds for nesting. Previously the birds were cavity nesters using crevices such as old woodpecker nests, dead trees, cliffs, or boulders. Now, they are dependent on man to provide their housing.

Indians must have developed a special respect for these glossy, deep blue creatures with forked tails because of their beauty and their skills. Besides a passion for eating thousands of mosquitoes, beetles, flies, dragonflies and moths, they begin their bubbling chirps and trills early in the morning serving as natural alarm clocks.

They also acted like scarecrows chasing away crows from the corn patches and vultures away from the meat, which had been hung to dry. Today, they are prized for their entertainment value and their love of people.

Purple martins like their houses mounted 15 to 20 feet above the ground and 100 feet from human dwellings. They prefer broad open areas with 40-50 square feet of clearing.

Martins use mud, leaves, grass, and feathers for their nests and appreciate crumbled eggshells spread on the ground as a source of extra calcium. A supply of fresh water is also important.

One of the best sites for learning about purple martins is, which is a product of the Purple Martin Conservation Association. You can also order supplies to get yourself started in becoming a landlord for these special creatures.

If you’d like a spectacular experience with nature, drive to the William B. Umstead Memorial Bridge crossing the Croatan Sound in Dare County. Every evening from mid-June to mid-September, 100,000 martins converge on the bridge to roost. It is a breathtaking sight. The Coastal Carolina Purple Martin Society provides a site where you can find information.

Establishing a relationship with one of nature’s amazing entertainers is a priceless experience. Try it. You’ll both benefit.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

With The Good Comes The Not So Good

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

With The Good Comes The Not So Good

As I drove to Wilmington during the third week in March, I was amazed by the amount of Carolina jasmine growing everywhere. When I arrived at my destination, the azaleas and pear trees were in full bloom. All of these happenings seemed to be weeks earlier than usual.

My guess was that our unusually warm winter had something to do with the early spring. Come to find out, they even have a name for it, the Jumanji effect, named after the 1995 movie starring Robin Williams in which animals emerged from a board game to terrorize people.

In this case, the animals will be bears and other hibernating creatures in some parts of the country that will emerge from their dens early and be ravenously hungry before nature is fully ready for them. If they can’t find food, they may have to invade human territory sooner or later.

One of the things that fascinates me in so many aspects of life is that often good events have a flip side that may not be so good. All of us have been grateful for the warmer winter resulting in lower heating bills. We are about to experience some of the other outcomes of the record mild winter which in a way disturbed some aspects of our ecosystem.

All forms of insects including mosquitoes will be with us in greater numbers this summer. Farmers may have larger harvest, but they will have to battle insects and other hungry creatures. Greater production may mean lower prices.

The tick population will not only increase but will be spread by the larger numbers of deer that lived through the winter. Since ticks carry Lyme disease, we may experience an increase of that problem.

Agricultural extension agent Tom Campbell reports that fire ants are already being seen in large numbers, and he recommends they should be poisoned promptly to prevent their spread. Each untreated mound may generate 20-50 new mounds by mid-summer, if left alive to spread.

Mr. Campbell says he personally has killed 8 mounds in January, a couple dozen in February, and more than a score in March and April so far. By this time last year, he had only killed two. He thinks that if we get regular rain, we’ll definitely have many more mounds this year than last.

Local gardeners and farmers have been able to plant things much earlier and strawberries, asparagus, spinach, radishes, lettuce, and other early fruits and veggies are ready for picking.

Agent Campbell also predicts that we will have a bountiful supply of pecans, and the animals will enjoy a large harvest of mast which includes acorns, hickory nuts, and other nuts and fruits borne by wild plants. Thus, they will be well provided for in the coming winter.

As with all things in life, we have to take the good with the bad.

Check out this video about 'Jumanji effect and global weather patterns' ::

For more information visit this website:

Monday, April 16, 2012

Slow and Steady...

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

Slow and Steady...

Delaware Indians called them “sticky heels,” and they are well known for their perseverance and wisdom. If you asked me what animal I think that I most resemble, I would tell you I’m a turtle.

Once, our daughter looked at hubby and me relaxing in our brown leather recliners and laughingly proclaimed us her “turtles” because she said we looked like we had rolled over and couldn’t get up. The list of similarities identified by our children between us and the longest living vertebrates continued to grow.

When we travel, we like to be self-sufficient taking our comforts (pillows, snacks, beverages, etc.) with us. I drive the speed limit or under. Remember, “55, stay alive.” We usually don’t stray too far from home and like familiar things.

Finally, my license plate says “Turtles.”

When we were in college at East Carolina University and traveling home on weekends, if we saw a turtle crossing the road, we stopped and put it on the side of the road in the direction in which it was headed. Thus began our attachment to the reptiles.

This year we’ve already seen several box turtles in the yard probably foraging for food, seeking warmth in the sunshine, or looking for a place to lay their eggs. Because they move so slowly, they are one of the few wild creatures that you can examine closely without bothering them.

The April/May edition of the National Wildlife magazine contains an informative article by Janet Marinelli about box turtles (click here to check out the article). Like so many animals today, their habitat is being threatened by land development and poachers who sell them as pets.

In 1979, the NC General Assembly designated the turtle as the official state reptile. Although they appear to be mundane creatures, they contribute to the environment in many ways.

March through October are active months when they lay eggs, gain weight, and eat almost anything that crosses their path including insect pests, snails and slugs. They are also considered valuable agents in the process of spreading seeds.

Seeds of plants such as mayapple, pokeweed, elderberry, persimmon, and summer and frost grapes benefit from passing through the gut of turtles which increases their germination.

Female turtles can often be seen digging depressions in which they will lay their eggs. Unfortunately, they are sometimes eaten by raccoons, foxes, or crows. Female box turtles can actually store sperm which allows them to produce eggs for several years.

You can attract turtles to your yard by cultivating wild species that produce fruit that they favor. Leave areas of natural leaf litter mulch where they can sleep. Clear, sunny areas are perfect for basking and laying their eggs while shady moist areas provide places for them to spend the hot summer days.

Try to walk around your yard before you mow because lawnmowers like cars are treacherous for the reptiles. Finally, take a lesson from the turtles, and slow down yourself.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Celebrate Earth Day

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

Celebrate Earth Day

Forty-two years ago, 20 million Americans, mostly from thousands of colleges and universities, united for the observation of the first Earth Day. Citizens turned their passion and energy from the anti-war protests of the sixties to a mounting national concern about the environment.

On April 22, 1970 the grassroots event marked the start of what is the modern environmental movement. Citizens were way ahead of the government officials, and the Democrats and the Republicans became united in their support of taking care of our natural resources.

Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, recognizing the rising concern, had been laying the ground work for several years for a day of observation about environmental issues. Rachel Carson’s publication of the best seller Silent Spring in 1962 brought attention to the use of pesticides and their effect on birds and other wildlife.

Earth Day quickly became an annual event, and in 1990 it became a global movement in 141 countries and mobilized 200 million people. Across the world demonstrators railed against toxic dumps, oil spills, power plants, raw sewage, freeways, and the loss of wilderness areas and the extinction of wildlife.

The movement led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts. Each decade has brought additional challenges, but the commitment remains strong.

More than one-third of all energy is used by people in their homes. Families throw away about 88 pounds of plastic every year. Aluminum cans and plastics take 500 years to break down. Cotton rags, and paper, and organic materials take six months to decompose.

“Knowledge is power,” wrote Sir Francis Bacon. If you’d like to pump-up your power for dealing with the environment, plan to attend the Port Discover Earth Day Festival on April 21.

Featuring demonstrations and information about all aspects of creating and living an environmentally friendly life, it will take place at Mariners’ Wharf from 10:00 am - 3:00 pm.

Hands-on science activities for all ages will focus on such topics as water quality and energy efficiency. Groups from the community will participate bringing information about organic gardening, composting, rain barrels, recycled crafts, energy conservation, recycling, nature crafts, just to name a few topics.

Gwen Bell, independent Shaklee distributor, Culligan Water, and Elizabeth City Parks and Recreation are supporting the event. Music will begin at 11:00 am with the Battle of the Bands, a local competition sponsored by the Youth Tobacco Prevention program of the Albemarle Health Services.

Taking care of planet Earth is a responsibility of every good citizen. As the population increases, the mandate becomes even more important to our survival. Knowledge of scientific principles regarding environmental issues will give us each the key to making a difference in our children’s world. See you at the festival!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Walking with a Purpose

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

Walking with a Purpose

Walking is my preferred type of exercise. In fact, jumping around and sweating is not my style at all. I definitely need motivation, and Port Discover is providing that for all of us.

“Worth the Walk” is the latest community program designed by Port Discover and supported by the Albemarle Hospital Foundation in collaboration with Vidant Health through their Community Benefit Grants Program.

The objective is for individuals, or community group teams, to get out and get walking! To register, go to the “Worth the Walk” link at Port Discover, through an on-line program, will record steps taken by members, with an overall to see how far across the country, or even the world, citizens will walk. A map posted in the Port Discover window will be regularly updated to show the community’s progress.

Walking maps of the Elizabeth City historic districts, provided in part by the Elizabeth City Historic Neighborhood Association, can be found on the Worth the Walk page at The maps include supplemental activities and exercises that can be done along the way.

We all know that walking is good for us, but how, specifically? In searching for the answer, I found, the site for Rodale News, “where health meets green.” The organization is the publisher of Prevention Magazine and many other science and health publications. An early pioneer in promoting organic farming, J. I. Rodale’s family has carried on the traditions and promotes all things healthy.

Leah Zerbe in her article, “8 Astonishing Benefits of Walking” says that the activity often helps insulin resistant people from developing type 2 diabetes. Besides helping to bring desire and satisfaction to your love life, it can help to reduce your need for some medications.

Another way walking might save you money. Exploring the great outdoors and discovering the rich history of downtown Elizabeth City are free, and your outlook on life might also improve from the exposure to the beauty of nature and the stories of our community’s past.

Much focus has been placed on the need to walk 10,000 steps per day. Studies have shown that fibromyalgia pain can be reduced by walking and stretching. Mental capacity, energy, and depression can also be increased by exercise.

Women who walked the year before being diagnosed with breast cancer have been found to be 30% more likely to survive the disease. Those who walked after being diagnosed had a 45% greater chance of surviving according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Walking when done 30 minutes per day for 5 days per week has been found to lower the risk of stroke. Vigorous walking and the increased flow of blood to the brain have been found to produce a 27% lower risk of dementia.

All of those benefits are impressive, extremely motivating, and definitely worth the walk. Come join us! Bring your family!

Check out these links:
Elizabeth City's Self-guided Historic Walking Tour : National Historical Districts
Pasquotank County's Neighborhood Walking Mileage
Dismal Swamp State Park
Dismal Swamp Trails

Monday, February 27, 2012

Nature’s Sanitary Workers

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

Nature’s Sanitary Workers

When my work at Port Discover expanded to include writing this column a year ago, I had no clue how it would alter my vision of the world. In order to find subjects to explore and write about, I had to adjust my focus to include the science topics that I encounter and observe daily. Things I used to ignore have become food for investigation.

Today, for your Sunday morning edification, my topic is turkey vultures. The woods next to our house now host approximately fifty of the carrion-eating carnivores every evening. Why? I haven’t discovered that yet.

One Sunday morning recently, I heard and saw my neighbor across the canal standing on her back porch in her bathrobe loudly beating on a pan with a spoon in an effort to scare the birds away. Two weeks after that, I was standing on my back porch ringing a large antique cowbell trying to accomplish the same.

I’m sure the vultures were laughing, and they weren’t scared a bit by either one of us. There is just something unnerving about the way they sit in the trees silently looking down. You begin to wonder what they are waiting for. Because they have no voice box, the only sound they make is the slight flapping of their wings as they settle down for the night in the trees.

There is a Turkey Vulture Society whose site has many interesting facts about the helpful scavengers. Also, Cornell University has done much research on the birds and other species, which you can find on their site.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 protects these year round residents of our area, and it is against the law to shoot one. They are raptors, and serve mankind through their habit of eating dead animals.

Although television westerns used to portray them as evil, some religious groups such as Tibetan Buddhists honor them, and depend on them for the removal of their dead. They believe that vultures release the soul from the body.

Often incorrectly called buzzards, they are unaggressive and non-confrontational, and unlike their cousins the black vulture, they do not kill. Often feeding on road kill, washed up fish, as well as rotten pumpkins, and juniper berries, they politely take turns eating. They can soar gracefully for hours using thermals of warm rising air for lift.

It is some of their other characteristics that are not too appetizing. Readers with weak stomachs might want to stop here.

Their heads are almost bald which allows them to eat without getting remains on them. Frequently, they urinate on themselves, not only for cooling, but also to kill the harmful bacteria that are on their feet. If they are scared or threatened, they vomit in order to ward off the enemy with the smell.

I trust that they will move on eventually. In the mean time, I’m considering becoming a vegetarian.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Talking (Less) Trash

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

Talking (Less) Trash

Difficult times changes people’s values. Looking back at history, you find that major events usually refocus the way that we see our world. I hope that one of the results of the Great Recession is that we learn to value experiences and people, instead of things.

The material excesses of the American way of life are overdue for an examination and overhaul. Bea and Scott Johnson and their two sons of Mill Valley, California are setting an example for all of us. Their effort to reduce their household trash to zero was featured in People Magazine recently.

According to the article, the average American produces 1,051 pounds of trash per year. Even with all the talk of creating an eco-friendly world, experts know that our habits are not sustainable and that we must change.

Ms. Johnson suggests specific techniques for eliminating trash on her website, The ideas presented are extremely useful and focus on the four R’s—refuse, reduce, reuse, and recycle.

The concept of refusing was new to me. When the Johnsons purchase something that is wrapped in too much packaging, they unwrap it and leave the trash at the store. The message to the manufacturer is to use less packaging. They also buy things in bulk and take their own reusable containers to stores.

A great deal of planning goes into every aspect of life when the goal is to reduce our carbon footprints. Most of us find it difficult to spend time making the effort, no matter how much we want to behave responsibly toward our environment. We tend to take the easy way out and continue to live our disposable way of life.

The Johnsons recommend buying used items. For the last three Christmases, my adult children have engaged in an activity they call “Craigsmus.” They draw names among the six of them and try to find a useful gift on Craigslist for a limited amount of money. The results have been hilarious, creative, useful, and memorable for the whole family, but also rewarding in many ways.

A key technique is to organize your possessions, so that you know what you have and won’t buy things you already own. We all waste a lot of food because it goes out of date before we can use it, or it gets lost in the back of the pantry.

The Johnsons reduced their actual trash to a large mason jar full in a year’s time. That’s extreme, but we can all make an effort to consume intelligently. Doing something is better than nothing. You can make some small adjustments and, as the Johnsons report, be “happier, healthier, and richer.”

Margaret Mead, American Cultural Anthropologist, said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” She’s right.

Check out this video from the The Huffington Post:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Monday, January 30, 2012

Workaholics Strike Again

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

Workaholics Strike Again

Bucky Beaver of the fifties Ipana toothpaste commercial fame used to be my only reference for the largest rodent in the animal kingdom. The cute, little, big-toothed beaver with the gigantic toothbrush who sang “brusha, brusha, brusha” was charming and innocent, unlike the crew that visits my backyard.

When we built our house on the banks of a canal, our vision was to leave the backyard forested and natural. I wanted a few more trees taken out, but my husband stood firm that every viable tree would remain in place. Little did we know that we were not totally in control of the situation.

It was not long before we noticed significant chewing on several of the gum trees in the yard. Hoping that it was a temporary problem, we kept watch. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before there was a tree completely down. The next day it was chewed into neat three-foot lengths and in a couple more days, the pieces started to disappear.

All of this activity happened in the dark of night. It was not long before Hubby declared war on the enemy. By then, the count was beaver 5, people zero. Heavy-duty fencing and tree wound dressing were soon applied to the assaulted trees and the yard began to look like a strange fortress.

Hubby would go and sit on the pier in the dark waiting for signs of each night attack. He reported that the varmints were bold and made noises with their large, flat tails slapping the water. They didn’t seem at all afraid of humans.

With the goal of know your enemy, we did our research. North Carolina State University had excellent information on-line. There are several ways to fight these workaholics of the animal world. They can be trapped, killed, or relocated.

Beavers can be a real problem for farmers and landowners. Their dam making can cause flooding, or even create wetlands, which act as habitat for other animals. Mating for life, they can weigh up to 80 pounds and be two to three feet long. These nocturnal, semi-aquatic rodents engineer amazing constructions for lodging and storing the small trees that they will eat in the winter.

Nature’s lumberjack can move approximately ten times its weight per day or 500 pounds. Powerful chainsaw like teeth, which grow continuously, enable the creature to feast on an estimated 200 trees per year.

Once beavers numbered an estimated 60 million in America, but unregulated trapping reduced the population to 6 to 12 million. Eventually they were almost non-existent east of the Mississippi River, and in the 1930’s a successful effort was made to reintroduce them.

Now, with ever increasing human land development, their presence is more evident. Man’s interference continues to adjust the balance in nature. The phrase “busy as a beaver” is certainly an accurate description of these unique architects of the natural world.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Winter is for the Birds

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

Winter is for the Birds

We’ve been very lucky so far, because the winter weather has been mild. Of course, that can and probably will change at any time. Just like the children’s fairytale about the grasshopper and the ant who stores food for the winter, we should plan for the future.

For those of us who are nature lovers, that means preparing to feed the birds in our yards. Bird watching is one of the best ways to chase away the doldrums that come in January, February and March. For a few dollars’ worth of birdseed and a simple feeder, you can be entertained and educated at the same time.

Making your yard hospitable to the little creatures includes not only providing food, but also shelter from a wide variety of shrubs and trees of different sizes and shapes. Conifers like pine, fir, cedar and cypress which are plentiful in our area and provide both winter shelter and summer nesting sites.

Water for drinking and preening their feathers, an activity which provides good insulation, is needed year-round. You can buy heaters for birdbaths in order to ensure a constant supply.

If you want to get really involved and become a citizen scientist, you might want to take part in the 15th annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) on February 17-20, 2012. This worldwide event is led by the CornellLab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, with Canadian partner Bird Studies Canada and sponsorship from Wild Birds Unlimited.

Visit and learn all about the four day event. There is a special part of the site devoted to kids to encourage them to participate. Basically, observers watch birds for a 15 minute or more period and report the species that they see to

As the information begins to accumulate, a real time picture of where the birds are located is developed. The observations, gathered by thousands of bird enthusiasts, enable the scientists to recognize patterns and to answer in depth questions.

What is the diversity found in any given area? Are specific species declining and in need of conservation? Why do some species appear in large numbers during some years and seem to disappear in others? How do snow and cold temperatures seem to affect bird populations?

The site reports that during the 2011 count 92,000 were submitted from across the United States and Canada. Bird watchers identified 596 species and 11.4 million total birds were observed.

Among the things discovered were increased reports of Evening Grosbeaks, a species that has been declining. A small movement of winter finches farther south in their search for food was detected. Who knows what might be observed this winter?

In our area cardinals, mocking birds, chickadees, brown thrushes, robins, vultures, wrens, starlings, towhees, and American goldfinches should be the most evident.

If you decide to participate in the GBBC, you’ll be rewarded by connecting with birds and nature in a meaningful way.

Watch the video below to learn more about the Great Backyard Bird Count and how you can take part!
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