Keystone, Canary, and Weedy Species

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Art © US State Dept./Doug Thompson

We wrote on these two biodiversity conservation ideas in the last month, and will continue to develop that theme for some time. Writing for The Guardian, biologist James Dyke explains a recent scientific study he was involved in that divided organisms into three distinct types, with “canary” species being the most important to monitor as indicators for ecosystem health:

The Earth’s biodiversity is under attack. We would need to travel back over 65 million years to find rates of species loss as high as we are witnessing today.

Conservation often focuses on the big, enigmatic animals – tigers, polar bears, whales. There are many reasons to want to save these species from extinction. But what about the vast majority of life that we barely notice? The bugs and grubs that can appear or vanish from ecosystems without any apparent impact?

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Belize Lionfish Jewelry – Update

 

Belize Lionfish Workshop participants with their certificates

Belize Lionfish Workshop participants with their certificates

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, for the third year in a row, I spent two weeks in Belize where I had a chance to get an update on how the market is developing.  I started my visit in Placencia, which is home to Kaj Assales, the most successful of the lionfish jewelry artists in the country, with her own jewelry line which she sells through her boutique as well as online.  It was my first chance to visit her shop and to see some of her new designs.

Next I spent a week in the Sapodilla Cayes with ReefCI, the NPO that I first collaborated with to help jump-start the lionfish jewelry market in the country.  This gave me a chance to practice my lionfish spearing skills, as the ReefCI team and visiting volunteers continue to remove several hundred lionfish per week dissecting a sample of 30-40 of these for stomach content. Data on size, sex, and stomach content is provided to the Belize Fisheries Department and has been a valuable input to its national lionfish control strategy.  Coincidently, ReefCI’s lionfish control program was profiled in the August issue of United Airlines magazine; not only a nice recognition of the group’s efforts, but also a great boost for raising awareness about the lionfish invasion. Continue reading

Flower Garden Banks Lionfish Invitational

I have posted previously about the lionfish invasion and the threat that it poses to marine ecosystems in the Western Atlantic. In an earlier post, I noted that there is increasing evidence that regular removals can be effective in controlling lionfish infestation, allowing native fish populations to recover. Removals are being undertaken via organized efforts such “lionfish derbies” and other forms of sanctioned fishing tournaments as well as via market approaches that create commercial incentives to harvest the fish.

While marine protection agencies are generally supportive of these efforts and are indeed engaging in removals themselves, they lack the data and evidence needed to make informed decisions about the optimal mix of approaches and the level of effort and resources needed to effectively control the invasion. I recently had the opportunity to participate in a research expedition aimed at helping to address this gap. I was fortunate enough to be selected to join 29 other volunteer citizen scientists, professional/semi-professional spear fishers, and marine scientists for a fish survey and lionfish culling effort in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. Situated about 100 miles off the coast of Texas, the sanctuary is home to a unique ecosystem with almost 300 species of fish, 21 species of coral, and several other invertebrate species. Lionfish are being observed with increasing frequency within the sanctuary, a cause for concern by the sanctuary’s managers. They have previously undertaken periodic culling of lionfish, but the recent effort was the first time that removals were undertaken in a systematic fashion. Continue reading

Meet the Tree Elders

An ancient 4,800-year-old Great Basin Bristlecone Pine, the Methuselah Tree grows high in the White Mountains of eastern California. PHOTO: AGrinberg Creative Commons

An ancient 4,800-year-old Great Basin Bristlecone Pine, the Methuselah Tree grows high in the White Mountains of eastern California. PHOTO: AGrinberg Creative Commons

Did you know that the exact location of the world’s second oldest tree is a Forest Service secret? Or that a woman was charged with setting a fire that burnt down one of the oldest tree organisms? Well, “The Senator” must have sprung up roughly 3,500 years ago — a tiny cypress tree, no bigger than a fist, in the swamplands of Central Florida. In 2012, that very same cypress burned to the ground. The majestic 118-foot tall tree was one of the oldest organisms in the world. Over the course of its long life, it survived hurricanes, disease and logging sprees, serving as a tourist attraction and a spiritual epicenter for pilgrims hoping to bask, literally, in the shade of history.

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Whale Shark Encounter

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

The Disappearing Cajun Culture

A shrimp boat heading out to fish on Bayou Lafourche. PHOTO: BBC

A shrimp boat heading out to fish on Bayou Lafourche. PHOTO: BBC

Cajuns are mostly descended from French immigrant ancestors. Their name comes from Acadia in Nova Scotia, Canada, where they originally settled – they were expelled by the British in the 18th Century, and many eventually ended up in southern Louisiana. What was once home to several hundred families now only counts a few permanent residents. Where there were cotton fields, there’s now open water. Where a cemetery once stood, a few last remaining tombstones are sliding into the bayou.The people here have survived hurricanes, including Katrina in 2005, and the BP oil spill in 2010. But their resilience is being tested again by a less dramatic, but no less dangerous threat – the long-term erosion of the marshes and wetlands that run all along Louisiana’s coast.

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Designing the World

It took a long time to make one that was perfectly balanced and approx. 2 years before Bellerby produced a globe that I could sell. (Photo by Stuart Freedman)

It took a long time to make one that was perfectly balanced and approx. 2 years before Bellerby produced a globe that I could sell. (Photo by Stuart Freedman)

When is the last time you looked at a map? No, we’re not talking GPS-powered imagery and guidelines but a physical entity. Like a globe. Like the collectibles Peter Bellerby and his company painstakingly churn out. In fact, they are one of the only two workshops in the world still in the business of handcrafting globes.  And in the business of preserving a dying craft.

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Give it Up for the Dutch!

These beautiful, translucent barriers quiet traffic—and generate power at the same time

These beautiful, translucent barriers quiet traffic—and generate power at the same time

Driving the Dutch highways just got a lot more colorful. And this has to be one of the best Dutch ideas yet—roadside noise barriers that also generate solar power. Not only that, they work on cloudy days, and one kilometer (0.62 miles) provides enough electricity to power 50 homes. Continue reading

Making Solar Follow Through

Part of a completed solar project on an old golf course in the Miyazaki prefecture. (Kyocera)

Part of a completed solar project on an old golf course in the Miyazaki prefecture. (Kyocera)

In Japan, country club memberships famously went for millions of dollars in the late 1980s. Then, too many courses were built in 1990s and 2000s during a real estate boom. Now the nation faces the question of what to do with its abandoned golf courses. Meanwhile, Japan’s energy strategy in the aftermath of Fukushima calls for roughly doubling the amount of renewable power sources in the country by 2030. It is already building solar power plants that float on water. Perhaps inevitably, then, the nation has turned to building solar plants on old golf courses.

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Green Talk on the High Seas

Phytol-based herders aren’t a universal remedy for oil spills, but in certain scenarios they could become the go-to mitigation strategy. PHOTO: Bloomberg

In May, an oil pipeline in Santa Barbara County burst, pouring some 21,000 gallons of oil into the Pacific Ocean. Despite clean-up crews’ efforts to contain it, the oil slick stretched along the coast for miles, serving as a glaring reminder that spill mitigation strategies are still lacking. When oil tankers crash and inevitably spill oil into the open seas, a go-to clean-up method is corralling the rapidly spreading oil and burning it. But in some places, like the ice-strewn Arctic ocean, physically corralling that oil with boats and boons is practically impossible. But here’s a plant-based, eco-friendly molecule that could be used to clean up the inevitable spills of the future.

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Support Needed for Lionfish Jewelry Workshop

© Seavenger’s Trident Super Dive Store

For the past several years, I have been involved in helping to develop markets for lionfish jewelry as a way of addressing the threat posed by this invasive species, which is severely compromising the health of coral reefs throughout the Caribbean by eating reef-dwelling fish. Belize is home to the second largest barrier reef in the region, and its lobster and conch fisheries could really benefit from a break of overexploitation, so encouraging lionfish fishing in any way possible will promote reef recovery.

My last post, in fact, was about my trip to northern Belize last summer, when I collaborated with two local NGOs in Belize to train women from a coastal community on how to create lionfish jewelry. This August, I will again be joining one of these groups – Blue Ventures, for a lionfish jewelry workshop for women from other areas. As you can see from the pictures here and in my previous posts, lionfish fins, tails, and spines are beautiful; they’re also relatively low-cost to transform into jewelry. These parts of lionfish were previously discarded, but when kept and transormed into jewelry the value of landed lionfish catch increases by up to 40%, creating additional incentives for fishers to target and remove lionfish Continue reading

The Food Cart Just Turned Green

One hundred of the first carts will be funded by MOVE and reserved for disabled veterans, and the remaining 400 will go to vendors who sign up—at no cost to them, because the pilot program will be sponsored. PHOTO:  Today's the Day I

One hundred of the first carts will be funded by MOVE and reserved for disabled veterans, and the remaining 400 will go to vendors who sign up—at no cost to them, because the pilot program will be sponsored. PHOTO: Today’s the Day I

Food carts are an iconic part of New York City’s street life. NYC has over 5,000 licensed trucks and carts, and an estimated 3,000 unlicensed ones on the streets. Cart operators, representing diverse ethnicities and cuisines, serve approximately 1.2 million customers every day. A food cart can be started with little capital and improved with sweat equity. However, until now, this industry has had no choice but to rely on smoke-spewing carts and their antiquated technologies that are dirty and unsafe. But hold on, the MRV100 is here.

Most food carts run off a diesel generator that’s designed to run only a few hours. Vendors run them for stretches of up to 14 hours, leading to a high output of greenhouse-gas emissions such as carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, and particulate matter. You can see the smoke with the naked eye, but the hard facts are even more frightening: The research and consulting firm Energy Vision found that each cart produces the same amount of nitrous oxide as 186 cars on the road.

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10,000 km in a Tuk-tuk and With the Sun

Tejas is a renovated Piaggio Ape  with a 13-kilo-watt prototype engine, lithium-ion batteries and six solar panels. PHOTO: IBN

Tejas is a renovated Piaggio Ape with a 13-kilo-watt prototype engine, lithium-ion batteries and six solar panels. PHOTO: IBN

Our itinerary has been filled with travel all week. And we almost gave The New Indian Express article on the travel plans of Indian engineer Naveen Rabelli and Austrian filmmaker Raoul Kopacka a miss. That was only until we read the details: a 10,000 km journey from India to London on a self-built solar-powered tuk-tuk/autorickshaw to Britain to promote a sustainable low-cost alternative-transport solution and check air pollution in towns and cities across their journey. Talk about going the extra mile.

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A Goodbye to Utility Bills?

Life off the grid? An actuality realized by just a few and romanticized by the rest. But if things go as per plan, Bratislava-based Nice Architects and their seven-year project Ecocapsule will make this possible by the end of 2015. Imagine having to pay no utility bills, being able to set up your own egg-shaped home in any corner of the planet, and being super sustainable through a life powered by the wind and the sun! Yes, let’s go get that dream!

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Green turtle links Costa Rica’s Cocos Island with Ecuador’s Galapagos

Sanjay

Sanjay the green sea turtle is equipped with satellite tags before being released into the ocean. (Courtesy of PRETOMA)

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

A Biodiversity Triumph at Marari

As I mentioned in my last post, the new property, Marari Pearl, could easily be called the Beach Banana Genome Project because it has 30 varieties of bananas being grown on it. When Amie and I saw the list of everything being grown on the property, our joy was akin to kids on christmas.

Have you ever seen a rambutan?

Have you ever seen a rambutan?

Since I’ve been reading The Fruit Hunters by Adam Leith Gollner, I’ve realized the role variety awareness plays in conserving biodiversity. Simply not knowing about all the varieties allows agribusiness to monopolize the market with one or two varieties that best suit global trade. For example, when people only saw red and yellow apples in the supermarket, they did not know what they were missing out on, so they weren’t as picky. Once Fujis and Galas became known, customers began to demand more. Knowledge of varieties is seen as a threat to supermarket because customers focused on varieties become less easy to please with subpar, out-of-season fruits.

So with that being said, simple awareness of varieties is a method of raising the bar. It helps promote biodiversity because people are less willing to accept generic and standardized fruit.

On the Marari Pearl property, there are pomelos, rambutans, and tamarinds. There are several types of jackfruit,  lovi-lovis, mangos, and oranges. I was particularly excited to see the miracle fruit on the list. Continue reading

Seed Saving as a Safeguard for Biodiversity

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This is a seed savers network we are looking to collaborate with on our organic farm initiatives.

The recent post here about The New Yorker article on genetically modified seeds and Vandana Shiva helped me understand more about this era we are entering of biotechnology.

Regardless of whether or not it’s healthy to consume genetically modified foods, we are at risk of losing biodiversity and heirloom varieties. In support of protecting biodiversity, having heirloom varieties of plants in the La Paz Group gardens is important. Once the plants go to seed, we can save them to plant the following season.  Continue reading

Reflecting: Half-a-World Away

Cardamom Siesta

Cardamom Siesta

Five months have elapsed since my departure from Cardamom County and Raxa Collective in Kerala — sufficient time, in my opinion, to think back on my experience and growth during my adventures there, as well as the time I have spent back in the United States.

Words cannot express how thankful I am for having been given the opportunity to travel farther and live longer away from home than I ever have before, and in a truly amazing, diverse, and different region of the world than I could ever imagine.  The head honchos, Crist and Amie Inman, have an ethos rooted deeply in progressive ecological conservation that is truly admirable, and for the area they are established, borderline revolutionary.

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Notes from the Garden: Quantifying Farm-to-Table

We are in process of building a monkey-proofed area of the garden. You can see my past post to get a feel for the evolution of this idea. The main issue with providing the Cardamom County restaurant with food from the on-site organic farm is monkeys. We were inspired by these subsistence farmers in Ixopo, South Africa, who blogged about building their monkey-proof vegetable cage. They, too, are neighbors with a nature reserve, so their situation is quite similar to Cardamom County! Now, we are on our way to having a truly farm-to-table menu!

Here is the cage we are modeling ours after. Check out their blog: http://foodieschannel.blogspot.com/2011/04/this-isnt-really-recipe-but-its-about.html

Here is the cage we are modeling ours after. Check out their blog: http://foodieschannel.blogspot.com/2011/04/this-isnt-really-recipe-but-its-about.html

You may be wondering, why is there all this buzz these days about farm-to-table? There is more to it than just fresh, delicious food.

Obviously, a lot of nature gets destroyed for agricultural purposes. In the United States, so much land gets wasted on sprawling, inefficient development. In the in-between spaces, you could feed a nation. But we eat up our open, natural spaces for agriculture. Our agriculture is rarely local so it leads to problems of unnecessary carbon emissions from transport and a lot of not-fresh food in grocery stores. When we can use the land we have already developed on to provide the people there with food, why spread ourselves out so thin into nature? Continue reading

Citizen Science in Belize – Update on Lionfish Jewelry: Part 2

Assorted lionfish jewelry from Palovi Baezar, Punta Gorda, Belize

Assorted lionfish jewelry from Palovi Baezar, Punta Gorda, Belize

In Part 1 of this post I wrote about my recent visit to Belize to help with further development of the nascent  market for lionfish jewelry; one of several market-based approaches to addressing the threat to Southwest Atlantic marine ecosystems posed by the invasion of this non-native species. I noted that the market is most advanced in the area around Punta Gorda, in Southern Belize, in large measure due to the support provided by ReefCI which has provided training on jewelry making to a group of local women and is supplying them with lionfish spines, fins, and tails as well as marketing assistance.

Lionfish spines, fins, and tails ready for jewelry

Lionfish spines, fins, and tails ready for jewelry

While ReefCI’s involvement has been instrumental in getting things started, further development and expansion of the market will require engagement with artisans and women’s groups in other parts of the country, particularly areas closer to major tourist markets. Interventions are also needed to develop a reliable and sustainable supply chain for lionfish jewelry production and sales. I was pleased to hear from one of the jewelry makers in Punta Gorda that a local fisherman had approached her about selling lionfish tails. This was music to my ears, as one of the motivations behind the lionfish jewelry idea has been to up return to fishers in order to create added commercial incentive for them to hunt lionfish (the fish cannot be caught using conventional fishing methods such as hook and line or nets, but must instead be speared or hand-netted by diving). Continue reading