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Jay as a middle schooler in 1995

If you are anything like tenacious Jay Blaine, you pester your mother for FOUR years until she makes it happen.  Now that is persistence!

As a middle schooler, Jay finally made it to the rainforest as a participant in one of our very first Amazon Rainforest Workshops, way back in 1995.

Flash forward eighteen years, and we are delighted to report that we serendipitously reconnected with Jay – now an artist and activist working in California.  Jay recently launched a wonderful new Facebook page called Rainforest Eye.  It is loaded with fantastic and inspiring rainforest images from around the world.  Jay is the first to acknowledge that his page wouldn’t be possible without the photographers.

Unlike many other Facebook “picture” pages, Jay is committed to celebrating the photographers behind the images – giving them the credit and recognition they justly deserve.  Many of the photographers he features, like Kurt Orion G  (South East Asia), Steve Parish (Australia), and Tracy Kidston (Amazon) are amazing naturalists who enhance their photos with fascinating natural history notes.

As Rainforest Eye continues to grow, Jay hopes his efforts will provide his fellow artists with mass exposure – helping to push their careers to the next level, while at the same time building rainforest awareness and appreciation through their beautiful and captivating images.

So, what sparked Jay’s fascination with rainforests?  It all began with his 3rd grade teacher and a unit on rainforests.  Jay was captivated by the images of camouflaged katydids, strangling figs, and howling monkeys.  As he and his classmates looked at all the animals that lived in the various layers of the rainforest, his mind reeled.  How could one place have so much life?  His third grade mind locked on a targetone way or another he would get to the rainforest!

Jay’s mom, Diane, tried to appease him with a glow-in-the-dark infographic of the rainforest, but that just wasn’t going to cut it.  Over the next four years they looked into a variety of rainforest experiences until Diane, a librarian, determined that the Amazon Rainforest Workshop offered the most educational learning opportunity for her son.  And off they went – down the Amazon in search of pink river dolphins, up in the canopy on one of the world’s first canopy walkways, and into the night on the prowl for snakes and tarantulas.  Jay?  Have you thanked your mom lately?

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Jay Blaine- visionary behind Rainforest Eye

As an adult, Jay is combining his passions for art, the environment, and outreach.  His Rainforest Eye Facebook page is just the beginning.  His long term goal is to create “Artists for the Environment” a non-profit that brings together artists from around the world in an effort to promote awareness about environmental issues.

Thank you Jay for the work you do and for sharing your story.  And a big THANK YOU to all the teachers out there who continue to spark the imaginations of their students by sharing the wonders of the rainforest in your classrooms…your efforts to raise awareness and appreciation can have amazing results.

For the last twenty years, the educators and students who participated in our Amazon Workshops have snapped amazing photos of rainforest biodiversity. Unfortunately, most of these photos have only been seen by a handful of friends and family – or worse they are in a shoebox under the bed!

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One has to wonder…what could we learn about rainforest biodiversity if we had access to all the photos taken over the last two decades? What if we could take all those photos and sort them by location and date and species? Would we be able to see patterns of distribution? Discern subtle changes in populations? Stumble upon something new and undiscovered?

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What if we could share these photos with the world and inspire wonder and curiosity and knowledge in the next generation of explorers who sit in our classrooms?

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Project Noah "Deep Roots" patch commemorating our 1 year anniversary

Project Noah “Deep Roots” patch commemorating our 1 year anniversary

Exactly one year ago we stumbled upon Project Noah; a tool that harnesses the power of digital photography, GPS, and mobile technology, and we immediately knew we had an answer. Finally the multitudes of photos that are taken each year in the Amazon could have a larger purpose!

Last summer, we launched a pilot of Project Noah during our Educator Workshop. The images in this post are from that expedition. Our initial goal was to shine a light on Amazon biodiversity and begin to construct a virtual field guide to the region we visit each summer. We created a “mission” on Project Noah and called it Species Spotlight: Peruvian Amazon.

Many of our participants uploaded their photos to our mission and created field notes for their observations. Experts from around the world took notice and helped with some of the species identification. Even today these photos are viewed and commented on as we continue to fill in the details for each spotting.

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For 2013, we are incorporating Project Noah more fully into our Educator Academy in the Amazon and are already working with educators across the country to connect our Amazon images to their classrooms. This year, in addition to simply capturing images of what we see, we will also use our Project Noah spottings to explore the themes of plant and animal adaptations, biomimicry, and climate change in the Amazon.

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Pictures may be worth a thousand words, but the curiosity they incite is priceless. 

JOIN THE CONVERSATION!  How can you use these photos to incite curiosity?  What questions do they raise? What research might they prompt? Please respond in the comment box below.

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Charles Darwin goes 21st century

Back in the day, science was often relegated to wealthy, self-funded explorers and “gentlemen scientists” the likes of Benjamin Franklin, Charles Darwin, and Isaac Newton.  One could argue that they were the original “citizen scientists” but back then you had to have money and time to explore the world and formulate big thoughts. For the average citizen, science was an expensive endeavor accessible to the privileged – and certainly not something in which you were encouraged to participate.

Flash forward 200 years… and imagine that Carlos Darwin, an inquisitive and smart kid from a not-so-wealthy family is able to use a smartphone to document the finches on each of the Galapagos Islands where he lives?  And his cousin Josefina Darwin, is able to send him pictures of finches she is seeing in her backyard in New Jersey?  And they are able to share their photos and contribute their observations of the natural world with people around the globe – including researchers who were looking for changes in species distribution due to climate change.  Now we’re talkin’ citizen science!

What if all those budding “Darwins” in OUR classes and communities used their cell phones for more than Facebook and Snapchat?  What if they spent time outdoors, exploring their backyards, parks, woodlands, and swamps using their mobile phones to document all the biodiversity they can find?  What if there was an app for THAT?

Welcome to the world of Project Noah –Networked Organisms And Habitats.logotype

Backed by National Geographic, Project Noah is mobilizing a new generation of nature explorers and average citizens around the world to capture information on biodiversity.  Now instead of roaming the neighborhood with a butterfly net, collecting jars, and a bulky field guide you can simply take your smart phone and snap pictures using the Project Noah app.  With a few key strokes you can add gps coordinates and field notes and send them whizzing through cyberspace to the Project Noah portal where people from around the world can check out what’s going on in your backyard.  Unsure of what the organism is?  Project Noah “rangers” are on call to help with species identification and natural history notes.

Here at Amazon Workshops, we are thrilled to be partnering with Project Noah to create a virtual field guide to our study sites in the Amazon and are working with educators across the country to bring our Amazon images into their classrooms!

Project Noah’s co-founder, Yasser Ansari, believes that “not only is there an educational need and an environmental need but a deep, deep human need for all of us to reconnect with our planet.”  His goal is to “to bring back that wonderment… to reignite that curiosity for the natural world that we had when we were younger.”

Don’t you think Charles Darwin would agree?  It’s no secret that Mr. Darwin loved poking around the natural world more than the dry academics of the university.

“…no pursuit at Cambridge was followed with nearly so much eagerness or gave me so much pleasure as collecting beetles… I will give a proof of my zeal: one day, on tearing off some old bark, I saw two rare beetles, and seized one in each hand; then I saw a third and new kind, which I could not bear to lose, so that I popped the one which I held in my right hand into my mouth. Alas!  It ejected some intensely acrid fluid, which burnt my tongue so that I was forced to spit the beetle out, which was lost, as was the third one.”   — Charles Darwin

Betcha Mr. Darwin would have appreciated a smartphone with the Project Noah app at this moment!

JOIN THE DISCUSSION!  Are you a citizen scientist?  Do you use Project Noah?  Tell us your thoughts about the power and promise of citizen science!

What, you might ask, could possibly render a lively group of teachers speechless? It would have to be something pretty spectacular, right? You might be suprised to learn that it was a chance encounter with a frog in the Amazon. No bigger than a quarter, this tiny creature held the group captive, rendering everyone speechless (at least momentarily!) as they admired its uncanny resemblance to a dead leaf.

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photo used with permssion of Dr. Steve Madigosky

Excitement grew as the biologists conferred with the local guides. In hushed voices they whispered that it might be a species new to science. Minds reeled with the implications. It is still possible, in this era of satellite mapping and DNA sequencing, to stumble upon a new species by simply taking a slow walk down a rainforest trail.The Amazon is home to a disproportionate amount of global biodiversity with new species being discovered at the rate of one every three days over the last decade. A single expedition into Suriname found as many as 46 new species. A survey of Bahuaja Sonene National Park in Peru found 365 species that had never been documented in the park – effectively elevating the region into the biodiversity hall of fame.

Does it really matter how many undiscovered species of beetles, frogs, or bromeliads live in the Amazon? Does it matter if we give them names and write papers on their natural history?

Biodiversity collage - session 4Yes, it does! The biodiversity of the Amazon sustains us all, giving us food, medicine, and potential solutions for our most pressing environmental problems. Just recently an Amazon fungi was discovered that actually digests plastic! In spite of the record rates of discovery, as a planet we are in the midst of a biodiversity crisis. We are losing species at rates 100 to 1000 times faster than the natural extinction rate. With each loss of each unnamed and unknown species, we are losing the very keys to our future.

Stay Tuned!  Next week will share our new citizen science project in the Amazon – You’ll want to be involved.

Dig Deeper! Want to know more?  Amazon Alive:  A Decade of Discovery – Download the full report.

JOIN THE DISCUSSION!  Leave a reply below and tell us about your encounters with biodiversity.  What encounters have left you speechless and why?