After a diving trip in the Caribbean 20 years ago, Joan Holt became interested in raising tropical fish in her lab — especially after learning that nearly 100 percent of the colorful fish in our aquariums are collected from the wild and that a huge majority of them die from the process.

Holt has spent the larger portion of her career at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas studying the rearing of commercial fish species (like red drum), and her work has been put to practical use in state and commercial hatcheries and aquaculture operations.

Stocking aquariums is a $1 billion industry, moving an estimated 30 million reef fish around the world each year, but removing that many fish from the ocean can have a negative effect on the health of reef environments. Certain species of fish, for example, eat algae and, if their numbers become too low, overgrowth of algae can suffocate corals.

The methods used to collect these fish can be harmful as well: Cyanide, used as an anesthesia to make fish easier to catch, can bleach the coral and kill or harm other species, especially those that can’t swim away. Cyanide is also one reason almost 80 percent of collected fish die soon after capture. Many of the rest die within a year in captivity, despite the fact that many species live for decades on the reef. In addition to cyanide, fish sometimes die from being brought up from depth too quickly, loss of protective scale coating due to handling, poor water quality and being deprived of food for days during transport.

Holt hoped she could help solve these problems by figuring out how to raise tropical fish in captivity.

Raising Nemo

It proved a huge challenge. First, she had to figure out a harmless way to collect a small amount of tropical fish to begin her research. Trial and error led to a rather low-tech method: two divers (one with a hand net or large plastic bag) and another to carefully herd fish toward the bag. Next, she had to convince those wild fish to reproduce in the lab. Based on efforts with commercial species, Holt knew fish will spawn if lab conditions match those in the natural world, so she studied temperature and day length at locations such as the Florida Keys and Jamaica and replicated those conditions for her studies. Eventually, she successfully spawned 18 ornamental species.

The next step, growing baby fish (larvae) into adults, had been tricky enough with commercial species, and it turned out to be even more challenging with tropical ones. Some tropical species spawn in the open ocean, and their larvae hatch in a relatively undeveloped state, not yet able to eat on their own; others attach eggs to a solid surface, one or both parents care for them (think of Nemo’s dad, Marlin), and larvae hatch ready to start eating. The former were much easier to raise in the lab, but Holt focused on the more complex ocean-spawners — i.e., the most popular kind of aquarium fish.

In general, tropical fish larvae put picky eaters of any species to shame, so figuring out what to feed them was no easy task and the mystery remains somewhat unsolved. Work on refining the fishes' preferred menu continues at the MSI, with the ultimate goal to identify food that can be grown in the lab or easily collected.

Meanwhile, another major challenge in breeding tropical fish was creating the right water conditions for the captive fish and figuring out how to feed them, without turning the water into a terrible mess. The lab eventually hit upon a tank design that accomplished both. Ultimately, Holt was able to get seven of her original 18 spawned species to grow into adult fish that produced their own offspring: lined and pygmy seahorses, comet fish, jack knife fish, cubbyu, and fire and peppermint shrimp. These species can conceivably now be commercially produced.

Fishy Business

Aside from producing these fish in commercially viable numbers, the next step, in Holt’s mind, is developing some way to tell buyers what they’re getting: fish raised sustainably in a lab or fish collected from the wild with potentially harmful practices. To help distinguish the eco-friendly method from the rest, she envisions a certification process, or paper trail, similar to that used in organic farming.

Many hobbyists, she believes, would support sustainable captive breeding — at least in part because those captive-bred specimens will likely have better survival rates than wild-caught ones, many of which survive only a few days or weeks in home aquariums.

Holt is working with other scientists on a marine ornamental aquaculture book. She hopes more people will come to see captive-raised ornamentals as an important conservation tool that helps protect tropical reefs and their occupants in the wild.

So, what will you keep in your aquarium?

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Green building: With more eco-friendly products, builders & designers, it'snever been easier

The Vintage Contessa

When you think green building and design, you may imagine solar panels or water recycling and have an ill-conceived notion that the process is too expensive or complicated. However, there are many ways to simplify your choices in the process of building, remodeling or designing your new or existing home while minimizing the environmental impact.

When choosing “green” products, you give your family a healthier place to live and create a more energy efficient home with increased performance, which in turn saves you money. By starting to focus attention on indoor air quality, water and energy efficiency, and environmentally sound materials, you will make an impact on your life and the world in which we live.

By starting to focus attention on indoor air quality, water and energy efficiency, and environmentally sound materials, you will make an impact on your life and the world in which we live.

With a basic understanding of the benefits of green building accompanied with subtle changes geared towards eco-sensitive material selections, you will give back to the environment and in turn lessen the carbon footprint and overall impact on the world.

First question

In considering green building and design, you should first ask what is most important to you and your family. Is it indoor air quality, energy efficiency, materials and resources or water efficiency?

People in the United States spend 90 percent of their time indoors. Air pollutants are two to five times higher inside than outside. In fact, pollutants have increased at such an alarming rate that there has been a 160 percent increase in the rate of asthma in children over the last decade.

Any given space’s indoor air is a “complex mixture of visible and invisible contaminants,” according to GreenGuard Environmental Institute (GEI), a non-profit organization that works to reduce indoor air pollution. Strangely, most air purifiers do not work properly; they only clean 100- 200 sf and produce ozone in the process. These airborne pollutants include chemicals, dust, biological contaminants and anything that can populate the air.

Consider looking on the labels for VOC (volatile organic compounds) emissions. VOCs interact with one another and create new hazardous compounds as well as causing eye, nose, throat and skin irritations.

Look for a third party verifier

When selecting products, it is important to find out if it has been tested. Look for a third party verifier. GreenGuard Product Certification, is the premier verifier for indoor air quality.

“Indoor air quality is one of the major issues facing the sustainability community, and GreenGuard is at the forefront of protecting indoor environments,” S. Richard Fedrizzi, CEO & Founding Chairman, U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), said in a statement.

An indoor air quality test may by conducted in your home by a specialist to identify problem areas. Bluegill Energy is among a number of businesses that provides environment testing, collecting and processing scientific data to determine the root cause of the issue and then make recommendations for the proper remediation necessary to correct or restore the affected area to a safe level.

Window film eliminates costly and damaging ultraviolet rays by 99 percent, the equivalent to an SPF 285+ lotion on your glass.

Adding a Sunbelt window film on your existing glass will lower solar heat gain and reduce the cost of running your air conditioning. Window film also eliminates costly and damaging ultraviolet rays by 99 percent, the equivalent to an SPF 285+ lotion on your glass.

Frustrating glare will be reduced and the strength and safety of your glass increases dramatically. It is safe on any glass and is a simple step to improve energy efficiency in your home.

Water efficiency is certainly most welcome in areas with long or short term drought conditions; however, there is a place for water efficiency in every community. The mean per capita of indoor daily water use in today’s home is slightly over 64 gallons. Implementing water conservation measures can reduce usage to fewer than 45 gallons. Fixtures and Fittings is among a number of businesses that offers unique options including low flow toilets and water efficient fixtures for sinks, tubs and showers.

When choosing sustainable materials with recycled content, you should also consider the manufacturers commitment to sustainability. Examine the products composition, look at the VOC levels. Consider if the cleaning products are safe to use. Look at the costs. Is the product recyclable?

Find these and other checklist at Regreen by ASID (American Society of Interior Designers) and USGBC (United States Green Building Council).

A variety of architectural glass, wall system, art and cabinet glass eco conscience products to consider are produced by Lambert made exclusively for Bendheim. A deep commitment to the environment is evident in their manufacturing, utilizing a large percentage, approximately 40 percent, of post-consumer glass recycled from the municipal waste stream. Dauphin Sales Inc. offers these products in Texas.

The second step is finding a building, remodeling or design professional that will help plan your home, avoiding expensive mistakes. His or her assistance in obtaining permits and giving direction on finding federal tax rebates and solar subsidies (which are varying by state) will be immeasurable.

The LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional) Accredited Professional directory is a good place to find design and construction professionals who are familiar with LEED and green building in general.

According to the USGBC, “Since green building is an emerging field, the challenge is often in finding building professionals who are experienced and enthusiastic about building green. The LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional) Accredited Professional directory is a good place to find design and construction professionals who are familiar with LEED and green building in general. The LEED for Homes Provider in your area may have some good recommendations.

"Another great resource on this front is to look for local builders with experience building LEED-certified homes. These professionals have experience building green homes to a high standard and can help to guide you through the process. " You can also consult the U.S. Green Building Council - Central Texas Balcones Chapter.

The second rating system designed specifically for homes was produced by the National Association of Home Builders implementing the National Green Building Standard, approved by ANSI (American National Standards Institute) in January of 2009. Builders and members of the trade who focus on their green continuing education can earn a Certified Green Professional (CGP) designation from the NAHB. They recognize builders, remodelers and other industry professionals who incorporate green building principles into homes— without driving up the cost of construction.

The next important professional to consider on your team is an ASID licensed professional. Look for an experienced interior designer who offers beautiful, healthy and environmentally sound solutions to design problems and challenges.

It’s been said that changes in behavior happen through education. So try it. Look online. Read books and magazines. Learn a little day by day. Take a step in the right direction and do what you can to be eco-friendly. Any size step forward will help contribute to the greater good of the environment. You can make a difference.

Donae Cangelosi Chramosta, the owner of The Vintage Contessa, writes about travel, design and fashion. As president of Cangelosi natural stone contractors, she is committed to green building and teaches classes on the subject for the GreenGuard Institute.

Women wanted: ACC programming aims to steer women into green energy jobs

working women

A half dozen attentive young women scattered around the large conference room in Building 8 of Austin Community College’s Eastview Campus clearly illustrate the speaker’s point: few women are taking advantage of growth in the green energy sector.

ACC hopes to change that, presenting a session on opportunities for women in clean energy as part of its Environmental Awareness Month. The event’s sponsors include ACC’s Renewable Energy Student Association and Center for Student Political Studies.

Shelley Attix, coordinator of Continuing Education workforce special projects, says ACC wants to double the percentage of women preparing for green energy careers. Green jobs cut across a variety of career tracks, from manufacturing, where development of better batteries is needed, to IT work on smart grids, green construction, mass transit and natural resources.

Most green jobs are new twists on jobs that already exist, many of them trades.

Female role models are an important part of the effort; Attix points out that recruiting a female instructor for an introductory solar energy class increased female enrollment from almost nil to 75 percent, with 90 percent completing the course.

Most green jobs are new twists on jobs that already exist, many of them trades. For example, plumbers may now work on solar thermal, or mill workers on wind turbines. And while many people think ‘renewable energy’ when they hear ‘green jobs,’ a study by the American Solar Energy Society estimated that there are nearly 20 times more jobs in energy efficiency than there are in renewable energy. These energy efficiency jobs are within traditional occupations such as construction, HVAC, electricians, engineers and plumbers.

“Many green jobs have focused mainly around building the infrastructure and energy generation equipment required to make the transition to clean energy,” says Jason Shaw, president of the ACC Renewable Energy Student Association. “Men make up the majority of the workforce in this field and this event was to bring in and show support for women who have successful careers in the energy field, and to help encourage more diversity in the clean energy workforce.”

Speakers at the ACC event included Kelly Twomey, a mechanical engineering student in the University of Texas Cockrell School of Engineering and graduate student researcher with Webber Energy Group/ATI and Carsi Mitzner with the Association of Women in Energy.

Attix encourages women interested in pursuing a green energy career to develop computer skills, whether general IT, web design or auto cad. “If you don’t want to be on a roof somewhere, that’s a great way to go,” she says. Business skills and an entrepreneurial bent are helpful. On the residential side, for example, women often make decisions about green home construction or remodeling, and may feel more comfortable dealing with another woman.

Attix encourages women interested in pursuing a green energy career to develop computer skills, whether general IT, web design or auto cad.

Mick Normington, a business specialist at the Texas Workforce Commission, says that at least an associate degree is essential, for men and women.

“In 2011, 80 percent of the unemployed in Texas didn’t have at least an associate degree, while 47 percent of the job postings required it.” He stresses that what an individual studies matters now more than ever. “The more math you take, the more money you make. Technical skills equal money.”

ACC offers continuing education certificates in solar thermal and electric systems, solar photovoltaic installation, weatherization technology and wind power delivery systems. The college also offers a renewable energy certificate in electronics, an environmental technology certificate, and GIS certificates. Two-year associates of applied science degrees are offered in renewable energy, environmental science and environmental technology. Special topic courses include a construction technology class in green building and a business management class in sustainable and green business.

ACC students can also transfer up to 66 credit hours of ACC classes toward a 123-hour Bachelor of Arts and Applied Sciences in Sustainable Building from Stephen F. Austin State University.

Let’s hope all of this effort results in a bigger crowd the next time there’s a talk about women in green energy.

Free bags for Austin: HEB celebrates Earth Day

First come, first-served

A Texas-grown supermarket chain is helping to create a greener world in a Texas-sized fashion.

Employees at every H-E-B store throughout the Lone Star State, including the Austin locations, are handing out 250,000 commemorative Earth Day 2012 reusable shopping bags from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday.

The totes are free in exchange for five or more plastic bags from any retailer for the company’s community recycling efforts. Participants receive a coupon for one reusable tote per person while supplies last.

The reusable Earth Day bags are also for purchase every day at H-E-B stores for $1 each, with five percent of sales donated to Keep Texas Beautiful.

“At H-E-B, we look forward to Earth Day all year,” says Susan Ghertner, H-E-B director of environmental affairs. “Our bag giveaway promotion is a great way to help our customers make a small change that can add up to a big difference for our communities.”

Last year, H-E-B and its customers recycled 4.1 million pounds of plastic bags through the bag exchange program, various in-store events and recycling partnerships with elementary schools during the grocery store’s weeklong Earth Day festivities.

Music, outdoors and plenty of sun: Ways to celebrate Earth Day (spread out overa full weekend)

weekend roundup

I wouldn't exactly classify myself as an "outdoors" kind of person, but when the weather is as perfect as it has been this week, even I can't help but find reasons to be outside as often as possible. And it's a great time to show your gratitude to this planet we share with six billion of our closest friends, as Sunday is Earth Day.

Earth Day is so much more than just learning which bottles to recycle and remembering to roll out the bin on Friday mornings. In Austin, it's about getting out, getting involved and learning how you can make a difference all year round. It helps a lot when it's a community effort, and this is a great time to meet your neighbors in a unified goal of saying thank you to Mama Earth.

All weekend, TreeHouse, Austin's conscious home improvement store, is offering free Earth Weekend classes and demonstrations on eco-friendly practices. Everything from water harvesting to gardening to chicken keeping, plus plenty of free samples to boot. No free food samples, unfortunately, but there will be food trucks on site both days to keep you satiated.

Make some noise as well at any one of this weekend's big music events. You've got the 25th Annual Old Settler's Music Festival celebrating Americana and bluegrass out at the Salt Lick's Driftwood Pavilion all weekend. If you can stand the smoke, there's the ultra laid back Austin Reggae Festival out at Auditorium Shores. And for the opposite experience, you can bring the whole family out to Pioneer Farms on Saturday to enjoy the family-friendly music of the Biscuit Brothers and others at the 6th Annual Austin Family Music Festival.

On Friday night only, ACL Live is hosting one of the most spectacular lineups ever to commemorate the music and legend of Johnny Cash. With performances by Kenny Chesney, Chris Cornell, Ronnie Dunn, Kris Kristofferson, Ray LaMontagne, Amy Lee, Lucinda Williams and Brandi Carlisle just to name A FEW, this show, entitled "We Walk the Line," is probably the hottest ticket in town for a good long while.

On Saturday, Whole Foods Markets will be leading the "Give 5% to Mother Earth" campaign to raise money for local eco-friendly businesses. This community-wide giving day means that a percentage of your purchases from participating retailers will go directly toward supporting efforts to clean up our environment and keep it that way. Take a look at the sponsors, businesses and beneficiaries on the event page and see how you can make your dollars make good eco sense.

On Sunday, the city's official Austin Earth Day Festival takes place at Mueller Park in East Austin. Mayor Lee Leffingwell will be one just one of the distinguished keynote speakers kicking off this day-long music and food and fun celebration of our green city. Interactive exhibits, live music, kids' activities, food trailers and so much more will make this festival one to remember.

Meanwhile, Be Yoga invites you out to Lady Bird Lake to help Love Our Lady. This organized clean-up team will help to beautify the popular exercise and recreation spot before heading back to their Rainey Street studio for a free guided yoga class from one of their instructors. It's a great way to show your appreciation for one of the city's natural wonders and maybe check out a new exercise community.

At the same time, Gusto Dogs will be circling Lady Bird Lake as well, in a charity walk for Austin Pets Alive! These community-minded dog-walking professionals invite you to join them as they circle the lake this Earth Day, raising much needed funds for the new intakes being housed at South Austin's fastest growing animal nonprofit.

And when you've been outside all weekend, sometimes it's good to take a break in the dark air conditioning of the Alamo Drafthouse. On Sunday afternoon, they're hosting a screening of an Earth Day special event with the documentary One Day on Earth. Shot in 190 countries across the globe, the film undertakes the enormous challenge of uniting viewers in all of these countries for one moment of global appreciation.

Of course, these are just a few ways you can make a joyful noise unto the Mother Earth that has put up with you all these years. Show her a little love in your own way. But, of course, take a little time to look around you and appreciate what you've got.

It could be a whole lot worse. You could be living in Cleveland...

  • Vishy Shower
    Photo by Ryann Ford
  • Foot Soak
    Photo by Ryann Ford

Doing good can feel good too: Hiatus Spa + Retreat honors Earth Day all monthlong

nurture nature

Hiatus Spa + Retreat is my new favorite hiding place from the hustle and bustle of downtown living. It’s an urban oasis where the mission is to provide affordable, yet luxurious spa services with a conscious effort towards sustainability.

Located in the heart of downtown on West Fifth Street, this environmentally focused respite is owned by Kristin Peabody and Sheila Garrison.

Earth Day may come around just once a year, but Hiatus launched its business with specially designed packages to promote healthy living while doing good for the environment, year round.

For April, Hiatus partnered with Global Greengrants Fund and the Gulf Restoration Network. The Global Greengrants Fund provides funding via grants to developing countries for local projects and grassroots campaigns to although for environmental sustainability. The Gulf Restoration Network is an organization devoted to protecting and restoring the natural resources of the Gulf.

Water conservation is a priority to the folks at Hiatus and they are making a conscious effort to do so with their Earth Month Retreat, a virtually waterless treatment that quenches the skin.

The treatment begins with an invigorating dry body brushing to give an invigorating exfoliation. A light, herbal mist tones and purifies and organic cocoa and shea butters are smoothed over the skin with the help of warmed stones to massage and relax. The treatment continues with a warm body wrap and concludes with a warm and cool, revitalizing stone facial massage.

The spa also makes a conscious effort to use mostly 100 percent organic products with lines including Aveda, Intelligent Nutrients for face and body treatments and SpaRituals' toxin-free, vegan-friendly nail polishes.

Their manicure and pedicure is a luxurious 80 minutes and includes nap time. I’m not kidding. You lay in their zero-gravity chairs draped with a blanket, put on a warm neck wrap and eye mask and recline while aestheticians buff, file and scrub you to perfection. You emerge refreshed, recharged and perfectly polished.

Who knew doing good could feel so good, too?

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Austin-based 3D printing company tapped by NASA to build on the moon

To infinity and beyond

The Austin-based builder of 3D-printed homes, ICON, is making one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind by signing a $57 million contract with NASA to build on the moon.

According to a release from ICON, the company will soon venture into a new frontier of space dimensions. The contract, announced on November 29, was awarded to the company under NASA's Phase III Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. This program allows ICON to use the $57 million award to build their Olympus system, which adds to previous construction done by both NASA and the Department of Defense for exploration of the moon and beyond.

"ICON’s Olympus system is intended to be a multi-purpose construction system primarily using local lunar and Martian resources as building materials to further the efforts of NASA as well as commercial organizations to establish a sustained lunar presence," the release stated.

The project will work in conjunction with NASA's Artemis program, which launched its first rocket in 50 years on November 15. ICON will work with the program to:

  • Use lunar regolith samples brought back from Apollo missions, in addition to other regolith simulants, to see their mechanical behavior in lunar gravity.
  • Bring advanced hardware and software into space through a lunar gravity simulation flight.
  • Create results to inform future lunar construction approaches for the space community.
  • Establish critical infrastructure necessary for a sustainable lunar economy and habitation.

“The final deliverable of this contract will be humanity’s first construction on another world, and that is going to be a pretty special achievement," said Jason Ballard, ICON co-founder and CEO.

"It's a construction system we call Olympus system that will allow us to use the local materials of the moon to build all the elements of infrastructure necessary for a lunar outpost and ultimately a moon base ... launch and landing pads, roadways, habitats, you name it, all the things on the moon," said Ballard.

He added that they hope to start building on the moon by 2026, starting with a launch and landing pad.

In addition to the grant, ICON was awarded a subcontract in 2021 to support NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate to create the world's first and only simulated 3D-printed Mars surface habitat. Called Mars Dune Alpha, it is located at NASA's Johnson Space Center and is assisting in long-duration science missions.


Read the full story and watch the video at KVUE.com.

Austin Pets Alive and Austin Animal Center launch $31 pet adoptions for the holidays

New home for the holidays

Two Austin organizations are looking to get local pets into their "furever" homes this holiday season. In a special December promotion, Austin Pets Alive! (APA) and Austin Animal Center are working to get as many animals out of the shelter as possible, by making all adoption fees a flat $31.

The promotion runs December 1-31. According to a release, APA's director of lifesaving operations, Stephanie Bilbro, sees this as a great opportunity to clear out the shelters and make a great impact heading into 2023.

“The holidays are a great time for the Austin community to come together and add to their families. We have so many precious kittens, puppies, cats, and dogs just waiting for their turn to find a family,” said Bilbro. “We hope this is a chance for any family who’s been looking to add a pet to theirs to do so right in the middle of the holiday season. We know Austin is in the upper echelon when it comes to animal welfare. We hope this promo sets us and AAC up for a successful end to 2022 and a fast start going into 2023.”

Both shelters are also seeking fosters and volunteers throughout the holiday season, for Austinites looking to help the shelters without making a long-term commitment.

APA has two locations, one at 1156 W. Cesar Chavez St., and one in Tarrytown (3118 Windsor Rd.). Both locations operate 12-6 pm daily, except Christmas Eve (12-4 pm), Christmas Day (closed), and New Year’s Eve (12-4 pm). The Austin Animal Center is located at 7201 Levander Loop and is open every day from 11 am-7 pm for adoptions. For holiday hours, AAC will be closing at 5 pm on December 23 and will be closed December 24-26.

'Famous' rooftop igloos return to Austin hot spot for the coolest experience this winter

Stay Cool

There aren’t so many winter wonderlands in Austin during the holiday season, but things get colder at higher elevations. The Hotel Van Zandt fourth-floor rooftop may not be high enough to change the weather, but visitors throughout December are invited to hang out in its self-proclaimed "famous" all-weather igloos, snacking on bites from inside and themed cocktails after the sun goes down.

Each private, six-seat igloo at the “South Pole” contains a Christmas tree, board and card games, festive records, and other cozy holiday decorations. It’s as private as Austin dining gets without completely breaking the bank, but the poolside mini-village of transparent igloos creates a warm feeling of togetherness. And in case it actually does get cold (a Christmas miracle!), the vinyl globes are heated.

It's not just a fun gimmick — as cute as the igloos are, Geraldine's is a great foodie destination. Visitors can expect (strong) drinks like the “Dandy Andes,” a minty chocolate mix of Grey Goose vodka, crème de cacao, crème de menthe, and matcha tea. “Santa on a Beach” combines tropical flavors with cinnamon, and other drinks include unusual ingredients like Chartreuse whipped cream, pistachio, and chocolate mole bitters.

Geraldine’s menu focuses on classic Southern cuisine without getting weighed down by tradition; that means a roster of semi-adventurous gourmet comfort foods, like mole birria short ribs, smoked carrots, and salty Brussels sprouts with serranos and mint. Shareables are a good idea, since the igloos are intimate (read: not especially convenient unless you like balancing a dinner plate on the couch).

Two rounds of two-hour seating will be available every night, and reservations will go very fast. As of December 5, there are only a few dates left. Reservations ($100 upfront) entail a $200 minimum on food and beverage, plus a 20 percent service charge. Book on Eventbrite.