The San Diego Central public library remained closed last Saturday, March 20 — the first closure of its kind in the last 18 years. According to their FAQ [PDF], the Library’s budget was recently cut by $3.8 million, as part of city-wide budget cuts due to a drop in tax revenues.

Despite this, the city seems to be still moving forward on the “schoobrary” plan to construct a much-needed new Central library. NBC has a “San Diego explained” video that spells out the math behind the budget for this project. Essentially, a mix of state grants, school district bond funds, donations, and downtown redevelopment taxes (that are earmarked only for new construction in the downtown area) will be used to build a new library building with a charter high school on top of it.

The closing statement of the San Diego examiner article, (“When the San Diego budget is hurting for money so bad that it can’t keep the libraries we have open for business, it is not unreasonable to ask why the city wants to spend so much money on a brand new one”) really rubs me the wrong way. Any library supporter can clearly see that the old 1950s building currently housing the library is wholly insufficient for a growing San Diego downtown community. It’s an eyesore in an area that’s been slated for huge redevelopment since the ballpark opened. It’s always been embarrassing for me that my hometown is a place that can support building a new ballpark and is discussing building a new football stadium, while our library has been neglected for decades, languishing in an asbestos-ridden building with rotting infrastructure. The library building has been outdated nearly as long as Qualcomm stadium has even existed.

Contact San Diego mayor Jerry Sanders to weigh in.
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I originally heard about this on NPR, and it brightened my morning drive up a bit to hear about Sea World’s successful hatching of 82 endangered green sea turtle babies last month. As a lifelong San Diego resident, I’ve been to Sea World many, many times. They’re a for-profit organization and I never got the impression that the animals there were very happy, so I haven’t felt compelled to visit for many years, but I was delighted to hear about the turtle births.

According to the Associated Press reports, the turtles were all hatched on the park’s Shipwreck Beach without any human assistance or intervention. Thad Dirksen, curator of fishes remarked, “It’s unusual to have sea turtles hatch in a zoological environment. And this time marked the first time we’ve done so without assisting the eggs through incubation.” Indeed, hearing about sea turtle births anywhere is pretty exciting for me, since they’re adorable and all sea turtle species are endangered or threatened. But it’s especially fun to hear about a hatching this size, right in my own neighborhood. They should go on display before the end of the year, so I’ll try to go out and visit them.

If you were planning to head out to the beaches this sunny July weekend, you might want to reconsider. The Telegraph reports that Humboldt squid, also known as jumbo flying squid, have uncharacteristically invaded the waters off of San Diego.

Mike Bear, a local diver, said: “I wouldn’t go into the water with them for the same reason I wouldn’t walk into a pride of lions on the Serengeti, For all I know, I’m missing the experience of a lifetime.”
Shanda Magill was surprised by a large squid which hit her from behind and grabbed at her with its arms, pulling her sideways in the water. It ripped her buoyancy hose away from her chest and knocked away her light.
“I just kicked like crazy. The first thing you think of is, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t know if I’m going to survive this’. If that squid wanted to hurt me, it would have,” she said.

Humboldt squid can grow up to 6 feet long and weigh near 100 pounds. They’re known to be aggressive and travel in large groups of hundreds or thousands at a time. The cephalopods are known as diablos rojos (“red devils”) to the Mexican fisherman who catch them. They’re carnivorous, using sharp, barbed suckers on their tentacles to “pierce the flesh of prey and drag it to their mouths where a fierce, baseball-sized beak tears it to shreds.”

The San Diego River Park Foundation is hosting a ton of events for the 5th Annual River Days Festival this weekend and next weekend. The San Diego River runs 52 miles, from Santa Ysabel down to the El Capitan Reservoir, and through Lakeside, Santee, and Mission Valley, finally draining into the Pacific Ocean at Dog Beach in Ocean Beach. Despite this, many people in San Diego don’t even know we have a river. The river suffers from illegal dumping, urban run-off, graffiti, litter, and a host of other problems, but the SD River Park Foundation is working to clean it up, even buying up land around the river to maintain as a nature preserve and eliminating non-native plant species.

River days events include bike rides, a beach clean-up at Dog Beach, Mission Valley litter & graffiti removal, and opportunities every day for hikes, guided nature walks, and picnics. It’s supposed to be a beautiful, sunny weekend, so get out of the house and do something good for your community and the local ecosystem!

Sad news for endangered bighorn sheep will be announced soon from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The San Diego Union Tribune reports that the protected habitat for bighorns in California will be cut by 55%. In 1998, the U.S. population of bighorn sheep was down to only 280. Their numbers have rebounded since then to over 800 today, thanks in part to captive breeding programs and a USFWS Recovery Plan created in 2000.

The habitat cuts would maintain most of the critical habitat, but reduce corridors that conservationists believe are crucial to maintaining movement and genetic diversity of the population. In February, I saw a presentation by Esther Rubin of the Conservation Biology Institute at the San Diego Zoo’s annual State of Endangered Species event. Ms. Rubin gave a very informative presentation about the current state of Peninsular bighorns, including maps showing their current distribution and the proposed cuts. Populations are spread over Riverside, Imperial, and San Diego counties and continue south of the border into Baja. According to Ms. Rubin, one of the greatest areas of bighorn mortality is the Highway 78 passage through the mountains east of San Diego county near Anza Borrego State Park, where the animals are hit while trying to cross the road. She also suggested that the sheep populations may be susceptible to disease transmitted from domestic sheep populations, such as bluetongue.

On a more personal note, I was lucky enough to see a pair of bighorn sheep on a recent camping trip in Anza Borrego. A lamb and her mother passed just a few feet in front of us on the hiking trail. They’re amazing, beautiful animals, and it’s sad to see USFWS possibly compromising their recovery for the sake of politics and special interests. My boyfriend got a couple of photos with his camera:

Last night, the Casbah played host to a group of drunken science graduate students and “recreational nerds” at an event called Nerd Nite. From what I could make out, the genesis of Nerd Nite had something to do with a grad student field researcher from Boston who went to Cameroon to study parasitic birds, then had to tell all of his friends about the trip. It’s still unclear to me how that evolved into three PowerPoint presentations and a band playing at the Casbah last night, but there you have it.

In addition to the two core talks, last night’s event featured a guest speaker. San Diego’s own Kristen Marhaver, a Scripps Institute PhD candidate, gave a talk called, “How Many Corals Does it take to Screw in a coral reef? Coral sex and why you didn’t really want to be a marine biologist”. If I can find it online anywhere to link to, I’ll update this post. I now know more than I ever wanted to know about coral reproduction. I feel, for the first time, satisfied and relieved that I never went in to marine biology. Kristen was charming and her talk was hilarious yet informative, but it’s impossible for me to say how much of that was the cocktails talking.

Last night, Richard Dawkins gave a lecture at UC San Diego and accepted the Nierenberg Prize for Science in the Public Interest, awarded by Scripps Institute of Oceanography. The ceremony and lecture were free to attend, but no seat reservations were available, so we waited in line for an hour and a half to get seats. It was well worth it, in my opinion. The talk he gave was titled, “The Purpose of Purpose”. I won’t bother summarizing it for you, since The Austringer had a very in-depth post about the same talk, given at Michigan State University last month, even down to the opening jokes. I went to the Official Richard Dawkins website in the hopes of finding the actual PowerPoint presentation available there, to no avail. I’m sorry to say the site is very poorly designed and doesn’t seem to provide a lot of information on his various appearances.

If you scroll to the bottom of the Austringer post, the author has kindly described the Q&A session, with questions “submitted by the audience and selected by Prof. Dyer”. Unfortunately for Dr. Dawkins and all of the attendees, UCSD didn’t have the foresight to select questions beforehand. Rather, they chose to open the floor up to unmoderated questions from the audience. As a result, the Q&A session was among the most painful I’ve ever had the misfortune to sit through. Precisely half of the five questions were atheist-bait from hardline Christians, ranging from the tired “Stalin, Hitler, and other secular humanists killed more people than religion” to “I plan to have as many children as I can (Quiverfull, anyone?) and raise them in the Christian faith”.

To their great credit, each of these questions had clearly been planned and written beforehand, and were edited into concise, one to two sentence treatises in defense of their faith. On the other end of the spectrum, the remaining questions were from Dawkins-fanboys, stammering and stumbling over their words for upwards of five minutes before finally spitting out something resembling a question, often prompting two or more follow-up questions from Dr. Dawkins, attempting to determine what the actual question was. All in all, an unmitigated disaster. I hope UCSD has learned their lesson.

As an added bonus, please watch one of my favorite YouTube videos of all time, Richard Dawkins Reads His Hate Mail.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography Honors Evolutionary Biologist, Richard Dawkins, in Public Ceremony and Lecture

The Austringer » Richard Dawkins and the Purpose of Purpose

RichardDawkins.net – The Official Richard Dawkins Website