Drying rivers, lakes, and reservoirs. Fancy a list? Here and here, you go. The world’s waters are rapidly running dry, threatening wild habitats and human civilization, exacerbating climate change. In turn, livelihoods, ecosystems, energy generation are all affected. Like in Bolivia, which just lost its second largest lake.
I’ve posted previously about the emergence of lionfish jewelry as one of several market-based approaches to controlling the invasion of this non-native species which poses an unprecedented threat to marine ecosystems in the Western Atlantic.
Last month I had the opportunity to make a presentation on lionfish jewelry at a special workshop on lionfish management that was held during the annual conference of the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute, in Panama. The conference program also included a full-day lionfish research symposium and a lionfish research poster session, both of which gave me an opportunity to learn more about the science aspects of the lionfish invasion and some of the latest findings on lionfish biology and behavior and to meet some of the leading researchers on these subjects.
The lionfish management workshop, which was organized by the United Nations Environment Program’s Caribbean Regional Activity Center on Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW-RC) and the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI), brought together marine scientists, managers of marine protected areas, fishermen, and representatives of international organizations to share experiences and lessons learned with respect to strategies for controlling the invasion. Continue reading
Whales are the largest aquatic mammals on Earth, so it’s hard to believe that the first official sighting of the Omura’s Whales only happened recently near Madagascar. In 2003 Japanese scientists identified this whale as a new species; however, it was based on skeletal specimens and genetic tests.
What does it take to restore a wildlife hotspot? To put some animals back in, develop and sustain the environment so more animals return, and hold up the model as a means to uplift communities, and thereby the nation? The answer is Gorongosa National Park – a Mozambican safari paradise.
In 1962, six-year-old Vasco Galante was treated to his first cinema trip – to see Charlton Heston in the Hollywood epic, The Ten Commandments. But despite the blockbuster’s eye-popping sequences, the images that most impressed young Vasco came from a short advert shown before the film, which showcased the elephants, lions and buffalo in the verdant floodplains of Gorongosa National Park – a Mozambican safari paradise once marketed as “the place where Noah left his Ark”.
As he left the Lisbon picture house, young Vasco vowed to visit the park one day, and more than 40 years later, he finally got the chance. But the park he encountered was a far cry from the Gorongosa of ’60s showreels that once attracted the likes of John Wayne, Joan Crawford and Gregory Peck. A brutal 15-year civil war in the aftermath of Mozambique’s independence from Portugal in 1975 had devastated much of the province, and Gorongosa, one of its key battle grounds, was almost destroyed.
Rewilding is the idea that, having extirpated many species, by returning large animals and birds like the California condor to the landscape, we can restore key ecosystem functions. The most famous example is probably the reintroduction of grey wolves to the northern Rockies and the Mexican grey wolf to the desert Southwest in the mid-late’90s. There’s a phenomenon called trophic cascade, which means that a large predator like a wolf has a regulatory effect on the entire food chain. In Yellowstone, the return of wolves has meant that the elk can’t be fat and lazy and start to browse in a different fashion, which in turn allows aspen and beavers to come back.
If 20th-century conservation was about drawing lines on a map and saying, this is a park or preserve, 21st-century conservation is about filling in those lines, bringing back animals that have been extirpated.
Rewilding, the need and benefits of having places that are off the map, modern day cave woman Lynx Vildern make for some pages of Satellites In The High Country: Searching For The Wild In The Age Of Man, by Jason Mark, cofounder of the largest urban farm in San Francisco.
A photographer’s pilgrimage to see the world’s oldest. Before the signs of climate change sees them disappear.
In 2007, photographer Rachel Sussman made a pilgrimage to Florida’s 3,500-year-old Senator Tree. The pond cypress’s mottled gray trunk stretched 125 feet into the sky, and sported a bronze plaque gifted by Calvin Coolidge in 1929. Sussman snapped a few pictures, but, upon review, wasn’t thrilled with the results. “I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll just come back sometime,'” she remembers.
Five years later, a meth user snuck into a space in the trunk of the tree, lit up, and burned the whole thing down. Sussman came back and photographed the charred remains. “It really was this moment challenging my sense of permanence and impermanence,” she says.
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is located in the northern third of the Superior National Forest in northeastern Minnesota. Over 1 million acres in size, it extends nearly 150 miles along the International Boundary adjacent to Canada’s Quetico Provincial Park and is bordered on the west by Voyageurs National Park. The BWCAW contains over 1200 miles of canoe routes, 12 hiking trails and over 2000 designated campsites. Wilderness offers freedom to those who wish to pursue an experience of expansive solitude, challenge and personal integration with nature.
And now some, or all of it, may be lost to sulphide mining.
Three trillion trees live on Earth, but there would be twice as many without humans. Each year more than 15 billion trees are lost worldwide, according to a major new study. Previous estimates for the total number of trees on Earth have been much lower. The new study is important not only because it gives a higher number, but how it was produced. As well as using remote sensing data such as images taken by satellites that can classify land type, the research also integrated 429,775 ground-based assessments of tree density.
In celebration of International Whale Shark Day, which is August 30…
I’ve posted previously about ecotourism ventures focused on iconic marine species such as sharks, manta rays, and sea turtles and how such ventures can be linked to protection of the species involved. From a natural capital valuation standpoint, the link is based on the recognition that the revenue generated from wildlife tourism associated with the animals far exceeds the revenue that would be earned from their capture for meat and/or body parts. In a nutshell – they are worth more alive than dead!
One species that has been the focus of wildlife tourism in various parts of the world is the whale shark. The largest fish in the sea, whale sharks grow up to 40 feet in length and more than 45,000 pounds in weight. Continue reading
Perched atop a ridge in the Khasi Hills of India’s north-east, Mawsynram has the highest average rainfall – 467in (11.86 metres) of rain per year – thanks to summer air currents gathering moisture over the floodplains of Bangladesh. When the clouds hit the steep hills of Meghalaya they are compressed to the point where they can no longer hold their moisture. The end result is near constant rain. Even the world’s biggest statue, Rio de Janeiro’s 30m tall Christ the Redeemer, would be up to his knees in that volume of water.
The world has seen the population of individual wild tigers dwindle from 100,000 in 1913 to just about 3,200 now. Classified into six species, a majority of these surviving cats belong to the specie panthera tigris tigris, more popularly known as the Bengal tiger, that are found in India. Here too, their population, estimated to be between 20,000-40,000 at the turn of the 20th century, reduced to fewer than 2,000 by the 1970s, mostly due to hunting and poaching. It has now inched to 2,226, making India home to 70% of the world’s total tiger population.
Sea cucumbers are in the news – again. The marine creature has been talked about as an adjunct treatment for those undergoing chemotherapy. They have also been tipped as a “wonder ingredient” in cosmetics. Not to forget the sea cucumber capsule industry, Asian cuisines that consider it a delicacy, and its place in the underground market of aphrodisiac market. This time around, the news isn’t good.
Butterflies aren’t just a beautiful sight, fluttering between flower heads on a sunny summer’s day, they are crucial indicators of the health of our environment. Alas the majority of UK butterflies and moths are still in major decline, they need constant monitoring and protecting. You can help do just that by taking part in Butterfly Conservation’s annual Big Butterfly Count.
During mating season, the greater sage-grouse gather in “leks” where the males perform an extraordinary strutting ritual. Standing in the brush, they spread out their long, spiky tail feathers and puff out their chests to reveal strange yellow air sacks. “I’m here, I’m here, pick me,” they seem to be saying to the females, though it sounds more like “swish-swish-coo-oopoink.” The sage grouse are iconic in a series of western states, and now the subject of one of the largest federal conservation efforts in history. From this September, millions of acres of mating grounds are set to be protected under plans drawn up by the U.S. Interior Department and a host of state agencies.
Mass-mortality events are sudden, unusual crashes in a population. If you think that you are hearing about them more often these days, you’re probably right. (Elizabeth Kolbert described frog and bat die-offs in a 2009 article; her subsequent book won a Pulitzer Prize recently.) Even mass-mortality experts struggle to parse whether we’re witnessing a genuine epidemic (more properly, an epizootic) of these events. They have also raised another possibility: that we are in the throes of what one researcher called an “epidemic of awareness” of spooky wildlife deaths.
Indian classical music has our attention today. Thanks to its fluidity and pliability that makes it a thriving collaborative space. If you want the history of this art form, find it here. And for crossovers of Western strains and Indian sensibilities, head here. For much of Indian cultural evolution and practice, music is not a standalone art form. It forms the crux of cultural discourse, an important part of the axis that binds community, ritual, practice and social mores. The Carnatic music form of South India is a rather interesting and rich tradition among the musical traditions of the world. For one, it is tremendously alive and vibrant, not just in South India but also in different ways around the world.
Interestingly, the Carnatic form has also been receptive to a great number of innovations, especially in the sorts of instruments it has drawn into its fold. The European violin, for instance, finds an entry as late as the 19th century but has become near irreplaceable in the Carnatic context and performance formats of today. Tipped as being the one instrument that is as close as possible to the infinite flexibilities of the human voice, the violin has spawned different playing styles and traditions of its own in its comparatively brief but highly impactful history.
Big news for the environment: Sri Lanka’s new government just took the unprecedented, historic step to protect all of its mangroves. The move, the first of its kind anywhere in the world, will provide long-term environmental, social and, last but not least, economic benefits to the Indian Ocean island nation, and provide a model for other vulnerable tropical nations to follow. Whose are the champions of this mission? Women.
Started in the 1970’s and gaining in much popularity during the next two decades, ecofeminism seeks to foster a connection between repression of women with the damage caused to nature and natural resources. It is based on the philosophy that both women and nature exhibit the same values and characteristics like nurturing and hence see it as the responsibility of women to undertake ecological causes. One of the most memorable events of ecofeminism occurred in Kenya when rural women planted trees as part of a soil conservation effort to avert desertification of their land as a part of the Green Belt Movement formed by Wangari Maathai. The women of Greenham Common Peace Camp were instrumental in the removal of nuclear missiles there, a fight lasting for over ten years. Sometimes ecofeminism has also been an avenue through which minority and repressed communities like the Native Americans have found their voice. Mohawk women along the St. Lawrence River established the Akwesasne Mother’s Milk Project to monitor PCB toxicity while continuing to promote breastfeeding as a primary option for women and their babies. More.
Your first instinct when around a honeybee is to keep distance. But not for Indian American photographer Anand Varma. When he was asked to photograph a story on honeybees for National Geographic magazine, he knew he was going to have to take a different approach to capture new views of one of the world’s most photographed insects. And he did, his photographs forming a brilliant timelapse video of the first 21 days in a bee’s life. Over the video and the stellar photographs, the exercise addresses a key issue: the disappearance of bees and colonies dying quickly. Now why is this a problem?
To this day, scientists have tracked three different turtles that have traveled between two of the most fragile and important island ecosystems: The Galapagos Islands in Ecuador and The Cocos Island in Costa Rica. We are just starting to understand the importance of these breeding grounds and their interconnectivity with turtle migration and reproduction.
One normal migration for turtles, one giant discovery for humankind.
With his 14-day journey from the waters of Costa Rica’s Cocos Island National Park to the Galapagos Marine Reserve in Ecuador, “Sanjay,” an endangered green sea turtle, established the first direct migration link between the two protected areas.
Sanjay was one of three green sea turtles tagged by scientists from the marine conservation groups Turtle Island Restoration Network and PRETOMA during a 10-day research expedition. Using a $4,000 satellite tag, biologists from the organizations were able to map Sanjay’s exact migration.
“It’s truly remarkable. Sanjay knew where he was headed, Continue reading
We’ve posted about ambergris before, but this article by The Guardian‘s George Monbiot covers a completely different type of significance when it comes to cetaceans’ excrement. Here’s more from Monbiot:
I can hear you muttering already: he’s completely lost it this time. He’s written a 2,000-word article on whale poo. I admit that at first it might be hard to see the relevance to your life. But I hope that by the time you have finished this article you will have become as obsessed with marine faecal plumes as I am. What greater incentive could there be to read on?
In truth it’s not just about whale poo, though that’s an important component. It’s about the remarkable connectivity, on this small and spherical planet, of living processes. Nothing human beings do, and nothing that takes place in the natural world, occurs in isolation.