Credit: Jimmy Simpson
We tend to be bird and bee centric on this site, but somehow we missed this lovely opinion piece–What the Honeybees Showed Me–by Helen Jukes in the NYTimes.
While many people look back to the basics of gardening and baking during the current crisis, beekeeping may be next on some wish lists.
When I first became keeper of a colony of honeybees, I was thinking more than anything of escape. I’d just turned 30 and had recently moved from Brighton to Oxford, having taken a job on a whim, again, moving out of one rented house in one city and into another as I had done throughout my 20s. But the new job was stressful. I spent long hours at the office in front of a screen. I was under pressure from company targets and deadlines, thrown into frenetic communications with colleagues who sounded as stretched as I felt, and disconnected from the world — the world! — I glimpsed as I cycled to and from work each day.
Our garden was little more than a slim patch of weeds within spitting distance of a busy road, but it was secluded enough that I could go there and remain hidden, and so I began imagining a hive out there; imagined myself finding some respite among the bees, away from the hecticness of the city.
Of course, things rarely turn out as we imagine them, and when later that year I was given a honeybee colony as a gift by a group of friends, it was not respite, and not quiet that I found at first. Quite suddenly I was made accountable to another creature, many of them, really — responsible for ensuring the bees were healthy, free from predators and disease. If all went well, I might take a little honey at the end of the season; but for the first few weeks, eyeing the hive at the end of the garden, I was more concerned that they’d either die or fly away.
The thing is that honeybees are so strange.
AVE CALVAR / QUANTA
At a time when microscopic phenomena are the cause of fear and loss, it is surprising and enlightening to read about microbial discoveries that could help answer some of the eternal questions about life, the universe, and everything.
A mound of plastic bottles at a recycling plant near Bangkok in Thailand. Around 300 million tonnes of plastic is made every year and most of it is not recycled. Photograph: Diego Azubel/EPA
We’re always happy to give credit when due. While beer isn’t the first beverage that comes to mind when thinking about the scourge of plastics in the world, bottled soda and water certainly are. So it’s heartening to hear that a company like Coca-Cola, which has contributed to the proliferation of the world’s plastic problem, is backing a bioplastic project that could help to control it.
Carlsberg and Coca-Cola back pioneering project to make ‘all-plant’ drinks bottles
Beer and soft drinks could soon be sipped from “all-plant” bottles under new plans to turn sustainably grown crops into plastic in partnership with major beverage makers.
A biochemicals company in the Netherlands hopes to kickstart investment in a pioneering project that hopes to make plastics from plant sugars rather than fossil fuels.
The plans, devised by renewable chemicals company Avantium, have already won the support of beer-maker Carlsberg, which hopes to sell its pilsner in a cardboard bottle lined with an inner layer of plant plastic.
Avantium’s chief executive, Tom van Aken, says he hopes to greenlight a major investment in the world-leading bioplastics plant in the Netherlands by the end of the year. The project, which remains on track despite the coronavirus lockdown, is set to reveal partnerships with other food and drink companies later in the summer.
Dead trees in a California forest in August 2016. U.S. FOREST SERVICE
It sounds like the inverse of rewilding’s restorative approach, when there is a large patch of expired trees; decisions must be made. Thanks to Jane Braxton Little for laying out the questions:
As forests in California and the Western U.S. are hit by rising numbers of fires and disease outbreaks related to climate change, some experts argue that using dead and diseased trees to produce biomass energy will help to restore forests and reduce CO2 emissions.
Jonathan Kusel owns three pickups and a 45-foot truck for hauling woodchip bins. He operates a woodchip yard and a 35-kilowatt biomass plant that burns dead trees, and he runs a crew marking trees for loggers working in national forests. Those are a lot of blue-collar credentials for a University of California, Berkeley PhD sociologist known for his documentation of how the decline of the timber industry affects rural communities. Continue reading
Tamara and Steve Davey’s woodland, on the fringes of Dartmoor national park. Photograph: Courtesy of Woodland Wildlife
Thanks to the Guardian for this story about the contentments of ecosystem restoration:
[Photo: courtesy Flash Forest] One of Flash Forest’s prototype drones
And speaking of trees, here’s an example of small tech stepping in when political leadership wavers. The good news is there is ample room for both, and we hope that both systems receive the support they need.
Here’s to a billion trees!
A Civilian Conservation Corps enrollee planting a tree circa 1938. Fotosearch/Getty Images
Thanks to Collin O’Mararough, president and C.E.O. of the National Wildlife Federation, for his idea about how to employ some of the unemployed. Deploy them. Planting trees is not sufficient to solve the looming crisis of climate change, but it is a start:
The Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps helped build America at a time of national crisis. Let’s do it again.
Nearly 7.7 million American workers younger than 30 are now unemployed and three million dropped out of the labor force in the past month. Combined that’s nearly one in three young workers, by far the highest rate since the country started tracking unemployment by age in 1948.
Nearly 40 percent worked in the devastated retail and food service sectors. And as the most recently hired, young workers are typically the first let go and often the last rehired, especially those of color.
As our country’s leaders consider a range of solutions to address this crisis, there’s one fix that will put millions of young Americans directly to work: a 21st-century version of the Civilian Conservation Corps.
In 1933, when President Franklin Roosevelt created the C.C.C., he was facing, as we are today, the possibility of a lost generation of young people. The conservation-minded president’s idea was to hire young unemployed men for projects in forestry, soil conservation and recreation. By 1942, the 3.4 million participants in “Roosevelt’s Tree Army” had planted more than three billion trees, built hundreds of parks and wildlife refuges and completed thousands of miles of trails and roads.
Happy to see the results and first post from Birds Caribbean about the various teams’ contributions to the 2020 Global Big Day. Looking forward to reading the highlights of all the teams.
The biggest birding day of the year — Global Big Day —took place on Saturday May 9, 2020. More than 50,000 people from around the world joined in to record their sightings. Close to 300 participants from throughout the West Indies recorded 345 different species of birds! Cuba had the most species by country (135) followed closely by the Bahamas (126) and Puerto Rico (125). Regionally, 1,051 checklists were submitted, 205 more than last year. That’s an incredible achievement — way to go birders!
Birders from Cuba looking great with their BirdsCaribbean buffs in Zapata Swamp on Global Big Day. We will share more about the birding experiences on the different teams in a second blog post
This year was quite a different experience as much of the world remains under stay at home orders or is following social distancing guidelines. Certainly many of the great open spaces that are go-to spots for birders were not open to the public for safety reasons. Nevertheless, eBird recorded a 32% participation increase from Global Big Day 2019 and more than 120,000 eBird checklists were submitted. Continue reading
We don’t speak of bears or tigers murdering people. Why, suddenly, hornets? Photograph by Elaine Thompson / Pool / AFP / Getty
When we first linked to a story about this creature, we were sharing a familiar story of introduced and invasive species and a creative approach to controlling the spread. We have favored entrepreneurial approaches, so that culinary story from Japan fit perfectly in our pages. But we also have been equally attentive to word matters since we started on this platform. So Matthew Alt’s coverage of this story, demonstrating how much words matter, also fits perfectly in our pages:
Yi Liu / BigPicture Natural World Photography Competition
Thanks to The Atlantic for sharing these images from bioGraphic, the official media sponsor for the California Academy of Sciences’ BigPicture Natural World Photography Competition:
1. Speed and strategy: Terrestrial Wildlife Winner. Catching prey is no easy feat for cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus), although they’re the fastest land animals in the world. The mostly treeless terrain of the African savanna gives antelopes, impalas, and other ungulates ample time to spot approaching predators, and even a slight head start can be the difference between life and death. To avoid alerting their prey, cheetahs start out hunting low to the ground, where their spotted coat helps them blend into the terrain. When they get within 60 meters (200 feet) of their target, cheetahs accelerate at a blistering pace, reaching 95 kilometers (60 miles) per hour in a matter of seconds. But the feline predators still have to account for the speed of their prey—in this case an impala (Aepyceros melampus), which can zigzag at upwards of 80 kilometers (50 miles) per hour. To close the gap, this cheetah tripped its quarry as it attempted to escape, proving that sometimes, strategy is just as important as speed. #
Andy Parkinson / BigPicture Natural World Photography Competition
2. Shelter in place: Grand Prize Winner. To get this intimate shot of a mountain hare (Lepus timidus) curled up against a Scottish winter storm, Andy Parkinson endured weeks of ferocious cold and wind that drove shards of ice into his face. Continue reading
A seemingly brainless organism, the fungus is a model of coöperative resilience. Illustration by Anders Nilsen
It is reassuring to wake up on a Monday morning and read an essay like the one below. Books are still being published. Check. Fungi are still worthy of book-length attention. Check. Book reviews continue. Check. Kind of like yesterday it was a pleasure to know that bioluminescence continues its mysterious ways, and people are still finding ways to be amused by that. The number of articles we have posted here since 2011 about fungi is many times more than about bioluminescence, and our readers demonstrate a greater interest in this subject as well. A book as valuable as this one sounds like from the review should not suffer from an untimely publication date.
One of the minor accompanying pleasures following the reading of this essay is a quick investigation that shows there is a bookshop in the Five Points neighborhood of Atlanta, GA and its counterpart in Athens, GA where you can order the book. Our view is that when you can support an independent bookshop you should, for so many reasons. Thanks to Avid for being there, and to Hua Hsu for this:
In 1957, a man from New York named R. Gordon Wasson published an article in Life about two trips he had taken, three decades apart. The first was to the Catskills, in New York, where his wife, Valentina, took a rambling walk in the woods and became enamored of some wild mushrooms. “She caressed the toadstools,” Wasson recalled, “savored their earthy perfume.” She brought them home to cook, and soon he, too, was enchanted. They spent the next thirty years studying and cataloguing various species, searching out literary and artistic works about mushrooms.
According to Wasson, the world is divided into mycophiles and mycophobes. Reverence might take a variety of forms—think of Eastern Europe or Russia, where foraging is a pastime. There’s a famous scene in “Anna Karenina,” in which a budding romance withers during a mushroom hunt. Wasson was particularly interested in societies that venerated the fungus for spiritual reasons. In Mexico, wild mushrooms were thought to possess “a supernatural aura.” Continue reading
Starting in 2012, bioluminescence has been on our radar, and the phenomenon never fails to impress. We appreciate the potential utility, and will continue linking to the science. But for now, consider California, hard hit by so many other unwelcome phenomena, and how it deserves a bit of light fun now:
Blue waves, illuminated by the light of bioluminescent organisms, crash along the coast of Blacks Beach in the community of La Jolla. Photograph: KC Alfred/ZUMA Wire/REX/Shutterstock
Crowds are coming to see the light show as beaches begin to reopen after an almost month-long closure due to coronavirus
A surfer rides a wave as bioluminescent plankton lights up the surf around him, in Newport Beach, California. Photograph: Mark J Terrill/AP
There are themes we’ve returned to frequently since the beginning of this site, in the different ways we’ve posted about collective action conservation or cultural events. The titles of those posts began with the words, “If You Happen to be in…” – followed by the location of our conservation public service announcement.
The internet has obviously played an enormous role in people’s lives for decades now, but even more so in the time of Covid-19, when so many of life’s gatherings, from education to business meetings and conferences, has shifted to the virtual realm.
So, here’s a PSA for the Oceans. Hosted by Blue Planet, DC, with guest speaker Phil Karp (a frequent contributor to this site on themes of citizen science and marine conservation) this virtual seminar will discuss both the serious problem of marine pollution, but also some emerging solutions.
If you have an hour to spare on May 15th, join the conversation!
Did you know that between 8 million and 13.5 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean every year, equivalent to a garbage truck full of plastic EVERY MINUTE?!
Plastic entering the ocean can cause harm to marine organisms and ecosystems, coastal economies and human health. This virtual seminar by guest speaker Phil Karp will examine the magnitude and dynamics of marine litter and ocean plastic along with emerging solutions. In addition, it will discuss what governments and consumers can do to address the problem.Phil Karp recently retired from the World Bank where he was Lead Knowledge Management Specialist in the Urban Development Global Practice. He is longtime diver, citizen scientist and ocean advocate focusing on the interface between marine ecosystem conservation and livelihoods of coastal communities.
Sign up today! Join below on May 15.
Asian giant hornets from Japan in a display case at the Washington State Department of Agriculture. Ted S. Warren/Associated Press
For every invasion there is an appropriate response, and sometimes it is culinary. Thanks to Ben Dooley for this set of ideas:
Long before the insects found their way to American shores, some Japanese prized them for their numbing crunch and the venomous buzz they add to liquor.
TOKYO — Long before the Asian giant hornet began terrorizing the honeybees of Washington State, the ferocious insects posed a sometimes lethal threat to hikers and farmers in the mountains of rural Japan.
But in the central Chubu region, these insects — sometimes called “murder hornets” — are known for more than their aggression and excruciating sting. They are seen as a pleasant snack and an invigorating ingredient in drinks.
The giant hornet, along with other varieties of wasps, has traditionally been considered a delicacy in this rugged part of the country. The grubs are often preserved in jars, pan-fried or steamed with rice to make a savory dish called hebo-gohan. The adults, which can be two inches long, are fried on skewers, stinger and all, until the carapace becomes light and crunchy. They leave a warming, tingling sensation when eaten. Continue reading
Sophie Leguil, founder of More Than Weeds, stands over chalk names of plants on the pavement.
Photograph: Jill Mead/The Guardian
Thanks to Alex Morss for this story in the Guardian about actions in the interest of botanical awareness:
A rising international force of rebel botanists armed with chalk has taken up street graffiti to highlight the names and importance of the diverse but downtrodden flora growing in the cracks of paths and walls in towns and cities across Europe.
Boris Presseq and fellow botanists write chalk plant names on the pavement in Toulouse, France. Photograph: Claire Van Beek/Handout
The idea of naming wild plants wherever they go – which began in France – has gone viral, with people chalking and sharing their images on social media. More than 127,000 people have liked a photo of chalked-up tree names in a London suburb, while a video of botanist Boris Presseq of Toulouse Museum of Natural History chalking up names to highlight street flowers in the French city has had 7m views.
Chalkers say their work encourages connection with the natural world around us. Photograph: Jill Mead/The Guardian and Handout
Presseq told the Guardian: “I wanted to raise awareness of the presence, knowledge and respect of these wild plants on sidewalks. People who had never taken the time to observe these plants now tell me their view has changed. Schools have contacted me since to work with students on nature in the city.” Continue reading
To our friends in Mumbai, we hope you are keeping well and that the flamingos flocking will brighten your day:
Ocean ecosystems are rich sources of compounds used in medicine. Photo by Bob Embley/NOAA.
Life within the world’s oceans have an ineffable beauty that will always defy the limitations of our discoveries. If we ever needed reasons beyond that acknowledgement, then here are timely examples of the interconnected nature of life on earth and reasons to protect our oceans and the biodiversity within them.
The ocean plays a surprising role in fighting COVID-19. With death and infection numbers escalating daily, the World Health Organization has made it clear that countries need to do three things to successfully fight this pandemic: test, test and test.
The dramatic increase in demand for testing has drawn renewed attention to the ocean’s genetic diversity. This “ocean genome” is a rich source of anti-viral compounds. In particular, enzymes from a remarkable hydrothermal vent bacterium have been key to the technology in virus test kits, including those used to diagnose COVID-19. Similarly, a protein derived from a coral reef red alga around the Canary Islands has been valuable in the fight against the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, an illness caused by a coronavirus closely related to the one responsible for COVID-19.
This renewed attention to the genetic diversity of ocean organisms also brings conservation and equity concerns — the subject of two recent research papers commissioned by the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy (Ocean Panel). This research has found that multiple threats face the ocean genome, jeopardizing opportunities for new commercial and scientific uses. At the same time, there is an unbalanced relationship between low- and middle-income countries that are home to most marine biodiversity and higher-income countries, which possess the research capacity, technology, infrastructure and finances to develop marine biotechnology.
These recent papers lay out a clear list of actions that governments and marine researchers can take to safeguard the ocean genome and share its benefits equitably.
The executive order does not affect cities and counties that adopted their own ordinances banning or regulating single-use plastic bags.(Frederic J. Brown / AFP/Getty Images)
It’s been some months since we added to our “Really?” posts–which is definitely a good things– and California has usually been on the applaud side of our commentary. It’s a sad situation that the plastic industry is able to exert these pressures to take advantage of the current health crisis.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has suspended California’s ban on grocery stores providing single-use plastic bags amid concerns that clerks may be at risk for exposure to the coronavirus if shoppers are required to supply their own reusable bags to carry their purchases home.
Newsom announced Thursday that he signed an executive order to suspend the 2016 plastic bag ban for 60 days after hearing concerns from the California Grocers Assn. about shoppers bringing reusable bags from home that are handled by store clerks filling them with groceries.
“We are being cautious to make sure there is no transmission of the virus,” said Dave Heylen, a vice president for the grocers’ group. He said the grocers will go back to abiding by the plastic bag ban when the order expires.
The executive order signed Wednesday does not affect the more than 100 cities and counties that adopted their own ordinances banning or regulating single-use plastic bags.
‘Sleek, powerful and yellow-eyed’: an osprey has an irresistible screen presence. Photograph: Cornell Lab Bird Cams
Thanks to Emma Beddington and the Guardian for this story to help put today into a different perspective:
Anyone for Nestflix?: a pair of red-tailed hawks in their nest. Viewing figures for online nestcams are now sky high. Photograph: Cornell Lab Bird Cams
On the webcam it is clear that Telyn is back. Sleek, powerful and yellow-eyed, the osprey has successfully raised a dynasty high above the wind-buffeted grass near the west Wales coast. Last year came Berthyn, Peris and Hesgyn – they sound like Game of Thrones characters. The watchers are waiting for Telyn’s mate, local hero Monty. A magnificent fisherman, heroic provider and model father, he’s been a fixture at the Dyfi Osprey Project since 2008. But where is he?
Flying over the spire: one of the peregrines that has made itself at home in Salisbury Cathedral. Photograph: James Fisher
“Is Monty back?” says every third post on the webcam’s chatboard. He isn’t – instead, there’s a new pretender on the nest, upstart Idris. He’s doing everything right, ingratiating himself with Telyn, bringing offerings of sea trout and twigs, chasing off intruders and yes, mating. Is this the end for the Burton and Taylor of ospreys? Unswayed by Idris’s can-do attitude and beady-eyed charm, Team Monty is inconsolable. “Still waiting for Monty… His usual slot is mid-afternoon,” says one hopeful post. “Hope Monty is home tomorrow, he is all I have known since 2011, love you, amber eyes,” says another. Still they wait. Continue reading
A spawning salmon is shown through a viewing window near a fish ladder, Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019, during the fall spawning season at the Issaquah Fish Hatchery in Issaquah, Wash.
( AP Photo/Ted S. Warren )
We linked out once previously to this author discussing this book, but it is worth doing again (click the image to the right to go to the podcast); and here is what a bookseller has to say about it:
“Henry David Thoreau wrote, ‘Who hears the fishes when they cry?’ Maybe we need to go down to the river bank and try to listen.”
In what he says is the most important piece of environmental writing in his long and award-winning career, Mark Kurlansky, best-selling author of Salt and Cod, The Big Oyster, 1968, and Milk, among many others, employs his signature multi-century storytelling and compelling attention to detail to chronicle the harrowing yet awe-inspiring life cycle of salmon. Continue reading