Ashton Biological Preserve

Ashton in the news (featuring Blue!)

We were thrilled to be profiled recently in a recent news article by our local public news station, WUFT. The article featured information about our efforts to protect tortoises and even information about our resident gopher tortoise, Blue!

Want to read the whole article? Click here!

Ashton in the News

Ashton volunteers recently participated in the 1st Annual Flatwoods Fire and Nature Festival, held at the Austin Cary Memorial Forest north of Gainesville, Florida. We had a wonderful time meeting new friends and sharing our love of the natural world with all the visitors.

As part of our work at the Festival, we were featured in an article on gainesville.com! Check it out!

Volunteer

Come Work, Play, and Learn with Us

Do you want to volunteer with Ashton? We are always looking for motivated, passionate individuals to help with all the work we do at the Preserve.

We offer three-, six, and twelve-month internships with the Preserve, where you can gain experience conducting research, caring for captive animals, and managing conservation lands. Internships at the Preserve are a wonderful opportunity to get first-hand experience at an environmental nonprofit. After completing their time at Ashton, our interns have gone on to jobs around the world, including places like Hawaii and Dubai.

Ashton also offers a variety of volunteer opportunities for individuals and groups looking to make a difference in the world and engage in community service.

To learn more about volunteer and internship work, please click here, or contact us for additional information.

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Visual Guide to Tadpoles of the Eastern United States

ABPRI is proud to host the Visual Guide to Tadpoles of the Eastern United States. This special guest post by Matthew Ratcliffe describes the history of the Guide and his purpose in developing it.

As a herpetology hobbyist, I’ve always wanted a comprehensive guide to identifying anuran tadpoles, which are notoriously difficult to determine down to the species level. I found that most online references only had one or two photos per species. Given the variability of tadpoles, this was not enough to remove some of the confusion surrounding their identification. While professional literature takes great lengths to explain the differences in tadpoles by species, most people do not have access to such books nor are they willing to pay the modest sum to acquire them. As a result, I was determined to create my own guide to tadpoles, using photos of tadpoles I had definitively identified as belonged to a particular species. My network of amateur and professional herpetologists voluntarily contribute their photos as well, and the project was launched on the Field Herp Forum (www.fieldherpforum.com) in fall 2015.

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Back then, the visual guide was a single post on the forum with species and their respective picture(s) listed vertically one after the other with marginally discernible breaks between each species. This was not a visually appealing format and made finding a particular species an exercise in scrolling through dozens of photos. Being largely clueless to webpage design, I put out a call for suggestions on how to migrate the guide to a more visually appealing format. That’s where my friend Noah stepped in, and he connected me with Lauren and the Ashton Biological Preserve website. Thanks to their gracious support, I am very pleased to announce that the latest and greatest iteration of this guide is now live! You’ll notice that each species has its own page, and the name of the original contributor of each photo appears when you scroll over each photo.

I hope that you find this guide useful towards improving your tadpole identification skills. If you would like to contribute high-quality photos to the guide, please contact me at mtratcliffe@hotmail.com. You can also send contributions to communications@ashtonbiodiversity.com.

Thank you, and enjoy the guide!

Sincerely,
Matt Ratcliffe

We’re updating our site!

All good things take upkeep! We’re excited to give the Ashton website a brand-new look and feel. There will be lots of changes coming over the next few weeks, so please check back frequently to see what we’ve been up to.

Also, we love to hear from our friends! If there’s something you wish were on the website, or something that you think we’re missing, please drop us a line.

Waste Free Feb: Week 4

Just as a refresher: #WasteFreeFeb is about becoming aware of the waste you produce during the month of February. If it can’t be recycled or reused, you must keep it and put it in the container you have chosen for the month. Our Research Manager, Maggie, chose a jar (roughly a pint in size) and chose to do this for the entire month, although she encourages people to participate in any way they can, even if it’s just for a week or weekend. 

Maggie writes:

End of Week 4: Thursday, 28 February 2018

This Week’s Waste:1

  • Plastic pull top to almond milk (2)
  • Plastic wrapping of a frozen burrito
  • Mini bag of potato chips
  • Frozen pizza plastic shrink wrap
  • 2 protein bar wrappers
  • 1 candy bar wrapper
  • Crinkly plastic wrapping of a gas station pre-made sandwich
  • Cough drop wrapper
  • Weird sort of foil/plastic pita chip bag (Explain to me how your company is so concerned with not using animal products and being sustainably-sourced ingredients…yet doesn’t use recyclable packaging?)
  • Plastic fork and salad container from fast food restaurant (not pictured)

As a bit of a disclaimer: not long after I finished writing last week’s post, I boarded a last-minute plane to Virginia to attend the unexpected funeral of a loved one. As such, I had to do my best to be waste-free in an environment in which I was completely unprepared to do so. On the way home, exhausted from travelling and from a plethora of emotions, I simply wanted to eat fast, easy food and basically purchased without any thought. It lead to one of the…

Things I Learned This Week:

  • The above-mentioned fork and salad container were actually recyclable, but I thought I had nowhere to keep them. In hindsight, I should have washed them off in the bathroom and just left them in my car for the weekend while I was parked at the airport. There is always an alternative; it’s just about making that thought process a habit.
  • Being waste-free while traveling is heart-breaking and exhausting. I’m sure there was more waste from this last week than I included. I was too tired to remember, but I did my best to keep all my waste—I brought it back on the plane with me. When it came time for a bit of fast, easy comfort food, I was frustrated with the waste I ended up with—it shouldn’t be this difficult! One of my previous go-to stores for cheap and good produce has started pre-bagging all of their produce. It seems to me that it would create extra cost for them, on top of the waste. You can believe I will be contacting the company!
  • On a more positive note: did you know you can recycle your dead batteries and used printer cartridges? Your local electronics store (and possibly your office supply store, depending where you live) will have the resources to do this. I called ahead to be sure and was told it was a go to bring in my batteries. When I got to the store, though, the recycling station out front listed only rechargeable batteries. I went and talked to customer service and he said that technically they only take rechargeable batteries but were more than happy to take my load of dead alkaline batteries as well. Nervous that they were just trying to make a good impression, I asked what would they do with the batteries they weren’t technically supposed to take. Would they just throw them away? The customer service representative laughed and assured me that they would still be recycled–it just wasn’t an advertised service because it costs more to recycle alkaline batteries than rechargeable ones. I can go ahead and keep bringing them in. What a lovely guy!
  • I also took all of my plastic bags to the drop-off station at my closest grocery store, took my recycling to the county waste station, and am preparing for a bonfire tonight that will be kindled by some of the paper recycling.
  • 6Last, but certainly not least (I’ve been looking forward to this all month): I got take-out from our local Mexican restaurant in my own containers! Not only were they more than happy to take my containers back to the kitchen and put the food right in, they didn’t even mind that all I had was two small containers instead of one larger one. I am so excited about this oh-so-simple waste reduction method and will gladly be that obnoxious friend who forces everyone to bring their own leftover containers moving forward. I now keep a set of containers (as well as cutlery) in my car for any culinary emergencies.

Things I Plan to Carry on Beyond February:

  • Bringing my own take-away containers, for sure! I’ll also continue on with my own straw and water bottle. I’ve done this for ages but I will now be much more vigilant about remembering them.
  • I’ve said it before but one of the biggest realizations from this month was how much can be recycled that I didn’t realize, like some chip bags, vegetable packaging, little bits and pieces of beverage containers, and so on. I will do a double-check before putting a product in my shopping cart to see if there is an option with recyclable packaging.
  • I’m super excited to get my worms to add into the compost and am glad I took the time to learn a little bit more about composting. Our biggest change will be cutting the food up into smaller pieces before we dump it in the bin.
  • The whole point of this month was to become aware of how much waste I produce and wow, am I aware! I struggled a bit to fit the lid onto my jar. I understand very well what it’s like to be too tired to cook and what it’s like to be too poor to buy fancier, eco-friendly alternatives to pre-made food but I’ve realized that can’t be my excuse. Maybe I’ll have to set aside a bit more time to prepare my meals, maybe I’ll have to wake up ten minutes earlier to fix my lunch, maybe I’ll have to educate myself more on growing our own food. But doesn’t Mama Nature deserve just a few more minutes of my time and love?

What about you? What did you take away from this past month? Any small or big changes you’ll be making in your consumption habits? I’d love to hear about them, or get any tips you have for faster ways to prep waste-free.

Thanks so much for joining me during this month’s journey with all of its ups and downs. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and learned as much as I have. Happy recycling, friends!

Waste Free Feb: Week 3

Just as a refresher: #WasteFreeFeb is about becoming aware of the waste you produce during the month of February. If it can’t be recycled or reused, you must keep it and put it in the container you have chosen for the month. Our Research Manager, Maggie, chose a jar (roughly a pint in size) and chose to do this for the entire month, although she encourages people to participate in any way they can, even if it’s just for a week or weekend. 

Maggie writes:

End of Week 3: Friday 23 February 2018

This Week’s Waste:1

  • One of those red plastic lattice bag that onions come in (from onions bought like three months ago)
  • A plastic wrapping for Chocolate Digestive Biscuits (because they are the most delicious thing ever)
  • The bottle seal for a bottle of Greek dressing
  • The weird waxy wrapping from a stick of butter
  • **A piece of chewing gum (see note below!)

Things I Learned This Week:

  • So much about composting! Our compost bin is a bit different than the standard one you might find in a neighborhood backyard because we’re out tin the middle of nowhere. It’s large, uncovered, and open to the air. Here are a few specific things I learned to help us compost more efficiently (because honestly I knew nothing about it before):
    • Cutting things up into smaller chunks helps the decomposition process. (This makes sense if you think about it but is something we don’t do with the produce scraps that the tortoises can’t eat.)
    • You can compost wooden matchsticks after burning the chemicals on the head off. I’ve been doing this but wasn’t sure if it was okay–I now officially know that it is.
    • For a normal system, add scraps of paper or cardboard to the compost to help regulate moisture; they’ll compost as well as help keep the system healthier.
    • I’m really looking forward to the spring–I can’t wait to add some worms!
    • **Chewing gum: You really shouldn’t compost gum because it takes a long time to break down. Most gums are entirely synthetic nowadays, which means that you have to throw it away. I don’t chew much gum, but I do occasionally…like this week.2
  • I gained a polystyrene cup on a day that I was running Preserve visitors around all day. I had limited time to eat and the closest place only had this kind of cup. I was prepared to add it to my waste list but then I flipped over cup. On the bottom, I saw a recycling triangle with a six inside and a PS below. This lured me into into the black hole that is Styrofoam/polystyrene recycling. I honestly didn’t know that recycling Styrofoam was an option—although the process isn’t easy.
    • First, there is a difference between Styrofoam and polystyrene (it’s not just the difference between what different countries call it). The majority of food storage is made of is polystyrene, much of which is actually recyclable (although it tends to be repurposed more than recycled). I have yet to find a local place that will accept it but Florida supposedly has four places that will. As I continue to look into recycling polystyrene, I am hanging onto the cup (and any others I run into) and not putting it in my waste. I am determined to fight the good fight against polystyrene for food purposes!3

Things I Am Thinking About For The Last Week:

  • I would love to turn recycling like this into a habit—it’s so easy as long as I have my reusable cup/mug/thermos with me! I just have to remember them even when I’m rushing, which is something I’ve struggled with this week. I think maybe keep a backup set in my car (and remember to wash and put back in my car after use).
  • An unintentional byproduct of this week has been a small dip in the pool of plastic reduction. Yes, most plastic is recyclable but plastic waste remains a major environmental problem. There are a variety of informative and trustworthy websites and videos online to help you learn about the plastic epidemic in our country and the world. Plastic is especially harmful when it gets into the oceans. I’m looking into all sorts of plastic alternatives. I’m even willing to try shampoo bars (I’ll let you know how it goes).

I’ve actually kind of enjoyed this past week, not because I did particularly “well” but because it’s becoming part of my life rather than a chore for the month. Incorporating low-waste habits into my routine means that I’m creating less waste but also that I can accept when I do create waste because I know the effort is there.

What about you? Have you tried to go waste-free at all this month? What about just a week? Just a day? Just a meal?

Have you thought about having a compost in your backyard (especially if you’re a gardener)?

What do you know about shampoo bars? Do you have any recommendations for me?

I hope you’ve all had an excellent week, enjoyed the warm weather, and taken your reusable shopping bags with you out into the sun!

Waste Free Feb: Week 2

Just as a refresher: #WasteFreeFeb is about becoming aware of the waste you produce during the month of February. If it can’t be recycled or reused, you must keep it and put it in the container you have chosen for the month. Our Research Manager, Maggie, chose a jar (roughly a pint in size) and chose to do this for the entire month, although she encourages people to participate in any way they can, even if it’s just for a week or weekend. 

Maggie writes:

End of Week 2: Thursday 15 February 2018

This Week’s Waste:1

  • 2 produce stickers (the most delicious, perfect, amazing avocados I’ve ever eaten. Ever.)
  • The wrapping of a plaster/band-aid
  • The wrapping of some fruit Mentos at a weak moment
  • One straw from a restaurant–I didn’t stop them in time before they put it down (although, technically it’s not in my jar yet, because if I’m going to have to throw it away anyway, I might as well use it first. It’s in my silverware drawer.)

Things I Learned This Week:

  • I’m exhausted. You know why? Because, among other things, I didn’t even come close to eating a balanced diet this week. It was a crazy, insane, busy week, with some very long days and I just didn’t have the energy to cook proper meals. That meant I ended up eating things that were fast, easy, and waste-free…so I ate a lot of the same thing all week, and it wasn’t healthy vegetables. (Tortillas are delicious and you can easily prepare them in many ways but they aren’t particularly well-rounded in the nutrition department). This coming week should be much less hectic, and I’m looking forward to having the time to cook some delicious waste-free meals, and maybe even share some recipes!
  • Ahhhhh! It took me almost the full week to realize that at the end of my morning routine, I was throwing away the cotton buds from cleaning my ears. It was such a force of habit that it didn’t even occur to me that it was waste! I happen to use a brand that has a rolled paper stem, but I know that there are several brands that have a plastic stem. If you can’t imagine giving up your cotton buds, then perhaps look for a brand that only contains the cotton and the paper.2
  • In general, I was just very aware of waste being produced all around me. I may be participating in #WasteFreeFeb, but most of my friends are not. I had several lovely people provide me with meals this week, and it provided a great opportunity to get to chat with them about what I’m doing and why. That doesn’t mean the meals I ate with them were waste-free, but it means I did my best to make my part of that meal waste-free. If nothing else, it reinforced my enthusiasm for banning styrofoam/polystyrene! I will wash all your dishes for you at the end of the meal if it will stop you from using styrofoam!

Things I Was on the Lookout for from Last Week:

  • Where & What Can I Recycle All The Things I’ve Been Hoarding? Gainesville takes all the things! You may have to expend a little effort to find a place for it, but it’s there! (Neat thing—the waste collection centers here also have a reuse section where products still in the original containers and with directions for use–such as paint, cleaning, automotive fluids and more–are set aside. You can come and take them home for free! Need gently used clothing, furniture, etc? They have that too! For free!) If you participate in the Curbside Blue & Orange Bin service, they take almost everything—there is specific information on the Alachua County Waste Management Website. The things they don’t take can often still be recycled (like plastic bags at the grocery store).
  • Archer, which is a rural collection area and doesn’t offer curbside pickup way back in the middle of nowhere where we are, has a waste collection center that seems to accept as much as the urban centers (they just don’t accept as much hazardous waste and there is a lower per day limit). In theory, they should also have these reuse areas, but I can’t think where it would be housed—good to check out next time I’m there.
  • To Burn or Not to Burn? I’m still waiting to hear from more people on the pros and cons of burning recyclable paper and cardboard as part of our fires. I don’t feel like I turned up anything in my research that I didn’t already know and I’m still on the line between burning and recycling it. Convince me!
  • Dots of Color on My Wrappers?! Although there are one or two websites that claim they have to do with the food’s organic status and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and a million other things, an overwhelming majority of websites state that these are simply there to align the printer for the creation of the packaging. Perhaps a bit of a let down in the mystery solved, department, but…if you need a more exciting one, look into the numbers on produce stickers and the different colors of twist ties on bread.

My waste jar didn’t gain much but it wasn’t for a “good” reason. I had to remind myself several times this past week that the whole point of this is to make me aware and to learn what steps I can take. It isn’t about getting in trouble if you create waste, so don’t try to hide it. It’s just about knowing if there is an alternative (and I promise, there’s always an alternative–it’s up to you if it’s one that fits. I know that I am not at the point in my life where I can give up shampoo/conditioner and use those soap bar things, so I just accept that toiletries is an area where I’ll have to be happy with only using recyclable packaging, even if it is still plastic.)

I think my biggest eye-opener was a trip to one of those bulk warehouse club type stores. Although buying bigger portions can reduce the amount of packaging, at this type of store they seem to package within packaging! A 2-pack of orange juice cartons (both recyclable by themselves) comes attached by a big plastic sticker! It was a rough shopping trip and a good reminder of what to look for.

I won’t get discouraged, though! I may be struggling on some days, but on others I read the packaging of my favorite cup of tea and find out that the pouch it comes in is 100% biodegradable even though it looks like an odd foil. So I’m sitting here right now, sipping on my hot tea, and preparing for the week ahead.

What about you? Is there anything you did this week in terms of being waste-free that you’re particularly proud of? I’d love to hear about it!

*Any products, services, or businesses mentioned within are not considered to be endorsed by Ashton Biodiversity Research & Preservation Institute Inc. or its affiliates.

Waste Free Feb: Week 1

Just as a refresher: #WasteFreeFeb is about becoming aware of the waste you produce during the month of February. If it can’t be recycled or reused, you must keep it and put it in the container you have chosen for the month. Our Research Manager, Maggie, chose a jar (roughly a pint in size) and chose to do this for the entire month, although she encourages people to participate in any way they can, even if it’s just for a week or weekend. 

Maggie writes:

End of Week 1: Thursday 8 February 2018

I’m rather low on the income scale and rather high on the work hours scale, and I was worried I wouldn’t have the time or money to do this properly. What I’ve found is that a lot more of what I normally buy is recyclable than I realized and I can find ways to prepare ahead without spending an entire afternoon cooking for the week to come (always make extra at dinner for the next day’s leftovers, store my food in a way that keeps it fresher longer, take a few extra minutes when putting away groceries to divvy up some of the food into snack or meal sized portions to grab on the go).

Despite some uncomfortable realizations about how much waste I produce, how many recyclable things I’ve been throwing away unaware, and some heart-rending emotions about the waste our society produces as a whole, I’m hopeful this month will be a bit more manageable than I had originally anticipated. I guess we’ll find out when I update next week!

This week’s waste:

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Maggie’s jar after Week 1

  • 2 produce stickers (from avocados, mmmm)
  • The label from the recyclable hummus container
  • 2 granola bar wrappers (I wonder if there are any granola bar wrappers that are recyclable?)
  • The plastic seal from a salad dressing bottle
  • The backing to a sticker (because people deserve stickers for a job well done)
  • The outer wrapping of a frozen pizza that was inside a recyclable cardboard box
  •  The weird absorbent pad at the bottom of my recyclable carton of fresh raspberries

Things I Learned This Week:

  • It’s all about being prepared! (Apparently this month is also going to give me an awareness of how scattered my brain is.)
  • Most packaging, although it’s less common on off-brand bargain versions, will tell you what’s recyclable about it. Many will even tell you what to do with the various components of the packaging.

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    Recycling labels on the bottom of a cardboard box

  • The plastic bag return at your local grocery store can also accept many other items such as toilet paper wrapping, bread bags, many bags that enclose crackers or cereal or vegetables. For example:

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    Plastic bags that can be recycled

  • There are many different places you can bring your own container, and dealing with the possible responses builds character, right? This week I asked the people at the deli counter to put the meat and cheese they were slicing into the reusable containers I had brought with me. This actually didn’t cause as much of a kerfuffle as I thought it might…however, asking them to also include the little plastic sheeting they slice it onto (and would be throwing away) did get me a look or two.
  • Bringing your own plastic straw in your purse or bag or car is easy…remembering to actually use it will require some practice.

Things I Want to Be on the Lookout for Next Week:

  • I have a designated spot for all my different types of recyclables in the house.
  • Can I actually recycle them here at the waste station in tiny little Archer, FL? What about Gainesville? Normally, in small towns, what is accepted and what isn’t?
  • What are the pros and cons of burning my paper recyclables vs finding a place that takes all the various kinds? We have a fire pit out back that we use on a regular basis to host small bonfires, and I just use my various paper/cardboard as kindling. What are people’s thoughts on this?
  • What do all those colored dots and squares mean on packaging? Does this have anything to do with recycling? Or is it more like the number codes on produce stickers?

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    What are these dots?

Tips, Tricks, and Thoughts

  • Did you know that if a server puts a straw on your table, even if you don’t open it, they still throw them away? You have to stop them early on from reaching for that straw & tell them you have your own, or you just don’t need one. If you’re lucky, the reusable straw you have is one of those brightly colored, twisty shaped straws.

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    Composting!

  • Many people don’t want to have a small compost unit on their kitchen counter because they’re afraid it will smell bad. My compost container is one of those mini ice buckets with a lid (actually, quite a fancy one, but I never host any fancy parties, so…). There’s no actual seal to this lid, I open it multiple times a day to add more food scraps, and nobody has noticed any sort of smell, including my own hyper-sensitive nosed self. We do have a larger compost outside that I can dump it in when it gets full—our outside compost is just open to the air because we have a sizable property, but there are loads of different compost options that can be adapted to urban living.
  • More and more grocery stores are providing bulk options. Not only does buying in bulk save you money, but for all these stores you can bring in your own container, have them weigh it, then subtract that weight from your total after you’ve filled your container with the product of your choice!
  • Reusable produce bags are cheap, super easy, and the cashiers can see the stickers through them well enough to scan and have never commented on them being inconvenient this past year of me using them. I happened to get mine for free from a lovely friend who had ordered a set and didn’t need the full thing.

I can’t wait to share with you how next week goes in Waste Free Feb!